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mā´ri , mâr´i ( Μαρία , Marı́a , Μαριάμ , Mariám , Greek form of Hebrew מרים , miryām ):


The Name Mary in the New Testament


1. Mary in the Infancy Narratives

2. Mary at Cana

3. Mary and the Career of Jesus

4. Mary at the Cross

5. Mary in the Christian Community

6. Mary in Ecclesiastical Doctrine and Tradition

(1) Legend

(2) Dogma

(a) The Dogma of Her Sinlessness

(b) Dogma of Mary's Perpetual Virginity

(c) Doctrine of Mary's Glorification as the Object of Worship and Her Function as Intercessor

(3) Conclusion


1. Mary Not the Sinful Woman of Luke 7

2. Mary Not a Nervous Wreck


1. Attack upon Luke's Narrative

2. Evidence of Luke Taken Alone

3. Evidence Sifted by Comparison

4. Character of Mary



I. Definition and Questions of Identification.

A H ebrew feminine proper name of two persons in the Old Testament (see Exodus 15:20; Numbers 12:1; Micah 6:4; 1 Chronicles 4:17 ) and of a number not certainly determined in the New Testament. The prevalence of the name in New Testament times has been attributed, with no great amount of certainty, to the popularity of Mariamne, the last representative of the Hasmonean family, who was the second wife of Herod I.

The Name Mary in the New Testament:

(1) The name Mary occurs in 51 passages of the New Testament to which the following group of articles is confined (see MIRIAM ). Collating all these references we have the following apparent notes of identification: ( a ) Mary, the mother of Jesus; ( b ) Mary Magdalene; ( 100 ) Mary, the mother of James; ( d ) Mary, the mother of Joses; ( e ) Mary, the wife of Clopas; ( f ) Mary of Bethany; ( g ) Mary, the mother of Mark; ( h ) Mary of Rome; ( i ) the "other" Mary.

(2) A comparison of Matthew 27:56; Matthew 28:1 with Mark 15:47 seems clearly to identify the "other" Mary with Mary the mother of Joses.

(3) Mark 15:40 identifies Mary the mother of James and Mary the mother of Joses (compare Mark 15:47 ) (see Allen's note on Matthew 27:56 ).

(4) At this point a special problem of identification arises. Mary, the wife of Clopas, is mentioned as being present at the cross with Mary the mother of Jesus, the latter's sister and Mary of Magdala (John 19:25 ). In the other notices of the group at the cross, Mary, the mother of James, is mentioned (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40 ). Elsewhere, James is regularly designated "son of Alpheus" (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15 ). Since it can hardly be doubted that James, the apostle, and James the Less, the son of Mary, are one and the same person, the conclusion seems inevitable that Mary, the mother of James, is also the wife of Alpheus. Here we might stop and leave the wife of Clopas unidentified, but the fact that the name Alpheus (Ἀλφαῖος , Alphaı́os ) is the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic חלפּי , ḥalpay , together with the unlikelihood that anyone important enough to be mentioned by John would be omitted by the synoptists and that another Mary, in addition to the three definitely mentioned, could be present and not be mentioned, points to the conclusion that the wife of Clopas is the same person as the wife of Alpheus (see ALPHAEUS ). Along with this reasonable conclusion has grown, as an excrescence, another for which there is no basis whatever; namely, that the wife of Clopas was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This would make the apostle James the cousin of Jesus, and, by an extension of the idea, would identify James, the apostle, with James, the "Lord's brother." The available evidence is clearly against both these inferences (see Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3; Galatians 1:19 ).

(5) One other possible identification is offered for our consideration. Zahn, in an exceedingly interesting note ( New Testament , II, 514), identifies Mary of Rome ( Romans 16:6 ) with the "other" Mary of Matthew. We need not enter into a discussion of the point thus raised, since the identification of a woman of whom we have no details given is of little more than academic interest.

We are left free, however, by the probabilities of the case to confine our attention to the principal individuals who bear the name of Mary. We shall discuss Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary of Magdala; Mary of Bethany; Mary, the mother of James and Joses; Mary, the mother of Mark.

II. Mary, the Virgin.

The biography of the mother of Jesus is gathered about a brief series of episodes which serve to exhibit her leading characteristics in clear light. Two causes have operated to distort and make unreal the very clear and vivid image of Mary left for us in the Gospels. Roman Catholic dogmatic and sentimental exaggeration has well-nigh removed Mary from history (see IMMACULATE CONCEPTION ). On the other hand, reaction and overemphasis upon certain features of the Gospel narrative have led some to credit Mary with a negative attitude toward our Lord and His claims, which she assuredly never occupied. It is very important that we should follow the narrative with unprejudiced eyes and give due weight to each successive episode.

