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Was Mary Magdalene an Apostle?

The thing about Mary Magdalene is that she is described as someone who saw Jesus at the empty tomb on the first Easter.  She’s also described as someone who was sent out to tell this to other people.  So we have to say to ourselves what reason is there for depriving her of the title of apostle?  Because what does an apostle do?  Someone who witnesses the resurrected Jesus and someone who’s sent out on mission.  That’s basically the most essential definition of any apostle.  That’s the kind of definition people want to give.  The interesting thing is though the New Testament is a little bit wary about calling her an apostle.

It doesn’t actually say “and the Apostle Mary Magdalene.”  So we then have to say well is it because all the writers of these texts were men, that they kind of suppressed that element?  It’s quite possible that they did.  They didn’t realize the implications of what they were actually saying about her.  What is absolutely clear is that Mary Magdalene was a really important person in early Christianity.  She’s definitely one of the key figures that is there in Jesus’ ministry.  Whatever you make of the origin of those resurrection traditions, she’s definitely there with Jesus for a lot of his ministry.

What do the Gospels tell us about Jesus’ other women followers?

Well, the Gospels tell us that Jesus had lots of female followers.  And in fact, Mark makes a big deal of the fact that the women were the faithful followers of Jesus.  The men have all fled.  You get to the crucifixion, they’ve all gone.  They’re out of sight.  Nowhere to be seen.  They’ve gone.  But the women are still there.  Mark makes is quite clear that the women have been following him all the way from Galilee; they’ve been serving him all the way; and they were still hanging around.

So women followers were absolutely essential in early Christianity.  And bear this in mind, that if it wasn’t for women followers, we might not have had anybody there to witness Jesus’ crucifixion to pass these things on because they’re the people that Mark says were present witnessing the crucifixion.

  • Mark Goodacre is professor of New Testament and Christian origins in the Department of Religion at Duke University. His research interests include the synoptic Gospels, the historical Jesus and the Gospel of Thomas. Goodacre is editor of the Library of New Testament Studies book series and the author of four books including The Case Against Q (Trinity Press, 2002) and Thomas and the Gospels (Eerdmans, 2012).