Five Famous Christian Leaders' Wives You Should Know

We are encouraged, educated, and inspired when we study women who have set a biblical example of marriage and ministry. As you read about their lives, remember they were ordinary women, using their spiritual gifts and talents for God’s work in their homes and beyond.

Priscilla and Aquila making tentsPhoto Credit: Getty Images/BibleArtLibrary

Aquila’s Wife, Priscilla

The Old Testament mentions several leaders’ marriages, most famously Abraham and Sarah. The New Testament gives us more insight into Christian leaders and their wives, especially Priscilla and Aquila. Let’s see what we can learn about being joint laborers for Christ from their story:

1. Aquila was a Jew from Pontus. He and Priscilla were ordered to leave Rome by Claudius. When Paul visited Corinth, they seemed to have a good reputation already because he visited them. Their trade was tentmaking (Acts 18:2-3). 

2. While Paul stayed in Corinth for 18 months, Priscilla and Aquila sat under his teaching (Acts 18:11). Later, they sailed to Syria with Paul, making their way to Ephesus (Acts 18:18).

3. In Ephesus, they heard a man speak with great fervor: Apollos. He knew Scripture but needed to know about Jesus. Aquila and Priscilla took him under their wing and “explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26 NIV).

3. Because they were Christ followers helping Paul, their lives were at risk. Paul describes his gratitude for their help (Romans 16:3).

4. Aquila and Priscilla opened their home for Christians to meet there (1 Corinthians 16:19).

5. When Paul gives his final greetings, he again mentions his gratitude for Priscilla and Aquila (2 Timothy 4:19).

We learn several important things from Priscilla and Aquila: 

1. As a couple, they were one in the Lord. 

2. They knew the Scriptures.

3. Their home was a home church base, open for hospitality, teaching, and discipling.

4. They worked together in a marketplace that gave opportunities to share the Good News.

5. They gave Paul friendship and support.

6. They were willing to suffer and sacrifice for the gospel and other believers.

7. They invested in others’ lives (including Apollos, who went on to establish churches).

Having considered this biblical example, let’s look at four women who played significant roles in their well-known husbands’ ministries and how they impacted the world for God.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/GeorgeRudy 

Katharina Luther

Katharina Luther

Katharina von Bora Luther (born January 29, 1499) was a hard-working woman who applied organizational skills to Martin Luther’s life. Perhaps it came from her background as a nun,  learning the spiritual disciplines.

Katharina didn’t choose to be a nun. Her mother died when Katharina was three. Her father sent her to the cloister of Saint Clemens in Brehna. She stayed there until age 10, then was transferred to the monastery of Marienthron in Nimbschen. Families with many daughters or difficulty caring for their families frequently sent their daughters to be nuns.

Later, Katharina viewed her life at Marienthorn as a prison. She lived there for 18 years until she heard about Protestant Reformer Martin Luther. She wrote a letter asking for Martin’s assistance to escape. It was a very serious request; if he agreed, he could be charged with a criminal offense.

Martin enlisted his friend Leonard Kopp, who delivered herring to the convent. On the Eve of the Resurrection 1523, Kopp entered the convent with empty fish barrels. We don’t know the exact number, but probably eight to twelve nuns escaped that night in the barrels.

Martin attempted to place the women with their families, but fear of being implicated kept their families from taking them. Instead, Martin set about matchmaking. He found everyone a husband except Katharina. They married on June 13, 1525, when Katharina was 22 and Martin was 42. Until then, Martin hadn’t intended to marry, having been labeled a heretic and outlaw in 1521. His wife could suffer arrest or execution.

Martin and Katharina lived in the Black Cloister, a former Augustinian dormitory. Hospitality became their priority, lodging anyone who passed through for the next 20 years. They had six children—Hans, Elizabeth, Magdalena, Martin, Paul, and Margarete—and took in four orphans from Katharina’s family. Feeding their family and visitors required a small farm, Zulsdorf. Katharina became known as the Lady of Zulsdorf, not only managing the farm but creating a fishpond and tending, slaughtering, and dressing animals.

