Women are not simply injected into the story that Luke tells to give them a presence as “token female believers,” however. What Luke does is more surprising. He carefully arranges his Gospel to include a woman at every key point in the narrative in which a man is found. In other words, Luke structures his Gospel around carefully arranged pairs of males and females.
Pairs in Luke’s Account of Jesus’ Life
We find male-female pairs from the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel. Among the Gospel writers he alone tells of the angel Gabriel appearing to both Zechariah and Mary to announce the conception of John and Jesus (Luke 1), and he shows both a man and a woman – Simeon and Anna – testifying in the temple about the Messiah’s birth (Luke 2). At the end of his Gospel, when we reach the death of Jesus, we see pairs or groups of both men and women as witnesses of his death, burial (Luke 23:50-56), and resurrection (Luke 24:1-12).
Between these opening and closing frames, Luke fills his Gospel with carefully selected pairs of men and women. Not only is this pattern found in the key reference to the fact that the disciples who travelled with Jesus included a group of women as well as a group of men (Luke 8), but we find it time and again in the description of Christ’s miracles.
In Luke 4:31-39 we find that the healing of a possessed man is followed by the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. In Luke 7:1-17 the healing of the Centurion’s servant is followed by that of the son of the widow of Nain. And in Luke 13:10-17 the healing of a crippled woman on the Sabbath day is directly followed by the healing of a crippled man on another Sabbath (Luke 14:1-6).
The pattern is clear. From the birth of Jesus through his ministry to his death and resurrection Luke is clearly intentional in balancing stories that give equal inclusion of women and men in the same or similar circumstances.
Pairs in Luke’s Account of Jesus’ Teaching
The conscious pairing of men and women in the events of Christ’s life is also found in Luke’s description of the teachings of Jesus. Instead of simply using single-gender examples to illustrate his teachings – as was usual in the culture of the time – Luke shows that Jesus frequently used pairs: “men and women,” “husbands and wives,” “fathers and mothers,” “fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law,” “sons and daughters,” and “sons-in-law and daughters-in-law” in his teaching.
Luke also shows that Jesus continually utilized both male and female oriented illustrations to convey his teachings. For example, in the story of Jesus’ first public teaching in his hometown synagogue, he uses two stories with the same underlying message – that of the widow woman at Zarephath and the Syrian General Naaman (Luke 4:25-27). In the same way, Luke shows Jesus using both the story of the prophet Jonah in Nineveh and that of the Queen of Sheba as examples of Gentiles who believed (Luke 11:29-32).
Even clearer than these instances of paired examples taken from the Old Testament is Luke’s recording of the paired nature of the parables of Jesus. For example, the parable of the shepherd and his lost sheep is paired with the parable of the woman with a lost coin (Luke 15:3-10). The same pattern is found in the parables of the growth of the Kingdom of God being like a man who plants a mustard seed in his garden and that of the woman who puts yeast into her bread dough (Luke 13:18-21). The example of two men resting together at night is directly followed by the example of two women grinding grain in the day (Luke 17:34-35).
In these and in many other examples, Luke recorded parables that not only present their lesson from the point of view of both men and women, but also stress, by their conscious balancing, the equality of the experience of both male and female hearers.
Pairs as a Part of Luke’s Message
Scholars refer to this technique of repeating statements, changing the gender each time, as “complementary discourse” – a teaching method in which a statement or lesson is applied equally to both men and women. We find it recorded occasionally in the other Gospels, so it seems clear that Jesus used the technique in teaching mixed groups of men and women. But it is also clear that Luke, more than any other Gospel writer, went to great lengths to show Jesus’ continual use of the technique.
This can only mean that the message of the full inclusion of women in the gospel story was one that was particularly important to Luke. That is doubtless one of the reasons Luke begins his account of the ministry of Jesus by recording his sermon based on the prophecy of Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” (Luke 4:18-19).
Judean women in the time of Jesus were unquestionably frequently oppressed, but in the use of gender-paired examples throughout his Gospel Luke presents women in a new way – as a group set free through the life and work of Christ and demonstrated to be equal participants in the community of Jesus’ followers.