web space | free website | Business Hosting | Free Website Submission | shopping cart | php hosting

Course: Studies in Feminist Theology: The Feminist issues in Luke-Acts

Mr. Philip Yim Kwok Hung


Seim, Turid Karlsen. The Double Message: Patterns of Gender in Luke-Acts. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1994).

Corley, Kathleen E. Private Women, Public Meals: Social Conflict in the Synoptic Tradition. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993).

The Critique on Corley's work.

A. Table of Contents


Ch. 1: Women in Early Christianity and Early Christian Communal Meals 3

Ch. 2: Women in the Context of Greco-Roman Meals 24


Ch. 3: Women and Meals in the Gospel of Mark 83

Ch. 4: Women and Meals in the Gospel of Luke 108

Ch. 5: Women and Meals in the Gospel of Matthew 147


B. Summary of Content:

C. The Critique on Corley's work





B. Summary of Content:

This work examines how women's differing roles in the ancient Greco-Roman world are reflected in the Gospel portraits of women. Corley argues that women's roles were changing in two directions, more equality and more traditional, throughout Greco-Roman world by observing the change in women's portrayals in meal or banquet settings. This provides a good reference to analyze the conflicting portrayals of women in the Synoptic Gospels in New Testament.

The author uses the insights from the fields of Christian feminism, classical social history and social anthropology to reconstruct the actual situation of women in N.T. times. By analyzing the Greco-Roman meal ideology and meal innovations, the evangelists’ attitudes towards women and social change may be reconstructed.

1. Women in the Early Christianity and Early Christian Communal Meals

History of Scholarship on Women in Early Christianity

Scholarship on Women and the New Testament

Four positions existed among scholars: reaffirm the patriarchal tradition, reinterpret women's subordination, reconstructs a new history of women, and rejects the Bible altogether. Christian feminists and Biblical feminists are criticized by scholars as depicting Judaism as an overly oppressive religion on women. Modern research has shown that Hellenistic Judaism was appealing to many Hellenistic women and Jewish women were not overly oppressed during N.T. times.

Scholarship on Women in Greco-Roman Antiquity

Susan Treggiari has reviewed the scholarship in this aspects upto 1975. The more balanced view established by J.P.V.D. Balsdon and unromaniticized approach by Sarah B. Pomeroy are recommended. Modern trends of study are focusing on the actual lives of women in antiquity, rather than literary representations of women. Eva Cantarella finds that Roman women enjoyed "relative freedom." Legal materials, inscriptional evidence, visual art, and documentary papyri are used to reveal the actual lives of women in these times.

Categories of Women in Antiquity

Different classes have different lives, and a wealthy man does not imply a higher social status which is determined by birth. There are basic social categories of women in Greco-Roman antiquity, namely aristocratic women, freedwomen, Free women, and slave women.

The Public/Private Dichotomy

The segregation between public and private spheres for men and women is a long tradition in the West. Likewise the ancient Greek men could move freely in open places and respectable women were confined to the domestic or private sphere, mainly household affair. Usually, only courtesans, household slaves and prostitutes appeared in the public scenes with men. This dichotomy may have caused the controversy over women in leadership positions in the early church.

History of Scholarship on Early Christian Communal Meals

Communal Meals in Early Christianity

The early Christians might have gathered for standardized meals like their Greco-Roman counterparts. Jesus’ followers, the Pauline groups, and other Christians communities might have the same practice. Dennis Smith have proposed that the early Corinthian Christians followed the same common Greco-Roman meal tradition for their own religious meeting. He also suggests that the Gospel of Luke uses the formal banquet (symposia) motif as a literary strategy, comparable to that of Plato's Symposion.

Social Anthropology of Food and Meal Innovation

Lee Klosinski proposes that Mark uses "mood and meals” as essential themes to build blocks for parables, metaphors, characterization, discipleship, narrative settings and plot devices. The meals and feeding scenes are of a series, which ends in the Last Supper. This reflects Markan community is a community at table,” which emphasizes one's ability to serve and not one's social status.

