Kingdom Women

If there had been women amongst the twelve…

It sometimes puzzles me that women weren’t included among the twelve disciples. How easy  it would have been for Jesus to have six disciples of each gender. But as I’ve been pondering it over recent days, I’ve come to a realization…

Jesus never seemed to care too much about his reputation. In fact, sometimes it seems he went out of his way to deliberately provoke the Pharisees and other religious leaders.

They found plenty of things to accuse him of–some true, some false:

  • He ate with notorious sinners (Luke 15:1)
  • He was a glutton and drunkard (Matthew 11:19)
  • He consistently broke the Sabbath (eg. Matthew 12:1-2)
  • He claimed to be the Messiah (Luke 23:2)
  • He caused riots wherever he went (Luke 23:5)
  • He told people not to pay taxes to the Roman government (Luke 23:2)
He was criticized for
  • Not washing his hands properly before meals (Luke 11:38)
  • Allowing an immoral woman to touch him (Luke 7:36-39)

The religious leaders were out to get him. They tried to provoke and trap him by asking tough questions over  various issues (Luke 11:53-54):

  • Divorce (Matthew 19:3)
  • Taxes (Matthew 22:15-22)
  • The most important commandment in the law (Matthew 22:34-40)
  • The right punishment for a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)

I find it very interesting that the one thing they didn’t accuse Jesus of was immorality. Why not? Because he gave them no grounds. If women had been among the twelve disciples, especially considering the intimacy of his relationship with the disciples, I’m sure he would have been accused of sexual depravity.

Jesus didn’t care too much about his own reputation but I think there might have been a couple of things in his mind: firstly, he was protecting the good name of his female followers/disciples. Secondly, he was initiating a Way of life–a movement characterized by a depth and transparency of relationship and yet by purity/holiness. If there had been even the appearance of wrong-doing in Jesus’ life, the integrity of this lifestyle/movement would have been compromised.

What do you think?


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23 replies on “If there had been women amongst the twelve…”

I think that’s a good call; women of those times would have flown in the face of convention and could have been stoned just for being known as a ‘disciple’ of Jesus. In a time when women didn’t have the right to be called a disciple of anyone, let alone a man, let alone an itinerant teacher, Jesus worked within the paradigms available. He did the same with issues to do with slavery and others contexts that we would not now accept as being right or reasonable.

Thanks, Bev. I totally agree with you that Jesus worked within his cultural paradigms. He frequently addressed issues tied up with Judaism as well as things like slavery.

This is the same argument I have received by male leadership today. In a denomination that has always ordained women, as a staff member of a local church, I was not allowed to ever be alone with any male staff. We could not go to lunch together, we could not drive together (even a ride home from the office), the door to the office had to be open if we were meeting together, etc. I only lasted a year there. I felt my integrity or character would never be trusted. I would always be viewed as “less than” in the eyes of what I felt were my peers. It was rude and deeming.

I feel this article brings up a good point about Jesus’ culture and situation. However, some would use this to justify the same “concerns” with female ministers today. Thoughts?

You make an interesting point, Logan. I’ve come across this before. One of the chapters in the new book on women I’m compiling tackles this very issue of cross-gender friendships. And I certainly didn’t mean to imply any kind of legalism in Jesus’ reaction to women in this post.

Part of the problem for a woman in leadership is that she often has no female peers. It’s one of the reasons I developed an online peer mentorship group for women. But I also have good relationships with men outside of my marriage, friendships that are safe and accountable.

The legalism you experienced is somehow not Christlike. Jesus had conversations alone with both the woman at the well and with Martha that we know about. (They were out in the open rather than behind closed doors.) I think the reactions you faced were based on fear, not faith, and yes, they demonstrate not just an undervaluing of women, but also a view that a woman is somehow going to tempt men to lust.

Here’s what Michael Frost (amongst several others) has to say about the topic:

“I believe there is great wisdom to be gained from sitting at the feet of a godly, mature men and women; we should not forbid receiving from one another simply because of gender. Billy Graham and Bill Bright were both mentored by Henrietta Mears; Loren Cunningham was profoundly impacted by the teaching of Joy Dawson; the Anglican charismatic renewal in England was guided in the early days by Jean Darnell, and the list goes on.

“Having said that, there are nonetheless reasonable concerns about propriety in mixed gender mentoring relationships. For these reasons we should consider the following: not meeting alone or behind closed doors; gaining the approval of your spouse and your pastor or spiritual leaders; delimiting the areas of discussion to avoid sexual issues; addressing any attraction to the person quickly and decisively; staying accountable. But with some simple, common-sense limits in place there is no reason the church can’t model what healthy cross-gender mentoring can look like.”

While you and I may label what I experienced legalism, the leadership would have used the words of Michael Frost “reasonable concerns about propriety.” I feel that placing restrictions of any kind (not meeting alone or behind closed doors, etc) or what he calls putting into place common-sense limits on male / female relationships in a ministry/peer setting is divisive and only serves to instill suspicion instead of expecting everyone to relate to each other in a mature, Christlike manner. It may be that this quote is speaking of mentoring situations where I am discussing mixed gender ministry teams.

