The life and times of Mrs. Zebedee

Sometimes the life of a minor character in the Bible suddenly comes into focus. Since I wrote a post on the female disciples of Jesus, I’ve been fascinated by “the women,” a group of women from Galilee who took care of Jesus. My imagination has been particularly captured by “Mrs. Zebedee,” a simple fisherman’s wife.

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There’s a few facts we know for sure, but there’s a lot we can legitimately surmise about the life of the wife of Zebedee, mother of James and John.

Here’s the core verse:

And many women who had come from Galilee with Jesus to care for him were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), and the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. (Matthew 27:55-56)

James and John were among the first disciples Jesus chose. They were fishermen, partnered with Andrew and Peter in their fishing business (Luke 5:10). This was more than a “mom and pop” business since when James and John left to follow Jesus, they left Zebedee in the boat with the hired men (Mark 1:20). Were Zebedee and his family people of means?

Since Peter and Andrew lived in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:21, 29), it seems likely that their partners, Zebedee and his family, also lived nearby. I’m sure that James and John reported back to the family the story of Jesus turning the water into wine in nearby Cana (John 2:12). Were the Zebedee family in attendance at the synagogue in Capernaum the morning that Jesus cast out a spirit in the middle of the service? Later that day, after the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law in Peter and Andrew’s home when the whole town came to watch Jesus healing the sick, were Zebedee and his wife there too?  (Mark 1:32) As word spread about what Jesus was doing as he traveled through Galilee, I’m sure the parents of James and John followed the news of what their kids were involved in with great interest. From time to time, did they join the large crowds from Galilee that followed him wherever he went? (Matthew 4:25)

Whatever they were involved in during Jesus’ early ministry, Zebedee’s wife became totally committed to the One who taught her sons to fish for men.

In the Matthew version of the women watching as Jesus hung from the cross and breathed his last, three women are mentioned, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of James and John (ie., Mrs Zebedee). The Mark version of that same story also lists three women, the two Mary’s and Salome (Mark 15:40). Was Zebedee’s wife’s name Salome?

Mrs. Zebedee was part of the group of women that accompanied Jesus on his final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (Matthew 27:55). This group of women is described as Jesus’ friends (Luke 23:49). The journey from Galilee probably begins in Matthew 19:1.

This means that Mrs. Zebedee accompanied Jesus and was most likely present for the following:

  • Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage (Matthew 19:1-11)
  • The rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-28)
  • The teaching on leaders being servants (Matthew 20:20-28)–she is specifically mentioned as present for this.
  • The healing of two blind men (Matthew 20:29-33)
  • The triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11)
  • The clearing of the temple (Matthew 21:12-17)
  • The fig tree withering (Matthew 21:18-22)
  • Jesus’ telling of various parables (Matthew 22 and 25)
  • His altercations with the Pharisees (Matthew 23)
  • His foretelling of the future (Matthew 24)
  • Mary’s anointing Jesus for burial (Matthew 26:6-13)
Most passages just refer to the disciples accompanying Jesus for all of the above. Take, for example, the Mark version of Jesus teaching on the road to Jerusalem about leaders being servants (Mark 10:35-45). it would be easy to think that only the twelve disciples were involved. However, the Matthew version fills in the details. The mother of James and John comes with her sons, kneels before Jesus and requests they be allowed to sit on his right and left hands in his coming Kingdom. Jesus seizes this “teachable moment” to talk about servanthood (Matthew 20:20-28).


How often do we assume, when the Gospels refer to the disciples (as opposed to the twelve) that women were not present? This example demonstrates their involvement.

Mrs. Zebedee was certainly there watching as Jesus died.  She watched as his body was taken down from the cross and as Joseph of Arimathea laid it in his own tomb (Luke 23:55). If she was indeed Salome, she purchased burial spices and prepared them on the evening of the Sabbath with Mary Magdalene and Mary, mother of James (Mark 16:1; Luke 23:56). Then early next morning she may have also been present at the empty tomb when the angel told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead (Mark 16:2-8; Luke 24:1). She was probably with Mary Magdalene and the other women as they told the eleven disciples that Jesus had risen (Luke 24:10).


