How Early Christianity was Mocked for Welcoming Women

July 13, 2020

Michael J Kruger

I recently received a question on Twitter about where in our patristic sources we see early Christianity mocked for being a religion filled with women. The short answer: lots of places.

But before we get there, we should begin by noting that early Christianity received this criticism precisely because it was so popular with women during this time period. Sociologist Rodney Stark estimates that perhaps 2/3 of the Christianity community during the second-century was made up of women. This is the exact opposite of the ratio in the broader Greco-Roman world where women only made up about 1/3 of the population.

This means that women intentionally left the religious systems of the Greco-Roman world with which they were familiar and consciously decided to join the burgeoning Christian movement. No one forced them to do so. No one made them become Christians.

On the contrary, Christianity was a cultural pariah during this time period. It was an outsider movement in all sorts of ways–legal, social, religious, and political. Christians were widely despised, viewed with suspicion and scorn, and regarded as a threat to a stable society.

And yet, women, in great numbers, decided to join the early Christian movement anyway.

Women pop up all over the place in our earliest Christian sources. They are persecuted by the Roman government, they are hosting churches in their homes, they are caring for the poor and those in prison, they are traveling missionaries, they are wealthy patrons who support the church financially, and much much more.

And it is this reality that sets the stage for the critics of early Christianity. If they were looking for a way to undermine this new religious movement (and they were!) then the involvement of women is an easy target. Why? Because it was standard fare in the Greco-Roman world to attack religions with women (see the way Livy denigrates the cult of Dinoysus). There was an ideal of masculinity for the Romans that such religions just did not meet. Thus, they were targets of their ridicule.

Here are a few examples of the way the critics attacked early Christianity for having so many women:

1. Celsus, Christianity’s most persistent critic, actually presents the involvement of women as a cause for derision: “[Christians] show that they want and are able to convince only the foolish, dishonorable and stupid, only slaves, women and little children” (Cels. 3.44). Here Celsus engages in a standard polemic against Christianity, presenting it as something that lacks the Greco-Roman ideals of masculinity and is primarily a religion for women and children.

2. Celsus continues his ridicule by accusing Christians of hiding out in their “private houses” and unwilling to engage in the public sphere—yet another way to associate Christianity with women who were often the managers of those households. He does the same thing again elsewhere when he says that Christian women took children “to the wooldresser’s shop, or the cobbler’s or the washerwoman’s shop that they might learn perfection” (Cels. 3.55). Celsus is probably referring to the way that women catechized/instructed children in homes or private business. But the criticism is not hard to see: the early Christian movement is domestic (not public) and run by women.

3. When Pliny the Younger writes his famous letter to the Emperor Trajan, the fact that the only specific Christians he mentions to Trajan are “two female slaves” is a less-than-veiled statement that Christianity is an emasculated religion (even if some men also happen to participate). Earlier in the letter, Pliny had already complained that this new religious movement has affected “both sexes,” men and women (Ep. 10.96.9).

4. Lucian, and virulent critic of early Christianity, comments about the “widows and orphan children” who were gullible enough to bring meals to the charlatan Peregrinus while he was in prison (Peregr. 12). The context of the reference shows that it was not intended positively, but as yet another reason to regard the Christian movement as unworthy of serious consideration by the Greco-Roman elite.

5. The final example is particularly egregious. In the early third century, Minucius Felix penned an apologetic work called Octavius which contains a dialogue between a pagan named Caecilius and a Christian named Octavius. Caecilius offers a lengthy diatribe against Christianity, including the criticism that early Christianity was recruiting from “the dregs of the populace and credulous women with the inability natural to their sex” (Oct. 8.4). Ouch.

So, what do we make of the fact that early Christianity was mocked for being pro-women? Well, it certainly turns the tables on the over-used criticism in the modern world that early Christianity was a patriarchal, misogynistic religion that was hostile to women. While that claim is repeated over and over, it is hard to sustain in the context of the ancient world. Indeed, it seems more true of the non-Christian, Greco-Roman elites.

In short, if early Christianity was a bad place for women, then apparently all the women who joined the movement never got the memo.

