Mary Magdalene

“It came to pass afterward, that he [Jesus] went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance [of their own means].”
—Luke 8:1-3

THERE APPEARED IN THE December 8, 2003, issue of Newsweek magazine (the Religion section), an interesting article featured as “Women in the Bible.” The actual article had the title on the front cover, “The Bible’s Lost Stories.” The authors, Barbara Kantrowitz and Anne Underwood, in reviewing women’s role in the Bible, approached the subject from the standpoint of the women’s lib movement, and noted Mary Magdalene in particular. The article said:


“The year’s surprise ‘It’ girl is the star of a mega best seller, a hot topic on campuses and rumored to be the special friend of a famous and powerful man. Yet she’s still very much a woman of mystery. For close to 2,000 years, Christians have known her as Mary Magdalene, but she was probably named Miriam, and came from the fishing village of Magdala. Most people today grew up believing she was a harlot saved by Jesus, but the Bible never says that. Scholars working with ancient texts now believe she was one of Christ’s most devoted followers, perhaps even his trusted confidante and financial backer.

“This revisionist view helped inspire the plot of The Da Vinci Code, which has been on The New York Times best-seller list for 36 weeks, with 4.3 million copies in print. Author Dan Brown draws on some credible discoveries about the first followers of Jesus, as well as some rather fantastical theories about Mary Magdalene, to suggest that she was far more than the first to witness the risen Jesus (her most important role, according to the New Testament). The blockbuster novel has enraged many theologians who consider it anti-Catholic, but it has also added new force to an already dynamic debate among women who see Magdalene’s story as a parable for their own struggles to find a place in the modern church. None of this would be possible without a new generation of women Biblical scholars who have brought a very modern passion to the ancient tradition of scriptural reinterpretation—to correct what these scholars regard as a male misreading of key texts. It has not been easy work. Despite the undeniably central role of Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Biblical focus has largely been on what God has accomplished through the agency of men—from Adam to the Apostles. Of some 3,000 characters named in the Bible, fewer than 10 percent are women. Female scholars are trying to redress the imbalance by unearthing narratives that have been overlooked for centuries, and reinterpreting more-familiar stories, including Mary Magdalene’s, and even the story of Eve (where, one could argue, the problems really began). And they are rigorously studying the Biblical period to glean what they can about the role of women in ancient times.


“Across the country, fresh research is inspiring women of all faiths. Evangelical Protestant women hold their own Bible-study groups where the distaff version of history is a major draw. Jewish worshipers now add to the litany of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob the names of their wives—Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel. In addition to Moses at Passover, some celebrate his sister, Miriam, who defied a powerful and tyrannical ruler to rescue her baby brother from a death decree, and became a prophet and leader in her own right. For Roman Catholics in particular, Mary Magdalene has emerged as a role model for women who want a greater church presence after the wave of sexual-abuse scandals. ‘I want my daughter to feel that she is as equally valued as her brother in terms of her faith,’ says Dr. Jo Kelly, 38, of Sinking Spring, Pa. Not long ago, Kelly’s daughter, Mary Shea, 7, told her mother she wanted to be a priest. Kelly, a pediatrician who belongs to a religious-discussion group, didn’t discourage her. ‘Keep believing that,’ she replied, ‘and maybe we can change people’s minds.’

“Mary Magdalene inspires, these women say, because she was not a weakling—the weeping Magdalene whose name begat the English word ‘maudlin’—but a person of strength and character. In an era when women were commonly identified in relation to a husband, father, or brother, she was identified instead by her town of origin. Scholars believe she was one of a number of women who provided monetary support for Jesus’ ministry. And when the male disciples fled, she steadfastly witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, providing the thread of continuity in the central story of Christian history—an extraordinary role in an age when women generally provided legal testimony only in the absence of male witnesses. Tradition, however, has consigned Mary to a lesser role. ‘Instead, we’ve been given the image of Mary as a forgiven sinner,’ says Sister Christine Schenk, a cofounder of Future Church, an organization calling for women’s equality in the Roman Catholic Church. ‘Well, Peter was a forgiven sinner, too, but that’s not what we remember him for.’ Schenk helped institute nationwide observances of Mary Magdalene’s feast day, July 22.”

