Mary, the Mother of Mark

12 Oct
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As soon as Peter understood that he was not having a vision but was actually delivered from Herod’s sword (Acts 12:11), he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12)! Something we should notice, and it can be disconcerting, is that the Gospel writers, including Luke’s work in Acts, simply mention a name, often without any other detail that would help us identify the person named. Who is Mary, the mother of Mark, and why would she be so important that her home is  Peter’s first choice to visit, before he flees Jerusalem?  This particular Mary has Peter’s trust to tell James, the Lord’s brother, and anyone else that needed to know Peter’s whereabouts (Acts 12:13-17)?

The Gospel writers offer a of number interesting prospects for this one who is called Mary, the mother of Mark, i.e. unless she is someone no one knows up to this point in time. Yet, Luke seems to expect his Messianic readers to know who this Mary really is. Theophilus, if he is the high priest and son of Annas, would know only that she is John Mark’s mother, because, as far as we know, Luke’s is the only Gospel narrative Theophilus has in his possession.

First, we have Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 2:16), she didn’t have a son named Mark (Matthew 13:55), so she can be eliminated right away. Secondly, we have Mary, called Magdalene, who was one of Jesus’ financial supporters (Luke 8:2-3), but nothing is listed concerning her that would lead us to believe she is this Mary. Thirdly, we have Mary, the mother of James (Luke 24:10) who also has a son named Joseph (Mark 15:40), and she helped prepare the spices with which she and other women intended to anoint the body of Jesus; but if Mark is her son, why is she identified elsewhere as the mother of James the Less (one of the Apostles)? Certainly he would be more renown and a better identifier of the Mary than Mark would be, if Mark were the son of this Mary. Next, we have Mary, the wife of Clopas who stood with Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother and her sister at the foot of the cross (John 19:25). Finally we have Mary, the sister of Martha (Luke 10:38-39), but nothing is said of her in the Gospels that would lead us to believe she is the mother of Mark. Matthew tells us of one he calls the other Mary and lists her with Mary Magdalene (Matthew 27:61; 28:1), but she probably is one of the Marys listed above. Matthew seems to believe his readers would know exactly who she was.

The other Mary couldn’t be Magdalene, because that Mary is always listed with her. Comparing the Gospel accounts will show who was at the foot of the cross. Luke is the only Gospel writer who uses ambiguous terms in describing those present, saying only that women were present (Luke 23:49, 55).

Matthew 27:55-56 Mary Magdalene Mary, mother of James & Joseph Mother of the Zebedee children
Mark 15:40 Mary Magdalene Mary, mother of James the Less & Joseph Salome
John 19:25 Mary Magdalene Mary wife of Clopas Jesus’ mother’s sister Jesus’ mother

According to the above, Mary the mother of James and wife of Clopas could possibly be the other Mary who is mentioned in this manner only by Matthew. However, Mary the sister of Martha is not specifically mentioned in the Gospels as someone present at the foot of the cross, which is quite odd, given her importance in John’s Gospel. So, Mary, Martha’s sister may be a match for Matthew’s other Mary as well.

On the other hand, Matthew’s reference to the **other** Mary may indicate that there is only one other Mary besides Mary Magdalene (remember, Mary the mother of Jesus is not a consideration at all). If, therefore, there is only one other Mary besides Mary Magdalene, then, not only must Mary the mother of James the Less and Joseph (also the wife of Clopas) be the other Mary of Matthew (Matthew 27:61; 28:1), but Mary Magdalene must also be Mary, Martha’s sister. So,  if there are only two Marys in the Gospel narratives (besides the Mother of Jesus), which of these Marys (Mary Magdalene or Mary the Mother of James) is most probably the mother of Mark?

The one Mary is mother to James the Less, but nothing is said of him in Acts. However, Joseph, her other son (Matthew 55-56; Mark 15:4) could be the same Joseph the Apostles surnamed Barnabas (cf. Acts 4:36)! This would mean that Mary, called Magdalene and sister to Martha (who lived at Bethany) was John Mark’s mother, because Joseph, called Barnabas by the Apostles, was Mark’s uncle (Colossians 4:10). This also means that the other Mary was Mary Magdalene’s mother. Both seemed to have lived in Jerusalem, and most likely, their home was used as the upper room where Jesus and the Apostles prepared the Passover. This is why Peter immediately went to their home. It was undoubtedly also used as a meeting place where believers worshiped. Peter expected to find believers there. He may have expected to find James, the Lord’s brother there, but instead gave Mary instructions for him when he hadn’t.