Mary appears in the following passages: the Infancy narratives, Matthew 1,2; Luke 1,2; the wedding at Cana of Galilee, John 2:1-11; the episode of Matthew 12:46; Mark 3:21 , Mark 3:31 ff; the incident at the cross, John 19:25 ff; the scene in the upper chamber, Acts 1:14 .

1. Mary in the Infancy Narratives:

(1) It is to be noted, first of all, that Mary and her experiences form the narrative core of both Infancy documents. This is contrary to the ordinary opinion, but is unquestionably true. She is obviously the object of special interest to Luke (see Ramsay, Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? 76 f), and there are not wanting indications that Luke's story came from Mary herself. But, while Matthew's account does not exhibit his interest in Mary quite so readily, that he was interested in the pathetic story of the Lord's mother is evident.

Luke tells the story of Mary's inward and deeply personal experiences, her call (Luke 1:26 f), her maidenly fears ( Luke 1:29 , Luke 1:35 ), her loyal submission (Luke 1:38 ), her outburst of sacred and unselfish joy (1:39-55). From this anticipatory narrative he passes at once to the Messianic fulfillment.

Matthew tells the story of the outward and, so to say, public experiences of Mary which follow hard upon the former and are in such dramatic contrast with them: the shame and suspicion which fell upon her (Matthew 1:18 ); her bitter humiliation (Matthew 1:19 ), her ultimate vindication (Matthew 1:20 f). Here the two narratives supplement each other by furnishing different details but, as in other instances, converge upon the central fact - the central fact here being Mary herself, her character, her thoughts, her experiences. The point to be emphasized above all others is that we have real biography, although in fragments; in that the same person appears in the inimitable reality of actual characterization, in both parts of the story. This is sufficient guaranty of historicity; for no two imaginary portraits ever agreed unless one copied the other - which is evidently not the case here. More than this, the story is a truly human narrative in which the remarkable character of the events which took place in her life only serves to bring into sharper relief the simple, humble, natural qualities of the subject of them.

(2) One can hardly fail to be impressed, in studying Mary's character with her quietness of spirit; her meditative inwardness of disposition; her admirable self-control; her devout and gracious gift of sacred silence. The canticle (Luke 1:46-55 ), which at least expresses Luke's conception of her nature, indicates that she is not accustomed to dwell much upon herself (4 lines only call particular attention to herself), and that her mind is saturated with the spirit and phraseology of the Old Testament. The intensely Jewish quality of her piety thus expressed accounts for much that appears anomalous in her subsequent career as depicted in the Gospels.

2. Mary at Cana:

The first episode which demands our attention is the wedding at Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11 ). The relationship between Jesus and His mother has almost eclipsed other interests in the chapter. It is to be noted that the idea of wanton interference on the part of Mary and of sharp rebuke on the part of Jesus is to be decisively rejected. The key to the meaning of this episode is to be found in 4 simple items: (1) in a crisis of need, Mary turns naturally to Jesus as to the one from whom help is to be expected; (2) she is entirely undisturbed by His reply, whatever its meaning may be; (3) she prepares the way for the miracle by her authoritative directions to the servants; (4) Jesus does actually relieve the situation by an exercise of power. Whether she turned to Jesus with distinctly Messianic expectation, or whether Jesus intended to convey a mild rebuke for her eagerness, it is not necessary for us to inquire, as it is not possible for us to determine. It is enough that her spontaneous appeal to her Son did not result in disappointment, since, in response to her suggestion or, at least, in harmony with it, He "manifested his glory." The incident confirms the Infancy narrative in which Mary's quiet and forceful personality is exhibited.

3. Mary and the Career of Jesus:

In Matthew 12:46 (parallel Mark 3:31-35 ), we are told that, when His mother and His brethren came seeking Him, Jesus in the well-known remark concerning His true relatives in the kingdom of heaven intended to convey a severe rebuke to His own household for an action which involved both unbelief and presumptuous interference in His great life-work. The explanation of this incident, which involves no such painful implications as have become connected with it in the popular mind, is to be found in Mark's account. He interrupts his narrative of the arrival of the relatives (which belongs in Mark 3:21 ) by the account of the accusation made by the scribes from Jerusalem that the power of Jesus over demons was due to Beelzebub. This goes a long way toward explaining the anxiety felt by the relatives of Jesus, since the ungoverned enthusiasm of the multitude. which gave Him no chance to rest and seemed to threaten His health, was matched, contrariwise, by the bitter, malignant opposition of the authorities, who would believe any malicious absurdity rather than that His power came from God. The vital point is that the attempt of Mary and her household to get possession of the person of Jesus, in order to induce Him to go into retirement for a time, was not due to captious and interfering unbelief, but to loving anxiety. The words of Jesus have the undoubted ring of conscious authority and express the determination of one who wills the control of his own life - but it is a serious mistake to read into them any faintest accent of satire. It has been well said (Horace Bushnell, Sermons on Living Subject , 30) that Jesus would scarcely make use of the family symbolism to designate the sacred relationships of the kingdom of heaven, while, at the same time, He was depreciating the value and importance of the very relationships which formed the basis of His analogy. The real atmosphere of the incident is very different from this.

