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?

Photo Credit: Lawrence OP via Compfight cc

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • http://twitter.com/smith_brooks Nate Smith

    Yes, the women were there. One has to recognize the continuous recognition that the Gospel gives women and Jesus’ love for them. I wonder if Jesus having a woman disciple would have been too intimate. The mere aspect of the opposite genders relying on each other in every detail of their lives. Was there accountability among Jesus and the disciples and if so, would it have been appropriate to include women? It is important though to note that having deep conversation with the opposite gender does happen and should. The intensity of Jesus and the 12 looks different though.

    • felicitydale

      Nate, thank you for your comments. I agree with you about the intimacy and accountability too. And I’m sure Jesus avoided every appearance of evil–unless of course, it was things like breaking the Sabbath.

    • Angela

      I don’t think there was formal ‘accountability’ the way you seem to be implying–the creepy modern version. There is ‘natural’ accountability in any spiritual relationship. ANd it seems the women WERE there much of the time. I think the question is why only men for the first apostles. I think it also had to do with what they were going to have to do later — travel all over the world and be tortured and martyred. It was more practical in those times for men to travel to the far reaches of the known world, and as mentioned above, their testimony would be more acceptable to the many patriarchal societies they went to.

  • Ruth

    Now that makes perfect sense! never thought of it that way before!

    • felicitydale

      Thanks for commenting, Ruth. It makes sense to me…

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.hays2 Bill Hays

    hmmm, do you think Priscilla may have written Hebrews, though?

    • felicitydale

      Bill, I’m pretty sure she did–it has a woman’s touch don’t you think? ;-)

  • http://twitter.com/MariaIECruz Maria Cruz

    I was just reading Luke thinking about this and wondering how people reacted when they saw these women follow Jesus. It must have been an extraordinary sight!!

    • felicitydale

      I’ve never thought about that before but you’re right. It would have been very unusual. Interesting that the religious establishment never had grounds for complaint about Jesus and women. Maybe that’s another reason why he had male disciples.

  • Bill Faris

    Course, then there’s that whole Apostle Junia thing in Romans.

    • felicitydale

      Yep: she’s my heroine.

  • MDriscoll

    I can’t help but think you would love my pastor, Jonathan Martin, from Renovatus Church in Charlotte, NC… he has been speaking on this very thing with an eloquence and beauty that I think in my two decades of living as a Christian I’ve never heard a more profound series… I think you would like it… http://renovatuschurch.com/media.php?pageID=5

    • felicitydale

      Thanks for letting me know–I’ll check out his series. God seems to be leading many people to think about this topic at the moment so I’m fascinated to hear your pastor is speaking about it.

      • Susanna

        I agree that God is leading many people to think about this topic. I am going to come in from a completely different thought…and that thought has to do with the women’s movement. I see many Christian women who are confused about their role in the family. I see many young women and men very confused about their own sexuality. I believe everything in the bible to have meaning. I don’t believe it is an accident or meaningless that the book reads the way it does. We need to be careful in thinking that Jesus would have had done things differently if not for the culture. I believe that God wanted man to lead and women to be the helper. That does not mean one is superior to the other, just that that was Gods plan on how we complement each other and work together for the greater good. Just a thought…

        • felicitydale

          It was very enlightening for me to discover more about the word “helper.” The Hebrew word, ezer, is used 21 times in the Old Testament. Of these, in all but six it refers to God. Typical examples include, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence comes my help(ezer). My help (ezer) comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1, 2) or “Our help (ezer) is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8). It contains the ideas of power and strength, a guide, mentor and shield. It is often used in a militaristic context.

          The Hebrew word translated “meet” or “fit” means literally in front of with the understanding of “comparable to.”

          The impression is more of a valued consultant than a personal girl Friday. It’s a delight to be an ezer.

          • Matt

            We often assume that patriarchy influenced God’s dealings with us but what if God’s patriarchal ideal first influenced cultures? We don’t often consider that because it’s not trendy which of course, as committed Christians, is paramount. ; )

            Adam submitted to his wife and Christ submitted for His. (Church).

            Man is called to submit to God for his wife’s sake and women are called to submit to their husbands for God’s.

          • http://simplychurch.com/ Felicity Dale

            Hmm… thought provoking.

            I think we need to look back to the Garden to see what God’s ideal was. There’s no hint of patriarchy before the Fall. God gives the mandate to take dominion over the earth and to be fruitful and multiply to both of them. It’s only after the Fall that we see patriarchy.

            I love to submit to my husband. It’s my joy. And it’s his joy to lay down his life for me. It’s a race to go lower!

  • Michael Fleming

    Wow, now THIS is some critical thinking!

    I believe your theory is well-grounded, but we also must take into account that God DID CHOOSE a patriarchal society to come into, much like He chose a kingdom government system that best mirrored the characteristics of God’s Kingdom to come into as well, so that when He talked about the coming Kingdom, people would get it (sort of).

    This certainly doesn’t eliminate all the great reasons you gave for keeping all male disciples as the ones that were most publicized, for that is surely the best strategy given the culture.

    I’m just thinking maybe we want to be careful not to take the line of thinking all the way over to the other side to assume that it would be possible that He might have chosen a matriarchal society to come into as a woman and would have chosen all women to be the twelve with a bunch of men in the background. Man isn’t better, just first, which is supposed to mean last or the bigger servant or does the tougher job. This is what I believe Paul meant when He referenced Genesis.

