John's Gospel: Women

Symbolism of women within John's Gospel and key quotes

HideShow resource information

Introduction to women essay

Intro quote: "In both Pagan and Jewish society women were considered to be less intelligent than men. In politics and religioys affairs they had almost no role to play." (Vardy and Mills)

  • Women play a very important role in the ministry of Jesus, John always shows them in a positive way.
  • Women are much quicker to realise who Jesus is and to show their faith in him than the male disciples.
  • John regards women believers as of equal importance to the 12 disciples. John believed in equality.
  • Unlike the synoptic writers John showed women in a more prominent way. Barrett observed this, "John intended to bind the Church to apostolic witness but in other words leave it free"
  • Throughout John's Gospel, Jesus has many interactions with woman which show their significance:State two events..
1 of 9

Jesus' Mother Mary

  • Within the 4th Gospel she is never named and she appears twice
  • She is there at the first sign and she told Jesus, "they have no wine", showing her as observant and important to initiating Jesus’ ministry, being at the wedding with no wine would destroy the host’s honour, the fact that she asks him to help spares the host of any embarrassment, by taking the chance to get Jesus to start his ministry, she works as a catalyst. Grassi suggests that, "Mary is seen as a witness and a disciple of the power and authority of Jesus."
  • Jesus replies, referring to her as "woman" which was a title of respect meaning Eve, he then reluctantly turned the water into wine.
  • She clearly has the authority at the wedding when she tells servants to do anything that Jesus asks.
  • A symbolic character who witnessed the commencement and fulfillment of Jesus' ministry.She bore witness to the accomplishment of the Divine plan (on cross). At Cana she witnessed the blood and water flow from his side, both her and the beloved disiple John stand equal! Showing Mary's significance.
  • Marsh suggests that, Jesus' mother is symbolic of Judaism itself, "Mary, particularly since she is not named, maybe intended to refer not only to the Lord's mother, but to Judaism in whose womb Jesus was conceived"
2 of 9

Samaritan Woman

  • Jesus stops at Jacob's well for a drink, there he met a Samaritan Woman and asked her for a drink- Jesus was breaking social conventions, by speaking to a Samaritan who was also a woman
  • Arrival:  "sixth hour" - to avoid meeting other women because of her immoral life. Jesus doesn't avoid her- showing equality.
  • Jesus offered the woman "life-giving water", leading eternal life in return for a drink, like Judaism, her religion was inadequate and her beliefs would not lead her to salvation, RT
  • Jesus replaces Jacob (samaritanism) she is saved through a new baptism
  • Jesus asked her to call her husband, symbolic as she had no husband, she had 5 husbands=5 Gods
  • Jesus told her that he was the Messiah, something that he hadn't told his disciples yet
  • Lefft her water jar behind symbolic of leaving her old life and accepting the living water of Christ, she returned to her town and delivered the Good News- this was the role of men! people believed her.
  • Seen as the ideal disciple for delivering the good news. Kysar observed this, "she is the model of how an encounter with Jesus provokes faith, showing how faith bubbles over into witness."
  • She arrived in a state of shock and she left having been spiritually reborn.
3 of 9

Woman Caught In Adultery

  • Woman was guilty of fornification before marriage, under the Law of Moses carried death penalty
  • Brought before Jesus by Jewish authorities, who hoped to trap him into breaking the law. He didn't break the law, nor was he tring to change the law, however his interpretation of the law was different.
  • The woman was being punished, no mention of the man! Showing discrimination.
  • This story shows that Jesus was compassionate towards women, he treated them as equal to men. He treated her fairly, he didn't discriminate
  • Jesus believed that this treatment by the authorities was harsh and uncaring. 
  • Jesus never condoned her, "Go and sin no more." He forgave her from his heart not his head.The Pharisees were instead cold of heart.
  • Key element is forgiveness. Jesus gave her another chance, turning it all on its head.
  • This story reveals that Jesus' ministry was universal, he came for all, e.g. rich, powerful, sinners,outcasts and even women!
4 of 9