Did Mrs. Zebedee leave for home immediately after Jesus’ resurrection? Or was she one of the five hundred who, at one time, saw the risen Jesus’ in person (1 Corinthians 15:6). Did she  “tarry in Jerusalem” until the Day of Pentecost? Was she one of the group of women who were part of the 120 in the upper room as the disciples cast lots to choose a replacement for Judas (Acts 1:14)? Was she there when all the believers were gathered together in one place (Acts 2:1) and the Holy Spirit came like a rushing, mighty wind and tongues of fire settled on each of them and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues (Acts 2:1-4)? Did she rejoice as 3,000 people became believers that day? Was she part of the early church in Acts 2?

I’d like to think so. What about you?


If there had been women amongst the twelve…

It sometimes puzzles me that women weren’t included among the twelve disciples. How easy  it would have been for Jesus to have six disciples of each gender. But as I’ve been pondering it over recent days, I’ve come to a realization…

Jesus never seemed to care too much about his reputation. In fact, sometimes it seems he went out of his way to deliberately provoke the Pharisees and other religious leaders.

They found plenty of things to accuse him of–some true, some false:

  • He ate with notorious sinners (Luke 15:1)
  • He was a glutton and drunkard (Matthew 11:19)
  • He consistently broke the Sabbath (eg. Matthew 12:1-2)
  • He claimed to be the Messiah (Luke 23:2)
  • He caused riots wherever he went (Luke 23:5)
  • He told people not to pay taxes to the Roman government (Luke 23:2)
He was criticized for
  • Not washing his hands properly before meals (Luke 11:38)
  • Allowing an immoral woman to touch him (Luke 7:36-39)

The religious leaders were out to get him. They tried to provoke and trap him by asking tough questions over  various issues (Luke 11:53-54):

  • Divorce (Matthew 19:3)
  • Taxes (Matthew 22:15-22)
  • The most important commandment in the law (Matthew 22:34-40)
  • The right punishment for a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)

I find it very interesting that the one thing they didn’t accuse Jesus of was immorality. Why not? Because he gave them no grounds. If women had been among the twelve disciples, especially considering the intimacy of his relationship with the disciples, I’m sure he would have been accused of sexual depravity.

Jesus didn’t care too much about his own reputation but I think there might have been a couple of things in his mind: firstly, he was protecting the good name of his female followers/disciples. Secondly, he was initiating a Way of life–a movement characterized by a depth and transparency of relationship and yet by purity/holiness. If there had been even the appearance of wrong-doing in Jesus’ life, the integrity of this lifestyle/movement would have been compromised.

What do you think?


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The top three reasons it’s important to include women

Women are often undervalued and sidelined in the church, especially when it somes to strategic thinking and planning. Leadership equals servanthood (Matthew 20:25-28), and  we, the church, are supposed to be listening to our head, Jesus, and following what he says. Since women are used to serving, and they often hear him more clearly, it therefore seems very short-sighted not to include them. (If you have questions about the theology of this, check out a series of posts starting here.)

But there are more important reasons to include women. Here are the top three:

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 1.  The Harvest: When women co-labor alongside men, the workforce for the harvest potentially doubles.

2.  The Harvest: Psalm 68:11 (NASB) says this–The Lord gives the command; The women who proclaim the good tidings are a great host.

3.  The Harvest: Wherever we see a massive harvest going on around the world, women are often in the forefront. For example, in China, especially during the revival in the 1980′s and 90′s, female pastors and evangelists outnumbered males 3:1. In India, women apostles are responsible for thousands of churches. Women can often get into the places where men cannot go with the good news of the Kingdom. As Dr. Yonggi Cho once told us, “If you want to see a move of God, use your women.”

How Jesus defied convention in his dealings with women

Jesus refused to be bound by the conventions of his day. At times he even seemed to go out of his way to provoke the religious leaders. He chose to ignore manmade traditions.

One of the ways in which Jesus defied convention was in his treatment of women. Think, for example, of his willingness to have a conversation, alone, with a
Samaritan woman of very dubious reputation (John 4). Jesus always treated women with dignity and respect. Whereas I can think of several examples where he publicly rebuked men, I cannot think of a single example where he castigated a woman or publicly shamed or embarrassed one. On the contrary, he went out of his way to defend them (Luke 7:36-50, John 8:3-11).

