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Ordained Women in the Early Church

A Documentary History

edited and translated by Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek

Publication Year: 2011

In a time when the ordination of women is an ongoing and passionate debate, the study of women's ministry in the early church is a timely and significant one. There is much evidence from documents, doctrine, and artifacts that supports the acceptance of women as presbyters and deacons in the early church. While this evidence has been published previously, it has never before appeared in one complete English-language collection. With this book, church historians Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek present fully translated literary, epigraphical, and canonical references to women in early church offices. Through these documents, Madigan and Osiek seek to understand who these women were and how they related to and were received by, the church through the sixth century. They chart women's participation in church office and their eventual exclusion from its leadership roles. The editors introduce each document with a detailed headnote that contextualizes the text and discusses specific issues of interpretation and meaning. They also provide bibliographical notes and cross-reference original texts. Madigan and Osiek assemble relevant material from both Western and Eastern Christendom.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

In the collection that follows, we believe that we have included all known evidence for women deacons and presbyters, at least in the Greek- and Latin-speaking worlds. The existing evidence is published in many sources, some accessible to the general reader, but some published only in old and obscure reports, and a considerable amount not translated from the original languages...

Source Abbreviations

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pp. ix-xiii

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pp. 1-10

While there have been several studies of women in church office in recent years, none has attempted to collect all the evidence, both literary and epigraphical. That is the goal of the present volume. It builds on and supplements the collection of literary texts made by Josephine Mayer...

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pp. 11-24

The New Testament texts most frequently understood to refer to women in church office and that have been commented upon favorably with respect to women deacons are Rom 16:1–2 and 1 Tim 3:11. While today scholars are divided on whether the women of 1 Tim 3:11 are deacons or wives of deacons, the ancient consensus, in a world in which women...

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Chapter Three. WOMEN DEACONS IN THE EAST: Literary Texts, Literary Allusions, Inscriptions

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pp. 25-105

It is clear that the office of female deacon or deaconess was much more present in the East than in the West. We can probably assume that Phoebe and other unnamed women deacons like her in the first and perhaps second century belonged to an office or function that was not distinguished by sex (see discussion in chapter 2)...

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Chapter Four. WOMEN DEACONS IN THE EAST: Canons and Comments on Church Practice

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pp. 106-132

After having seen some of the real data about the lives and activities of female deacons, we turn to some of the prescriptive texts to compare images of their functions in the church...

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Chapter Five. WOMEN DEACONS IN THE EAST: Later Texts Bearing on Earlier Evidence

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pp. 133-140

The following discussions in the Eastern Church from the seventh century and later all shed light on further interpretation of some of the texts presented in the previous chapter. Several, for example, witness to the belief in their day that, though deaconesses no longer functioned liturgically, they were once fully ordained members of the clergy and even entrusted...

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pp. 141-149

There is no evidence for female deacons in the West until the fifth century, about the same time, curiously, that the inscriptions about female presbyters appear. The objections to women serving at the altar, however, are from the previous century, probably under the influence of Priscillian (see chapter 8, First Synod of Saragossa)...

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Chapter Seven. WOMEN DEACONS: Testamentum Domini Nostri Jesu Christi and Related Texts

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pp. 150-162

The TD is an early Christian church order, depending literarily on some form of Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition, as well as an apocalypse and other sources.1 It purports to include the instructions Christ gave to the Twelve after the Resurrection, on issues of ecclesiastical order,...

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pp. 163-202

The title of presbyter is always subject to contextual interpretation. Whether of males or females, it can refer to an elderly person, as for example the presbyteroi and presbyterai in 1 Tim 5:1–2, while the presbyteroi of 5:17 are probably in some position of authority. Moreover...

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Chapter Nine. CONCLUSION

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pp. 203-206

In the preceding pages, we have presented what we believe to be all the extant evidence in Latin and Greek for women holding the offices of deacon and presbyter in both the Eastern and Western Church. Also included are a few references from the Syriac-speaking churches...


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pp. 207-212

Index of Ancient Names

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pp. 213-216

Index of Deaconesses, Presbyters, and Episcopa

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pp. 217-218

Index of Modern Authors

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pp. 219-220


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p. 221-221

E-ISBN-13: 9781421401577
E-ISBN-10: 1421401576
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421400372
Print-ISBN-10: 1421400375

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 14 halftones, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2011