Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Who is “she” who is in Babylon? (1 Peter 5:13)


In the first few decades of the life of the church, a significant number of women were involved in various ministries. Some women cared for churches that met in their own homes, or they ministered in local congregations in other ways. Some women were missionaries and travelled to spread the gospel, or they supported missionaries through patronage and hospitality.

More than a dozen of these ministering women are mentioned by name in the New Testament, but a few, such as Philip’s prophesying daughters, are unnamed. In this article, I suggest that Peter passes on greetings from an unnamed female minister as he closes his first letter.

The Grammar of “She”

In 1 Peter 5:13, Peter sends greetings to the elect who are scattered in Asia Minor (cf. 1 Pet. 1:1). He sends these greetings from the people who are with him in “Babylon.”[1]

1 Peter 5:13 is usually translated as,

She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, greets you, and so does Mark, my son.” (Italics added)

The one-letter Greek word (ἡ), traditionally translated as “she who” in 1 Peter 5:13, is not a personal pronoun. It is a feminine definite article equivalent to “the.” However, the Greek article can occasionally act as a relative pronoun, and with the feminine gender it can have the sense of “she who”

Less often 1 Peter 5:13 is interpreted and translated as,

The church in Babylon, chosen together with you, greets you, and so does Mark, my son.” (Italics added)

The feminine definite article can sometimes stand for an unstated (elided) feminine noun.[2] The CEB, HCSB, KJV, NET, NLT, NRSV and a few other English Bibles, include the word “church” in their translations of this verse because they think “church” (which is a feminine noun in Greek) is the unstated subject implied in the definite article .

But I propose a third way.

Unlike how other translators have understood the Greek of 1 Peter 5:13a, I suggest the article is not acting as a relative pronoun or standing for an unstated noun. I propose instead that it is acting as a definite article (“the”) and that it belongs with the feminine adjective suneklektē[3] (“co-elect”) which is functioning as a noun (a substantive). This is not an uncommon Greek construction. (See footnotes.)

With this understanding, 1 Peter 5:13 can be translated as,

The co-elect woman in Babylon greets you, and so does Mark, my son.”[4]

In my interpretation and translation there is no missing (elided) noun in the Greek, but “woman” needs to be added in English translation so that English readers understand that the gender of “the co-elect” is female.

What is ”she”?


Most translators, past and present, have decided to go with “she who.” And the common view is that the feminine article refers to a church from where Peter is writing his letter.

Some early versions of 1 Peter 5:13 add a word for “church.” The Codex Sinaiticus adds the Greek word for “church” (ekklēsia) a noun that agrees grammatically with the gender of the feminine article . A few early Latin and Syriac translations also add a word that means “church.” But, Peter never uses the word “church” (ekklēsia) in his letter.

Fellowship of Believers

Another suggestion is that the definite article stands for the Greek word for “brotherhood” (adelphotēs), a grammatically feminine collective noun that refers to the group of fellow believers. Adelphotēs occurs a few verses earlier, in 1 Peter 5:9, and it occurs in 1 Peter 2:17. (This word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament.)

The inclusion of ekklēsia (“church”) or of adelphotēs (“brotherhood”) in interpretations of 1 Peter 5:13 requires guesswork, especially as there is no New Testament verse where a definite article obviously stands for either of these words. None that I could find, at least. And I looked.

On the other hand, the feminine definite article with a feminine adjective clearly refers to women or girls in several New Testament verses.[5]

A Woman

My suggestion is that the feminine article with the feminine adjective suneklektē (“co-elect”) in 1 Peter 5:13 refers to a woman, “the co-elect.” In 1 Peter 1:1, the apostle addresses Christians (not churches) in Asia Minor who he refers to as “elect” or “elect ones” (eklektois).[6] So it makes sense that “the co-elect” in Babylon also refers to a Christian (not a church).[7]

Furthermore, the way “the co-elect” is paired with Mark in 1 Peter 5:13 (literally: “and/also Mark my son”), makes it sound like both are individuals.[8] If so, who might this “co-elect” woman have been? I offer the following speculative ideas.