    Therefore, I would submit that your theory is correct, but that there’s more to it in that males and females are still different genders. Not better or worse, just different. Given that, maybe God just saw it fit that the first movement would be led by men and then females would be brought along in the process much like Jews were His people and then Gentiles were grafted in?

    Not real sure, just thinking as I write.

    • felicitydale

      Michael, your comments, as always, make me reflect… I would be interested to know how many matriarchal societies there were in the world at that time. My impression is that patriarchal ones far outnumber matriarchal ones, so therefore maybe he chose a typical culture. Certainly, if God chose the predominant world Roman culture to come into, that was very patriarchal (you should read some of their comments on women).

      I’m not sure I agree with your reasoning about Paul’s comments. If woman is second to man because of the Genesis account, that should mean that man is under the animals. One the other hand, if God’s creation crescendoed towards his ultimate creation, that would mean woman is the summation of his work. Just a thought :-)

  • Jon

    Yeah a good Wow is appropriate. You have plumbed the depths of a very deep subject that is like a highway full of potholes. I think your conclusion is very plausable and points to God being sensitive history and culture…which I think He is. That does not take away from his immutability but remember his is the model after which we are cast…”in His own image”. Having been a Southern Baptist Pastor for many years (Virginia Baptist now) I see the need to reexamine – not what the Bible says – but what we say the Bible says. Thanks for your thinking and writing on this.

    • felicitydale

      Jon, thank you for this encouraging comment. I wonder how many things in the Bible we view through spectacles tinted with what we have been taught or our own culture…

      • Leah Malvig

        Quite a bit, i’m fairly certain.

  • mattdabbs

    “Aside from opening himself to charges of immorality if women had been among the twelve…”

    Jesus openly fellowshipped all kinds of people that would have opened him up to charges of immorality by various people: the woman at the well, the woman who washed him with her perfume and tears…those and others would have made Jesus as much or more susceptible to those charges. I don’t think Jesus was worried about the charges ignorant people made against him. He was called a Sabbath breaker because he healed on the Sabbath. He was called a blasphemer because he put himself on level with God. Jesus didn’t avoid the things that resulted in those accussations. I say all that to say, I don’t think those reasons really fit with the character of Jesus and his ability to ignore ignorant people.

    ” I suspect a woman’s testimony about Jesus’ resurrection would have been given little credence”

    But he did reveal himself to them first and told them to be his first witnesses by going and telling what they had seen to the others. So, again, I don’t think Jesus was concerned by that.

    Just my two cents, for whatever they are worth.

    • felicitydale

      Matt, I agree that Jesus didn’t mind about his reputation. He had long since laid that aside. What I find interesting is the fact that even with everything Jesus did, the Pharisees and religious leaders never accused him of improper relationships with women. (The incident, for example, with the prostitute who washed Jesus feet with her tears happened in the home of Simon a Pharisee. What they said implied they were shocked that he would let a woman of that kind of reputation touch him, not that he was being immoral.)

      I love the fact that he chose women to testify to his resurrection.

      Your two cents are worth a lot :-)

  • Douglas Brandow

    The first Christian was a woman, the “God-bearer” Mary. Without her there would be no Jesus.

    • felicitydale

      That is so true!

    • Oluwatoba Popoola

      Before Mary was, Jesus is…

  • austrorus .

    all the big world religions founders were men. and they created religion the way it suited THEM and the men!

  • Christy

    If you guys havent heard Kris Valloton’s podcast entitled “Powerful Women” you should drop everything and go listen. It’s packed with revelation. He talks about the true gender identity of women, and how women are actually the target of the enemy and oppression because we are the crown of creation. It’s worth checking out.

  • best9rfan

    My theory as to why Jesus had 12 men as his disciples is that: Jesus chose men to be leaders. Im not saying a woman cant be a leader of different groups, but Jesus chose men to be used as leaders. The 12 disciples of Jesus were, as stated in Matthew 10:2-4, KJV: Simon, called Peter, Andrew, brother of Peter, James, son of Zebedee, John, brother of James, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James, son of Alphaeus, Lebbaeus, surnamed Thaddaeus.
    Perhaps Jesus had females as followers, they just were not mentioned by name, that I recall.

    • Felicity Dale

      Thank you for commenting. It’s fairly easy to trace a group of women that were with Jesus for much of his ministry, and some of them are named too. You can see then from Luke 8:1 onwards. Check out this post bit.ly/1OF85VN and this one too. bit.ly/1OF8ac7

  • Juliana Patrick

    Hello Fellow Lady Deciples!!! God Bless You All! I am ESTATIC finally realizing God’s Plan for me! I don’t know his complete plan yet. But I know it’s starting to be visible. I am here in Tucson AZ new, and waiting for Father Jehovas to start me on my Spiritual journey please contact me if I can work or help you in your Ministry! Thank you for hearing me. Go Girls!!! Your Sister in Our Lord Christ Jesus! Bless You All!!! Juliana Patrick

  • Jana

    But why would he care what they thought if having even one woman disciple could lead hundreds of woman to God
    Surely that one woman could have made a diffirence if God worked through her

  • analyst

    My share is the following website and article providing some good contexts within which Jesus’ interactions with women occurred: https://www.franciscanmedia.org/jesus-extraordinary-treatment-of-women/