Female disciples of Jesus

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The New Testament identifies a number of women followers of Jesus. The four gospels differ in the number, names, and roles of such female disciples. Even greater variation is found in the noncanonical (apocryphal) gospels.

A disciple (not to be confused with an apostle) is widely held to refer to "one who follows a person's moral teachings", more commonly called a "student".

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

Authorship of one of the apocryphal gospels, the Gospel of Mary, is attributed to this most famous of Jesus' female apostles. In chapter 96 of the Gnostic text Pistis Sophia, Christ says: "Where I shall be, there will be also my twelve ministers. But Mary Magdalene and John, the virgin, will tower over all my disciples and over all men who shall receive the mysteries in the Ineffable. And they will be on my right and on my left. And I am they, and they are I."

The seven women apostles[edit]

Non-canonical texts[edit]

‘The Sophia of Jesus Christ’ begins: After he rose from the dead, his twelve disciples and the seven women continued to be his followers and went to Galilee onto the mountain called “Divination and Joy”

In the apocryphal 'Pistis Sophia', Christ calls upon Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Martha and Salome to answer his questions concerning an exegesis of scripture and the Gnostic mysteries to create the Greater Soul. These women discourse at great length amongst the male disciples which vexes Peter. He protests when Mary Magdalene answers again and wants the women to be excluded. Pistis Sophia 146 Peter said: "My Lord, let the women cease to question, in order that we also may question." But Christ gently corrects Peter's error and calls upon Martha next.

And Peter protests the inclusion of Mary Magdalene in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas 114: Simon Peter said to them, "Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life."

But according to the 1st Apocalypse of James, James says, "I am satisfied [...] and they are [...] my soul. Yet another thing I ask of you: who are the seven women who have been your disciples? And behold all women bless you." This text, however, reveals four of these women's names, when Jesus speaks to James: "When you speak these words of this perception, encourage these four: Salome and Mariam and Martha and Arsinoe."

From these texts a list may be culled:

  • Mary Magdalene
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus
  • Mary Salome
  • Martha, sister of Lazarus
  • Miriamne, sister of Phillip
  • Arsinoe

But the name of the 7th female apostle can only be conjectured from the known list of female disciples. Perhaps Susanna[1] or Joanna[2] are more likely to be the 7th woman apostle as they travelled with Christ and Mary Magdalene who was called the Apostla Apostolorum.

2 Thimmes wrote, "it is significant to note that Hippolytus, bishop of Rome (c. 170-235) [...] was the first to grant to Mary Magdalene the title 'Apostola Apostolorum' (apostle to the apostles). In his commentary on Canticle of Canticles he associates her with the bride and with the Bride of Christ, a symbol of the Church" (220-21). According to Lucy Winkett, "The ancient tradition of Mary of Magdala as Apostola Apostolorum ('apostle of the apostles') was also mentioned by Pope John Paul II."

Canonical texts[edit]

Within the books actually included in the Bible, as part of Christian scriptures (the word of God - the Holy Bible), female disciples are often mentioned.

Luke 8:1-3: "Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means."

Another prominent woman at the time of Christ is Mary of Bethany. Since her sister Martha is one of the Seven Women Apostles called by Christ as noted in the Apocryphal 1st Apocalypse of James and in the Gnostic Pistis Sophia of Christ, and because Mary and Martha are often mentioned together in the New Testament, this makes Mary of Bethany a probable 7th female apostle.[3]

Although the apocryphal texts of Christ and James enumerate seven women apostles only Junia is called an apostle in (some translations of) the New Testament. Paul says,

Romans 16:7 "Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was."

But we do not know if Junias was one of the Seven Women called by Christ or if she was a Disciple after his Ascension. Paul calls himself an apostle to the apostles and he did not walk with Christ nor was he called to be a messenger by Christ, so Paul might ascribe to a broader definition of the term apostle.

Terminology: "disciples" and "apostles"[edit]

A disciple is a follower. All Christians are called to be disciples of Christ. An apostle is one who is called by Christ and sent out by Christ as an evangelist messenger.


In biblical usage, the term "disciple" often means "student" — someone who believes in the person's message and tries to follow the person's moral values and teachings. Under such a definition, all women and men followers of Jesus could be considered disciples of Jesus, as long as they followed the teachings of Jesus.

The Great Commission declares;"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..."[Matt. 28:19–20a]

John the Baptist had disciples.[4]


Main article: Apostle (Christian)

The term apostle is derived from the New Testament Greek word ἀπόστολος or apostolos, meaning one who is sent forth as a messenger[5][6] and should not be confused with a disciple (who is a follower or a student who learns from a "teacher").[6][7] Traditionally, Jesus is said to have had 12 Apostles who spread the word of the Gospel after his Resurrection.