The role model of Mary Magdalene for Catholic women, as noted, has been marred by the claim that she was a harlot. It is true that Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. The article blames Pope Gregory in suggesting this viewpoint when he gave a sermon in A.D. 591. The Vatican overruled Pope Gregory’s remarks in 1969, but the image still persists. A more fantastic erroneous claim is that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus. This is farfetched because Jesus plainly said, “There are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.” (Matt. 19:12) Jesus was a replacement for Adam, and died with an unborn race in his loins. In this way he became a redeemer for all mankind as the progeny of Adam.


What was not mentioned in the article was that Mary Magdalene was a sick woman and possessed by seven devils. Jesus healed her by casting out those seven devils, as mentioned in Luke 8:2.

For this she was ever grateful to the Master and became a devoted, faithful disciple. She manifested her love in many ways, but we remember her as standing near the cross with the other women (John 19:25; Matt. 27:55,56; Mark 15:40,41), and as one of those who witnessed the anointing and burial of Jesus as he was laid in the tomb. (Luke 23:55; Mark 15:47; Matt. 27:61) She was on the scene after the Sabbath and returned with other women to complete the task of anointing his body, when the angel appeared to them and said, “He is not here: … he is risen.”—Matt. 28:1-6; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 23:56; 24:1-9

It was Mary that approached our risen Lord unknowingly, and thought he was a gardener. (John 20:1-14) He asked her why she was weeping and she replied, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.” (vs. 15) When Jesus said to her “Mary,” in that familiar endearing tone, she recognized him and replied, “Rabboni,” meaning master. (vs. 16) He instructed her to tell his disciples that she had seen him. We note that Mary Magdalene was the first to see our risen Lord.

In addition to the frequent mention of Mary Magdalene because of her close association and devotion to Jesus, the other two women mentioned in Luke 8:2,3 along with Mary Magdalene—Joanna and Susanna—are not mentioned again, as was Mary Magdalene, except for Joanna as being one of the women who came to the sepulchre to complete the anointing of Jesus’ body. (Luke 24:10) All three women (and many others) are mentioned as giving of their means to support the ministry of Jesus. These women are not always mentioned by name, but might be included in the general description of ‘certain women’ or ‘other women.’ Mary Magdalene seems to be one of the outstanding women mentioned in the Scriptures. She was so grateful for her healing that she gave all her means to help support the work of Jesus and was a devoted follower. She may have possessed more wealth than the average woman of her time, but none of these details are given to us in the Bible.


The strong feminist approach in this article can be seen in the following paragraph concerning Mary Magdalene:

“Some scholars also think Mary Magdalene was defamed because she was a threat to male control of the church. As the ‘Apostle to the Apostles’—the first to encounter the risen Christ and to take the news to Peter and the other male Apostles—she was clearly more than just an ordinary follower. In several Gnostic Gospels—written by Christians whose alternative views of Jesus were eventually suppressed as heresy—Mary Magdalene rivals Peter for the leadership of the early church because of her superior understanding of Jesus’ teaching. The Gospel of Philip, for example, describes her as Jesus’ close companion whom he often ‘used to kiss.’ Karen King of Harvard Divinity School, author of The Gospel of Mary of Magdala, and a leading authority on women’s roles in the early church, sees her as a target of jealousy because she threatened Peter’s status. By transforming her into a reformed whore, King believes, the church fathers ‘killed the argument for women’s leadership’—and for recognizing women as fit recipients of divine revelation. King says the transformation also created a powerful symbol of the prostitute as redeemed sinner, the female version of the Prodigal Son. If Jesus could accept her, he could accept anyone.”


