Women played important roles in the early Jesus movement as disciples, deacons, and more. Yet, if women held such significant positions, why were all of Jesus’ twelve disciples men? The reason lies not in some inherent male superiority, but rather in what the disciples’ gender and number exemplify: the disciples represent the twelve sons of Jacob from whom the tribes of Israel emerge. Jesus’ choices are not exclusionary; rather, his twelve students indicate that his teaching and salvation is for all Israel.
The Twelve Tribes of Israel
The New Testament clarifies that the twelve disciples represent Jacob’s twelve sons—the namesakes of Israel’s tribes. Jesus tells his disciples, “You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matthew 19:28). Revelation envisions the eschatological New Jerusalem on whose “gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel” (Rev 21:12) and whose walls bear “the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (21:14). The disciples’ gender has nothing to do with any intrinsic value of men over women; instead, Jesus chooses his inner circle of students to represent the biblical tribes and the fullness of God’s salvation for Israel.