Bible Study, Biblical Women

Who Were The Female Disciples of Jesus? Is It Important To Know?

Sometimes we focus on the twelve disciples of Jesus, those men whom He had called to accompany Him throughout His public ministry. But what often goes unnoticed is the number of female disciples of Jesus who were part of His support team. Their role was also significant and acknowledged by the Lord…

Were There Female Disciples of Jesus?

During Jesus lifetime and ministry the gospel message took precedence over everything else. His main concern was to complete His God-given mission. Although there were many issues of injustice in first-century Israel, Jesus did not campaign publicly against inequality. Instead, He taught and demonstrated love, justice, and unity, for all. 

We know the twelve disciples of Jesus were all men because that was culturally acceptable. At that time it would have been scandalous for a Rabbi, or Teacher, to have women students.

Jesus had eternal priorities, but He lived authentically. He taught and engaged in conversation with many women followers and friends. Jesus demonstrated counter-cultural attitudes, with respect and equal value for all.

Is It Important That There Were Women Followers of Jesus Christ?

It is important to recognize the female disciples of Jesus and acknowledge their contributions. Many women followed Jesus and supported His ministry, and their role was not insignificant.

When we dig into Scripture and look for women who followed Jesus we find encouragement. God does not show partiality and no one is excluded because of their age, gender, or race.

Who Were The Women Who Followed Jesus?

In Scripture, the women who followed Jesus are mentioned because of their service, friendship, loyalty, devotion, hospitality, love, support, and great faith! Their conversations with Jesus, and their sometimes-surprising actions, are unique.

These female disciples of Jesus were bold enough to express their belief and commitment publicly, risking censure and disapproval from those around them. Their love for the Lord was greater than gaining approval or popularity in society.

Here is a list of some of the women who followed Jesus, evidenced by their words and their actions. Their voices, and their deeds, still bring a significant message today.

A picture of four smiling women, linking arms and the text, 'Who were the female disciples of Jesus?'
Who Were The Female Disciples of Jesus?

Mary of Nazareth

As the mother of Jesus, Mary had a unique role and perspective. She was meditative and reflected on the prophetic words that were spoken over Jesus. And Mary was the instigator of Jesus’ first miracle at the start of His public ministry.

Mary was there, unflinching, at Calvary watching the pain and suffering of Jesus’ death. After the joy of the resurrection and Jesus’ many appearances, the last mention of Mary in Scripture is at a prayer meeting in Jerusalem. She was waiting among the close followers of Jesus for the promised Holy Spirit!

“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” Acts 1:14

Martha

Two women, Martha and her sister Mary, are particularly mentioned as friends of Jesus. But out of all the women who followed Jesus, Martha is often remembered for her conflict with her sister when she was catering for Jesus and His disciples.

But there was far more to Martha than this mistake revealed. She was a woman of faith who believed that God would give Jesus whatever He asked – and that there was nothing too difficult for God. Martha, with spiritual discernment, made a great declaration of faith, recognizing that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.

“… I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11:27

Mary of Bethany

The younger sister of Martha and Lazarus was known for her devotion to Jesus. When Jesus, and His disciples, came to their home Mary positioned herself at the feet of Jesus, leaning in and listening to all that He had to say.

Women in ancient Judaism were not usually permitted to sit and learn from a rabbi. But Mary was not afraid to defy convention or court controversy,  in her love for the Lord.

Near the end of Jesus’ public ministry, at a dinner given in His honor, Mary poured expensive oil on Jesus’ feet and wiped them with her hair. She humbly took the position of a servant and, not daring to touch Jesus’ head, Mary anointed His feet. When her action was criticized by those present, Jesus replied:

“Leave her alone… It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” John 12:7-8

You may also like to read: Martha and Mary – A Reminder To Choose The Best

The Canaanite Woman

The humility, quick-thinking wit, and great faith, of this un-named woman stand out in her encounter with the Lord. She was a Gentile, described as a Canaanite or as a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia.

This Gentile woman was a follower of Jesus, even if it was from a distance. She had followed Jesus’ ministry, she knew who He was. When she called out to Jesus, this Canaanite woman used the popular Jewish title for the Messiah – ‘Lord, Son of David’.

In her conversation with Jesus, she persisted and refused to keep quiet or go away, until her plea was answered. This Syrophoenician woman, through her faith, demonstrated to Jesus’ disciples that the gospel would be for all mankind. (Bible Gateway Matthew 15:21-28)

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

Susanna

Out of the female disciples of Jesus there is not much known about Susanna. She is only mentioned once in Scripture among a list of women who followed the Lord. These women were noted for having been healed from demon possession, sickness, and disease.

Out of gratitude, Susanna, and others, provided for the practical needs of Jesus and His disciples. As Jesus and His followers traveled about proclaiming God’s kingdom, they were supported and often accompanied by these women disciples.

“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women…Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” Luke 8:1-3

Joanna

Joanna is also included in the list of women who followed Jesus and supported His public ministry. She was a wealthy woman, her husband, Chuza, had a prestigious job as manager of Herod’s household. Joanna remained close to the Lord throughout, and was involved in the immediate events following His death.

On the first day of the week, Joanna went with some of the other female disciples of Jesus to visit His tomb. The women intended to anoint Jesus’ body for burial. But when they got there, they found the stone had already been rolled away from the entrance. It was then that they had an encounter with two angelic messengers who told them that Jesus had risen from the dead.