Solidarity, not charity: Why mutual aid reemerged in the pandemic, and is flourishing amid protests

(RNS) — Through mutual aid, activists and faith leaders argue, communities can bring to life a better world — one that is free of hierarchies.

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Secular Societies Fare Better Than Religious Societies

Phil Zuckerman Ph.D. The Secular Life

Secular Societies Fare Better Than Religious Societies

If religion withers, does society rot? Clearly not.

Posted Oct 13, 2014

It is said over and over again by religious conservatives: without faith in God, society will fall apart. If we don’t worship God, pray to God, and place God at the central heart of our culture, things will get ugly.

In his classic Reflections on the French Revolution, Edmund Burke argued that religion was the underlying basis of civil social order. Voltaire, the celebrated Enlightenment philosopher, argued that without theism society could not function; it is necessary for people to have “profoundly engraved on their minds the idea of a Supreme being and creator” in order to maintain a moral social order. Alexis de Tocqueville similarly argued that religious faith is “indispensable” for a well-functioning society, that irreligion is a “dangerous” and “pernicious” threat to societal well-being, and that non-believers are to be regarded as “natural enemies” of social harmony.

More recently, Newt Gingrich has argued that any country that attempts to “drive God out of public life” will surely face all kinds of social problems, and a secular country would be “frankly, a nightmare.” Indeed, in the aftermath of the wanton massacre of schoolchildren in Newton, Connecticut, Newt Gingrich publicly proclaimed that such violence was the obvious and inevitable result of secularism in our society. Mike Huckabee agreed.

Religion – or so the age-old hypothesis goes – is therefore a necessary glue for keeping society together. And conversely, secularism is a danger to societal well-being. For if people turn away from God and stop being religious, then crime will go up, corruption will increase, perversion will percolate, decency will diminish, and all manifestations of misery and malfeasance will predominate.

It is an interesting hypothesis. Perpetually-touted. And wrong.

Consider, for instance, the latest special report just put out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ( ) and recently summarized on the website 24/, which lists the ten states with the worst/best quality of life. According to this multivariate analysis which takes into account a plethora of indicators of societal well-being, those states in America with the worst quality of life tend to be among the most God-loving/most religious (such as Mississippi and Alabama), while those states with the best quality of life tend to among the least God-loving/least religious (such as Vermont and New Hampshire).

If you are curious as to which states are the most/least religious, simply check out the Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Survey. It’s all there. And then you can go ahead and check out how the various states are faring in terms of societal well-being. The correlation is clear and strong: the more secular tend to fare better than the more religious on a vast host of measures, including homicide and violent crime rates, poverty rates, obesity and diabetes rates, child abuse rates, educational attainment levels, income levels, unemployment rates, rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy, etc. You name it: on nearly every sociological measure of well-being, you’re most likely to find the more secular states with the lowest levels of faith in God and the lowest rates of church attendance faring the best and the most religious states with the highest levels of faith in God and rates of church attendance faring the worst.

And guess what? The correlation holds internationally, as well.

As I’ve discussed in my book Society Without God, and as I extensively elaborate on in my newest book Living the Secular Life, those democratic nations today that are the most secular, such as Scandinavia, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, etc., are faring much better on nearly every single indicator of well-being imaginable than the most religious nations on earth today, such as Colombia, Jamaica, El Salvador, Yemen, Malawi, Pakistan, the Philippines, etc.

As University of London professor Stephen Law has observed, “if declining levels of religiosity were the main cause of…social ills, we should expect those countries that are now the least religious to have the greatest problems. The reverse is true.”

Consider some specific examples.

The Save the Children Foundation publishes an annual “Mother’s Index,” wherein they rank the best and worst places on earth in which to be a mother. And the best are almost always among the most secular nations on earth, while the worst are among the most devout. The non-profit organization called Vision of Humanity publishes an annual “Global Peace Index.” And according to their rankings, the most peaceful nations on earth are almost all among the most secular, while the least peaceful are almost all among the most religious. According to the United Nations 2011 Global Study on Homicide, of the top-10 nations with the highest intentional homicide rates, all are very religious/theistic nations, but of those at bottom of the list – the nations on earth with the lowest homicide rates — nearly all are very secular nations.

