Who says women can’t make a mark in the world? Holy moly, the influential Marys in the Bible did just that!
But it’s tough to understand scripture when combing through the pages of the New Testament. And since the name Mary was so common, trying to determine which Mary each author is talking about can be very confusing.
Am I right?
There’s so much we can learn from these remarkable women. So today I’m going to break down the six most influential Marys in the Bible for you.
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Christian History and Culture
Before we dive into these strong women, we must first understand the culture they lived in.
As difficult as it may be to hear, during the time of the New Testament, it was definitely a man’s world.
Jewish society didn’t acknowledge the value of women, and most often, didn’t consider all the ways women could contribute and make an impact in their communities.
I know, it seems crazy, doesn’t it?
In an article by BYU Religious Studies Center, we get a powerful picture of what it was like in those days.
“In Jesus’s day, all women in the Greco-Roman world lived within a strict patriarchal framework. However, there was a good deal of variety in the opportunities afforded women from one culture to another. For example, a Roman woman could not rule, but she could be a force of power behind the man on the throne. An Egyptian woman could actually rule. Women in Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Egypt could engage in private business. Though women in Roman society did not enjoy as many freedoms as their peers in Egypt or Macedonia, they enjoyed higher levels of education because educating women in Roman circles was deemed important.
They also state,
“By comparison, Jewish women of first-century Palestine were more limited. Like the greater Greco-Roman world, Jewish culture of Jesus’s day was staunchly patriarchal and, generally speaking, a woman was to remain unobserved in public life. Prior to her marriage, she answered entirely to her father, and it was preferred that she not leave the home at all. Furthermore, if the situation warranted it, her father could sell her into slavery before she came of age to marry.”
For many of us, it’s hard to believe the restrictions that were (and in some places, still are) placed on women.
But in order to understand the lessons from the Marys in the Bible, we need to understand what it was like for them.
So hang with me just a bit longer.
In those days, betrothal was a formal event for a woman that marked the beginning of the transfer of power from the father to her future husband.
And once they were betrothed, they were considered husband and wife, even though they were still living apart. This typically lasted about a year.
Check out 15 Best Prayer Journals to Strenthen Your Prayer Life.
Worshipping for women of that time was done in the privacy of their own homes.
But what we learn throughout Christ’s ministry is that He broke the barriers of that time and showed just how much he valued and respected women by having them serve alongside Him.
So, now that you have a better understanding of the culture, we can dive into each of the Marys in the Bible and see the impact they had on Christianity.
Who was the Virgin Mary
So let’s begin with the most well-known Mary; someone you know from the Christmas story — the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ.
Although little is known about her personal life, we know that she was the wife of Joseph and a relative of Elizabeth who was John the Baptist’s mother.
We also know that while she was betrothed to a young man named Joseph, an angel of the Lord, Gabriel, was sent to tell her she would conceive a child who would become our Lord and Savior.
“26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed[a] to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’[b] 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’[c] 35 And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[d] will be called holy—the Son of God.” Luke 1:26-35 ESV
Did you catch that?
Mary was CHOSEN by God, to carry the Son of our Father!
I don’t know about you, but I would love to have been there for that encounter!
We also know that it was prophesied long before this, in Isaiah 7:14.
“So the Lord himself will give you this sign: A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel [God Is With Us].” AMPC
This ordinary young girl was betrothed to another man when she was given the news. And considering the laws of the time, we can only imagine how frightened she must have been.
Her future husband, Joseph, could’ve easily called off the wedding and left her alone.
We also know this young girl was the only person present at Jesus’ birth AND at Jesus’ crucifixion.
In other words, Christ arrived as her son and died as her Savior.
We also know from Acts 1:13-14, the Virgin May was also present after His resurrection in the upper room.
“Back in the city, they went to the room where they were staying—a second-floor room. This whole group devoted themselves to constant prayer with one accord: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the Zealot), Judas (son of James), a number of women including Mary (Jesus’ mother), and some of Jesus’ brothers.” The Voice
I can only imagine the range of emotions she went through raising the Son of God.
From the fear and uncertainty of learning about God’s plan, to complete and utter joy, humility, and, what must have been great sadness.
There’s a lot we can learn from Mary, the mother of Jesus, so let’s take a moment to break it down.
