Were Thecla’s actions justified by the teachings and views of Paul

Times are changing and today, traditional gender roles are being let go. The traditional female role included responsibilities within the household. Women are responsible for child bearing, as well as raising children, household chores, etc. Paul’s message on gender roles is rather ambiguous, although it could due to numerous authors attributing their writings to him. One attribution was “The acts of Paul and Thecla”, this account was not canonized, but it was very popular. Are Thecla’s actions, as described in this account, legitimized by the views and teachings of Paul? In the canon there are numerous accounts of Paul mentioning the role of women in what is now Christianity.

Gender ideologies in ancient Rome established the inferiority of women. According to Ehrman, “Women were on the lower end of the scale for biological reasons: they were ‘men’ who had only been partially formed in the womb”. In this time the Romans believed that women were men who had not formed penises. In the sexual scenario, men were the penetrator, thus they were dominant. Women, since they did not have a copulatory organ, were the penetrated, thus inferior. This is translated into social status as men were responsible for providing for the family, and for political attribution along with counsels of other men. Women were placed in the home, they did not expose themselves outside very often. In order to keep them inside were placed the responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, teaching children, and other home chores.

The uprising of Paul’s message called the interest of many females in this time. The onset spread of Christianity included gatherings in local follower’s homes. Paul did not preach his teaching is social establishment such as a temple, rather in the privacy of people’s homes. Females have jurisdiction in their homes, it is their full responsibility to upkeep their home. Early Christianity allowed women to actively participate in the gatherings and teachings. An example would be Agape Meals, these were meals that replicated the events at the last supper. Women would prepare the meal as well as the table for the gathering. Men and women together would pray, the purpose of the meal was to commemorate Jesus. Within a typical synagogue or Jewish temple where woman are restricted as well as silenced, when they are allowed inside. The openness and active participation caught the interest of many women.

The Acts of Paul and Thecla was a popular account of a young female who abandons her responsibilities in order to follow Paul. Thecla is engaged to marry, but after hearing Paul’s message of celibacy, she refuses to marry as well as participate in any sexual acts. Her mother and Fiancé report Paul for blasphemy and he is put in prison. Thecla bribed the guards in order to see Paul, when her mother and Fiancé realized this, they bring them to the authorities. Her mother suggested that they burn Thecla, in order to bring fear onto all women who follow Paul. Miraculously she was not burned by the fire, and so she was released. She went to Paul and together they went to Antioch. When an influential citizen of Antioch embraced her amicably she tore his cloak. She was then put on trial where she was charged with being sacrilegious. She was put in arena to fight with beasts, and again she left untouched. She was set free, and then she continued her life preaching the word of Paul. She cut her hair, and dressed like a man, it could have been for safety or it could have been a statement against social norms.

Thecla claimed that she was following the teachings of Paul, were her actions dignified according to Paul’s teachings? In the cannon, Paul writes in regards to women’s roles, this includes being submissive, being silent, and not having authority. In Ephesians 5:22 it states, “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord”. In Colossians 3:18 it states, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly”. These two quotes are very similar to each other. According to Levine it is likely that Colossians, Ephesians, and 2nd Thessalonians were not by the original authors of Corinthians and 1st Thessalonians. Although Paul could have contributed to them. In these two passages, it is emphasized that women be submissive to their husband. In regard to both quotes, the passages explained that the wife should be subject to the man, as man is subject to Christ. In the Household codes, the hierarchy placed reflected that of the roman hierarchy. God, with man or husband subsequent, woman after, then children, a then slaves.

Thecla was inspired by Paul’s preaching or celibacy. In first Corinthian’s Paul does in fact promote celibacy in both male and females. Specifically in 1st Corinthians 7:8-11, Paul explains that if you have urges that you cannot control, then it is acceptable to marry. Although, Paul does say that it is better to remain celibate, like he is. This is because Paul believes that the end is near, and there is no need to procreate if the time of judgment is coming soon. Not only does Thecla not marry her fiancé, but she had a sudden aggressive outburst against a male citizen. She also began preaching on her own and teaching the views of Paul. In 1st Corinthians Paul explains how women should be silent.

This goes against Thecla’s subsequent actions. 1 Corinthians 14:34, “(As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says)”. This line is also found in 1st Timothy, but it is a very peculiar quote. According to Erhman, neither of the two were written by the authors of Paul, but were inserted by scribes in order to make Paul and the Pastoral Epistles seem parallel. According to Erhman, the Pastoral Epistles were written long after Paul’s death. It is in parenthesis because, it was that that this was a side note, but then was put into the canon. This specific quote seems out of context, because before and after this quote, Paul is lecturing about false prophets.

