“Many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee while ministering to Him. Among them was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Mt. 27:55-56 NASB).
Our words are very important. Therefore, why do we continue to make a distinction when using the term ‘disciple’ when preaching and teaching from the gospels? It may not be intentional, but when women are referred to as only ‘women’ and men are referred to as ‘disciples,’ the implication is that the women who were following Jesus were not as important as the men. Do we perform an injustice by not referring to women in the gospels as disciples? Throughout the gospels, women are always involved in the ministry of Jesus. Just in the Gospel of Matthew we see that Peter’s mother-in law served Jesus (Mt. 8:14-15), a woman anointed Jesus (Mt. 26:6-13), women were present at Jesus’ crucifixion and burial (Mt. 27), and women were the first to preach about his resurrection (Mt. 28). Additionally, in Luke, we see that women were following Jesus along with the twelve (Lk. 8:1-3), and Mary was seated at the Lord’s feet (Lk. 10:38-42). Martina S. Gnadt writes, “Although these women in Matthew are of central importance for understanding what the discipleship called for by Jesus entails, they go for the most part unnamed and are not included in the group of ‘disciples'” [“Gospel of Matthew: Jewish-Christian Churches in Opposition to the Pax Romana” in Feminist Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012), 623].
Since the gospel accounts clearly illustrate that women were disciples of Jesus, it behooves us to use appropriate language in our teaching and preaching that speaks to this truth. Perhaps you believe that this issue is insignificant. What percentage of people in your congregation are women? Fifty percent? What message are they receiving when pastors and leaders speak of only men in the Bible as disciples? Does this not promote a theology of patriarchy? Are we incorrectly implying that Jesus did not value women as much as men? These women who followed Jesus, demonstrated what it meant to be faithful disciples. Let us in turn speak truthfully and faithfully about their lives by acknowledging them as disciples too.