Katharina’s help gave Martin time to write, teach, and preach. He deeply loved and depended upon Katharina. They would have been married for 21 years if he hadn’t had a stroke on February 18, 1546. She grieved his departure.

Martin left everything to Katharina, but the will was not executed correctly, and she was denied her inheritance. She appealed, but while waiting, the Schmalkaldic War took place. Katharina fled to Magdeburg. When she returned in 1547, the Black Cloister had been destroyed.

Katharina’s final years were challenging. She fell while living in Torgau, breaking her hip. Several months later, she died from an unknown disease on December 20, 1552. 

We learn the most about Katharina’s life and marriage through Martin’s letters. She provided support and encouragement, and is known as the Mother of the Reformation. Conversations at the Luthers’ dinner table became known as The Table Talk of Martin Luther. Their marriage provided (and still provides) an excellent role model. Warren Wiersbe suggested either January 29 or June 13 be “Pastors’ Wives’ Day” in honor of Katharina and all pastors’ wives.

Where to Learn More about Katharina Luther:

Katharina and Martin Luther by Michelle DeRusha

Katie Luther, First Lady of the Reformation by Ruth A. Tucker

The Mother of the Reformation by Ernst Kroker

50 People Every Christian Should Know by Warren W. Wiersbe

Photo Credit: Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

Susannah “Susie” Spurgeon

Susannah “Susie” Spurgeon

Susannah “Susie” Thompson Spurgeon (born January 15, 1832) heard a young Charles Spurgeon preach on December 18, 1853. She was not impressed. She continued listening, asked questions, and came to know Christ through Charles’ ministry. He also baptized her. On June 20, 1854, they attended the opening of London’s Crystal Palace together, and their romance bloomed. Several months later, they began courting. 

They were married on January 9, 1856. After a Paris honeymoon, they settled into their first home in London. Two years later, they were proud parents of twins Charles and Thomas.

Their love and support grew each year, as did their ministry (preaching, teaching, writing, and an orphanage opened in 1867). Later, health issues plagued them both. Charles dealt with gout and depression most of his life. Susie became ill in 1868, unable to leave the house for 15 years, but still contributed.

When Charles wrote his first book, Lectures to My Students, Susie wanted it sent to ministers throughout England. Using extra funds, she had 100 copies printed, creating the Book Fund, which benefitted many ministers over the years.

Both Susie and Charles were prolific readers and writers. She coedited Smooth Stones Taken from Ancient Brooks and wrote several books, including Ten Years of My Life in the Service of the Book Fund. Her longest work was contributing to and coediting C.H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography.

Susie had a reputation for caring for poor pastors and their families. She also planted Beulah Baptist Church in 1898, relying on God to provide the necessary funds; the church doors opened with the church debt-free.

Charles Ray surmised, “If greatness depends on the amount of good which one does in the world if it is only another name for unselfish devotion in the service of others—and surely greatness is all this—then Mrs. C.H. Spurgeon will go down to posterity as of the greatest women of her time.”

Where to Learn More about Susannah Spurgeon: 

Yours, Till Heaven Ray Rhodes, Jr.

Susie by Ray Rhodes Jr

Susannah Spurgeon by Charles Ray

Photo Credit: The Spurgeon Center

Gertrude “Biddy” Chamber

Gertrude “Biddy” Chamber

Do you own a copy of My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers? It’s been said that the author should be “the one who observed Oswald’s walk with God on a daily basis and experienced the consistent love and spiritual authority by which he lived and spoke. That person was his wife.” 

Oswald Chambers was born in Scotland in 1874. At his birth, his mother dedicated him to God. Oswald’s father was a minister ordained by Charles Spurgeon. Years later, after hearing Spurgeon preach, Oswald gave his life to Christ. He pursued art in college. At age eighteen, Oswald was earning a living through teaching and illustrating. Then came the decision: should he accept a scholarship to further his art career or follow God’s calling? He decided to attend Dunoon Training College. 

This training opened doors for Oswald to preach in Britain, America, and Japan. On one journey, a ship bound for America in 1908, he was asked to assist a young woman, Gertrude Hobbs, who had some health issues. Oswald saw her through the voyage. When they left the ship, they agreed to write. Their correspondence developed into a deeper relationship, and they married in 1910.

