Posts Tagged ‘Acts of Paul and Thecla’

But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. …. Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. … Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. … but this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; … But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint up on you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord. …. so then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better. (I Corinthians 7:8-40)

We cannot begin our series on women in the Patristic Era without talking about Thecla. Thecla is remembered as one of the female companions of the apostle Paul. While there is some debate swirling around Thecla, most historians agree that Thecla was a real person. In an apocryphal book called Acts of Paul and Thecla, which appeared around 180 A.D., the story is told of how Thecla was converted after hearing Paul preach and went on to be his disciple. She wanted nothing more after that but to learn about Christ and take the gospel to the lost.

Thecla was living in Iconium at the time. She was engaged to be married, but she broke the engagement off and took a vow to remain a virgin after hearing Paul preach. It is understood from reading the Acts of Paul and Theclathat Paul was perhaps preaching about marriage, and more specifically about the married state in the end times. Paul believed with all the other Christians that Jesus could come back any time. Reading the verses quoted above, we see that Paul was not necessarily speaking against marriage, only encouraging those who weren’t married to stay that way since “the time has been shortened” (verse 29).

Thecla was also moved by Paul’s words that those who remained virgins were committed to Christ first and may be “holy both in body and spirit” but those who were married had to be concerned about their husbands first. This concept is important to remember in order to understand why Thecla disobeyed her mother and broke her engagement to Thamyris, a prominent man from an important and powerful family. Thecla actually angered her mother, Theocleia when she turned down a marriage that would have given her a comfortable and influential life. Neither her mother nor her fiancé could understand why Thecla would live such a life of many sacrifices for the sake of an unknown god. Thecla wasn’t concerned; she set out to be Paul’s disciple.

According to the Acts of Paul and Thecla, Thecla traveled with Paul in Galatia assisting him in the preaching of the gospel. When Paul and Thecla went to preach in Antioch of Pisidia she met a new obstacle. Alexander, a local official fell in love with her. When Thecla rebuffed him, he responded in anger. He managed to get her punished by having her thrown in a Roman arena to face the beasts. Amazingly, the beasts did not harm her while she merely stood and prayed.

In the meantime, Thecla had befriended a woman named Tryphaena who rescued her after her ordeal with the beasts. Tryphaena was a relative of the emperor, so when she asked for Thecla’s release, the governor was unwilling to refuse her. Alexander capitulated and dropped his charges. Thecla went home with Tryphaena and converted her to Christ. Thecla remained with Tryphaena for eight days preaching until most of Tryphaena’s household was converted.

The story ends with Thecla going back to Iconium to visit the house of Onesiphorus where she first heard Paul preach. In addition to that, she made a reconciliation with her mother. Thecla then continued to travel, preaching and teaching until she died in Seleucia.

How much of Thecla’s story is legendary? Certainly she must have been a real person. Just because we have lost so many early writings and manuscripts does not mean that she did not live. Too many people honored her in the early church for her to have been a figment of somebody’s imagination. Her miraculous escape from the beasts in the Roman arena is questioned by some, but let us not forget that Paul miraculously escaped death while on the island of Malta when he was bitten by a poisonous viper (Acts 28:1-6). God did perform miracles for His servants. We will just have to wait until we get to Heaven to hear the whole story.

What is undoubtedly factual though is that by the end of the 2nd century it was noticed that some women were following Thecla’s example. One early church father, Tertullian, commented on it. Though the Acts of Paul and Theclawould not be included in the canon of Bible as we have it today, it was widely read by Christians in the 2nd through 4th centuries. For the first several centuries traveling prophets and preachers, men and women, could expect the hospitality of Christians as they entered cities just as Paul and Thecla did while traveling.

Thecla would also become an example for future generations of men and women who would take vows of chastity. Thecla’s story must not be overlooked because we will see in the coming weeks as we look at the lives of other women in the Patristic era, that men and women honored Thecla by reading the Acts of Paul and Theclaand taking it seriously and making pilgrimages to her shrine.

We don’t have so many itinerant preachers in our day. Most missionaries find a place to live. It is difficult for some to imagine the lives of those who gave up marriage and “normal” lives just to take the gospel to the lost. But even now, there are thousands of single women and men who still follow in Paul’s and Thecla’s footsteps to serve Christ. As we explore the stories of women in the Patristic Age, we will encounter many who dedicated their lives serve Christ and others.



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