MARCH / APRIL 2016: BY VERONICA LEIGH
One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.
Mentioned only one place in the Bible, it is a little challenging to piece together the story of Lydia. However brief her appearance, history has not forgotten her. Living in approximately 50 A.D., she was from Thyatira in Asia Minor; the meaning of her name reflects her heritage “the Lydian woman.” Some scholars speculate that Lydia was not even her personal name, but a description. On the other hand, Lydia was a common name in the ancient gentile world.
When Paul and Silas encounter her, she is living in Philippi, and seems to be running a successful business. Lydia is a seller of purple cloth, which happens to be another clue to her origins—the waters of Thyatira acclimated to dyes well and the city was known for them. It is not known if Lydia was involved in the dying process or if she merely operated the business side of things. Either way, she was ambitious. It is speculated that Lydia was a woman of independent means, not common in first century A.D. Unless, of course, the woman was divorced; or a widow in charge of her deceased husband’s affairs. This would explain why those living in “her household” were considered hers, rather than her husband’s, brother’s or father’s. Therefore, in a time when women were not valued, Lydia was the head of the house.
According to the Book of Acts, Lydia was already a worshipper of God. The people of Thyatira primarily worshiped the Greek god Apollo under the name Tyrinnus. However, there was a Jewish element based in the city, but perhaps not large enough to form a synagogue. How or where this gentile woman came to know the Lord, through Judaism, the Bible does not specify.
She and a few other women are gathered by the riverside, worshipping and praying when Paul and Silas approach them. It is unusual for two men to approach a group of women. Yet in the family of Christ, male and female are equal. On hearing their message, she accepts Jesus into her heart and becomes a Christian. She and her household are immediately baptized; maybe in the river where she met the missionaries. This is the first recorded account of a European convert to Christianity as well as the first European baptism.
Lydia then addresses Paul and Silas, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.”
Through her perseverance, she was able to persuade the missionaries to stay at her house. Can you imagine the conversations they had, the questions she and her family asked, the stories that were told? It would have been a memory that lasted a lifetime. Lydia and her family could say they met Paul of Tarsus and that he and Silas had taught them personally about their Lord.
The two verses in Acts are the first and last mentions of Lydia. Her narrative officially ends there. What became of her, we will never really know.
In the Book of Revelations, there is a church based in the city of Thyatira. According to the Bible and other Christian witnesses, Paul never visited Thyatira. While there is no evidence to indicate that Lydia ever returned her city of origins, it is not out of the realm of possibility. As an independent woman of means, she could have easily traveled back to Thyatira to spread the Gospel and founded a church.
Today Lydia, seller of Purple is revered as a saint. An independent woman and an entrepreneur, a convert to Judaism, and now a saint… but in her heart of hearts, she is daughter of the one true God. ♥
Veronica Leigh is an aspiring novelist, who lives in Indiana with her family and six furbabies. Her obsessions range from Jane Austen to the Holocaust to Once Upon a Time. She has published two short autobiographical pieces and hopes to see more in print. She also lurks on her blog.