But Jesus went beyond that. In a society that was highly patriarchal:

  • He gave illustrations that women would relate to–for example, about yeast in a lump of dough (Luke 13:21), sewing a patch on an old garment (Matthew 9:16).
  • Women, as well as men, were the heroines of  his stories–the woman who lost a piece of silver (Luke 15:8-10), the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-5).
  • He never told a story where a woman was the “villain” of the piece. (The closest example would be the five foolish virgins.) Men were often cast in that role.
  • He publicly honored women as examples to follow–the widow who gave two small coins (Mark 12:41-43) , the woman who poured ointment on his head (Matthew 26:6-13).
  • He welcomed their children. Although the text doesn’t specifically state so, I suspect it was mothers who brought their children to Jesus so he could bless them (Matthew 19:13-15).
  • He defended their rights. Jesus stood against the common practice that a man could divorce his wife for no reason (Matthew 19:3-8).

Jesus didn’t dumb things down when he talked to women. Some of the most profound conversations that were recorded in the Gospels occurred with women. Think of the talks he had with the woman at the well in John 4 (the first time he revealed his Messiahship) or with Martha about the resurrection (John 11). The story of Mary and Martha shows Jesus encouraging Mary to sit at his feet learning from him rather than being relegated to the kitchen (Luke 10:38-42).

In a society where a woman was not viewed as being a credible witness, Jesus revealed himself after his resurrection to women, and entrusted them to take the news that he had risen to the disciples (Matthew 28:1-10).

I think another of the reasons Jesus didn’t have female disciples; he was protecting women’s reputations. The Pharisees were out to get Jesus. They accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard just because he shared meals with sinners. If he had given them any hint of an opportunity, they would have accused of him of immorality too.

Jesus’ actions speak of his attitude towards women–honor and esteem.



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Why didn’t Jesus have female disciples?

Oh, but he did!

Jesus chose twelve men to be with him. What is often forgotten is that a group of women accompanied him too.

Luke’s gospel describes these women:

  • Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him,  along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples. (Luke 8:1-3)

A group of women stayed with Jesus as he was crucified, even when all the men abandoned him:

  • Some women were there, watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James the younger and of Joseph), and Salome.  They had been followers of Jesus and had cared for him while he was in Galilee. Many other women who had come with him to Jerusalem were also there. (Mark 15:40-42) (This word for “follow” is also used when, for example, Jesus called Matthew and Philip and said, “Come, follow me.”)
It was a group of women who were the first to know about Jesus’ resurrection:
  • But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance.  So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes…  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. (Luke 24: 1-4, 10)
In a culture where women had few if any rights, it is extraordinary that the gospels record the names of several women who followed Jesus. We know there were others too.  For example, Jesus encouraged Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, to take on the posture of a disciple, learning at his feet.(Luke 10:38-42) Martha, herself, had deep theological conversations with Jesus. I’d like to think, but we’ll never know, that women were among the “seventy other disciples” who Jesus sent out in Luke 10.

The named women are:

  • Mary Magdalene
  • Joanna
  • Suzanna
  • Mary, mother of James and Joseph
  • Salome (who may have been the mother of James and John)
So then why were the 12 male disciples so important? Why, for example, didn’t he have six of each gender? I’d like to postulate a theory. (And yes, I know that maybe the 12 men represented the twelve tribes of Israel etc, etc.)
It seems to be a principle that God limits himself within any given context and culture in order to reach people to become his followers.  For example, we know it was not God’s will that Israel be governed by a king. (1 Samuel 8:5-20) But once the nation had chosen to go that route, God worked within that context. The argument could be made that God didn’t want a temple built for him, ((2 Samuel 7: 5-7, Acts 7:49-50), it was David’s desire to build him one. Yet God chose to bless the temple that Solomon built.
The culture of Israel at the time of Christ was  indubitably patriarchal. Women were often regarded as mere possessions. Aside from opening himself to charges of immorality if women had been among the twelve,  I suspect a woman’s testimony about Jesus’ resurrection would have been given little credence. We know that the eleven disciples themselves thought the women were speaking nonsense when  they came and told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead. (Luke 24:11)  God so loved the world… is a principle that transcends everything else. God limited himself within the patriarchal culture of the time in order to reach the most people with the transforming message of the Gospel.
What do you think?