The Direction of This Study

The author uses the insights from the fields of Christian feminism, classical social history and social anthropology to reconstruct the actual situation of women in N.T. times. She hope to reconstruct the position of women in the Synoptic communities and in early Christianity generally. By analyzing the Greco-Roman meal ideology and meal innovations, the evangelists’ attitudes towards women and social change may be reconstructed. She finds different positionings of women in the meal customs in Synoptics. Mark uses literary banquet themes involving women, but shows indifference on the slander on these women by other traditional minded people. Luke moves further to show the women in his narrative are respectable. Matthew depicts women as reclining for meals in public with men and even identified some as prostitutes” in his narrative. Basically, she uses the following line of thought,

As a social practice tremendously resistant to change, standardized meals undoubtedly functioned to maintain and stabilize the class-based social hierarchy of Greco-Roman society. Innovations in meal practice would have undermined the basic social constructs and power relations in Greco-Roman society. Innovations in the meal practice of women and slaves, then, would undermine the gender and class-based hierarchy of Greco-Roman society, as well as the gender-based division of that society into public” and private” categories.”

2. Women in the Context of Greco-Roman Meals

From the late Republican to the early imperial period, social patterns affecting women's participation in public formal meals or banquets is changing. Women began to attend public meals, a behavior associated with lower-class women, prostitutes, freedwomen, and slaves. Slander against these women tends to connect them to prostitutes. Traditional meal ideology restricts the actual participation of women in public meals. Women in Hellenistic religious and philosophical groups are labeled as sexual promiscuous against their women members. This is also used against other religious groups like the Dionysus cult, the Egyptian Isis cult, Hellenistic Judaism, and early Christianity. Greco-Roman Cynics and Epicureans are also attacked.

This social innovation in meal practice can be found in all Hellenistic society and reflected its influence in art and literature from the second century BCE through the third century CE. But social ideology on women's table etiquette was changing slowly which resulted a consistent rejection to this practice. Other aspects of the new limited freedom of Greco-Roman women during the early Empire, shared by women in the Jesus movements can be found beside participation in public meals.

3. Women and Meals in the Gospel of Mark

Women figure is prominent in Mark: They follow Jesus, receive healing and depicted as Mark's ideal of discipleship, which holds the humble state of a slave. Though women appear in Markan meal, but Mark shows no interest in the scandalous nature of these settings for women. The anointing of Jesus is rejected on the basis of its cost, not its promiscuous nature. The Syro-Phoenician woman is not accepted because she is a Gentile. The Pharisees accuse Jesus' dining with "tax-collectors and sinner," because it embraces Gentiles who are ritually unclean.

Mark uses these scenes to reveal his theological purposes and redirect his readers to these points and covers the problem of scandal. Thus, the social conservatism of Hellenistic world is revealed. He encourages the leaders to be subservient does not mean a full support for egalitarianism. In Mark, women are never explicitly described as eating or reclining with men, and they rarely speak in public. They are set as in contrast to the daughter of Herodias, and Mark does not call them (courtesans.)


4. Women and Meals in the Gospel of Luke

Luke presents women of varying social classes in his work, but he uses meal terminology to advocate the more traditional Greco-Roman role for women. He discourages women from taking active leadership roles in the early Christian mission in preaching and teaching. Women is depicted as table servant, but the ministry and apostleship are reserved only for the men. The Twelve are dominant in the ministry of preaching and teaching. The conflict between Martha and Mary is taken as an discouragement against women seeing their role as equal to that of men. Luke depicts prophetess, but they never say anything in public. A public/private dichotomy corresponding to men/women's roles is advocated by Luke.

Luke knows well about Greco-Roman literature. Therefore, he depicts the women in the public meals in line with the customs of traditional roles for women. He may also intend to counteract the active heroic depictions of women in the Apocryphal Acts. Luke advocates the traditional roles of Greco-Roman women are silent, submissive and ready to learn at Jesus' feet.

5. Women and Meals in the Gospel of Matthew

Matthew is the only Synoptic Gospel which describes women reclining with men for meals. Women and children join the men in miraculous feedings, Eucharistic feasts which is a portrayal of egalitarian community. Women accepted as disciples and even set up as examples of true faith and Christian service. Matthew pays attention to the slander against the mixed gender dining practice. He mentions Jesus' group inherits "courtesans" and even includes Gentile women associated with harlotry in his genealogy and later narratives.

This egalitarian ecclesiology may absorbs from the an earlier source, namely Q. This may reflect the merging of the Q community into Matthew's community, in which the characterization of Jesus and John as Cynics who welcomed women into their circles is used.

