The Apostolic Ministry of Gospel Women

I’m currently reading Kevin Giles’ book entitled Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians, and am learning some interesting things about apostles in the early church. For example, did you know that Jesus’ twelve disciples are rarely referred to as “apostles” in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and not at all in John’s gospel?[1] I didn’t know this.

Today I read this paragraph in Kevin’s book which contains some interesting observations and thoughts about women and apostolic ministry:

[T]he Synoptic authors agree that it was women who first found the empty tomb. And Matthew and John record that Jesus first appeared to women. The encounter between the risen Christ and the women is drawn as a commissioning scene. The Lord says, ‘Go and tell my brethren’ (Matt. 28:10 cf. John 20:17).  The women are chosen and commissioned by the risen Christ as the first to proclaim, ‘He is risen’. Raymond Brown believes it was John’s intent to give ‘a quasi-apostolic role’ to these women. Taking up Pauline qualifications for apostleship, John shows that the women fulfil the two basic requirements. They see the risen Lord and they are sent forth by him. (John never calls the twelve or anyone else ‘apostles’.) Brown also refers to the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4. In this narrative, he sees the Fourth Evangelist bestowing apostolic missionary status on this woman. She is depicted as the founder of the Samaritan church. He argues that the terminology is deliberately chosen: we have here ‘the most important use of the verb apostellein in John’ (4:38), as well as the comment that the Samaritan men believed because of the woman’s witness.[2]

I have commented elsewhere that “I don’t think it was a coincidence that the first person to see Jesus alive after his resurrection was a woman. With Jesus’ death and resurrection, a new era began. A New Creation was now possible (2 Cor 5:17). In the New Creation the old paradigm of patriarchy and male primacy gives way to equality and unity of all people.”

It is interesting that women played a part in some other significant Kingdom firsts. As well as the first Samaritan convert and evangelist being a woman, the first European convert, and possibly the first European house church leader, was a woman—Lydia. Women were involved in all kinds of influential ministries in the New Testament church, some as leaders. Some as quasi-apostles, others as real apostles.


[1] The Twelve are only infrequently referred to as apostles in the Gospels: “only once in Matthew and Mark, not at all in John, and five times in Luke . . . Many scholars [e.g. W. Schmithals (1969:98-110)] in fact argue that Jesus did not at any time call the twelve ‘apostles’ during his lifetime. . . Did Luke introduce the title ‘apostle’ in his role as editor of the historical sources he used, or was it already there?” Kevin Giles, Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians (Collins Dove, 1989) 155, 157.

[2] Giles, Patterns of Ministry, 167. Giles refers here to Raymond E. Brown’s paper “Roles of Women in the Fourth Gospel”, Theological Studies, Vol. 36 (1975), 688-699.