Unveiling Women's Agency in Early Christian Leadership, Reclaiming It in Korean Christianity Today


Yu, JungJa Joy

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This paper aims to unveil women’s agency in ecclesiastical structure and so many Biblical and historical written records in Early Christianity, reclaiming it in Korean Christianity today. It explores women’s leadership issues through historical consciousness of Roman gender ideology impact on early Christian communities. During the formative period of early Christianity (1st - 5th century), women leaders were present, and carried out ministerial and leadership functions. Yet, accounts of Christian history have largely marginalized the presence and contributions of women, often directly reinforcing the suppression of women’s leadership in pastoral ministry through to the contemporary context. Even though early Christianity was grown in part by the contribution of so many women leaders’ commitment, the church intentionally omitted their participation and/or distorted their roles and images as it developed church structures in ways that have limited women’s leadership and authority, excluding women from ordination and some roles in church ministry. The invisibility of women’s leadership in the historical record can be understood through an examination of the socio-theological-philosophical contexts of gender ideology in Roman society. The dualistic gender hierarchy of the Roman gender ideological system strongly influenced and shaped the patriarchalization of the Christian church as the church began to be institutionalized in the early centuries of its development. Many early church fathers from the 2nd to 5th centuries who were uncomfortable with women’s leadership utilized their writings as a platform to oppress women in ministry. The controversy over the apostleship of Mary Magdalene is one of the exemplary cases illustrating how male leaders in early Christianity attempted to exclude women. Additionally, the church has developed its structure in ways to limit women’s authority, excluding women from ordination and roles in pastoral ministry. With this historical consciousness, it is important to recognize that this oppressive gender ideology continues to maintain the unequal treatment of women leaders in current Korean Christian ministry.


I. Introduction
II. Historical Consciousness of Women’s Agency in Early Christianity
1. Women’s Agency of Early Christian Times
2. Importance of Historical Consciousness
III. Roman Gender Ideology and Women’sLeadership Roles within Early Christian Groups (1st–5th Century)
1. Roman Gender Ideology
2. Women’s Leadership Roles in the Early Church
IV. Rediscovery of Apostleship of Mary Magdalene
1. Controversies over Mary Magdalene
2. Reclaiming Her Apostleship: Who Was the Real Mary Magdalene?
3. Socio-Historical Meanings for Legitimizing Women’s Leadership in the Early Christianity
V. Reclaiming Women’s Agency in Korean Christianity Today
VI. Conclusion


  • Yu, JungJa Joy Hanyang University


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