Women played an integral role in Jesus’s life and ministry beginning with those listed in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife), the prophetess Anna (Luke 2:36-38), and Mary. Without Mary to give birth to Jesus and provide his physical nourishment, there would be no story of Jesus. But there is evidence Mary’s influence continued beyond his infancy, which is not surprising when you think of the profound effect a mother has on the spiritual nurturing of her children. Is it coincidence that themes from Mary’s song (the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55) were reflected in Jesus’s preaching and the writings of Jesus’s brother, James?
Mary does not disappear after giving birth to Jesus, but is part of the story throughout the life of Jesus and is even present in the upstairs room (Acts 1:12-14). In addition, Luke, who carefully researches his gospel, includes several stories in chapters 1-2 that only could have come from the witness of Mary.
Jesus welcomes women as disciples and friends (Luke 8:1-3; John 11:1-45; 12:2-8; Matthew 26:6-13; 27:55-56). Jesus affirms the dignity of women, teaches they are not to be treated as objects, and holds them up as positive examples (Matthew 5:28; Luke 21:1-4; Matthew 26:13). Jesus engages women in deep, theological discussions (John 4:1-42; 20:10-18); in fact, in some cases women seem to have a deeper comprehension than do men (Matthew 26:6-13; 28:1-11, 17). Jesus’s conversation with the Samaritan woman resulted in her acting as an evangelist who led many Samaritans in the town to believe because of her testimony. Jesus used illustrations about women and for women, and even presents a feminine metaphor for God (Matthew 12:42; 13:32-34; Luke 15:8-10).
Jesus interacts with women without condescension (Luke 7:36-50; 13:10-17; Mark 5:25-34). Luke often couples stories of Jesus with a man to stories of Jesus with a woman seemingly to emphasize equal treatment (for one example, Luke 7:1-17). Matthew records Jesus holding men and women equally accountable in discipleship (Matthew 10:34-39; 25:1-13) and divorce (5:32; 19:9; see also Mark 10:12). While there is some discussion over exact chronology, most agree that women were the last ones at the cross, the first ones at the tomb, and the first to proclaim the resurrected Jesus (Luke 23:27-29; Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:9-11).
When the Pharisees question Jesus about divorce, Jesus seems more interested in talking about marriage (Matthew 19:1-9). As Jesus responds to their questions He emphasizes God’s original plan for human beings in marriage by quoting from Genesis 1:27. God’s original intention for humans was to join male and female so they become “one flesh.” Jesus encourages a restoration of God’s original purpose.
Jesus welcomes women as disciples but does not appoint any women among his original apostles (nor were any Samaritans or Gentiles appointed, it should be noted). But notice what happens as we see the life of Jesus coming to an end at the cross. The men have fled and the women are present — it almost reads as if they are stand-ins for the men (read the entire account with special notice of Matthew 27:55-56, 61; 28:1-10).
Women were (and are) an integral part of the story of Jesus.