Jesus—His Life and Message: Women Supporters and Disciples

June 9, 2020

by Peter Amsterdam

In chapter 7 of the Gospel of Luke we read the account of a sinful woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, then anointed His feet with costly ointment.1 Directly following this, in the next chapter, is another reference to women—in this case, women who were disciples of Jesus.

The text begins with an introductory phrase:

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him.2

Some time after His encounter with the woman who washed His feet, Jesus went on what might today be called a preaching tour. The Greek verb translated as He went expresses the concept of a continuing wandering ministry, rather than going on a journey from one point to another.3

On this trip through various cities and villages, rather than traveling and preaching the good news alone, Jesus brought His disciples, so that they could learn from Him. Along with the twelve disciples, we’re told that a number of women were also traveling with them … and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities. In Jesus’ time, itinerant teachers who traveled from place to place were fairly common, and such teachers were often supported by women. However, it was quite unusual for women to travel with a traveling rabbi. At one point in the Gospel of John, we find that Jesus’ disciples were surprised that He was even speaking with a woman.

Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”4 

The fact that Jesus not only spoke to women, but also had women followers, shows that His attitude was quite different from the attitude of most first-century rabbis.5

One author explains:

By accepting women among his followers Jesus did something very provocative for his contemporaries. Women disciples among the Jewish rabbis were inconceivable. Even in the ministry of the synagogue only men were eligible. A woman did not read from the Torah. … She was barred from the prayer of the Shema. The Sabbath commandment did not apply unconditionally to women. Religious instruction was not a matter of course for women. When Jesus admits women as disciples, he seeks to alleviate the position of women suppressed by society and to promote the restoration of their human dignity.6

Luke then named some of the women who were part of the group traveling with Jesus.

Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for themout of their means.7 

Here we find that these three women, along with many others, were financial supporters of Jesus and His disciples. We’re not told anything specific about Susanna or the many others who helped provide the material needs of Jesus and the disciples, only that they did so. This information presents a glimpse of how Jesus’ needs were met during His ministry.

We are given more information about Joanna than the others. Her husband, Chuza, worked for King Herod, who ruled the country at that time. He likely managed Herod’s estates and therefore was probably quite wealthy. Joanna not only was one of the group of women who helped provide for the material needs of Jesus and His disciples, but she was also one of the women who went to Jesus’ tomb three days after His burial and told the disciples that Jesus’ tomb was empty.

It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles.8

It’s interesting to note that others who were in the service of King Herod were also Christians. In the book of Acts, we read,

There were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.9

Mary Magdalene was from the Galilean town of Magdala. We are told that seven demons had gone out of her. There are no accounts in the New Testament describing her deliverance from these demons, but it’s clear that afterward she became an ardent follower of Jesus. Some commentators understand the statement that she was possessed by seven demons as a way of expressing that her condition, whether mental or physical, was quite severe. Others suggest that since “seven” symbolically refers to “completeness,” stating that she had seven demons was a way to say that she was totally filled with demons. Whatever its meaning, at some point in Jesus’ ministry He saw the state she was in, had compassion for her, and set her free from these demons. Jesus’ love and compassion magnificently changed her life, and she became both a disciple and a patron.

All four of the Gospels state that Mary Magdalene was present at Jesus’ crucifixion.

There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene …10 

After Jesus’ death, she was present when He was laid in the tomb.

Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.11

After the Sabbath had passed, the women went to Jesus’ tomb to anoint His body with spices, but they found Jesus’ body was not there. Two angels told them,

He is not here, but has risen.12

Returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles.13

It is interesting that whenever Mary Magdalene’s name is mentioned in a list along with other women, her name is listed first, with one exception.14 This is similar to how the apostle Peter’s name is always listed first whenever there are lists of the apostles.15 This could indicate that Mary Magdalene was considered prominent among the female disciples.

Jesus’ ministry was inclusive. He reached out to, and made disciples of, a variety of people—including women. He and His disciples were at least partially funded by women such as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, and most likely others. Their contributions helped to finance Jesus’ ministry and thus helped change the world.


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

General Bibliography

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Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah. New York: Doubleday, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E. The Death of the Messiah. 2 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

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1 For a full account of this incident, see “The Parable of the Two Debtors.”

2 Luke 8:1.

3 Morris, Luke, 168.

4 John 4:27.

5 Stein, Luke, 240.

6 Gnilka, Jesus of Nazareth: Message and History, 167.

7 Luke 8:2–3.

8 Luke 24:10.

9 Acts 13:1.

10 Matthew 27:55–56.

11 Matthew 27:59–61.

12 Luke 24:6.

13 Luke 24:9–10.

14 Matthew 27:55–56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 19:25 (the exception).

15 Matthew 10:1–4; Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:12–16; John 21:2; Acts 1:13.