four Gospels contain information on Jesus’ relationship
to women and the involvement of women in Jesus’ life
and ministry. Jesus accepted and affirmed as persons
of worth various women who were neglected or rejected
within his society. Jesus taught women and included
them among his disciples. Women also participated
in the proclamation of the gospel. Many women associated
with Jesus are known by name. Among the four Gospels
Luke evidences the greatest interest in Jesus’ relationship
with women and their involvement in his life and ministry.
The contacts and involvements between Jesus and women
need to be set within the social and cultural contexts
of the first century A.D. The Gospel data on Jesus
and women lead also to discussions about the significance
of this data for women in ministry, leadership and
authority within the church.
Women in the Social-Cultural Contexts of the First
Women As Persons of Dignity and Worth
Women As Disciples
Women As Proclaimers
Women Specifically Named
Women in the Perspective of Each Gospel
Conclusions and Significance
Women in the Social-Cultural Contexts of the First
very general terms Jesus lived in social-cultural
contexts (the Jewish context and the larger Greco-Roman
society) in which the male view of women was usually
negative and the place of women was under stood to
be limited for the most part to the domestic roles
of wife and mother. Women were perceived by extant
male writers to be responsible for most (all?) sin,
and especially for sexual temptation and sin. There
are, on the other hand, clear indications both from
literary and non-literary sources that there were
positive roles for women as well.
extant male literary sources of ancient Judaism, which
reflect both a class and gender perspective, present
a fairly consistent pattern of a negative view toward
women (see Swidler 1976). For example, Josephus, the
first-century A.D. Jewish historian, states that the
Law holds women to be inferior in all matters and
that, therefore, women should be submissive (Ag. Ap.
2.25 §201). Philo, the first-century A.D. Alexandrian
Jewish philosopher and biblical commentator, refers
throughout his writings to women and female traits
as examples of weakness (e.g., Op. Mund. 151–52; Quaest.
in Gen. 1.33). Philo argues that women ought to stay
at home, desiring a life of seclusion (Spec. Leg.
3.169–77; Flacc. 89). Sirach, a proto-Pharisaic work
from about 180 B.C., presents women either as good
wives or as problems. It even states that “better
is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good;
it is woman who brings shame and disgrace” (Sir 42:14
NRSV). According to the rabbinic Tosefta, which may
well in this case reflect first-century A.D. tradition,
a Jewish man prayed three benedictions each day, including
one in which he thanked God that he was not made a
woman (t. Ber. 7.18).
texts reflect social reality to some extent and set
a framework of societal expectation for the behavior
and relationships of men and women.
negative picture within Judaism was greatly shaped
and influenced by Greek and Greco-Roman androcentrism
and misogynism. However, as some have argued (e.g.,
Meyers), women’s place in Israel began to decline
with the emergence of a bureaucratic monarchy, prior
to Greek influence.
there are, in spite of the lack of literary evidence
from women, substantial indications that positive
roles did exist for women within Judaism, even if
limited. Especially important is the evidence that
some women held the office of ruler or president of
synagogues in ancient Judaism (see Kraemer). Significant
religious roles for women are also indicated by the
portrayal of Job’s three daughters as those who speak
the language of angels in the Testament of Job and
in the traditions about Beruriah, a second century
A.D. rabbi (see Swidler 1976). Women as strong leaders
are portrayed in the Hellenistic Jewish story of Judith
and in the rule of Salome Alexandra as Queen in Judea
(approximately 76–67 B.C.). There is also substantial
non-literary evidence which shows that Jewish women
often took initiative for their lives and activities
in spite of the male orientation and domination prevalent
in the culture (see Kraemer). These positive roles
and opportunities constitute Jewish evidence for the
significance of women in ancient Judaism.
it is important for Christians not to set a “Christian”
Jesus over against his Judaism and Jewish context
as the deliverer of women and thus engage in a subtle
form of anti-Judaism. Christians can hardly deny that
the history of the church shows that it, as much as
any human social reality, has neglected and oppressed
women over many centuries.
as a Jewish male in an androcentric, patriarchal society,
Jesus’ respect for women as persons of dignity and
worth and his inclusion of them as disciples and proclaimers
in his life and ministry was very significant in its
own first-century context for women and their place
and activity in ministry in the earliest churches
and is important as a heritage for both Jewish and
Christian people today.
