Study Guide

Gospel of Luke Women and Femininity

Women and Femininity

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. (NRSV 2:36-38)

And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. (KJV 2:36-38)

Already in the second chapter, Anna raises readers' expectations for an interesting treatment of women in the story. Evidently, they can be prophets, highly devout, and even public speakers. And get this—people listen to them.

After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon's house. Now Simon's mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them. (NRSV 4:38-39)

And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simon's house. And Simon's wife's mother was taken with a great fever; and they besought him for her. And he stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she arose and ministered unto them. (KJV 4:38-39)

Jesus heals Simon's mom-in-law, and then… she resumes her womanly duties. Ta da! Luke definitely isn't above confirming cultural gender assumptions. He is, however, above using words like "confirming cultural gender assumptions."

And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner." […] Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." (NRSV 7:37-39, 48)

And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner." Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." (KJV 7:37-39, 48)

Whatever else makes this woman a "sinner" (7:37, 39), practically making out with Jesus's feet certainly does not help her case. These actions would have been recognized as inappropriate behavior for women across the board. Both Luke and Jesus actually agree with the Pharisee that she is a sinner (7:37, 47), but Jesus reads her creepy caressing as evidence of her love for and gratefulness to him for forgiving her many sins. But where does this leave us with regard to the concept of the feminine?

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (NRSV 8:1-3)

And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance. (KJV 8:1-3)

Female followers. Not only is it progressive, but it makes for some nice alliteration, too. Still, these women are "serving" Jesus. That's the very same type of work that Simon's mother-in-law started to perform for him after he cured her fever (4:39). Don't let the NRSV fool you. The Greek verb is the same in 8:3 as it is in 4:39.

[…] a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." (NRSV 10:38-42)

[…] a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus's feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. (KJV 10:38-42)

Martha is busy doing what women do in Luke's gospel: serving the men (see 4:39; 8:3). Once again, we have the same Greek word describing both situations. And then there's Mary, who's interested in Jesus's instruction and ignores her womanly duties to listen to him

So it looks like female followers of Jesus can serve the men (8:3), but they're also able to receive instruction along with the men. But is it enough? Mary is, after all, sitting at Jesus's feet (10:39). Apparently that's where he likes to keep women—check out 7:38 to see what we mean.

But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. (NRSV 23:49)

And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things. (KJV 23:49)

Jesus's female followers are with Jesus to the bitter end, no different from the men.

[…] returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. (NRSV 24:9-11)

[…] And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest. It was Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. (KJV 24:9-11)

How's this for a privileged status? The female followers of Jesus are the first witnesses of the empty tomb and the angelic message that Jesus has been resurrected. They are also the first to remember (at the angels' prompting) that Jesus had foretold his death and resurrection (24:1-8). Sounds awesome—except the men don't believe a word of it. They'll need to see it to believe it (24:12).

"Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." (NRSV 24:22-24)

Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre; And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive. And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not. (KJV 24:22-24)

Does the women's sex have anything to do with the need for the men to witness the empty tomb for themselves?