4. Mary at the Cross:

To be sure that many have misinterpreted the above incident we need only turn to the exquisitely tender scene at the cross recorded by John (John 19:25 ff). This scene, equally beautiful whether one considers the relationship which it discloses as existing between Jesus and His mother, or between Jesus and His well-beloved disciple removes all possible ambiguity which might attach to the preceding incidents, and reveals the true spirit of the Master's home. Jesus could never have spoken as He did from the cross unless He had consistently maintained the position and performed the duties of an eldest son. The tone and quality of the scene could never have been what it is had there not been a steadfast tie of tender love and mutual understanding between Jesus and His mother. Jesus could hand over His sacred charge to the trustworthy keeping of another, because He had faithfully maintained it Himself.

5. Mary in the Christian Community:

The final passage which we need to consider (Acts 1:14 ) is especially important because in it we discover Mary and her household at home in the midst of the Christian community, engaged with them in prayer. It is also clear that Mary herself and the family, who seemed to be very completely under her influence, whatever may have been their earlier misgivings, never broke with the circle of disciples, and persistently kept within the range of experiences which led at last to full-orbed Christian faith. This makes it sufficiently evident, on the one hand, that the household never shared the feelings of the official class among the Jews; and, on the other, that the family of Jesus passed through the same cycle of experiences which punctuated the careers of the whole body of disciples on the way to faith. The beating of this simple but significant fact upon the historical trustworthiness of the body of incidents just passed in review is evident.

The sum of the matter concerning Mary seems to be this: The mother of Jesus was a typical Jewish believer of the best sort. She was a deeply meditative, but by no means a daring or original thinker. Her inherited Messianic beliefs did not and perhaps could not prepare her for the method of Jesus which involved so much that was new and unexpected. But her heart was true, and from the beginning to the day of Pentecost, she pondered in her heart the meaning of her many puzzling experiences until the light came. The story of her life and of her relationship to Jesus is consistent throughout and touched with manifold unconscious traits of truth. Such a narrative could not have been feigned or fabled.

6. Mary in Ecclesiastical Doctrine and Tradition:

(1) Legend.

The ecclesiastical treatment of Mary consists largely of legend and dogma, about equally fictitious and unreliable. The legendary accounts, which include the apocryphal gospels, deal, for the most part, with details tails of her parentage and early life; her betrothal and marriage to Joseph; her journey to Bethlehem and the birth of her child. At this point the legendary narratives, in their crass wonder-mongering and indelicate intimacy of detail, are in striking contrast to the chaste reserve of the canonical story, and of evidential value on that account.

(2) Dogma.

There is, in addition, a full-grown legend concerning Mary's later life in the house of John; of her death in which the apostles were miraculously allowed to participate; her bodily translation to heaven; her reception at the hands of Jesus and her glorification in heaven. In this latter series of statements, we have already made the transition from legend to dogma. It is quite clear, from the statements of Roman Catholic writers themselves, that no reliable historical data are to be found among these legendary accounts. The general attitude of modern writers is exhibited in the following sentences (from Wilhelm and Scannel, Manual of Catholic Theology , II, 220, quoted by Mayor, Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible , II, 288, note): "Mary's corporeal assumption into heaven is so thoroughly implied in the notion of her personality as given by Bible and dogma, that the church, can dispense with strict historical evidence of the fact." If that is the way one feels, there is very little to say about it. Aside from the quasi-historical dogma of Mary's bodily assumption, the Roman Catholic doctrinal interpretation of her person falls into three parts.

(a) The Dogma of Her Sinlessness:

This is discussed under IMMACULATE CONCEPTION (which see) and need not detain us here.

(b) Dogma of Mary's Perpetual Virginity:

It is evident that this, too, is a doctrine of such a nature that its advocates might, with advantage to their argument, have abstained from the appearance of critical discussion.