Women As Persons of Dignity and Worth.
to the Gospels Jesus clearly regarded women as persons
of dignity and worth by his many healings of women,
by his acceptance and forgiveness of undesirable and
ritually unclean (see Clean and Unclean) women, and
by his implicit challenges to male sexual devaluation
Women Healed by Jesus.
Jesus healed various unnamed women: Peter’s mother-in-law
(Mt 8:14–15; Mk 1:29–31; Lk 4:38–39); the daughter
of Jairus and the woman with the twelve-year flow
of blood (Mt 9:18–26; Mk 5:21–43; Lk 8:40–56); and
the eighteen-year crippled woman (Lk 13:11–17) whom
Jesus called a “daughter of Abraham,” probably an
important status marker for a woman (see further the
discussion of Lk 8:1–3 in 3.1. below). In addition,
Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11–17).
In most of these stories Jesus touched or was touched
by the woman involved. This is particularly important
in terms of the woman with the twelve-year flow of
blood, since she would have been considered ritually
unclean according to levitical law (Lev 18).
Women’s Sexual Integrity Affirmed by Jesus.
According to two Gospel stories Jesus accepted and
forgave two women understood to be guilty of sexual
sins. In Luke 7:36–50 a woman, called a sinner, anoints
(see Anointing) and kisses Jesus’ feet in the home
of a Pharisee. Jesus accepted her actions as those
of love and declared: “Your faith has saved you; go
in peace” (7:50). In the story of the woman caught
in adultery (Jn 7:53–8:11; although not found in any
of the oldest Greek manuscripts of the NT, most scholars
regard this as an authentic story about Jesus) Jesus
said: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no longer”
(Jn 8:11). This Jesus did in the presence of male
critics who had brought only the woman, of the two
involved, to Jesus.
to be noted in this connection is Jesus’ encounter
with the Samaritan woman (see 4.2. below), who is
presented as one living in adultery. The male disciples
are offended that Jesus is talking with a woman but
dare not ask him why (Jn 4:27), indicating their negative
fact, one saying of Jesus makes the general statement
that “tax collectors and sexually immoral women often
translated “prostitutes”) will enter before you [religious
leaders] into the kingdom of God” (Mt 21:31; see Kingdom
of God). Jesus notes that such persons had already
responded to the preaching of John the Baptist (Mt
21:32; see John the Baptist).
one saying of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt
5:27–30; see Sermon on the Mount) concerning adultery,
Jesus places the blame for lust on men, something
rather unusual in ancient Mediterranean cultures.
the Matthean account of Jesus’ debate with the Pharisees
on divorce (Mt 19:3–9), reference appears to be made
to the dominant position that men could divorce their
wives for virtually any reason (see “for any cause”
in Mt 19:3; see Josephus Ant. 4.8.23 §253; Life 76
§426; m. ????? 9:10). Jesus responds by placing Deuteronomy
24:1–4 in a secondary position to Genesis 2:24 (Mt
19:5–6) which affirms the concept of “one flesh,”
giving sexual equality to both women and men.
Women As Positive Examples in Jesus’ Teaching.
Jesus often used women as positive examples in stories
and events for those who have responded to God with
appropriate faith. Such regard prepares the way for
women as disciples and proclaimers (as described in
3. and 4. below).
are used, sometimes in parallel with men, to describe
the faithful and faithless at the time of the arrival
of the future kingdom (Mt 24:41; Lk 17:35; Mt 25:1–13).
