Gender Pairs in Luke’s Gospel

When two very similar stories–very similiar, that is, except that one is about a man and another is about a woman–are found in a Gospel, they are called a gender pair. While gender pairs occur in all the gospels, they are particularly prominent in Luke:

Possible Gender Pairs in Luke

8:41–42, 49–56….7:11–16
8:41–42, 49–56….8:43–48

A few notes:

(1) I call these ‘possible’ gender pairs because scholars don’t agree that all of them are–some may just be coincidental.

(2) The appearance of 7:36–50 in both columns is not a typo: in that case, the one story (of the penitant woman who anointed Jesus) contains two contrasted characters: the woman and Simon the Pharisee.

(3) Note that the pairs occur in all different sorts of material: sometimes a pair occurs when Jesus is teaching and gives two examples:

But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian. [Luke 4:25-27]

but other times they occur because two narratives are juxtaposed: this is the case with the healing of the centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10) and the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-16).

(4) Gender pairs fit in well with a characteristic of Luke’s Gospel that has long been recognized by scholars and readers alike: this gospel shows special concern for marginalized people, including the poor, widows, women, children, etc.

(5) A very fruitful exercise for personal scripture study would be to consider each pair and:
(a) decide if you think it is a gender pair or just a coincidence.
(b) decide what the points of comparison are between the stories–this can help you determine the reason for their inclusion. In the one I quote about from Luke 4, the gender pair follows Jesus’ statement that no prophet is accepted in his own country. So: In what way does this gender pair support that statement?
(c) look for differences between the two stories–do any contrasts become apparent?

(6) Given the cultural context, it is easy for me to think that the women around Jesus and the women listening to Luke’s Gospel may have felt that the good news wasn’t really for, by, or about them. The existence of gender pairs in Luke’s Gospel–particularly those that are found in Jesus’ teachings–suggests that a priority was placed on ensuring that the women knew that, as we like to say today, they were full and equal partners in the work. Dare I suggest that we follow Jesus’ example by providing examples paired by gender in our own teaching?

8 comments for “Gender Pairs in Luke’s Gospel

  1. This is exactly the kind of study assignment that appeals to me and would have made seminary so much more valuable — why hasn’t the Church got you writing manuals for them?

  2. Julie, this is such an interesting insight. I’m going to print out your article and go over it for the next few mornings. Thank you for sharing.


    Seminary assignments?

    When we lived in Florida I taught Gospel Doctrine to the 16-17 year olds. Once in a lesson we were discussing the things they could do to increase their personal spirituality. I asked them if they tried to read the seminary assignment. They asked what I was talking about. They didn’t even know what book of scripture they were supposedly studying that year…and it was March.

    Such was common, but at times we had really great teachers, too. Since moving to Utah, I’ve been very pleased with the instruction, but the teachers do have the advantage of being able to spend their full time on the efforts.

  3. There probably won’t be a firestorm of commenttroversy, so I wanted to make sure you knew that I really enjoyed reading this.

  4. Alison, I may have had a better seminary experience than you (especially the two years of home study), or been a particularly nerdy high schooler. I’ve never taught teenagers, though, to see the seminary program secondhand.

    It strikes me that I would have loved this kind of assignment far more than reading a chapter of Luke and giving obvious answers to boring questions. Julie’s introduction and list gives something for private study in doses as small as a single pair and as large as the entire list. Group discussion the next day would allow for listening to group insights and defending personal perspectives.

    Recognizing women in scripture would have appealed to me then as much as it did when I read this post today – I remember feeling triumphant as a teen just knowing that there were mentions of Bernice (my mother’s name) and Lois (my mother’s second choice name for me) and Eunice (the name of her best friend as a child) in the New Testament. I also would have relished the novelty of this kind of study – even as a teen I think I would have realized that it was something that adults couldn’t do during the typical Sunday School hour, that it took the time and scholarship that seminary was designed for. Never underestimate the superiority and smugness of being 15!

    Anyway, it certainly catches my fancy today and I’m looking forward to using this lesson privately over the next week. (I teach the family history class in Sunday School and feel completely disconnected from the regular adult curriculum, so dipping into the NT doesn’t disrupt any existing personal study.)

  5. All, thanks for the comments. It occured to me in the middle of teaching my class tonight that

    And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. (Luke 5;35-37)

    sounds like another one for the list–I’m not 100% sure that winemaking would have been men’s work, but fairly certain that mending would have been women’s work.

  6. eh . . . the “no man” in Luke 5:35 is singular masculine–I’m not sure how much weight to give that balanced against the idea of mending as women’s work

  7. So, I know this is a stretch, but a conversation I was having made me wonder if Jonah and Ruth are a (contrasting) type of gender pair: they are both post-exilic books addressing the question of non-Israelite status, and they have many obvious contrasting themes (individuality vs. community, non-charity vs. hesed, male vs. female etc.). Surely someone’s written a dissertation or something on this….?

  8. Interesting, Robert C. The OT ones I’ve thought of are Daniel and Esther (theme: how do you live in exile?) and Pharoah’s wife and Tamar.

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