Some people unfamiliar with the New Testament claim that the case for female disciples of Jesus is controversial. However, as explained below, "disciple" means "one who follows a person's moral teachings", more commonly called a "student". The New Testament clearly identifies a number of women who chose to follow Jesus, but it's not clear that they chose to follow Jesus' teachings. The four gospels differ in the number, name, and role of such women that they name. Even greater variation is found in the noncanonical gospels, books that are not considered scripture by most denominations, Christian religions and the vast majority of scholars of Christianity.
Some of the women feature prominently in accounts of Jesus' crucifixion and in reports of his resurrection. In some gospel accounts, women were the first to receive a sign of Jesus' resurrection and to report it to others (the "Good news").
One of the apocryphal gospels, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, is attributed to the most famous of Jesus' female disciples, Mary Magdalene.
Terminology: "Disciples" and "Apostles"
In biblical usage, the term "disciple" simply means "student"—someone who believes in the person's message and tries to follow the person's moral values and teachings. By that definition, all women and men followers of Jesus are disciples of Jesus, as long as they tried to follow the teachings of Jesus, rather than being merely camp followers. 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...."
John the Baptizer had disciples.
Jesus is the only person described in the New Testament as having "apostles."
Christian scholars and theologians disagree on the meaning of "apostle", though the general scholarly meaning is one who spreads the teachings of the teacher.
- Some consider the term to mean a "church planter," a person who starts Christian congregations, like the Apostle Paul.
- Others believe that there were only a small number of apostles chosen either directly by Jesus, e.g., and , or by the original apostles, e.g., Luke and Barnabas on the basis of passages like .
- Today, there are a few, particularly among some Pentecostals and some predominantly Black churches of various affiliations, describe themselves as modern-day apostles.
Female disciples identified in the New Testament
The New Testament, particularly the epistles, names a number of women who were followers of Jesus, such as:
- Mary Magdalene— , , , , and
- Mary, the mother of James and Joses—
- Mary, the mother of Jesus
- Mother of Zebedee's sons—
- Sisters Mary and Martha— ,
- Widow of Nain—
- Woman bent double—
- Woman with an issue of blood—
Probable New Testament female disciples
The following New Testament women, though not called "disciples" in scripture, were closely identified with either Jesus or his disciples. These women probably became disciples (if they followed his teachings, in addition to being merely followers) after Jesus' death and resurrection.
- Poor widow's casting of "two copper coins" into the Temple treasury— ,
- Unnamed sisters of Jesus—
- Wife of Simon Cephas (a.k.a Peter)—
- Wives of Jesus' brothers named in : Joseph, James (Jacob), Simon and Jude—
- Wives of the apostles other than Paul and Barnabas—
- Woman at the well in Samaria—
- Woman taken in adultery—
- Woman who anointed Jesus' feet—
- Jesus' interactions with women
- Joanna (disciple)
- Martha, sister of Lazarus
- Mary Magdalene
- Mary, sister of Lazarus
- Saint Veronica
- Salome (disciple)
- Susanna (disciple)
- ↑ ; ; ; ;