Why is all this important? It seems to me that the people mentioned in the Gospels must have had a place in the 1st century Church, and many of them would have been leaders and should have been mentioned in Acts or Paul’s epistles. If this is logically true, then there must be a reason for Luke’s ambiguity in referring to them. Could this be because he didn’t wish to reveal their identity to Theophilus, his addressee and member of the powerful priestly clan of Annas?


Posted by on October 12, 2012 in Kingdom of God, Persecution


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13 responses to “Mary, the Mother of Mark

  1. Eddie

    August 21, 2016 at 13:22

    One reason might be to keep enemies from being able to trace key personnel through family lines just by holding a copy of one Gospel narrative (as would be the case of Theophilus having the Gospel of Luke). If enemies of the Church knew everyone and were able to get to everyone during the times of persecution, that would really hurt the Church during its early years.

    The upside is, we can trace things out by using all the Scriptures we have and comparing similar records with one another. Being wise as serpents but harmless as doves lets us have the truth, while at the same time keeping the whole picture out of the hands of the enemy.

    Other than that, anyone who reads my studies is free to accept them or reject them. Many things I’ve written, although **based** upon Scripture, could be wrong, because I may not have taken in the whole picture for consideration. This is why I’ve said: this sort of study cannot be dogmatic.

    Lord bless.

  2. Clifford the tekton

    August 21, 2016 at 11:45

    Eddie, I hate to take exception again, but the gospels stating Mary as the mother of James and Joseph is not really a genealogy, is it?
    John 11 lists Martha, Mary and Lazarus as siblings, so why would not all the siblings of James and Joseph be listed?
    Of course it is strange to me how that Mary is called mother of James in one place and mother of Joseph in another, then both in a third instance.
    I’m just not seeing Mary of Magdala and Joseph as siblings.
    Good study.

  3. Eddie

    August 21, 2016 at 00:08

    Greetings Clifford. I don’t remember a question on Salome, so I’m glad I don’t have to answer it. :-)

    Concerning Mary Magdalene, I don’t believe women were listed in genealogies. The five in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew would be an exception to that rule.

    Lord bless.

  4. Clifford the tekton

    August 20, 2016 at 15:36

    Just one thing.. if the other Mary is mentioned as being mother of James (Jacobos) the less and Joseph (Arimathea), why is not Mary of Magdala not listed there as a sister?
    I think I answered my own question on Salome, so never mind about that.

  5. Ed Bromfield

    October 14, 2012 at 12:42

    I like your post on your site, Joseph, but I don’t agree with the stand made by Catholicism in closed communion, but you already know that. I was in the process of leaving a comment there but had to delete it, because I wasn’t finished, and I was already late going to church services. I make the coffee for our Sunday school every week, so I need to go extra early. Anyway, on the way to doing that I thought about my comment and that it might appear too negative for folks stopping by and reading what you have written. Knowing your desire for unity in the Body of Christ, I thought it might be better to say what I have to say here. I don’t want to appear too negative toward Catholicism. I am not–most of my family are Catholic.

    You know I believe it is basically ‘my’ responsibility to judge whether or not I am partaking worthily. I would ask only one question. Do you believe that the body of a Christian is a Temple of God’s Spirit? I know you do, I was Roman Catholic myself, as I’ve already confessed. But I wonder, if my body is God’s Temple in which he dwells, how he is more present in Communion–in the bread and the wine–than he is in me–or in you. After all, it seems the implication of the closed Communion is that the Host is actual body of Christ, and the wine is the actual blood of Christ, and ‘therefore’ unbelievers cannot partake. If God already actually dwells in me, how should his ‘actually’ or ‘not really’ dwelling in the bread and wine make a difference? I do believe it is a memorial–we are told that in God’s word, so I am not making light of the event. I believe Communion points to Jesus death–what he has done to bring us near to God. He tells us to do this–partake–in memory of him! To be left out of any Christian church worship service, not just Roman Catholic, is like all others embracing one another except you, or me as the case may be. In that kind of environment, it means little what the other Christians say about you (that you are indeed on of them in Christ); it is the act of not permitting participation in the most intimate memorial of what God has done for all that speaks louder than what one says. I don’t mean for this to embarrass you or Catholicism. We are just talking man to man, and nothing more should be taken from these remarks. I am sure that something like this is what the first Jewish Christians struggled with when gentiles were first becoming believers. Can we eat at the same table or not?

