The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
A woman by the name of Mary Magdalene has been a powerful female figure in religions since the first century. Her notoriety among some groups has motivated them to go beyond the sacred text of the New Testament and develop an alternate history accompanied by differing doctrines. This has been greatly fueled by the Gospel of Mary (Magdalene).
“Few people today are acquainted with the Gospel of Mary..Yet these scant pages provide an intriguing glimpse into a kind of Christianity lost for almost fifteen hundred years. This astonishingly brief narrative presents a radical interpretation of Jesus’ teachings as a path to inner spiritual knowledge; it rejects his suffering and death as the path to eternal life; it exposes the erroneous view that Mary of Magdala was a prostitute for what it is-a piece of theological fiction; it presents the most straightforward and convincing argument in any early Christian writing for the legitimacy of women’s leadership; it offers a sharp critique of illegitimate power and a utopian vision of spiritual perfection; it challenges our rather romantic views about the harmony and unanimity of the first Christians; and it asks us to rethink the basis for church authority” (The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle by Karen L. King (Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, California, 2003), p. 3).
In order to understand the Gospel of Mary Magdalene it is necessary to know just how this woman was described in the Biblical accounts. She was an early devout follower of Jesus. Mary has a strong female role in the Gospel accounts especially related to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Among other women, Mary was at the cross of Jesus to witness His death by crucifixion (Mt. 27:32-56). She was aware of the place His body was taken for burial (Mt. 27:57-61). On the Sunday morning after His crucifixion, Mary went with two other women to the tomb of Christ (Mark 16:1). It was then and there she witnessed the resurrected Jesus (Jn. 20:10-17). At this point she promptly went to some of the disciples and relayed what she had seen (John 20:18).
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is…
A Late Gospel
If the Gospel of Mary Magdalene is a bona fide account of the life of Jesus, why is it not included with the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament? Because it was already known to some of the early Christian writers and leaders. It was referenced as early as the third century. The answer has to do with the late date of its writing. Although some scholars like Karen King of Harvard Divinity School claim it could have been written in the first century, the earliest it could have been written is the mid-second century. Since it was not written during the time of inspired Christians, the early Christians could not accept it as part of the New Testament canon.
A Fragmented, Uncomplete Gospel
No complete copy of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene exists today. Archeologists have only discovered three fragmentary texts. The two Greek fragments of the Gospel of Mary date to the third century. They are called, respectively, Papyrus Rylands 463 and Papyrus Oxythnchus 3525. Even the longer early fifth-century Copitc text (Berolinensis 8502) is missing several manuscript pages.
An incomplete “gospel” gives one an incomplete picture. However, the Coptic version portrays Mary Magdalene differently than other versions of this gospel. The fact is the Holy Spirit did not preserve this writing for future generations as it has the inspired Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
A Pseudepigraphal Gospel
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene does not say it was written by her. It is only the opinion of some that she pinned it. A few claim Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the real author. However, it is most likely that it is a pseudepigraphal gospel, that is, some unknown writer wrote it to appear as if it were written by Mary. The true author of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene was a gnostic. They, among other heretical factions, would use a name of a biblical character in an attempt to give credibility to their forgery. This is true of several of the Gnostic gospels, such as, the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Peter, Gospel of Philip, etc.
A Gnostic Gospel
A clearer picture of the gnostic heresy was gained when in 1945 the Nag Hammadi Documents were discovered in Egypt. What is Gnosticism? The term is from the Greek word gnosis meaning “knowledge.” Many of them felt they had special knowledge others did not have. The gnostic has a dualistic worldview which believed all matter to be evil in contrast to the spirit which is good. The Creator God was evil since He created evil matter. They believed that ignorance was man’s greatest moral infraction and not sinning against God. Their concept of salvation was to gain enough knowledge to escape the body. Therefore, they were known to either practice forms of asceticism or hedonism.
A gnostic gospel, such as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, is not an inspired Gospel from the Apostles and prophets of the New Testament. It is another Gospel which Christians must reject as false teaching. Paul warned the Galatian saints, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9)
A Different Gospel
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is in stark contrast with the teachings of the New Testament. It contradicts the teachings of the New Testament in regard to sin, the response to the ascension of Jesus, Church leadership, the afterlife and so on.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene teaches a Different Definition of Sin. After the resurrection of Jesus, Peter asked Him “…since you have explained everything to us, tell us this also: What is the sin of the world? The Savior said ‘There is no sin, but it is you who make sin when you do the things that are like the nature of adultery, which is called sin” (4:25-26). Yet nowhere in the Bible does it teach that sin is not real. Jesus said such things as:
“Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you” (Matt. 9:2).
“For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28).
“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off….And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off” (Mark 9:43,45).
“and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).
“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).
This gnostic gospel has the disciples giving a Different Response to Jesus’ Ascension. After Jesus ascends into heaven the disciples weep due to the grief of losing Jesus and fear of being crucified. Mary comforts these men.
“But they were grieved. They wept greatly, saying, ‘How shall we go to the Gentiles and preach the gospel of the Kingdom of the Son of Man? If they did not spare Him, how will they spare us?’ Then Mary stood up, greeted them all, and said to her brethren, ‘Do not weep and do not grieve nor be irresolute, for His grace will be entirely with you and will protect you. But rather, let us praise His greatness, for He has prepared us and made us into men.’ When Mary said this, she turned their hearts to the Good, and they began to discuss the words of the Savior” (5:1-4).
According to Luke it was angels who spoke to the apostles following Christ’s ascension into Heaven. “And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11).
– Daniel R. Vess