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Mary

Mary [N] [E] [H] [S]

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is called theotokos by the church because her Son is the one and only Son of God, homoousios (consubstantial) with the Father. In the New Testament Mary is presented as the true Israelite, the model disciple, the woman of faith/faithfulness, and a type of the church.

Mark presents only a rapid sketch or silhouette of the Jewish woman who is the mother of Jesus. In 3:31-35 Jesus acknowledges his mother, brothers, and sisters, but then states that whoever does the will of God is a member of his family. In 6:1-6a Jesus is identified as "the son of Mary, a brother [adelphos] of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon, " and he is said to have "sisters." The meaning of adelphos here is disputed. It may mean a blood-brother, a half-brother, or, within the extended family, a male cousin. Likewise the word "sister" (adelphe [ajdelfhv]) has been interpreted as a blood-sister, a half-sister, and a female cousin. Since the early church maintained the perpetual virginity of Mary, it could not accept that Jesus had full blood brothers or sisters.

Matthew fills out the silhouette of Mary provided by Mark, but only in terms of the birth and infancy of her Son.

In the genealogy of 1:1-17 there are no less than four women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba), all of whom have irregular marital unions. Nevertheless all served God's messianic plan; so does Mary, whose son was not begotten by Joseph (v. 16).

In 1:18-25 Joseph acknowledges Jesus as his son by claiming him and naming him, so that he is truly "a son of David." Further, Joseph is told and recognizes that Mary conceived her Son in a miraculous way through the direct and unique action of the Holy Spirit. Thus, we have the doctrine of the virginal conception/birth of Jesus.

Luke presents Mary as the perfect disciple of her Son, who is also her Lord.

In the annunciation ( 1:26-38 ) Mary is called to unique discipleship. As a virgin she will conceive and bear a son who is "the Son of God."

In 1:39-56 we read of Mary's visit to Elizabeth, of Elizabeth's hymn to Mary, and then of Mary's "Magnificat." Mary is both "the handmaid of the Lord" and "the mother of my Lord, " for her Son is the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world.

Mary is also very much present in chapter 2 as the "mother of my Lord." We read of the birth of Jesus (vv. 6-7), the visit of the shepherds (vv. 8-20), the naming of Jesus and the purification of Mary (vv. 21-40), and (much later) the finding of the boy Jesus in the temple (vv. 41-52).

Luke 8:19-21 is similar to Mark 3:31-35 but Luke 11:27-28 is only found in Luke's Gospel. Here the mother of Jesus is presented as worthy of beatitude, not only because of giving birth to her Son but also because of her faith, obedience, and discipleship.

From the hand of Luke we also learn in Acts 1:14 that Mary was present with others waiting for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Thus, she is always the faithful disciple.

At the wedding in John 2:1-12 Jesus appears to reject his mother's request and then immediately does what she asks! However, she is there as his first disciple to behold his first miraculous sign. Further, she is there also "with his brothers" (v. 12), who (as noted above) may be her sons, Joseph's sons by a previous marriage, or the cousins of Jesus.

John 19:25-27 presents Mary at the foot of the cross, where Jesus entrusts Mary to John and John to Mary. Here, it may be said, the new fellowship, the new ekklesia [ejkklhsiva], is born and Mary has a central place within this communion of love. She who gave birth to her Son is there to see him die.

Paul states ( Gal 4:4 ) that Jesus was born of a woman (who is not named) and because she was a Jewish woman he was circumcised and submitted to the Law. Paul's words here or elsewhere tell us nothing about the nature of his conception.

In Revelation 12:1-6 we see into heaven and there behold the woman, the dragon, and the woman's child. In verses 7-12 we read of the archangel Michael and the dragon who move from heaven to earth, and then in verses 13-17 of the dragon, the woman, and her child, all of whom are on earth. It would appear that the woman has a primary reference to the people of God, Israel, and the church, with a secondary reference to Mary, mother of the Messiah: she is a "type" of the church.

Mary is a unique woman because she is the mother of the Son of God and also the first Christian disciple. The Catholic Church of East and West has developed its teaching concerning her not only by speaking of her as theotokos but also by speaking of her virginity before birth (virginal conception), at birth (miraculous delivery), and after birth (perpetual virginity). Liberal theology tends to deny all three. Classical Protestantism (Luther, Calvin) accepted all three, but modern biblically based Protestants tend only to accept the first.

Peter Toon

Bibliography. R. E. Brown et al., Mary in the New Testament; J. McHugh, The Mother of Jesus in the New Testament; A. J. Tambasco, What Are They Saying about Mary?

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.


[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[H] indicates this entry was also found in Hitchcock's Bible Names
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Mary'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.