The Greek form of the Hebrew name Miriam, the meaning of which is not certain. There are six Marys mentioned in the Bible.
1. Mary the mother of Jesus. She was the daughter of Heli, though the genealogy given by Luke lists Mary’s husband Joseph as the “son of Heli.” Says M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopœdia, Volume III, page 774: “In constructing their genealogical tables, it is well known that the Jews reckoned wholly by males, rejecting, where the blood of the grandfather passed to the grandson through a daughter, the name of the daughter herself, and counting that daughter’s husband for the son of the maternal grandfather (Numb. xxvi, 33; xxvii, 4-7).” It is undoubtedly for this reason the historian Luke says that Joseph was “the son of Heli.”—Luke 3:23.
Mary was therefore of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David. Hence it could be said of her son Jesus that he “sprang from the seed of David according to the flesh.” (Rom. 1:3) Through his foster-father Joseph, a descendant of David, Jesus had a legal right to David’s throne, and through his mother, as the “offspring,” “seed” and “root” of David he held the natural hereditary right to “the throne of David his father.”—Matt. 1:1-16; Luke 1:32; Acts 13:22, 23; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 5:5; 22:16.
If tradition is correct, Heli’s wife, the mother of Mary, was Anna, whose sister had a daughter named Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. This tradition would make Elizabeth the cousin of Mary. That Mary was related to Elizabeth, who was “from the daughters of Aaron” of the tribe of Levi, the Scriptures themselves state. (Luke 1:5, 36) Mary’s sister, some have thought, was Salome, the wife of Zebedee, whose two sons, James and John, were numbered among Jesus’ apostles.—Matt. 27:55, 56; Mark 15:40; 16:1; John 19:25.
VISITED BY ANGEL
About the end of 3 B.C.E. the angel Gabriel was sent by God to the virgin girl Mary in the town of Nazareth. “Good day, highly favored one, Jehovah is with you,” was the angel’s most unusual greeting. When he told her that she would conceive and give birth to a son called Jesus, Mary, who at the time was only engaged to Joseph, asked, “How is this to be, since I am having no intercourse with a man?” “Holy spirit will come upon you, and power of the Most High will overshadow you. For that reason also what is born will be called holy, God’s Son,” the angel explained. Thrilled with the prospect, yet with fitting modesty and humility, she replied: “Look! Jehovah’s slave girl! May it take place with me according to your declaration.”—Luke 1:26-38.
To strengthen her faith further for this momentous experience, Mary was told that her relative Elizabeth, in her old age, was already six months pregnant, because the miraculous power of Jehovah had removed her barrenness. Mary paid her a visit and, when she entered Elizabeth’s home the infant in Elizabeth’s womb leaped with joy, whereupon she congratulated Mary, saying: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:36, 37, 39-45) Thereupon Mary broke forth in inspired words magnifying Jehovah for his goodness.—Luke 1:46-55.
After a visit of about three months with Elizabeth in the Judean hills, Mary returned to Nazareth. (Luke 1:56) When it came to Joseph’s notice (likely through disclosure of the matter to him by Mary) that she was pregnant, he intended to divorce her secretly rather than expose her to public shame. (Engaged persons were viewed as married, and a divorce was required to dissolve the engagement.) But Jehovah’s angel appeared, revealing to Joseph that Isaiah’s prophecy was being fulfilled, that a “virgin will become pregnant and will give birth to a son.” Joseph thereupon complied with the divine instruction and took Mary as his wife, “but he had no intercourse with her until she gave birth to a son; and he called his name Jesus.”—Matt. 1:18-25.
BEARS JESUS IN BETHLEHEM
As this drama continued to unfold, the decree of Caesar Augustus compelling everyone to register in the town of his origin proved providential in its timing, for the prophecy concerning Jesus’ birthplace had to be fulfilled. (Mic. 5:2) Accordingly, Joseph took Mary, who was “heavy with child,” on the strenuous journey more than sixty miles (c. 97 kilometers) from their home in Nazareth in the N to Bethlehem in the S. The child was born under circumstances that compelled the delivery to take place under most humble conditions, where the newborn babe was laid in a manger, because there was no place for them in the lodging room. This occurred probably about October 1, 2 B.C.E.—Luke 2:1-7; see JESUS CHRIST.
