Mary Magdalene

05 Jan

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I am surprised with the dogmatism of commentaries that show their authors had studied the Scriptures referring to Mary Magdalene and the unnamed woman sinner in Luke 7:36-50, and, almost with a single voice, conclude identification of the unnamed woman is impossible. This is especially true, if one tries to show Mary Magdalene is the woman in Luke 7 who is known to be a sinner. In fact, some commentators even conclude it would be impossible to say Mary was a great sinner at all, despite the fact that Luke tells us Jesus had cast out seven demons from her (Luke 8:2). While it is true the demonic possession was viewed as an illness in the 1st century AD, it is also true that, because Jesus forgave sins through the miracle of healing (cf. Luke 5:23-24), sinful behavior was understood to be manifest in an illness or demonic possession.

It also seems that it is universally agreed that Mary came from Magdala, a town in Galilee on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee (cf. Matthew 15:39). Nevertheless, it is never said that Mary came from Magdala (cf. Luke 2:11; John 1:44). It is not necessary for Mary Magdalene to come from Magdala, just as it would be Scripturally wrong to presume Peter was really from Petra, a city south of the Dead Sea near the Negev. Other than the similarity of the name, Mary Magdalene is never associated with Magdala. Rather, both the names Magdalene and Magdala are rooted in the Chaldee or Aramaic root meaning tower (Hebrew – migdal – H4026).[1] Magdalene may have reference to one of Mary’s physical features (cf. Song of Solomon 7:4), or, more probably, may have reference to her spiritual strength after her healing / forgiveness (cf. Psalm 61:3; Proverbs 18:10).

If the latter were true, the name, Magdalene, may have been given her after Pentecost, as the name, Barnabas, was given to Joseph (cf. Acts 4:36). Only Luke names her early in his Gospel. Each of the other three Gospel mention her only at the crucifixion and as one of the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. Thus, the Gospel writers may be implying the name was given Mary as a description of her spirituality after Pentecost.

It has been said that a new thought is begun in Luke 8:1 with “And it came to pass afterward…” and this disassociates Mary Magdalene from the unnamed woman said to be a sinner in Luke 7:36-50, but it isn’t that easy to draw such a conclusion. The Scriptures make it clear that the folks who were spreading the news that Jesus was a great prophet (cf. Luke 7:16-17) did so throughout all Judea. This indicates they did so while on a pilgrimage to the Temple at Jerusalem. If this is logically so, the dinner held in Jesus’ honor must have been in Judea and occurred probably about the time of Hanukkah. Thus, the unnamed woman in Luke 7:36-50 most likely lived in Bethany. Understanding this, places the context of Jesus’ preaching in the “towns and villages” (Luke 8:1) in his return journey to Galilee. In which case, if the foregoing unnamed woman were Mary Magdalene, she would have been traveling with Jesus and the wives of the apostles and the other women who followed him (Luke 8:3). Therefore, the phrase: “And it came to pass afterward…” of Luke 8:1, immediately follows the Pharisee’s dinner held in Jesus honor, and does not indicate a significant passage of time. Luke 8:1 is not written as it is in order to put some distance between the events of Luke 7 and 8. Rather, what Luke writes in Luke 8:1-3 is born out of the events that take place in Luke 7.

Finally, a connection between Mary Magdalene and Mary, Martha’s sister needs to be considered. If we take Matthew’s account into consideration, we need to conclude that they are the same person. This is concluded from the fact that Matthew mentions Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” were at Jesus’ gravesite (Matthew 27:61; 28:1), and Mark tells us that the Mary who is with Mary Magdalene at the gravesite was the mother of Joseph (Mark 15:47), who was also the mother of James (Mark 15:40) and the wife of Cleophas (John 19:25). Therefore, if there are only two Marys,[2] as implied by Matthew (Matthew 27:60; 28:1), Mary Magdalene and Martha’s sister, Mary, must be the same person. (See related study: Who Is the Unnamed Woman of Luke 7)


[1] See Strongs Concordance on Magdala (G3093) and Thayer (G3094 and G3093).

[2] Jesus’ mother is not a consideration here.

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Posted by on January 5, 2017 in Gospel of Luke


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