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Reading between the lines: Jesus appearing to women

Those women may just have been lucky to get the resurrection news from the angel/s at the tomb, as they got to the tomb before the men. First in, best dressed. The early bird catches the worm.

But Jesus subsequently specifically appears to women before men, as recorded in Matthew, (the longer ending of Mark), and John. In Matthew, the women are running to tell the disciples and Jesus appears, greets them, and gives them a message for the brothers to meet him in Galilee (28.9). After the women see the angel at the tomb, the longer ending of Mark has Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene (16.9).

In Luke, the women are given the message by angels (24.5-7). Men also visit the tomb but they don't see the angels. Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus and to Simon (24.31, 34). The earlier meetings of Jesus and the women are not mentioned in Luke which is interesting as his gospel is characterised by his interest in women. All three synoptic gospels describe the angel/s appearing to women but not to men, even when the men are described as also going to the tomb.

The best known story is in John's gospel where Mary Magdalene then Peter and John visit the tomb but Jesus does not take the opportunity to appear to Peter and John. He waits till the men have returned to their homes (20.10) before appearing to Mary. This is not a case of early bird and worm, but seems to be a deliberate choice by Jesus to make Mary a first witness and messenger of the resurrection to the brothers (20.17).

There are many layers and resonances here. The lowly are lifted up. Those whose testimony is undervalued are made into accredited messengers. Eve's mistake, in her misunderstanding / being deceived concerning the tree of good and evil and offering the fruit to Adam, is reversed as Mary is trusted/officially commissioned to reliably take the good news to the brothers.

It is good for both women and men to reflect on Jesus' choices here. He continually surprises us all.


Jill Firth is a lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament at Ridley College Melbourne, and an organiser of the annual Evangelical Women in Academia conference. She relaxes by walking and reading.

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