    Anyway, that’s how I see it. I realize that your post came straight from your own heart-wrenching experience concerning your relationship with your parents. It is reality things like this that I most appreciate in your blogging ministry. You are honest and struggle with life’s questions while still doing all in your power to walk with Christ. That should bless anyone who reads what you have to say.

    Lord bless you continually.

  6. Joseph Richardson

    October 14, 2012 at 00:13

    These are interesting thoughts — I’ll have to delve into study, too. I’ve been concentrating on the Old Testament lately — I never had the discipline for consistent and deep study before. Luke does honor Mary a great deal, now that I think about it, and he does mention that she was present in the Upper Room at Pentecost.

    You’ve given a pretty good account of the reasoning behind our closed communion. I made a post about it once. It never bothered me. I attended Mass daily for over a year before I was allowed to partake. Just being there in the presence of the Eucharist, taking part in a spiritual communion if not the full, physical one, It made me treasure it, long for it — and when I finally did receive it, it was worth every bit of the wait.

    Lord bless you.

  7. Ed Bromfield

    October 13, 2012 at 14:20

    Families are wonderful, especially close relationships, but Jesus cautioned that these close relationships would at times be our enemies as far as following him is concerned. No one is really comfortable with change, at least no one with whom I am familiar, and change creates deep concerns for the relationships. A wonderful mother could turn out to be an over meddling mother-in-law etc. (and I don’t mean to over emphasize the negativity of women, men can be just as bad in this regard). Our relationship with the Lord is no different, things crop up that offend those we love and who love us, but we mustn’t let it interfere with our walk with the Lord. I don’t understand the position the Catholic Church has concerning Communion, and I could be easily offended, because I often attend weddings and funerals in the Catholic Church. I take part in every part of the service but Communion, and it does hurt, but I understand that the position, though wrong in my opinion, must be respected. One of my cousins is a priest (in my youth I wanted to become a priest too). He is the youngest grandchild and I am the eldest. I refer to our being the alpha and omega of our family. Anyway, I asked him why I was not permitted to take Communion with those I loved. I probably don’t remember everything he said, but the reply was logical, according to that system of belief. It has something to do with the Protestant stand that Communion is not the actual Body and Blood of Jesus but is representative of that, and since the whole worship service in Catholicism looks forward to partaking of Communion and then back in thanksgiving of that event, we who don’t believe, as Catholics do, are not really in true fellowship and should not partake (cp. 1Corinthians 11:27). However, my position is that I should be the judge of whether or not I partake in a worthy manner (cp. 1Corinthians 11:28). Nevertheless, I bow to the will of the church in whose assembly I worship.

    Concerning Theophilus, I wrote a post concerning his identity. If you would like to read it you can click on the ‘Book of Acts’ tab on the top of this page and you’ll find it. I was introduced to this idea through either Richard Anderson’s blog found HERE, or Lee Dahn’s blog found HERE. Both men hold the same viewpoint about him, but I don’t remember which one I read first. :-)

