Is Luke’s Gospel the Record of Female Disciples’ Testimony About Jesus?
New evidence from Richard Bauckham on role of women in Luke’s Gospel
Luke’s Gospel is unique for many reasons. A recent theory claims to identify evidence that Jesus’ female disciples were the primary source of this Gospel. This article looks at a literary device first century authors used to identify their sources. New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham argues in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses that Luke uses this device to identify female disciples, such as Joanna, as his key source.
It is common to argue that the four Gospels in the New Testament were anonymous. I’ve looked at this argument in more detail here.
Formally, Luke’s Gospel was anonymous since the author did not identify himself in the body of the text. However, the author writes to a particular person (Theophilus, Luke 1:3) — so it’s unlikely he was unknown to early readers. The early manuscripts unanimously identify Luke as the author in their titles.
Luke began his Gospel highlighting the importance of those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning. Bauckham points out this was a standard view of historiography in the first century. Biographies, where possible, were expected to be based on eyewitness accounts.
Luke did not directly identify his sources — not unusual in a first century biography. Luke likely used Mark’s Gospel as a source. There are several sections where these texts are identical.
However, it was common in first century biographies to provide obvious allusions to primary witnesses. Richard Bauckham, Professor Emeritus at the University of St Andrews, identified a literary device used in Mark, Luke and John — an inclusio that pinpoints key sources.
For example, in Mark’s Gospel, the apostle Peter is the first disciple mentioned at the start of Jesus’ ministry (Mark 1:16–18) and is also the final disciple at the end (Mark 16:7). Bauckham argues this is a literary device to indicate that the section within this inclusio is based on Peter’s eyewitness testimony. This is consistent with the earliest manuscripts and external data about Mark’s sources.
Luke’s Gospel contains this same inclusio (Peter is the first and last mentioned disciple). This is consistent with Luke using Peter’s testimony in Mark. But there is a further inclusio contained within the Petrine inclusio.
The inclusio of the female disciples
The female disciples are mentioned towards the end of all the Gospels. They were primary witnesses to Jesus’ empty tomb and his early resurrection appearances. However, only Luke’s Gospel refers to these female disciples earlier on, with the Twelve (Jesus’ closest disciples), in Galilee:
The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (Luke 8:1–3, NIV)
Joanna, Susanna, and many other female disciples witnessed Jesus’ ministry from the beginning. All other Gospels name the women much later in their narratives (e.g. Mark 15:40; Matthew 20:20). Joanna and Susanna are not named in any other Gospel.
Luke’s Gospel reiterates that these female disciples had “come with Jesus from Galilee” and witnessed his body placed in a tomb (Luke 23:55, NIV). The angel again reminded the women of Jesus’ Galilean ministry:
“He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24:6–8, NIV)
The women are the final named disciples except for Peter. This is not the case in any of the other Gospels.
Consistent with Bauckham’s inclusio theory, Luke’s Gospel offers a different perspective. Luke rarely referred to the twelve in material not derived from Mark.
His narrative focused on a wider group of disciples instead (Luke 6:17; 8:1–3; 10:1–20; 19:37; 23:49; 24:9, 33). The only male disciple named, other than the twelve, was Cleopas.
Is Luke’s Gospel the only New Testament Gospel to focus on the perspective of female disciples? Although the data aren’t definitive, there is a logical suggestion that this may be the case.
The pronounced role of women with Jesus from the beginning, is clearer in Luke than in any other Gospel. His ending also offered interesting clues. Matthew, Mark, and John name the women at the cross. But Luke did not. He waited until 24:10.
…it is surely significant that near the end of this inclusio Luke (24:6) reminds his readers that they have been disciples of Jesus attending to Jesus’ teaching throughout his narrative since the opening of the inclusio in 8:2–3. The implication is surely that Luke owed some of his special traditions to one (most likely Joanna) or more than one of them. (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, p131)