The Virgin Mary was Obedient
The mother of Christ was obedient. She didn’t waver when the angel, Gabriel, greeted her with the unexpected news.
“Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.” Luke 1:38 NLT
When we’re tested, our character is revealed by how we respond, and Mary certainly gave us a beautiful example of that!
She didn’t bat an eye, but immediately responded with yes!
Mary, Mother of Christ, was courageous
Can you imagine how scary it must’ve been? A betrothed woman who had a formal contract with another man.
If she’d broken that promise, Joseph could’ve easily called off the engagement and left Mary with nothing.
The Virgin Mary was humble
Mary quickly, and dutifully, humbled herself and surrendered her plans and desires for His purpose.
How often do you dig your heels in and stick to your own plans and desires instead of humbling yourself and surrendering your thoughts and desires for God’s will?
Yeah, I get it, friend. I haven’t always shown great humility either.
Mary, Mother of Jesus, was steadfast
She never doubted God’s plan for her and her unborn son. She was faithful right from the time Gabriel gave her the news.
Mary trusted God and His plan and chose to remain loyal to her calling.
The Virgin Mary was willing
God cares about our willingness to serve Him, and as we learned in Luke 1:38 above, Mary didn’t hesitate.
She said yes without hesitation. She was willing to put her reputation on the line for His purpose.
How about you? Are you ready and eager to do as God is calling you?
Today, ask God to help you develop the characteristics of the Virgin Mary. Ask for a willing heart that responds with a resounding, YES!
Who was Mary of Magdala
Often referred to as the second Mary, we first learn about Mary Magdalene when Jesus cast out her demons.
“Soon afterward Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, 2 along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; 3 Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing from their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples.” Luke 8:1-3 NLT
As I stated earlier, it was quite scandalous for a woman to leave her home and domestic duties to follow Jesus. But after the miracle Jesus performed on her, Mary Magdalene became a faithful servant to Jesus.
I can relate to Mary Magdalene in this way, as when I was in one of the most difficult fights of my life, it was God who rescued me. In fact, it’s when I, too, began to follow Him wholeheartedly.
We also learn in Luke 8:3 above that Mary Magdalene was one of the women who helped support Jesus and His disciples financially.
Although we don’t know what kind of work she did, we can assume that since she contributed to Christ’s ministry, she was well off.
Just like Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene was at the crucifixion and burial. She was also at the empty tomb, and the world’s first person to witness the resurrection of Christ.
“After rising from the dead, Jesus appeared early on Sunday morning to Mary Magdalene, whom he had delivered from seven demons. She went to his former companions, now weeping and carrying on, and told them. When they heard her report that she had seen him alive and well, they didn’t believe her.” Mark 16:9-11 The Message
So let’s dive into what we can learn from the second Mary.
Lessons from Mary Magdalene
What I love about Mary Magdalene was how bold she was; breaking social norms to fearlessly follow this Jesus she clearly loved.
She also shows that none of us is too broken for Christ’s love. No matter what’s happened in our past, it’ll never stop us from doing His work.
Definitely a lesson we can all take comfort in.
Am I right?
Another powerful lesson we learn from the second Mary is that she cared more about believing and obeying the Lord than understanding everything He’d done.
She didn’t stop to question the miracle He performed on her, nor did she question His resurrection.
This Mary merely believed and followed.
Who was Mary of Bethany
You’ve most likely heard the story of the two sisters, Mary and Martha.
This was the Mary of Bethany and also the sister of Lazarus who Jesus raised from the dead.
We also know Christ spent quite a bit of time there.
During one particular visit, we see Mary’s sister, Martha, bustling around to prepare a meal for their guest, while her sister, Mary, chose to kneel at the feet of Jesus and listen to His teachings.
”38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught.” Luke 8:38-39 NLT
When Martha complained that Mary wasn’t helping, we see an unexpected response from Jesus.
“40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.’41 But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 8:40-42 NTL
On another visit to Bethany, Jesus is in the home of Simon when Mary hears this and comes to anoint Him in preparation for Jesus’ death. But sticking to social norms, we see the disciples were very unhappy with her.
“6 Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy. 7 While he was eating,[a] a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head. 8 The disciples were indignant when they saw this. ‘What a waste!’ they said. 9 ‘It could have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” Matthew 26:6-9 NLT
And although their hearts were in the right place, Jesus gives them an important lesson on priorities.
