3 minutes

The Identity of the Prostitute of the Gospels

In Part 1 of this post, we reviewed the traditional view of Mary Magdalene. In Part 2, we found out what the Bible actually says about her. We learned that though the Church has taught for over a millennium that Mary of Magdala was a prostitute and a loose woman, the Bible does not present her that way. She was a woman who was cleansed by Jesus of seven demons.

So if Mary Magdalene is not the prostitute as we have been taught, then is there anyone else who might be? First, let me say that the woman who was accused of adultery was probably an unknown woman, who only showed up in this one passage in John 8:1-11. In fact, that passage has enough mystery surrounding it to be the subject of my next post.

However, there is good reason to believe that the woman who washed Jesus’ feet was someone else. Someone we all know, love and respect. I believe the loose woman was Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus.

What!? It can’t be! I love Mary. She chose the good part! (Luke 10:42)

However, if we look at what the Bible tells us about her, we may become convinced. In John 11:2, Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, is described as the one “who anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped His feet with her hair.” In the next chapter, we will see Mary do exactly that (John 12:3). It is also the way Luke portrayed the prostitute (Luke 7:37-38).

The question becomes, is John 11 foreshadowing Mary anointing Jesus’ feet in the next chapter or is it using a previous action described by Luke to identify her? Though it would be expedient to assume the former, it is more logical to assume the latter.

No author would describe a character with information that has not yet been presented. Why would John describe Mary by an action that hasn’t yet occurred? As an example, I will be discussing John 8:1-11 in my next blog. However, you don’t know what I am going to write about it. I haven’t hinted at what I might be discussing. If right here, I were to allude to a reference I will make in my next post, it would be nonsensical to you. You would not understand its meaning without first reading the blog. In the same way, I highly doubt John would identify Mary by pointing to something that he had not yet described or written.

On the other hand, Luke wrote his Gospel 25 years before John wrote his. John’s readers would have known about Luke’s loose woman who anointed Jesus’ feet at Simon the Pharisee’s house. For example, if I am a Tom Clancy fan, I don’t need a bio on Jack Ryan to read a new book about him. I would be familiar with him from the previous books I’ve read. In the same way, this sinful woman was familiar to John’s readers by the time John wrote his Gospel.

Therefore, first, it makes no sense that John would use as a descriptor something Mary would do before he ever mentioned it. Second, John knows his audience would be familiar with the act of the prostitute anointing Jesus’ feet from Luke’s Gospel.

A final point of interest: every time Mary of Bethany is mentioned in the Bible, she is always found at Jesus’ feet:

  • Luke’s account of Mary listening to Jesus’ teaching (Luke 10:39);
  • John’s account of Mary coming to see Jesus after the death of her brother Lazarus (John 11:32);
  • John’s account of Mary anointing Jesus’ feet before his entrance into Jerusalem (John 12:1-3).

It indicates her fascination with Jesus. She places herself subservient to him. This would have been due to her recognition of what Jesus had done for her (Luke 7:47). It is not a leap to recognize that in Luke’s account of the sinner washing Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:36-49), he is writing of the same person we find thoughout the Gospels identified as Mary of Bethany.

It becomes evident that Mary of Bethany is the prostitute of the Gospels.

When we recognize what Jesus has done for us, we would be wise to follow Mary of Bethany, the sinner, who was forgiven much and thus loved much. She has chosen the good part.

Your Turn:

What are your thoughts about Mary of Bethany? Is she the former-prostitute-turned-adorer? Do you see her differently than you did before? Is she now higher or lower in your estimation? Add your comments below.