In first Corinthians Paul states that women were made for man, this statement would make women inferior to men. “but woman is the reflection of man. Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man”, 1st Corinthians. In Timothy Paul suggests that Eve was created from Adam, and that she was deceived by the devil. This passage suggests that the first sin was caused by Eve trying to teach Adam. “I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent”, Timothy 2:9. The letters of Paul are very ambiguous and some are not legitimate, including the Pastoral Epistles. In 1 Peter 2:13, an important moral is explained. One must follow government and institutional rules. Rules are set to decipher right from wrong, and by doing right one is doing right by God. Christian followers must blend in with the environment and follow social regulations. Thecla did not do this, she went against government authority and publicly declined social norms.

Traditional Roman gender roles established that women were inferior to men. Thecla did not marry her fiancé, aggressively humiliated a man, and publicly preached with authority all in the name of Paul’s teachings. Paul’s overall view on women’s role in society is ambiguous and difficult to decipher from numerous canonized accounts. Although, assuming all canonized accounts were by Paul, her actions were not justified based on the teachings and views of Paul. For a female to publically overpower a male, and teach with authority, was not in accordance with Paul’s teachings.


Cave Painting of Thecla found at Ephesus
Cave Painting of Thecla found at Ephesus

The Summon of Watchfulness Mark 13.32-37












The Summon of watchfulness

In Mark 13.32-37

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” This passage starts off with the unknown. It a controversial statement made, because theological development has expressed Jesus as all knowing. The statement refers to the apocalypse that will come at the end of days. Only God knows when the end will come. “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come”. We need to be ready for the end, inclining that the end will be coming soon. Mark is telling the reader specifically to be prepared, but that no one knows exactly when. “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge”. This could be a metaphor, God could be the man going on a journey. This refers to the beginning of time, the creation story, and the fact that God has ownership of Earth. The “slaves” could be man, the people who inherit the Earth that God left for them. “Each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch”. Man inherited Earth from God, and with it all the responsibilities of maintaining it. “The doorkeeper”, could be referring to the guards at the gates of Heaven. Theological development expresses the teaching that no man was allowed into the kingdom of heaven until Jesus died for their sins. ”Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn”. Mark refers to God as the “master” who will one day return to Earth. There is continuous stress of being aware and prepared for the coming. “Or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Mark expresses the consequence of the return of God, and how you need to be ready. (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=312047224)

In Erhman we read that Mark is the first gospel written of the 4 main gospels in the canon. Mark was written about 30 to 40 years after Jesus’ death (30ce), 65-70ce. The 2nd Roman revolt and the destruction of the temple occurred in 70 ce. Political revolt and the destruction of the temple were a result of the events. Blood running in the streets, military men in chains, and women enslaved. This was a devastating time in history. The authors of Mark most likely witnessed or were primarily affected by these events, which could have led them to write the gospel. Mark was a gentile and did not understand Jewish tradition. The gospel provides an outsiders view of Jesus. The audience of this time were enslaved or negatively affected by the revolt. It seems to be a very dark time, the gospel could have been written as a document of hope. The stress on the urgent coming of the end could be due to the search for a better life in the afterlife.

The phrases, “Beware”, “Alert”, and “Awake” are repeated throughout the passage. This passage expresses the second coming of the “Master”.  As stated in the bible notes, Jesus on various occasions refers to the” Son of Man” in the gospel of Mark. In Mark, Jesus never bluntly refers to himself as the Son of Man. Though in this specific passage he did not, say the Son of Man will come. He does state, “Neither the son knows”. Contrary to the theological development of Jesus, Mark states “No one knows when only the Father knows”. If Jesus were to be one with God in the trinity then he should be all knowing. A metaphor of “slaves” living in the “Masters” home is claimed in the text. Mark is expressing the necessity to be prepared for the return. Also throughout Marks gospel he expresses that the “coming” will happen within the readers lifetime.