Even if all the probabilities of exegesis are violated and the cumulative evidence that Mary had other children done away with; if the expression, "brethren of the Lord" is explained as "foster-brethren," "cousins" or what-not; if Jesus is shown to be not only "first-born" but "only-born" Son (Luke 2:7 ); if the expression of Matthew 1:25 is interpreted as meaning "up to and beyond" (Pusey, et al.; compare Roman Catholic Dict ., 604), it would still be as far as possible from a demonstration of the dogma. That a married woman has no children is no proof of virginity - perpetual or otherwise. That this thought has entered the minds of Roman Catholic apologists although not openly expressed by them, is evidenced by the fact that while certain forms of dealing with the "brethren-of-the-Lord" question make these the sons of Joseph by a former marriage, the favorite doctrine includes the perpetual virginity of Joseph. Just as the idea of the sinlessness of Mary has led to the dogma of the immaculate conception, so the idea of her perpetual virginity demands the ancillary notion of Joseph's. No critical or historical considerations are of any possible use here. It is a matter of dogmatic assumption unmixed with any alloy of factual evidence, and might better be openly made such.

It is evident that a very serious moral issue is raised here. The question is not whether virginity is a higher form of life than marriage. One might be prepared to say that under certain circumstances it is. The point at issue here is very different. If Mary was married to Joseph and Joseph to Mary in appearance only, then they were recreant to each other and to the ordinance of God which made them one. How a Roman Catholic, to whom marriage is a sacrament, can entertain such a notion is an unfathomable mystery. The fact that Mary was miraculously the mother of the Messiah has nothing to do with the question of her privilege and obligation in the holiest of human relationships. Back of this unwholesome dogma are two utterly false ideas: that the marriage relationship is incompatible with holy living, and that Mary is not to be considered a human being under the ordinary obligations of human life.

(c) Doctrine of Mary's Glorification as the Object of Worship and Her Function as Intercessor:

With no wish to be polemic toward Roman Catholicism, and, on the contrary, with every desire to be sympathetic, it is very difficult to be patient with the puerilities which disfigure the writings of Roman Catholic dogmaticians in the discussion of this group of doctrines.

(i) Take, for example, the crude literalism involved in the identification of the woman of Revelation 12:1-6 with Mary. Careful exegesis of the passage (especially Revelation 12:6 ), in connection with the context, makes it clear that no hint of Mary's status in heaven is intended. As a matter of fact, Mary, in any literal sense, is not referred to at all. Mary's motherhood along with that of the mother of Moses is very likely the basis of the figure, but the woman of the vision is the church, which is, at once, the mother and the body of her Lord (see Milligan, Expositors' Bible , "Revelation," 196 f).

Three other arguments are most frequently used to justify the place accorded to Mary in the liturgy.

(ii) Christ's perpetual humanity leads to His perpetual Sonship to Mary. This argument, if it carries any weight at all, in this connection, implies that the glorified Lord Jesus is still subject to His mother. It is, however, clear from the Gospels that the subjection to His parents which continued after the incident in the Temple (Luke 2:51 ) was gently but firmly laid aside at the outset of the public ministry (see above, II, 2, 3). In all that pertains to His heavenly office, as Lord, Mary's position is one of dependence, not of authority.

(iii) Christ hears her prayers. Here, again, dogmatic assumption is in evidence. That He hears her prayers, even if true in a very special sense, does not, in the least, imply that prayers are to be addressed to her or that she is an intercessor through whom prayers may be addressed to Him.

(iv) Since Mary cared for the body of Christ when He was on earth, naturally His spiritual body would be her special care in heaven. But, on any reasonable hypothesis, Mary was, is, and must remain, a part of that body (see Acts 1:14 ). Unless she is intrinsically a Divine being, her care for the church cannot involve her universal presence in it and her accessibility to the prayers of her fellow-believers.

To a non-Romanist, the most suggestive fact in the whole controversy is that the statements of cautious apologists in support of the ecclesiastical attitude toward Mary, do not, in the least degree, justify the tone of extravagant adulation which marks the non-polemical devotional literature of the subject (see Dearden, Modern Romanism Examined , 22 f).

(3) Conclusion.

Our conclusion on the whole question is that the literature of Mariolatry belongs, historically, to unauthorized speculation; and, psychologically, to the natural history of asceticism and clerical celibacy.

III. Mary Magdalene

( Μαρία Μαγδαληνή , Marı́a Magdalēnḗ = of "Magdala"). - A devoted follower of Jesus who entered the circle of the taught during the Galilean ministry and became prominent during the last days. The noun "Magdala," from which the adjective "Magdalene" is formed, does not occur in the Gospels (the word in Matthew 15:39 , is, of course, "Magadan"). The meaning of this obscure reference is well summarized in the following quotations from Plummer (International Critical Commentary , "Luke," 215): "'Magdala is only the Greek form of mighdōl or watch-tower, one of the many places of the name in Palestine' (Tristram, Bible Places , 260); and is probably represented by the squalid group of hovels which now bears the name of Mejdel near the center of the western shore of the lake."

