Jesus and His Traveling Disciplettes

June 6, 2015

crosses reflected in an eyeThanks to a book I read recently, I finally understand why I was so surprised when I first discovered that Jesus and his band of followers was not a boys-only club.

It turns out that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John keep things simple and do hone in on the apostles throughout their narratives. With only a few exceptions, they use the terms apostles and disciples interchangeably.

Luke, however, pulls back the curtain wider and shows us that the twelve apostles weren’t the only guys around the campfire—nor were they all guys (which is why studying each Gospel as an independent work of literature is so important).

Luke (6:13) introduces the Twelve as chosen from a larger group of disciples of Jesus, although he occasionally uses the terms synonymously (the apostles were disciples, after all). Here are some examples in Luke where the group of people following Jesus clearly consisted of more than the Twelve (and later the Eleven):

When he gave the Sermon on the Mount (in Galilee), “a large crowd of disciples was there and a great number of people from all over…” (Luke 6:17)

As Jesus came down the Mount of Olives on a donkey colt, “the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:37-38)

When [the women] came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. (Luke 24:9)

After the two disciples on the road to Emmaus opened their eyes to Jesus, “They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” (Luke 24:33-34)

Let’s pause here and spend a moment on the concept of disciple.

The term disciple is unique to the Gospels and Acts (which was written by Luke, remember). Paul never uses it, nor do any of the other epistle writers.

Being a disciple in the first century meant much more than merely agreeing with someone’s teachings or believing in his authority, or claiming allegiance with his cause. Jewish men (and rarely women) could choose to bind themselves to a specific rabbi or teacher to acquire his learned understandings and unique perspective. The rabbi provided guidance as an authoritative interpreter of scripture, and similar to earlier practice in Greek philosophy, the Jewish disciple subordinated himself to a rabbi in absolute dedication and loyalty.* His goal was to imitate the master in every way.

Jesus himself noted, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher” (Luke 6:40).

Being a disciple of Jesus meant spending time with him daily—literally following him—going where he went, observing him, learning his teachings and methods of interpreting scripture, and trying to adapt his attitudes and behavior.

With this in mind, we come to Luke 8:1-3, which occurs just after the so-called sinful woman crashed the dinner at Simon’s house:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

What do you know? Jesus had both disciples and disciplettes!

This passage is easy to overlook, yet suggests the following:

1. The actions in which these women were engaged are the very actions of a typical disciple of the time—traveling with the rabbi, listening to his teachings, witnessing his behavior—some were even able to provide financial support. The Twelve and the women were two subgroups of the larger group of disciples.

2. Luke is stating what is true from this point on. That is, the women can generally be assumed to be present when disciples are mentioned throughout the remainder of Luke until they come up again in the crucifixion narrative.

At this point I need to acknowledge that many of the points I am making here were prompted from my recent reading of some intriguing scholarship by Richard Bauckham. His book Gospel Women was a gold mine on this topic.

Luke is unique in mentioning these women from Galilee so early in his Gospel. It’s no wonder I hadn’t noticed their presence before. John never mentions them at all. Mark acknowledges their prior presence only when this knowledge becomes necessary to his crucifixion narrative in Mark 15:40-41. Matthew follows suit (27:55-56). In contrast to Luke, both Mark and Matthew give the women’s purpose as caring for Jesus’ needs.

We will explore the significance of the women at the crucifixion and subsequent events in a future post. For now let’s return to Luke and consider what it means that these women were with Jesus from Luke 8-22, up until the crucifixion. On some occasions in the following passages the disciples were said to be present. Mostly, Jesus was speaking directly to them.

8:9-18; 8:22-25; 9:18-27; 9:46-48; 10:38; 11:1-13; 12:1-12, 22-53; 16:1-31; 17:1-10, 22-37; 18:1-8, 15-17, 31-34; 19:28-44; 20:45-21:36

A couple passages seem especially notable:

1. Luke 9:43-44

…While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.”

The women were most assuredly present for this statement, because the two angelic men in the empty tomb reminded them of it:

“…Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24:6-8)

2. In Luke 10:1-24 Jesus sends out “the seventy-two” in pairs to announce the coming of the kingdom of God. No gendered pronoun is used of this group, and it’s possible that women may have been among them. (By the way, this story is unique to Luke.)

I like knowing that Jesus welcomed women as disciples, even though their presence was likely considered scandalous by the most conservative Jews. I’m happy that women, too, witnessed Jesus’ miracles, heard his teachings firsthand, and watched his compassion in action. I feel certain the remainder of their lives were shaped by these experiences.

Most impressive is that the women and men, both, who chose to follow Jesus (or were chosen by him) did not do so lightly and sacrificed everything to do it.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9-22-24)

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple….In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:26-33)

Granted, Jesus was likely using a degree of hyperbole here to make a point, but this was a much more rigorous standard for discipleship than other rabbis demanded. Luke wanted his readers to know, even in this culture that often painted women as weak-willed and gullible, that these statements applied to women as well as men, and there seemed to be no question that women were up to task.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to meet this standard of discipleship myself, but I am so encouraged that there are women before me who have.



*Disciple. In C. Brown’s New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (1986). Zondervan.

photo credit: Close up eye purple- Jesus- Cross via photopin (license) (image edited from original)


Leave a Reply