“On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. She opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’” Acts 16:13-14. (NRSV- New Revised Standard Version, 1990)
In the above scripture passage, the first thing told is that they (Timothy, Paul, Luke and Silas) met with a group of women at a place of prayer. Presumably, there was no building since the text indicates that they met at the riverbank for prayer. It is the importance of prayer that is emphasized about this group of women.
Out of this group, one woman is singled out by name – Lydia. “Lydia may be a proper name or it may mean “the Lydian,” designating the region in which Thyatira was situated. This area was famous for the manufacture and use of purple dye and Lydia had brought this business to Philippi. This woman was a Gentile who had accepted the highest elements in Judaism.” Based on the NRSV translation used above, (I recognize that other translations may have the word order differently), following her name being stated, the next important aspect about her identity is that this Gentile woman is “a worshipper of God.” We might read this as an unusual way for a person to be introduced; by her gender, name and that next of importance is her religious faith. Many of us introduce ourselves or are usually introduced by our name and what we do, that is our work or professions.
Having been introduced to us first by her person (woman), then what she professes (her faith); the last thing the author says about Lydia is her profession (work). She is a dealer in purple cloth. In this time period, dealing in “purple cloth” is a prestigious business. Purple cloth was so expensive that the rich, emperors and queens only could afford and/or wore it. It was a symbol of wealth, power and royalty.
One would think that introducing Lydia, as a woman who deals in “purple cloth” would have been the normal way to introduce her than by her religious faith. For the author, the key identifier for her is her gender, place of origin and the faith she professes. Her faith influenced how she lived her life including how she conducted her business. “She was well to do. Above all she was deeply religious. She had been drawn to the Jewish community because she found there an oasis in the midst of the spiritual and moral drought that prevailed elsewhere.”
I can imagine it would be normal in those days as is in the text, that Lydia the Gentile and dealer in purple cloth, was now known or nicknamed as; Lydia the worshipper of God, –the believer.” It could also be inferred from the passage that Lydia practiced her faith in her business. She says to the apostles, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.”Her main criteria for these apostles to come to her house was that she was faithful to the Lord. It was not because they would find comfort, rest and be well fed. Of importance to Lydia was that she was faithful to the Lord. In other words, she wanted to be judged by how faithful a steward she had been in all her practices – in her professed faith and profession.