Why Were the First People to Experience Resurrection Women?

Gary Gocek bio

No doubt they were there first, but why them?

2021, gary@gocek.org, http://gary.gocek.org/, all rights reserved. Hover for usage notes. Email a link to a friend. Other articles by Gary.

Contents

Introduction and acknowledgments.
All Four
Metaphor
Grasping Resurrection
But, Why Women?
Appendices.
Bibliography.

Introduction

Revised 2021-02-24.

Since 2009, as a Christian layperson, I have been reading and writing extensively on Christian topics. I have read apologetic stuff, liberal stuff, secular philosophy stuff, and have viewed videos and countless web sites. Much of the content I have consumed, including from other Christians, disagrees with my beliefs although I consider myself a committed, educated Christian.

I get that women were the first at the empty tomb, aside from some angels and the risen Jesus. But, all four gospels make a big deal about the women being first, so there must be a reason it was the women, and not the men.

Acknowledgments

I received valuable assistance in the development of this article, but this article is my own work with the help of my god and I am the only person who should be held accountable.

The Polish Heritage Society of Rochester granted me a scholarship in recognition of my in-kind contributions. I have used funds from that scholarship to develop articles. This article may not represent the perspective of the PHSR.

A few members of the clergy have guided me since around 1990. This article presents my own beliefs, and these priests may not agree with some points, and they did not review all my points, so I will use first names only: Bill, David, Deven, Julie, Ken, Peter and Prince.

Thanks to my lovely wife, Susan for her support, even when she doesn't know she's being supportive.

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. See my bibliography for more information.

Technical and Grammar Notes

As a monist, my god cannot be separated in a way that can be named. The weakness of human language forces me to discuss the divine as if it were discussable. I don't believe in a different god for each of us, but I will refer to "my god" or "our god" or "the divine", etc., rather than "God". This grammar will sometimes seem forced, but I hope it drives home my monist points.

As a software developer, I have found the development of a long article for the web to be technically interesting. If you have any thoughts on the technical aspects of gocek.org, let me know. NRSV Bible verses do not capitalize "he" and "him" when referring to Jesus, but I otherwise conform to this tradition. Please report errors, misspellings, etc.

All Four

All four gospels start the Easter morning story with women (or a woman) visiting the tomb of the crucified Jesus. For example,

John 20: 1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.

Jesus had been crucified and entombed, but the tomb was empty. Scripture previously indicated the women would need to visit the tomb.

Luke 23: 55The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment.

There is historical evidence for how Jews prepared bodies after death, and that some preparations would have been delayed for Jesus because He died just prior to the beginning of the Sabbath. It is not surprising, historically, that women would have done this work, and there is Scriptual support for the presence of women close to Jesus and willing.

My interpretation of the Easter stories is that the women are not presented in a "matter of fact" way. If all they had done was to fail to find the body and ask the men for help, it would hardly be worth mentioning (let alone four times). The women visited with the purpose of preparing Jesus' body, but instead, they reached the tomb and it was empty. They didn't just return to the men with wild stories; they were directed by angels and even Jesus himself (Matthew 28:10 below) to return and explain.

Metaphor

The empty tomb is one of the great metaphors of Christianity. If someone asked you to draw "resurrection", what would you draw? You could draw Jesus' tomb, looking into the entrance to reveal, well, nothing. The Bible does not explain a physical event in which Jesus rose or the tomb became empty, and the Bible does not explain that because it is not important. The tomb is gloriously empty. When one realizes and believes the tomb is empty, one grasps resurrection. In the first few Bible verses describing Easter morning, in all four gospels, it is women who begin to grasp resurrection.

Whenever a named Bible character (such as Mary Magdalene) is informed or reminded of an event and directed to take action by a transient figure (such as an angel), we can think of this as the character realizing her divine purpose and realizing the unique gifts she has been divinely given to fulfill that purpose. This applies to male characters, too, of course. The women at the tomb were not expected to casually mention the empty tomb to the men, later on. No. The women were directed to do so. They were commissioned to evangelize the resurrection.

Grasping Resurrection

The women grasped resurrection:

Matthew 28: 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

The women were then commissioned by the risen Jesus:

Matthew 28: 10Then Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.'

The men were commissioned later:

Matthew 28: 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...

John's gospel does not indicate that Mary immediately grasped resurrection or that she was directed to tell the men. Still, the men didn't visit the tomb until after Mary visited and returned to the men:

John 20: 2They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.

The men might have then said they did not need to visit the tomb at all to know it was empty, since that's what Jesus had been teaching for the previous three years, but that's not what happened. The men ran to see. In defense of the men, the empty tomb would have been so amazing to see that it would be hard for them to avoid checking it out. Still, the Bible doesn't say that the men believed without seeing; they ran to the tomb, and then believed.

The presence of women at the tomb occurred as close to the "Easter moment" as is described in the Bible. Even Mary's confusion in John's gospel occurred before the men knew there was something to be confused about. It is the moment humanity grasped resurrection. Christianity before the crucifixion was good and glorious, but dependent on the leader (Jesus). Christianity after the crucifixion is a mature religion in which humans follow the example of Jesus.

But, Why Women?

OK, so women figured it out before the men, but why women? How is Christianity different because the women were first, and because the stories were written to describe it so? Would I discern my divine purposes differently if the stories simply skipped the women's actions?

In defense of the men (again), I think the men were not yet able to discern their purpose. No matter how well they understood the teachings of Jesus, the brutal death of their teacher and the subsequent Roman persecution of the followers of Jesus stopped them in their tracks for a time. The women knew their simple purpose and their gifts; they were to finish preparing the body. Having instead experienced the empty tomb, they knew this knowledge was a gift, and their next purpose was to spread this good news (to the male followers of Jesus, who would certainly be happy to hear it).

Like so many New Testament stories, the Easter moment is a story of discernment and fulfillment of purpose. The lesson for me is consistent.

Appendices

Biographical Notes

Here are some biographical notes on authors whose works were researched for this article.

Bibliography

Click to view the bibliography.