Heck, look where Ebola is currently wreaking havoc? It isn’t in highly secular Sweden. Or highly secular Estonia. No – it is in various African nations where God is heavily worshipped, church is heavily attended, and pray is heavily engaged in.

Do societies fall apart when they become more secular? Clearly not.

And thus, the age-old hypothesis that religion is a necessary requirement for a sound, safe, and healthy society can and should be put safely to sleep in the musty bed of other such flagrant fallacies.


1. Really you got to be kidding me! What about the old communist system on the Soviet Union. That was a secular society with millions of people died. What about the Chinese communist how many millions died. What about all the people from North Korea Who have died.

1a RESPONSE: Good point. It is true that some of the worst societies have been atheistic/communistic. But in those cases, religion was wiped out by dictators. It was snuffed out by evil regimes. The people were forced to be secular, they didn’t choose it freely. When you look at societies that have freely become secular, the results are good. When people simply stop being religious of their own free will, the results are not disastrous at all. Just the opposite, as this piece shows. And if you’re going to bring up atheist dictators, what about religious dictators? From the Ayatollahs to Pinochet, from Baby Doc Duvalier to Idi Amin…not pretty….the bottom line is that all dictatorships are evil, be they religious or secular…so let’s look at the democratic world. In that realm, the secular clearly fare better than the religious.

1b Thanks for your input. There is indeed a big difference between imposed and voluntary secularism

2 I am an atheist myself and I agree with much of what you have said but did you really have to link Ebola to religiosity of the victims? Scientists currently believe that the Ebola virus most probably originated from apes. Not a lot of Monkeys or Apes in Sweden AFAIK. The more mammals you have then the greater the risk that their viruses will eventually infect humans. Bats are a particularly good vector for transmitting viruses to grazing animals and to humans. The bats roost in the tree, poop on the grass below which is then eaten by cattle and horses. I spent some time living in the subtropical suburb of Hendra in Queensland Australia. There are two major horse-racing tracks with lots of stables. Also lots of Moreton bay fig tree that the local fruit bats love to roost in. The result was the Hendra virus, deadly to both horses and humans. Read about it. Although, I must admit, racehorses are bred from Arabian horses, so the ones that died were probably Muslim.


It did seem a bit tangential, yet there are differences which may be relevant. Victims in Africa tended to distrust the medical help available and keep away from doctors. They may also have turned to religious means of cure. It is also reported that funeral practices could have helped spread the disease. In the UK we have much more confidence in our government and medical systems and, I hope, generally better education and understanding of disease. We’ve had Ebola in the UK before and it has been contained. So maybe religion doesn’t have a direct effect on outcome, but other factors in society that may be related even indirectly do.

2. Thank God! Welcome to America where we have freedom of religion. That principle deserves the credit for our success over the past 2 centuries more than secularism. Furthermore, militant secularism/atheism is as grave a danger as fanatical theocracy. Parents who despise God raise children who think they are gods, and parents who spurn morality lessons raise children who think they can write their own rules. We raised a generation who learned their 10 Commandments from "Law and Order" reruns and horror movies. The atrocities of the last century show the danger of moral relativism. The insistence that ‘enlightened secularism’ will usher in an era of peace and happiness is not just wishful thinking but dangerous cult doctrine propaganda.

4 Correlation is not causation. The south has always been comparatively poor, and the country was built on Christian values of hard work and self-reliance. Religion is not the cause of poverty. Nor is secularism the cause of prosperity in the north. In fact, over the last few centuries, worldwide, the correlation with prosperity is highest with Christianity. Japan was successful but they had state sponsored Shinto and persecuted Christians. In Germany, the "Protocols" was required reading for high school students. Clearly the long term correlation with peace and prosperity is highest with Christianity coupled with the freedom to believe what you want, southern states included.