A woman and her leaven are central in a parable about
God’s kingdom (Mt 13:33; Lk 13:20–21).
important are the instances in which women portray
persons of faith: the widow of Zarephath (Lk 4:26;
see 1 Kings 17–18); the Syrophoenician (or Canaanite)
woman (Mt 15:21–28; Mk 7:24–30); and the persistent
widow (Lk 18:1–8). Faith is also an explicit feature
of the women in the stories noted above (2.1. and
2.2.), of the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet (Lk 7:50)
and of the woman with the twelve-year flow of blood
(Mt 9:22; Mk 5:34; Lk 8:48). The story of the “widow’s
mite” (Mk 12:41–44; Lk 21:1–4) presents a woman as
one who fulfills Jesus’ requirements, made especially
clear in Luke, of discipleship with reference to material
parable of the lost coin (Lk 15:8–10) presents a woman
as the finder who rejoices with a party, the same
role portrayed by the shepherd and the father in Luke
15. In all three cases this person images God who
rejoices over repentant (see Repentance) sinners (see
also Mt 23:37; Lk 13:34 in which Jesus likens his
concern for Jerusalem to that of a mother hen for
Women As Disciples.
Gospels indicate that women were among the followers
(= disciples) of Jesus and were taught by him with
the understanding that they could respond with obedience
and commitment to the word of God.
The Women Who Followed Jesus.
All four Gospels attest to the fact that a group of
women followed Jesus in Galilee and to Jerusalem where
they were present as faithful and active at the crucifixion
(see Death of Jesus), burial and resurrection of Jesus
(Mt 27:55–56; 27:61–28:1; Mk 15:40–41; 15:47–16:1;
Lk 23:49; 23:55–24:1; Jn 19:25–27; 20:1).
verb used to designate their following of Jesus is
(or its compounds), a term which occurs over seventy-five
times in the Gospels and normally means following
Jesus in the sense of being a disciple. This lexical
evidence confirms the narrative presentation of women
as disciples of Jesus, although some would argue that
when this term is used of women it does not designate
describes these female disciples in the Galilean context
(Lk 8:1–3). Luke notes that the women were traveling
with Jesus and the Twelve and that they were providing
for them as well, which is probably an indication
of their upper-class status and comparative wealth.
These women apparently became disciples of Jesus as
a result of the healing they had received from him.
Luke mentions three by name, Mary Magdalene, Joanna
and Susanna, and notes that there were also many others.
mention of these women in the Jerusalem context repeats
the name of Mary Magdalene and adds the names of Mary
the mother of James the younger and Joses (Joseph),
Salome and Mary the wife of Clopas (Jn 19:25), who
may be the same person as Mary the mother of James
and Joseph. Also noted are the mother of Jesus (Jn
2:5 and 19:26–27 also attest to her discipleship),
her sister and the mother of the sons of Zebedee (who
may be the same person as Salome).
whose Gospel alone mentions these women in both the
Galilean and Jerusalem contexts, also notes in Acts
1:14 that certain women, presumably those he has described
in Luke 8:1–3 and in the passion narrative, are present
in the upper room in Jerusalem, along with Mary the
mother of Jesus. Presumably, then, these female disciples
were among the one hundred twenty followers of Jesus
(Acts 1:15) who waited for and received the Holy Spirit
(see Holy Spirit) on the day of Pentecost, fulfilling
the prophecy of Joel that “… in the last days … I
will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons
and your daughters shall prophesy …” (Acts 2:17; see
Joel 2:28–29). The mention by Luke of Tabitha (Acts
9:36), also known as Dorcas, designated as a disciple
and Mary the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12) as the
one (leader?) in whose home believers were meeting,
may indicate additional women by name who were followers
Mary of Bethany As a Disciple.
According to Luke 10:38–42 Mary assumed the posture
of a disciple by sitting at Jesus’ feet (see Acts
22:3; ???????? 1:4), listening to Jesus’ word In spite
of the objections of Mary’s sister Martha, based on
the traditional female obligation to prepare the meal,
Jesus affirmed Mary’s choice: “Mary has chosen the
better part which will not be taken from her” (Lk
10:42). Presumably, the “better part” refers to Jesus’
teaching on the kingdom which characterizes Luke’s
central section of the Gospel (Lk 9:51–19:28) in which
this story occurs.
interpreters have understood the story to present
an image of women as silent learners rather than as
active participants or speakers in the life of the
church, indicating a redactional stage which reflects
an alleged retreat from a more positive, egalitarian
role for women in the very earliest years of the church.
