Jesus’ Women Disciples

 
It is commonly assumed that Jesus had 12 male disciples, the number being fashioned after the 12 tribes of Israel. Whether or not there were 12 tribes named after 12 men is a question for next week. The question for today is: did Jesus have women disciples, and who were they?

Writing about 60 years after the crucifixion, Luke tells us that there were with Jesus “…some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” (8:1-3)

Later, at the crucifixion at Golgotha, Luke adds: “And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed from Galilee stood at a distance and saw these things.” (23:49) These same women see where he is laid in the tomb and return “on the first day of the week”, only to find Jesus “risen”, and then rush back to tell the others. “Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” (24:10-12)

The same references to women are found in Mathew and Mark. At the crucifixion:

“There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him; among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” (Matt 27:55-56) “There were also women looking on from afar, among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger, and Salome, who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered to him; and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.” (Mark 15:40-41) Matthew and Mark also tell us, as did Luke, that it was some of the women who first reported “he is risen”.

The gospel of John has Jesus’ mother, his aunt Mary, the wife of Clopus, and Mary Magdalene “standing by the cross”. John also has Magdalene, alone, going to the tomb on the first day of the week to prepare the body. Further, Magdalene is the first to whom Jesus appears after the resurrection, and Jesus must tell her not to “cling” to him. Clearly, Mary Magdalene plays a most prominent role, at least in the mind of John, and has a very close relationship with Jesus.

So where does all this leave us? According to the sources, we have the names of some women who were very close to Jesus and the men: Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Salome, two other Marys, and Zebedee’s wife, as well as “the others”. These women ministered to Jesus. They provided for the whole group “out of their means”. They traveled with Jesus. They are the first to become aware of the resurrection. They knew where the “upper room” was, where Jesus celebrated the last supper with his disciples before he was arrested, and we must assume that they were there for that meal. On all counts, women played a significant, if not dominant, role in Jesus’ koinonia family of friends.

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