by Don Martin
It appears that the time is ripe today in America for the further degradation of basic morality and to the introduction of all manner of false doctrines and cults. It is evident that there is presently an obsession with Mary Magdalene. Much of this focus has been gendered by Dan Brown's bestseller, The Da Vinci Code. In this study, we shall explore the Mary Magdalene of the Bible, the relative Da Vinci Code, and make some final applications of the learned biblical principles.
The Mary Magdalene of the New Testament
There are numerous women in the Bible named Mary. In fact, "Mary" is found about 51 times in the New Testament. There was Mary the mother of Jesus; Mary the sister of Lazarus; Mary the mother of Mark, sister of Barnabas; and a Christian in Rome named Mary, to mention some (Matthew 1:16; Luke 10:39; Acts 12:12; Romans 16:6). Then there was Mary Magdalene.
Mary Magdalene is first mentioned in Luke 8:1-3. She appears to have been from the town of Magdala; hence, Mary Magdala, as some refer to her. In this passage, we read of certain women accompanying Jesus and the twelve. We are told that Jesus had healed these women and that they "ministered unto him of their substance." Mary Magdalene was one of the women. We next observe Mary Magdalene at Jesus' crucifixion (Matthew 27:55, 56). The last view we have of her is subsequent to Jesus' resurrection and prior to his ascension (Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:9, John 20:11-18).
The View that Mary Magdalene was a Prostitute
First, all we reliably know about Mary Magdalene is what we read in the New Testament. There are prostitutes mentioned in the scriptures, but it appears that the practice was not to provide their names (cp. Luke 7:37, John 8:3). When Mary Magdalene is mentioned, her name is freely supplied, as seen in the foregoing references. Notwithstanding, some believe that Mary Magdalene is the prostitute of Luke 7:37. Some contend that the same woman is present in Luke 7:37 and John 8:3 and that the woman is Mary Magdalene. "Pope" Gregory declared in 591 A. D. that Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany (Lazarus' sister), and the sinner of Luke 7:37 are all the same. Hence, the origin of the view that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. As one even casually reads Luke 7:36 through Luke 8:3, it is apparent that the account of the woman of Luke 7:36 and Mary Magdalene are two different instances, involving two different women and circumstances (notice "it came to pass afterward ..." in Luke 8:1). The fact that Mary Magdalene was a demoniac out of whom Jesus cast seven demons, does not prove that she was a prostitute (Luke 8:2, Mark 16:9).
The Gospel of Mary
Based on the presentation we have of Mary Magdalene in the Scriptures, she was an outstanding disciple of Jesus who stayed with him to the end. However, there is not a scintilla of evidence that Mary Magdalene enjoyed the status of apostolic equality or perhaps even ascendancy over the twelve as is being assigned to her. A fragmentary manuscript that bears the name "Gospel of Mary" is now being exaggerated in an effort to advance the cause of the book, the Da Vinci Code. The so-called Gospel of Mary was discovered in Egypt in the middle of the twelfth century, along with fragments of the Gospel of Thomas. In this manuscript, Mary Magdalene is presented as teaching the apostles and being loved by Jesus above all his disciples. The Gospel of Mary is replete with Gnostic tenets and advocates that Jesus' soul only was resurrected, in harmony with Gnostic views about the matter (see John 20:26-29). The Gospel of Mary is dated at between 125 and 175 A. D. Hence, it appears to have been written after the life of Mary Magdalene and, therefore, is not only marred by teaching that is inconsistent with the Scriptures but is also of apparent spurious authorship.
