Women of the Bible: Identify Mary Magdalene by her life in Jesus not her life before

by Kyle
published September 3, 2016


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Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute.

The Bible shares precisely two things about Mary’s background. She was from a town in Galilee called Magdala and she had been possessed by seven demons. Most of the passages that mention her in the Gospels take place during Jesus’ death or resurrection and the Bible only reveals her hometown and previous demonic possession about her past.

Magdala was a town on the coast of the sea of Galilee with a thriving textile industry and a lascivious reputation for how its residents spent their profits. Hundreds of years after she was dead, scholars began to connect the town’s reputation and the prurient things they imagined seven demons might have forced a young woman to do. Add this to the natural desire to give names to the several unnamed women with poor reputations in the Bible, and the false image of Mary Magdalene the prostitute begins to emerge.

But Mary Magdalene is always referred to by her full name to distinguish her from the other Marys that followed Jesus. There is no reason to think she is any of the anonymous women. Moreover, nothing written by the Apostles or by the people who heard the gospel stories directly from the Apostles - called the Church Fathers - ever specifically said that Mary was a prostitute, an adulteress or any other kind of sexually deviant person.

To say that she was a woman of ill repute just because she came from Magdala is like saying every woman from Las Vegas is a casino show girl or stripper. It’s absurd. Furthermore, there is not a single instance of a demon-possessed woman engaging in sexually promiscuous behavior in the whole Bible. The slave girl in Acts 16, for instance, was possessed, and her “owners” used her as a fortune teller, not a prostitute.

What we know about Mary’s life after meeting Jesus is that she followed him faithfully. She was among those who supported his ministry and provided him with material support like food and money (Luke 8:1-3). We know that she had the courage to stay with Jesus during his torture and death after all the male disciples ran away scared (Mark 15:40,47). While the disciples huddled in the upper room, Mary Magdalene and several other women went to go finish the burial rituals (Luke 24:1-12). Finally, she was the first person to speak to Jesus after he rose from the dead (Matthew 27:9-11, John 20:11-18). God, looking at all of human history and knowing every person who would ever be, chose Mary Magdalene to be the first person to ever get to say, “I have seen Jesus risen from the dead. He’s alive.” The greatest news in all of human history came to a woman living in one of the most misogynistic cultures there have ever been.

Do not ever let anyone trick you into thinking the God of the Bible thinks less of women.

Pope Gregory the Great, who in 591 was the first person on record to publicly promote the idea of Mary Magdalene as an utterly prostitute, said that the seven demons which Jesus cast out signified “all the vices.” According to him, Mary was not just a prostitute, but consumed by all the vices was the most reprobate of sinners.

I find the only effect this kind of thinking could promote is a moral relativism that is absolutely contrary to everything the Bible says about the Christian life - which is actually very simple. Apart from Christ, we are hopelessly sinful whether we are prostitutes or not. In Christ, we are “children of God” (John 1:12), “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37), and “a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) All people who are apart from Christ are sinners no matter how many people they sleep with. A virgin needs Christ as much as a prostitute does. By contrast, there is no need to remember past sins of someone who is in Christ, especially ones that were never committed.

Even if Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, neither the Bible nor Jesus nor his disciples nor their disciples thought of her that way. Instead, she was known as someone who loved Jesus and whom Jesus loved, rescued and called to an amazing ministry as the first person to declare the risen Christ.

Therefore, do not do the same thing to yourself or others as Western Christianity has done to Mary Magdalene. Who you were before Christ is not who you are now. Instead, 1 Corinthians 6:11 declares that if you have put your trust in Christ as Mary Magdalene did, “you were washed, . . . you were sanctified, . . . you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God,” just like she was.

What do you think?

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