1. Mary Not the Sinful Woman of Luke 7 :

As she was the first to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus, it is important that we should get a correct view of her position and character. The idea that she was a penitent, drawn from the life of the street, undoubtedly arose, in the first instance, from a misconception of the nature of her malady, together with an altogether impossible identification of her with the woman who was a sinner of the preceding section of the Gospel. It is not to be forgotten that the malady demon-possession, according to New Testament ideas (see DEMON , DEMONOLOGY ), had none of the implications of evil temper and malignant disposi-tion popularly associated with "having a devil." The possessed was, by our Lord and the disciples looked upon as diseased, the victim of an alien and evil power, not an accomplice of it. Had this always been understood and kept in mind, the unfortunate identification of Mary with the career of public prostitution would have been much less easy.

According to New Testament usage, in such cases the name would have been withheld (compare Luke 7:37; John 8:3 ). At the same time the statement that 7 demons had been cast out of Mary means either that the malady was of exceptional severity, possibly involving several relapses (compare Luke 11:26 ), or that the mode of her divided and haunted consciousness (compare Mark 5:9 ) suggested the use of the number 7. Even so, she was a healed invalid, not a rescued social derelict.

The identification of Mary with the sinful woman is, of course, impossible for one who follows carefully the course of the narrative with an eye to the transitions. The woman of Luke 7 is carefully covered with the concealing cloak of namelessness. Undoubtedly known by name to the intimate circle of first disciples, it is extremely doubtful whether she was so known to Luke. Her history is definitely closed at Luke 7:50 .

The name of Mary is found at the beginning of a totally new section of the Gospel (see Plummer's analysis, op. cit., xxxvii), where the name of Mary is introduced with a single mark of identification, apart from her former residence, which points away from the preceding narrative and is incompatible with it. If the preceding account of the anointing were Mary's introduction into the circle of Christ's followers, she could not be identified by the phrase of Luke. Jesus did not cast a demon out of the sinful woman of Luke 7 , and Mary of Magdala is not represented as having anointed the Lord's feet. The two statements cannot be fitted together.

2. Mary Not a Nervous Wreck:

Mary has been misrepresented in another way, scarcely less serious. She was one of the very first witnesses to the resurrection, and her testimony is of sufficient importance to make it worth while for those who antagonize the narrative to discredit her testimony. This is done, on the basis of her mysterious malady, by making her a paranoiac who was in the habit of "seeing things." Renan is the chief offender in this particular, but others have followed his example.

(1) To begin with, it is to be remarked that Mary had been cured of her malady in such a marked way that, henceforth, throughout her life, she was a monument to the healing power of Christ. What He had done for her became almost a part of her name along with the name of her village. It is not to be supposed that a cure so signal would leave her a nervous wreck, weak of will, wavering in judgment, the victim of hysterical tremors and involuntary hallucinations.

(2) There is more than this a priori consideration against such an interpretation of Mary. She was the first at the tomb (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10 ). But she was also the last at the cross - she and her companions (Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:40 ). A glance at the whole brief narrative of her life in the Gospels will interpret this combination of statements. Mary first appears near the beginning of the narrative of the Galilean ministry as one of a group consisting of "many" (Luke 8:3 ), among them Joanna, wife of Chuzas, Herod's steward, who followed with the Twelve and ministered to them of their substance. Mary then disappears from the text to reappear as one of the self-appointed watchers of the cross, thereafter to join the company of witnesses to the resurrection. The significance of these simple statements for the understanding of Mary's character and position among the followers of Jesus is not far to seek. She came into the circle of believers, marked out from the rest by an exceptional experience of the Lord's healing power. Henceforth, to the very end, with unwearied devotion, with intent and eager willingness, with undaunted courage even in the face of dangers which broke the courage of the chosen Twelve, she followed and served her Lord. It is impossible that such singleness of purpose, such strength of will, and, above all, such courage in danger, should have been exhibited by a weak, hysterical, neurotic incurable. The action of these women of whom Mary was one, in serving their Master's need while in life, and in administering the last rites to His body in death, is characteristic of woman at her best.

IV. Mary of Bethany.

Another devoted follower of Jesus. She was a resident of Bethany ( Βηθανία , Bēthanı́a ), and a member of the family consisting of a much-beloved brother, Lazarus, and another sister, Martha, who made a home for Jesus within their own circle whenever He was in the neighborhood.

The one descriptive reference, aside from the above, connected with Mary, has caused no end of perplexity. John (John 11:2 ) states that it was this Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. This reference would be entirely satisfied by the narrative of John 12:1 , John 12:8 , and no difficulty would be suggested, were it not for the fact that Luke (Luke 7:36-50 ) records an anointing of Jesus by a woman, accompanied with the wiping of His feet with her hair. The identification of these two anointings would not occasion any great difficulty, in spite of serious discrepancies as to time, place and other accessories of the action, but for the very serious fact that the woman of Lk 7 is described as a sinner in the dreadful special sense associated with that word in New Testament times. This is so utterly out of harmony with all that we know of Mary and the family at Bethany as to be a well-nigh intolerable hypothesis.

