The “Who’s Who?” of Mary in the Bible

The “Who’s Who?” of Mary in the Bible February 28, 2024

Most Bible students are familiar with notable Bible figures…especially when there’s only one with that name. For example, there is only one Apostle Peter, one Apostle Paul, and one Apostle Thomas. We know of Moses, Abraham, Samson, Delilah, Deborah, Gideon, and Bathsheba…but things get complicated when people share names. When we see shared names, we start to write in characters within a story, and before you know it…we’ve got that specific Bible experience all wrong. This is especially true with “Mary in the Bible.”

Perhaps there is no more confusing task than sorting out the “Marys” of the New Testament. In keeping with Jewish custom, most Jews were known only by their first names in Biblical times. On occasion, we may know a Biblical figure by family association (such as the person’s name, followed by a comma and “son of” whoever). It does not help that history amended the biographies of some Marys and assigned this Mary to that story, and vice versa. To defray confusion, I offer a “who’s who” of Marys in the New Testament. There are at least six women with the name Mary, possibly eight – and those are six to eight different women!

Understanding these women help us see their role as well as ours in Gospel living today. Some might say they are irrelevant, but they are mentioned in the Bible. That makes them important. Identifying these women are shows respect for them, Christian history, and all who believe in and labor for the Gospel today. Wonder who that Mary of the Bible is? Read on to find out!

Myrrhbearers at the Tomb of Jesus. A Georgian miniature from the Synaxarium of Zachary of Valashkert (A 648), f. 42. National Center of Manuscripts, Tbilisi, Georgia (Wikipedia Commons)

Mary, mother of Jesus

They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. (Acts 1:14, NIV)

We all think we know who Mary, the mother of Jesus is…or do we? Most of us think of Mary as the incredible glowing woman pictured on Christmas cards…but she wasn’t. Mary was an ordinary Jewish girl. I have described her as a “nobody and a nothing from nowhere.” She was probably somewhere between twelve and fourteen years old when asked by God to do something extraordinary: become the mother of Jesus Christ. Mary risked her life to obey God and bring forth the Word made flesh, Who dwelt among us in grace and truth.

Mary is a consistent feature throughout the Gospels and Acts, where she was among the believers at Pentecost. Tradition cites she was the daughter of Joachim and Anna (or Anne). Early documents say she was a Levite, left in the temple to prophesy and praise God at the age of four. In her life, God makes us aware of His presence in ours, and His power to do the extraordinary in the ordinary. Mary also shows us what it’s like to love those chosen for God’s service. Those chosen for the extraordinary must sacrifice. (Matthew 1:16-23; Matthew 12:46, Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1, Luke 2:4-7, Luke 3:23-38, John 2:3, John 19:25, Acts 1:14)

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:61, NIV)

Mary Magdalene is a unique figure in Bible and early church history. Throughout history, Mary Magdalene has been everything from a prostitute to the mother of Christ’s bloodline. The Bible doesn’t give indication of either, but it does let us know Mary Magdalene was special. Mary was from the town of Magdala, and known for that, rather than her family line. This means she was, most likely, unmarried and known in her hometown.

The Bible tells us Jesus cast seven demons out of her (what those demons were, we don’t know). She went on to have prominence and importance in the ministry of Christ and work of the Lord. She was a close associate of Christ’s, following Him throughout His ministry. As the first to see the resurrected Christ and go forth with the message to the male apostles, she was the first apostle of the resurrection. We learn from history that she served as apostle over a large portion of the early church, possibly influencing or authoring the Gospel of Mary Magdalene (which appears to  affirm her position as a church apostle). (Matthew 27:55-56, 61, Mark 15:41, Luke 8:1-2, John 20:14-18)

Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus

Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:42, NIV)

Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, was commended by Jesus for her love for Him. We don’t know much of this Mary, beyond what the Bible provides. As a result, various religious traditions have assigned histories about her. Some include fleeing her home of Bethany with her brother to preach throughout her life. Another tradition states she served under the Apostle John in Ephesus, until death. Another states she and her siblings ministered in France. We know Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to His teaching, while her sister, Martha, preoccupied herself with hospitality customs. Mary was lauded for her devotion, rendering that more relevant than custom. According to the Gospel of John, it was also Mary who anointed Jesus’ feet for burial, the one of whom Jesus told the disciples to “let her alone.” (Luke 10:41-42, John 12:3-7)

Mary, wife of Cleophas

 Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. (John 19:25, NIV)

Mary, wife of Clophas has one mention in Scripture. She was a witness to the crucifixion of Jesus. Some believe she is the sister of Jesus’ mother, but this is unlikely (why would two sisters have the same name?). She is called “Mary the wife of Cleophas” or, more literally, “Mary of Cleophas.” Mary was known by her family identity, and somehow, Cleophas was also relevant (culturally or religiously). (John 19:25)

Mary, mother of James and Joses

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. (Mark 15:40, NIV)

Mary, mother of James and Joses, is an interesting figure. She clearly followed Jesus throughout His ministry. It’s likely she was a “Mary” from resurrection accounts. We know from Scripture that two of Jesus’ brothers were James and Joses, thus it’s possible this Mary was also a reference to Mary, mother of Jesus. This would be affirmed by Mark, who states Mary was mother of “James the less,” a nickname for Jesus’ younger brother. (Matthew 27:55-56, Mark 6:3, Mark 15:40-41)

The “other Mary”

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:61, NIV)

A reference to the “other Mary” present at the empty tomb. Nobody knows for certain who this Mary was. It may have been a reference to Mary, mother of James and Joses, or another woman all together. (Matthew 27:61)

Mary, mother of John Mark

When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. (Acts 12:12, NIV)

A woman mentioned in the New Testament as the mother of the Apostle Paul’s associate, John Mark. She was described as being a woman of means who opened her home to the Christians in Jerusalem. (Acts 12:12-14)

Mary, mentioned in Romans 16:6

Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. (Romans 16:6, NIV)

We don’t know much of Mary mentioned in Romans 16, although it would appear, given the Apostle Paul’s commendations to church leaders and workers, that Mary was, most likely, a leader in the church in Rome. She was a great blessing, and worked hard in ministry. (Romans 16:6)

Who is your favorite Mary in the Bible?

About Lee Ann B. Marino
Dr. Lee Ann B. Marino, Ph.D., D.Min., D.D. (”The Spitfire”) is “everyone’s favorite theologian” leading Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z as apostle of Spitfire Apostolic Ministries. Her work encompasses study and instruction on leadership training and development, typology, Pneumatology, conceptual theology, Ephesians 4:11 ministry, and apostolic theology. She is author of over thirty-five books, host of the top twenty percentile podcast Kingdom Now, and serves as founder and overseer of Sanctuary International Fellowship Tabernacle - SIFT and Chancellor of Apostolic University. Dr. Marino has over twenty-five years of experience in ministry, leadership, counseling, mentoring, education, and business. You can read more about the author here.

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