“And it came to pass afterward, that He went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with Him, And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto Him of their substance” (Luke 8:1-3).
With these verses we have the first reference to women who accompanied Jesus Christ and partook in His earthly ministry. Unlike the “twelve” there is no narrative of the women’s call to become disciples, nor of their being sent on any mission. There is no record of how they first came to know the Lord Jesus. All that is preserved is that some of them had been healed of devils and infirmities.
Mary Magdalene appears in every one of the Gospels as one of the Galilean women who watched Jesus’ crucifixion, saw where He was buried, and returned to the tomb on the first day of the week.1 With the exception of John 19:25, she is always the first mentioned, indicating her leadership among the women. Mary Magdalene has been confused in Western tradition with several other anonymous women: the woman who wept over Jesus’ feet, demonstrating her great love (Luke 7:36-50); the woman who anointed Jesus for burial (Mark 14:3-9; Matt. 26:6-13); and the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11).2 The idea that she was a prostitute3 has no basis in the Bible.
What Luke 8:2 asserts is that seven devils had gone out of her. Seven is a symbolic number for fullness or completeness. What Luke states is that she had been completely given over to the devils which possessed her. Luke, in underscoring the gravity of Mary’s condition, is more intent on highlighting the greatness of Jesus’ power of healing than he is on telling us something about Mary. His focus is on how completely (indicated by the number seven) she had experienced the liberating power of God. This results in her impressive presence and leadership among the faithful followers of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Next on the list is Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward. Like most biblical women she is identified by her relationship to a man. As the wife of Herod’s steward, Joanna enjoyed a certain degree of wealth, status, and influence. She is named again in Luke 24:10 as one of the women with Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb. Susanna is mentioned only here, so we have no other information about her. Along with Mary, Joanna, and Susanna are a whole lot of nameless women (verse 2 and 3 of our text show the women in view here).
What is clear from our main text is that these women used their money to help fund Jesus’ ministry. The use of the word “their” in Luke 8:3 is the Greek word “autais” which is a feminine plural word. It can only mean that the resources belonged to the women. Hence, Luke is presenting Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and the unnamed women, as wealthy patrons to Jesus’ ministry. There are a host of well-to-do believers in Luke and Acts: Levi (Luke 5:27-32); Zachaeus, the chief tax collector (Luke 19:1-10); Barnabas, a property owner (Acts 4:36-37); an Ethiopian eunuch who was a court official in charge of the entire treasury of the queen of the Ethiopians (Acts 8:27); Mary whose house was a gathering place of the disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12); Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, a luxury good (Acts 16:14); prominent women in Thessalonica (Acts 17:4); Priscilla and Aquila, who hosted Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:1-11), and who had the means to travel with him to Ephesus and establish a new church there (Acts 18:18-28).
The fact that Luke records all of this information is very important for a few reasons. First, monetary support is needed for any ministry that ever existed. Jesus and the twelve needed monetary support to carry on an active ministry that was dependent on the generosity of others. Without money the ability to travel would be gone. It is interesting to note that all the individuals Luke mentions have wealth. The majority of those who are active donators to Jesus’ ministry happen to be women.
Second, Luke mentions many women in relationship to Paul’s ministry. Again, Paul was dependent upon the support of patrons for his ministry to become what it did (Phil. 4:15 is a good example).
Third, it is this consistent support which allows churches to be established. This fact is true everywhere in Scripture and is therefore interdispensational.
We who understand the Word of God “rightly divided” could learn an awful lot from these Galilean women. Oftentimes we are content to sit around and expect others to take care of our financial responsibilities. Those who sit by and do nothing are the same who wonder why Grace churches do not have large numbers of people, nice buildings, Sunday School materials, television shows, etc. The reason is that all ministries are dependent upon capital, and the generosity of those who understand what Jesus Christ our Lord has accomplished for us.
Although living under a different dispensational setting, Mary, Joanna, and Susanna understood what was accomplished for them. Even today these women teach us the responsibility of ministering to others through their wealth. What lessons these women teach to all of us! Can you imagine what we could accomplish if we had the same heart as these three dear women of God did.
Failure to respond as these women, and all the other individuals Luke mentions in Luke and Acts, will only ensure that we will fail. Churches will close, the youth will leave, materials in print will go out of print and ministries will be scaled back or cease to exist.
Under the law, in which these three women functioned, God required a tithe from Israel to provide for the priesthood among the tribe of Levi. A tithe was a tax of 10% (Num. 18:21). Another 10% went to the treasury of Israel and was typically used for the keeping of the Feast days (Neh. 10:37-38). Every third year God ordered another tithe of 10% to be paid to the orphans and widows (Deut. 14:28-29). If an individual sold his or her possessions, rather than tithing them, he was instructed to give an additional 5% since he would be paying in cash (Lev. 27:31).
It was over and above this three-tiered tithing system that Mary, Joanna, and Susanna gave. This indeed speaks of patrons who loved the message they were supporting.
The question we should ask then is: What does God expect us to give today? In 1 Corinthians 16:1-4, Paul instructed the Corinthian believers to “lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him.” That leaves the decision up to each individual to settle the amount for himself or herself according to their own feeling of wealth. 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 tells us that the saints gave liberally even when in deep poverty, but it does not give us a fixed percentage to give. Giving under grace is between God and the individual giver; we are to donate according to the value we put on the message we are supporting.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).
Presenting your body is giving your whole self. It is turning over your entire being, everything you are (and have) to God. The synonyms for “reasonable” are logical, sensible, rational, intelligent, prudent, and sound. Why is it such?
“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
“Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men” (1 Cor. 7:23).
As Romans 12:1 tells us what God expects, verse 2 explains how to accomplish it.
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:2).
In this verse we have a “be not” and a “be.” We are told to not let the world mold or shape us. Be different! We are no longer slaves to sin, but we are alive unto God through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. We should allow Him the control of every area of our lives, including our wealth.
Three women under the Law understood the value of what Jesus accomplished in their lives under the Dispensation of Law. Let us begin to understand what God has accomplished through the shed blood of Christ in the Grace Dispensation. My Dad used to tell me, “You can always tell where a man’s heart is by where he spends his resources.” I fear far too many of us have our hearts in this world. Let us learn what three Galilean women knew. Our hearts and our resources belong to Jesus Christ!
- Matthew 27:56,61; 28:1-10; Mark 15:40,47; 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-12; John 19:25; 20:1-18.
- See, for an example of this misinformation, V. McNabb St. Mary Magdalen [London: Burns Oates & Washburn, 1942]; Carolyn M. and Joseph A. Grassi Mary Magdalene and the Women in Jesus’ Life [Kansas City, MO: Sheed and Ward Publishing, 1986].
- The belief that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute stems from confusing her with the woman in Luke 7:36-50, who has commonly been thought to have been a prostitute. However, it is not entirely clear that that woman was a prostitute either.