Luke’s Gospel beautifully and powerfully features women in the life and ministry of Jesus. In the first post, I provided an introductory overview of nine categories of women in the Gospel of Luke. In this post, I want to dig into each category, and do a careful survey of how each of the nine types of women are featured in Luke. Let’s jump in (I warn you up-front, this is a rather long post, but I hope it is rich in insight, and encouraging (especially for women who love Jesus, or who wonder what Jesus thought of women)!
Oh – and by the way, if you have not read the first post, do that first here…
Category 1 – The Pious Women
The first category of women in Luke’s gospel is the pious (i.e., “devout” and “godly”) women. It is not unusual when looking for virtuous or pious Biblical personalities to think of people like Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. The Bible does not attempt to keep the weaknesses of these men a secret, but they are also presented as men of God, chosen for particular purposes, singled out by God himself, and described as “righteous,” “friend of God,” “my servant,” and “man after God’s own heart.”
When reading about various women in the Gospel of Luke, we also find women who are described in very similar terms. At least three women in Luke’s Gospel are described favorably in terms of their devotion to God, and several others are put into generally favorable categories. For instance:
Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah the priest: (Luke 1:5-25, 36-37, 40-45, 57-61) – Elizabeth is described, along with her husband, as “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Lk. 1:6). It is not difficult to find people in the Bible described in equally virtuous terms, but nothing better can found to be said about anyone in Scripture than what is said here about Elizabeth. Her designation as “righteous and blameless in all the commandments of the Lord” sets her apart (and puts her firmly on equal footing) with a very small class of Biblical personalities (including men).
Mary, mother of Jesus, betrothed of Joseph: (Luke 1:27-56; 2:5-7, 16-19, 22-24, 33-35, 39-51; 8:19-21, 11:27-28) – Mary is the first woman in all of Scripture to receive a first-hand visit, and a verbal message from an angel. When the angel Gabriel arrives to bring the news that God has chosen Mary to be the mother of the Messiah, he says – “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you” (Lk. 1:28b). Mary’s eventual response to the angelic message is profound, especially when considering the fact that she was likely an uneducated, poor, possibly illiterate teenager: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38). It is difficult to find men in the Bible – especially among those who had more revelation and interaction with God than Mary, who responded as favorably as she did to the most profound announcement ever made to a human being… “You will be the mother of the Messiah.”
Anna – Widow, Prophetess. (2:36-38) – The third woman referenced by Luke is a short, but sterling vignette of a widow named Anna. She is (1) mentioned by name, (2) called a “prophetess”, (3) her family lineage (specifically her father’s name) is given, (4) her decades-long dedication and occupation with prayer, fasting, and devotion to God’s house “day and night” is proclaimed, and (5) a description of her “praise” and “proclamation” is summarized by Luke. Many of these elements (though very abbreviated in the case of Anna) parallel exactly with multi-faceted descriptions, or “credentialing enumerations” of Old Testament (male) prophets.
Within the first 116 verses of Luke’s gospel narrative, three of the most pious and godly women in all of scripture are presented. We might also include sisters Martha and Mary (Lk. 10:38-42), the Widow in Zarepath of Sidon (Lk. 4:25-26), and even some of the women who travelled in Jesus’ entourage (Lk. 8:2-3) on the list of women who exhibited devotion, faithfulness, and obedience to God, and so – find themselves among the pious women mentioned by Luke.
Category 2 – The Sinful Women
The second category of women in Luke’s gospel is the sinful women. Not all of the women in Luke’s Gospel are initially (and in some cases, ever) referenced in virtuous terms.
The Fourth woman mentioned by Luke is Herodias, the wife of Herod’s Brother, who was apparently living in an adulterous relationship with her husband’s brother, and the two of them received the public rebuke of (and call to repentance by) John the Baptist as a result (see Lk. 3:19).
Other women who fit into this category by particular overt reference to their sinfulness (though all women – along with the rest of the human race are sinful) are the “woman of the city, who was a sinner” (Luke’s own description of her) who intrudes into a private home during a meal to weep, worship, and wash the feet of Jesus with her tears (Lk. 7:37-44), and “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” (Lk. 8:2). Luke’s earliest language surrounding the theme of demonic activity contains verbal intimation (i.e., his use of the word “unclean”) that an inhabitation by demonic spirits may be directly related to participation in some kind of habitual perversion (see, for instance Lk. 4:33, “spirit of an unclean demon.”).