“10 But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, ‘Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. 11 For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. 12 For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. 13 Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her.” Matthew 26:10-13 NKJV
Between these two selfless acts, we learn a lot from Mary of Bethany.
Lessons from Mary of Bethany
Mary teaches us that sometimes the busyness of serving God prevents us from knowing Him personally.
Simply put, there are times we’re called to listen and times we’re called to act. And if we aren’t sure what to do, we must seek God for His guidance.
Mary of Bethany demonstrated the priorities of God by putting Christ above all else. She also showed great bravery when she defied her traditional role to sit at the feet of Jesus.
Martha’s sister, Mary, revealed great love and humility when she took the best of what she had to anoint Jesus’ feet. She displayed great devotion to the Lord she served.
And probably one of the most important lessons in her story is that even small acts of obedience can have a big impact in God’s Kingdom.
Who was Mary, mother of James and Joseph
Mary, mother of James and Joseph was the wife of Clopas, and sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother.
As you can see, it was such a common name, it was used multiple times, even within a family.
She was often referred to as the “other Mary”, traveled with Jesus, and was present at the crucifixion and burial of our Lord.
“40 Some women were there, watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James the younger and of Joseph[c]), and Salome. 41 They had been followers of Jesus and had cared for him while he was in Galilee. Many other women who had come with him to Jerusalem were also there.” Mark 15:40-41 NLT
Although we don’t know much more about this Mary, there’s still a lot we can learn from her.
Lessons from Mary, mother of James and Joseph
Mary, mother of James and Joseph was a deeply devoted woman.
She showed great allegiance by, not only following Christ’s ministry but also by staying with His body as it was laid in the tomb; and again, when she went back with Mary Magdalene to anoint His body that Sunday morning.
“1 Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on Sunday morning,[a] just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. 3 On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.” Mark 16:1-4 NLT
Mary, mother of James and Joseph, also remained faithful to follow Jesus at a time when it was customary to stay within the home and fulfill their domestic duties.
Who was Mary the mother of John Mark
Although there’s a lot we don’t know about Mary, mother of John Mark, she must have played an important role in the Christian church.
As aunt of Barnabas, she helped him sell their land in order to give the proceeds to further Christ’s ministry.
“11 Peter finally realized all that had really happened. 12 Peter immediately rushed over to the home of a woman named Mary. (Mary’s son, John Mark, would eventually become an important associate of the apostles.) A large group had gathered there to pray for Peter and his safety.” Acts 12:11-12 The Voice
Since scripture referred to it as her home, she was most likely a widower.
We can also safely assume that Mary’s home was often open as a common meeting place for prayer meetings since Peter thought of her immediately after escaping prison.
Lessons from Mary, Mother of John Mark
Mary, mother of John Mark was clearly a wise woman. She not only managed the domestic and financial duties of her household but helped to provide for the church.
She also displayed a lot of bravery.
In spite of the possible danger to herself, she opened her home as a place for believers to meet and encourage one another.
who was Mary of Rome
Although Mary of Rome is only mentioned once in the Bible, we see she was a faithful follower of Jesus.
In a letter to Rome from the apostle Paul, he speaks of this Mary and asks them to extend his greetings to her.
“Hello to Mary. What a worker she has turned out to be!” MSG
Although it’s not evident what she did, Paul praises her for her hard work.
Clearly, she treated Paul with kindness and made a difference in his life and ministry for him to speak of her.
Lessons from Mary of Rome
Mary of Rome gives us a beautiful example of working hard for Jesus and that our works — big or small — don’t go unnoticed.
“Just like Paul acknowledged Mary of Rome for her hard work, if we are faithful and diligent in the tasks we have been given, God will acknowledge us too.” The Virtuous Girls
The Marys in the Bible
As you can see, there’s a lot we can learn from these prominent women in the Bible; these female disciples.
Their devotion, kindness and incredible sacrifices give us powerful examples of how, we too, can serve our Lord and Father.
My prayer is that these lessons will give you the courage to step out in faith and follow God.
I hope that you’ll learn to put Him first in your life, and willingly serve Him, just as these Marys did.
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It’s in this space where I teach you how to stand on God’s truth, uncover your purpose and give you the courage and bravery of the Marys in the Bible.
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Until next time, my friend…
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