Many times, people focus on Phoebe (Romans 16.1) as an example of the woman’s role in primitive Christianity – but what about Chloe?
For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. (1Co 1:11 NKJ)
We know several things about the background of 1st Corinthians, the first and foremost, that the local church was undergoing factionalism. At this time, local congregations did not meet in a large assembly hall, but in homes, perhaps many homes, throughout the city. Further, we know that women were rarely given the same social standing as men.
Who was Chloe to the Church at Corinth? William Ramsey (Historical Commentary on 1st Corinthians) notes that most likely, considering the weight that Paul placed on her representative’s testimony, she was an outsider to the local squabbles in the congregation. This is plausible considering that Paul did not take sides in the letter, but sought to bring both back to the one foundation. Had he adopted one side over the other, it would have muted his voice. Paul goes so far as to figuratively place himself and Apollos at the head of the divisions so as to not single out the true instigators of the troubles (1st Cor. 4.6). This has to add weight to the mention of Chloe’s name as the instigator of the the letter. Further, as Calvin (on his commentary) points out, Paul didn’t mention ‘some of the household’ of Chloe had reported these things to him, but all those of the household. It would be absurd to believe that Paul hid the culprits of the report behind the head of the household and those who brought what could have been a condemnation from Corinth on the entire household.
What made up a household in Roman times? According to Florence Dupontv (Daily Life in Ancient Rome), the household was made up of more than just the immediate family and hangers on, but slaves, freedmen and women, including aunts, uncles, cousins, and ex-in-laws. Families to the Romans were more about alliances and contacts than our notion of Traditional Marriage. Considering the Roman rules on marriage, bloodlines, and property ownership, it is difficult to see Chloe, as mentioned here, as anything but the head of the house – whether by widowhood or not. Normally, a woman would be considered as a part, or perhaps apart, from her husband’s household, owing more to the male ownership of women and a tool to carry on the bloodline or to forge alliances than to an actual marriage of love. If it is Chloe’s house, it is the exception to the rule; if it was another’s house, such as Chloe’s husband, son, or brother, then they would have been mentioned. The weight of evidence suggests nothing more than this was her house, and she was the head of it.
So, who exactly is Chloe? First, she is the exception to the rule in ancient Roman Society. Secondly, she is not an exception to the rule in Pauline thought. As we have mentioned Phoebe who was a deaconess in the early Church, we’ll move to three other highlights in Paul’s doctrine:
- Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews, who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles and became followers of Christ before I did. (Rom 16:7 NLT)
- Give my greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus. (Rom 16:3 NLT)
- There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28 NLT)
First, here, Junia is a feminine name, and Paul counted her among the Apostles (note, the term ‘apostle’ means a wide range of people. Only later did it come to fully stand for the Twelve.) Second, it was against custom to present the name of the wife before the name of her husband. Third, as we will cover later, those in Christ did not operate in the same social structure as those in the world around them. For in Christ, there was no respect of a person based on their style and manner of their birth.
Paul displays the characteristics of someone who was highborn – he was the product of a marital union which netted him Roman citizenship – and a Pharisee. He was a member of the ruling class in ancient Palestine, and indeed, for much of the world due to his Roman citizenship. he was well-educated, and no doubt connected. Yet, for Paul, after Christ, he became no one. While we find that Paul does respect roles for men and women (some would dispute the letters in which this is showcased) he is careful, I believe, to keep them equal as humans, and further, to remind us that the social structure of the outside world is not the social structure of the Church.
It is possible that Chloe was indeed head of the household; however, since not only did she send out messengers to report to Paul, was she something more than the head of a household, an anomaly in and of itself in ancient Rome. Returning to the point that her name was mentioned, she had to have served in a more secure position than a simple ‘pew filler.’
Just who was Chloe, and how important was she?