Who was “she”?

Peter’s Wife

Peter’s wife is the most common suggestion from people who entertain the idea that “she” might have been an actual person. From the beginning of the Christian movement, there were male-female missionary couples,[9] and Paul tells us that the apostle Peter (Cephas) went on missionary journeys with his wife (1 Cor. 9:5).[10]

Peter’s wife is never named in the Gospels, but she knew Jesus from an early stage of his ministry; Jesus sometimes stayed in her family’s home (e.g., Mark 1:29-31). Paul does not give her name either, but it seems the Corinthians knew of her as Peter’s ministry partner.

Mary of Jerusalem

It is also possible that “the co-elect” refers to a female minister who is the host of the church where Peter is staying. Providing a home base for a congregation was a vital ministry in the first two centuries of the church. Perhaps “the co-elect” is a woman like Mary of Jerusalem. As well as being the mother of a minister (John Mark), and the aunt of a minister (Barnabas) (cf. Col 4:10), she was involved in ministry herself.

Mary held church meetings in her own home in Jerusalem in the 40s. Acts 12 records that despite the serious threat of persecution—Herod Agrippa had killed James and imprisoned Peter—she held a prayer meeting. And it’s to her home that Peter chooses to go as soon as he is miraculously released from prison (Acts 12:1-19). Perhaps she, or a woman like her, later hosted a church in “Babylon.”

(I’ve included the example of Mary of Jerusalem to highlight the ministry of courageous women who were closely associated with Peter and who he would have regarded as “co-elect.”)

An Anonymous Disciple of Jesus

Peter was well acquainted with many sisters-in-the-Lord. Jesus had female followers who included Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Salome, and many others. Peter knew these women as they had travelled with Jesus and the male disciples throughout Galilee.

These Galilean women even followed their Lord to Jerusalem where he was crucified, and women were the first to learn that Jesus had been raised from death. It was Mary Magdalene who told Peter and the others, “I have seen the Lord.” Any one of these women, and others besides, may have been Peter’s female “co-elect.”

A Female Minister in Rome

“Babylon” may refer to Rome. In Paul’s list of greetings to twenty-eight Romans (Rom. 16:3-16), he mentions nine Christian women. Two of these women are unnamed. Judging from the greetings, there was a considerable number of women involved in important ministries. In fact, there are more women described as ministers on the list than men, with Priscilla at the very top of the list. Perhaps “the co-elect” woman is one of the women on Paul’s list or a woman who followed in their footsteps.


The elect in 1 Peter 1:1 are not churches, and “she,” or “the co-elect,” in 1 Peter 5:13 is not explicitly called a church. Nevertheless, several translations include the word “church.” It is plausible, however, that like Mark, “she” is an individual, a woman known for her role in the apostolic church: a woman like Peter’s wife, John Mark’s mother, a female disciple of Jesus, or like the Roman women mentioned in Romans 16:3-16. Yet no translation I’ve seen includes the word “woman.” Why is that?

There is no reason to reject the idea that “she,” or “the co-elect,” was a real woman. Neither the grammar nor the context of 1 Peter 5:13 rules out this credible possibility, nor does the fact that she is unnamed. Most commentators, past and present, acknowledge the possibility that “she” is a woman but then shy away from this interpretation.

The plainer meaning in the Greek of this verse is that Peter is passing on greetings from a woman who he describes as “the co-elect.” But who “she” is, remains a mystery.


[1] Karen Jobes notes the near-consensus among scholars that “Babylon” refers to Rome and she provides the names of several scholars who hold this position.

There is virtually unanimous agreement among modern interpreters that the referent of “Babylon” is actually Rome (Achtemeier 1996: 354; W. Barclay 1976: 278; Best 1971: 178; Clowney 1988: 224; Cranfield 1958: 123; J. H. Elliott 2000: 883–86; Goppelt 1993: 374–75; Grudem 1988: 201; Kelly 1969: 218; Kistemaker 1987: 209; Michaels 1988: 311; Perkins 1995: 81; Reicke 1964: 134; Selwyn 1958: 243).
Jobes, 1 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 321-323.

