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Why it Matters That Women Discovered the Empty Tomb

In preparation for Good Friday and Easter celebrations this week, Justin Taylor from The Gospel Coalition shares a brief excerpt on Why It Matters Theologically and Historically That Women Were the First to Discover the Empty Tomb. He quotes from a piece he co-authored in Christianity Today, reminding readers that the women at the tomb are not an “incidental detail.” Women, he explains, were ineligible to be legal witnesses in the first century. The gospel stories were mocked by second-century critic, Celsus, for their portrayal of the witness of “hysterical female[s].”

“This background matters because it points to two crucial truths.

First, it is a theological reminder that the kingdom of the Messiah turns the system of the world on its head. Into this culture, Jesus radically affirmed the full dignity of women and the vital value of their witness.

Second, it is a powerful apologetic reminder of the historical accuracy of the resurrection accounts. If these were ‘cleverly devised myths’ (2 Pet. 1:16), women would never have been presented as the first eyewitnesses of the risen Christ.”

Many other Christian authors and ministers affirm the deep importance of the women at the tomb, and specifically the charge of Mary Magdelene as the first witness of Christ’s resurrection. On, J. Lee Grady quotes Anne Graham Lotz, who said:

“The very first person to be commissioned was a woman. And she was commissioned to go to men to share her testimony...and then also to give His Word. I know there are some people who will draw a line and say I can give a testimony, but I can’t share the Scripture. But Jesus didn’t make that distinction. He gave Mary Magdalene both commissions, to share her testimony and to give out His word.”

In the same Crosswalk article, Grady draws parallels between the Fall and the Resurrection, indicating the significance of the two gardens, the two women, the two gardeners, and the two sets of angels. What humans messed up in the beginning, he explains, God redeemed in an astounding way.

“The death and resurrection of Jesus reversed the effects of the Fall. While Genesis 3 describes pain, slavery to sin and alienation from God’s presence, John 20 reveals healing, deliverance and full restoration of fellowship with the Son of God.”

Prominent New Testament scholar, author, and bishop N.T. Wright shares that the resurrection account in John is a foundational pillar for why he supports the full participation of women in Christian ministry:

“The first person to be commissioned to take the news of the resurrection of Jesus to others is Mary Magdelene. Now, that is so counter-intuitive in the ancient world, in the ancient Jewish world, in the ancient pagan world!

… And this is… God choosing what is weak to shame the strong. And it seems to me that in the resurrection there is a radical re-evaluation of the role of women.”

Blogger Rachel Held Evans is also a vocal proponent for women in ministry, specifically drawing from gospel accounts of Jesus’ own relationships to women. In an Easter-centered excerpt she shares from her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Evans concludes:

“That Christ ushered in this new era of life and liberation in the presence of women, and that he sent them out as the first witnesses of the complete gospel story, is perhaps the boldest, most overt affirmation of their equality in his kingdom that Jesus ever delivered. And yet too many Easter services begin with a man standing before a congregation of Christians and shouting, ‘he is risen!’ to a chorused response of ‘he is risen indeed!’ Were we to honor the symbolic details of the text, that distinction would always belong to a woman.”

So, what’s your take? Do you see Jesus’ affirmation of Mary Magdelene as the first witness as evidence of the resurrection’s veracity? Do you see it as an example for women in leadership roles in the church and the world? Whether you do or not, ponder the surprising and rule-breaking love of Christ as Easter draws near. And be sure to read more Easter content and Easter devotionals here at Crosswalk!

Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor at

Publication date: April 16, 2014