However, it is more likely that the story of Mary
presents the image of women as disciples in equal
partnership with men.
presentation of Mary in John 11:28–33, 45; 12:1–8
may also point to her role as a disciple of Jesus,
although it is certainly not as clear as it is in
the Lukan story. Martha’s confession in John 11:27,
parallel to Peter’s confession in John 6:69 and in
the Synoptic tradition (see Mt 16:16), indicates her
discipleship as well.
Motherhood and Obedience.
Two Gospel pericopes contain a similar saying of Jesus
in which response and obedience to God’s word (discipleship)
appears to be placed above motherhood, the traditional
role for women (Mt 12:46–50 par. Mk 3:31–35 and Lk
8:19–21; Lk 11:27–28). In the common Synoptic story
Jesus says: “My mother and my brothers and sisters
are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk
8:21; see Family). In the incident reported only in
Luke, Jesus says in response to a woman’s affirmation
of his mother: “Blessed rather are the ones who hear
and keep the word of God” (Lk 11:28).
Women As Proclaimers.
Gospels present three occasions in which women were
proclaimers of Jesus, the Lukan infancy Narrative
(Lk 1–2), the story of the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:4–42)
and the accounts of the women at the tomb in the resurrection
The Women Who Interpreted Jesus’ Birth.
In the Lukan infancy narrative (Lk 1:5–2:40) there
are five persons, three of whom are women (Elizabeth;
Mary, the mother of Jesus; and Anna; Zechariah and
Simeon are also named), who speak by the power of
the Holy Spirit or as a prophet in order to provide
a divine interpretation of the meaning of Jesus’ birth
for the history of God’s salvation (see Birth of Jesus).
(Lk 1:41–45) is filled with the Holy Spirit and pronounces
a blessing on Mary, including designating her as “the
mother of my Lord.” Mary (Lk 1:26–38, 46–56), assuming
her to be the speaker of the Magnificat (Lk 1:46–55;
see Mary’s Song), declares the saving work of God
in language and structure similar to Hannah’s prayer
in 1 Samuel 2:1–10. Anna (Lk 2:36–38) is a prophet
who praises God and speaks about Jesus to all who
were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. In the
structure of Luke’s Gospel these three women, along
with Zechariah, Simeon, the angel Gabriel (Lk 1:26–38)
and the angels who speak to the shepherds (Lk 2:8–15),
proclaim Jesus’ place in God’s salvation, giving theological
understanding and perspective to the event of his
The Samaritan Woman.
After Jesus’ discourse with the Samaritan woman (Jn
4:7–26) she returns to her city and recounts her experience
with Jesus: “Many of the Samaritans from that city
believed in him, because of the word (?????) of the
woman that he told me all that I did” (Jn 4:39). The
Johannine account does go on to note that the Samaritans
then have a direct encounter with Jesus’ word (?????),
which they understand as the basis for their faith
The Women As Witnesses to Jesus’ Resurrection.
All four Gospels report that the female disciples
of Jesus were the first ones to receive the angelic
account of Jesus’ resurrection and commission to go
and tell the male disciples of this event (Mt 28:1–8;
Mk 16:1–8; Lk 24:1–12; see Jn 20:1–13). According
to Luke (Lk 24:10–11, 22–24) the men did not believe
the report of the women (see also Mk 16:11 in the
long addition to Mark).
the Gospels of Matthew and John and the long ending
of Mark report that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene
(Jn 20:14–18; Mk 16:9–11; in Mt 28:9–10 the other
Mary [see Mt 27:61; 28:1] is with Mary Magdalene;
this other Mary is presumably Mary the mother of James
the younger and Joseph, mentioned in Mt 27:56). In
the Matthean and Johannine accounts Mary Magdalene
is commissioned by Jesus to tell the male disciples
what she has seen and heard.
has often been noted that Paul, who provides the earliest
written account of resurrection appearances of Jesus
(1 Cor 15:3–8), does not mention the role of the women.