The Chambers planned to open a Bible college by December 1910. Plans changed, and Oswald began giving lectures. Biddy, Oswald’s name for Gertrude, used a remarkable gift to record his lectures: she had studied Pitman shorthand and could take dictation at 250 words per minute. Later, her transcription enabled the Chambers to offer correspondence classes. 

They obtained a large London house where they welcomed students, missionaries, and visitors needing rest and encouragement. It was there that Kathleen, their only child, was born in 1913. 

When World War I began, Oswald felt God’s calling to serve his country. He became a chaplain in October 1915 to troops in Egypt. Biddy and Kathleen arrived in December of that year. Biddy continued her hospitality ministry while Oswald taught the troops. It wasn’t long before soldiers felt at home with the Chambers.

In 1917, Oswald died from complications after appendix surgery in Cairo. His tombstone reads “A believer in Jesus Christ,” and Luke 11:13. After his death, Biddy and Kathleen returned to London.

Biddy transcribed her notes to create pamphlets for friends and acquaintances. Eventually, the pamphlets were put into book format, forming Oswald Chambers Publications. My Utmost for His Highest was published in 1927. Today, there have been over 13 million copies published.

Where to Learn More about Biddy Chambers:

Mrs. Oswald Chambers by Michelle Ule

Searching for Mrs. Oswald Chambers by Martha Christian

Oswald Chambers, A Man Who Understood the Secrets of God’s Word and Human Nature by Institute in Basic Life Principles

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Ruth Bell Graham

Ruth Bell Graham

When Billy and Ruth Bell Graham married on August 13, 1943, they could not have known how their marriage would impact the world. Initially, Ruth (born June 10, 1920) planned to be a missionary to Tibet. She was born on the mission field in China, the second oldest of four children. Her parents, Dr. Lemuel Nelson and Virginia Bell, were medical missionaries in Tsingkiangpu, China, from 1916 until the start of World War II.

At age 13, Ruth was sent to school in Pyongyang, North Korea. Soon after Ruth finished high school, the Japanese took control of Shanghai. Ruth’s parents arranged passage to America, where she attended Wheaton College in Illinois to study Bible and art.

During her sophomore year, she saw Billy Graham for the first time. Hearing him pray one Sunday morning, she thought, “There is a man who knows to Whom he is speaking.” Eventually, Billy asked Ruth to attend a performance of Handel’s Messiah. When Ruth returned to her dormitory, she prayed, “Lord, if You’d let me serve You with that man, I’d consider it the greatest privilege of my life.”

Eventually, Billy’s preaching ministry grew into the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The ministry required many days away from his family for worldwide crusades. Sometimes, Ruth traveled with him, but mostly she was known for being behind the scenes. She raised their five children, who currently serve with various ministries.

Ruth loved writing poetry. She authored 15 books, wrote numerous articles, researched Billy’s sermons, and proofread his book manuscripts. Billy called her “the greatest Christian I ever knew.”

While Ruth had a wonderful sense of humor, she also dealt with loneliness, prodigal children, and the everyday struggles of motherhood. Her strength and wisdom came from relying upon God through reading the Word and prayer.

If you’ve ever visited the Cove, a 1,500-acre Christian training ground in Swannanoa, North Carolina, you will see Ruth’s decorative touches everywhere. For example, she requested the chapel’s steeple be extended to 87 feet so people could see the 8-foot cross. The extended height allowed a prayer room to be built inside the steeple, which visitors from around the world have used.

Ruth passed away on June 14, 2007. The Grahams enjoyed over 63 years of marriage. Ruth’s desire to be a missionary was fulfilled, not just in Tibet but around the globe.

Where To Learn More about Ruth Bell Graham:

Ruth Bell Graham, A Life Well Lived” by Kristen Driscoll

Ruth, A Portrait by Patricia Cornwell

It’s My Turn by Ruth Bell Graham

Prodigals and Those Who Love Them by Ruth Bell Graham and Gigi Tchividjian

Photo Credit: National Archive of Norway (via Wikimedia Commons)

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