Ben Witherington agrees and cites several primary sources: “‘Babylon’ was the Jewish code name for Rome, as is perfectly clear from many references (2 Bar. 11:1-2; 67:7; 2 Esd. 3:1-28; Sib. Or. 5:143, 157-160; cf. Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:18; 18:2-24). It is a term Peter could expect a Jewish audience to understand without further explanation.” Witherington, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1-2 Peter (Downers Grover: InterVarsity, 2007), 248.
Furthermore, “Instead of Βαβυλῶνι a few minuscules (4mg 1518 2138) read Ῥώμῃ.” Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd Edition, (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1994), 628.
Rome makes the best sense, but it is not impossible that Peter, “she,” and Mark are somewhere in the Neo-Persian province of Babylonia. History tells us that Christianity came to Mesopotamia sometime in the first century (cf. Acts 2:5-9ff). Josephus writes that the Jews living in Babylonia left in around 65 AD because of persecution from the Babylonians (Antiquities 18.8). So if Peter, the “apostle to the Jews” (Gal. 2:8), is writing from Babylonia, it would have been before the Jewish population left. However, the broader context of the letter suggests 1 Peter was written after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD.

[2] The NET Bible translates 1 Peter 5:13 as “The church in Babylon, chosen together with you …” But in a note it says the definite article “could refer to some individual woman (‘she who is in Babylon’) since the Greek article … is feminine.” (Source: NET Bible)

[3] Suneklektē is eklektē (an adjective that means chosen or elect) with a sun prefix that means “with” or “together with”: “co-elect.” The implication is that “she” is co-elect with Peter or co-elect with Peter’s audience in Asia Minor, or both. It doesn’t need to be spelled out as most English translations have done: “She in Babylon, chosen together with you.” Rather, hē en Babulōni suneklektē can simply be translated as “The co-elect [woman] in Babylon.”

[4] Greg Forbes translates it similarly as “the fellow elect (feminine) in Babylon.” But he believes this phrase has a collective sense and refers to a group of believers, not one woman. Forbes, 1 Peter (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament; Nashville: B & H Publishing, 2014), 185.

[5] Here is a small sample of a feminine definite article with a feminine adjective in a phrase that refers to women or girls. I’ve provided a literal translation; the words in square brackets are not in the Greek but the sense is understood from the context. (Note that hai is a plural feminine definite article; hē, in 1 Peter 5:13, is a singular feminine definite article.)

Matthew 25:10 hai hetoimoi: “the prepared [virgins]”
Luke 23:29a hai steirai: “the barren [women]”
Luke 24:10 hai loipoi: “the other [women]”

[6] Eklektois (“to elect ones”) in 1 Peter 1:1 is masculine plural so it cannot be alluding to the Greek word for “church” which is grammatically feminine. Rather, “to elect ones” refers to chosen men and women. (Suneklektē “co-elect one” in 1 Peter 5:13 is feminine singular.)

[7] Peter uses the word “elect” three more times in 1 Peter; all three occurrences are in the passage about living stones (see 1 Pet. 2:4, 6, 9). The lady (ekelektē kuria) and her sister (tēs adelphēs sou tēs eklektēs) in 2 John 1, 5 and 13 are both described as “elect, chosen, choice,” as is Rufus in Romans 16:13. I am as convinced as is reasonably possible that all three are individuals. (I explain why the chosen lady is a woman and not a congregation here.)
Paul sometimes sends greeting from individuals at the end of his letters. In two of his letters, he also sends greetings from churches (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:19). In both these greetings, the plural ekklēsiai (“churches”) is used.

