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Holly Carey – Women Who Do [Review]

Women Who DoRounding Out the Shape of the Gospel

A Review of

Women Who Do: Female Disciples in the Gospels
Holly Carey

Paperback: Eerdmans, 2023
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Reviewed by Noemi Ortiz

Against the male-centric view of Jesus’s disciples, Holly Carey’s Women Who Do positively emerges as a counterbalance to the understanding of discipleship. This well-researched and insightful book presents a corrective analysis that shows women as faithful disciples. More importantly, women put their faith in action. The author’s purpose is to produce a cohesive work that shows how women fit into wider narratives that showcase this faith in action. Although we do not have first-hand accounts written by women, in this comprehensive work, we can clearly glean that women had a huge presence and impact in the gospel narratives and in the Acts of the Apostles.

One of the book’s primary tasks is to expand the vision of discipleship: Who is a disciple?  It is important to note the distinction between the terms apostle and disciple.  An apostle is one who is sent out. Jesus specifically chose the twelve apostles that he sent out for his purposes. In addition to apostles, Jesus had many other disciples. Because the tendency has been to equate the term disciples with the twelve male apostles that Jesus chose, the result has been a lack of recognition for women. Women were not only among the disciples but were, in fact, disciples themselves. As the author well notes, “women were everywhere in Jesus’s ministry.” Even further, the female disciples proved to be formidable disciples despite cultural limitations placed upon them. They were examples of putting faith into action. Through numerous examples in the gospel narratives, the women are the very essence of discipleship.

At the center of the gospels is the figure of Jesus, who was revolutionary because of his identity and ultimate purpose. Yet amid that monumental task, Jesus intentionally elevates women, welcoming them as his devout followers. Jesus praised women for putting their faith in action. This concept connects to the Hebrew word shema, which means ‘to hear’ but it also implies action. Hearing and doing are the same thing. And women practiced this combination often. Furthermore, in keeping with being true to himself, Jesus does not treat women as second-class citizens like the rest of first-century society. Instead, Jesus recognizes the intrinsic worth and potential of women, as some of the women end up as his followers.

Through a close reading of the texts, the author prominently shows how each gospel writer presents women in their respective narratives. In Mark’s gospel, women become the exemplars of discipleship due to their following Jesus’s example, while their male counterparts are found lacking. The gospel of Matthew is unique in its inclusion of women in his genealogy.  These women—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah— overcame obstacles and demonstrated actions consistent with their convictions. While the women are not present in the geneaology of Luke, he begins his own narrative by presenting two notable women– Mary and Elizabeth– in the first two chapters. Furthermore, Luke stresses the role of women being the first witnesses to Jesus’s resurrection, and this is particularly notable since women’s role as witnesses in the first century were dubious. John’s gospel cements women’s discipleship, as he shows the women being models for discipleship and for deeper spiritual understanding.

In the Book of Acts, Carey gives rich examples that continue to show the presence of female disciples.  By changing the term “mathētḗs” (disciple) to adelphoi (brothers and sisters), Luke emphasizes that women were indeed included as followers of Jesus. This resonates with Paul’s declaration in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This liberating environment allows for women to fully embrace their calling in ministry. Throughout Acts, women continue to be active, even evolving from disciples to partners in ministry with men. Tabitha, Lydia, and Priscilla become leaders in their communities—collectively, they produce good works, acts of charity and hospitality. In addition, Priscilla is a co-worker in the faith with the apostle Paul.

Apart from their actions, there are certain qualities that women demonstrate when they interact with Jesus.  First, they seek to understand. They do not claim to know it all; rather there is an openness and vulnerability that allows for Jesus to minister to them. One of the most illuminating moments occurs in Martha’s dialogue with Jesus. This moment allows for her to confess: “Yes, Lord…I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:27). In addition, the women exhibit a tenacious devotion. The women are present at the crucifixion of Jesus and still seek after him even at his gravesite.  They continue to follow him. Their presence testifies to their faithfulness. Consequently, women experience the privilege of being the first to witness Jesus’s resurrection.

One thing to perhaps warn against (not so much in this book but the possible assumption in general) is perhaps the tendency to pick a gender side, such as who got it right?  The author does point out that the female disciples, through their own actions, often had the correct idea of being a disciple rather than the men. This is, of course, uplifting and encouraging for women. Yet it is important to note that women are not perfect; they have their ups and downs just as men. I believe that approaching a significant study like this requires an open mind and heart. Instead of comparing men and women, a healthy approach would be to appreciate what both genders bring to the table of true discipleship.

Women Who Do offers an expansive view of women disciples in the gospel narratives and in the beginnings of post-resurrection ministry in Acts. God has called a people—men and women—to follow him. Women in the gospel narratives did not simply sit quietly in the pews, being passive observers of what was going on around them.  No! These women beautifully exercised their faith, taking up the shield of faith and walking in action, consequently opening doors for other women. My hope is that works such as these might be valuable tools in broadening perspectives of discipleship in churches and in ministry.

Noemi Ortiz

Noemi Ortiz holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, and a Master of Arts in Apologetics degree from Houston Baptist University. Her primary area of interest is aesthetics. Find her online at: styledinsplendor.com

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