It is often assumed that this is due to a Jewish understanding
of the inadmissibility of the testimony of women in
legal contexts (see Josephus Ant. 4.8.15 §219) and
the argument Paul wishes to establish.
first known pagan written critique of Christianity,
that of the middle Platonist Celsus entitled The True
Word (c. A.D. 175), builds on the Gospels’ report
of women as the first witnesses and proclaimers of
Jesus’ resurrection. Celsus, citing his alleged source,
says that a hysterical female (and perhaps someone
else) was the witness to Jesus’ resurrection, which
Celsus then discounts (???? Origen Contra Celsum 2.55).
Origen responds (c. A.D. 225) to Celsus by saying
that there were other witnesses in addition to the
woman and that the Gospels do not say that she was
hysterical (Origen Contra Celsum 2.59–60). Celsus’
attack on Christianity shows how clearly and firmly
the role of the women as the first witnesses of Jesus’
resurrection was in the Gospel tradition and early
church. It may be worth noting how important this
theme is to the history of the discussion of the significance
of Jesus’ relationship to women for the church. In
what may be the first book published in English in
defense of women’s preaching, Margaret Fell refers
to the role of Mary Magdalene in the title of her
book: Womens Speaking Justified, Proved and Allowed
of by the Scriptures, … And how Women were the first
that preached the Tidings of the Resurrection of Jesus,
and were sent by Christ’s Own Command, before He ascended
to the Father, John 20.17 (London, 1666).
Women in Non-Canonical Gospel Traditions.
Women are frequently presented as disciples and leaders,
especially in resurrection narratives, in various
non-canonical apocryphal (see Gospels [Apocryphal])
and gnostic Gospels (e.g., Gos. Thom. 21, 61, 114;
Dial. Sav.; see the comments on Mary Magdalene in
data is a witness to the strength of the Gospel tradition
of the involvement of women as disciples and proclaimers
of Jesus. It may also suggest, according to some scholars,
that in some second-century A.D. circles women had
more options for involvement among gnostic groups
than in the “orthodox” church, which was increasingly
excluding women from leadership. This understanding
is, however, debatable and fraught with problems of
Women Specifically Named.
the Gospels seventeen women are specifically named
(some of them may, however, actually be the same person;
see especially 5.7, 5.10 and 5.11). The amount and
character of information concerning them varies as
does their relationship to Jesus. What follows is
an alphabetical list of these women with the Gospel
references and basic information provided.
Anna was a prophet mentioned only in Luke 2:36–38.
She spoke in the Temple of the infant Jesus to all
who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
She was the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher
and a widow who spent most of her time in the Temple.
It is not clear whether she was eighty-four at the
time of the story or whether she had been a widow
for eighty-four years (probably fourteen at marriage,
plus seven years of marriage plus eighty-four years
as a widow = one hundred five years of age, the age
reached by Judith, a hero in Israel [Jdt 16:23]).
Elizabeth, mentioned only in Luke 1, was of priestly
descent (see Priest and Priesthood) and the wife of
the priest Zechariah, mother of John the Baptist and
a relative of Mary the mother of Jesus. Elizabeth
was filled with the Holy Spirit and greeted Mary as
the mother of her Lord.
Herodias, noted in Mark 6:17–29; Matthew 14:3–12 and
Luke 3:19–20, was the grand daughter of Herod the
Great (see Herodian Dynasty), the daughter of Aristobulus,
the wife of Herod (called Philip in the Gospels),
the mother of Salome and the mother-in-law of Philip
the tetrarch (Josephus Ant. 18.5.1 §§110–11, 136).
She conspired to have Herod Antipas kill John the
Baptist (Josephus Ant. 18.5.2 §§116–19).
is mentioned in Luke 8:3 and 24:10 as one of the female
disciples of Jesus who followed him in Galilee and
to Jerusalem, where she is mentioned as one of the
women who first received the message of Jesus’ resurrection.
She is identified as the wife of Chuza, a steward
of Herod (Antipas), about whom nothing else is known.
