Women Who Do: Female Disciples in the Gospels

Women Who Do: Female Disciples in the Gospels October 7, 2023

It’s remarkable how Jesus treated women in the Gospels. (Of course, He still treats them in a remarkable way today.)

On that score, Holly J. Carey has released a new book called Women Who Do: Female Disciples in the Gospels.

The book is well written and the research is excellent.

In fact, I cite it in my upcoming book on the Story of the New Testament Church.

Here’s an excerpt from the Introduction followed by endorsements.

This is a study of the women who followed Jesus. More specifically, this is a study of the kind of discipleship that these women modeled during Jesus’s ministry. It turns out that Jesus had quite an entourage that went with him throughout his travels, and yet it is easy to read through the gospel narratives and get the wrong impression about the makeup of that group—that the only people who were consistently with Jesus were the twelve male apostles. But this is an incomplete reading of the concept of discipleship in the Gospels. A closer look reveals that in each of the four gospels women were with Jesus all along.

They followed him as he preached and taught and healed and performed miracles throughout Galilee, Judea, and the surrounding gentile regions. They functioned as his benefactresses, funding his ministry and providing for the others who were part of their community. The gospel writers laud many of the women whom Jesus encountered along the way, presenting them as exemplary in their faith or for their insight into who he was or what he could do. He uses women as examples of faith in his teachings and parables.

Some women went toe-to-toe with Jesus on the interpretation of the Torah and what their place should be in God’s kingdom. And it was women who were there at the end, following the body of Jesus as he was placed in a tomb, then returning to care for it only to find that he had risen. It was these same women whom angels first commissioned with the task of “going and telling” of his resurrection to the others who followed him. Women were everywhere in Jesus’s ministry.

Before going any further, it would be helpful for the reader to know why I am writing this book. I grew up in a context where women were not accepted as leaders or viewed as models for discipleship in the church. Although in my community the restriction was more implicit than explicit, women rarely served in visible ways apart from participating in the worship music on a Sunday morning or providing meals in the kitchen.

They did not serve Communion. They did not lead as elders or deacons. And they most certainly did not preach any sermons. Once the children of the church graduated to the middle school classes or were invited to the youth group events, no longer were they taught by women in any official capacity (although women were still allowed to be youth chaperons on trips). Again, most of this was implicit, meaning that at my church the pastors didn’t preach against female leadership—we just never saw it taking place.

I was a sophomore in college when I realized that all I really wanted to do was teach the Bible. Bible nerd that I am, this realization dawned on me while sitting in a class on the life of Jesus. It rocked my ordered little world, and I could not stop thinking about it. I remember quite vividly sitting across the desk from my professor the very next day and asking him, “Can I do this?” To be clear, this was not a question about my ability to teach. I knew that I could teach if I completed the requisite training and equipped myself well along the way. The question “Can I do this?” would have been better phrased “May I do this?” This was about permission. It was a question about whether I, as a woman, was allowed to teach the Bible. Embedded in this question was the recognition that teaching is a form of leadership, and it was sparked by the realization that I had never been exposed to a female leader in a faith context.

To his credit, my professor emphatically and unequivocally answered in the affirmative. And his support launched me into a new world: the world of biblical scholarship. This scholarship exposed me to the insights and leadership of many women. Along the way, I wrestled with the “hard passages” of Scripture that seemed to restrict women in the church and in the home. Texts such as 1 Timothy 2:8–15, 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 and 14:34–36, and Ephesians 5:21–6:9 undoubtedly have something to say about female leadership (more about these later).

But as a scholar who increasingly specialized in the Gospels through my academic journey, I began to wonder why those texts weren’t also included in the discussion. Why weren’t we also talking about Elizabeth, Anna, Martha, and Mary? Where do the Samaritan woman at the well and Priscilla and Tabitha and Lydia fit into the conversation?


“Contexts are crucial: the context of women’s world in the first century; the context of the distinctive narrative moves of Mark, Matthew, Luke-Acts, and John; and the context of Bible readers who are also members of Christian churches today. With scholarly, professorial, and pastoral attention to each of these contexts, Carey shows how these women take action as disciples of Jesus—as Women Who Do.”
—Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, Virginia Tech 

“If asked to name Jesus’s disciples, most of us would focus on the well-known men—Peter, James, John, and the rest. In this important, well-crafted study, Holly Carey fills out that picture by emphasizing Jesus’s overlooked female disciples while demonstrating how the women in Jesus’s life exemplified best the nature of faithful discipleship. If we want to talk about what it means to follow Jesus, we do well to take her advice: Follow the women!”
—Joel B. Green, Fuller Theological Seminary 

“A well-written and carefully researched study, which portrays the remarkably positive role of female discipleship in the sociopolitical context of the ancient world where women had little power.”
—Dorothy A. Lee, University of Divinity, Melbourne

"Thank you Frank and Team! ~ Gordie"

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