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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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MARY. The Gr. form of Heb. Miriam .

1. Mary, mother of James and Joses , was one of the company of women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto Him, and who beheld from afar the crucifixion ( Matthew 27:56 ); she is spoken of as ‘the other Mary’ ( Matthew 27:61; Matthew 28:1 ), as ‘the mother of James the little and Joses’ ( Mark 15:40 ), as ‘Mary the [mother] of Joses’ ( Mark 15:47 ), and as ‘Mary the [mother] of James’ ( Mark 16:1 , Luke 24:10 ). That she is identical with ‘Mary the [wife] of Clopas’ ( John 19:25 ) is almost, though not absolutely, certain; the uncertainty arising from the fact that as ‘ many women’ ( Matthew 27:55 ) were present, St. John may have mentioned a Mary who was distinct from the Mary mentioned as present by the Synoptists. It is very doubtful whether this ‘ Mary of Clopas ’ was sister to the Virgin Mary. The words of St. John, ‘There were standing by the cross of Jesus his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene,’ are ambiguous; for He may have intended to name four women as present the Virgin’s sister being one, and Mary of Clopas another or only three, the Virgin’s sister being described as ‘Mary of Clopas.’ Certain decision on the point seems impossible. Cf. Brethren of the Lord, ad fin .

2. Mary, the sister of Martha , is mentioned thrice in the Gospels (1) as sitting at the feet of Jesus, while her sister served ( Luke 10:38-42 ); (2) as falling at His feet on His arrival to raise Lazarus from the grave ( John 11:28-32 ); (3) as anointing His feet during the feast at Bethany before the Passion ( Matthew 26:7-15 , Mark 14:3-11 , John 12:1-8 ). The first and second of these occasions are dealt with in art. Martha, where the character of Mary is also treated of. It remains, therefore, for us only to consider the last.

The accounts of this incident as given in the first two Gospels and by St. John have been thought to disagree both as to where and when the feast was held. As regards the place , the Fourth Gospel mentions Martha as serving, and it has therefore been assumed that the gathering was in her house a fact held to be in contradiction to the statement of Mt. and Mk. that it took place in the house of Simon the leper. But even if St. John’s words do bear this meaning, there is not necessarily any disagreement, for her house might also be known as the house of Simon the leper. Her husband or her father may have been named Simon, and may have been a leper. In fact, we know far too little of the circumstances to be justified in charging the writers with inaccuracy. A careful study of St. John’s statement, however, seems to show that the gathering was not in Martha’s house; for the words ‘Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus raised from the dead. So they made a supper there; and Martha served,’ imply that the people of Bethany as a whole honoured our Lord, who had shown His power notably by raising their fellow-townsman, with a public feast. At such a feast Lazarus would be one of those that would sit at meat with Him, and Martha assuredly would serve. The reason why they selected the house known as that of Simon the leper cannot be determined; but it may have been simply because it was the most suitable building.

As regards the date of the feast, John distinctly places our Lord’s arrival as ‘six days before the passover,’ and implies that the feast was then held immediately. Mt. and Mk., however, first record the words of our Lord, in which He foretells His betrayal as about to occur ‘after two days,’ and then add their account of the feast in Bethany. If the Fourth Gospel be taken as definitely fixing the date as six days before the Passover, then the Synoptists must have placed their account of the incident later than it really happened. Probably this is what they did; and their reason for so doing is evidently to connect our Lord’s rebuke of Judas ( Matthew 26:13-14 , John 12:4 ) with the traitor’s decision to betray Him. With this object in view they place the anointing by Mary immediately before the betrayal, introducing it with a vagueness of language which avoids any definite statement of time ( Matthew 20:6 ‘Now when Jesus was in Bethany’; Mark 14:3 ‘And while he was in Bethany’). There is really no contradiction in the records, but rather a change in the order of events, of deliberate purpose, by Mt. and Mk. for the purpose of elucidating the treachery of Judas.

Mary’s act of devotion in anointing the head (Matthew 26:7 ) and feet ( John 12:3 ) of our Lord, and in wiping His feet with her hair, is in perfect keeping with her character as seen in Luke 10:1-42 and John 11:1-57 as she sat at His feet as a disciple, and fell at His feet in grief, so now in humble adoration she anoints His feet with the precious ointment, and wipes them with the hair of her head. The act called forth the hypocritical indignation of Judas. But Jesus at once silenced him, accepting the anointing as for His burial, and predicting that wherever His Gospel should he preached, there should her deed of love he remembered.

