How Many Mary’s Are in the Bible? Who Were They?

The name Mary was considerably common in Jesus’ day, so it can be easy to confuse all those Mary’s running through the pages of your New Testament. The name Mary appears in the NASB translation in 57 verses. There are six different women named Mary in the Bible.
April Motl
How Many Mary’s Are in the Bible? Who Were They?

The name Mary comes from Miriam which means bitter. It is a harsh word to name a baby girl, so it is possible that many parents during that time felt life was bitter hard during those years, or perhaps it had just become so common the sound of the name meant more than the actual name itself. During the New Testament time, King Herod’s second wife was named Mary, so the name could have become associated less with the meaning of the word and more the titled woman who wore it.

Here’s a little background to help you sort through the many Mary’s in the Bible, specifically: Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary the mother of Mark.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus

Who Was Mary?

Little is known about Mary’s background, but we know she was of the tribe of Judah and the line of David (Luke 1:32). She lived in Nazareth before her marriage. She became the wife of Joseph and the mother of Jesus.

Luke 1:35 details her conversation with the angel Gabriel concerning her calling to bear the Messiah. Mary was related by marriage to Elizabeth who confirmed the words of Gabriel to Mary when she went to stay with Elizabeth and Zacharias. Her husband Joseph, a carpenter, was a righteous man (Matthew 1:19) who was merciful and compassionate. Mary also had other children (Mark 6:3) including James, Joses, Judas, Simon, and unnamed daughters.

What Did Mary Say?

Few of Mary’s words are recorded. The first words we hear from Mary are words of obedience (Luke 1:38) and worship in the Magnificat passage (Luke 1:46-56).

When Jesus turns 12 we see Him pursue public ministry for the first time on a Passover pilgrimage (a Jewish boy became a man at 12, and it was during Jesus’ 12th year that He takes the opportunity to teach in the temple). It is Mary who admonishingly questions Jesus about why He separated Himself from the rest of the family, leaving her and Joseph to search for Him.

A long time goes by before we hear more from Mary, but it is her words that push Jesus into his public ministry at a wedding in Cana (John 2:5). We see her store up others’ words to ponder in her heart, we see her listen to Jesus’ teaching, and eventually she is there at the cross, but all without recorded words.

What Was Her Witness?

Despite being the mother of the long-awaited Savior of the world, this calling didn’t come with much pomp or glamor. She delivered Jesus with livestock nearby and then had to flee to Egypt with Joseph and Jesus under the cover of night for fear of Jesus’ life. Her calling did not equate comfort. In fact, while Jesus was at the temple for circumcision, she was prophesied over that a sword would pierce her own heart (Luke 2:35) when it pierced Jesus’.

The fulfillment of Jesus’ earthly ministry left her with her own uncomfortable questions. Mark 3:20-35 details a somewhat obscure and debated passage about Jesus’ “own people,” which is often translated family, believing He had lost His mind. A few verses later His family shows up and He doesn’t engage with them, which was frequently His habit when He knew discussion would not be fruitful or heart-winning.

We see Mary at the cross, undoubtedly with her heart torn in pieces. Some of Jesus’ last words entrust her care to John (as would have been the eldest son’s duty in Jewish culture to ensure his mother was taken care of). And then, wonderfully we see her gathered together with the early church in prayer.

Her witness is one of quiet introspection, faithfulness through difficult and confusing circumstances, humility, service, and worship. When we wonder why obedience has brought us to hard places, we can take comfort in the life of Mary, remembering that the calling of God can take us many uncomfortable places, yet His plan still holds secure.

Mary of Magdalene

Who Was Mary Magdalene?

Mary Magdalene was from the town of Magdala, on the western shore of Lake Tiberius. She was apparently wealthy and one of the women who financially supported Jesus’ earthly ministry (Luke 8:3). She was healed of demon possession, and in her gratitude she followed Jesus wholeheartedly the rest of her days.

Many people have thought she was the unclean woman who washed Jesus’ feet. But most Bible scholars believe she would not be identified by name in one passage and then not in another. We know she suffered the malady of possession, but we don’t know more about her background than that and cannot color in the rest of her picture with any real surety. 

What Did She Say?

John captures the most words from Mary in the moments at the tomb. While Mary the mother of Jesus was certainly a most privileged woman, Mary of Magdalene was blessed to be the first one to see our risen Lord! In this recorded section we see her weeping with grief. Her sadness clouded her ability to recognize Jesus until He called her name. She called Him “teacher” and clung to Him in her joy. Then the Lord sent her off to tell everyone the good news of His resurrection.