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Why I write…

A number of years ago, we hosted a wonderful couple, Lynn and Linda Reddick in our home. They often give a word to people from the Lord (prophesy), and what they say is usually very accurate. During one of the gatherings we had, Linda spoke very emphatically to me.

“The Lord has called you to write,” she said. She repeated it several times. In fact, she came back to it time and time again.

My heart sank. I loathed writing with a passion. I would never respond to letters, (if you leave them long enough, any reply becomes irrelevant) and avoided writing whenever possible. I’m not sure why–maybe it tied in with having to write so many dry, scientific papers during high school and medical training.

I felt so strongly that she was wrong that I went up to her afterwards.

“I’m sorry, but you got this one wrong. I hate writing. There’s no way I’m ever going to write.”

I’ve since apologized to her.

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I started writing when Tony lured me away to northern California on a “writing vacation” so we could co-author a book together. He promised the mornings writing and the afternoons and evenings enjoying the magnificent coastline. I fell for it. The scenery was spectacular and the writing part wasn’t as bad as I thought.

By this time we had helped to start House2House, and so many questions were coming in that I wrote a manual that we could point people to save time responding to each person at length individually. Then followed two other books, An Army of Ordinary People  and Small Is Big!  Then an enhanced ebook on hearing God that is available as a free download if you subscribe to Simply Church. Currently I’m in the middle of compiling a book on women.

I now love writing! It’s what the Lord has called me to do. Charlie “Tremendous” Jones once said, “You will be the same in five years as you are today except for two things; the people you meet and the books you read.” I’m motivated by the thought that something I write might possibly change people’s lives for the better.

Why do I tell you this?

I’ve found blogging to be one of the most effective ways to reach people. On any given day, as far as I can tell, more people are reading my posts than might be reading a book I’ve written. I started this blog to, as the title says, give people an insider perspective on the simple/organic church movement. I wanted to equip people in a number of areas. My passions include starting churches amongst not-yet-believers, which is far easier and more effective than working with existing Christians, and helping people avoid the “Honey, I shrunk the church!” syndrome.

A few months ago, I started blogging about women in ministry, as much as anything to gauge the reaction of people to the topic and to make sure the book that I’m helping to compile “scratches where it itches.” To my great surprise, the readership of my blog increased almost overnight, and other blogging indicators demonstrated that people are spending more time reading my posts. I still cannot account for this except that the Holy Spirit is causing an interest amongst many on this subject. Could this be one of the next moves of the Holy Spirit?

Some of you reading this get my blog via Google Reader. On Wednesday, Google announced that they are closing this at the beginning of July. (Bummer–I read some blogs via this too.) However, the blogs I really want to stay current with, I subscribe to via email. Can I suggest that if you currently use Google reader for this blog, that you instead subscribe via email. (Another option: the techno gurus I read  suggest  Feedly as a viable alternative and it already has migration instructions from Google Reader posted. But I’m sure there will be many more options in the coming months.)

And finally, thank you to all who do read this blog, who’ve stayed with me through good posts and bad, and especially to those who join the conversation by commenting. I appreciate you all.

Just for laughs…

Tony and I laughed out loud over these “inspired comments” that Reinhold, a friend of ours from years ago, posted on my post listing eighteen things I was taught about being a woman. So I thought I would pass some of them on for you to enjoy too. The “inspired comments” are in red italics.

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Of course I can lead, but only through my influence on my husbandso I better master the high art of man-ipulation.

I can never hold any position of strategic influence or leadership in the church – they would have to build ladies’ toilets on the leadership floor.

Because Eve was deceived, I, as a woman, am more open to deception than a manso I better not ask him to use his credit card.

God only uses a woman when a man isn’t available. (This permits women on the mission field.) I am thinking of starting a female jazz quartet..

My husband is the leader; I am there to serve his calling and vision. His destiny is the one that counts. After all, it’s called History and not Herstory, right?

My husband is the priest of our home. And priestesses are not biblical anyways

I have to be very careful about what I wear in case I cause a man to lust. And brown is the only color permitted for those woollen socks.

A strong woman probably has a “Jezebel spirit” - so, for God´s sake, beware of dogs!