In every case where sinful women are mentioned, there is redemptive language, even when considering John the Baptist’s call to repentance (of Herod and Herodias), as well as the fact that Jesus received and affirmed the repentant worship of the sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears, and Mary Magdalene became part of Jesus’ travelling entourage – signifying his acceptance of her into relationship and fellowship subsequent to her repentance and deliverance from demons.
Categories 3 & 4 – Marginalized Women and Widows
A third category of women may be designated as “marginalized” by virtue of some trait or circumstance in their lives. Women were generally marginalized by virtue of their gender in most of the world (including among the Jews) at this time in history. But other circumstances, actions, or issues could push them even further away from the center of the community. For instance:
Elizabeth (Lk. 1:7) – is called “barren” by Luke. Her inability to produce offspring resulted in a lifetime of disappointment, reproach, and derision. Her prayer (especially in Lk. 1:25) suggests that she lived under the constant scorn of others due to the fact that she was unable to produce children. Because of this, her family-line would die with her.
Mary (Lk. 1:26-38) – though she is chosen by God to be the mother of His Son, is a young peasant girl from a tiny village in the middle of nowhere who was probably illiterate, and had to live with the possibility that she would suffer a lifetime of scorn – being seen as a whore, a fornicator, and a sinner who, along with her husband, was raising an illegitimate child (see Lk. 1:26, 27, 34).
Widows – Though the multiple widows mentioned in Luke’s Gospel could be placed in their own category as the widows, we might also easily place them on the list of marginalized women (see Lk. 2:36-38; Lk. 4:25-26; Lk. 7:11-17; Lk. 21:2-4).
Widows were typically destitute, lonely, and among the most needy and vulnerable people in the community (see Lk. 18:2-8, and Lk. 20:47, for examples). To lose one’s husband was to lose love, security, and livelihood, and in some cases, to be seen as easy prey for scam-artists, and a financial burden on the rest of the community.
Luke mentions four widows in his gospel (five, if we count the one used in the parable of the widow and the unjust judge in Lk. 18:2-8), and gives them a dignity and affirmation that moves them far from the margins, and deep into the circle of Jesus’ love and acceptance:
(1) Anna is dignified as a servant of God, and a “prophetess” who ministered and prayed in God’s house.
(2) Jesus singled out the Widow of Zarepath as a recipient of God’s saving care. In 1 Kings 17:12, this Gentile widow is quoted as saying to Elijah, “As the Lord your God lives…” – which may be an indicator of why the Lord directed Elijah to reach out to her, and bypass the many needy and starving widows among God’s own covenant people during a prolonged famine.
(3) In Luke 7:11-15 Jesus encounters a funeral procession for the only son of a widow in Nain. Luke records that Jesus had compassion on her, raised her son from the dead, and “gave him back” to her. It is likely (since the son is called a “man” – and is not a young child), that Jesus not only gave her back her beloved adult son (probably her last remaining living family member), but also restored her capacity to be provided and cared for. This would bring her away from the margins, and back into community.
(4) The fourth widow in Luke’s gospel (Lk. 21:1-4) is given the strongest affirmation by Jesus when, at the temple’s alms box, he sees her put in two copper coins, and declares that her offering surpassed that of every other giver since “she put in all she had to live on” (Lk. 21:4). This serves to re-categorize the widow – not as a marginalized dependent, but as a godly, generous, and benevolent person who cared for others more than she cared for her own needs. In fact, Jesus actually publicly elevated and dignified this impoverished widow to a status far above the wealthy men who were present to hear his observation.
Category 5 – Sick Women
A fifth category of women in Luke’s gospel is women who are sick. Luke mentions four of them:
Peter’s mother-in-law (Lk. 4:38-39) – who was sick with a fever, and healed by Jesus.
Jairus’ daughter (Lk. 8:41-55) – a twelve-year-old girl who was reported dead, and was later healed and/or resuscitated by Jesus.
A woman with “a discharge of blood for 12 years” (Lk. 8:43-48) who was healed by touching the fringe of Jesus’ garment. Interestingly, Jesus did not rebuke this “unclean” woman for touching him (see Lev. 15:19-32) – but rather, sought her out and said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace” (Lk. 8:48).
A “woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself” (Lk. 13:11). The verses that follow state that:
12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13 And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.
These verses indicate Jesus’ mission to heal, save, deliver, restore, re-humanize, include, and reach out to people (women) in their deepest times of pain and difficulty. In the case of the final woman (Lk. 13:11-13), Jesus (1) saw her, (2) called her over, (3) spoke words of freedom to her, (4) touched her, and (5) healed her completely.
