An Important Corrective to the Traditional Narrative
A Feature Review of
Tell Her Story: How Women Led, Taught, and Ministered in the Early Church
Paperback: IVP Academic, 2023
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Reviewed by Joshua Rhone
In his book Tell Her Story: How Women Led, Taught, and Ministered in the Early Church, Nijay Gupta provides a detailed and compelling account of the role of women in the early Christian Church. Through extensive research and analysis of primary sources, Gupta challenges the commonly held belief that women were marginalized and excluded from leadership positions in the early Church, and instead offers a nuanced and complex picture of the diversity and vibrancy of women’s roles in the first few centuries of Christianity.
Gupta begins by examining the cultural and historical context in which the early Church emerged, noting that the Roman Empire was a patriarchal society that often relegated women to subservient roles. Despite this, Gupta argues, there were still many opportunities for women to exercise influence and leadership within their families and communities. He highlights the ways in which women were involved in various aspects of religious life in the Greco-Roman world, such as serving as priestesses, prophetesses, and devotees of various cults and mystery religions.
Gupta then turns his attention to the New Testament, where he argues that there are numerous examples of women playing significant roles in the early Church. He examines the stories of women such as Mary, Martha, and Mary Magdalene, arguing that they were not simply passive followers of Jesus, but active participants in his ministry who provided financial support, offered hospitality, and even engaged in theological debate with him. Gupta also highlights the role of women in the early Christian communities, pointing to passages in the New Testament where women are described as deacons, apostles, and even leaders of house churches.
In the subsequent chapters of the book, Gupta delves deeper into the lives of specific women in the early Church, offering detailed accounts of their contributions to the development of Christian theology and practice. Gupta also explores the lives of women who played key roles in the spread of Christianity, such as Phoebe, Junia, and Lydia, showing how they used their social networks and financial resources to support missionaries and evangelists.
One of the most powerful aspects of Gupta’s book is the way in which he humanizes these women and brings their stories to life. Through his detailed research and engaging writing style, he provides readers with a sense of the challenges and opportunities these women faced as they navigated their roles in a patriarchal society. He also shows how these women were able to exercise agency and exert influence in various ways, even when their formal opportunities for leadership were limited.
At the same time, Gupta does not shy away from the limitations and challenges that women faced in the early Church. He acknowledges that there were certainly areas of the Church where women were marginalized or excluded, and he does not romanticize the past by suggesting that everything was perfect or equitable. However, he does challenge readers to rethink their assumptions about the role of women in the early Church, and to recognize the diversity and complexity of women’s experiences.
Another strength of Gupta’s book is his willingness to engage with different perspectives and interpretations of historical evidence. He acknowledges that there are still debates and does a fantastic job of providing additional resources, in terms of books and peer reviewed articles that can be read.
Overall, Tell Her Story is a well-researched and compelling book that provides an important corrective to the traditional narrative of women’s marginalization in the early Church. Gupta’s analysis is nuanced and complex, and he provides readers with a wealth of information and insights into the lives of women in early Christian communities. His book is a valuable resource for anyone interested in the history of Christianity, the role of women in religion, or the ways in which social and cultural norms shape religious practice and belief.
Joshua Rhone is a husband, father, and pastor. He is a graduate of Houghton College (B.A. in Religion) and Portland Seminary (M.A. in Ministry Leadership and M.Div.). Josh currently in a season of transition. He and his family are moving from Manchester, Pennsylvania, where he has served as lead pastor St. Paul United Methodist Church to York, Pennsylvania, where he will serve as the lead pastor of Zion Church, an United Methodist congregation.
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior
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