Two British female theologians claim to have discovered “new evidence” suggesting Christian history “airbrushed” the stories of Jesus’ female disciples. While they did not explicitly claim the Bible itself had been altered to remove examples of female leadership in the church, some of their remarks seemed to suggest it.
Theologians Helen Bond and Joan Taylor made their claims in a documentary — “Jesus’s Female Disciples: The New Evidence” — played on Britain’s Channel 4 on Sunday. “Bond and Taylor both said they were appalled — but not surprised — to discover evidence that the female disciples were airbrushed from Christian history,” Britain’s The Sun reported.
Bond, a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh, and Taylor, a professor of Christian origins at King’s College London, mostly cited evidence from the Bible, but also suggested that key details may have been removed from the Gospels and the Epistles in the New Testament.
The New Testament does mention all sorts of women following Jesus and taking important roles in the early Church. Bond and Taylor cited Luke 8, which reads that Jesus travelled “through every city and village” preaching about God, The Times reported.
“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,” the passage continues. “These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”
Bond noted, “They are actually bankrolling [Jesus’ ministry], providing money and resources, so these are wealthy, high-status women lending their support and money to the Jesus movement.”
Bond also emphasized Salome, the wife of Zebedee and mother of the disciples James and John, who was present at the Crucifixion. She also mentioned one of the few instances of new evidence the documentary presented, the Horvat Qasra, a chapel in Israel believed to date from the first century, which has the words “Saint Salome” inscribed in Greek.
Bond and Taylor noted that names such as Joanna, Susanna, and Salome are not as prominent within Christian teaching as those of the 12 male apostles Jesus singled out, but they should be acknowledged as key disciples nonetheless.
Women did indeed play a key role in Jesus’ ministry — most notably being the first witnesses to the Resurrection. Indeed, the Gospel accounts of women being the first to see the risen Jesus Christ after His Crucifixion are a key argument in favor of the New Testament’s veracity, since women’s testimony was not considered valid enough for a court of law at the time.
The fact that the Gospels record culturally untrustworthy witnesses being the first to see Jesus suggests that the disciples who wrote these texts did not invent the story, as this fact would have invited ridicule at the time.
Even so, Bond and Taylor went far beyond the historical and biblical evidence in interpreting Luke 10. In this passage, Jesus appointed 72 (sometimes translated as 70) disciples, sending them out “two by two” to heal the sick and share Jesus’s message about the kingdom of God.
“That phrase ‘two by two’ reminds you of Noah’s Ark and the idea that it is a male and a female,” Bond said. “We are suggesting that Jesus has a much larger group of disciples and that includes women as well, pairs of males and females together.”
There is absolutely no evidence for this interpretation, and there is evidence against it. Bond noted that centuries later, Bishop Dorotheus of Tyre wrote a history of these 72, suggesting they were all male bishops. While Dorotheus may not be entirely accurate, Bond did not present evidence to contradict his history, or at least she did not present any such evidence recorded by The Sun or The Times.
In her recent book “Gender Roles and the People of God: Rethinking What We Were Taught about Men and Women in the Church,” University of Denver Professor Alice Matthews brought up various biblical evidence suggesting women could be considered apostles and leaders in the church. Her meticulous research and powerful arguments never once suggested that the 72 Jesus sent out were pairs of men and women.
Women did indeed play critical roles in Jesus’s ministry and in the early Church, and perhaps Christians did not emphasize their contributions as much as they should have. That said, suggesting that women made up half of the 72 Jesus sent out in Luke 10 is stretching beyond interpretation of the text and moving into twisting the Bible in favor of an agenda.
Whether or not Bond and Taylor intended to say the Bible is incomplete or brushed over women’s roles in the church, their remarks suggested the Gospel writers did a disservice to the 36 women among the 72 disciples Jesus sent out. Scholars who presumably know how reliable the New Testament is should be ashamed of ever suggesting such a thing.