Martha lived in Bethany and was the sister of Mary
and Lazarus. She is described in Luke 10:38–42 and
in John 11:1–44 and 12:2. Martha, in contrast to Mary
in both stories, was the one who prepared the meals
for Jesus as a guest in their home. In the Lukan story
Martha objects to Mary’s involvement as a disciple
of Jesus. In the Johannine story Martha makes a disciple’s
confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God
(Jn 11:27; see Christ; Son of God).
Mary Magdalene (from the Galilean town of Magdala;
see Archeology and Geography) was a prominent disciple
of Jesus who followed him in Galilee and to Jerusalem.
She is always listed first in groups of named female
disciples and was the first person to whom the resurrected
Jesus made an appearance (Mt 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mk 15:40,
47; 16:1 [16:9]; Lk 8:2; 24:10; Jn 19:25; 20:1, 11,
16, 18). Her status is attested by the numerous references
to her in early apocryphal and gnostic Christian literature
(see Grassi; e.g., the Nag Hammadi Gos. Phil. 59,
Mary the Mother of James [the Younger] and Joseph
This Mary is mentioned as one of the female disciples
of Jesus (Mt 27:56; Mk 15:40, 47; 16:1; Lk 24:10)
who was among those who received the first message
of Jesus’ resurrection. She is probably to be identified
with the “other Mary” of Matthew 27:61 and 28:1, based
on the Markan and Lukan parallel texts (see 5.11.
and also 5.10. below).
Mary the Mother of Jesus.
Jesus’ mother is mentioned by name in the Synoptic
Gospels (Mt 1–2; 13:55; Mk 6:3; Lk 1–2). John refers
to her as Jesus’ mother without ever noting her name
(Jn 2:1, 3, 5, 12; 6:42; 19:25–27). Mary is prominent
in the birth narratives and functions as God’s obedient
servant (see Lk 1:42 “Blessed are you among women
…”) and as an interpreter of God’s saving work (the
Magnificat in Lk 1:46–55; see Mary’s Song). Jesus’
conversation with her in John 2 does not indicate
disrespect, but rather shows John’s emphasis on Jesus’
own authority and responsibility for his mission and
implies Mary’s discipleship. Mary is understood as
a disciple (see Jn 19:25–27; Acts 1:14).
Mary of Bethany. Mary was the sister of Martha and
Lazarus and lived in Bethany (Lk 10:38–42; Jn 11:11–45;
12:1–8). She was a disciple of Jesus, com mended by
him for choosing the “better part” (see 3.2. above).
She, according to the Johannine story, anointed Jesus’
feet with costly perfume (the parallel stories in
Mt 26:6–13 and Mk 14:3–9 do not name the woman; the
story in Lk 7:36–50 is set in a different time and
place). Jesus defends her act of devotion as an act
Mary the Wife of Clopas.
This disciple of Jesus is mentioned only in John (Jn
19:25), along with Mary the mother of Jesus, her sister
and Mary Magdalene at the cross of Jesus (see Death
of Jesus). Due to the names in the parallel texts
in Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40, there is some possibility
that this Mary is to be identified with the Mary the
mother of James and Joseph (see 5.7. above; see also
The Other Mary. The
“other Mary” is a designation which appears only in
Matthew 27:61 and 28:1. She is one of Jesus’ disciples
at the cross and the resurrection. The parallel texts
in Mark 15:47 and 16:1 and the data of Matthew 27:56
and Luke 24:10 suggest that the “other Mary” is probably
to be identified with Mary the mother of James and
Joseph (see 5.7. and also 5.10. above).
Rahab is mentioned in the Matthean genealogy of Jesus
(1:5; see Josh 2 and 6). She was considered an important
woman in the Jewish and early church traditions, as
suggested here and attested in Hebrews 11:31 and James
2:25. She is one of four women mentioned in Matthew’s
genealogy (see 5.13., 5.16. and 5.17. below). All
of these women are Gentiles; their mention here may
signify God’s mercy and point to the Gentile mission
(cf. Mt 28:18–20). They may also point to Mary as
indicative of God’s choice of unexpected women in
the history of salvation.
Ruth is mentioned in the Matthean genealogy of Jesus
(Mt 1:5; see 5.12. above).
Salome is mentioned in Mark 15:40 and 16:1 as one
of Jesus’ disciples at the cross and the resurrection.
