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Published Date: June 2, 2023

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Women in Scripture and Mission: Joanna

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Joanna, The Counter-Cultural Reality of Discipleship

Joanna accompanied Jesus throughout his ministry as he taught her to understand the importance of his upcoming life, death, and resurrection. We first meet Joanna in Luke 8:1–3 as one of a large group traveling with Jesus that also included several other women. And Jesus was both “proclaiming” and “bringing” his message of the good news of the kingdom of God. Why was he both “proclaiming” and “bringing” his message? Joanna and the women give us a clue. Not only had they heard the message, but they had personally experienced it—they had all been healed from various afflictions. Jesus did not just speak a good message; he brought it in practical ways so that his followers would know that wherever he was, there too was the kingdom of God.

The book of Luke describes Jesus’s ongoing teaching about the kingdom of God, which the Old Testament described as a time when wrongs would be made right. In fact, just before we meet Joanna, Jesus had just quoted Isaiah 61 and announced he was inaugurating the kingdom of God’s arrival (Luke 4:17–22). His later parables describe how this kingdom would grow into a large reality, like yeast transforming dough or a tiny mustard seed growing into a tree (Luke 13:18–20). The healing of these women disciples demonstrated the first fruits of the kingdom of God.[1] Much greater things were yet to come.

An Aristocrat Living as a Commoner

Joanna’s life provides evidence of the transformative power of the kingdom of God. As the wife of Chuza, Herod’s manager, Joanna moved in aristocratic circles. Yet her actions with Jesus were unprecedented—an aristocratic woman who willingly associated and traveled with commoners from the far regions of Nazareth.[2] Ben Witherington describes Joanna as someone of obvious wealth and prominence, yet “[t]he Gospel breaks down class and economic divisions and reconciles men and women from all walks of life into one community.”[3]

Wait, Women Supporting Men—Isn’t That Backwards?

Not only did Joanna go against all class and cultural expectations of her day, but she also used her own wealth to support Jesus and his ministry through a system called patronage (Luke 8:3).

Roman society had a complex and long-standing system of patronage that regulated the relationship between the upper class and the lower class. Members of the upper class were expected to patronize (support in exchange for service and loyalty) members of the lower class. People who grew up in the upper class learned that they had a responsibility to care for certain individuals from the lower class. These individuals were called “clients.” The clients were bound to the upper-class “patron” in a mutually beneficial relationship. The patron would give funds or legal help, and the client would run errands or support the patron in running for office. Having many clients bestowed honor on a Roman patron, and honor was important in Roman society.

Both women and men in Roman society played the roles of patron and client. Wealthy Roman women, though they couldn’t run for formal political office, still had influence, and so these women had clients. Wealthy women patrons could decide to fund a temple project or erect a statue.[4]

Joanna used her culture’s patronage system to support men in ways that today’s Christian complementarians often assign to a man’s role and responsibility.[5] But unlike the surrounding culture, Joanna committed herself to serving Jesus, just as he had served her.[6]

Like Joanna, many other women not only provided the financial backing to Jesus’s ministry but also asserted their political influence to protect the fledgling Jesus movement (Luke 8:3).[7] After Jesus’s death and resurrection, this pattern became even more widespread. Women such as Lydia and Phoebe used their financial and political power to protect and promote the flourishing of the young church.

Jesus Purposefully Discipled Women to Spread the Truth

Luke repeatedly tells us that during Jesus’s interrogation, crucifixion, and resurrection, a group of women were always there, watching (Luke 23:27–28, 49, 55–56). Finally, early on the first day of the week after Jesus’s crucifixion, these women went to prepare his body. Three of them are mentioned by name, and one of them is Joanna (Luke 24:1–10). These women were the first to learn that Jesus had risen from the dead. The angel of the Lord explained that Jesus had been guiding, discipling, and teaching them throughout his ministry so that they would understand this moment. These women were not just bystanders who overheard conversations with men. No, Jesus had specifically taught them. As the angel said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to the hands of sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again” (Luke 24: 5–7 NRSVue, emphasis in italics mine).[8] It goes on to basically say, “and then everything clicked for the women.” Not only had Joanna been healed by Jesus, accompanied him as he traveled, and provided for him out of her own resources, but Jesus had also been teaching her the meaning behind his death and resurrection. The angel wanted to ensure the women understood it so that they could spread the good news. And they were indeed the first apostles—a word that means sent out to share the good news.

Unsurprisingly their news was met with disbelief by the fearful disciples, who dismissed their story as women’s gossip. As Luke recounts, “but these words seemed to them an idle tale and they did not believe them” (24:11). Only Peter dared hope they might be telling the truth, and jumped up to run and see if it was true (24:12). Perhaps he noticed how peculiarly Jesus had empowered women, and suspected that their story sounded like an authentic Jesus move: to tell the most important news to society’s least important—women.

A Woman’s Firsthand Testimony Still Teaching Us Today

By the time the book of Luke was written, Jesus’s followers had begun to understand Jesus’s continuously counter-cultural ways of operating. And Luke understood that women were integral to Jesus’s good news. Luke tells us at the start of his gospel that he intended to write a “well-ordered account.” He notes that this meant recording the events “just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:2). The fact that he names so many women, including Joanna, speaks to the many women he must have interviewed for their stories.[9] Luke’s diligent reporting of these women’s accounts has allowed them to teach believers the meaning of Jesus’s death and resurrection for 2000 years.

Additional Resources:

Easter Morning by Jeff Miller

Who Supported Jesus Out of Their Own Resources? by anonymous guest author

They Had Followed Him from Galilee: The Female Disciples by Angela Ravin-Anderson

Wealthy Women in the First-Century Roman World and in the Church by Margaret Mowczko

Jesus’ Female Disciples . . . and Why They Weren’t Among the “Twelve” by Tammi Kaufman

Junia: Outstanding Among the Apostles by Allison Quient


[1] To read more about women as disciples, see Jesus’ Female Disciples. . . And Why They Weren’t Among the “Twelve,” by Tammi Kaufman.

[2] Angela Ravin-Anderson, “They Had Followed Him from Galilee: The Female Disciples,” in Priscilla Papers 28, 42 (Spring 2014): 6.

[3] Ben Witherington III, “On the Road with Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and Other Disciples: Luke 8:1-3,” in Zeitschrif fur Neutestementliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der alteren Kirche 70, 3-4: 246.

[4] Leanne M. Dzubinski and Anneke H. Stasson, Women in the Mission of the Church: Their Opportunities and Obstacles Throughout Christian History (Ada: Baker Academic, 2021), 24.

[5] An anonymous guest author to Mutuality made this point—that the women supported Jesus in a way Complementarians expect men to support women. Guest Author, “Who Supported Jesus Out of Their Own Resources?Mutuality, April 22, 2010.

[6] Ravin-Anderson, “They Had Followed Him from Galilee,” 6.

[7] Our English translations often miss the fact that this verse is referencing many “women.” The Greek word for “other” in this verse is feminine, meaning “other women.”

[8] Jeff Miller first alerted me to Jesus’s specific teaching of the women as explained by the angel in his article Easter Morning. Jeff Miller, “Easter Morning,” Mutuality, April 6, 2012.

[9] Witherington, “On the Road with Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and Other Disciples,” 248.