Have you ever noticed how often the name “Mary” appears in the New Testament, particularly in the Gospels? My electronic Bible program finds 54 matches when I do a search for the term Mary. Contained within the search results are references to seven individuals with the same name–Mary–but this post will show that each had her own unique, memorable part to play in the ministry of Jesus and the formation of what became the Church of God. Sometimes the challenge is in sorting them out.
Why choose Mary?
A friend posed an interesting question when I told her about my topic: Why was the name Mary so popular in New Testament times, given its association with the name Mara, Naomi’s way of describing her affliction (Ruth 1:20), and Marah, the name of the bitter water the Israelites once encountered in their wilderness wanderings (Exodus 15:23)? Herbert Lockyer comments that the “original and pervading sense of these root forms is that of ‘bitterness,’ derived from the notion of ‘trouble, sorrow, disobedience, rebellion’” (All the Women of the Bible, p. 92). Why would a parent give a daughter such a name, she puzzled.
Foreshadowing or preference?
Experts are divided as to the reason for such a choice. Some guess that the naming stemmed from the high regard for Miriam, older sister of Moses and Aaron, and heroine of ancient Israel. Others think it possibly due to the popularity of Mariamne, the last representative of the Hasmonean family.
When I stop to consider Mary, the mother of Jesus, I feel her life certainly had its share of bitterness and sorrow. Perhaps the aged Simeon alluded to the meaning of her name when he said, “…yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35).
Mary Magdalene by Giovanni Bellini
Who is who?
In this post we’ll take a look at each of the Marys in her particular context using the chart below.
Sorting Out the Marys of the New Testament
|| Biographical Notes
|…the mother of Jesus
||Matthew 1 & 2
Luke 1 & 2
Mark 3:21, 31
- A Jewish virgin betrothed to Joseph, the son of Heli.
- Mary was from the small village of Nazareth.
- Gabriel visited her with the news that she, a virgin, would conceive a Son Who would be named Jesus.
- Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, miraculously conceived in her old age, and bore a son, John the Baptist.
- She witnessed her Son’s ministry, experienced at least one of His miracles, and was present at His crucifixion.
- The last mention of Mary is found in Acts 1:14 where she is listed among the disciples gathered in an upper room before the momentous Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was given.
||Matthew 27:55-56, 61
Matthew 28:1, 8-10
Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1, 9
Luke 8:2; 24:10
John 19:25; 20:1, 14-18
- She was probably from the town of Magdala, about three miles north of Tiberias.
- Jesus cast seven demons out of her.
- She was among several women who traveled with Jesus and His disciples, providing for Him “out of their substance” (Luke 8:3).
- Most agree that she is not to be identified as the sinful woman of Luke 7:36-40. (See the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE), topic “Mary,” specifically “Mary Magdalene” as an example.)
- She saw Jesus crucified; she stayed with the body until it was taken down, wrapped in linen cloth, and placed in the tomb.
- She was among the women who brought spices to anoint Jesus’ body, and discovered that He had risen.
- Mary Magdalene is specifically mentioned eleven times in the New Testament.
|…the mother of James the Less and Joses
Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1
- There is some interesting discussion among scholars concerning this woman. John 19:25 calls her Mary, the wife of Clopas (Cleophas), and mentions that she was Mary’s (the mother of Jesus) sister.
- Unger’s Bible Dictionary (PC Study Bible edition) has the opinion that Mary of Clopas and Mary the mother of James and Less and Joseph (Joses) are the same person, and that she was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
- As for sisters having the same name, Unger offers an explanation that on close examination of the Greek text, the virgin Mary’s name is Mariam; her sister’s name is Maria. (See topic Mary, sub-topic Mary Wife of Clopas.)
- ISBE (PC Study Bible) comments that Clopas is also the Alphaeus mentioned in Matthew 10:3 as the father of James. Not all sources agree, however.
- ISBE also suggests the possibility that this Mary was the older sister or half-sister of the virgin Mary.
|…the other Mary
- She came to the tomb with Mary Magdalene.They encountered an angel who explained that Jesus had risen from the dead, and told them to bring the word to His disciples.
- A commonly held opinion is that this Mary is the wife of Clopas, and mother of James the Less and Joses. There is some disagreement as to her identity.
John 11:1,5; 12:1-12
- This Mary is the sister of Martha and Lazarus.
- She is the one who anointed Jesus’ head with spikenard, foreshadowing His death and burial.
- She is not the “sinner” who anointed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:37.
- She sat at Jesus’ feet for instruction in spiritual matters.
|…the mother of Mark
- The ISBE suggests this Mary was probably the aunt of Barnabas. It also comments that possibly she 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” (PC Study Bible, ISBE, topic Mary, sub-topic “Mary, the Mother of John Mark”).
|… of Rome
- Paul mentions her as one who “labored much for us.”