We have a lot of documents from early church fathers, who were as far as I'm aware always male, but is there any accounts of females acting in a leadership or authority role similar to that of the early church fathers in the same period, between 100 and 350 AD?


2 Answers 2


The role of deaconess was provided in the early Church. There is a discussion of this in the answer to:

How were women to serve the church according to the Apostolic Fathers?

The Apostolic Constitutions declare:

Ordain also a deaconess who is faithful and holy, for the ministrations towards women. For sometimes he cannot send a deacon, who is a man, to the women, on account of unbelievers. Thou shalt therefore send a woman, a deaconess, on account of the imaginations of the bad. For we stand in need of a woman, a deaconess, for many necessities; and first in the baptism of women, the deacon shall anoint only their forehead with the holy oil, and after him the deaconess shall anoint them.

But this was not a leadership role, as you suggest. From Apostolic times, women were specifically excluded from assuming any sort of leadership role in the Church. This is obvious from Paul's admonition that women should not even speak in the Church (1 Corinthians 14:34). The only possible exception might be the role of abbess, which developed in the 3rd century as monasticism took hold in Egypt and elsewhere. Even here, though, a women's monastery (or "convent") required the occasional service of a (male) priest to administer the sacraments.

  • Very interesting, do you know when the Apostolic Constitution is dated? Aug 11, 2016 at 2:13
  • The document is actually a collection of different writings and what we have today seems to have been dated to the late 4th century. Parts of it, however, rendered from early third century texts and the seventh book clearly is based on the Didache, which was written sometime in the first century. There is a description here - orthodoxwiki.org/Antiochene_Rite
    – user22553
    Aug 11, 2016 at 15:25
  • sure, thanks for the information it was very insightful Aug 12, 2016 at 2:56

Yes, there's one denounced in Revelations for false teaching.

Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

(Revelations 2:20-23)

This is a part of the section of the Book of Revelations that consists of letters to seven contemporary churches is what is now Turkey. They're not symbolic, but very literal discussions with them about their successes and failings at that time.

So, yes, there were clearly female leaders and teachers in the early church. If there wasn't, Jezebel wouldn't have been able to teach the things she got denounced for - and yes, the Jezebel mentioned here was a real, contemporary woman, and not a symbolic reference to an Old Testament figure with the same name.

  • Jezebel was an Old Testament figure and not someone from the Early Church. In Revelation, Jezebel is symbolically associated with false prophets. Jehu later ordered Jezebel's servants to throw her from the window. Her blood splattered on the wall and horses, and Jehu's horse trampled her corpse. He entered the palace where, after he ate and drank, he ordered Jezebel's body to be taken for burial. His servants discovered only her skull, her feet, and the palms of her hands—her flesh had been eaten by stray dogs, just as the prophet Elijah had prophesied. Jezebel's death was around 850 BCE.
    – Ken Graham
    Oct 31, 2021 at 15:21
  • @KenGraham These were letters to contemporary churches. They weren't symbolic; this letter is talking about a contemporary woman named Jezebel, not the Old Testament figure with the same name.
    – nick012000
    Oct 31, 2021 at 20:57
  • You will have to provide sources to back your statements.
    – Ken Graham
    Oct 31, 2021 at 20:59
  • @KenGraham I literally quoted the relevant text of the Bible.
    – nick012000
    Oct 31, 2021 at 21:02
  • In the Book of Revelation, Jezebel is symbolically associated with false prophets. Quotes need to be explained!
    – Ken Graham
    Oct 31, 2021 at 21:04

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