After hearing the angel say: “There was born to you today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in David’s city,” shepherds hastened to Bethlehem and there found the sign: Mary’s babe “bound in cloth bands and lying in a manger.” They related to the happy family what the great angelic chorus had sung: “Glory in the heights above to God, and upon earth peace among men of good will.” So Mary “began to preserve all these sayings, drawing conclusions in her heart.”—Luke 2:8-20.
On the eighth day Mary had her son circumcised in obedience to Jehovah’s law. On the fortieth day she and her husband brought the child to the temple in Jerusalem to make the prescribed offering. The Law required the sacrifice of a young ram and a male pigeon or a turtledove. If the family could not afford the sheep, two turtledoves or two male pigeons were to be offered. That Joseph was a man of poor financial means is indicated by the fact that Mary offered either “a pair of turtledoves or two male pigeons.” (Luke 2:21-24; Lev. 12:1-4, 8) Simeon, a righteous man, upon seeing the child, praised Jehovah for having beheld the ‘Savior’ before dying in his old age. Turning to Mary, he said: “Yes, a long sword will be run through the soul of you yourself,” not meaning that she would be pierced with a literal sword, but, rather, indicating the pain and suffering she would undergo in connection with her son’s foretold death on a torture stake.—Luke 2:25-35.
RETURNS TO NAZARETH
Sometime later, an angel warned Joseph of a plot by Herod the Great to kill the young child, instructing him to flee with Jesus to Egypt. (Matt. 2:1-18) After the death of Herod the family returned and settled in Nazareth, where, during the ensuing years, Mary bore other children, at least four sons as well as daughters.—Matt. 2:19-23; 13:55, 56; Mark 6:3.
Though the Law did not require women to attend, it was Mary’s custom to accompany Joseph year by year on the trek of more than fifty miles (c. 81 kilometers) to Jerusalem for the annual Passover celebration. (Ex. 23:17; 34:23) On one of these trips, in about 12 C.E., the family was returning home when, after going a day’s distance from Jerusalem, they discovered that the boy Jesus was missing. His parents immediately returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple listening to and questioning the teachers. Mary exclaimed: “Child, why did you treat us this way? Here your father and I in mental distress have been looking for you.” Jesus replied: “Why did you have to go looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in the house of my Father?” Certainly the logical place for God’s Son to be found was the temple, where he could receive Scriptural instruction. Mary “carefully kept all these sayings in her heart.”—Luke 2:41-51.
This twelve-year-old boy Jesus displayed brilliant learning for his age. “All those listening to him were in constant amazement at his understanding and his answers.” (Luke 2:47) Jesus’ knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures reflected fine parental training. Mary as well as Joseph must have been very diligent in teaching and training the child, bringing him up in the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah, and cultivating in him the custom of attending the synagogue every sabbath.—Luke 4:16; Eph. 6:4.
RESPECTED, LOVED BY JESUS
After his baptism, Jesus did not show special favoritism toward Mary; he addressed her, not as “mother,” but simply as “woman.” (John 2:4; 19:26) This was in no sense an expression of disrespect, as might be understood from modern-day English usage. In German, for example, the word in this way denotes madam, Mrs., lady. Mary was Jesus’ mother according to the flesh; but since his spirit-begetting at the time of his baptism, he was primarily God’s spiritual son, his “mother” being “the Jerusalem above.” (Gal. 4:26) Jesus laid emphasis on this fact when Mary and her other children on one occasion interrupted Jesus during a teaching session by asking him to come outside where they were. Jesus let it be known that really his mother and close relatives were those of his spiritual family; that spiritual matters take precedence over fleshly interests.—Matt. 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21.
When the wine ran out at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and Mary said to Jesus, “They have no wine,” he responded: “What have I to do with you, woman? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:1-4) Jesus here used an ancient form of question that occurs eight times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Josh. 22:24; Judg. 11:12; 2 Sam. 16:10; 19:22; 1 Ki. 17:18; 2 Ki. 3:13; 2 Chron. 35:21; Hos. 14:8), and six times in the Greek Scriptures (Matt. 8:29; Mark 1:24; 5:7; Luke 4:34; 8:28; John 2:4). Literally translated, the question is: “What to me and to you?” meaning, “What is there in common between me and you?” or, “What do I and you have in common?” or, “What have I to do with you?” In every instance where it is used the question indicates an objection to the thing suggested, proposed or suspected. Jesus, therefore, lovingly couched his gentle reproof in this form, indicating to his mother that his direction came not from her but from the Supreme Authority who had sent him. (1 Cor. 11:3) Mary’s sensitive and humble nature was quick to catch the point and accept the correction. Stepping back and letting Jesus take the lead, she remarked to the attendants: “Whatever he tells you, do.”—John 2:5.
