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The Women Disciples — There’s More!

August 7, 2015
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In this post we will look in more depth at the presence of the women disciples toward the end of Luke’s Gospel and consider their significance. We’re following up on a previous post, “Jesus and His Traveling Disciplettes,” which explored the way Luke’s Gospel places women as a regular presence among Jesus’ disciples throughout his ministry (beginning in Luke 8:1).

Here’s a rundown of what happened beginning in Luke 23:

  • The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee watched their Savior’s crucifixion at a distance (Luke 23:49). They are singled out because they about to become major actors in this plotline.
  • These same “women who had come with Jesus from Galilee” followed Jesus’ body, saw the tomb, and saw his body laid in it. (Luke 23:55) They became the only witnesses among the disciple group of the exact location where Jesus was buried.
  • “The women” then became the first witnesses of the empty tomb on Sunday morning, when they arrived with burial spices. Instead of the body of Jesus, they found two gleaming men who explained the absence of Jesus. (Luke 24:1-5)
  • The men remind the women what Jesus had told them back in Galilee (Luke 24:6-7). The women then remembered that, yes, Jesus had told them that (Luke 24:8).
  • They ran back and reported their discovery to “the Eleven and to all the others.” The guys were unwilling to believe the news, because “their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (Luke 24:9-10)
  • “The women” were finally identified as “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them.” (Luke 24:9)
  • The resurrected Jesus walks along with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. These two report to Jesus that “some of our women amazed us.”Some of the guys, including Peter, went to check out their story “and found it just as the women had said.” Imagine that. (Luke 24:23-24)
  • The Emmaus pair returned to Jerusalem and found “the Eleven and those with them,” who said, essentially, “What the women said was true!” (Luke 24:33-34)
  • Jesus suddenly appeared to this same group. (Luke 24:36) He explained the scriptures about himself and told them, “The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” He reminded them that they were “witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:38-48)
  • Jesus told them he would send what his Father had promised and that they should stay in Jerusalem until they had “been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:38-49)
  • After he ascended, they (still the same group) returned to Jerusalem, and “they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” (Luke 24:50-53)
  • In Jerusalem the Eleven joined “together constantly in prayer,along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14).
  • On the day of Pentecost “all of them” were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1). As part of his sermon Peter reminded the audience that what they were currently experiencing was prophesied in Joel:

“In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy…”
(Acts 2:17-18; bold type added for emphasis)

Where the other three Gospels focus on the activity of the apostles, Luke provides a fuller, richer picture of a small community of followers of Jesus that included women as hearers, learners, and witnesses at all the key points of his ministry. Then they became recipients of Luke’s version of the commissioning to share their witness by the power of the Spirit, which they received right along with the apostles on Pentecost.

Does it seem likely that these women shut down after these events and went home to keep their silence? Looking across all the unique material in Luke about women, Richard Baukham* surmises that some of these disciples were very likely primary sources for the author. That may even be the reason Luke identified Mary Magdalene and Joanna both in chapter 8 and at the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene was clearly the most well-known of the female followers of Jesus and is named in all four Gospels as a witness, but Joanna is unknown elsewhere in the scriptures. Luke identified them for a reason, and the contribution of one or both of them to his narrative may be it.

If there was ever a good reason for studying the Gospels as individual works of literature, as I encouraged in my last post, this is it. The story of women’s involvement in the ministry of Jesus is uniquely told in Luke and provides an exciting foundation for understanding the full picture of women’s place in the Kingdom of God.

 

*See Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels by Richard Baukham (2002, Eerdmans).

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