Arsinoe: A Hidden Disciple
Download the iPhone Daily Bible Study App to read more about female disciples like Arsinoe and other unknown disciples of Jesus. This week we discussed the historical importance of extra-canonical gospels and how they shed light on the activity of women in the early church.
To say Arsinoe is a hidden disciple is a bit misleading. She isn't hidden, just ignored. Arsinoe shows up in five extra-canonical gospels. She just didn’t happen to be mentioned by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, so we mostly have forgotten about her as a church. Arsinoe is the only female disciple of Jesus NOT listed in the canonical gospels, however she is listed FIVE times in the extra-canonical gospels, making her third most popular next to Mary Magdalene, and Salome (who are mentioned 7 and 6 times, respectively).
Given her prominence, Arsinoe must be remembered as a real disciple who had an impact and had influence enough in the early church to be mentioned so repeatedly. Her disappearance should be viewed as the result of a lack of preservation of information in some traditions similar to how Joanna and Susanna are only known from Luke.
Women and Full Membership
Arsinoe and countless other women were accepted as full members of the early church. There is evidence to support that women’s leadership was equal to men for several centuries after the resurrection. One clear piece of evidence for this is how Saul (later, Paul, after his conversion), arrested both men and women who became Christians (Acts 8:3; 9:2). According to the laws of the time, Women were not held to the same standards as men and would have been ignored or overlooked if it wasn’t for their obvious leadership and activity in the church.
Another telling validation of women’s participation is in Acts 17:11-12, where prominent Greek women, (and also men), poured over the scriptures eagerly and converted to Christianity in the Macedonian city of Beroea. Some historians have even argued that women made up the majority of the early church congregations. Historical writings have revealed comments by writers that ridicule Chrisitanity as a “women’s religion” and archaeological discoveries at Christian sites have uncovered a great deal of women’s clothing and artifacts indicating their numbers were significant.
If Arsinoe could be so prominent in at least half of the early church traditions, how could she have disappeared completely from our modern history as a church? How many other women’s stories of faith have not been recorded? Considering that women’s stories were rarely told and recorded, the fact that we have so many is quite telling. Are we as a church willing to imagine and accept just how influential women really were during Jesus’ ministry?
This is just a sample of some of the content from our week-long study on Arsinoe and Susanna and the unknown female disciples of Jesus. You can download the app here to read more!
For Further Reading:
I recommend Richard Bauckham’s book “Gospel Women: Stories of the Named Women in the Gospels”. His research uncovers the historical evidence that disciples like Arsinoe, Susanna, Joanna and Salome had significant roles in the life of the early church. He connects the dots historically to bring us a better understanding of the historical accuracy of the lives of these women.