The Scandalous First Apostle

canstockphoto13479425A One-Question Bible Pop Quiz: Who was the first apostle?

If you said Peter, you’re wrong. If you said John, you’re wrong. If you said any of the original 12 disciples, you’re wrong.

They were disciples, but they didn’t become apostles until after the resurrection when they were sent—apostle means “one who is sent”—to proclaim the victory of Jesus and the kingdom of God.

They were apostles, but none of them was the first apostle.

In fact, if your answer was any man, you’re wrong.

The first apostle was a woman.

Mary Magdalene was the first apostle.

In John 20 she is the only one at the tomb. Jesus reveals himself to her and says, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” (John 20:17)

She is sent to the ones who will be sent. Who says the Bible doesn’t love irony?

It’s just that in Jesus’ day, women weren’t considered to be reliable witnesses. Too emotional. Couldn’t be trusted. A woman apostle? Sad to say, this was scandalous back in the day.

Even sadder to say, it still is. Some reading this are already ready to push back, saying that John never explicitly calls Mary Magdalene an apostle. And that’s true. But Paul calls Junia an apostle. Paul lauds her and her husband Adronicus not just as apostles, but as exceptional apostles who had risen to prominence among all the rest of the apostles.

What was scandalous in Jewish society became a point of pride in the early Christian church.

There were, unfortunately, some men in the church who couldn’t handle the scandal of a woman who didn’t know her place, so somewhere along the way someone added a “s” (Greek sigma) to Junia’s name, making it a masculine noun and in turn making Junias a man.

Look in your Bibles: some translations still keep the “s” even though the earliest manuscripts don’t have it and even though a male name Junias is not attested in any Greek writings, Christian or not.

These are the same translations that say that Phoebe was a “servant” in the church rather than calling her what she was: a deacon (Romans 16:1).

I guess a woman deacon, though less so than a woman apostle, is still scandalous.

But why is being scandalous a bad thing? Paul says that the cross itself is scandalous (1 Cor. 1:23). Your translation says “stumbling block” but the Greek word is scandalon, meaning something offensive, revolting, arousing opposition and provoking anger. “Stumbling block” doesn’t begin to convey the idea.

It’s curious that the liberation of people, whether it be women or ethnic/racial minorities, or even those bound as slaves, can evoke such hostility that we will split countries and churches, will rewrite history and scriptures, and will invent new ways of discriminating against those who are being or want to liberated.

That is the real scandal.

If another person’s freedom threatens your status then you both need liberating.

So say it nice and loud: the first apostle was a woman. Say it loudly and proudly.

And if anyone is scandalized by it, well, they needed scandalizing.

Photo by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / edarchinyan

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