Due to the parallel to Mark 15:40 in Matthew 27:56,
it is possible that Salome is the wife of Zebedee
and, thus, the mother of James and John, two of Jesus’
is one of Jesus’ disciples mentioned only in Luke
8:3. Nothing else is known of her.
Tamar is mentioned in the Matthean genealogy of Jesus
(Mt 1:3; see Gen 38; Ruth 4; 1 Chron 2:4; see 5.12.
The Wife of Uriah.
Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, is mentioned in the Matthean
genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1:6; see 2 Sam 11; 12:24; 1
Chron 3:5; see 5.12. above).
Women in the Perspective of Each Gospel.
way of viewing the data on Jesus and women is to look
at the individual approach of each of the four Gospels.
Among the four, Luke evidences the greatest interest
in material that relates to women in the life and
ministry of Jesus.
The Gospel of Matthew contains stories about the healing
(Mt 8:14–15; 9:18–26) and faith (Mt 9:22; 15:21–22)
of women, as well as stories in which women are involved
which define the kingdom (Mt 13:33; 24:41; 25:1–13).
Four Gentile women are included in the genealogy of
Jesus (Mt 1:3, 5–6). The sexual integrity of women
is upheld in the discussions of lust (Mt 5:27–30)
and divorce (Mt 19:3–9), and the inclusion of sexually
immoral women in the kingdom is noted for the preaching
of both John the Baptist and Jesus (Mt 21:31–32).
discipleship of women, including their involvement
in proclamation, is noted both in a general saying
of Jesus (Mt 12:49–50) and in the passion (see Death
of Jesus) and resurrection narratives (Mt 27:55–56;
is the only Gospel which tells the story (Mt 27:19)
of Pilate’s wife who, because of a dream, attempts
to dissuade Pilate from being involved with Jesus
(see Pontius Pilate).
The Gospel of Mark probably has the least amount of
data about Jesus and women, yet Mark, with the rest
of the Gospels, presents women as among the disciples
of Jesus. Mark contains stories about the healing
(Mk 1:29–31; 5:21–43) and faith (Mk 5:34; 7:24–30)
discipleship of women is noted in a general saying
of Jesus (Mk 3:31–35), in the story of the widow who
gave all her money (Mk 12:41–44) and in the passion
and resurrection narratives (Mk 15:40–41; 15:47–16:8;
see also 16:9–11).
The Gospel of Luke shows the greatest interest in
women in the life and ministry of Jesus, including
numerous accounts and stories about women unique to
its presentation. Luke also gives the specific names
of more women in Jesus’ life than do the other Gospels.
This interest is continued in Acts (for Jesus’ female
disciples see Acts 1:14).
relates stories about the healing (Lk 4:38–39; 8:1–3,
40–56; 13:11–17; 17:11–17) and faith (Lk 4:26; 7:36–50;
8:48; 18:1–8; 21:1–4) of women, many of which are
unique to Luke. Women are important in two parables
unique to Luke (Lk 15:8–10; 18:1–8) and are mentioned
in two stories about the kingdom of God (Lk 13:20–21;
place of women in discipleship is particularly stressed
by Luke, both in general statements (Lk 8:19–21; 11:27–28),
in the story of Mary and Martha (Lk 10:38–42) and
in the reports of the female disciples who traveled
with Jesus (Lk 8:1–3) and are described in the passion
and resurrection narratives (Lk 23:49; 23:55–24:12).
Again, some of these accounts are unique to Luke (Lk
8:1–3; 10:38–42; 11:27–28).
are prominent as proclaimers in the infancy narratives
(Elizabeth, Mary the mother of Jesus, Anna; Lk 1–2)
and in the resurrection narratives (Lk 24:10–11, 22–24).
The Gospel of John portrays in particular the discipleship
of the mother of Jesus (Jn 2:1–12; 19:25–27), the
Samaritan woman (Jn 4:7–42), Mary and Martha (Jn 11:1–45;
12:1–8) and Mary Magdalene (Jn 19:25; 20:1–18). Both
the Samaritan woman and Mary Magdalene are proclaimers
of Jesus in John, and both receive extended attention
in the Johannine Narratives.