On the other hand, we are confronted with at least one serious difficulty in affirming two anointings. This is well stated by Mayor ( Hastings Dictionary Bible , III, 280 a ): "Is it likely that our Lord would have uttered such a high encomium upon Mary's act if she were only following the example already set by the sinful woman of Galilee; or (taking the other view) if she herself were only repeating under more favorable circumstances the act of loving devotion for which she had already received His commendation?" We shall be compelled to face this difficulty in case we are forced to the conclusion that there were more anointings than one.

1. Attack upon Luke's Narrative:

In the various attempts to solve this problem, or rather group of problems, otherwise than by holding to two anointings, Luke, who stands alone against Mark, Matthew and John, has usually suffered loss of confidence. Mayor (op. cit., 282a) suggests the possibility that the text of Luke has been tampered with, and that originally his narrative contained no reference to anointing. This is a desperate expedient which introduces more difficulties than it solves. Strauss and other hostile critics allege confusion on the part of Luke between the anointing at Bethany and the account of the woman taken in adultery, but, as Plummer well says, the narrative shows no signs of confusion. "The conduct both of Jesus and of the woman is unlike either fiction or clumsily distorted fact. His gentle severity toward Simon, and tender reception of the sinner, are as much beyond the reach of invention as the eloquence of her speechless affection" ( International Critical Commentary , "Luke," 209).

2. Evidence of Luke Taken Alone:

The first step in the solution of this difficulty is to note carefully the evidence supplied by Luke's narrative taken by itself. Mary is named for the first time in Luke 10:38-42 in a way which clearly indicates that the family of Bethany is there mentioned for the first time (a " certain τις , tis woman named Martha," and "she had a sister called Mary," etc.). This phrasing indicates the introduction of a new group of names (compare John 11:1 ). It is also a clear indication of the fact that Luke does not identify Mary with the sinful woman of Luke 7 (compare Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8 ).

3. Evidence Sifted by Comparison:

Our next task is to note carefully the relationship between the narratives of Mark, Matthew and John on one side, and that of Luke on the other. We may effectively analyze the narratives under the following heads: (1) notes of time and place; (2) circumstances and scenery of the incident; (3) description of the person who did the anointing; (4) complaints of her action, by whom and for what; (5) the lesson drawn from the woman's action which constitutes our Lord's defense of it; (6) incidental features of the narrative.

Under (1) notice that all three evangelists place the incident near the close of the ministry and at Bethany. Under (2) it is important to observe that Matthew and Mark place the scene in the house of Simon "the leper," while John states vaguely that a feast was made for Him by persons not named and that Martha served. Under (3) we observe that Matthew and Mark say "a woman," while John designates Mary. (4) According to Matthew, the disciples found fault; according to Mark, some of those present found fault; while according to John, the fault-finder was Judas Iscariot. According to all three, the ground or complaint is the alleged wastefulness of the action. (5) Again, according to all three, our Lord defended the use made of the ointment by a mysterious reference to an anointing of His body for the burial. John's expression in particular is most interesting and peculiar (see John 12:7 ). (6) The Simon in whose house the incident is said to have taken place is by Matthew and Mark designated "the leper." This must mean either that he had previously been cured or that his disease had manifested itself subsequent to the feast. Of these alternatives the former is the more natural (see Gould, International Critical Commentary, "Mark," 257). The presence of a healed leper on this occasion, together with the specific mention of Lazarus as a guest, would suggest that the feast was given by people, in and about Bethany, who had especial reason to be grateful to Jesus for the exercise of His healing power.

It is beyond reasonable doubt that the narratives of Matthew, Mark and John refer to the same incident. The amount of convergence and the quality of it put this identification among the practical certainties. The only discrepancies of even secondary importance are a difference of a few days in the time (Gould says four) and the detail as to the anointing of head or feet. It is conceivable, and certainly no very serious matter, that John assimilated his narrative at this point to the similar incident of Luke 7 .

