What Is The Role Played By Women As Disciples In The Gospel Of Luke
Luke opens the narrative of his gospel with a clear objective, to have an orderly and well-crafted account of Jesus’ life and teachings. The stories that he included in his narratives are carefully selected so that it will be focused on Jesus Christ as the Lord and Saviour of the world. As a result, Luke fills his two-volume work, Luke-Acts with stories that illuminate the truth and strengthen the faith of the first century Christians. They point towards the importance of the Great Commission declared by Jesus in Luke 24:47-49. Lee argues that “as a theologian and storyteller, Luke is deeply concerned about the way God is present in human history, a presence that for him goes back to the origins of Creation.” Hence, God’s creativity and saving plan is consistently present and permeates throughout the gospel. As a historian, Luke wrote the gospel by not only depending on his literary sources but he also engaged with “eyewitnesses and the leaders of the Christian community.” The testimonies of the eyewitnesses are crucial for Luke since they are necessary to crystallise and affirm his belief (that he is passing on through his gospel) that salvation is for everyone and goes beyond human culture, social strata and political spheres. For Luke, the good news or euangelizesthai is “not just an oral communication” but “by living out their salvation in their commitment to love and justice, in their hospitality, and in their simplicity of lifestyle and sharing of possessions.” These actions are demonstrated by both the male and female disciples. By extensively including women disciples in his narration, Luke’s paradigm shift emphasizes the inclusion of the marginalised and it gives voice to women disciples.
Discipleship is one of the constant themes which form part of Luke’s Gospel. Barton explains that discipleship is “a pupil of some teacher. The word implies the acceptance in mind and life of the views and practices of the teacher. It also refers to the adherents of Jesus.” By looking at specific texts from Luke’s Gospel, it is apparent that women disciples’ actions and significant contributions are not only radical, but it also asserts equality and inclusion by consistently portraying women as true examples of faith. Thus, the narratives concerning women in Luke gives us an insight to the qualities and action that supports this definition.
Women as Collaborators – Luke 1:1-80
Luke begins the Gospel with stories of two women, Elizabeth and Mary who were shocked and bewildered with their respective annunciations of the births of their sons. Instead of doubting and rejecting their vocations, these women collaborated with God by willingly and joyfully submitting to His plan.
When Mary visited Elizabeth, enabled by the Spirit, she became the mouthpiece for God, speaking “prophetically on God’s behalf with respect to salvation history and the identity of Jesus.” This gives us an allusion that God includes “women in his plan in new and significant ways.” Luke subsequently presents Mary as the primary and important disciple of Jesus. Mary believed in God’s word and when she confirmed her willingness to be part of God’s plan, she accepted her position as the servant of the Lord, an example the Lucan community are called to emulate. By their faith, example and obedience, both these women became sign posts for the kingdom of God. Their subservient nature is not meant to undermine their gender but rather it invites the Lucan community to follow their example of humility and altruïsm for the sake of the Cross and its mission.
Women as Benefactors – Luke 8:1-3
According to Lk 8:3, besides the twelve apostles, there were several women who followed Jesus and supported his ministry out of their own resources. Although the explanation surrounding these women in this chapter is rather brief, Luke specifically included three names; Mary Magdalene (delivered from seven demons), Joanna the wife of Chuza (Herod’s steward) and Susanna whose identity is not elaborated further in the Scriptures. According to Evans, their names were included so “they may (and will) have influential roles in the church (see Acts 1:14; 8:12; 16:13-15; 17:4, 12; 18:24-26)”, suggesting that they are equal contributors in the mission field. Some scholars assert that some of these women were healed by Jesus. And central to the many stories of healing in the Scriptures, forgiveness of sins and physical healing are often entwined with faith in Jesus’ healing power. It would appear that as a result of their gratitude and as part of their commitment to Jesus’ ministry, they provided material support for Jesus and his followers. Forbes and Harrower note that it was common for Jewish women of means to support religious groups. Also, “the use of material possessions as related to discipleship is a constant Lukan theme, but there is no one model presented for disciples in Luke and Acts.” Hence, these women who were following Jesus gave away what is theirs in solidarity and in obedience to Jesus’ teaching. They were willing to part away with material possessions in order to be part of Jesus mission. Besides reinforcing that the women were constantly accompanying Jesus throughout his entire ministry, Luke is also alluding to their eventual significant contribution and witness in the passion and resurrection narrative.
Women as Listeners and Doers – Luke 10:38-42
Unique to the Third Gospel, the evangelist includes the story of a close, family-like interactions where Jesus’ camaraderie is reinforced when he called the sisters by name. Luke identifies Mary and Martha as two disciples who exercise their faith from home. Lee states in The Melbourne Anglican September 2011 issue, “Mary and Martha illustrate the fact that Christians are all different and express their vocation as disciples and ministers of Gospel in different ways”. Although the narrative may seem to be about hospitality since Martha is portrayed as a patron who welcomed Jesus into her home, some scholars agree that it points toward the nature of discipleship. While Mary sits at the feet of Jesus listening to him, Martha is occupied with the customary female stereotypical duties in hosting Jesus. According to Reid, this passage does create tensions, questions and interpretative problems in comparison with other Lucan narratives concerning women. However, in light of this essay, attention is directed to two important words, listening and serving, diakonein. According to Fiorenza, “the Lucan account is not concerned with the two women individuals; rather it is interested in them as representative of two competing types or roles of discipleship: diakonia – service and listening to the word.”