Mary was standing alongside the torture stake when Jesus was impaled. To her, Jesus was more than a beloved son, he was the Anointed Messiah, her Lord and Savior, the Son of God. Mary was apparently a widow by now. Consequently, Jesus, as the firstborn of Joseph’s household, discharged his responsibility by asking the apostle John, likely his cousin, to take Mary to his home and look after her as his own mother.—John 19:26, 27.
A FAITHFUL DISCIPLE
The last Biblical notice of Mary shows her to be a woman of faith and devotion still closely associated with other faithful ones after the ascension of Jesus. The eleven apostles, Mary and others were assembled in an upper chamber, and “with one accord all these were persisting in prayer.”—Acts 1:13, 14.
2. Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus. At Bethany, about two miles (3.2 kilometers) from Jerusalem and a mile (1.6 kilometers) E of the summit of the Mount of Olives, Jesus visited the home of these friends for whom he had special affection. (John 11:18) On a visit by Jesus in the third year of his ministry, Martha, in her determination to be a good hostess, was overly concerned for Jesus’ physical comfort. Mary, on the other hand, showed a different kind of hospitality. She “sat down at the feet of the Lord and kept listening to his word.” When Martha complained because her sister was not helping, Jesus commended Mary, saying, “For her part, Mary chose the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.”—Luke 10:38-42.
SEES LAZARUS RESURRECTED
A few months after the aforementioned visit to the home, Lazarus became sick, near to death. So they sent word to Jesus, who was probably somewhere E of the Jordan in Perea, to come quickly. However, Jesus delayed, and by the time he arrived, Lazarus had been dead four days. With the news of Jesus’ coming, Martha quickly went to greet him, while Mary “kept sitting at home.” Not until Martha returned from the outskirts of the village and whispered to her grief-stricken sister, “The Teacher is present and is calling you,” did Mary hasten out to meet him. At his feet she sobbed, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She used exactly the same words as were spoken by her sister when Martha first went to meet Jesus. On seeing Mary’s tears and those of the Jews with her, the Master was moved to groan and weep. After Jesus performed the stupendous miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, “many of the Jews that had come to Mary [to comfort her] . . . put faith in him.”—John 11:1-45.
ANOINTS JESUS WITH OIL
Six days before Jesus’ last passover, he and his disciples were guests again in Bethany, this time at the home of Simon the leper, where Mary and her family also were. Martha was serving the evening meal; Mary again gave her attention to the Son of God. As Jesus was reclining, Mary “took a pound of perfumed oil, genuine nard, very costly” (worth about a year’s wages) and poured it on his head and feet. Not generally appreciated at the time, this act which was done out of love and regard for Jesus in reality signified the preparation for Jesus’ death and burial so near at hand. As before, Mary’s expression of love was criticized by others, and, as before, her love and devotion were defended and greatly appreciated by Jesus. “Wherever this good news is preached in all the world,” he declared, “what this woman did shall also be told as a remembrance of her.”—Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8.
The above incident, Mary’s anointing of Jesus, as reported by Matthew, Mark and John, should not be confused with the anointing mentioned in Luke 7:36-50. The two events have some similarities yet there are differences. The first event took place in the northern district of Galilee in what some suppose was the town of Nain (Luke 7:11); the second, in the S at Bethany in Judea. The first was in the home of a Pharisee; the second in that of Simon the leper. The first anointing was by an unnamed woman publicly known to be “a sinner,” probably a prostitute; the latter was by Martha’s sister Mary. There was also more than a year’s difference in time between the two events.
Some critics complain that John contradicts Matthew and Mark in saying the perfume was poured on Jesus’ feet rather than on his head. Commenting on this, Albert Barnes says: “There is, however, no contradiction. She probably poured it both on his head and his feet. Matthew and Mark having recorded the former, John, who wrote his gospel in part to record events omitted by them, relates that the ointment was also poured on the feet of the Saviour. To pour ointment on the head was common. To pour it on the feet was an act of distinguished humility and attachment to the Saviour, and therefore deserved to be particularly recorded.”—Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, 1963 ed., p. 124.
