There are a few different Marys in the Bible. To understand the portrayal of women in Biblical times and its impact today, we’ll need to focus on the two Marys in the Bible who seem to be in contrast to each other: Mary Magdalene, the “sinful woman” turned one of Jesus’ closest followers; and Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was visited by the angel Gabriel and told that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit.
“In Roman Catholicism, until the 1960s Mary Magdalene was officially a ‘sinful woman’” (Jesus and Women, p. 75). Her name was finally cleared after Vatican II, but still, many Christians confuse her with the unnamed prostitute discussed in Luke 7:36-50. Because of this, “the image of Mary Magdalene projected by the Roman Catholic Church until the very recent past is a complete travesty of her role as portrayed in the Gospels” (Jesus and Women, p. 75).
Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus’ closest women disciples, as indicated by the fact that her name is mentioned first in any list of women–a pattern we see with the male disciples, with Peter named first. “It can be deduced from this that she should be seen as a disciple who is on equal terms with Peter, despite the fact that Peter receives so much more attention in the texts” (Jesus and Women, p. 76). In this way, Mary was the “leader” of the women disciples, as Peter was the leader of the men.
Mary Ever Virgin
By the sixth-century Pope Gregory’s papacy, Mother Mary’s “virginal conception of Jesus had been extended to encompass a perpetual virginity” (Jesus and Women, p. 80). At the same time, the promotion of celibacy in the Church was strong, even to the point that it devalued marriage to a lesser status than that of a virgin. Even with the mention of Jesus’ brothers and sisters in the Gospel text, the belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity “gave rise to a disgust for the human body in the Early Church and a belief that Christian virtue must be grounded first and foremost in control of the body” (Jesus and Women, p. 81).
As you can imagine, this view was challenging for Roman Catholic women who saw Mary as celibate yet also a wife and mother. “The doctrine of her perpetual virginity is preached in such a way as to place her in a different category to all other women and leads even to faithful wives and mothers being tainted with sin since they cannot conceive without sexual interaction” (Jesus and Women, p. 81).
Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ Unique Relationship
Throughout history, both Marys have been viewed in different ways, each impacting how women are portrayed in Biblical times and the role and expectation of women today. However, to understand these women’s roles in restoring harmony between the sexes, we must consider Mary Magdalene’s unique relationship with Jesus.
A story that captures this bond beautifully is found in John 20 when Mary visits Jesus’ tomb after his crucifixion, and his body is not there. Mary is weeping when she’s approached by someone she does not recognize.
“He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’” (20:15-16).
When Mary sees Jesus but doesn’t recognize him, “he speaks her name in a tone of voice that instantly evokes for her the essence of their relationship… This must have been a relationship of great depth and intimacy” (Jesus and Women, p. 77). Yet, we know this was a platonic relationship because of Mary’s use of the Hebrew word “Rabbouni,” which means teacher or master.
Furthermore, “the joyful tenderness of their post-Resurrection encounter implies that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were extraordinarily close; the fact that it was Mary to whom Jesus first appeared and not his mother, or Peter, or ‘the beloved disciple’ would seem to suggest that she had been more sensitive towards him during his ministry than anyone else” (Jesus and Women, p. 77). Not only that, but it also has symbolic significance beyond their personal relationship. It is evident throughout scripture that Jesus’ female disciples loyally stood by him, while his male disciples abandoned and denie
The Connection Between the Two Marys in the Bible and Restoring Harmony Between the Sexes
“From the fourth century onwards the doctrine of [Mother Mary’s] perpetual virginity became a defining feature of Mary’s categorisation as the new Eve and, hence, a stick with which to beat all non-virginal women” (Jesus and Women, p. 85). However, there is no mention of this in the New Testament. There is, however, mention of Jesus as the new Adam, who redeems humanity, as well as a correlation between Mary Magdalene and the first Eve.
The most significant similarity includes Mary Magdalene’s presumption that Jesus must be the gardener when she didn’t recognize him. “The young man, Jesus, meeting the young woman, Mary, in the garden immediately after he has redeemed humanity from the sin of Adam calls to mind the Garden of Eden in which the sin occurred” (Jesus and Women, p. 86). In a way, Jesus is “the garde
Therefore, it can be viewed as a symbolic representation of a redemptive version of what occurred in Genesis, where “the loving and harmonious relationship between the two can be interpreted as a crucial first step on the path to the restoration of a healthy state of harmony between the sexes” (Jesus and Women, p. 86).
Would you like to gain a better understanding of Jesus’ unique and unconditional love toward women in the Bible? If so, I encourage you to read Jesus and Women, where I dive deep into even more relationships that point to Jesus’ aim to redeem harmony between the sexes during his ministry on earth and how women play a central role.