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Before You Preach: 5 Things You Should Know About Mary Magdalene

Who Was Mary Magdalene? 5. She Is Called “Apostle to the Apostles”

After giving her report that Jesus had risen, Mary Magdalene disappears from the New Testament. But we find some clues about her later life in extra-biblical texts. The apocryphal gospels depict Mary as a disciple who has a deep understanding of Christ’s teachings.

Several early church writers portray her as a leader in the early church movement. At some point she was given the title “Apostle to the Apostles” because she was the first person to see the risen Christ and the first to share the news of the resurrection with the disciples.

In light of recent conversations about the role of women in the Catholic church, it is interesting that Pope Benedict XVI had this to say in a 2007 address:

St. Thomas Aquinas reserved the special title “Apostle of the Apostles” (apostolorum apostola), dedicating to [Mary Magdalene] this beautiful comment: ‘Just as a woman had announced the words of death to the first man, so also a woman was the first to announce to the Apostles the words of life’ (Super Ioannem, ed. Cai, § 2519).

In recent years efforts have been made to educate the public about Mary Magdalene’s role as a devoted disciple and respected early church leader. Groups like FutureChurch and Call to Action promote national observances of Mary Magdalene’s feast day (July 22) to make current biblical scholarship known. A new church built on the archaeological site at Magdala gives tribute to Mary and other notable women in the bible.

Even though Mary was probably not an adulteress or a prostitute, people would have known that she had been possessed by seven demons (whether that was literal demon possession, or a myriad of physical and mental illnesses as some scholars believe). Also, there would have been a social stigma related to being a woman traveling with a group of men—something unheard of in those days. But from what we can tell, Mary did not let this get in the way of following Jesus.

This is a valuable lesson for all of us, but especially for women experiencing marginalization and discrimination. I once heard someone say that “Mary owed much, gave much, loved much, served much.”

We would be hard-pressed to find a better role model in the Bible than Mary Magdalene.


[1] See Experts Debunk Claim Jesus was a Husband and Father

[2] One exception is the 2013 History Channel series The Bible (Mark Burnett and Roma Downey). In this post Mark Goodacre (Duke University) commends the series for not depicting Mary as a repentant prostitute, but as one who follows Jesus and ministers to him from Galilee (Mark 15.40-41; Luke 8.1-3) to Jerusalem, to the cross (Mark 15.40-1, John 19.25), his burial (Mark 15.47) and his resurrection (Mark 16.1-8; John 20.1-18).

Others would be the BBC/HBO’s The Passion (2008) and Magdalena: Released From Shame. Note: The Da Vinci Code does not label Mary a prostitute but claims she had a sexual relationship with Jesus.

[3]Scripture References to Mary Magdalene—Matthew 27:56, 61; 28:1; Mark 15:40, 47; 16:1-19; Luke 8:2; 24:10; John 19:25; 20:1-18.

This article originally appeared here.