Who Was Mary Magdalene? And Why Do People Think She Was a Prostitute?

Few women from the Bible receive as much press and intrigue from both Christians and non-Christians alike than Mary Magdalene. We only have one hint at her life before she followed Jesus. When He casts seven (or possibly more) demons out of her, as Luke 8:1-3 says, Mary Magdalene does a complete turnaround and follows Jesus for the rest of His ministry.

Updated Mar 21, 2024
Who Was Mary Magdalene? And Why Do People Think She Was a Prostitute?

Mary Magdalene was a devoted follower of Jesus, who supported him in his ministry and was present at his crucifixion. She is most celebrated for being the first person to witness Jesus' resurrection, according to all four Gospels. 

Few women from the Bible receive as much press and intrigue from both Christians and non-Christians alike as Mary Magdalene. From Broadway hits such as Jesus Christ Superstar to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, I have read more about her past than Scripture has indicated. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the true identity of one of the most notorious women who followed Jesus during his ministry, and we’ll expel popular, false ideas that have arisen about her throughout history.

Mary Magdalene: Table of Contents

What Does the Bible Say About Mary Magdalene?

We only have one hint at Mary Magdalene’s life before she followed Jesus. When He casts seven (or possibly more) demons out of her, as Luke 8:1-3 says, Mary Magdalene does a complete turnaround and follows Jesus for the rest of His ministry.

Here’s what else we know about her:

  • Mary Magdalene, among a couple of other women, financially supported Jesus and the disciples (Luke 8:1-3).
  • She witnessed Jesus’ death and was the first person to see Him resurrected (John 20:11-18).
  • And she likely awaited the descent of the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended (Acts 1:14).

Aside from that, we don’t have many clear details about her from Scripture.

Story of Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene was a significant follower of Jesus Christ, whose life was dramatically changed after encountering Him. Initially, she was described as being possessed by seven demons, from which Jesus liberated her. This profound experience led her to become one of Jesus's most faithful followers, accompanying Him in His travels and ministering to His needs.

Mary Magdalene's loyalty and dedication were most evident during Jesus's crucifixion and burial. When many of Jesus's disciples deserted Him, Mary Magdalene remained steadfast, witnessing His crucifixion. She was also present at His burial and was the first to discover the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. This made her the first person to see the resurrected Christ and thus the first to share the news of His resurrection, earning her the title "apostle to the apostles".

False Stereotypes about Mary Magdalene

Western Christianity has assigned roles to Mary Magdalene, which the historical person did not seem to fulfill. Western art and modern media have falsely depicted Mary Magdalene as a prostitute and even as the wife of Jesus. Let’s look deeper into these false stereotypes.

1. Mary Magdalene was Jesus’s wife. (She wasn’t.)

For instance, some have said Mary and Jesus were either lovers or husband and wife. Some have pointed to a heretical document the size of a business card known as “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” as evidence for this.

Mary Magdalene did not marry Jesus. Not only would this have been impossible, considering He remained single throughout His public ministry, but He ascended into Heaven after His resurrection.

Furthermore, God would not marry humans. Not to mention, if the Nephilim spoken of back in Genesis 6:1-4 were in fact fallen angels (supernatural beings) who had children with humans, then God saw the wickedness that came about from these unions. One theory of the Nephilim suggests one of the reasons the Great Flood happened was to wipe out the unnatural result of supernatural beings and humans having children.

2. Mary Magdalene was a former prostitute. (She wasn’t.)

Mary Magdalene, as it seems according to Scripture, was likely not a prostitute. Some people associate her with the prostitute who washes Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-50), but no biblical verse ties the two.

Some have also suggested Mary Magdalene is the woman caught in adultery, but again, Scripture does not give that woman a name (John 8:1-11).

Why Do So Many Christians Claim She Was a Prostitute?

If no Scriptural evidence directly ties her to this role, where did the prostitute affiliation come from?

In the 6th century, Pope Gregory the Great authoritatively pronounced that the sinful woman mentioned in Luke 7:36-50 was the same person as Mary Magdalene. He even asserted that Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany were the same person. The Eastern Orthodox Church never linked Mary Magdalene’s identity with the sinful woman in Luke 7.

Mary Ann Beavis explained for Baylor University’s Center for Christian Ethics:

“Although Gregory did not actually call her a prostitute, he interpreted the 'seven demons' of which she had been exorcised as the totality of vices, and asserted that the ointment she used to anoint Jesus’ feet had previously been used by her to perfume her body for sensual purposes. Subsequently, the legend of Mary Magdalene, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, as a beautiful, vain, and lustful young woman saved from a life of sin by her devotion to Jesus became dominant in western (Catholic) Christianity, although the eastern (Orthodox) church continued to regard Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany as distinct saints, and identified neither with Luke’s sinner.”

Although the Western church, since the late 20th century, has attempted to undo the false representations of Mary in the past, some of those misconceptions still linger, especially in popular culture.

The Significance of Mary Magdalene's Story

1. It matters that we clarify Jesus never had a wife. God would never engage in sexual relations with His creation. He would consider that to be an abomination. We need to eradicate any affiliation of Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ wife.

2. We must ensure we have the historical facts right about anything mentioned in the Bible, even something that seems insignificant. Nonbelievers will nitpick Scriptures to try and find something inaccurate historically so they can try to disprove its credibility. If we have an inaccurate picture of something even small, they will use that as evidence against the infallibility of Scripture.  

3. Mary is a radical character in the New Testament—the first to witness the resurrection—and we must make sure to get her story right since Christians and unbelievers alike seem fascinated with her. 

Although all in all, we can take away from Mary that she lived a life apart from God until she had an encounter with Jesus, which radically changed her life. She went from a life oppressed by seven or more demons to participating in Jesus’ ministry and witnessing the greatest miracle of all time.

7 Things You Didn't Know About Mary Magdalene

This video touches on things most Christians often don't know about Mary Magdalene. Although I can't cover everything below, I would like to highlight some of them that do appear in the video.

As mentioned in the video, Jesus set Mary Magdalene free from the grip of seven demons. Seven usually have a completeness factor to it in Scripture. Perhaps more dwelled inside of her than a mere seven. But this goes to show the power Jesus exemplified. To not only cast out one demon out of a person but at least seven.

Also, I appreciate how this video mentions how Mary (as well as many other women) supported the ministry of Jesus financially. When we give with loving hearts in church, we don't often understand how much our gift can help build the kingdom. Scripture calls us to give of our time and effort, but also, it does require of us to give in a financial sense. After all, the money does come from God. We render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. And we give with joyful hearts, just as Mary Magdalene did when Jesus preached and traveled.

Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 350 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 5,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, “Blaze,” (Illuminate YA) released June 2019 and the sequel releases a year from now. Find out more about her here.

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Priscilla du Preez

This article is part of our People of Christianity catalog that features the stories, meaning, and significance of well-known people from the Bible and history. Here are some of the most popular articles for knowing important figures in Christianity:

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