Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Devout, Honorable, and Chief Women of the Jews and Greeks

Sarah from "Shelves in My Mind" sent me an email a few weeks ago with her thoughts about the Great and Honorable Women she had come across in her reading of Acts. I thought she had some great ideas and asked if she would write it up for a guest post. So today I am excited to share her thoughts!

Acts 13:50

But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts.

Acts 17:4, 12

And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.

Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.

Francois-Joseph Navez
Women Spinning in Fondi

When I recently read these verses, it immediately struck me that the devout and chief women in both communities – Jewish and Greek – were looked up to by others for their honourable characters.

This is an interesting contrast: the Jewish women, who were “devout and honourable”, were called upon by their neighbours and friends to expel an Apostle of God from “their coasts”. The influence of these women was considerable – they were able to turn the entire surrounding area against the Apostles.

Likewise, it was the “devout”, “chief” and “honourable women” of the Greeks that welcomed these same Apostles into their lives with open arms. The influence of these women was also considerable – “many of them believed”, both men and women.

When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Antioch, they preached the gospel in the synagogue and were well received at first. Both Jews and “religious proselytes” (Gentile converts to Judaism) were touched by their words and at the end of the day they didn't even want them to stop preaching. By the next morning, word had spread among the people and nearly the entire city gathered to hear the words of Paul and Barnabas.

This sudden popularity racked the Jewish leaders with envy and they became determined to keep hold of their status; they began attacking Paul and Barnabas, first by speaking out against them, then by contradicting them, and finally by blasphemy, or preaching false doctrine and denying the witness of the Holy Ghost.

Their efforts failed, and not only did many people believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but the words of Paul and Barnabas were spread throughout the region.

It was only when the “devout and honourable women” were called upon, alongside the chief men of the city, did the Jews succeed in persecuting the Apostles enough to remove them from their city and the entire surrounding area.

On a later journey, Paul and another companion, Silas, were preaching in a synagogue in Thessalonica, the capital of Macedonia. They were there for several weeks, and a great multitude of the Greeks believed their words.

Once more, the Jewish leaders were stirred up in envy. They managed to get a group of extremely wicked men together and “set all the city on an uproar.” It seemed that the situation was very serious, and the disciples were forced to smuggle the Apostles out of the city by night, to nearby Berea. Here the people were “more noble” and searched the scriptures themselves in order to find the truth in Paul's words. Again, the “honourable women” believed, and many people were converted.

There is one key difference in these two experiences. In both accounts the Apostles preached in the city synagogues, as was customary, and many people believed. The Jewish leaders were stirred up in envy of the large crowds gathering to hear Paul's words, and did everything in their power to get them out of the synagogues and surrounding lands.

Yet it was only when the “devout and honourable women” were called upon to influence the people, that the Jewish leaders were successful in expelling the Apostles from Antioch and the lands around: “their coasts.”

Yet when Paul and Silas were forced to flee Thessalonica, they had the support of the people in the nearby town of Berea and managed to continue preaching the gospel to many more people. The women in these towns believed, and the missionary work was able to progress with much success.

I believe it is no accident that Paul's missionary work was vastly more successful when the women believed in and supported his efforts. George Albert Smith, 8th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, encouraged the Relief Society sisters to “make [their] influence felt.” He asked for women to “be as anchors in the community in which you live that others may be drawn to you and feel secure.... It is our duty to set the example.

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “We believe that the Church simply will not accomplish what it must without your faith and faithfulness, your innate tendency to put the well-being of others ahead of your own, and your spiritual strength and tenacity.”

The example of the people of Berea stands out to me as the main reason why the Greek women were so receptive to the Spirit; not only did they listen to the words of Paul, but they studied the scriptures and received a testimony of their own.

Our modern times aren't all that different to Paul's. Righteousness is shouted down at every opportunity; without the foundation of a strong testimony, rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, our influence won't necessarily be used for good.

I love Elder Ballard's phrase, “spiritual strength and tenacity.” A persistent determination in the face of social pressure is required in order to stand for truth and righteousness. By following the example of these early Christian converts, we too can become devout and honourable. 

Sarah is an American, married to an Englishman, with three daughters and one son. Her interests include quilting, gardening, green smoothies, sci-fi, rollerskating and window shopping. She can be found at her blog, Shelves in my Mind, where she rambles about many, many things.


  1. I think what I have learned the most from these women is just how powerful women's influence is. What we allow and support happens-- for good or bad. That is really a lot of power and I think often times women don't realize it. I just think about pornography-- really if women didn't tolerate it and even embrace it as "normal" and "inevitable" -- would it really be as big as it now is? What if we as women really took a stance agaist it? I think we could change things. War? I think we could change that too. We just underestimate ourselves so much or are just lured away into a false sense of security. We have may not always have the power but we have influence!

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  3. (Sorry - caught a typo!) This post and Heather's comment both made me think of Leymah Gbowee's memoir "Mighty Be Our Powers" about how the Liberian civil war was only finally stopped when the women stood up and said "Enough!" Thanks for this insightful post!

  4. (Sarah from Shelves in my Mind, here... I'm logged into my google account!)

    That story sounds amazing, EmiG. I will definitely check it out.

    Heather, your example of pornography really rings true, because without women's cooperation it wouldn't even exist in the first place!

  5. Heather, haven't read this yet, but I wanted you to know that I blogged about you!