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#73 - Were other Apostles in addition to Peter married?
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
I know Peter was/had been married. Were there other Apostles who were known to be married at the time when they were Apostles?
According to the synoptic gospels (Mat 8:14; Mar 1:30; Luk 4:38) and according Paul (1Co 9:5), Peter continued to be married and to take his wife with him when he traveled. Paul's authentic letters (certainly including Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon) predated the four gospels and Acts. So he provided us with the earliest written pieces of Christian history. In one of his letters to the Christian community in Corinth, he wrote:
"Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Kephas?" (NAB, 1Co 9:5)
The biblical record in Paul's writings as well as in the gospels and Acts points to Apostles and other 1st Century Christians traveling with their wives. (Of course, Kephas, more commonly anglicized as "Cephas," was Peter's Aramaic name.)
Then there is the case of Prisca and Aquila, who are described by the writer of Acts (in Acts 18) as wife and husband. When Apollos "began to speak boldly in the synagogue" about Jesus, "Priscilla and Aquila... took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately." (Acts 18:26, NRSV) This was a wife-and-husband team ministry.
In two different letters indisputably written by Paul, he mentions this wife and husband team. In Romans 16 Paul refers to them as "Prisca and Aquila" (Rom 16:3), and in 1 Corinthians 16 he refers to them as "Aquila and Prisca" (1Co 16:19) The order in which Paul refers to them (i.e., male first or female first) does not seem to be theologically important to Paul, but it may have been important for his intended purpose.
It is also very significant to note that Romans 16 was not part of Paul's letter to the Christian community in Rome, but most likely was written to the Christians in Ephesus as a letter of introduction for Phoebe, to whom Paul refers as a "deacon" and who at the time was the organizational leader of the Christian community in Cenchreae. For more details, you can read:
Follow-up Question/insight #73b:
In reading my Jerusalem Bible I see that the word "woman" is used instead of "wife." A footnote says, "Lit. 'a sister, a woman (wife?)'. To look after the apostle's needs." Why do you think the word "wife" is a preferable interpretation?
Follow-up Response #73b:
Deacon Charlie Perrin, Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, responded first by writing:
I believe the Jerusalem Bible is an English translation of a French translation. I would hesitate to use it as primary source of exegesis. It is too far removed from the source. When questions like this arise, it is helpful to look in a variety of translations; especially those which are translated from the original texts. One can compare them while considering whatever viewpoints the translators may have been influenced by. A concordance and a Greek lexicon helps as well (one doesn't even have to know Greek to use it).
Bob Nguyen Cramer then responded by writing:
Adding to Charlie's response to your questions, in 1Co 9:5, the New Jerusalem Bible (first published in 1985) now uses "Christian wife" rather than the Jerusalem Bible's "Christian woman." All other major modern translations use either "a Christian wife" or "a believing wife", such as the New American Bible, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, New Revised Standard Version, Revised English Bible, Schonfield's, and Today's English Version.
The Greek words are adelphen gunaika (Strong's #s 79 and #1135), which literally translates, "sister-wife." Adelphen (sister) clearly refers to a Christian sister, i.e., a female Christian believer. Gunaika can be translated as either woman or wife. "Christian wife" or "believing wife" is the most contextually appropriate translation of adelphen gunaika. Both adelphen and gunaika are accusative singular feminine nouns that directly follow one another, resulting in translating it literally as a hyphenated "sister-wife."
Hans Conzelmann (1 Corinthians, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975, page 153) comments:
According to Bauer.. [a leading New Testament Greek lexicographer], [the Greek word] periagein (literally "lead around") does not accentuate the thought of accompaniment on journeys, but means "to have with one continually," that is to be married.
Lietzmann and others have argued that Paul's issue is not so much the issue of Apostles being married, but of the right of Apostles to have wives that along with themselves should be supported by the Christian community. Conzelmann (ibid.) also notes:
This verse provides a brief insight into the wealth of missionary activity in the early church. Once again it must be asked whether adelphen gunaika periagein, "to have a sister with us as a wife," we have to add from v 6, "at the expense of the community.
C.K. Barrett (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NY: Harper & Row, 1968, page 203) maybe summarizes it best when he writes:
Here the first point is that apostles, like other Christians, have a right to be (and many of them are) married (thus the argument of chapter vii is confirmed); the second, that apostles, unlike other Christians, have the right to have their wives (it strains the text to see here.. a reference to female assistants, who might but need not be the apostles' wives) maintained by the communities in which they are working. This is not only apostolic theory but apostolic practice.
Josef (JoanFreeR@aol.com), another Ordination of Women forum participant, adds:
In addition to what Bob has offered, which I support and agree with, I encourage all to look at Raymond F. Collins' new commentary on First Corinthians in the Sacra Pagina Series from the Liturgical Press, on pages 336 and 337. Among other points, Fr. Collins points out, "In the Mediterranean world a woman who traveled with a man would enjoy his protection, but if she were not his wife she would have been considered a prostitute."
Copyright 1996-2002 Robert Nguyen Cramer