This act of Mary bears a strong resemblance to that recorded in Luke 7:36 ff., and so similar is the general picture presented by the two narratives that many have thought them different accounts of the same event. The agreement between the narratives is striking; in both are presented to us acts of love on the part of devoted women; in both the house is said to belong to a ‘Simon’; in both the depth of the devotion is shown by the feet being anointed, and being wiped with the innsened hair. On the other hand, however, many differences are to be noted. The hosts, though both named Simon, are distinct, the one being described as a Pharisee, the other as a leper; the scene is different, for in one case it is laid in Galilee, in the other in Judæa; the women are different, for one is Mary ‘whom Jesus loved,’ the other is an unnamed notorious sinner, such as we cannot suppose Mary ever to have been. The lessons drawn from the incidents by our Lord are different; in the one case He teaches love to God based on His forgiving mercy, in the other He foretells that the deed which Judas had described as ‘waste’ would for all time be an object of universal praise.

It must further be borne in mind that anointing was a usual courtesy; and that not unnaturally two deeply loving women would very probably at different times be impelled to show their devotion by humbly outpouring their precious gifts upon His sacred feet. Very possibly Mary never had heard of the poor sinful woman’s act, occurring as it did probably two years previously and many miles away in Galilee; but even if she had, why should she not act similarly when her heart impelled her to a like act of devotion?

3. Mary Magdalene , probably so called as belonging to Magdala (possibly el-Mejdel , 3 miles north-west of Tiberias), a place not mentioned in NT, as Magadan is the correct reading of Matthew 15:39 . She is first mentioned in Luke 8:2 as one of the women who, having been ‘healed of evil spirits and infirmities, … ministered unto them ( i.e . Jesus and the Apostles) of their substance.’ Seven demons had been cast out of her (cf. Mark 16:9 ) a fact showing her affliction to have been of more than ordinary malignity (cf. Matthew 12:45 , Mark 5:9 ).

An unfortunate tradition identifies her with the unnamed sinful woman who anointed our Lord (Luke 7:37 ); and she has been thus regarded as the typical reformed ‘fallen woman.’ But St. Luke, though he placed them consecutively in his narrative, did not identify them; and as possession did not necessarily presuppose moral failing in the victim’s character, we need not do so.

With the other women she accompanied Jesus on His last journey to Jerusalem; with them she beheld the crucifixion, at first ‘from afar,’ but afterwards standing by the Cross itself (Matthew 27:55 , John 19:25 ); she followed the body to the burial ( Mark 15:47 ), and then returned to prepare spices, resting on the Sabbath. On the first day of the week, while it was yet dark, she visited the sepulchre ( John 20:1 ff.). Finding the grave empty, she assumed that the body had been removed, and that she was thus deprived of the opportunity of paying her last tribute of love. She ran at once to Peter and John and said, ‘They have taken away the Lord, and we know not where they have laid him.’ They all three returned to the tomb, she remaining after they had left. Weeping she looked into the sepulchre, and saw two angels guarding the spot where Jesus had lain. To their question, ‘Why weepest thou?’ she repeated the words she had said to Peter and John. Apparently feeling that someone was standing behind her, she turned, and saw Jesus, and mistook Him for the gardener. The utterance of her name from His lips awoke her to the truth. She cried, ‘ Rabboni ,’ (‘my Master’) and would have clasped His feet. But Jesus forbade her, saying, ‘Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended unto the Father.’ She must no longer know Him ‘after the flesh’ ( 2 Corinthians 5:16 ), but possess Him in spiritual communion. This, the first appearance of our Lord after His resurrection ( Mark 16:9 ), conferred a special honour on one whose life of loving ministry had proved the reality and depth of her devotion. She has been identified with Mary the sister of Lazarus, but without any grounds.

4. Mary the Virgin

(1) Scripture data

The NT gives but little information regarding her. In the Gospels she is directly mentioned only three times during Christ’s ministry (John 2:1-25 , Mark 3:21; Mark 3:31 , John 19:25 f.), and indirectly twice ( Mark 6:3 , Luke 11:27 ). Outside the Gospels she is mentioned only once ( Acts 1:14 ).

The Apocryphal Gospels are full of legendary stories connected with her childhood and after-life. In them we are told that she was miraculously granted to her aged and childless parents, Joachim and Anna; that at the age of three she was dedicated to God at the Temple, where she remained until she was twelve; that during these years she increased in virtue, angels ministering unto her; that at twelve she was betrothed to Joseph, an aged widower, who was selected for her by a miraculous sign. The visit of Gabriel, the journey to Bethlehem, and the Saviour’s birth in a cave are mentioned. It is added that at the moment of the birth of Jesus all nature was stilled; the fowls of the air stopped in their flight, men with uplifted arms drew them not down, dispersing sheep stood still, and kids with their lips to the water refrained from drinking.

