Was Mary of Bethany the same as Mary Magdalene?

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John identifies Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus as the one who anointed Jesus’ feet, and his account of the event is clearly parallel to that of Matthew and Mark, who, with Luke, do not reference her by name. This may have been because she was still living at the time when the Synoptic Gospels were written. The three synoptic authors, although knowing that the narrative should be included in the gospel record, may have decided, in Christian kindness, not to record her name. But John who wrote His gospel several decades later after the woman’s death, he might not have felt restricted.

Luke (ch. 10:39, 42) and John (chs. 11:1, 2, 19, 20, 28, 31, 32, 45; 12:3) both record and identify a Mary of Bethany. Mary, known as Mary Magdalene (probably “of Magdala,” a town on the western shore of the Lake of Galilee [Matt. 15:39]), is listed among the women who went with Jesus on His Second Galilean Tour (Luke 8:1–3), and is recorded by all four Gospels in connection with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (Matt. 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1, 9; Luke 24:10; John 19:25; 20:1, 11, 16, 18). At some point before the Second Galilean Tour, Jesus cast seven demons out of her (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9).

It is possible that Mary of Bethany left home as a result of her disgraceful lifestyle, and lived in a home in Magdala. A majority of the recorded incidents of Jesus’ Galilean ministry took place where Magdala was located, and it could be that during Jesus’ early visits to Magdala that He met her and delivered her from demon possession. After accompanying Jesus on the Second Galilean Tour, she could have returned to Bethany, as a newly converted person, and rejoined her sister Martha and brother Lazarus.

This possibility does not prove that Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdala are to be identified as the same person, but it does show how this could reasonably have been the case. The Scripture’s information recorded in the gospel can be easily accepted in harmony with this explanation.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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