Women & The Last Verses of Mark’s Gospel: Studies in Mark, Pt. 90

After Jesus’ crucifixion, it is noted in Mk. 15.40-1 that: “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed Jesus and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.” Of many of the verses in Mark’s Gospel, I think few have been overlooked so much as these. Why? Well, because at the very beginning of the story, all we see is Jesus calling “men” to come and follow Him. Indeed, there is not even an inkling that He has women disciples who are trekking with Him as well.

Thus, when we get to Mk. 15.40-1, if we decide not to gloss over it but rather, to let it sink in, we are forced to stop and rethink matters. To be sure, when we look closer, women are prominent throughout Jesus’ encounters. Could it be such women that were or became His followers? Peter’s mother-in-law, whom He healed (1.30; what about Peter’s wife?), the bleeding woman (5.25), the Syrophoenician (7.27), the woman who broke ointment over Him (14.5), etc.? To this question, all I can answer is “maybe”. Of course, the text is not clear but they very well could have accompanied Mary the mother of James and of Joses, Mary Magdalene and Salome at some point (whether before, in or after Galilee).

Moving on, one of the things that interests me even more about these women is the fact that in Mk. 16, some of them are the same ladies who approach the tomb and find it empty. Mk. 16.1 says: “When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.” If we read the next 7 verses, we find out that the man dressed in linen at the tomb, tells them to “go” and tell the other disciples and Peter that Jesus has been raised and that He will meet them again in Galilee.

Now, I still haven’t reached a solid verdict on the ending of Mark’s story (and to be honest, I’m not sure that I need to!) but in perpetually reading and re-reading it, a tripartite thought has been settling in my mind for a while: 1) If we are forced in chapter 15 to reflect on the fact that these women have been Jesus’ disciples from the beginning of His formal ministry in Galilee, and 2) If these women are told to share with the other disciples that Jesus has risen and that they are to meet Him there, then 3) Wouldn’t this suggest not merely that we should go back and read the story again (as many scholars have suggested) but also that we should go back and now read the story again realizing that these women have been key figures in The Jesus Movement from the very beginning?

This also leads me to ask more questions: A) If women were disciples and sharers of the Good News right alongside Jesus and the others, isn’t it problematic to suggest otherwise for them today? B) In today’s world, shouldn’t men and women be on the same plane when it comes to sharing the Gospel? C) Why have we failed to acknowledge the women that are mentioned here in Mk. 15? D) Why have we failed to continually read and re-read the story without these women in view?

Finally, it has been noted by many scholars that women in the ancient world were not often allowed to give testimony while at other times, even if they were allowed, their testimony carried very little weight. Of course, this may lend credence to the fact that the author of Mk. is telling the truth about what he’s writing (e.g. if he had the witness of men to the empty tomb first, he would have surely used that because it would have been more credible; he would have not just fabricated something that would have immediately been viewed as non-credible). If this is the case, then E) Why in the world are we still questioning the credibility of women and their witness in the Christian culture of today?

Maybe it’s time we take Mark’s advice and read this story with new eyes and hearts, new eyes and hearts that allow us to see the great role that women played, have played and will continue to play in The Jesus Movement!


  1. Hey Michael, I agree with the observation that the role of women as the first witnesses and preachers of the "good news" that Jesus is risen supports full equality in the ministry. As for the ending issue, at this point I like the idea that Mark ends with the women remaining silent (16:8) because he wants the readers to go out and preach the resurrection. It seems to go along with the theme of silence about the Messiahship of Jesus throughout the Gospel, though the reader always knows clearly who Jesus is (1:1).

  2. My best guess for why the women leave silent and scared is that the rest of the original Mark is missing. But we may never know for sure.

    I don't think the text uses these words, but it's significant (I think) that these women are the first "apostles" of the risen Christ (sent to the 12), and "evangelists" of the resurrection.

  3. Mike,
    It looks like we agree on alot here. I'm not so sure about the connections you find regarding silence, although, you may be right on target. It does seem more likely to me, however, that regardless of any silence one find here or throughout the story, that in the end, the good news of the resurrection is still to be proclaimed by all (including the women & disciples, after all, we wouldn't have the story had they not proclaimed it, so, I wonder if your view takes "too much" of a literary approach?). It is apparent to me that Peter and the other disciples, as well as us, are to share this message alongside the women.

  4. Tim,
    Why do you associate the silence with a missing ending? What's the connection there?

    Also, while those words are not used, I too find it incredibly significant that the women are the first to experience the empty tomb and the first who are urged to tell about it (to men, nonetheless; funny how that has been flipped on its head throughout the years!!!).