Can you give me more insight on Mary's sister?

Question:

The Bible talks about Mary having a sister who is the wife of Clopas whose name is also Mary. The Bible states that this Mary had kids and in an article that you wrote you stated her kids were James and Joses. But when we look at Matthew 13:55, it says that James and Joses (some version say Joseph) are the children of Mary, Jesus' mother.

Is this a situation where there is an over usage of common names and both Mary's had two sons by the same name? The Catholics don't believe that this Mary is Mary's, Mother of Jesus, sister because they don't understand why the parents would name their daughters the same name, so they say this is her cousin. Could you give me clarification on this?


Answer:

It was an expectation in the Jewish culture to name children after a relative, "And it happened that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. But his mother answered and said, "No indeed; but he shall be called John." And they said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name." And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. And he asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, "His name is John." And they were all astonished" (Luke 1:59-63). Now imagine generations of children being named after relatives. You would have a ton of similar names, which doesn't make keeping various people in the Bible distinct easy.

This is why you find qualifiers on names. A qualifier might be a father's name, where a person originated from, a person's occupation, or even a major event in a person's life. Take a look at three accounts regarding the women who were at the cross when Jesus died:

"And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons" (Matthew 27:55-56).

"There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem" (Mark 15:40-41).

"Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene" (John 19:25).

  Mary, the mother of Jesus Mary, the mother of James and Joses Mary Magdalene Salome
Matthew 27:55-56   "Mary the mother of James and Joses" "Mary Magdalene" "the mother of Zebedee's sons"
Mark 15:40   "Mary, the mother of James the Less and of Joses "Mary Magdalene" "Salome"
John 19:25 "His mother" "Mary the wife of Clopas" "Mary Magdalene" "His mother's sister"

None of the accounts say there were just four women. All three accounts list Mary Magdalene (a qualified name based on where this Mary came from). Only John mentions that Jesus' mother was at the cross, but there is a third Mary who is distinguished by the names of her children in Matthew and Mark's account. It is likely that Mary, the wife of Clopas, is the same woman.

It is possible that "the mother of Zebedee's sons," "Salome," and "his mother's sister" are three different women or they could be different qualifiers for the same woman. If it is the same woman, then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, would be Jesus' cousins and Mary, the mother of Jesus, would have a sister named Salome.

Some assume that John lists out four Marys at the cross. Here they assume that Mary's sister is the mother of James and Joses and that Mary the wife of Clopas is a fifth person to be mentioned. Since this makes both Mary and her sister to have the same time, it might be possible, but it would be an unnecessary conclusion.

A common mistake is to read John 19:25 as list of three women instead of four, with "his mother's sister" and "Mary the wife of Clopas" as being the same person. Again, because it causes the conclusion that Mary had a sister named Mary. While remotely possible, it is not the most natural way to read this verse.

Jeff Hamilton and Alan Feaster