The Da Vinci Code
Many believe that the Da Vinci Code is going to revolutionize and perhaps even destroy traditional Christianity. It is thought that Leonardo was a member of the esoteric intelligential of his day, certain scholars who possessed knowledge too advanced for their time. Dan Brown, the author of the Da Vinci Code, and others are telling us that Leonardo sought to convey knowledge by codes and subtle suggestions. The promoters of the Da Vinci Code contend that Da Vinci's Last Supper holds secrets there were then too lofty for the contemporaries of Leonardo. When considered, there is a "V" separating Jesus and the apostle on his right. Dan Brown explains that the "V" is a secret code that is attempting to tell the observer that the apostle on Jesus' right is really a woman and that the woman is Mary Magdalene. "Look at the disciple," says author Brown, "the disciple is obviously a woman." In listening to an interview with Dan Brown, when asked as to where is the twelfth apostle, author Brown had no explanation. A number of scholars contend that some of the classic artists often painted the apostle John to appear feminine and that the apostle on Jesus' right in Leonardo's The Last Supper is John. I would concede for argument's sake that Leonardo may have sought to implicitly suggest the presence of a woman at the table. However, if this is the case, what would it prove other than Da Vinci may have believed that Mary Magdalene was an apostle of Jesus of equal or superior standing (Da Vinci also presents Jesus as feminine, which we know is inaccurate, cp. I Corinthians 11:14). Also, Leonardo Da Vinci lived centuries removed from Jesus and his apostles; hence, even if he did believe Mary Magdalene was an apostle and held a leadership role alone with men in the first-century church, such would not constitute proof that such was the case, especially in view of what is taught and seen in the New Testament.
Why are such views as being advanced by Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code being received with such fervor? There are probably several reasons for the reception and popularity of the Da Vinci Code. Of primary impetus would be the women's movements in America today. There are many feminists who would jump at anything they think will further their cause. In all religions, there are concentrated efforts underway to place women in leadership roles. Dan Brown's Mary Magdalene is ideal. We are being told that the reason Mary Magdalene's apostleship and Gospel were not publicized before now involved an organized cover-up, part of an effort to promote men and demote women in the religious arena. Constantine is said to have masterminded some of this cover-up. However, the proponents of such do not seem to understand that all their claimed proof is refutable and flawed and that the New Testament remains the ultimate proof. Another reason for much of the preoccupation with Mary Magdalene is the belief that she was a prostitute and in their way of thinking, such makes sin not so bad. Regardless of the precise nature of Mary Magdalene prior to her encounter with Jesus, we know she was not "one of the women who sexually serviced Jesus and the apostles," as some blasphemously say. The New Testament is replete with examples of sinners being saved, but there is a strong emphasis on the fact that they did not continue to practice their sins (cp. I Corinthians 6:9-11).
There is no denying that a number of women were valuable to the early church. We read of Phoebe, Priscilla, and the women especially saluted who were in Rome (Romans 16:1,3-5,12). Commentator Albert Barnes wrote thus of Tryphena and Tryphosa mentioned in Romans 16: 12:
"These names with the participle rendered 'who labor' are in the feminine gender, and these were probably two holy women who.labored to promote the spread of Christianity" (Barnes on the New Testament, Vol. 4, pg. 335).
While godly women, in general, were of great assistance, they did not serve as elders or preachers in the churches. In fact, there is an express prohibition against such (I Timothy 2: 8-15).
As mentioned, Mary Magdalene is seen in the Scriptures as an excellent example for women in many ways. However, the claims of the Da Vinci Code are outrageous to the extreme. For instance, Dan Brown maintains that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. The only vestige of proof that is offered is found in John 20:17. Dan Brown argues that Mary Magdalene is seen embracing Jesus as only a wife would do in the first century in Jewish culture. It is true that the word rendered "touch" in the King James Version does express much more, for instance, the idea of "cling." However, we do not have to view the circumstance in John 20:17 as an intimate husband and wife circumstance, but as a close disciple who loved her Lord and wanted him to stay (Jesus could not allow any such hindrance, as he explained, he had to ascend to the Father). "The New Testament does not deny that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married," reason men. Hence, they argue based on the silence of the Scriptures (cp. Hebrews 7:11-14). If Jesus had been married, such would have been mentioned by Paul as he reasoned with the Corinthians in chapter nine of the First Corinthian epistle, verse 5, regarding his right to be married.
While Mary Magdalene was characterized by many fine spiritual traits, she is not presented as being the mother of Jesus' child, as the believers of the Da Vinci Code maintain. From the unfounded belief that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and produced a child has arisen the preposterous teaching that a super race of Jesus and Mary's descendants live today!
It is a biblical fact that Mary Magdalene stands out among women mentioned in the Bible, but she was not an apostle, even an apostle who offered guidance to the other apostles (cp. Matthew 10:1ff., I Timothy 2: 12). Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code is not only biblically flawed, but it is also a work of blasphemy.