3. Mary Magdalene. Her distinguishing name likely stems from the town of Magdala (see MAGADAN) on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee about halfway between Capernaum and Tiberias. There is no record of Jesus’ ever visiting this town, though he spent a great deal of time in the surrounding area. Nor is it certain that it was Mary’s hometown or place of residence. Since Luke refers to her as “Mary the so-called Magdalene,” some think he implies something special or peculiar.—Luke 8:2.
Jesus expelled seven demons from Mary Magdalene, reason enough for her to put faith in him as the Messiah, and to back up such faith with outstanding works of devotion and service. She is first mentioned in the account of Jesus’ second year of preaching, when he and his apostles were “journeying from city to city and from village to village, preaching and declaring the good news of the kingdom of God.” Together with Joanna, the wife of Herod’s man in charge, and Susanna and other women, Mary Magdalene continued ministering to the needs of Jesus and his apostles out of her own belongings.—Luke 8:1-3.
The most prominent notice of Mary Magdalene is in connection with the death and resurrection of Jesus. When Jesus, as the Lamb of God, was led to the slaughter, she was among the women “who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee to minister to him” and were “viewing from a distance” as Jesus hung on the torture stake. In her company were Mary the mother of Jesus and Salome, and also the “other Mary” (No. 4 below).—Matt. 27:55, 56, 61; Mark 15:40; John 19:25.
After Jesus’ burial, Mary Magdalene and other women went to prepare spices and perfumed oil before the sabbath began at sundown. Then following the sabbath, at the break of dawn, on the first day of the week, Mary and the other women brought the perfumed oil to the tomb. (Matt. 28:1; Mark 15:47; 16:1, 2; Luke 23:55, 56; 24:1) When Mary saw the tomb was open and apparently empty she rushed off to tell the startling news to Peter and John, who ran to the tomb. (John 20:1-4) By the time Mary got back to the tomb, Peter and John had left, and it was now that she checked inside and was stunned at seeing two angels in white. Then she turned back and saw Jesus standing. Thinking him to be the gardener, she asked where the body was, that she might care for it. When he replied “Mary!” his identity was immediately revealed to her and she impulsively embraced him, exclaiming, “Rabboni!” But there was no time now for expressions of earthly affection. Jesus would be with them only a short time. Mary must hasten to inform the other disciples of his resurrection, and that Jesus was ascending, as he said, “to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God.”—John 20:11-18.
4. The “other Mary.” The wife of Clopas (Alphaeus) (see CLOPAS), and mother of James the Less and Joses. (Matt. 27:56, 61; John 19:25) Tradition, though without any Scriptural support, says that Clopas and Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, were brothers. If true, that would make this Mary Jesus’ aunt, and her sons his cousins.
Mary was not only among the women “who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee to minister to him,” but also one who witnessed his impalement. (Matt. 27:55; Mark 15:40, 41) Together with Mary Magdalene, she lingered outside his tomb that bitter afternoon, Nisan 14. (Matt. 27:61) On the third day, the two of them and others came to the tomb with spices and perfumed oil for the purpose of rubbing the body of Jesus and, to their alarm, found the tomb open. An angel explained that Christ had risen from the dead, hence, “go, tell his disciples.” (Matt. 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-7; Luke 24:1-10) While on their way, the resurrected Jesus appeared to this Mary and the others.—Matt. 28:8, 9.
5. Mary the mother of John Mark. She was also the aunt of Barnabas. (Acts 12:12; Col. 4:10) Her home was used for a meeting place by the early Christian congregation in Jerusalem. Her son Mark was closely associated with the apostle Peter, who evidently had much to do with Mark’s spiritual growth, for Peter speaks of him as “Mark my son.” (1 Pet. 5:13) Peter, upon release from Herod’s prison, came directly to her home “where quite a few were gathered together and praying.” The house must have been of considerable size, and the presence of servants suggests that Mary was a woman of means. (Acts 12:12-17) It being referred to as her home, and not her husband’s, indicates that she probably was a widow.—Acts 12:12.
6. Mary of Rome. She was sent greetings by Paul in his letter to the Romans, and was commended for her “many labors” in behalf of the Roman congregation.—Rom. 16:6.