    Concerning Mary, the mother of Jesus, I haven’t studied how important she may or may not have been in the early Church. Certainly, she was a believer and is present among the Apostles in Acts 1. She isn’t painted in a very good light in Mark 3:21, 30-32. There Jesus’ friend thought he had gone off the deep end (at least temporarily) and apparently his family agreed, but Jesus pointed to his spiritual family–the Apostles. Mary is quite an enigma and don’t quite understand what she is all about. I do know that, if we take away the position in which she is held by Catholicism, she really is not all that important in the Scriptures, beyond a person like Mary Magdalene or one of the Apostles like Andrew or the sons of Zebedee. All are mentioned and are important to a degree, but not to the degree Christ is, and this is close to how Mary is viewed in Catholicism. Was her privacy protected? Was it for her own safety that she is not heard of? …perhaps either one is true, but I don’t know nor do I have an opinion, because I haven’t looked into her position in the Scriptures. That said, the marriage feast at Cana may be a bit cryptic. Consider, for example, that John writes of the Word “in the beginning” and speaks of him as Light and the Creator. One has to think of Genesis 1 immediately. Then John talks of ‘the next day’ and ‘again the next day’ and ‘the day following’ to close out the chapter. Then he begins the 2nd chapter with ‘on the third day’ thus completing a week corresponding the the creation week. John 2 and Genesis 2 speak of a marriage. Adam was put to sleep and the Lord drew out of him what would be his wife, Eve. John uses the water changed to wine to point to Jesus’ passion, wherein he was put to sleep (death) and out of him in the resurrection was taken his bride–the Church. The words mother and woman in John 2 could be considered the Jewish race as it is in Revelation 12. There is more to be gleaned here than meets the eye. I intend to write about this later, but I need to study it much more than I have. In any event, I see Luke honoring the person of Mary much more than John. Her Magnificat is absolutely marvelous.

    Lord bless you.

  8. Joseph Richardson

    October 13, 2012 at 12:56

    Oh, and one other thought I’ve had, that’s kind of relevant to this post, and to your thoughts about Luke withholding information from his accounts to protect the Church: What do you think of the fact that Mary, the mother of the Lord, is hardly mentioned explicitly at all in the New Testament apart from the Nativity story and Jesus’s childhood in the Synoptic Gospels, and the significant place John gives her (the Wedding at Cana, her presence at the Crucifixion, etc.)? Even if you discount the Catholic emphasis on her, it’s very strange that someone whom the Church at the very least loved and provided for should barely be mentioned. The Gospel of John is possibly the only one of the Gospels written after Mary’s death; do you suppose the other New Testament writers were trying to protect her (either her privacy or her honor or her safety)?

  9. Joseph Richardson

    October 13, 2012 at 12:42

    I think our conversions really were the exact opposite of each other: I was born and raised in the Deep South, where Catholics are very much a minority. To my knowledge, I don’t have any family members, even distant, who were ever Catholic (at least, not since the Reformation), other than a great-uncle who converted after marrying a lady of Italian descent (and those possible Scottish Jacobites way back when).

    The only real friction with my parents over my conversion is exactly what you point out, the lack of full communion in the Eucharist. My dad has expressed offense that he’s not able to take Communion with me, interpreting it as Catholics believing he’s not really a Christian. My mom, on the other hand, is more upset that I can’t take Communion with her and with the rest of the family. I understand and agree with the reasons for it, but it’s one of the things that makes me saddest. I’m very glad, at least, for the Church’s belief that we are all still one in Christ through Baptism.

    That’s an interesting thought about Theophilus being a persecutor. I’d never really thought about it, presuming he was a friend, being named Theophilus — but that name in itself doesn’t really say anything about in what way or even what God he loved. Paul was definitely a liberal, even a radical — as Christ Himself was.

    I’m very glad to meet you, too, Ed. :) I look forward to more and deeper delvings into Acts. Lord bless you, too.

  10. Ed Bromfield

    October 12, 2012 at 23:31

    Hello again, and your welcome; it was a pleasant read. You include a lot more color in your blogs than I find I am able to do–I’m jealous. :-)

    Concerning my bolting, I am from a strong Irish background, very close to the boat. All hell broke loose when I left Catholicism. My Dad went to his grave probably believing I was headed for hell. My uncles on my Mom’s side couldn’t understand and for awhile, I wasn’t welcome among them. But they are wonderful people. They just needed some time. We all love one another now, and it shows, which I am delighted to report, since they are the ‘big brothers’ I never had. I grew up with them. They were all in school when I was a little boy. I and my Mom are the eldest of eight siblings.

