Throughout the New Testament, one can find a variety of women with the name of Mary. It can be a bit confusing at times, trying to discern which Mary is which; it takes extra care and thought to recognize each one as a separate individual. With a bit of effort, however, each New Testament Mary can be distinguished an appreciated for her special role and contributions to Christendom.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Luke 1: 38
Of course, the most prominent Mary of the Bible is the mother of Christ. This modest maiden from the obscure village of Nazareth has given multitudes the incentive to strive to obey the will of God. There are not a great deal of quotes of the Blessed Mother found within the Bible; however, her few spoken words are full of trust in God, praise for God, warmth, and peacefulness. While the events that surround her would prompt an enduring fretfulness among most, she seemed to have a unique inner calm and acceptance:
- Accepting the news from the angel Gabriel that she would miraculously become with child.
- Traveling to Bethlehem for the census and then giving birth to Jesus in a stable.
- Quietly accepting visits from the shepherds and wise men.
- Secretly escaping to Egypt, far from Herod’s violent jealousy.
- Finding her son after three days in a crowded Jerusalem.
- Asking her now-adult son to help the wedding couple at Cana, who had run out of wine.
- Watching Jesus’ agonizing crucifixion.
- Waiting and receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Her presence is consistently calm, uncomplaining, and serene. Mary shines as a role model for all who strive to live with the Lord.
Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her.
John 20: 18
It is Luke who gives Bible readers the best introduction to Mary Magdalene. He explains how this Mary, of the town of Magdala, along with some other women from the region of Galilee, often accompanied Jesus and the apostles, offering assistance when they could. We also learn during this introduction that Mary once had seven demons possessing her, and that Jesus had released her from their grip. Mary Magdalene’s name reappears in each Gospel as Jesus’ crucifixion took place. This Mary, along with some of the other Galilean women, sadly watched as Jesus was excruciatingly nailed to a cross. Seemingly the most dominant of these Galilean women, Mary Magdalene and a few others (including Mary of Clopas) attempted to anoint Jesus’ dead body with spices in order to prepare for burial. However, as the sun set and Sabbath began, the women were forced to stop their work and observe the Sabbath. Early Sunday morning, it was Mary Magdalene and her friends who shockingly discovered Jesus’ empty tomb. They were also the first to see the risen Christ and to share the glorious news with the disciples.
Mary of Bethany
“There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”
Luke 10: 42
Mary of Bethany had a sister named Martha and a brother named Lazarus. They lived in Bethany, a town not too far from Jerusalem. This Mary was the one who chose to set aside her household chores and instead, sit at the feet of Jesus during a visit to her home–while her sister Martha continued to hastily bustle about. When the resentful Martha asked Jesus to have Mary help out, Jesus made it clear that Mary had chosen the better action and encouraged the anxious sister to do the same – to set aside chores for a while and spend a bit of time on spiritual matters. Another Mary of Bethany story involves a time when her brother Lazarus was seriously ill and she sent word to Jesus, requesting that He come soon. By the time Christ arrived at their home, Lazarus had already died and Mary of Bethany spoke of her profound trust in the Lord, claiming that if He had gotten there earlier, her brother would have survived. Jesus then performed the momentous miracle of restoring Lazarus back to life. It was also Mary of Bethany who, in John’s Gospel, anointed Jesus’ head with oil, upsetting the apostles only to be defended by the Lord.
Mary, the Wife of Clopas
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.
John 19: 25
When studying the crucifixion scene as described by the four evangelists, most have come to agree that the wife of Clopas is in all probability the same as “Mary the mother of James and Joseph” in Matthew’s Gospel and “Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses” in Mark’s Gospel. Mark also explains that this Mary (like Mary Magdalene) was one of the Galilean women who accompanied Jesus during His works and ministered to His needs. In addition to observing the crucifixion of Jesus, Mary of Clopas was among those who set out to anoint Jesus’ body with spices following the Sabbath after Christ’s crucifixion. These women were shocked to see an angel at Jesus’ tomb who shared with the women the good news of Jesus’ resurrection. Mary of Clopas and her friends quickly went to tell the disciples, but astonishingly, came across Jesus along the way who gave the women tremendous comfort and joy. Many consider this Mary to be the mother of the apostle James the Less, because his surname, Alphaeus, is sometimes considered to be a transliteration of Clopas.
Mary of Jerusalem
When he (Peter) realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who is called Mark, where there were many people gathered in prayer.
Acts 12: 12
Acts 12: 12 offers the only specific mentioning of this Mary in the entire Bible. Even with just one brief incidental reference, a handful of insights can be gleaned about Mary of Jerusalem. It is clear that she knew Peter well, because it was her house that he ran to upon his miraculous release from prison. This Biblical Mary had enough devotion to the new Christian faith that she let her house be used as a church for Christians living in Jerusalem. Reading on in the book of Acts, it is learned that she had a servant named Rhoda. Employing a maid is a strong indication that this Mary was of person of some wealth. Her son John who is called Mark traveled with Paul and Barnabas during the beginning of Paul’s first missionary journey. Tradition tells that this son of Mary of Jerusalem was also the writer of the Gospel according to Mark. So, although little is written of the Mary, it is safe to conclude that she had a tremendous devotion to Christ, which she generously shared with others.
Mary of Rome
Greet Mary who has worked hard for you.
Romans 16: 6
This Mary is probably the least noticed of the Marys in the Bible. Paul wrote to the Christians of Rome sometime between A.D. 56 and 58 and in the last chapter of this profound letter, sent greetings to specific Christians living there that he somehow knew at a personal level. This Mary was recognized fourth out of a long list of over twenty-five names. Paul left a small clue about Mary’s personality in the one verse ― that she had worked hard for the Christians of Rome. This Mary of Rome was among many who had somehow embraced Christianity before Paul even traveled or evangelized there. It is not clear how Christian ideals spread to Rome; however it is believed that most of the Christians there were of a Jewish background. The last chapter of Acts tells about the time when Paul finally did go to Rome, unfortunately for imprisonment. This chapter shares how many Roman Christians frequently came to see and speak with him during his house arrest. It is easy to imagine how this Mary of Rome, who he had offered a warm and personal greeting to in his letter to the Romans some time before, would credibly have been one of these frequent visitors.
These various Bible Marys all brought goodness and personality to the New Testament. Their stories help to enliven our understanding of the life of Christ. Each Mary of the Bible can also challenge us to contemplate our unique relationships with Christ and what special qualities we possess that can contribute to help build the faith.