What Was Her Witness?

Mary Magdalene’s witness is special because she was blessed to be the first to see our risen Lord and the first one charged with the duty of telling the good news. She was instructed to go tell the rest who had been with Jesus. Her life is one that shouts of Christ’s rescue and resurrection! She loved Jesus deeply (as evidenced by her emotional display and her faithful practical support of Jesus) and poured herself out for Him, just as He had done for her. When life’s griefs cover our perspective, like Mary we are wise to diligently look for Him to show up.

Mary of Bethany

Who Was Mary of Bethany?

Mary of Bethany is the sister of Lazarus and Martha. We can surmise the trio of siblings might have been bereft of their parents, since they are living together without parents recorded. She is most known for being the sister who sat at the Lord’s feet while the other was busy in the kitchen, but there is so much to this precious woman to unpack.

What Did She Say?

We might imagine that Mary was a quiet person, with a more introverted, contemplative personality because the Bible doesn’t include many recorded words from her, especially when compared to her sister, Martha. But we do see her express her grief out loud to Jesus when He visits them after the death of their brother, Lazarus. While she speaks her grief, it is mingled together with her strong faith in Jesus.

What Was Her Witness?

Mary’s example beckons busy people, in particular, to Jesus’ feet. Jesus dubbed her as being the sister who “chose the good part” (Luke 10:42). Mary’s example reminds us to daily pray for wisdom and guidance to choose the good part, to invest in what is lasting instead of lessor, and to choose the eternal over the immediate.

We also see her anoint the feet she sat near right before Jesus’ death (John 12). It was a gesture she felt led, perhaps compelled, to perform as an act of worship that ended up holding spiritual and eternal significance as Jesus was publicly anointed King and Savior through her actions. Her act of worship was misunderstood by those around her. It seemed audacious and lavish. This woman of quiet spirit inspires all of us to soak in our Lord’s presence and to worship Him wholeheartedly despite the disapproval of those around us.

Mary, the Wife of Clopas

Who Was Mary, the Wife of Clopas?

We see Mary of Clopas at the foot of the cross (John 19:25) in the company of Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Tradition holds that she was Mary’s (Jesus’ mother) sister-in-law; making Clopas and Joseph brothers (ISBE). When comparing Matthew 27:56 and Mark 15:40, Bible scholars have asserted that she is also the mother of James the Little. She was also the “other Mary” at the tomb with Mary Magdalene (Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47).

What Did Mary Say?

Mary of Clopas has no recorded words, but in her case we can see that actions speak louder than words. She was one of women present with Jesus at His darkest hour, there to clean and prepare His body, holding firm with His mother at the cross, and standing in the places where the others had crumbled or fled.

What Was Her Witness?

After quietly serving with the faithfulness of her presence she was blessed to be among the first to hear the good news that Jesus had risen from the dead (she was among those to see the stone rolled away and hear the news from the angel). And we know that regardless of whether her words were recorded in Scripture, her words rang out to all those who would hear thereafter as she became one of the first witnesses to the resurrection (Luke 24:9-10).

Mary, the Mother of Mark

Who Was She?

Mary was another one of the women who supported Jesus by supplying a meeting place and continued to supply a meeting place after His resurrection (Acts 12:12).

What Did Mary Say?

Mark’s mom is among the Mary’s void of recorded words, but again, a woman whose actions spoke louder than her words.

What Was Her Witness?

She was one of the women who followed Jesus and supported the early church. It is possible that because of her involvement with Jesus, her own son Mark became so intimately involved with the disciples. So her witness poured first over her family and then onto the family of Christ as she opened her heart and home.

Lastly, there is another Mary of the New Testament. She is mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:6 as someone who had “labored much for” those serving the church.

The lives of the many Mary’s of Scripture have much to teach us. Whether we find ourselves with a common title or in an ordinary place, we serve an extraordinary God who has plans to grow and use each one of us in His kingdom work.

Sources:

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

E-text version Copyright (c) 2002, HeavenWord, Inc. All rights reserved.

Easton's 1897 Dictionary of the Bible

M.G. Easton M.A., D.D. E-Text Version. Olive Tree Bible Study Software.

April Motl is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, she writes and teaches for women. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here.

Photo Credit: GettyImages/HbrH


Originally published September 05, 2019.