You may be wondering which Mary this article is focusing on. You have probably noticed that there are many Marys in the New Testament. At the cross, we are told that “many women” followed Jesus (Matthew 27:55), but of those named, Mary is the most common. John indicates the popularity of the name when his list of three ladies at the cross were all Marys (John 19:25).
Why focus on just one Mary when each is a portrait of faithfulness and model for the church? Here, we’ll look at all of them.
But first, why are there so many Marys?
Mary is derived from the Greek Maria, which translates the Hebrew Miryam. The deep regard for the name among first century Jewish parents likely came from its association with one of Israel’s greatest heroines of faith, Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 15:20). So popular was the name among the Palestinian Jews of the period that historians like Richard Bauckham — surveying burial inscriptions, papyri, and literary sources — estimate that as many as one in five females were called Mary.
This historical curiosity explains why we see so many Marys in the New Testament record. The name resonated with Israel’s memory of and hope for deliverance. Jesus is God’s answer to those hopes of salvation. So only He can account for the picture of faithfulness these many Marys paint for believers to imitate. Let’s look briefly at each one. I count seven in all.
Mary, the mother of Jesus (Matthew 1:16)
Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2)
Mary of Bethany (Luke 10:39)
Mary the mother of James and Joses (Mark 15:40)
Mary, the wife of Clopas (John 19:25)
Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12)
Mary, the co-worker of Paul (Romans 16:6)
Mary of the Spirit
The most famous Mary of all is the mother of Jesus. We could write many articles on her alone. Her presence brackets the entire gospel story, from the good news of the angel Gabriel regarding the conception of Jesus to the birth of His church on the day of Pentecost (Luke 1:27; Acts 1:14). Notably, where we find Mary, the Holy Spirit is present and working (Luke 1:35; Acts 2:4).
Gabriel said to Mary, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28). And she was with the Lord in His most intimate moments: birth, circumcision, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension. The mother of Jesus is Mary of the Spirit because she was willing to be led, moved by God. Her faithfulness is heard in her submissive reply to Gabriel’s announcement: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38).
Mary the Witness
Maybe the most well-known and one of the earliest of Jesus’ female disciples was Mary Magdalene. She experienced the good news in the most dramatic way, when Christ cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:1, 2). From this life-changing moment onward she would stick faithfully by His side. For her love and loyalty to Jesus, all four Gospels recall this Mary as the preeminent witness of His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection (Matthew 27-28; Mark 15-16; Luke 23-24; John 19-20).
Mary the Witness was the first to see the risen Lord (“He appeared first to Mary Magdalene,” Mark 16:9). And, once Jesus called her by name, she was the first to be sent by Jesus as a witness of the good news to others (John 20:11-19).
Mary of the Feet
Another well-known disciple of Jesus was Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. This Mary is special among Jesus’ female followers, being twice praised for her devotion to Him and, with Martha and Lazarus, called “loved” by Him (Luke 10:42; John 12:7; 11:5). But it is a specific posture that demonstrates Mary’s faithfulness and why she was so special: Every time we see Mary, she is at Jesus’ feet.
Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to hear His words, Mary fell at His feet in grief at Lazarus’ death, and, most extravagantly, Mary knelt at His feet to anoint them and dry them with her hair (Luke 10:39; John 11:32; 12:3). Her position of humble devotion makes Mary of the Feet a model of faithful discipleship for women, and men, to this day.
Marys of the Cross
Other than their names, not much is known about the wife of Clopas and mother of little James and Joses. Some think that they’re the same person (Mark 15:40; John 19:25). Maybe. What is important is not so much who they were than where they were. We find them at the cross with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene — a company of faithful friends and followers of Jesus to the end. It’s significant that the name Mary is clustered most densely in the Gospel accounts of the cross.
Marys of the Church
We get only one intriguing sentence each for the remaining two Marys of the New Testament. At the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, the church gathered in earnest prayer when Peter arrived after escaping from prison. She is the picture of hospitality for the church assembled (Acts 12:12).
Of Paul’s beloved co-worker in the gospel we have a single line: “Greet Mary, who labored much for us” (Romans 16:6). She is a good conclusion to what it means to be a Mary. Being with Jesus, transformed by Jesus, being witnesses of God’s word and work in Jesus, Mary is representative of a faithful disciple who rises from their feet at the cross and, through the power of the Risen, works by faith, laboring in love for others.
The church is often likened to a woman, a wife, a mother. If we were to give her a name, I would call her Mary.