[8] Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) believed that “she who is in Babylon” was a real person and was one and the same as the “chosen lady” in 2 John 1 and 5. He believed eklektē was not a word describing her, but was her name, equivalent to “Electa.” (Fragments IV, Comments on 2 John)

[9] Priscilla and Aquila, and Andronicus and Junia, are two prominent missionary couples based in Rome and mentioned by Paul in Romans 16. More on male-female ministry couples and 1 Corinthians 9:5 here.

[10] Clement of Alexandria (writing about those “who never prefer the pleasant to the useful”) mentions a tradition concerning Peter’s wife, but we are still not given her name:

They say, accordingly, that the blessed Peter, on seeing his wife led to death, rejoiced on account of her call and conveyance home, and called very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, ‘Remember the Lord.’ Such was the marriage of the blessed and their perfect disposition towards those dearest to them. (Stromata 7.11)

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Further Reading

Judith K. Applegate, “The Co-Elect Woman of 1 Peter,” New Testament Studies 38 (1992): 587-604. (Google Books)

Related Articles

Believing wives and female coworkers of the apostles (1 Cor. 9:5)
The Elder and the Lady: A look at the language of Second John
Jesus had many female followers–many!
A list of the 29 people in Romans 16:1-16
The First-Century Church and the Ministry of Women
The ‘Shame’ of the Unnamed Women of the Old Testament

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

21 thoughts on “Who is “she” who is in Babylon? (1 Peter 5:13)

  1. Hi Marg, I do think it is not helpful when the scripture were written to include the word Church. It would be interesting to know what was first written in Paul’s letters. The word ekklesia springs to mind. I know some versions do put this, sadly my NKJ is translated church. To know who was who can be hard to work out at times but it sounds like you cracked it, and of course Paul wrote in a way that many will misunderstand. The Bereans checked out everything to see if what written was true, so we know everything had to line up with the Old Testament Regarding women, I think they played a huge part in the church at that time. Of course believers are known as the Bride of Christ, this includes men and women.

    1. Marg – Thank you for this explanation of the many women who were involved in spreading Christ’s word during the time that He walked the earth & also after His death & resurrection. I am keeping this information to further explore & understand. Too often, the only position that is offered with regard to woman’s place in Christian ministry, is the one about Paul’s comments in Corinth that women should remain silent. That is singled out & misunderstood so often, & none of Paul’s other comments about women’s roles in ministry in the early days of Christianity are considered. It’s high time that women are accepted as equals to men, as we were & are all created in the image of God with God-given gifts to do His work in whatever form we are able to accomplish.

      1. Hello Iris,

        Eminent scholar Wayne Meeks has observed that the number of women ministers in the Pauline movement is “nearly equal to that of men.” (First Urban Christians, 81) If we look at the number of women mentioned in the New Testament as ministering in Rome, in Philippi, and in the Lycus Valley, this seems about right.

        The further we move away from Jerusalem, the more we see women being mentioned in the New Testament. Though even in Jerusalem we have John Mark’s mother, and in Caesarea we have Philip’s daughters, and in Joppa there is Tabitha. These women weren’t just ministering at the margins. They were prominent women in their communities.

    2. Hi Leslie,

      Here are Peter’s words in 1 Peter 5:13 with a literal translation.

      Aspazetai hymas: “she greets you”
      (It’s not unusual for verbs to be at the beginning of Greek sentences.)

      hē en Babylōni syneklektē: “the co-elect in Babylon”
      (A typical Greek ‘sandwich’ construction)

      kai Markos: “and/also Mark”

      ho huios mou: “the son of me”
      (In English it’s simpler to say, “my son”).

  2. I like your possible reading. I hope commentaries start to acknowledge it better.

    It seems to me there is some kind of unwritten rule that when a phrase is ambiguous, the best guess of the translator(s) should be used, rather than giving the reader an indication that an ambiguity exists and then list some possibilities. This is unfortunate as I think there are some plausible situations where the author was being deliberately ambiguous as a wordplay, so picking any one of the possibilities is not what I think the author even meant!

