Women and the Resurrection Story


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Women have suffered a second hand status in a male dominated world since the beginning of humanity. The culture today, is much different than at any time in history. As an example, about 65% of all college students in the US are women. The pendulum is swinging toward equality.

Most of the world, however, is not even close yet. In Muslim countries, in particular, women are mistreated in horrendously barbarian ways. But, the mistreatment of women is not just a Muslim thing, and it is very widespread and pervasive and goes far back in time.

This may seem like an odd backdrop to the resurrection story, but women and the resurrection story are forever intertwined.

Whether viewing history through an evolutionary lens or a historical lens, the reason for male dominance is easily understood. Before technology and the comforts of modern life, strength was the key to survival. Survival of the fittest is a truism whether one accepts evolutionary theory as an explanation of human existence or not. Survival in the ancient world required the strength of men to ward of beasts in the wild and threats from other people groups. Men dominated and women were subservient.

Not that women are not strong; men are simply stronger. Strength as necessity for survival led to a “might makes right” code of living and governance as civilization grew more sophisticated. History is the story of civilizations conquering and being conquered, and the vestige of that historical thread even continues today.

Women are still relegated to subservient status in many areas of the world, bolstered by political, philosophical and religious justifications. The story is different in the western world, including the United States, where a feminine spring has emerged. In other areas of the world in other cultures, however, men still have more rights than women, and women are still subject to male dominated culture.

One link to that past is seen today still in Muslim countries where Sharia law prevails: a woman’s testimony is discounted in court. For testimony to be considered reliable in court, it must come either from two men or one man and two women. (See here for an explanation) The testimony of just one woman, or even two women, is not considered reliable as a matter of law.

A similar rule prevailed in 1st century Palestine where women were not even eligible to testify in a Jewish court of law. Josephus, the 1st century Jewish historian, explains that not even the witness of multiple women was acceptable “because of the levity and boldness of their sex.” (See here)

Here is the relevance to the resurrection story: the New Testament records that the first witnesses of the empty tomb and of the risen Christ were women! Think about it. Not even multiple women were considered credible in a Jewish court of law, but the Gospels record that women found the empty tomb and reported they say Jesus alive. Let that sink in.

Who would make this stuff up?

Why would anyone want to establish that the evidence of the resurrection came from women? That just doesn’t make sense… unless, of course, they were just reporting what happened, incredible as it sounds! In fact, there is much more evidence of the resurrection than the initial reports of the women at the tomb, but let’s focus on the women here.

The fact that women first reported the empty tomb and the risen Jesus is just the beginning.

The women remained near Jesus after he had been taken away by Roman guards, while the men, including Peter, one of the closest men to Jesus, abandoned him. Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Mary wife of Clopas, were there at the cross when Jesus was crucified. (John 19:25) Mary the mother of James and Salome were also there. (Mark 15:40) When the Romans sealed the tomb with the “great stone”, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” were there. (Matt. 27:61) The two of them and Salome also were the ones to go back and check the tomb. (Matt. 28:1Mark 16:1) Mary Magdalene was the one to report the empty tomb to the disciples. (John 20:1) Joanna, Mary the mother of James and other women also reported to the disciples that Jesus was risen from the dead. (Luke 24:10John 20:18)

lightstock_74415_xsmall_user_7997290The centrality of women in the resurrection story is unmistakable and reveals how important and central to the ministry of Jesus women were. There are at least two very significant points that I draw from that: 1) one is the credibility of the biblical account ; and 2) another is the respect for woman shown by Jesus.

First, the simple report of the initial evidence of the resurrection made by women suggests credibility. Really? Have I forgotten that the testimony of women had no evidential value in 1st Century Palestine? No, that is exactly the point!

If the accounts were all fabricated  in the generation following the death of Jesus (or much later as some claim), who would think to put women in such a prominent role? Why would they women as the ones who reported the empty tomb and the first encounter with the resurrected Christ?

If people were concocting a story they want others to believe in that time, they would not have chosen women to be the first and most prominent witnesses. In fact, Celsus, a 2nd-century critic of Christianity, questioned the resurrection because it was witnessed by a “hysterical female”. (From Jesus Outside the New Testament)

The biblical account rings true because it is candid. The “greatest” of the disciples (Peter) denied Jesus when the chips were down, not once, but three times. Women were the ones who stuck by with Jesus through the “trial”, the death on the cross and after. Women were the ones who took care of the body and reported the tomb empty. Women were the ones to whom Jesus first appeared and reported his resurrection to the disciples. The men were off hiding while all this took place.

These accounts do not read like a made up story; they read like an attempt to report what actually happened with all the embarrassing details. Anyone making up this story in 1st or 2nd century would not have claimed the men were cowering in fear while the women boldly stuck with Jesus.

And that brings me to the second point: “Jesus radically affirmed the full dignity of women and the vital value of their witness.” (Five Errors to Drop from Your Easter Sermon) “Jesus rejected the idea of male superiority and its double moral standard of morality by the manner in which he related to women…. [a]nd he included women in his ministry even though he was aware that cultural limitations would restrict their ministry to a degree in his day [citations omitted].” (Chinese Women in Christian Ministry)

Woman are given respect and exalted status by Jesus and in New Testament accounts that was not recognized by the culture at the time (and still wasn’t recognized in the many centuries that followed). Jesus had many women followers, and the fact that the biblical accounts make a point of mentioning them is significant.

Mary Magdalene, of course, is well known. She was the Galilean woman (likely from the town of Magdala on the west bank) who Jesus delivered from demons. (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9) Joanna was the wife of Chuza, the manager of the household of King Herod; and she, along with one called Suzanna and others, provided financially for Jesus. (Luke 8:3) Many other women were also mentioned as followers of Jesus.

The significance is not only in the respect given to women by Jesus and the biblical account of his life, but also in the fact that such respect was so counter-cultural. We tend to think in our modern American society that Christianity is the main stream, but it was anything but main stream in the 1st Century. In fact, Christianity may not even be mainstream in the US anymore (if true Christianity ever really was).

The resurrection story is incredible, no doubt! In a modern, secular society that views everything through a scientific lens, many reject the resurrection right out of the gate because “miracles don’t happen”. If God exists, and He created the universe, however, is it really all that far-fetched?  The biblical account bolstered by testimony of women, claims, matter-of-factly, that the resurrection happened.

Peter wrote that he and the other eye witnesses of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection did not tell “cleverly devised stories”. (2 Pet. 1:16, NIV) Those eye witnesses included women whose testimony was critical. Though Jesus appeared to more than 500 after his death according to Paul (1 Cor. 15:5-8), he appeared first to women who reported what they saw to the men.

The significance of the centrality of women in the resurrection story might escape us if we are not paying attention. The fact that women were in the middle of it all is a major statement of God’s view of women as well as the authenticity of the Gospel accounts.

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One Comment on “Women and the Resurrection Story”


  1. […] [4] See for instance, Christianity: The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Women, by Sue Bohlin published by Probe Ministries at bible.org March 16, 2010; How Jesus Viewed and Valued Women by James A. Borland, published at Crossway.org March 8, 2017; Our Pro-Woman, Complementarian Jesus by Kevin DeYoung, published at gospelcoalition.org February 15, 2016; and Women and the Resurrection Story. […]

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