As soon as Peter understood that he was not having a vision but was actually delivered from Herod’s sword (Acts 12:11), he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12)! Something we notice, and it can be disconcerting, is that the Gospel writers, including Luke’s work in Acts, simply mention a name and often without further instruction that would help us identify them further. Who is Mary, the mother of Mark, and how does she seem so important that Peter’s first choice as he is about to flee Jerusalem is to go to her home, expecting that she could be trusted to tell James, the Lord’s brother, and anyone else that needed to know his whereabouts (Acts 12:13-17)?
The Gospel writers offer a of number prospects called Mary who could be the mother of Mark, unless Luke mentions someone no one knows up to this point in time. Yet, Luke seems to expect his Messianic readers to know who this Mary really is. Theophilus, if he is the high priest and son of Annas, would know only that she is John Mark’s mother, because as far as we know Luke’s is the only Gospel he has in his possession.
First, we have Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 2:16). She didn’t have a son, named Mark (Matthew 13:55), so we can eliminate her right away. Secondly, we have Mary, called Magdalene who was one of Jesus’ financial supporters (Luke 8:2-3), but nothing is listed concerning her that would lead us to believe she is this Mary. Thirdly, we have Mary, the mother of James (Luke 24:10) who also has a son named Joseph (Mark 15:40), and she helped prepare the spices with which she and other women intended to anoint the body of Jesus; but if Mark is her son, why is she identified elsewhere as the mother of James the Less (one of the Apostles)? Certainly he would be more renown and a better identifier of the Mary than Mark would be, if, indeed, Mark was her son. Next, we have Mary, the wife of Cleophas who stood with Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother and her sister at the foot of the cross (John 19:25). Finally we have Mary, the sister of Martha (Luke 10:38-39), but nothing is said of her in the Gospels that would lead us to believe she is the mother of Mark. Matthew tells us of one he calls the other Mary and lists her with Mary Magdalene (Matthew 27:61; 28:1), but she probably is one of the Marys listed above. Matthew seems to believe his readers would know exactly who she was.
The other Mary couldn’t be Magdalene, because that Mary is always listed with her. Comparing the Gospel accounts will show who was at the foot of the cross. Luke is the only Gospel writer who uses ambiguous terms in describing those present, saying only that women were present (Luke 23:49, 55).
|Matthew 27:55-56||Mary Magdalene||Mary, mother of James & Joseph||Mother of the Zebedee children|
|Mark 15:40||Mary Magdalene||Mary, mother of James the Less & Joseph||Salome|
|John 19:25||Mary Magdalene||Mary wife of Cleophas||Jesus’ mother’s sister||Jesus’ mother|
According to the above, Mary the mother of James and wife of Cleophas could possibly be the other Mary who is mentioned only by Matthew. However, Mary the sister of Martha is not specifically mentioned in the Gospels as someone present at the foot of the cross, and she may be a match for Matthew’s other Mary as well.
On the other hand, if we consider Matthew’s reference to this Mary in using the word other, he implies that there is only one other Mary besides Mary Magdalene (remember, Mary the mother of Jesus is not a consideration at all). If, therefore, there is only one other Mary expected to be with Mary Magdalene, then Mary Magdalene must be identified as one of the two remaining Marys. Since Mary Magdalene is also listed with Mary, the mother of James (Matthew 27:56), then Mary, called Magdalene, must also be Mary the sister of Martha, which also follows that Mary the mother of James the Less and Joseph (also the wife of Cleophas) must be the other Mary of Matthew (Matthew 27:61; 28:1)! So, which of these Marys (Mary Magdalene or Mary the Mother of James) is most probably the mother of Mark?
The one Mary is mother to James the Less, but nothing is said of him in Acts. However, Joseph, her other son (Matthew 55-56; Mark 15:4) who the Gospels imply is also important, since he is named without further introduction, could be the same Joseph the Apostles surnamed Barnabas (cp. Acts 4:36)! This would mean that Mary, called Magdalene and sister to Martha (who lived at Bethany) was John Mark’s mother, because Joseph, called Barnabas by the Apostles, was Mark’s uncle (Colossians 4:10). This also means that the other Mary was Mary Magdalene’s mother. Both seemed to have lived in Jerusalem, and most likely, their home was used as the upper room where Jesus and the Apostles prepared the Passover. This is why Peter immediately went to their home. It was undoubtedly also used as a meeting place where believers worshiped. Peter expected to find believers there. He may have expected to find James, the Lord’s brother there, but instead gave Mary instructions for him when he hadn’t.
Why is all this important? It seems to me that the people mentioned in the Gospels must have had a place in the 1st century Church, and many of them would have been leaders and should have been mentioned in Acts or Paul’s epistles. If this is logically true, then there must be a reason for Luke’s ambiguity in referring to them. Could this be because he didn’t wish to reveal their identity to Theophilus, his addressee and member of the powerful priestly clan of Annas?