Yes. Michael is specifically referring to mentoring. Where it’s a team, I see no problems. The main problem is the fact that people assume sin is going to be the outcome of cross-gender friendships. If Jesus’ life within us isn’t enough to overcome, then we really have problems. And legalism isn’t the answer.

That makes sense, but what do we do with the women who traveled with Jesus and the disciples, then? Some of them were probably relatives of Jesus and/or the other disciples (some traditions have James and John being Jesus’ cousins as well, which seems likely), but certainly not all of them. I always thought that the twelve male disciples represented the twelve tribes of Israel, and that the fact that Jesus had a posse of female followers traveling with him and the Twelve displayed pretty clearly that women were in, not out. There were the twelve, and there were the women–those were the companions Jesus chose to travel with him, and if the gospel writers don’t quite give the women their due, they were still there. And THAT is astonishing.

I dunno. What’cha think?

Jenny Rae, I totally agree with you. I wrote a post on it here:

I’m interested by your comment that some of them were relatives. We do know that at least one of the women (maybe Salome) was the mother of James and John. And since Jesus had two brothers named James and Joseph, maybe that Mary was Jesus’ mother too. (Matt 27:56). Interesting…

Many people think that Salome was the mother of James and John, and also Mary’s (Jesus’ mother’s) sister. I believe it’s mostly from the different accounts of who was at the crucifixion, and a couple anecdotal things like James’ and John’s mother approaching Jesus about their place in his kingdom, Jesus asking John to care for his mother, hints that John was perhaps quite young when he was traveling with Jesus (young enough that Roman soldiers wouldn’t think him a threat or think it was weird that he was hanging out with a bunch of women at the crucifixion, young enough that he was still around near the end of the first century to write some of his books), etc. It’s one of those things that no one really knows for sure, but seems likely and is interesting to think about.

Interesting thoughts… I just wrote a post on the life of Mrs. Zebedee which mirrors some of what you’ve said here about who was at the crucifixion.

Interesting. I would also think that the Twelve all being male would also harken back to the twelve patriarchs, who were also male. Of course, this doesn’t conflict with your thoughts, but could just provide more nuance to the reading. I still think it’s telling that the gospels record women as “sitting at the feet” of Jesus, in a discipleship position that would have been typically restricted to men.

David, I’ve heard the comment about the twelve tribes too. It’s one of the (many) questions I’ll ask the Lord when I see him face to face. I agree with you about Mary as a disciple. Did you see the post I wrote on Jesus having female disciples ( ?

While I understand the argument, I have to disagree about Jesus not being considered “immoral”. Eating and drinking with prostitutes was seen as equivalent to ‘utilizing their services’. He just didn’t care about His reputation.

Perhaps he was more concerned about the moral behavior of his disciples and followers. How difficult would it be for them, male and female, to maintain appropriate boundaries, while traveling from town to town, in close vacinity? If those who traveled were all family, it would be easier to maintain decorum.
To Logan: I have been in similar settings (re: not allowed with members of the other gender alone). While it may avoid any outward appearance of impropriety, it also gives the message of lack of trust.

I’d agree with you except that as far as I know, his eating and drinking with prostitutes and sinners was always done in the company of others, never behind closed doors, so there was never a suggestion that he was sexually immoral. Scandalous, maybe. But if it was even suspected that he was sexually immoral, I think the Pharisees would have had him killed much earlier.

I’m not going to comment on any of this, though I’ve read all the comments so far with great interest. I just don’t think there’s anything I can usefully add.

But I do feel I should say one thing.

It’s wonderful, right, and very encouraging to see such polite and caring discussion. That would be true of any topic, but it is especially true of topics that might be seen as contentious by some. I just have a sense that Father is pleased with this topic and with the way everyone has handled it.

I imagine him smiling and saying, ‘These are my children, with whom I am well-pleased. Not because they are naturally virtuous, but because they are allowing the virtue of my Son to shine in their lives.’

Chris, thank you for sharing this! The commenters on this blog are awesome! I’m so proud of them and grateful for their attitude.

I think that’s part of it, but mainly, the 12 were meant to represent a new version of the 12 tribes of Israel, and all those original 12 tribes were led/founded by men. Notice that Jesus didn’t include any Gentiles either.

Many people say that and it may well be right… One of those questions we’ll have to ask the Lord when we get to heaven!

Speculation risks contriving bad theology. Have we run out of Bible, and thus must speculate? I am still intrigued and learning what can be known and understood. If I run out, then maybe I will join in the speculation. I am not saying that curiosity is bad in itself, but that it is often pointless and that many will make theologies out of speculation.

I often find that speculation leads to discovery–verses come to life that one didn’t notice before. But to make a theology out of speculation would be potentially dangerous–which is why I don’t do so.

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