Lydia: the purple cloth dealer

In only 24 words, we learn that Lydia was from the city of Thyatira (an ancient Greek city in Asia Minor), believed in God, and dealt in purple cloth. From other sources, we know that Thyatira was home to a significant Christian church as well as known for its dyeing facilities, which would relate to Lydia’s leadership in the church and her work in purple cloth.

A woman of status who sold a luxury item, Lydia was relatively wealthy. Scholars believe that her home was large enough to house several people, as suggested by her invitation to Paul to stay with her. This businesswoman supported Paul and his companions, both by offering them lodging and being their financial patron.

We meet Lydia on the sabbath praying by the river outside the gates of Philippi. The group met there regularly enough that Paul and his companions were able to find them. He preached to them that day, at some point baptizing Lydia and likely her household. Lydia, the first convert to Christianity of Philippi, led a house church in her home, which became the first Christian church in Europe. Paul later wrote that he prayed in joy in every one of my prayers for all of you.

Once again we learn about a woman from ancient times provided leadership in her community and in the nascent church. Lydia, like other women introduced in Acts, provides an example of a woman who makes courageous decisions, sacrifices her own resources and comfort, and brings the Good News to her family and her neighbors. Once again, she stands in stark contrast to many of the stereotypes constructed about women in ancient times and in the early church, replacing reticence with courage, dependence with boldness, and passivity with leadership. 

*Orthodox churches regard her as equal to the apostles and observe June 25 and March 27 as her feast days. Roman Catholics celebrate her feast day on August 3 and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commemorates her with Dorcas and Phoebe on January 3. 

Biblical Source

Acts 16:13-15

New Revised Standard Version

13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Philippians 1:3-5

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 

Secular Source

Richard S. Ascough, Lydia: Paul’s Cosmopolitan Hostess (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2009).

Copyright release

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

©Suzanne O’Dea, 2021

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