Who led whom in prayer?
Did the women pray with the apostles or did the apostles pray with the women in the Acts of the Apostles 1:14?
The Greek says the apostles prayed “with women,” literally.
I don’t know for sure who led whom in prayer, but I am dismayed that some translators seem to go so far out of their way to add words that make it appear that the apostles, all males, were the main characters and to marginalize the women.
Acts 1:14 should read simply: “These [apostles] all were devoting themselves in one accord to prayer with women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brothers.”
I don’t have much of a problem if the translator adds, “with certain women”-3- in place of the more literal “with women.” After all, the apostles did not pray with just any women, but with women they knew. Less preferred is “with some women,” which might imply some unspecified persons, unnamed and unimportant.
Here is a translation I wish to question:
“The apostles had a single purpose as they devoted themselves to prayer. They were joined by some women, including Mary (the mother of Yeshua), and they were joined by his brothers.” -4-
The apostles “were joined by some women”??!!
It would seem, according to this translation, that the apostles (all males) had some primacy in leading the prayers and they were joined by these others. Oh, really! Such wording is not literally in the Greek. Sure puts the spotlight on the apostles and makes the others just satellites, joining in.
I object to translators adding “including” before Mary, as if she was not necessarily included and needed to be included. Such language does not allow her to be a central figure.
I also object to the translation “along with” or “together with” (below) implying that there were two distinct groups, the apostles and the others, something that does not need emphasis and may in fact not be correct.
The official Catholic Bible shifted somewhat in translating Acts 1:14 during the past decades. In the DRA-D- it says quite correctly, “All these were persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” (emphasis added) But now, the official Bible on the Vatican website -V- is less literal, eliminates the second “with” that is before “brothers,” has “together with” indicating distinct groups, has “some women” as if the women were incidental, and has a strategically-placed comma to separate the men from the women, “All these [apostles] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer [comma], together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” (emphasis added)
One might almost think there were two or three groups praying separately, together in the same vicinity, and that the apostles prayed, and the brothers and the unimportant women did likewise.
What the Greek tells me (and I admit I know very little of Greek) and what the more literal translations tell me, is that the apostles prayed with women and Mary and with Jesus’ brothers. There are two instances of “with” in the Greek. One possible inference is that Mary and the women and the brothers led the prayers for the apostles and that the apostles had joined in with the women and joined in with the brothers.
If the historical Jesus was a messianic figure with kingly potential, then his brothers would have been his heirs and would have been the ones to lead the group prayers. Jesus’ brother James was in fact the first leader of the Jerusalem Christian community, not the apostle Peter (Acts 12:17; 15:13, 19; 21:18). -A- So presumably, James and the brothers had the lead, if anyone had the lead. Except that the women who had supported Jesus financially (Luke 8:2-3), and thereby his whole family, might have had some leadership standing as well. The footnote in the NRSV for that passage in Luke 8 lets me know that the women provided financially for either Jesus OR them meaning, I suppose, Jesus and the apostles just mentioned in a preceding verse. So when the apostles and their financial supporters, on whom the apostles were dependent??!!, were gathered together, who among them led and who joined in, and who prayed with whom?
No self-respecting patriarchal translator could let us think that Mary and those other women actually led some prayers! And that the apostles prayed with women.
Here’s another translation of Acts 1:14 to question: “Several women, including Jesus’ mother, were also there.” -5-
The women were also there, but did not pray? Now that definitely makes the women peripheral to the story! And solves the problem of who led the prayers!
Another translation to question: “The women and Mary the mother of Jesus would meet with them [apostles], and so would his brothers.” -6-
“Meet with them”?? As guests? I suppose the guests did not lead the prayers when meeting “with them” (the apostles). Maybe there was no praying during the “meeting.” Wait! The Greek does not say the women “met” “with them” (apostles). It says the apostles prayed “with women.” I can guess that maybe this translator has some issue with women being unchaperoned with the “all-male apostles” and has thus come up with the invention of a “meeting” after which all the women will go back to wherever they came from. No sleep-over. What some people worry about.
Another translation to question: “Some women, Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers were there with the apostles.” -7-
The Greek does not say “with the apostles.” Rather, in the Greek, the apostles are “with women.”
Forty plus translations of this verse at Biblegateway, one click:
Does it matter if someone incorrectly writes, “women prayed with men” or “women were there with the men” instead of “men prayed with women”? I think the language does make a difference. It tells me who joined in and who led – at least in English; not definitely, but the language is not completely ambiguous either.
“The people prayed with the minister.” This could mean that the minister led the prayers in a Sunday church service.
“The minister prayed with the people.” This could mean that the minister joined their informal prayer group.
Of course other meanings are possible.
