Lydia the Purple Dealer
11 We sailed from Troas straight for Samothrace and came to Neapolis the following day. 12 From there we went to Philippi, a city of Macedonia’s first district and a Roman colony. We stayed in that city several days.13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the riverbank, where we thought there might be a place for prayer. We sat down and began to talk with the women who had gathered. 14 One of those women was Lydia, a Gentile God-worshipper from the city of Thyatira, a dealer in purple cloth. As she listened, the Lord enabled her to embrace Paul’s message. 15 Once she and her household were baptized, she urged, “Now that you have decided that I am a believer in the Lord, come and stay in my house.” And she persuaded us.
Lydia the Businesswoman
When Paul first arrived in Philippi, he sought out the city’s synagogue first to meet the local Jewish people, however there were few jews in Philippi and therefore there was no recognized formal synagogue inside the town. As the city had expanded, the growth of the city spilled out past its walls. This is where Lydia lived. She was a business woman and a dealer of purple cloth. This meant she sold garments dyed with tyrian purple, a dye that is created by boiling marine snails that would create the dark reddish-purple hue. It was difficult, dirty and smelly work. The text only mentions Lydia as a purple dealer, not a purple dyer. She may have been the middle woman between the dyers of the cloth and the sellers. Lydia’s clients would have been the wealthy elite of the area, the only ones who would have been able to afford this expensive textile for their clothing and upholstery.
Lydia was financially independent and led her household, which would have included her family as well as domestic slaves/servants that were a part of her business. She was wealthy enough to be able to host Paul and his associates in her home, alongside her household staff and she would eventually host the church in her home. She was smart enough to run a successful business, paying attention to the complexities it involved.
Philippi was the first place Paul went to spread the gospel in Europe. There were so few Jews there that an official synagogue couldn’t be established, (there was a requirement of at least 10 Jewish males). There are no men mentioned when Paul met the group of women alongside Lydia.
Paul would have grown up as a Jewish boy daily trained to pray: “Thank you, Lord, that you did not create me as a slave, a woman or a Gentile.” In a subtly humorous way, according to Luke, these are the categories of Paul’s first three converts in his ministry to Europe.
Church Planter & Leader
Paul met Lydia and her companions outside of a “proseuchēs”, a place of prayer or prayer house usually placed next to a body of water for ritual washings. Paul engaged with the women, speaking about the interpretation of scripture and the Messiah. Lydia was the first woman to respond to the Gospel. She was not a Jew, but a “God-worshiper" or "God-fearer”--someone who worshiped with the Jewish community but had not been fully converted. In her eagerness and excitement of the good news, she generously offered to host Paul and his companions, where they stayed for some time. Paul’s stay with Lydia would have provided sufficient time for her to be taught to carry out his ministry of teaching and preaching after he and his companions moved on.
Paul met the women of Lydia’s circle at a sacred worship space near water. Water sustains our bodies and Jesus is referred to as living water. It is common in scripture for women to have profound encounters with the Holy Spirit when water is near. Hagar meets with the “Angel of the Lord” near water and is given an awakening so great she names God “the God who sees me” and later receives her call to take Ishmael to Egypt to begin a great nation (Gen 16:7-16, Gen. 21:17-21). The Samaritan woman at the well, (aka Photini), encounters Jesus at a well, is filled with the Spirit and becomes an evangelist to her town (John 4:1-39). Similarly, Lydia meets with Paul, her eyes are opened to the Spirit and she becomes a church planter and leader as a result.
What do you think about the connection to water as a source of life and the Holy Spirit bringing new life? In what ways may we have lost our connection to the sacredness of water in our modern Christianity?
- Kroeger, Catherine Clark, Mary J Evans, and Mary J Evans. The Ivp Women's Bible Commentary. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002, (pg. 621).
- Torjesen, Karen Jo. When Women Were Priests : Women's Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of Their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity. First HarperCollins paperback ed. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins, 1995, (pg. 14).