Much attention has been given lately to Mary Magdalene and her relationship with Jesus. There are questions concerning her role as a female disciple and what that may mean for women in the Church. Controversy exists over whether or not she may have actually been the wife of Jesus. Lies have been told about her profession before becoming a follower of Christ. There is debate about whether or not she is the author of the Gospel of John. “The Gospel of Mary” has been found and its validity contested. This beloved disciple of Christ was obviously important to Him. What does the role of Mary Magdalene as a venerated disciple of Jesus Christ say about the place of women in ministry?
Many Christians know this contentious figure as Mary Magdalene, the Prostitute. However, this was neither her name nor her profession. Mary Magdalene’s name was actually Miriam. She was from the village of Magdala. Magdala was a tiny fishing village on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee, an area we know Jesus evangelized. No place in the text of the New Testament does it say that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. This myth was started in the 6th century by Pope St. Gregory I. He stated that both Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany were the same woman and that she was also the “woman of sin” mentioned in Luke 7. From then on, Mary Magdalene was known as a prostitute. Professor Christopher Witcombe writes, “It has been suggested that Gregory I’s transformation of Mary Magdalen into a prostitute was a way of countering the problem she posed for the Church. Since the 2nd century, as Christianity became institutionalized along increasingly patriarchal lines, the prominence of Mary Magdalen had posed the threat of sanctioning a leadership role for women in the Church.”
In the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, women are not allowed to become priests. Father Alister Anderson of Sts. Peter & Paul Church in Bethesda, Maryland pronounces, “Only a man can be ordained as a deacon, priest or bishop because Jesus the perfect Man chose only men to be His disciples and apostles.” This would view would make it difficult for Orthodox and Catholic believers to agree that Mary Magdalene had an important role as an apostle or that she wrote a Gospel containing information as valuable as the four Gospels that we find in the New Testament.
“The Gospel of Mary Magdala” is a non-fiction book by Karen King of the Harvard Divinity School. According to Jane Lampman, staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor, “. . . this gospel, written in the second century, tells of a conversation among Mary, Peter, Andrew, and Levi about a teaching Jesus gave to Mary on the end of the material world and the nature of sin. It highlights Mary’s role as an apostle and Peter’s resistance to her role.” As I researched this Gospel of Mary Magdala, I found that much of the text was missing. Seeing that, I understood a much better reason for not including it in the Canon. I don’t doubt that misogyny could have been part of the reason that we are just now finding out things about Mary Magdalene, but the truth is that even her own Gospel doesn’t give us a complete view of her time with Jesus.
The popularity of the book The DaVinci Code has led to questions about whether or not Mary Magdalene was actually the wife of Jesus. In the research that I have done, I could not find anything substantial that would lead me to believe that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. I agree that Mary Magdalene was extremely special to have been the first to see the resurrected Christ. Her relationship with Jesus was deep and He obviously had a great love for her. Their evident relationship proves to me that women have great value in the eyes of God.
Jesus treated His female followers with same respect and love that He showed His male disciples. Mary Magdalene may not have written the Gospel of John, but she was the first to see Him resurrected. She may not have been one of the twelve disciples, but she followed Him closely and was very dear to Him. While here on Earth we may never know the truth about the mysteries and myths associated with Mary Magdalene, we can be sure that her close following of Jesus and her deep relationship with Him speaks volumes about Jesus view women.
1. Anderson, Father Alister. “The Orthodox Priest An Ikon of Christ”. Antiochian
Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. 2004.
http://www.antiochian.org/midwest/Articles/The_Orthodox_Priest_An_Ikon_Of_Christ.h tm, Accessed April 2005.
2. Kirby, Peter. “The Gospel of Mary”. Early Christian Writings. 2004.
< http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/gospelmary.html>. Accessed April 2005.
3. Lampman, Jane. “Who was Mary Magdalene? The Buzz Goes Mainstream.”
Christian Science Monitor”. November 14, 2002.
http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1114/p01s02-ussc.html. Accessed April 2005.
4. Rose, Debra. “The First Mary”. Awakened Woman E-Magazine. October 10, 2001.
http://www.awakenedwoman.com/first_mary.htm. Accessed April 2005.
5. Witcombe, Professor Christopher. “Mary Magdala, the Gospels, and the Church”. Da
Vinci’s Code. http://witcombe.sbc.edu/davincicode/magdalen-gospels- church.html. Accessed April 2005.
6. Witherington III, Ben. “Mary, Mary Extraordinary”. Beliefnet.com. 2005.
http://www.beliefnet.com/story/135/story_13503_1.html. Accessed April 2005.