    I understand that we don’t have all the information that we would like. Paul tells us that today we know only in part, which makes it pretty weird not to receive one another as brethren. Who has all the answers? …certainly not you or me–we admit that. Nevertheless, there are so many who still cling to their own denominations as either the best in Christianity or the only one in Christianity. Even today I cannot receive Communion with my Catholic brethren, unless I try to sneak up to the Table of the Lord, but I’ll never do that. I respect their opinion.

    I agree that faith says it all. I trust the Lord to lead me, just as you do. I believe the Scriptures as much as they are opened up to me and trust that they are the words of God spoken by frail men such as you and me. On a side note, however, I don’t go along with the modern scholars who date the New Testament way into the 1st or even into the 2nd centuries. Oral culture is one thing but stupidity is quite another. The disciples were quite aware of their responsibilities both to that generation of believers and to those who spoke against them. The church was spread out. It wasn’t a nation collected together. Writing was a must, and it was also a must to write it down as a testimony against those who where their enemies–like Theophilus, who I believe was one of our persecutors–the high priest and son of Annas, who was, himself, largely responsible for the death of Jesus. Anyway, that’s my rabbit trail and a pet peeve of mine. :-)

    I do believe everything I need to know in order to be saved is there. Facts about Jesus and what he said is there. Paul says to be saved I need to believe in my heart and confess with my lips that Jesus is Lord and was raised from the dead by God (Romans 10:11). That’s the theology and the practicality is found in Luke 23:42. The rest is commentary.:-)

    Now, I am not trying to claim that all my bolting, Protestant brethren believe it is as simple as that, but that is how I see it. Figuring it all out is a lot of fun for me, as I believe and hope it is for you. So, we don’t agree on some things. Jesus will set us straight later, and that’s fine with me. Meanwhile, we can be friends and express the love of God with one another, and that’s a good thing. You know, I did a Sunday school study on the book of Acts a few years ago and fell in love with the book. I’ve been studying it and Paul ever since. The point I mean by bringing that up is this, James, the Lords brother, and the believing Pharisees appear to be ultra-conservative. The Apostles appear to be more moderately inclined, while folks like Stephen, Luke, Philip and Paul were the liberals of the group. The one group believed a little differently than the other two. They probably couldn’t see eye to eye about certain things in the Scriptures, but they all worshiped the same Lord and didn’t doubt that of the other two groups with whom they couldn’t agree on certain matters of varying importance. I like that and wish it were true of the Church today–the whole Body of Christ. Anyway, no matter what the deal is, I’ve learned to love those who disagree with me; it’s their right in Christ. I don’t mean to say that I don’t fly off the handle now and again, but that is so much less often today than it was years ago. I see God really dealing with me on this, and it pleases me to pieces.

    I’m glad I met you, Joseph, and I’m glad to know what you are trying to do in the Body of Christ. That also pleases me to pieces! :-)

    Lord bless you.

  11. Joseph Richardson

    October 12, 2012 at 21:19

    Thanks. :) That was definitely one of my favorite posts to research and write.

    I’m pleased to meet a fellow traveler, even if we just passed each other going opposite directions. ;-) Speaking of others thinking we’re making mistakes: I didn’t experience a whole lot of opposition in my conversion to Catholicism. My parents and family were supportive (if a little incredulous — it’s still better not to talk too much about Catholicism to my dad). There was really only one friend who gave me a hard time, and she backed down too after we got into a shouting match about it and she realized that my heart was really in it. I had been drifting for a long time from my evangelical roots, and felt pretty disconnected to begin with. I wonder if something like that didn’t happen to you.