Mary Magdalene is not the only woman mentioned in the article. Other women mentioned are Mother Eve, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hagar, Miriam, Rahab, Deborah, Jael, and Judith. From the feminist standpoint, Mother Eve is painted as not being completely responsible for the transgression, rather she equally shared it with Adam. The Apostle Paul plainly tells us that Eve was deceived, but not Adam. Adam willingly transgressed whereas Eve was a victim of Satan’s guile. (I Tim. 2:13-15) For this reason, the Apostle Paul said, “suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man.”—vs. 12

Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel have all been given due recognition by the Scriptures and beautiful types are represented by Sarah and Rebekah. Sarah is a picture of the Grace Covenant and is featured in Isaiah 54 and Galatians 4:22-31. Rebekah is a picture of the church class who, as the bride of Christ, will indeed be a mother to “thousands of millions.” (Gen. 24:60) Rachel is mentioned in prophecy as the picture of Jewish mothers living in Bethlehem whose children were slain by Herod when Jesus was born. (Jer. 31:15-17) Both Rahab and Deborah played important roles in defeating Israel’s enemies in Canaan. The article laments that Miriam, Moses’ sister, was called a prophetess but no prophecy was assigned to her. She did sing with Moses a song of deliverance. (Exod. 15:20,21) She also, however, went beyond her bounds in criticizing Moses and was punished for this misdemeanor. (Num. 12) Both Aaron and Miriam tried to usurp the authority given to Moses to lead the nation of Israel, and God plainly showed his disapproval.

Hagar, a bondwoman, has become idolized by Hispanic and African-American women. In prophecy she is used to represent the Law Covenant. (Gal. 4:22-31) She also has been claimed by Islam who say that in Mecca (their holy city), in the Kasba (their holy shrine), the bodies of Hagar and Ishmael are buried.


In those writings associated with the Bible, but not considered as a part of God’s revelation to man, such as the Gnostic Gospels and Apocrypha, heroines have emerged and are held in high esteem by the authors of this article. Judith, the heroine of the book bearing her name in the Apocrypha, has her story told as follows:

“Perhaps the most striking protofeminist text in Scripture is the Book of Judith, wholly devoted to a heroine who saves Israel. ‘She’s like Wonder Woman, only Jewish,’ says Vanderbilt’s Levine. Judith’s moment comes as Israel is being threatened by a neighboring power. The male Jewish leadership prepared to surrender, but Judith, a beautiful and pious widow, has another plan. Dressed in her alluring best, she enters the enemy’s camp. The general, Holofernes, becomes infatuated and plans to seduce her. But when she is alone in his chambers, Judith decapitates Holofernes and takes his head home in her food bag. The enemy flees. All of Israel, including Jerusalem and its Temple, are saved, and Judith, whom scholars see as a personification of Israel, returns to her previous life.”


Women never need to fear that God doesn’t recognize them. He always has. This is proven to us in the current work going on of selecting the church class. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”—Gal. 3:26-29

The relationship that the church will have to her Lord will be that being demonstrated in the husband-wife relationship of the present time. The Church will always be submissive to her head and master. Therefore, the present time is a time to learn and appreciate that relationship. It was for this reason that the Apostle Peter wrote about Jesus enduring suffering saying, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”—I Pet. 2:21-25, New International Version


He then tells us how this example of Christ must be carried forward in the husband-wife relationship, saying, “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear. Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”—I Pet. 3:1-7, NIV

In God’s kingdom, sex distinction will cease. (Matt. 22:30) The need for procreation will come to an end as the earth is filled with human beings according to God’s plan. God had given the mandate to Adam, “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28, Revised Standard Version), and this will have been accomplished in the years preceding the Millennial Age. However, certain relationships taught to mankind during the time of sex differences will be maintained in principle. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (I Cor. 11:3), and to God “be glory for ever. Amen.”—Rom. 11:36

Dawn Bible Students Association
|  Home Page  |  Table of Contents  |