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What About the Wives and Children of the Apostles?

With this question, Anna Neviani, a reader of the weekly Credere, asks the editor Fr. Vincenzo Vitale, a Pauline priest, esteemed biblical scholar and excellent journalist. We reproduce Don Vincenzo’s answer and the question in its entirety, certain that it may be of benefit to the users of our news as well.

Dear Fr. Vincenzo, is there any news about the families of Jesus’ apostles, or at least those who were married (like Peter), their children and who was in charge of their livelihood, since the apostles were engaged in preaching?

Dear Anna, from the Gospels and more generally from the New Testament we do not have much information about this, their focus being other; however, we do have some sufficient clues for a rough orientation.

From the Gospels we know indirectly that Peter was married (account of Jesus’ healing of his mother-in-law, Mark 1:28-30). Similarly, this was also the condition of the other apostles chosen by Jesus: marriage was (and is) the normal choice in Judaism. We can imagine that, at least in the first phase of Jesus’ itinerant preaching, which takes place in Galilee, around Lake Tiberias, in a relatively small area, the apostles stopped by their homes quite frequently, also hosting Jesus. Remains of “Peter’s house” are preserved in Capernaum. We can also imagine that, lacking the “head of the household” for certain periods, the support of the remaining family was contributed by the larger family, the clan, which provides for solidarity among its members.

But, what happened when the movements of the group following Jesus went further afield? We have here another clue: St. Paul refers to “believing women” whom the other apostles took with them on their apostolic journeys (1 Corinthians 9:5). In all likelihood these are their respective wives following their husbands, according to Jewish custom. How did the apostles support themselves while traveling? There was the financial support and hospitality of the Christian communities (1 Corinthians 9:4); St. Paul, on the other hand, who was a tent maker, supported himself by his work. We are therefore in another phase, and it is not difficult to guess from the Gospels that there must have been some tension and difficulty here. Following Jesus was a demanding choice, of dedication to the proclamation of the Kingdom, involving a “leaving” to put Jesus first: Peter laments this (Matt. 19:27: “Behold, we have left everything and followed you; what then shall we have?”). Some of Jesus’ sayings are better understood in this context: the one about those who become “eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” i.e., make the choice of celibacy (Matt. 19:12), those announcing divisions within the family unit related to the choice to follow Jesus (Luke 12:50-52), the saying about the radical nature of discipleship (love for Jesus comes before family ties: Luke 14:26). Moreover, Jesus speaks of a “new family” gathered around the hearing of his word (Mark 3:31-35).

Following Jesus appears here as a more radical choice, involving a certain detachment from the family in order to be at the service of God’s kingdom and mission. Jesus certainly does not want to subvert the family, but his call and new apostolic commitment created an articulated praxis, also crossed with tensions. This also explains the Latin Church’s choice in later centuries in favor of celibacy.






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