Part II: Mary Magdalene in the history of Christianity and Contemporary Culture Series 2 – 5

Mary Magdalene as The “Apostle To The Apostles” 

Writing in Galatians 1:11–17, Paul intimates that an apostle receives an appearance of the risen Lord and one who is commissioned to proclaim his message. In the canonical gospels, Mary is recorded as fulfilling both of these conditions. Hippolytus, a third-century Bishop, is generally thought to be the first person to name her an “apostle to the apostles.” Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century and John Chrysostom in the fifth also accorded Mary this title.

Some scholars argue that the appellation of the Apostle is honorific in Mary’s case. However, as she meets the criteria, there seems to be no need to assume that the title was anything less than recognizing her apostleship. The persistence and survival of the epithet confirm Mary’s importance among early Christians. Jesus Christ chose Mary to witness first his resurrection and, in sending her with the message of the resurrection to the other apostles, indicated his replacement for Judas Iscariot. The error is in the other apostles not recognizing this fact and thereby appointing Matthias (Acts 1:26). Despite this, Mary Magdalene remained the first female Apostle as the leader of the female disciples of Jesus.

 The Two Marys’

In the sixth century, Pope Gregory I (the Great) declared that Mary Magdalene was beloved of the Savior and was the leader of a group of apostles. He also proclaimed that the Galilean Mary Magdalene, the Judean Mary of Bethany, and the other Mary were the same person, conflating three distinct women.

Mary of Bethany – The Woman with the Alabaster Jar of Perfume 

According to an eleventh-century tradition, Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, introduced Christianity to France. In Eastern Christianity, the confusion did not arise, for the distinctions among the women were maintained.

When Jesus came to the town called Nain (Luke 7:11), one of the Pharisees in the town invited Jesus to have dinner with him (Luke 7:36). In this Pharisee’s house, a woman who has lived a sinful life in Nain (Luke 7:37) brought an alabaster jar of perfume that she poured on Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:37-38). This woman with the alabaster jar was not Mary Magdalene. No verse in the Bible indicates this sinful woman followed Jesus; instead, the Bible said she went in peace as Jesus commanded (Luke 7:50). Mary of Bethany was the one who poured perfume on Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair (John 11:2). The first mention of Mary Magdalene was in Luke 8, when listed among the women that accompany Jesus and the Disciples (Luke 8:2). Pastoral care is hospitality at its best. Hospitality is an art, making sure a guest is welcomed and well-fed; it requires creativity, organization, and teamwork. Mary of Bethany teaches us about hospitality and listening. Jesus was a guest in their home many times, and Mary always paid great attention to Him. Martha chastised her sister for not helping to prepare the food and keep the house in order while they had guests, but Jesus said, “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) Jesus told Martha to do as Mary, set aside the busy work for a bit, and listen. It is an important lesson. Mary of Bethany benefited from her listening. She was one of the few that understood what Jesus was facing and what it meant.

Mary’s act of devotion in anointing the head (Matthew 26: 7) and feet (John 12: 3) of our Lord and in wiping His feet with her hair is in perfect keeping with her character, as seen in Luke 10 and John 11 as Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as a disciple. This oil was worth a fortune, so, in effect, she was pouring out all she had at the feet of Christ. She also understood that she was anointing His body before His death. She knew He was destined to die and wanted to show her Love and devotion before His death. Matthew 26:12-13 said When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told in her memory. As a reward for her devotion and attention to Jesus’ needs (hospitality), Mary was honored like few others have ever been.


Leave a Reply