Chapter 13 of Mark ends with this passage, “The necessity of watchfulness”. The passage right before this is “The lesson of the fig tree”. “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place”. This passage uses the metaphor of the growth of trees in spring, is a sign that summer is coming soon. In the same way “you will now the end has come”. Mark describes how the end will come before the current generation has died. Even before this passage is “The coming of the Son of Man”. “The powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” The sun will not shed light and neither will the moon, the stars will fall and then you will see the son of man”. Mark sets up an apocalyptic description of the “end”. This build up is concluded with the passage “The necessity of watchfulness”, explaining the consequences of those who are not prepared for the end. (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=312047182)

In Mark, it is common that Jesus speaks of the messiah and of the Son of man but never directly refers to himself as so. Other gospels openly claim that Jesus claimed that he was the messiah. An example is in the gospel of John, “I who has been here even before time itself”. In John, Jesus is portrayed openly as the Son of Man and the Messiah contrary to Mark. This passage is found in the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and Thomas. Apocalyptic descriptions of the end of days are extensively found in the book of Daniel. The depiction of the end of days is contrary to the “regular” parables and depictions of Jesus in the bible. . A very dark judgmental view of God and of Jesus is depicted in this passage.

Themes of the coming, and coming soon are expressed calling for preventative measures to be set now. Similar passages are found in the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and Thomas. Matthew and Luke were historically found to have used mark as a template for their writing. This passage is found in the gospel of Thomas, which is a set of quotes stated by Jesus. The gospel of Thomas is gnostic, which means knowledge and understanding. The gospel of Thomas is written on the basis that you need to understand what Jesus said in order to understand who he was, and what he stood for. It is very dualistic including: ignorance vs knowledge, death vs. life, not saved vs saved. “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew). This opening statement of the passage found in Matthew mirrors that of Mark. Although, Matthew rewords the metaphor found in Mark of the master and his slave. “If the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.” (Matthew). This has a different tone to it, compared to the master coming home to his house. A “thief” breaking into a home, as if it were a disruption. This is also found in the gospel of Thomas. “I say, if the owners of a house know that a thief is coming, they will be on guard before the thief arrives and will not let the thief break into their house and steal their possessions. As for you, then, be on guard world”. (Thomas) These passages still express the message of being prepared for a type of coming. Thomas and Matthew describe a thief, but they describe the Son of Man coming specifically. “Be on guard…and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap”. (Luke)  Matthew, Luke, and Thomas specifically state that is the Son of Man who is coming. “Be alert at all times… and to stand before the Son of Man”. (Luke)





Mark is isolated from the other gospels, in that in his gospel Jesus is secretive. Mark’s Jesus, never claims that he is the Messiah, or the Son of Man. He preaches about his coming, and about God, also he keeps his identity underground. In the other gospels Jesus is outspoken, and very authoritative. In the gospel of John he claims to be the Messiah and the Son of Man. Although Mark’s gospel has historical errors, it is the oldest gospel, and should be more credible than that other gospels. An example of an error was the stress of the Pharisees being against Jesus. The Pharisees were not the predominant group during Jesus’ time, the Sadducees were. During the time of Jesus there were many preachers and religions. Some of which preached about the apocalypse and the end of time, although during that time religion had a base of the “now” principle. In Ehrman it is described that religions were established to assist the living, not care for the afterlife. Examples would be deities that were correlated directly to you and watched over you. Jesus could have preached about the apocalypse and the end of days and it would be socially acceptable.


I found numerous articles published by authors who correlate themselves with Atheism that sited this passage. “I find it strange and a bit inconsistent that some affirm that Mark 13:32 denies the earthly omniscience of Christ, yet they remain unwilling to apply their argument to the Father”. (Jes Omnic) “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark) This statement is a key statement used to disclaim theological developments of the trinity. If Jesus were one with the Father he would share in his divinity. Jesus would then know when the end of the world was, because God is all knowing. It is continually seen in the gospel of Mark that Jesus never really claims to be the Son of Man. Mark is only one gospel, and this one quote should not be the bases of an entire idea, rather an idea should have numerous resources to prove its claim.


The piece displayed is actually a graffiti piece that is a spin on Rene Magritte’s “Son of Man” portrait. Rene’s piece displayed a man with a fruit over his face. Her piece was inspired by the creation story. Man was created and was in perfect harmony with God, and then he ate the fruit of the “tree of knowledge”. He was then condemned and left on earth, cursed with curiosity. This graffiti piece places the “Apple” logo on his face. The piece is called, “The Son of man II”. The artist incorporated how the new temptation of knowledge is all technical now. We are living in the technological generation. The fact that not only was there one piece of art, but two fit perfectly with the context.


Rene Magritte

“The Son of Man”