An analysis of the incident of Luke 7 with reference to the same points of inquiry discloses the fact that it cannot be the same as that described by the other evangelists. (1) The time and place indications, such as they are, point to Galilee and the Galilean ministry. This consideration alone is a formidable obstacle in the way of any such identification. (2) The immediate surroundings are different. Simon "the leper" and Simon "the Pharisee" can hardly be one person. No man could have borne both of these designations. In addition to this, it is difficult to believe that a Pharisee of Simon's temper would have entertained Jesus when once he had been proscribed by the authorities. Simon's attitude was a very natural one at the beginning of Christ's ministry, but the combination of hostility and questioning was necessarily a temporary mood. (3) The description of the same woman as sinner in the sense of Luke 7 in one Gospel; simply as a woman in two others; and as the beloved and honored Mary of Bethany in a third is not within the range of probability, especially as there is no hint of an attempt at explanation on the part of any of the writers. At any rate, prima facie, this item in Luke's description is seriously at variance with the other narratives. (4) Luke is again at variance with the others, if he is supposed to refer to the same event, in the matter of the complaint and its cause. In Luke's account there is no complaint of the woman's action suggested. There is no hint that anybody thought or pretended to think that she had committed a sinful waste of precious material. The only complaint is Simon's, and that is directed against the Lord Himself, because Simon, judging by himself, surmised that Jesus did not spurn the woman because He did not know her character. This supposed fact had a bearing on the question of our Lord's Messiahship, concerning which Simon was debating; otherwise one suspects he had little interest in the episode. This fact is, as we shall see, determinative for the understanding of the incident and puts it apart from all other similar episodes.

(5) The lesson drawn from the act by our Lord was in each incident different. The sinful woman was commended for an act of courtesy and tenderness which expressed a love based upon gratitude for deliverance and forgiveness. Mary was commended for an act which had a mysterious and sacramental relationship to the Lord's death, near at hand.

This brings us to the point where we may consider the one serious difficulty, that alleged by Mayor and others, against the hypothesis of two anointings, namely, that a repetition of an act like this with commendation attached would not be likely to occur. The answer to this argument is that the difficulty itself is an artificial one due to a misreading of the incident. In the point of central reference the two episodes are worlds apart. The act of anointing in each case was secondary, not primary. Anointing was one of those general and prevalent acts of social courtesy which might mean much or little, this or that, and might be repeated a score of times in a year with a different meaning each time. The matter of primary importance in every such case would be the purpose and motive of the anointing. By this consideration alone we may safely discriminate between these incidents. In the former case, the motive was to express the love of a forgiven penitent. In the latter, the motive was gratitude for something quite different, a beloved brother back from the grave, and, may we not say (in view of John 12:7 ), grief and foreboding? That Mary's feeling was expressed in the same way outwardly as that of the sinful woman of the early ministry does not change the fact that the feeling was different, that the act was different and that, consequently, the commendation she received, being for a different thing, was differently expressed. The two anointings are not duplicates. Mary's act, though later, was quite as spontaneous and original as that of the sinful woman, and the praise bestowed upon her quite as natural and deserved.

4. Character of Mary:

With this fictitious and embarrassing identification out of the way, we are now free to consider briefly the career and estimate the character of Mary. (1) At the outset it is worth mentioning that we have in the matter of these two sisters a most interesting and instructive point of contact between the synoptic and Johannine traditions. The underlying unity and harmony of the two are evident here as elsewhere. In Luke 10:38-42 we are afforded a view of Mary and Martha photographic in its clear revelation of them both. Martha is engaged in household affairs, while Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, absorbed in listening. This, of course, might mean that Mary was idle and listless, leaving the burden of responsibility for the care of guests upon her more conscientious sister. Most housewives are inclined to take this view and to think that Martha has been hardly dealt with. The story points to the contrary. It will be noticed that Mary makes no defense of herself and that the Master makes no criticism of Martha until she criticizes Mary. When He does speak, it is with the characteristic and inimitable gentleness, but in a way leaving nothing to be desired in the direction of completeness. He conveyed His love, His perfect understanding of the situation, His defense of Mary, His rebuke to Martha, in a single sentence which contains a perfect photograph of the two loved sisters. Martha is not difficult to identify. She was just one of those excellent and tiresome women whose fussy concern and bustling anxiety about the details of household management make their well-meant hospitality a burden to all their guests. Mary's quiet and restful interest in the guest and His conversation must be set against the foil of Martha's excess of concern in housework and the serving of food. When one comes to think of it, Mary chose the better part of hospitality, to put no higher construction upon her conduct. (2) In John 11:20 , we are told that Martha went forth to meet Jesus while Mary remained in the house. In this we have no difficulty in recognizing the same contrast of outwardness and inwardness in the dispositions of the sisters; especially, as when Mary does come at Martha's call to meet Jesus, she exhibits an intensity of feeling of which Martha gives no sign. It is significant that, while Mary says just what Martha had already said (John 11:21 , John 11:32 ), her way of saying it and her manner as a whole so shakes the Lord's composure that He is unable to answer her directly but addresses His inquiry to the company in general (John 11:34 ). (3) Then we come to the events of the next chapter. The supper is given in Bethany. Martha serves. Of course she serves. She always serves when there is opportunity. Waiting on guests, plate in hand, was the innocent delight of her life. One cannot fail to see that, in a single incidental sentence, the Martha of Luke 10:38-42 is sketched again in lifelikeness. It is the same Martha engaged in the same task. But what of Mary in this incident? She is shown in an unprecedented role, strange to an oriental woman and especially to one so retiring in disposition as Mary. Her action not only thrust her into a public place alone, but brought her under outspoken criticism. But after all, this is just what we come to expect from these deep, intense, silent natures. The Mary who sat at Jesus' feet in listening silence while Martha bustled about the house, who remained at home while Martha went out to meet Him, is the very one to hurl herself at His feet in a storm and passion of tears when she does meet Him and to break out in a self-forgetful public act of devotion, strange to her modest disposition, however native to her deep emotion.