    1. I do wonder why commentators acknowledge that the grammar does make it sound like “she” is a woman, but then they go with “church.”

      I think Peter’s readers knew exactly who she was, just like they knew who Mark was. I believe she was a woman who was well-known enough that she didn’t need to be named.

      Not naming a woman could be a sign of respect in some sub-cultures within the Roman Empire. Though I can’t quite put my finger on why some prominent women are named and other prominent women are not named in the NT, my best guess is that higher-status women from conservative Jewish, and perhaps conservative Greek, backgrounds are less likely to be named.

      1. Perhaps Peter wanted to respect and protect her anonymity. That is at least a plausible explanation.

        1. Yes, anonymity is another possibility. Letters could be intercepted and read by the “wrong” people.
          I’ve written about this in another article.

          Letters in the ancient world, even private letters from one individual to another, were not as private as we might think. Firstly, most people, rich and poor, used a secretary to write their letters. Then, secondly, they were delivered by a letter carrier.

          Cicero once complained about letter carriers to his friend Atticus. He wrote, “There are so few who can carry a letter of any substance without lightening the weight by perusal” (Att. 1.13.1). And Cicero was a person who had more opportunity than the average person of finding and using reliable carriers than people further down the social ladder. Unlike Cicero, the average person in the Roman world could not use the state-run postal system which was primarily used for government and military purposes.
          From here: https://margmowczko.com/anonymous-man-woman-1-timothy-2/

  3. Hi Marg I trust you and family are keeping safe in these difficult days.

    I’m reading a fantastic book by Nicolas Blincoe called Bethlehem tracing the history of palestine/israel from the stone age. After the time of Jesus the pilgrim trail started to open up and among them many women who came to make huge impacts on Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Christianity. Many of them were wealthy high ranking women, who found the desert fathers and groups especially attractive after the excesses of Rome.

    327 CE Empress Helena mother of Constantine visited and among other things built a temple over the site of Jesus’ birth where people could gather to worship

    383 Egeria came to Bethlehem and stayed to document Christian practice, she suggested the Christian population was small at that time

    385 Roman Heiress Paula and her daughter Eustochium came extensively rebuilding Bethlehem and building a church and monastery where they lived and died

    Melania Spanish born roman noblewomen lived among egyptian desert communities building guesthouses and pro-monastery’s

    4th century Roman heiress Poimenia built the church of the ascension on the mount of olives

    I’m sure there are many more but wondered if you had come across these non biblical women in your studies

    It’s a fascinating book as it weaves through the history of the land without the complications of theology and demoninalism. Interestingly it’s a modern book published 2017 so it’s able to embrace the current Palestinian/Israeli situation in modern time


    1. Thanks, Alan. I have read about Helena, Egeria, and Paula and Eustochium. There were some formidable women in the early church. They were usually women of high rank with considerable wealth, who had the luxury of not being tied to the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood, and so they devoted themselves to the church.

      I briefly mention Paula and Eustochium in this short article about their friend Marcella. https://margmowczko.com/marcella-of-rome-academic-ascetic-and-almsgiver/

  4. Hi Marg

    Thanks for your response, I looked at the Marcella article, so interesting and informative. These women were powerhouses for their belief

  5. Decades of Bible Study and reading and I hear this for the first time in Morning Prayer today. Thanks for your in-depth commentary. So many say “some interpret this as Peter’s wife” but finding those some was a little tricky. What good work you do. Many thanks.

    1. Hi Rick,
      Most commentaries I looked at of 1 Peter mention the idea of “she” being Peter’s wife. Nevertheless, commentators typically prefer the idea that “she” is a church.

  6. Hi Marg,

    Thanks for your post! I just finished reading 1 Peter and thought the “she” in this verse was odd, though all the commentaries I consulted overlooked it.

    Wondering if the co-elect woman could be Junia. Richard Bauckham has made quite a convincing case for her identity as Joanna in the gospels, and we know from Romans that she ministered there with Paul. Being a female disciple of Christ, witness to the resurrection, co-worker of Paul, and Roman minister may make her a solid candidate (but maybe I just love Junia).