Conclusions and Significance.
respect for and inclusion of women as disciples and
proclaimers provided the foundation for the positive
place of women in the earliest churches and their
fact the baptismal formula reflected in Galatians
3:28 and its statement that in Christ “there is neither
… male nor female” is probably rooted in the traditions
of Jesus (see MacDonald). This indicates the formative
role of Jesus in Paul’s theological vision for the
church’s inclusive character.
fact that there were no women among the Twelve is
often cited as evidence that Jesus did not intend
women to exercise leadership or authority in the church.
However, it would not have been culturally possible
to have included women in that most intimate group
of Jesus’ followers. It is remarkable and significant
enough that many women, at least eight of whom are
known by name and often with as much or more data
as some of the Twelve, were included as disciples
and proclaimers during Jesus’ ministry (not to mention
Elizabeth and Anna in Luke 1–2). It has often been
observed that all of the Twelve were Jews, yet the
early church, as it developed in other social contexts,
included Gentiles in leader ship. Thus, the precise
composition of the Twelve should not be pressed too
significant is the fact that the Twelve did not constitute
or provide the model or framework for leadership or
authority in the early church, apart from the very
earliest days in the Jerusalem church. Rather, what
was significant for the character of leadership in
the early church was Jesus’ call to discipleship and
its definition in terms of service and the fact that
both men and women were among Jesus’ followers as
disciples and proclaimers.
sometimes is noted that Jesus did not appoint any
women to office. Neither did Jesus appoint any men
to office (apart from the case of Peter, and that
did not determine church structure apart from initial
leader ship in the Jerusalem church). The structures
of leadership and authority in the early churches,
especially those of Paul, for which the best evidence
is available, were somewhat fluid and unstructured.
In such contexts women did exercise leadership and
authority (twelve women are known by name among Paul’s
coworkers in ministry; see Rom 16:1–16; Phil 4:2–3;
1 Cor 1:11; Col 4:15; Acts 16:14–15, 40).
S. S. Bartchy, “Jesus, Power and Gender Roles,” TSFBul
7.3 (1984) 2–4; R. E. Brown, “Roles of Women in the
Fourth Gospel,” TS 36 (1975) 688–99 [reprinted in
The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York: Paulist,
1979) 183–98]; E. S. Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: A
Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins
(New York: Crossroad, 1983); K. Giles, “Jesus and
Women,” Interchange 19 (1976) 131–36; A. Gill, “Women
Ministers in the Gospel of Mark,” AusBR 35 (1987)
14–21; C. M. Grassi and J. A. Grassi, Mary Magdalene
and the Women in Jesus’ Life (Kansas City: Sheed &
Ward, 1986); J. B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical
Perspective (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981); W. Klassen,
“The Role of Jesus in the Transformation of Feminine
Consciousness,” JCSR 7 (1980) 182–210; J. Kopas, “Jesus
and Women: Luke’s Gospel,” TToday 43 (1986) 192–202;
R. S. Kraemer, Maenads, Martyrs, Matrons, Monastics:
A Sourcebook on Women’s Religions in the Greco-Roman
World (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988); D. R. MacDonald,
There Is No Male and Female: The Fate of a Dominical
Saying in Paul and Gnosticism (HDR 20; Philadelphia:
Fortress, 1987); C. Meyers, Discovering Eve: Ancient
Israelite Women in Context (New York: Oxford University,
1988); G. R. Osborne, “Women in Jesus’ Ministry,”
WTJ 51 (1989) 259–91; L. Swidler, Biblical Affirmations
of Woman (Philadelphia: West minster, 1979); idem,
Women in Judaism: The Status of Women in Formative
Judaism (Metuchen: Scarecrow, 1976); R. A. Tucker
and W. Liefeld, Daughters of the Church: Women and
Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1987); B. Witherington III, Women
in the Ministry of Jesus: A Study of Jesus’ Attitudes
to Women and Their Roles As Reflected in His Earthly
Life (SNTSMS 51; Cambridge: University Press, 1984).