The various sick women healed by Jesus are case-studies in the broader context of of Luke’s soteriology – wherein he presents Jesus as the one who has come to ultimately restore all of humanity in every way back to God’s created intent by addressing the things that mar, misshape, afflict, and infirm them (see Lk. 4:18-19).
Category 6 – Gentile Women
The sixth category of women in Luke’s gospel is the gentile women. Three are mentioned by name: (1) Herodias, (Lk. 3:19), who receives (via John the Baptist) a call to repent of her adultery, along with her brother-in-law; (2) the widow in Zarepath of Sidon, who receives God’s provision and outreach from Elijah in the midst of a long drought and famine (see 1 Kings 17:1-24), and whom Jesus uses as an object lesson of God’s far-reaching love toward anyone (even gentiles!) who are responsive to Him (Lk. 4:25-26); and (3) “the Queen of the South” (Lk. 11:31), of whom Jesus said, she will …“…rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here” (Lk. 11:31).
The gentile women mentioned in Luke’s gospel are variously (1) extended the offer of, and plea for repentance from sin (as in the case of Herodias); (2) affirmed as those who are recipients of God’s gracious outreach and provision of salvation (as in the case of the widow at Zarepath); and (3) designated as having the capacity to recognize and whole-heartedly pursue the wisdom of God through his servant (as in the case of the Queen of the South).
These again are all examples of Luke’s intentional soteriological emphasis on Jesus, who has come to redeem and rescue all of humanity, including gentile women (!).
The Final 3 Categories – Old Testament Women, Women in Parables, and “Others”
There are three remaining categories of women in Luke’s gospel that deserve to be mentioned (though some have also been placed into previous categories) and considered for a variety of reasons. They are:
First – Old Testament Women: Including (1) the widow of Zarepath (Lk. 4:25-26), (2) the Queen of the South (Lk. 11:31), and (3) Lot’s wife (Lk. 17:32).
These women are all mentioned by Jesus himself, and seem to be part of his intentional inclusion of women in his emphasis on God’s plan to save humanity. Each one of them is mentioned by Jesus in tandem with warnings to various people who were unresponsive or indecisive about his message. In two cases (the widow of Zarepath, and the Queen of the South), the warning is affirming of the woman in order to disaffirm and warn the audience (i.e., “some should seek to be like her, but they are not”), and in one case (Lot’s wife), the warning is disaffirming of the woman in order to disaffirm the audience (i.e., “some should take care to not be like her, but yet they are”).
Second – Women in Parables or Teachings: Including (1) the woman who hid leaven in three measures of flour (Lk. 13:21); (2) the woman who searched her entire house to find a single lost coin (Lk. 15:8-9); (3) women who marry divorced men (Lk. 16:18); (4) the widow who cried out to the unjust judge for justice (Lk. 18:1-5); (5) the woman (used as an example by the Sadducees) who married seven brothers, one-by-one, until each of them died (Lk. 20:28-33); and (6) women who are pregnant and nursing their infant children in the last days, when there will be “great distress” and “wrath”, of whom Jesus says – “Alas for them” (Lk. 21:23).
Again, Jesus inclusion of women in his teaching ministry in these various way seems to be part of his broader mission to include women as (1) part of the fallen human race, (2) part of his teaching ministry which points people to the message of God’s love for all humanity, and (3) part of the way in which we can understand how sin and salvation might be manifested when looking at its effect on all of humanity (including what can be seen in the lives, actions, circumstances, and responses of different types of women).
Third – Other Women: Including (1) The women in the company, or entourage of Jesus (Lk. 8:3). Two of these women (Joanna and Susanna) are mentioned by name, and others are mentioned as “those who provided for them (the rest of the disciples) out of their means”; (2) “a woman in the crowd [who] raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” (Lk. 11:27); (3) The servant girl in the courtyard who recognized and pointed out Peter as having been “with him” [Jesus] (Lk. 22:56); (4) The women who mourned on the road to the cross. (23:27-31); (5) The women who had followed him from Galilee (Lk. 23:49), and (6) Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James (Lk. 23:55-24:1-10, 22-23) who first discovered that Jesus had been resurrected, and who first preached (to men) the doctrine of a literal bodily resurrection (i.e., the first “Easter Sermon”) as first-hand witnesses and recipients of angelic confirmation, which is [the doctrine of resurrection] arguably the most important doctrine in the entire Bible.