Our continued prosperity is the result of entrenched Christian values which are now at risk. The rise of secularism is just idolatry of the human form, which brings its own dangers such as ‘mental illness’ and ‘drug addiction’ and the belief that we don’t always have free will, which is in my opinion a central religious teaching. You may not like all the morality lessons of the ancients (and can cherry pick the offensive ones) but for the most part they are perfectly valid even today and yet you seem to think that children don’t need to learn them. Or else you think that the government should be teaching them. Which these days will just create a generation of communists. And we all know the atrocities that can result in. Anti-Christian/secular societies (Communists/Russia/China, Japan, and Germany) caused the most destruction over the last century.

RESPONSE 4a The New York Times in late November, 2011 (28/29th) published the result of a Germany study of social justice in the 31 OECD countries. Iceland, the Scandinavian countries and The Netherlands filled the first six places and not one of them is strongly religious. The last five places were the USA, Chile, Greece, Mexico and Turkey. The best English language or English heritage country was Canada at eighth. Australia didn’t rate too well at 21st, mainly because successive Federal Government have been too impressed by, and too willing to follow, the USA. I am an atheist/secularist and I would back my ethics and sense of justice against at least 95% of people who are religious. In my mid-eighties I do many hours of social work per week and give away about 20% of my moderate retirement income to people who need it more than I do. Many of my atheist/secular friends do the same.

4B The analysis is not surprising, but what is possibly relevant is that there is a strong positive correlation between religiosity and poverty/ illiteracy/ low educational attainment. High educational standards are associated with lower crime, greater prosperity, greater wellbeing – and low religiosity. So the causal link might be educational attainment, rather than the impact of religiosity per se on morality.

4C The secular societies tend to be more left leaning, so have a better social safety net. As the result they have less social inequality which may be the reason they do so well. I’ve seen attitudes from more right wing Christians in America which I find shocking. Our NHS is seen as evil because it is supported by taxation. Where in the UK a Christian may see the NHS has espousing "Christian Values" of caring for others, the Americans I have talked to have seen it as anti-Christian because they believe Christ was a libertarian, and getting someone else to pay for your healthcare is not the value of "Self-reliance" mentioned above. I’ve seen American Christians say that it’s fine for someone who doesn’t have health insurance to just die as they should be self-reliant.

5 The usefulness of the category he is using:

In Zuckerman’s own words printed elsewhere. “Finally, a church should never be theorized about as "a single, undifferentiated entity" (169), but rather, churches should be understood as "complex organizations, encompassing multiple points of contact with their members that may bear on individual decisions to participate in politics" (184).”

Journal of Church and State, doi:10.1093/jcs/csq046 , Advance Access publication May 24, 2010

Christianity is still the foundation of our most treasured convictions

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4 Teachings of Jesus That His Followers (Almost) Never Take Seriously

by Brandan Robertson
, Christian writer, activist, & speaker who seeks to build-bridges across cultural, theological, and political divides.



4 Teachings of Jesus That His Followers (Almost) Never Take Seriously

Posted: 12/18/2014 4:51 pm EST Updated: 12/18/2014 4:59 pm EST




It’s no secret that those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ consistently fall short of living up to the way of life of our Rabbi. Being a disciple of Jesus is a lifelong journey towards conforming ourselves to the image and way of life that Jesus taught. However, so often, followers of Jesus chose to blatantly ignore some of the clearest instruction of our Rabbi and obscure it with vague theology so that we can get off the hook. Other times, followers of Jesus are taught something explicitly contradictory to the plain words of Jesus and then spend their lives obeying the instruction they received instead of the commands of Jesus.

However we end up at the place of disobedience, all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus struggle to obey the commands of our Lord. One of the most transformative periods in my faith was when I took time to re-read the Gospels of the New Testament and get reacquainted with Jesus’ himself, in his own words. As I studied the words of Jesus, I discovered that so much of what he asks of us as his disciples is incredibly clear and yet so much of it was new to me. I had never heard it in church or Sunday school or actually heard someone teach the exact opposite of the words of Christ. It was during that season of my life where I took inventory of how I lived and what I believed and aligned to the person and teachings of Christ that my faith was radically transformed for the better.

Below I have compiled a short list of 4 clear teachings of Jesus that most of us who exist within Evangelicalism have either never heard, refuse to acknowledge, or believe the exact opposite of. It’s my hope that by rereading these teachings of Christ, you will be inspired, like I have been, to return to the Gospels and begin to reshape your faith and life around the way and teachings of our Master, Jesus. Get ready and buckle up, because most of what Jesus says is pretty bold and potent. It’ll shake up your faith!