C. The Critique on Corley's work.

This is a very insightful work which provides a new angle to analyze the men-women relationship in the Synoptics. I will analyze my response under three topics:


The author uses the insights from the fields of Christian feminism, classical social history and social anthropology to reconstruct the actual situation of women in N.T. Though it is a good new way, but she cant provide a systematic approach. Like the work of Gerd Theissen, he provides a systematic analysis framework for analyzing the early Christian Movement. The two main elements, itinerant Charismatics and community organizers, both have four factors: namely, socio-political, socio-economic, socio-ecological, and socio-cultural. I suggest to establish a more clear-cut and structural analysis system. For example, polar comparisons may be constructed: like meal / other setting, public / private, men / women, slander / indifference, central / peripheral, Roman / Greek / Jewish / Christian (this Gospel) / other Gospels (including gnostic).

The family-like” life of the early Christian Churches has been analyzed by many scholars, like Dr. Sandnes. This approach can shed lights on the family vocabulary and family-like life, e.g. meal, among Christians. Putting the two approaches together, we can see some agreements and inconsistence. The public formal meals become paradox. These meals are understood by Christians as for relatives” (brothers and sisiters) only? or similar to that of Hellenistic philosophical groups? I think the former one is preferred. Further study on the combination of these two approaches and other new insights are demanded.

She used the following idea as a corner stone, as a social practice tremendously resistant to change, standardized meals undoubtedly functioned to maintain and stabilize the class-based social hierarchy of Greco-Roman society. Innovations in meal practice would have undermined the basic social constructs and power relations in Greco-Roman society.” But she never provides any proof for this statement! How does she know that meal customs are resistant to change! Besides the methodology of social anthropology is not introduced or analyzed in her work. We can only rely on the works of social anthropologists without any basis to judge them. No tools in this field are introduced to help us to analyze the texts.


The scope is narrowed in the Synoptics. Why Doesn't the author include John? John must be written before the second Century, it can reveal the traditions flowing from the Synoptics to that of the Gnostic Gospels. Since these workd in the Nag Hammadi Library can reveal the conflicts between men and women in the early churches in the 2 - 3 C., I suggest to include them in later study on the development of traditions. Though these Apocryphal Acts provide some data on the 2nd C churches, but working backward from them may not be an appropriate method to reveal the situation in


Taking the erotic art of the Roman period as a reconstruction of a romantically viewed past” is somewhat strange (c.f. p.35.) Why the Romans have to imagine something never exist in their meals to irratate their wives? What is the purpose of this dreaming? I think accepting as the real life of this time is more acceptable.

The triumvirate core of Jesus’ disciples in Mark is a very good observation (p.85.) But one more thing can be added. The women trio” is always mentioning Mary Magdalene in the first place.

Using the Ancient Greek, together with some Hellenistic examples, as a proof for the connection between tax-collectors and prostitution is weak (pp.90-92.) The context doesn't hint any relationship to prostitution, nor any attack or theme relating to it.

The analysis on Herod's banquet is insightful. The status of Herodias’ daughter deserves more research. What will she become when she have to dance before Herod? Doesn't it the job of the dancers (usually prostitutes) ?

The relationship between Luke and Mark and Q is not convincing in p. 133. Here the author finds Jesus’ consorting with lower-class tax-collectors and their women an unheroic behavior. This is contra to her assumption on "heroic” image of Jesus in Luke. She then proposes that is the tradition absorbed from Mark and Q. If Luke really strives to provide this heroic image, why don't he leave the description on these scenes?

Corley proposes that Luke holds a traditional view on women's roles (e.g. Luke 17.) But as Corley mentioned in p.117, the seven are chosen to serve the women (Acts 6)!

On top of this, the judgment on Ananias and Sapphira is contra to the so-called be-littlement” of women in the early Church. Corley points out that ,in pp. 119-12, Luke have centred on Peter (Lk 4:38-39.) and other disciples seem to disappear (p.121.) This trend is dominant in Acts too! Therefore the silence” of women in Acts may be caused by the central characterization plot on Peter and Paul, Lukan traditional views on women, and the social slander against women's appearance in the public. But in the conflict between Martha and Mary. The author claims that is to level the women's fight for equality with men. Contra to that, it is Martha, who follow the serving roles of traditional women, is rebuked by Jesus, not Mary, who adapt a learning role.

Besides, the public / private dichotomy argued on p. 145 by footnote 189 is not sound. Anna clearly delivered a public speech! (Lk 2:38.) Elizabeth argued for the name John” before neighbors and kinsfolk! (Lk 1:58.) The appearance of Lydia in public prayer place beside the river is not a private setting! (Lk 16:13.) In addition to this, she and her household were baptized” (Lk 16:15.) Her lordship over her household is clearly stated!