Here is why it matters: Pope John Paul II writes in his proclamation “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” -8- refusing women priestly ordination, “The fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them.”
Of course, the Pope’s argument wobbles because the apostles were not priests (the first Christians were surrounded by peoples who had priests and priestesses and the first Christians did not copy their neighbors and institute a priesthood); but anyway, the Pope’s argument fails utterly if Mary and the women and the brothers, including James the first “pope,” were leading the prayers for the apostles.
But what if the apostles and the others were praying together, not one group alongside another group, not one group together with another group, not one group leading the other group, but instead, all praying as one – together? Praying single-mindedly or praying while mindfully centered, and praying unified one to another and unified within the self, not setting up discriminating barriers one to another, male to female, family versus non-family, and so on.
“If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand,” Jesus reportedly said (Mark 3:25 (NRSV)). A house built on misogyny (hatred of women) will not stand. A man praying to a God of Love while consumed with misogyny is a house divided within himself. A people worshipping while maintaining discriminating barriers one to another, male against female, cannot be one. The Vatican’s Church, an institution that fosters a second class role for women, is divided against itself.
A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament (by Zerwick and Grosvenor) surprised me with the translation (if I understand correctly) that “women” can mean wives, as in Acts 21:5 where wives and children escort Paul and presumably are among those praying. I don’t know why that surprised me. Of course the apostles’ wives did not stay behind in Galilee and let their husbands just wander off alone. The wives were among the “women who had come with [Jesus] from Galilee” (Luke 23:55 (NRSV)). The wives, or many of them, came. As did small children, even squalling babies. Maybe even aging elders who could not be left behind. The group and inter-personal dynamics and the bedlam must have been intense. Prayer brought a relatively peaceful interlude.
Interesting that the apostles evidently prayed with women, with their wives, with their female financiers, with Jesus’ mother Mary, maybe with Jesus’ sisters, maybe even with Jesus’ wife, who knows; and yet the bishops, who want people to think they are heirs to the apostles, will not do any such thing. By the way, I do not consider allowing women to chant in unison from the pews, “And with your spirit,” to be joining in prayer with women.
I wonder how each apostle could have prayed with his wife if she had remained silent and covered in her veil, sitting apart with the other women, separate from the group of praying apostles. That wouldn’t work. If the women were a separate group, were the brothers of Jesus yet a third group? Why would the followers of Jesus form three different groups to pray? That wouldn’t work. Did each husband and wife pray together, both praying silently while holding hands or both praying aloud for all to hear??
Translators, why won’t all of you let the apostles pray with women? Do some of you think you can write the Acts of the Apostles better than the person who wrote it in the first century?
All you bishops out there, so fearful of “forms of feminism hostile to the Church” (recent Vatican survey questionnaire), why not try to focus just a bit on forms of male chauvinism harmful to the Church, and let the women lead the prayers at least once in a while – would once a year be too much to ask?? (sarcasm)! And if you cannot do that, at least pray with women as one together.
Here is an interesting observation from the newsletter of the Women’s Ordination Conference addressing the Vatican’s assertion that one must see in the minister the image of Christ who was and is a man. Two women theologians refuted that with, “It is to be asserted decisively that fundamental significance is to be assigned only to the fact that Christ (or the Logos) became human; the aspect of gender is wholly irrelevant here; for it is not Christ ‘becoming a man’ that has a redemptive function, but solely his becoming a human being.”
I will add that the Incarnation is not only the Divine among us and within us, “Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19 (NRSV)), but also in all creation, “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:23 (TNIV)). I do not interpret that as meaning that every woman and the entire world are being transformed into maleness. The Christ would have to be beyond male/female just as God presumably is beyond gender.
With all that as background, the bishops’ refusal to ordain women and pray with them at the altar cannot be anything but . . . . wrong.
But you might not know that if your translation of the Bible is inherently chauvinistic, showing the apostles praying in Acts 1:14, and showing Saint Mary “the Mother of God,” Saint James the first “pope” and Jesus’ brother and heir, the women financiers, and the apostles own wives, as being passive nobodies, just tiny specks orbiting the apostles.
But maybe the brother James was also an apostle (James Alphaeus-T-)??, in which case, did that particular apostle pray with his mother Mary, with his wife/women, and with his brothers, or did James only allow them to “chime in” when he took a breath?? Since the brother James was the community’s leader maybe he was not much for sharing the podium, but let’s hope his wife was allowed to do more than just recite, “And with your spirit,” and “Lord, I am not worthy. . . . .”
I tend to believe they were all unified in one group and all prayed – together – women and men taking turns at taking the lead as would be most helpful to the group, and not in a self-serving or chauvinistic way.
Maybe the men even helped with the babysitting and washing the dishes when they weren’t praying.