The legendary character of the apocryphal records renders them worthless as evidence of the events that centre round the birth of our Lord, and we are therefore confined to the opening chapters of the First and Third Gospels. It has been felt that more evidence than two Gospels can supply might reasonably be expected for such a transcendent miracle. But consideration will show that the evidence could not be essentially greater than it is. For from the nature of the case the circumstances would be known only to Mary and Joseph. Mary must have known; and Joseph must also have known, if he were to continue to act as protector of his espoused wife. Now, the First Gospel narrates the events of the miraculous birth from the point of view of Joseph; while the narrative of the Third Gospel, with its intimate knowledge of the events which it so calmly, delicately, and yet clearly, sets forth, must, in the first instance, have been obtained from the Virgin herself. St. Luke has been proved to be a writer of great historical accuracy, and we may be certain that he admitted nothing within his record of which he had not thoroughly tested the truth: and it is difficult to believe that he would open his Gospel with a statement that he had accurately traced the course of the Gospel history from the first (Luke 1:3 ), and then immediately proceed to insert untrustworthy information. Indeed, the wide-spread belief of the early Church in the Virgin-birth can be reasonably accounted for only by the occurrence of the fact itself. The date of St. Luke’s Gospel is too early to allow of ideas of a Virgin-birth to pass into the Church from Gentile Christians; while to Jewish Christians the whole idea would be alien. To the Jew maternity, not virginity, was praiseworthy, and to him the thought of Jehovah becoming incarnate would be incredible; in fact, the Virgin-birth, so far from being an invention of Jewish Christians, must have been a severe stumbling-block to them in accepting their new faith.

The angel Gabriel, when sent to announce to Mary that she was to be the mother of our Lord, greeted her with the words, ‘Hail, thou that art highly favoured,’ or ‘thou that art endued with grace’ (Luke 1:28 ). (The Rhemish Version, following the Vulgate, renders ‘full of grace’; a translation correct enough if meaning ‘fully endowed with grace,’ but incorrect if meaning ‘fully bestowing grace’ a rendering the Gr. word cannot bear.) With absolute submission she received the announcement, merely replying, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word’ ( Luke 1:38 ). Soon she hastened to her ‘kins-woman’ ( Luke 1:36 ) Elisabeth, who greeted her with inspired utterance ( Luke 1:42-45 ). The Virgin then in reply uttered her noble hymn of exultation. The Magnificat is largely based on the song of Hannah ( 1 Samuel 2:1-36 ). Naturally at such a time of deep spiritual emotion she fell back on the OT Scriptures, which she had known since childhood. She remained with Elisabeth until the birth of the Baptist, and then returned to Nazareth. Having accompanied Joseph on his journey to be enrolled at Bethlehem, she was there delivered of her Son. When the forty days of purification were ended, they brought the Child to Jerusalem ‘to present him to the Lord,’ and to offer the necessary sacrifice. Being poor, they offered ‘a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons’ ( Exodus 12:8 ). Then was it that Simeon took the Child in his arms, and, blessing God, uttered his Nunc Dimittis , and foretold to Mary that a sword would yet pierce through her soul: a prophecy fulfilled during the period of her Son’s ministry, and specially by His death. From the Temple they returned to Bethlehem, whence they fled to Egypt from the cruelty of Herod, on whose death they returned, and settled in Nazareth.

We next find the Virgin in Jerusalem, whither she had gone with Jesus, now aged twelve. When she discovered Him in the Temple she remonstrated, saying, ‘Thy father and I have sought thee …’ His reply, ‘I must be in my Father’s house ’ ( Luke 2:48 ), shows that He had begun to feel, and expected His mother to realize, the gulf of Divine parentage that separated Him from all others. It taught her, perhaps for the first time, that her Son felt God to be in an especial sense His Father.

For the next eighteen years our Lord was subject to home-authority at Nazareth. During this time His mother lost the protection of Joseph; for, if he were alive, he certainly would have been mentioned in John 2:1 , Mark 3:31 , John 19:25 . Doubtless Joseph’s place in the home was filled in a measure by our Lord; and these must have been years of wonderful peace to the Virgin.