1. Jesus, not the Bible, is God’s living and active Word that brings life.

"You don’t have His word living in you, because you don’t believe the One He sent. You study the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me. And you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life."– John 5:39-40 HCSB

The Christian life is one that is fundamentally rooted in the reality that Jesus Christ is living and active. He interacts with us on a day to day basis and desires that we cultivate an intimate relationship with him. The more we commune with the Spirit of Christ, the more life and truth we are exposed to and are able to comprehend. However, for many Evangelicals, we rely more on the Bible than we do on the living and active Spirit of God within us. We fear that following the Spirit could lead to confusion and subjectivity and so we root our faith in the Bible. The problem is that a faith that is rooted in the Scripture alone is not sustainable. It will dry up and wither on the vine. While the Bible is an important and authoritative guide for Christian faith and practice, it isn’t the foundation or centre of our faith- Jesus is. And if we truly believe that he is alive,we should also have faith that communing with him will produce spiritual life within us. He is the living Word that we can ask anything to and expect, in faith, to receive and answer. Sometimes he will speak through Scripture. Other times he will speak through our friends and family. Other times he will find unique and special ways to reveal himself to us. But in order to maintain a vibrant and living faith, we must not make the Bible our substitute for communion with the living Word of God. Studying Scripture is valuable, but nowhere near as valuable as cultivating a day to day relationship with the God incarnate.

2. The only way to enter the Kingdom of Heaven is through DOING the will of God.

"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 7:21 ESV

"An expert in the law stood up to test Him, saying, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?""What is written in the law?" He asked him. "How do you read it?"He answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself."You’ve answered correctly," He told him. "Do this and you will live."– Luke 10: 25-28 HCSB

"We are saved by faith alone, apart from works!" This is a very popular Protestant catch phrase. The doctrine of sola fide (faith alone) was developed by the Reformers in response to the Roman Catholic Churches corrupted teachings that emerged in the 16th Century teaching that one could gain favour with God and shave off years in Hell and Purgatory by giving money to the church or doing acts of penance. The intention of the doctrine of faith alonewas very good- to correct the error that our salvation could be earned or that God’s grace could be manipulated. But like most doctrines that are formulated in responseto another group’s doctrine, it often goes too far. One of the clearest teachings throughout all four Gospel accounts is that the way to enter the Kingdom of God is through living in obedience to the Law of Christ. Time and time again, Jesus makes very clear statements that condemn those who think that they will be saved because they believe the right things or do the right religious rituals. Jesus responds to people who believe they are religious and deserve heaven by saying that their outward religiosity is detestable to God and the only thing God desires is that they would exercise their faith by obeying the command of God- to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. (Micah 6:8) Jesus says if anyone claims to be right with God but doesn’t serve the poor, needy, oppressed, marginalized, sick, diseased, and sinful, then they do not have a relationship with God. No matter what they proclaim with their lips. No matter how religious they may appear. Jesus says those who don’t obey will have no part in his Kingdom. He makes very clear that the way to "inherit eternal life" is through loving God and loving our neighbour. Isn’t it astonishing, then, how many Christians today have been taught that salvation comes through right believing instead of right practice- a message that is fundamentally contrary to the words of Jesus. (And even more to his little brother James who says, "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." James 2:24 ESV)