Martha and Mary- The Death of Lazarus

  • Martha and Mary displayed the kind of faith expected of the male disciples.
  • Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters all equally, showing compassion- ministry=universal
  • Martha believed that Jesus could do something to help her brother, although she believes that he will rise on the Last Day Futuristic Eschatology, this is about to be taken over by Realised Eschatology, as he will be saved on the same day. Jesus states "I am the resurrection"- "pre-figuartion" of Jesus' own resurrection. 
  • Martha believes in Jesus and states "you are the Christ"- Martha's Profession of faith, a very important role for a woman as in Mark's Gospel this was the role of Peter at Caesarea Philippi. Marsh observes"Martha has perceived that Jes has a special relationship with the Father, no bounds can be put upon that relationship which may affect the world over which God is Lord."
5 of 9

Anointing at Bethany

  • There was a meal held at the home of Lazarus and his sisters for Jesus. Martha helped serve the food. The fact that women were at a meal with men was unseen at that time. This shows that Jesus' presence can unite all, including woman.
  • Mary anointed Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair, which was prophetic of his own death and burial, she had realised that Jesus must die in order to save us. Marsh,"To anoint the feet was exceptional. For a woman to loosen her hair was considered an act of immodesty, she is a picture of sinful, penitent humanity, whose whole hope lies in the worship of him who is the resurrection and the life"
  • By anointing Jesus' feet Mary broke social barriers but Jesus allowed her to do this rather than condoning her, showing equality!
  • Jesus defends her when Judas complains about the amount of money wasted that it should have been given to the poor,Jesus states, "Poor you will always have, me you will not"- pointing towards his crucifixion
  • This is seen as an early form of Communion as everyone is gathered around at table- eucharistic overtones and more significantly woman were involved!
  • Kysar states that Martha is"John's medium for a message that faith can never be stagnant, it will always be stretched beyond its own limits."
6 of 9

Mary Magdalene at empty tomb

  • Jesus fulfilled scripture and he rose from the dead, and Mary testifies to this.
  • Jesus has created a new temple in heaven.
  • Mary was frightened when she didn't see Jesus' body in the tomb and only saw two angels. But then Jesus recognised her and more importantly called her Mary- extremely important, equality has been shown. Mary refers to him as 'Rabboni' (teacher)- only can be used for God 
  • Jesus told her to inform his disciples of his resurrection, symbolising that Mary must leave behind her old religion and accept the new covenant that Jesus has given to her.
  • It is to Mary that Peter loses his pre-eminence as the first to tesitfy to having seen the risen Jesus.
  • Smalling,"the new era has arrived, the old replaced with new."
  • She stood by the cross as he died and can't see Jesus' death as a glorification. Mary seen him die, but it is now more important that she understands his new status
  • Brown, "She is the apostle to the apostles!"
7 of 9

Conclusion and evaluation on women

  • Therefore it is clear that women are an important part in Jesus' ministry. They are quicker to realise who he is and what he has come to do.
  • From both incidents we learn alot about Jesus' relationships with women in the fourth gospel. He treats them as of equal importance to the 12 male disciples, he also broke down several social conventions concerning women, despite the fact that they were seen as second class citizens in Jewish society at that time. 
  • Jeremias noted, "she is kept shut away from the outside world, submissive to the power of her father and husband, she is inferior to men from a religious point of view."


Women played a very small role in public and religious life, their status depended on their household and religious beliefs. While outside their homes they had to cover their faces with veils so that they wouldn't be recognised.If they didn't obey this their husbands were allowed to divorce them without the payment that they were entitled to under the marraige settlement. The law of Moses required them to be obedient and submissive. Women were poorly educated their only education was in domestics. One of the few times that a woman gained respect was when she gave birth to a boy , seen as giving her husband a great gift. Jesus completely rejected the idea that womenwere second class citizens, treating them equally. This is proven in John's Gospel...

8 of 9


In conclusion, women were fundamental to Jesus' ministry and to the fourth gospel, they shone like beacons of light.

Fiorenza stated, "Although in Rabbinic Judaism, women were seen as slaves for legal purposes, the biblical stories about women indicate that they weren't perceived as slaves in everyday life."

9 of 9


No comments have yet been made

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Old Testament resources »