The Women Disciples
Chan Gin Kai
Luke 8:1-3 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. (Luke 8:1-13)
Luke made special mention of the women in the group. Interestingly, none of the Twelve were named here, but three of the women were specifically mentioned by name.
They lived in a patriarchal society. Whether under Jewish customs or Roman society, women had very limited public roles and were seldom mentioned in literature. So what Jesus did and what Luke recorded was extraordinary for its time.
The rabbis refused to teach women, and men and women prayed separately. But throughout the Bible, we see Jesus interacting with and teaching women. He did not treat them as second-class citizens like how society treated women at that time (or even now). Mary of Bethany “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.” (Luke 10:39) That was the place a disciple would sit, and Jesus allowed Mary to do so. This was highly controversial for its time, as rabbis did not accept female disciples. Jesus also privately taught a Samaritan woman, and even his disciples “were surprised to find him talking to a woman.” (John 4:27)
Mary Magdalene is mentioned by name 12 times in the four canonical Gospels; that is more than most of the apostles. She has wrongly been assumed to be a prostitute even though that’s not recorded anywhere in the Bible. Because it was highly unusual for a woman to be mentioned so prominently, some ridiculously theorised that she was the wife of Jesus, a crazy speculation made popular by Dan Brown’s book, “The Da Vinci Code”.
Joanna was the wife of Chuza, the manager of the household of Herod the Tetrarch. Her husband had an important job, and Joanna was certainly a woman of means. But she was a follower of Jesus and was one of the women who found Jesus’ tomb empty.
We do not know anything else about Susanna though her name is mentioned here, and Luke wrote that there were “many others.” He added that, “These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”
The women played an important role in the ministry of Jesus. While Jesus was busy preaching, teaching and healing, the Twelve were busy learning the ropes from him. None of them had time to work and make a living. So who supported the men? It was these women. They supplied the food they ate and the resources they needed. How would it have been like without these women?
The idea of women providing financial support to men is frowned upon even in modern times. Imagine how it would have felt like 2,000 years ago? Jesus broke conventions and women played crucial roles.
Luke also recorded other prominent women in the Book of Acts, for example Tabitha (Acts 9:36-42), Lydia (Acts 16:14-15) and Priscilla (Acts 18:2,18,26). Interestingly, out of the six occasions that Pricilla and her husband Aquila were mentioned in the Bible, Priscilla’s name was mentioned first on four of them. This was likely because Priscilla played a more prominent role in church than Aquila, and that was recognised by Luke and Paul.
Jesus abolished patriarchal conventions in society and religion. Luke recorded the important roles that women played in Jesus’ ministry and the early church. Are we reversing the work done by them in church today?
Do we now treat women as 'second class' members in church? Do we limit their roles in church because of traditions passed down in Christendom? Do the women in our church receive the recognition they deserve?
Chan Gin Kai
Gin Kai is a film producer who believes in the power of media to inspire positive changes. He has spearheaded disaster relief and capacity building projects in impoverished communities across Asia. In church, he serves as a mentor to young professionals in the EDGE Ministry. He describes himself as "just a sinner who wants to get right with God".