3. Condemnation isn’t Jesus’ style.

"I have not come to condemn the world, but to save it." John 3:17 ESV

"Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more."– John 8:11 ESV

Many modern day Evangelical preachers spend a lot of time talking about the kinds of people that God is opposed to and who he condemns. They spend time talking about how to transition from a position of condemnation before God to a position of Grace through believing the right things about Jesus. They often talk about those who disagree or live contrary to their understanding of what is "righteous" as those who are under condemnation from God. But what’s funny is that as one examines the teachings and life of Jesus, we find him not only befriending, loving, and affirming some of his societies most despised and vile people, but chastising the religious leaders who condemned them for their sin. Whether it is Jesus’ conversation with Rabbi Nicodemus in John 3 where Christ explains that it is his mission to redeem the world and not to condemn it or the instance where a woman is caught in the act of adultery and is taken outside to be stoned by the religious officials (as the law required) and Jesus steps in to stop the condemnation and proclaim freedom and forgiveness to the broken woman, it is clear that Jesus is not in the condemning business. Instead, it seems Christ is in the business of restoring humanity to the most broken and wicked of people. It seems that his passion is to see the weak, sick, and broken become strong, healthy, and whole in his Kingdom. It seems that he spends very little time (almost none) telling sinners why they’re wrong or speaking words of condemnation over them, but rather practically loving and extending grace to the most screwed up of individuals. Maybe we Evangelicals, who are known for our condemnation of entire people groups with whom we disagree, could learn something from Jesus on this point.

4. You’re supposed to sacrifice yourself and speak words of blessings for those you disagree with the most.

"Love Your Enemies and Bless Those Who Persecute You" Matthew 5:44 ESV

It seems like every week there is a new major controversy taking place within the Church. Most of the time, the situation revolves around one group of Christians disagreeing with another and then taking to the internet to write slanderous posts about the other. If it’s not infighting, then it is Christians engaging in culture wars, working to defeat those whom we disagree with politically and socially by painting them as soul-less monsters. But that response is absolutely contrary to the way of Jesus. Jesus calls his followers to love the people they disagree with most and to speak blessings over them when all we really want to do is curse them out. No matter what the situation is or what kind of enemy we have, Christians are called to bless the people who hurt us the most. This includes in theological battles, political disagreements, national wars, and personal conflicts. Christians are called to a radical position of nonviolence and forgiveness, grace, and even blessing of our enemies. There is no way around it. And when Christians chose to ignore these clear teachings, our hypocrisy is glaringly obvious to the watching world. Want some proof? Take a couple minutes to watch this clip of the famous Agnostic Comedian, Bill Maher, talk about Christian’s refusal to obey the teaching of Jesus. (Contains explicit language)

That video may be hard to stomach but Bill Maher is 100% correct. "If you ignore every single thing Jesus commanded you to do, you’re not a Christian."

The point of this post is to encourage those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus to re-examine how we are living our lives and practicing our faith. It is so easy to get so caught up in the flow that we fail to recognize just how far away from shore we have been carried. The words of Jesus are pretty darn clear, but oftentimes in our zealousness for our faith, we often get pulled away from the basics and eventually end up living in a way that we believeis honouring to God, but is actually contradictory to everything he has taught us.

In this post, I have offered just four examples. There and hundreds of teachings contained in the 4 Gospels of the New Testament, teachings that, if we obeyed, would absolutely flip our lives and world upside-down for the glory of God and the good of all people. What the Church as a whole and Evangelicals in particular desperately need in this age is a return to the plain teachings of Jesus. We need to be willing to set aside out theological debates and meanderings for a season and focus on simply reading, conforming, and obeying the will of Christ, both as revealed in Scripture and as we are led by his Spirit. The world is desperately longing to encounter Jesus through us and for far too long we have been giving them a cheap knock off that we have exported under his name. But it’s clear to everyone that what is passing for Christianity today is almost totally divorced from the teachings of Jesus Christ.

My prayer is that we would all turn our faces towards our risen Saviour and seek to selflessly follow his commands. I am convinced that the Jesus’ way is the only way that will heal our broken world. I am convinced that the whole earth is groaning as it waits for men and women to take of their crosses and follow in the way of redemption. I am convinced that when those of us who call ourselves "Christian" re-orient ourselves in Jesus, the power of God will flow through us in an unprecedented and miraculous way that will bring salvation to the ends of the earth. Oh how I long for that day.

"Those who aren’t following Jesus aren’t his followers. It’s that simple. Followers follow, and those who don’t follow aren’t followers. To follow Jesus means to follow Jesus into a society where justice rules, where love shapes everything. To follow Jesus means to take up his dream and work for it." ― Scot McKnight

This post originally appeared on The Revangelical Blog on Patheos.

The views expressed in this piece are exclusively those of the author and not of any of the organizations that he represents.