In many ways the 12 disciples were Jesus’ closest friends. Yet, they were also appointed to do specific tasks, as recorded in Mark 3:
13 And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, 19and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
In terms of friendship, many people today would list people of the same sex as their closest friends. So in this regard, the 12 disciples being solely male is not necessarily meaningful.
We are not given specific reasons as to why Jesus chose each of the 12 individual men in this passage. However we do know that Jesus sought God’s direction (Luke 6:12-13) and Mark gives three reasons why Jesus chose this group:
- To be with him
- To send them out to preach
- To have authority to cast out demons
It is worthwhile exploring this choice from a historical context and to consider the role of women in Jesus’ day. The social standing of women in Jesus’ day may have influenced the composition of his 12 disciples. Could women travel, preach, teach and be with Jesus exclusively in the same way that men could? These factors may have influenced who the 12 disciples were.
Certain positions within the early believers were given to males (for example see Acts 6:5, Titus 1:5-9), based on these records this is why men take similar positions in many churches today.
Whatever the reason, God guided Jesus to have 12 male disciples.
It is important to note that Jesus had more disciples than the 12 (Acts 6:1-2, 7) and that this was a group of men and women. We today can be his disciples and Jesus tells us our role, regardless of whether we are male or female:
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13