Women in the Gospel of Mark

The late Alan Cole, in the introduction to his commentary on Mark has a section about women. I’d like to outline what he says and start off with a quote he writes at the end of the section, which is just as true today as when he wrote it.

[W]omen take their natural place as followers of Jesus alongside men, with no special comment, in this the first story of Jesus* and his earliest disciples. Mark is sometimes described as a ‘primitive’ gospel, but this attitude shows true Christian maturity and naturalness of approach, to which it is hard to feel that we have attained today, in spite of all our artificial striving for it. Perhaps the simplicity of the Spirit brings more balance than all the complicated theological argument on either side, with their ‘special pleading’, that we so often hear today.

* meaning “the earliest Christian gospel”

  • Jesus had a close group of women followers, several of whom are named in Mark — Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James and Joses, and Salome, for instance (Mark 15:40; 15:47; 16:1).
  • A young girl, daughter of Jairus, raised from the dead, is the first recorded miracle that Jesus performed (Mark 5:23). She was addressed as ‘talitha’, ‘child’ (Mark 5:41). The girl’s mother was called in to witness her resurrection along with her father which shows a “thoughtfulness and consideration for women rarely seen in the ancient world.”
  • On the way to the house of Jairus Jesus healed a woman of a long-standing hemorrhage. She was addressed as ‘daughter’ (Mark 5:34); also signifying she was saved and forgiven her sins. Her faith is singled out for praise by Jesus (Mark 5:34). Mark records these as matter of fact without comment.
  • Jesus was identified as ‘Mary’s son’.
  • Jesus saw women and men equally as God’s creation (Mark 10:6) and demanded that women, as much as men, should be protected in marriage, disagreeing with the Pharisees interpretation of the law of Moses regarding divorce (Mark 10:11).
  • Jesus rebuked the disciples when they tried to deny mothers from bringing their children to Him for a blessing.
  • Jesus saw the giving up of sisters, mother or wife as great a sacrifice for the kingdom as giving up brothers or father (Mark 10:29).
  • Jesus seemed to have special concern for mothers with young children who would be living during the trials of the end times (Mark 13:17).
  • A woman anointed Jesus’ head with costly perfume at a meal that took place at Simon the leper’s house (Mark 14:3). “Wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed.” (Mark 14:9)
  • The women disciples stayed and watched Jesus while He was on the cross (and some say women are emotionally weaker?).
  • Women disciples were witnesses to both his death and resurrection even though Jewish law wouldn’t accept the testimony of women as evidence.

Addendum: Coincidentally, there have been quite a few posts on women’s issues lately. I just want to be clear in that this post isn’t in response to any of them. I just happened to have this in the hopper for a while. I will say though that in his actions and words, Jesus was a feminist as far as advocating equality for women without needing to explicitly say so, as Mark demonstrates. It should be obvious.


Photo © Jeff at Scripture Zealot

6 Responses to “Women in the Gospel of Mark”

  1. 1 Joel (Polycarp)

    Another excellent point, Jeff. I have been wanting to do a post on the women in the Gospel, how they are pictured rather strongly compared to woman today. I mean, it was Anna who proclaimed Christ first. It was the woman who braved the Romans to go to the Tomb, etc…

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    That part in Luke about Simeon and Anna is one of my favorite stories in the whole Bible.

  3. 3 Derek Ashton


    It’s interesting to see all of this listed out. Sometimes you don’t realize how much on one particular topic is contained in a book, until you take an inventory.

    There’s no doubt that Jesus granted women equal status under the law. That was amazing, and rather bold. On the other hand, He chose 12 men to lead the Church, leading me to believe that leadership is ultimately the man’s role. Not that a man’s role is greater than a woman’s, just different.

    I don’t think I would call Jesus a feminist, with all the baggage that term carries nowadays. But I get your point.

    Thanks for the insights.

    Derek Ashton

  4. 4 Scripture Zealot

    Derek I agree with everything you say. I didn’t want to comment on those other aspects you mentioned and leave this post it as it stands. But I believe one can have those views of leadership and still have a “high view” of women.

  5. 5 Derek Ashton

    Amen to that. We might say it is the “highest possible” view of women, because it is God’s view. Sadly, the feminists have degraded women by making them more like men.

    If you’ve ever seen the old movie about Peter Marshall, “A Man Called Peter,” you may recall there is a great speech by Catherine Marshall where she explains the view that women and men should have different roles. I’ve never heard it put better than she put it there.

    I just looked and discovered someone posted the scene on Youtube. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure.


  6. 6 Scripture Zealot

    Thanks for the link.

  1. 1 Feminism in the Gospel of Mark | The Church of Jesus Christ
  2. 2 Feminism in the Gospel of Mark | Joel L. Watts
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