“When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” Luke 24:9-11

Mary Magdalene

Mary was a disciple of Jesus from the town of Magdala. She was often in the group of women who followed Jesus from town to town, as He proclaimed the good news of God’s kingdom.

Mary Magdalene was a woman who had been forgiven much, and cleansed of demons, consequently, she loved greatly!

Watching from a distance at the cross, Mary did not abandon the Lord. She was among the women who first found the empty tomb on resurrection day. And it is to Mary Magdalene that the resurrected Jesus first appeared. The Lord commissioned Mary to go and tell the rest of His disciples what had happened!

“Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.” John 20:18

Mary, the Mother of James the Younger

This female disciple of Jesus is identified through her children as Mary the mother of James the Younger, and Joseph. The women who followed Jesus, and supported His ministry in the gospels, were a diverse group. They included single women, widows, mothers, wealthy women, the rural poor, and even different nationalities. All of society was represented amongst Jesus’ female followers.

Some Bible scholars believe that Mary the mother of James, was the wife of Clopas. She is thought to be ‘the other Mary’ who accompanied Mary Magdalene to the burial of Jesus and the discovery of His resurrection. Certainly she was there at the cross…

“Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” Matthew 27:55-56

Salome

Salome was the wife of Zebedee, who had a successful fishing business. Their two sons James and John left the fishing business, to their father and the hired men, to become disciples of Jesus.

Salome was one of the women who followed Jesus right from the beginning of His public ministry. And she felt confident enough to approach the Lord to ask for a personal favor to promote her sons. But rather than rebuke, Jesus used the opportunity to teach all His disciples the kingdom principle of service.

By the end of Jesus’ ministry, Salome was listed among the women who had cared for His needs in Galilee. It was these women who refused to leave the crucifixion scene out of devotion to the Lord. Even after Jesus’ death, they were still looking to serve the Lord and honor Him.

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.” Mark 16:1

Peter’s Mother-in-Law

Peter was married to a believing wife and his mother-in-law lived with them. At the beginning of Jesus’ healing ministry, He went with some of His disciples to Peter’s house for a meal. Three out of the four gospels record this visit.

Peter’s mother-in-law was in bed ill with a fever, and Jesus was called on for help. He rebuked the fever, touched her hand, and raised her from the bed. She was immediately and miraculously healed.

“…and she got up and began to wait on him.” Matthew 8:15

Can Peter’s mother-in-law be described as one of the female disciples of Jesus? I believe she can. By faith, this woman received healing and her immediate response was to show her gratitude to the Lord through service. Matthew emphasizes that she waited on the Lord, and a characteristic of discipleship is the willingness to serve. As Peter reminded us many years later…

“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:9-10

The Sick Woman

Three of the gospels tell the story of a woman with outstanding faith. A woman who was an outcast and set apart from society because of her illness. For twelve years she had suffered bleeding and was regarded as unclean, and unable to go to the Temple.

This woman had spent all her money on doctors, trying to get treatment, but instead, she was getting worse. She thought to herself if only I could touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak I would be healed!

When her opportunity came, the sick woman reached out to Jesus in a crowd and touched His cloak – immediately she was healed. She hoped she could go unnoticed but Jesus knew that the Holy Spirit’s power had worked through Him.

“Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her,” Daughter your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mark 5:33-34

Holy fear, and remarkable faith, reveal this woman to be a true follower of Jesus. Her life was transformed and she was a living testimony to the Lord.

The Samaritan Woman

Jesus was resting by Jacob’s well in Samaria when He met a woman coming to draw water. What He did next surprised the woman and His disciples. Jesus engaged in conversation with a Samaritan woman.

This was shocking on two levels, firstly because the Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans and regarded them as unclean. Secondly, for a rabbi to teach or to discuss in depth with a lone woman, was counter-cultural.

But Jesus’ intimate knowledge of this woman, and her life, convinced her that He was a prophet. More than that, Jesus was reluctant to reveal who He was to His own people. But He revealed to this Samaritan woman that He was the promised Messiah!

The Samaritan woman hurried back to her village and immediately told everyone else about Jesus. Many people in her town came to believe in Jesus, initially because of the woman’s testimony. But then they came and sought out Jesus for themselves.

“They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” John 4:42

How Many Female Disciples Were There?

The definition of a disciple is one, who follows and spreads the teaching of another. It is more than being a pupil or a student, of studying and acquiring knowledge. A true disciple applies what they have learned and share their experience with others.

Near the end of His public ministry, Jesus was able to appoint seventy-two more disciples to go ahead of Him proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. This reveals that many followers of Jesus remain personally unrecognized and unrecorded in history. But they were there and had a part to play.

Scripture reveals that there were many female disciples of Jesus, but not how many. We are given a glimpse of some of these women who accepted the good news of the gospel and placed their faith in the Lord.

Their service and devotion are a witness of true discipleship. What is important to remember is that we are all valuable to God and known by Him. Irrespective of our race, age, gender, or social status, we have a rich heritage in Christ Jesus, and a place in God’s Kingdom.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:26-29

My prayer is that we too might be, not just believers or followers, but, true disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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A Free Printable - Bible Study resource, The Female Disciples of Jesus in The Gospels.
A Free Printable – The Female Disciples of Jesus in The Gospels.

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