The narrative asserts the need to get priorities right in Christian ministry and confirms that no one is excluded in listening to Jesus’ teaching. Mary prioritised Jesus’ teaching above domestic duties as she recognised that in order to be “part of the blessed company of disciples (Luke 10:23-24; 11:28)” she needs to listen to Jesus, acknowledging that His teaching has eternal value. Hence, “the priority for a female disciple is to listen to
the teaching of Jesus. For Jesus, women in God’s kingdom are no longer solely defined by socially regulated roles.”
Although diakonia – service – is “central to the understanding of the mission and ministry of Christ, as well as to that of the church”, listening and following Jesus willingly takes priority. Transformation then takes place when a disciple listens to Jesus’ teaching and in return they are not only able to resume their traditional roles for a new purpose, but they are also equipped for new discipleship roles in the newly found community. Therefore, serving and helping each other in the Christian community becomes yet another essential quality.
Women as Faithful Witnesses – Luke 23:49; 23:55-28:12
Exclusive to Luke’s gospel, the women who followed Jesus from Galilee re-enters in Lk. 23:49 bearing witness to the threefold association of the passion: at the crucifixion, his burial and in the empty tomb. This entire progressive narrative is important in Luke’s Gospel. Significantly, despite recording a perception in Lk. 24:11 that the women’s words about Christ’s resurrection and their encounter with the angels seemed to be like an idle tale, Luke ensured the women’s witness is drawn and documented. Once again, it recapitulates Luke’s understanding and appreciation of women disciples. As a result of the abandonment of the men disciples, the women disciples were not only courageous in accompanying Jesus throughout his journey to Calvary, they were also responsible in giving Jesus a proper burial. Because the witness of these women, the Lucan community was able to comprehend and understand the events that took place which transformed “their theological beliefs about Jesus.”
Also, since these women travelled with Jesus and his disciples and listened attentively to his teaching, they were also able to “make connection with Jesus’ previous words about his death and resurrection.” This contrast with the reaction of the male disciples. By including specific interactions and reactions from the beginning to the end, Luke gave extensive credit to these women who were faithful disciples of Jesus, who stood by him during the most crucial and excruciating time. These women disciples became the bearer of the good news of the resurrection of Jesus, a proclamation that “no male disciple was able to re-produce. Hence the Gospel stories of the empty tomb perpetuate the women’s witness: all readers of them are confronted with their distinctive witness.” These women embodied the faithful discipleship that Jesus was calling everyone to be. As a result, the Great Commission becomes a collaborative effort of both male and female disciples. “Jesus now shifts his focus from the work he has already accomplished to the work he will accomplish through the apostles and their companions who are his witnesses.”
Of the three Synoptic Gospels, it is Luke that gives the most prominent role to women disciples. The Gospel begins with two women collaborating with God’s salvific plan and ends with women disciples proclaiming the resurrection of Christ. Perhaps Luke as a Gentile believer is able to engage in polemic against Jewish Christians who seek to apply overly strict entrance requirements to those who want to join reconstituted Israel. It is not a stretch to imagine the Gentile evangelist identifying with women alongside the marginalised, the unclean, the poor, Samaritans and other outcasts who are such a feature of Luke’s account. The Lukan narratives offer a rich variety of affirming roles that women disciples embraced, exercised and exemplified. Mary and Elizabeth collaborated with God and their faith is carried throughout the Gospel by the other disciples. Women disciples not
only followed Jesus throughout his ministry, they also contributed financially so that Jesus was able to concentrate on his ministry. This is in line with Jesus’ teaching on wealth and sharing of possessions for the common good. Mary and Martha are role models who emphasized the importance of listening to Jesus teaching and the need for authentic expression of faith through humble service. The story par excellence of Lukan narrative on the role of women discipleship is their bold and courageous approach, action and witness throughout Jesus’ journey towards Calvary and his resurrection. Without their witness, we will not have the account central to Christian faith. Looking to the example of the radical and counter-cultural approach of Jesus, Luke also represents the women disciples as God’s image bearers, being called to use their gifts and ministries for the advancement of God’s kingdom. The call to carry out the Great Commission is the responsibility of both male and female disciples. It is not limited, and it extends beyond gender, hierarchy and social status.