Martha was a good and useful woman. No one would deny that, least of all the Master who loved her (John 11:5 ). But she lived on the surface of things, and her affections and her piety alike found adequate and satisfying expression at all times in the ordinary kindly offices of hospitality and domestic service. Not so Mary. Her disposition was inward, silent, brooding, with a latent capacity for stress and the forthwith, unconventional expression of feelings, slowly gathering intensity through days of thought and repression. Mary would never be altogether at home in the world of affairs. Hers was a rare spirit, doomed often to loneliness and misunderstanding except at the hands of rarely discerning spirits, such as she happily met in the person of her Lord.

V. Mary, the Mother of James and Joses.

Under this caption it is necessary merely to recall and set in order the few facts concerning this Mary given in the Gospels (see Matthew 27:55 , Matthew 27:56 , Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:40; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10; compare Luke 23:49-56 ).

In Matthew 27:55 , Matthew 27:56 (parallel Mark 15:40 ), we are told that at the time of the crucifixion there was a group of women observing the event from a distance. These women are said to have followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him and to the disciples. Among these were Mary Magdalene (see III, above); Mary, mother of James and Joses; and the unnamed mother of Zebedee's children. By reference to Luke 8:2 , Luke 8:3 , where this group is first introduced, it appears that, as a whole, it was composed of those who had been healed of infirmities of one kind or another. Whether this description applies individually to Mary or not we cannot be sure, but it is altogether probable. At any rate, it is certain that Mary was one who persistently followed with the disciples and ministered of her substance to aid and comfort the Lord in His work for others. The course of the narrative seems to imply that Mary's sons accompanied their mother on this ministering journey and that one of them became an apostle. It is interesting to note that two mothers with their sons joined the company of the disciples and that three out of the four became members of the apostolic group. Another item in these only too fragmentary references is that this Mary, along with her of Magdala and the others of this group, was of sufficient wealth and position to be marked among the followers of Jesus as serving in this particular way. The mention of Chuzas' wife (Luke 8:3 ) is an indication of the unusual standing of this company of faithful women.

The other notices of Mary show her lingering late at the cross (Mark 15:40 ); a spectator at the burial (Mark 15:47 ); and among the first to bear spices to the tomb. This is the whole of this woman's biography extant, but perhaps it is enough. We are told practically nothing, directly, concerning her; but, incidentally, she is known to be generous, faithful, loving, true and brave. She came in sorrow to the tomb to anoint the body of her dead Lord; she went away in joy to proclaim Him alive forevermore. A privilege to be coveted by the greatest was thus awarded to simple faith and trusting love.

VI. Mary, the Mother of John Mark.

This woman is mentioned but once in the New Testament (Acts 12:12 ), but in a connection to arouse intense interest. Since she was the mother of Mark, she was also, in all probability, the aunt of Barnabas. The aunt of one member and the mother of another of the earliest apostolic group is a woman of importance. The statement in Acts, so far as it concerns Mary, is brief but suggestive. Professor Ramsay (see St. Paul the Traveler , etc., 385) holds that the authority for this narrative was not Peter but Mark, the son of the house. This, if true, adds interest to the story as we have it. In the first place, the fact that Peter went thither directly upon his escape from prison argues that Mary's house was a well-known center of Christian life and worship. The additional fact that coming unannounced and casually the apostle found a considerable body of believers assembled points in the same direction. That "many" were gathered in the house at the same time indicates that the house was of considerable size. It also appears that Rhoda was only one of the maids, arguing a household of more than ordinary size. There is a tradition of doubtful authenticity, that Mary's house was the scene of a still more sacred gathering in the upper room on the night of the betrayal. We conclude that Mary was a wealthy widow of Jerusalem, who, upon becoming a disciple of Christ, with her son, gave herself with whole-souled devotion to Christian service, making her large and well-appointed house a place of meeting for the proscribed and homeless Christian communion whose benefactor and patron she thus became.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Mary'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​isb/​m/mary.html. 1915.
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