    1. Hi Alyssa, it’s nice to meet you.

      I’m personally not convinced Junia and Joanna are one and the same, despite Bauckham’s and Witherington’s arguments. But who knows?

      Also, if Joanna was around 20 years old when she travelled and ministered with Jesus, or older, she was most likely dead by the time Peter wrote his letter. (I believe 1 Peter was written after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD.)

      Since Junia is an apostle, a missionary who travels around, I’m not sure she is the best candidate for the co-elect woman. Prisca, on the other hand, is the first Roman Christian who Paul greets in Romans 16, and she is based in Rome at this time. Prisca is a more obvious candidate, but there is probably a new bunch of prominent women in the church at Rome by the time Peter wrote his letter.

  7. Hi Marg,

    An alternative meaning to the “she” who is in Babylon sends you greetings could be that Peter was referring to the church in Jerusalem, from where he was writing and that this was a cipher or code name that believers both there, and those who were to receive his letter understood. He sends greetings from both Silas (who returned to Jerusalem following his trip with Paul on Paul’s second missionary journey) and John Mark (who had returned to Jerusalem after abandoning Paul and Barnabas on Paul’s first missionary trip). That would put Peter, Silas, and John Mark all in the same place–Jerusalem, the place from which Peter wrote his letter. The original Babylon (Babel) mentioned in the Old Testament (Genesis 11:1-9) was the archetype of a city known for its false, man-made religion that God rejected, and ultimately judged. Jesus had also prophesied about the coming judgment on Jerusalem in Matthew 24. The Jerusalem of Peter’s day had played the harlot by being unfaithful to her Bridegroom and becoming one with the worldly powers of Rome to crucify the Lord Jesus, the Messiah who had come for her. She had already gained the reputation of being “Babylon,” before John wrote about her in the Revelation, and identified her as “Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17:3-5), for later in 17:18 he refers to the woman as the “great city” and earlier in Revelation11:8 referred to the “great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.” Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was know a the place that killed the prophets. Connecting the dots, Jerusalem seems to be a plausible answer to the question as to the identity of “she who is in Babylon” that Peter wrote about..

    1. I see things differently, Bob.

  8. Hi Marg I really enjoyed reading this article. Thank you for the detail you have included. I wondered if you had any thoughts about the rest of the sentence. It seems accepted that Peter was with this lady at the time of writing but I can’t see how the language suggests this. Maybe I’m just being slow, or maybe the translation is confusing, but if they were together in Babylon would the sentence not have been something like- she who is here in Babylon? I have always assumed that Peter was somewhere else and was passing on a greeting, maybe one that he had received in a letter from the woman in Babylon. Have I missed something?

    1. Hi Mandy,

      If you look at the end of some of the other New Testament letters, you’ll see that the letter writer often sends greeting from those who are with him. This was a common custom in ancient letter writing.

      See Romans 16:21; 1 Corinthians 16:19-20; Philippians 4:21-22; Colossians 4:10-14; 2 Timothy 4:21; Philemon 1:23-24; 2 John 1:13; 3 John 1:15.

      I’m as sure as I can be that “she” and Mark, as well as Sylvanus, are with Peter (1 Peter 5:12-13).

  9. Is it possible that it could have been Mary, Jesus’ mother? She is certainly one of “ the elect”, though perhaps not in the same sense.

    1. Hi Joann, Some suggest Mary is the “elect lady” in 2 John 1:1,5, which is more likely as there is a strong tradition Mary lived her last years in Ephesus. There’s no tradition Mary was ever in Babylon or Rome. However, it is more much likely Mary was dead by the time 1 Peter and 2 John were written.

      “Elect” is used 23 times in New Testament. It sometimes refers to all the faithful, but a few times it refers to individuals. All faithful followers of Jesus ar the elect. https://biblehub.com/greek/strongs_1588.htm

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