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† Christian Equality: Women disciples of Jesus

Some people unfamiliar with the New Testament claim that the case for female disciples of Jesus is controversial. However, as explained below, "disciple" means "one who follows a person's moral teachings."

The New Testament clearly identifies a number of women who chose to follow Jesus' teachings. The four gospels differ in the number, name, and role of these women. Even greater variation is found in the noncanonical gospels, books that are not considered scripture by most denominations, Christian religions and the vast majority of scholars of Christianity.

Some of the women feature prominently in accounts of Jesus' crucifixion and in reports of his resurrection. In some gospel accounts, women were the first to receive a sign of Jesus' resurrection and to report it to others (the "Good news").

One of the apocryphal gospels, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, is attributed to the most famous of Jesus' female disciples, Mary Magdalene.

Terminology: "Disciples" and "Apostles"

In biblical usage, the term "disciple" simply means "follower"—someone who believes in the person's message and tries to follow the person's moral values and teachings. By that definition, all women and men followers of Jesus are disciples of Jesus.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe (obey) all things that I have commanded you" Matthew 28:19–20a.

John the Baptizer had disciples (^Matthew 11:2; 11:7; Luke 11:1; John 1:35; John 4:1). Jesus is the only person described in the New Testament as having "apostles."

Christian scholars and theologians disagree on the meaning of "apostle."
* Some consider the term to mean a "church planter," a person who starts Christian congregations, like the Apostle Paul.

* Others believe that there were only a small number of apostles chosen either directly by Jesus, e.g., Matthew 10 and Acts 9, or by the original apostles, e.g., Luke and Barnabas on the basis of passages like 1 Corinthians 9:1.

* Today, there are a few, particularly among some pentecostals and some predominantly African American churches of various affiliations, describe themselves as modern-day apostles.

Female disciples identified in the New Testament

The New Testament, particularly the epistles, names a number of women who were followers of Jesus, such as:
Mary Magdalene—Luke 8:2–3, Mark 15:40, Matthew 27:56, John 19:25, and Luke 23:49
Mary, the mother of James and Joses—Matthew 27:55–56
Mary, the mother of Jesus
Mother of Zebedee's sons—Matthew 27:55–56
Priscilla—Romans 16:3
Salome—Mark 16:1
Sisters Mary and Martha—Luke 10:38, John 11:1–44
Tabitha/Dorcas—Acts 9:36
Widow of Nain—Luke 7:11–17
Woman bent double—Luke 13:10–17
Woman with an issue of blood—Matthew 10:20

Probable New Testament female disciples

The following New Testament women, though not called "disciples" in scripture, were closely identified with either Jesus or his disciples. These women probably became disciples after Jesus' death and biblical resurrection.

* Poor widow's casting of "two copper coins" into the Temple treasury—Mark 12:41–44, Luke 21:1–4
* Unnamed sisters of Jesus—Matthew 13:55
* Wife of Simon Peter (a.k.a Cephas)—1_Corinthians 9:5
* Wives of Jesus' brothers named in Matthew 13:55: Joseph, James (Jacob), Simon and Jude—1_Corinthians 9:5
* Wives of the apostles other than Paul and Barnabas—1_Corinthians 9:5
* Woman at the well in Samaria—John 4:1–4
* Woman taken in adultery—John 7:53–8:11
* Woman who anointed Jesus' feet—Luke 7:47

  Source: Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Wikipedia, “Female disciples of Jesus,” (accessed April 18, 2008). Minor edits by Christian Equality.

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Christian Equality at Website of  Jesus Work Ministry. Biblical equality in social areas (gender, marital status, race, ethnicity). Major principles on Christian marriage, family, Christian singleness, gender equality, relationships, etc.

[Christian Views About Women] [Christian Feminism] [Christian Egalitarianism] [Christian Complementarianism] [Women in the Bible] [Women Disciples of Jesus] [Christianity's Role on Women] [Christian Views of Marriage] [Women in the Church] [Ordination of Women] [Ordination of Women History] [Katharine Bushnell] [Christianity and Abortion] [Pro-life Christian views] [Christian Women's Development News] [Christian Equality Homepage]


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