success stories

Posted January 30, 2004

Book: Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities
Author: Bruce W. Winter
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, pp. 236

An excerpt from the Jacket:

In ancient Roman law you were what you wore. This legal principle became highly significant because, beginning in the first century A.D., a “new” kind of woman emerged across the Roman empire — a woman whose provocative dress and sometimes promiscuous lifestyle contrasted starkly with the decorum of the traditional married woman. What a woman chose to wear came to identify her as either “new” or “modest.”

Augustus legislated against the “new” woman. Philosophical schools encouraged their followers to avoid embracing her way of life. And, as this fascinating book demonstrates for the first time, the presence of the “new” woman was also felt in the early church, where Paul exhorted Christian wives and widows to emulate neither her dress code nor her conduct.

Using his extensive knowledge both of the Graeco-Roman world and of Paul’s writings, Bruce Winter shows how changing social mores among women impacted the Pauline communities. This helps to explain the controversial texts on marriage veils in 1 Corinthians, instructions in 1 Timothy regarding dress code and the activities of young widows, and exhortations in Titus for older women to call new wives “back to their sense” regarding their marriage and family responsibilities.

Based on a close investigation of neglected literary and archaeological evidence, Roman Wives, Roman Widows makes groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of first-century women, including their participation in public life as lawyers, magistrates and political figures, which in turn affected women’s ministry in the Pauline communities.

An excerpt from the book:

In light of the evidence produced in connection with the number of injunctions given to young Cretan Christian wives, it is suggested that they had been influenced by some of their secular married sisters. Terminology used in Titus to counter the situation in Crete fits well with what is known of the “new” Roman women’s conduct with their lack of interest in the welfare of the household which Cretan women had to demonstrate their ability to run before marrying. The neglect of her husband as well as her children presumably in favour of a social life that might involve casual extramarital affairs is also commented on. The call, therefore, was for the young Christian wives to come to their senses and no longer follow the secular trend. Just as such a promiscuous mindset earned the disapproval of the philosophical schools and might attract legal penalties under Roman law, so too there was a strong rebuke to be given to young Christians wives.

There could be no special pleading for those wives in the Christian communities on Crete. While their cultural tradition and legal provisions had long ago given them more independence than their sisters in the Eastern Mediterranean, they were not justified in embracing the avant-garde ground rules of the “new women” with the coming of the Romans to their island. These new mores might also have furthered their freedom in another area — inappropriate liaisons with those not their husbands with the resulting neglect of their own spouses and children. In addition, there was the complex management of what was regarded as the backbone of first-century culture, viz. their households, where they were required to “take the helm and steer the household course.” It was not the legal status in terms of their own property that was being curtailed in any way in the instruction given in Titus 2:3-5, but their conduct as married women that contradicted their confession of the grace of God that was bringing salvation to all. The aim was to recall them from a lifestyle that replicated that of the new women whose values had found fertile ground with some in Cretan culture.