Christian scholars and theologians disagree on the meaning of "apostle";

  • Others believe that there were exactly 12 male Apostles chosen directly by Jesus Christ and that Judas Iscariot was replaced by Matthias to maintain a dozen witnesses.[8]
  • Others believe that the term apostles includes any of those who are either students of the 12 apostles, or otherwise implied to be apostles e.g., Paul, Luke, Silas, Timothy and Barnabas on the basis of New Testament passages like 1Corinthians 9:1,13.
  • In the apocryphal Pistis Sophia, Jesus calls his 12 male apostles and his 7 female apostles to discourse after his resurrection. Of these seven women apostles; Mary Mother of Christ, Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary Salome speak prevalently concerning their own exegesis of the scriptures and the divine mystery to create the immortal light body or Greater Soul.
  • In the apocryphal First Apocalypse of James James says, "I am satisfied [...] and they are [...] my soul. Yet another thing I ask of you: who are the seven women who have been your disciples?" Jesus speaks to James: "When you speak these words of this perception, encourage these four: Salome and Mariam and Martha and Arsinoe [...] since he takes some [...] to me he is [...] burnt offerings and [...]. But I [...] not in this way; but [...] first-fruits of the [...] upward [...] so that the power of God might appear. The perishable has gone up to the imperishable and the female element has attained to this male element."
  • Although the apocryphal Gospels of Christ and James enumerate seven women apostles, only Junia is called an apostle in the New Testament; Paul says in Romans 16:7, "Greetings to Andronicus and Junia, my relatives, who were in prison with me. They are very important apostles. They were believers in Christ before I was." In the English Standard Version (ESV), however, this is translated as "They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me."[9]

Female disciples identified in the New Testament[edit]

Probable New Testament female disciples[edit]

The following New Testament women, though not called "disciples" in scripture, were closely identified with either Jesus or his apostles.

  • Unnamed women at Pentecost with Mary Mother of Christ, his brothers and the 12 Male Disciples[28]
  • Unnamed sisters of Jesus, one of which might be Mary Salome[29]
  • Wife of Simon Peter[30]
  • Wives of apostles other than John[30]
  • Wives of Jesus' brothers Joseph, James, Simon, and Jude[31]
  • Mariamne sister of apostles Bartholemew and Philip
  • Woman with an issue of blood[32]
  • Poor widow who cast two copper coins into the temple treasury[33]
  • Widow of Nain[34]
  • Woman who anointed Jesus' feet[35]
  • Woman bent double[36]
  • Saint Photini and her five sisters: Anatole, Photo, Photis, Paraskeve, Kyriake[37]
  • Woman taken in adultery[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Luke 8:1; Luke 8:3
  2. ^ Luke 3:27; Luke 23:49; Matthew 8:1
  3. ^ Luke 10:38-39; Luke 11:1-3; John 11:19-20; John 20:16
  4. ^ Matthew 11:2; 11:7; Luke 11:1; John 1:35; 4:1
  5. ^ Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. p. 371.
  6. ^ a b "Christian History: The Twelve Apostles". Retrieved 2007-11-19. 
  7. ^ "Apostle." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005.
  8. ^ Matthew 10 and Acts 9
  9. ^ Romans 16:7
  10. ^ Matthew 27:55-56,61; Matthew 28:1-11; Mark 15:40-47; Mark 16:1-9; Luke 8:1–3; Luke 23:49; Luke 24:1-13; John 19:25-27; John 20:1,10-18
  11. ^ Matthew 1:16-18; Matthew 2:11,14; Matthew 12:46; Matthew 13:55-57; Matthew 27:55–56,61; Matthew 28:1-11; Mark 6:3; Mark 15:40-47; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 2:5; Luke 2:34; Luke 24:1-13; John 19:25-27; Acts 1:1-14
  12. ^ Matthew 20:20; Matthew 27:55–56,61; Matthew 28:1-11; Mark 15:40-47; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-13; John 19:25-27
  13. ^ Matthew 27:55–56,61; Matthew 28:1-11; Mark 15:40-47; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 10:38-39; Luke 24:1-13; John 11:1–44; John 11:28; John 20:16; John 19:25-27
  14. ^ Matthew 27:55–56,61; Matthew 28:1-11; Mark 15:40-47; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-13; John 19:25-27
  15. ^ Romans 16:6; John 19:25-27; Matthew 27:55-56,61; Matthew 28:1-11; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-13
  16. ^ Luke 3:27; Luke 8:1-3; Luke 23:49; Luke 24:1-13
  17. ^ Luke 8:1-3
  18. ^ Acts 18:2,18-19,26; Romans 16:3-4; 1Corinthians 16:19; 2Timothy 4:19
  19. ^ Acts 9:35-36,39-41
  20. ^ Acts 16:14-15
  21. ^ Romans 16:1-2
  22. ^ Romans 16:7
  23. ^ Romans 16:12
  24. ^ Romans 16:15
  25. ^ Colossians 4:15
  26. ^ Philemon 1:2
  27. ^ Acts 1:1-14
  28. ^ Acts 1:13-14
  29. ^ Matthew 13:55
  30. ^ a b 1 Cor. 9:5
  31. ^ Matthew 13:55; 1 Cor. 9:5
  32. ^ Matthew 10:20
  33. ^ Mark 12:41–44, Luke 21:1–4
  34. ^ Luke 7:11–17
  35. ^ Luke 7:47
  36. ^ Luke 13:10–17
  37. ^ John 4:1–4
  38. ^ John 7:53–8:11

External links[edit]

Seven female appostles
Three Marys
Mary Magdalene
Mary Mother of Jesus
Mary Clopas
Mary Salome
Women disciples and women apostles in general