Mary Magdalene Much Maligned

by Bryan Matthew Dockens

Relying on the scriptures exclusively, one can correctly conclude that Mary Magdalene was an upstanding and outstanding woman of faith. Seven demons were cast out of her, and she became a benefactress of the Lord during His ministry, contributing to His livelihood from her personal means while accompanying Him and His entourage during His preaching tours (Luke 8:1-3; Mark 15:40-41). After others had forsaken Him (Mark 14:50-52), Mary was among the few who "stood by the cross of Jesus" (John 19:25; Mark 15:40-41). Then, when Jesus' tortured corpse was laid in another man's tomb, it was Mary, joined by other women, who chose to dignify Him in death by purchasing spices to anoint His body (Mark 16:1), and thus it was "when He rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene" (Mark 16:9). On that occasion, Jesus appointed her to inform the disciples of His resurrection and impending ascension (John 20:11-18).

Despite the honorable report of her in God's word, Mary Magdalene suffers tremendous disrespect to this day. Consistent with the third century commentator Hippolytus, Roman Catholic Pope Gregory I marred the reputation of Mary Magdalene in 591 when he declared, "She whom Luke calls the sinful woman, whom John calls Mary [of Bethany], we believe to be the Mary from whom seven devils were ejected according to Mark". Gregory also equated the sinful woman with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-12), which eventually gave rise to the notion that Mary was a prostitute. The entire assertion is total conjecture, altogether lacking in scriptural substantiation.

Numerous women named Mary appear on the pages of holy writ, yet inexplicably, Mary Magdalene was linked to Mary of Bethany. This connection is senseless considering that a Magdalene was almost certainly a person from Magdala (Matthew 15:39), just as a Nazarene was a person from Nazareth (Matthew 2:23). If she was from Magdala, she was not from Bethany, so the two women were not the same.

Furthermore, Mary of Bethany is defamed by the connection to the sinful woman in Luke's account. The sinful woman is unnamed in scripture, but she shares one thing in common with Mary of Bethany: the sinful woman anointed Jesus' feet and wiped them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50) and so did Mary of Bethany (John 11:1-2). Luke's record of a foot washing incident diverges sufficiently from three matching accounts (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8) as to suggest two entirely distinct occurrences. Not even Mary of Bethany, much less Mary Magdalene, appears to have been that sinful woman.

The specific transgression of that anonymous sinful woman whom Jesus forgave after anointing His feet (Luke 7:36-50) is not even recorded. No one living today can know whether she was an adulteress or a thief, neither, or both. There is certainly no legitimate way of connecting her to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-12).

Even the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-12) was not necessarily a harlot. It is entirely possible to defile the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4) without doing so for monetary gain.

Not one of Gregory's connections between these women is provable; most are unlikely; some are demonstrably wrong. He has presumed to know what is beyond knowing (Deuteronomy 29:29), thereby adding to God's word (Revelation 22:18), for which he will suffer the consequences.

The assertion that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute is slander (II Timothy 3:3) and ought not to be repeated (Proverbs 10:18).