Thecla, Theocleia, and Thamyris

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Women in the Early Church

  • Thecla's name is a variant on the Greek name, Tecla, which means "God's glory."
  • She was a young, but betrothed, virgin living in Iconium.
  • Paul traveled to Iconium with Barnabas during his first missionary journey. Iconium was near Lystra (See Acts 13-14). It was one of the major cities in the southern part of Galatia. (There is no reference to his encounter with Thecla anywhere in Acts.)
  • Thecla and her mother, Theocleia, lived next door to Onesiphorus with whom Paul was staying during his visit. (There is no mention of Barnabas in the story of Thecla.)
  • Thecla heard Paul preaching through an open window and refused to leave the spot. The text says "for days on end," but it is unlikely that Paul spoke continuously all that time. Perhaps it means that she was constantly at the window.
  • She saw many other young women going in and out, and desired nothing other than to be made worthy to stand in Paul's presence and to hear the word of the Lord.
  • Paul's preaching included the demand that a person should "fear only one God and live in chastity."
  • Theocleia became distraught over Thecla's refusal to even eat or drink anything, and called in her fiancé, Thamyris, to come and have a talk with her.
  • Thamyris appeared to be not only a well-to-do suitor, but also well respected. He identified himself as "first man of the city," probably indicating his prestige and importance. Surely, their betrothal was a good match, and one that would have provided much security for the lives of Thecla and her mother.
  • However, Thecla ignored Thamyris' appeal. The text uses words that imply she had completely fallen in love with Paul and his preaching, and had fallen out of love with Thamyris.
  • Worried about losing his future wife and being the object of public humiliation, Thamyris engaged two of Paul's companions who were only too willing (for a fee) to make trouble for Paul. They filled him in on the details of Paul's teachings.
  • Grasping the seriousness of the situation, Thamyris accused Paul of teaching against the social order and the law of nature, i.e., Paul's teachings were encouraging young virgins to remain chaste and thereby depriving husbands of their wives.
  • According to Paul's companions, this was all based on Paul's preaching that the promise of resurrection was only valid for those who remained chaste and pure.
  • They proceeded to help Thamyris formulate a plan that would involve prosecuting Paul.
  • The idea was that if Paul were out of the picture, Thecla would return to Thamyris.
  • Thamyris needed no further encouragement; he immediately went to the house of Onesiphorus accompanied by club-carrying men and public officials.
  • Thamyris and the crowd agreed to take Paul to Governor Castellius on the charge of "destroying the city of the Iconians."
  • Obviously, this indicates the matter was no longer personal, but now affected the whole city and should rightfully be decided by the governor.
  • The governor, however, was not persuaded by the charges, and asked Paul to defend himself.
  • Paul's defense corroborated the charges, so the governor had him bound and put into prison until the governor had more time to devote to the case.
  • That night, however, Thecla bribed a guard in order to be taken to Paul, where she spent the night "sitting at his feet, listening to his teachings, and kissing his bonds."
  • The next morning, all of her household was frantic with worry, wondering where she could have gone.
  • Finally, one of the servants questioned the gatekeeper, who told them she went to be with Paul in prison.
  • After finding her there, her family reported these happenings to the governor.
  • This is when Theocleia demanded that Paul be scourged and sent on his way; Thecla, however, was to be burned at the stake so that "all the women who have been taught by this man may be afraid."
  • Paul was beaten and sent away; Thecla was convicted of crimes against the people. She was stripped and put on the fire. She faced her sentence alone, convinced she was doing the right thing.
  • Though the fire burned brightly, it did not touch her. Then a cloud came from above, full of water and hail, and put out the fire. Thecla was saved. • She left to find Paul.
  • Years later, Thecla would return with enough money to care for her mother, and they would reconcile, though Thecla did not stay with her.
  • Thecla lived independently for decades, healing and teaching and baptizing many who came to her.

Bible Characters