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 Peter 5:13 is usually translated as,
“She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, greets you, and so does Mark, my son.”
The one-letter Greek word hē (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 does 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 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. 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 subject implied by the definite article hē.
But I propose a third way.
Unlike how other translators have understood the Greek of 1 Peter 5:13a, I suggest the article hē 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 (“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.”
In my interpretation and translation there is no missing (elided) noun in the Greek, but “woman” needs to be added in English translations so that English readers understand that the gender of “the co-elect” person is female.
What is ”she”?
Most translators, past and present, have chosen to translate the Greek article hē as “she who” in 1 Peter 5:13. And the common view is that the article refers to a church, a Christian community, from where Peter is writing his letter.
Some early Greek texts of 1 Peter 5:13 even include the word for “church.” The Codex Sinaiticus has the Greek word for “church,” ekklēsia, a noun that agrees grammatically with the gender of the feminine article hē. A few early Latin and Syriac translations also have a word that means “church.” But the word “church” (ekklēsia) doesn’t occur at all in most Greek texts of First Peter.
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 a 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, only in First Peter.)
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, there are several instances in the New Testament where the feminine definite article with a feminine adjective, such as we have in 1 Peter 5:13, clearly refers to women or girls.
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). So it makes sense that “the co-elect” in Babylon also refers to a Christian (not a church).
Furthermore, the way “the co-elect” is paired with Mark in 1 Peter 5:13 (“and/ also Mark my son”), makes it sound like both are individuals. If so, who might this “co-elect” woman have been? I offer the following speculative ideas.
Who was “she”?
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. And Paul tells us that the apostle Peter (Cephas) went on missionary journeys with his wife (1 Cor. 9:5).
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). Though she is not named, it seems from Paul’s letter that the Corinthians knew of her as Peter’s ministry partner (1 Cor. 9:5).
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. She must have held regular church meetings, or regularly cared for church members, as 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” and hosted itinerant ministers such as Peter.
(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 well 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 Rome. 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. It is plausible 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 one of the Roman women mentioned in Romans 16:3–16. Yet no translation of 1 Peter 5:13 that 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.
 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 in early Christian and Jewish writings.
“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 AD 65 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 AD 70.
 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)
 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 spelt 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.”
 Greg Forbes translates it similarly as “the fellow elect (feminine) in Babylon.” However, 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.
A. J. Mason translated the phrase as “the co-elect one [fem. sing.] in Babylon” and mentions Peter’s wife before deciding “it seems therefore much more natural to suppose that the salutation is from this church of ‘Babylon’ to her sister churches in the provinces of Asia Minor.” Mason, “1 Peter,” in Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers (London: Cassel and Company, 1905) (Online source: Bible Hub)
 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 and feminine gender of the words. (Note that hai is a plural feminine definite article; hē in 1 Peter 5:13 is a singular feminine definite article.)
In Mark 5:32 the feminine article tēn is used for the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. The definite article is often translated in this verse as “who” or “she who” but it can also be translated as “the one” with the understanding that “she,” or “the one,” is female. However, the NASB, and several other English translations accurately translate the definite article as “the woman”: “And He looked around to see ‘the woman’ (tēn) who had done this.”
 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.)
 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.
 Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–c. 215) believed that “she who is in Babylon” was a real person. He conflates her with the “elect lady” in 2 John. Furthermore, he believed eklektē was not a word describing her but it was her name, equivalent to “Electa.” He implies that her name indicates her election or selection by the church. He wrote, “The second Epistle of John, which is written to Virgins, is very simple. It was written to a Babylonian lady, by name Electa, and indicates the election (or, selection) of (or, by) the holy Church.” (Fragments IV, Comments on 2 John)
It survives in Latin: Secunda Joannis Epistola, quae ad virgines scripta est, simplicissima est. Scripta vero est as quamdam Babyloniam Electam nomine, significat autem electionem Ecclesiae sanctae. (Fragments IV, Comments on 2 John, PG 9: 737–738) (I’ve written about the elect lady in 2 John here.)
 While we can’t rule it out, I doubt that “she” is Peter’s wife. “She” is identified by her place, “Babylon,” and not by any relationship with Peter. And if “she” was his wife, he could have easily said she so, especially as he warmly identifies his missionary partner Mark as his “son” in the same verse. Furthermore, there is a tradition of Peter’s wife being martyred before him. See footnote 11.
 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.
 Clement of Alexandria (writing about those “who never prefer the pleasant to the useful”) mentions a tradition concerning the martyrdom 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)
© Margaret Mowczo 2020
All Rights Reserved
Judith K. Applegate, “The Co-Elect Woman of 1 Peter,” New Testament Studies 38 (1992): 587–604. (Google Books)
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