When, however, Jesus once entered upon His ministry, a time of real difficulty to her began. She, with the secret of His birth ever present, must have anticipated for Him a career of Messianic success; whereas He, with the knowledge of His Divine Sonship, was compelled to sever Himself once and for all from her control. We are not, then, surprised to find that each of the three recorded incidents which bring our Lord and the Virgin together during the years of ministry centre round the question of His absolute independence of her authority. Thus His first miracle (John 2:1-25 ) gave Him an occasion for definitely teaching her that she must no longer impress her will upon Him. His reply, ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee?’ has assuredly no roughness in it (see John 19:26 ); yet the fact that He does not address her as ‘mother’ can have but one meaning. Again, when the pressure of His ministry leads to His neglect of food, His friends said, ‘He is beside himself ( Mark 3:21 ). ‘His friends’ were His mother and brethren ( Mark 3:31 ); and when their message reached Him through the crowd He stretched forth His hand ( Matthew 12:49 ), and said, ‘Behold my mother and brethren. For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother’ words which amount to, ‘I, in working out the world’s redemption, can acknowledge only spiritual relationships.’ Similarly, as He hung on the Cross, and looked down upon His broken-hearted mother, He tenderly provided for her future, and entrusted her to the care of the Apostle of love. Still, even then He was unable to name her as His own mother, but gave her, in the person of St. John, the protection of a son. ‘Woman (not ‘mother’), behold thy son.’ ‘Son, behold thy mother’ ( John 19:26-27 ). Exactly parallel to these is His answer to the exclamation of the unknown woman, ‘Blessed is the womb that bare thee’ ‘Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it’ ( Luke 11:27 f.).

It is, we think, impossible to exaggerate the bitter trial of these years to the Virgin Mary; but God’s grace kept her throughout submissive, patient, and trustful. And it is a happy thing that the last mention we have of her in the NT is when she is gathered with the infant Church after the Ascension praying in the upper room.

(2) Place of the Virgin in the Christian Church . The position she ought to hold is clear from the NT, and has been well described as follows: ‘So far as St. Mary is portrayed to us in the Scripture she is, as we should have expected, the most tender, the most faithful, humble, patient, and loving woman, but a woman still.’ Certain sections of the Church, however, have not been satisfied with granting her this limited reverence, but have done her the questionable honour of claiming for her the worship of the Church. Epiphanius (a.d. 370) mentions heretics, called Collyridians, who worshipped the Virgin, and he strongly reproves them. But before long the error found too ready a welcome within the Church, and a considerable impulse was given to it at the time of the Nestorian Controversy (a.d. 431). In meeting the error of Nestorius the Church insisted that our Lord had, with His human and Divine natures, but one personality , and that Divine; and therefore it emphasized the fact that He who was born of the Virgin was very God. It thus became customary to give the Virgin the title Theotokos . This title seems to have been specially chosen to emphasize the fact that, by being the mother of our Lord, she brought the incarnate God into life, and, at the same time, to avoid calling her ‘mother of God.’ This latter title would convey ideas of authority and right of control on the part of the parent, and of duty and obedience on the part of the child ideas which were rightly felt to have no place in the relationship between Christ and His mother; therefore it was avoided. It would have been easy for the Church then to call her ‘mother of God,’ but it did not. Notwithstanding this cautious treatment, undue reverence towards her rapidly increased, and ‘mother of God’ became largely applied to her, and her worship gained much ground.

With the worship of the Virgin there gradually arose a belief in her sinlessness . The early Fathers, while claiming for her the perfection of womanhood, state distinctly their belief that she shared in man’s fallen nature and that she had committed actual sin. But Augustine, though not denying her participation in original sin, suggested her freedom through grace from actual transgression. Ultimately her freedom from all taint of sin, whether original or actual, was officially declared an article of faith in the Roman Church by the dogma of the Immaculate Conception decreed by Pius IX. (1854). Similar to this erroneous development was the growth of the belief in the miraculous translation of her body after death. The fanciful legends found in the Apocryphal Gospels regarding her death were readily seized upon as if supplying the requisite evidence; and in due course it became the authoritative doctrine of both the Roman and Greek Churches. The Festival of her Assumption is held on the 15th of August.

(3) The perpetual Virginity of Mary is a matter incapable of proof with the evidence available. With the Church of Rome and the Greek Church it is an essential dogma; but with the other branches of Christendom it is left undefined. In forming a decision on the point many feel the great weight of the undeniable sentiment of the Church for centuries, while others see in this very sentiment an unwholesome view, which overestimated the sanctity of virginity, and depreciated the sanctity of matrimony. From the NT we receive no certain guidance; for the ‘till’ of Matthew 1:25 is undecisive, as its use shows ( e.g . Genesis 28:15 , Deuteronomy 34:6 , 1 Samuel 15:35 , 2 Samuel 6:23 ), while ‘the brethren’ of our Lord may mean either the children of Joseph and Mary, or the children of Joseph by a former marriage, or even the cousins of Jesus. The first of these views is specially associated with the name of Helvidius, the second with that of Epiphanius, the third with that of Jerome. See Brethren of the Lord.

5. Mary, the mother of John Mark ( Acts 12:12 ).

6. Mary , saluted by St. Paul ( Romans 16:6 ).

Charles T. P. Grierson.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Mary'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​m/mary.html. 1909.
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