    As a historian — and this is one of the things that led me to Catholicism — I feel like it’s a fallacy of the doctrine of sola scriptura to presume that we have all the sources and aren’t missing any information. We have to remember that there were twenty, thirty, maybe forty years between the events of Christ’s earthly ministry and the writing of the earliest Gospel. For those decades, the Church wasn’t just sitting around waiting patiently for God to give them the New Testament so they could begin preaching the Gospel. The original mode of transmitting the Gospel was by oral preaching and teaching, by the Apostles going out into the world and spreading it by word of mouth. The churches they established were many and far-flung, but they were in touch with each other, by believers traveling among them, by the Apostles returning to visit the churches like Paul wrote about, bringing news and teaching. And we have to accept that we just don’t have all of that. The writers of the New Testament didn’t record absolutely everything that happened or was going on between the churches. The Gospels, by their own admission, aren’t even a full account of everything Jesus said and did — and such a thing isn’t even possible. No writer can record everything, not even a divine one — because He’s limited by the very earthly medium of paper and pen. The books of the New Testament very frequently refer to events we don’t know about and can only infer, to people we don’t know (as in this case), even to letters we don’t have (1 Corinthians 5:9, 7:1).

    Now, Protestants believe that everything they need for salvation is recorded in the Scriptures — and I like to think that God really did give you enough to get you into heaven, since He surely knew ahead of time that you guys were going to bolt. ;-) But that doesn’t mean you have everything in the Scriptures. Sometimes, we just have to admit that we don’t know things. In this case with the Marys, it’s clear that Luke assumed his readers would know Mark’s mother without him having to introduce her or explain who she was. Assuming that she has to be somebody he had already mentioned is just the same as the Catholic lumpers who wanted to identify all of the Jameses with each other. ;-)

    It’s very compelling to me to study the Bible and discover all I can about the people and places in it — that’s what I enjoy about your blog; you’re very persistent about digging at these things — but my salvation doesn’t hinge on who Mark’s mother was or whether Jesus’s brothers were Apostles or even whether they were his brothers. Since I know I don’t have all the facts — not about the Early Church and certainly not about God — I’m content to just let some things be mysteries, things I wonder about but won’t know until I get to ask. I believe and have faith in the things I know for sure, and that’s that the Gospel is true and Jesus is my Savior.

  12. Ed Bromfield

    October 12, 2012 at 12:21

    Greetings Joseph, and thank you for reading and for your comment. I enjoyed reading “Too Many James” and even liked your little rabbit trail as you referred to it. I also visited your facebook page and admire your desire to bring Christians together–if only that could be. I don’t mean to appear to despair of the idea; certainly we shall be together as one when Jesus returns, but I wonder about the prospects on this side of that event. Nevertheless, I encourage you in your efforts.

    We are a bit similar in our walk with Christ. I used to be Roman Catholic and converted to evangelical Christianity, while you were raised evangelical and found Christ leading you to convert to Catholicism. It is strange to see how Christ works, isn’t it? At another time in our lives both of us may have thought the other was making a mistake! :-)

    Anyway, I don’t share your understanding concerning the Jameses or the Marys. You seem to be comfortable with not drawing a conclusion. This doesn’t make my understanding of James or Mary correct, but it is a difference between our looking at Scripture. While your understanding concerning exact verification is true, I would argue that the Scriptures show Jesus at work in the Gospels and brings the work to perfection among certain individuals during his Passion and then is visible for a few of these people in Acts. I intend to post something in a few days to a week about Barnabas and who he might be identified with in Jesus ministry. Again, will it contain something scholars would consider verifiable? …probably not, but it does fit in with my belief that Philippians 1:6 is something we can see in the Gospels among certain key disciples. You touched upon this near the end of your post when you said: “All in all, it seems as if Jesus’s evangelic enterprise may have been something of a family affair…” While I don’t believe Mary was a virgin her entire life, I do believe Jesus key disciples, including many of his Apostles, came from three or four families. While I can’t prove it, it certainly is a lot of fun developing what “could have been true” if the lumpers are closer to the truth than the splitters. :-)

    Lord bless you and in your efforts to bring Christians together,


  13. Joseph Richardson

    October 12, 2012 at 11:04

    Most likely these people were were well known throughout the Church by reputation through oral tradition. The New Testament writers presumed their readers would know who they were talking about. “Mary, the mother of Mark” was identification enough — it told the reader that he was talking about Mary, the mother of Mark, and not any other Mary (Mary was, of course, a very common Jewish name). Before the development of surnames, people were generally identified simply by their relation to someone else well known.

    You might be interested in this post of mine where I followed a similar sort of reasoning, trying to figure out all the Jameses:

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