I shouldn’t take the initiative but pray for my husband to do so in order that I can follow his lead. Lead him not into temptation” being the main prayer theme.

I always have to obey my husband, willing submitting even if I know he’s wrong. Just don’t let the children know ….

If God uses me to lead/teach men in any way, it’s like God speaking through Balaam’s donkey–an aberration. I should learn I-a, Y-a, j-a so to have something to say

There are no such thing as women elders they always look younger anyways.

Once I have children, my place is in the home. Let him drive them to school.

There are plenty of ministries I can involve in–prayer and women’s ministries, Sunday School and making the coffee. I should be content with this and not seek to use my gifting outside of those prescribed boundaries. You might run into the danger of making church a better place.

How are men impacted by the teaching about women?

On Friday I posted about eighteen things I had been taught about women as a young Christian–things which impacted me for decades of my life. To be honest, even as I wrote them down, I found myself angry (hopefully with a righteous indignation) at the cage I had been trapped in. Thankfully, Tony, my husband, is a wonderful and gracious husband, but even today, I remember well him trying to explain to me why I had been removed from a leadership team because of my gender–because our church had just come under the influence of teaching that didn’t allow women in leadership, but that it was okay because I could exert an influence through him.

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I’m not blaming the guys, They were taught these things as much as I was, and for some of them, the strain of trying to live up to this view of the man’s responsibilities must have been just as difficult as it was for us as women. What about the man whose wife is naturally more outgoing, where he is more content to be in the background?  Or the man who is more pastoral and less apostolic than his wife?  Is it fair for one person in a partnership to be responsible to always make the correct decisions? Tim Day had a thought-provoking post on this over the weekend too–well worth pondering.

I’d be very interested to hear how this teaching about women has impacted the men. What stories do you have?

Why are some women passive in church?

Here’s what I was taught in my early days as a Christian. As a woman

  • I am always to be under a man’s covering or authority. If I’m unmarried or my husband is not around, I have to find a man to whom I will submit.
  • I cannot teach a man under any circumstances–unless they are under the age of 13.
  • Of course I can lead, but only through my influence on my husband.
  • I can never hold any position of strategic influence or leadership in the church.
  • Because Eve was deceived, I, as a woman, am more open to deception than a man.
  • God only uses a woman when a man isn’t available. (This permits women on the mission field.)
  • My husband is the leader; I am there to serve his calling and vision. His destiny is the one that counts.
  • My husband is the priest of our home.
  • I have to be very careful about what I wear in case I cause a man to lust.
  • A strong woman probably has a “Jezebel spirit.”
  • I shouldn’t take the initiative but pray for my husband to do so in order that I can follow his lead.
  • I  always have to obey my husband, willing submitting even if  I know he’s wrong.
  • If God uses me to lead/teach men in any way, it’s like God speaking through Balaam’s donkey–an aberration.
  • God created Adam before he created Eve. Therefore men lead; women follow.
  • Women are more likely than men to lead the church astray.
  • There are no such thing as women elders.
  • Once I have children, my place is in the home.
  • There are plenty of ministries I can involve in–prayer and women’s ministries, Sunday School and making the coffee. I should be content with this and not seek to use my gifting outside of those prescribed boundaries.

The obvious conclusion? God, for some divine reason, prefers men. Women are therefore inferior to men, comparatively unimportant in the bigger scheme of life in the Kingdom.

A whole generation of women has been brought up to believe these things are true. We have become conditioned to living within these boundaries because we have been taught this is what the Bible says about us.

Is it any wonder that some of us struggle when we are given the freedom to take the initiative?

What has been your experience?

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Men lead, women follow?

I recently had a conversation with a lady who all her life has been told by her church that her husband’s role is the  only important one, and her job is to support him.

After centuries of being taught that men lead, women follow, many women are content to be passive, waiting for someone else to take a lead.

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God is giving women all over the world permission to take the initiative, to escape from their theological cages to follow where he’s leading them, and men are championing their efforts.

When will this happen here in the USA? Where are the women who will act as role models? Where are the men who will encourage and support them? What might happen when men and women co-labor together for the sake of the Kingdom. Could we see a generation emerge that has never been hindered by gender constraints?