- Barton, Stephen C. The Spirituality of the Gospels. Bristol, UK: SPCK. 1992
- Brown, Raymond E., Fitzmyer, Joseph A. & E. Murphy, Roland (editors). The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Bangalore, India: Theological Publications in India. 2000
- Douglas, J. D. and Tenney, Merrill C. The New International Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, USA: Zondervan Publishing House. 1987
- Evans, Craig A. New International Biblical Commentary: Luke. Massachusetts, USA: Hendrickson Publishers. 1998
- Fiorenza, Elisabeth Schüssler. But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation. Massachusetts, USA: Beacon Press Book. 1992
- Forbes, Greg W., Harrower, Scott D. Raised from Obscurity: A Narratival and Theological Study of the Characterization of Women in Luke-Acts. Cambridge, UK: James Clarke & Co. 2016
- Green, Joel B. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke. Michigan: Eerdmans. 1997
- Green, Joel B., Brown, Jeanine K., & Perrin, Nicholas. “Women,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press. 1992
- Lee, Dorothy A. The Gospels Speak: Addressing life’s questions. New Jersey, USA: Paulist Press. 2017
- Reid, Barbara E. Choosing the better part? Women in the Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, MN.: Liturgical Press. 1996
- Richard Bauckham – Biblical Scholar and Theologian. http://richardbauckham.co.uk/uploads/Accessible/The%20Women%20&%20the%20Resurrection.pdf (accessed 8 November, 2018)
- Schaberg, Jane. ‘Luke’ in The Women’s Bible Commentary, Edited by Carol A Newsom and Sharon H Ringe. London: SPCK. 1992
- Seim, Turid Karlsen. The Double Message: Patterns of Gender in Luke & Acts. Edinburgh: T&T Clark. 1994
 Dorothy A. Lee, The Gospels Speak: Addressing life’s questions (New Jersey, USA: Paulist Press, 2017), 108
 Dorothy A. Lee, The Gospels Speak: Addressing life’s questions, 113
 Dorothy A. Lee, The Gospels Speak: Addressing life’s questions, 110
 Dorothy A. Lee, The Gospels Speak: Addressing life’s questions, 112
 Dorothy A. Lee, The Gospels Speak: Addressing life’s questions, 115
 Stephen C. Barton, The Spirituality of the Gospels (Bristol, UK: SPCK, 1992), 79
 J. D. Douglas and Merrill C. Tenney, The New International Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, USA: Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), 273
 Joel B. Green, Jeanine K. Brown & Nicholas Perrin, “Women,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1992), 880-884.
 Greg W. Forbes, Scott D. Harrower, Raised from Obscurity: A Narratival and Theological Study of the Characterization of Women in Luke-Acts (Cambridge, UK: James Clarke & Co, 2016), 43
 Greg W. Forbes, Scott D. Harrower, Raised from Obscurity: A Narratival and Theological Study of the Characterization of Women in Luke-Acts, 43
 Craig A. Evans, New International Biblical Commentary: Luke (Massachusetts, USA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), 122-123
 Greg W. Forbes, Scott D. Harrower, Raised from Obscurity: A Narratival and Theological Study of the Characterization of Women in Luke-Acts, 88
 Barbara E. Reid, Choosing the better part? Women in the Gospel of Luke (Collegeville, MN.: Liturgical Press, 1996), 130.
 Greg W. Forbes, Scott D. Harrower, Raised from Obscurity: A Narratival and Theological Study of the Characterization of Women in Luke-Acts, 83
 Joel B Green, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1997), 435
 Greg W. Forbes, Scott D. Harrower, Raised from Obscurity: A Narratival and Theological Study of the Characterization of Women in Luke-Acts, 107
 Barbara E Reid, Choosing the Better Part? Women in the Gospel of Luke (Collegeville, MN.: Liturgical Press, 1996), 144-162
 Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer & Roland E. Murphy (eds.), The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Bangalore, India: Theological Publications in India, 2000), 702
 Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation (Massachusetts, USA: Beacon Press Book, 1992), 60
 Greg W. Forbes, Scott D. Harrower, Raised from Obscurity: A Narratival and Theological Study of the Characterization of Women in Luke-Acts, 108-109
 Greg W. Forbes, Scott D. Harrower, Raised from Obscurity: A Narratival and Theological Study of the Characterization of Women in Luke-Acts, 108
 Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation, 71
 Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation, 71
 Turid Karlsen Seim, The Double Message: Patterns of Gender in Luke & Acts (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994), 149
 Greg W. Forbes, Scott D. Harrower, Raised from Obscurity: A Narratival and Theological Study of the Characterization of Women in Luke-Acts, 133
 Greg W. Forbes, Scott D. Harrower, Raised from Obscurity: A Narratival and Theological Study of the Characterization of Women in Luke-Acts, 132
 Jane Schaberg, ‘Luke’ in The Women’s Bible Commentary, ed. Carol A Newsom and Sharon H Ringe (London: SPCK, 1992), 291
 Richard Bauckham – Biblical Scholar and Theologian, http://richardbauckham.co.uk/uploads/Accessible/The%20Women%20&%20the%20Resurrection.pdf, 7 (accessed 8 November, 2018)
 Greg W. Forbes, Scott D. Harrower, Raised from Obscurity: A Narratival and Theological Study of the Characterization of Women in Luke-Acts, 136