Mary and Martha #Character #Study by @DouglasJacoby


R4E130923 – Mary and Martha (New Testament Character Study) by Douglas Jacoby

You can download the full audiobook recording on qobuz or amazon or itunes.



  • Martha (Aramaic) means something like “the lady.” It comes from the masculine form for master, mar.
  • Miriam, named after the sister of Moses, usually Mary in English, comes from the Hebrew for “bitter.”
  • Catholic tradition equates Mary with Mary of Magdala (Mary Magdalene), while in Orthodox and Protestant traditions these are two separate persons. In John 12:1-7 and Luke 7:36-50, the anointing is of the feet, not the head, as in the older source Mark 14:3-9 (appearing also in Matthew 26:6-13 and Luke 7:36-51); one Bethany home belongs to Simon the Pharisee (and leper), the other to the home of Martha; and so scholars cannot easily confirm that the anointings represent separate events. This is not easy to decide.
  • The sisters may have been born into wealth. Notice the spare room for guests, the family vault, and the expensive perfume.
  • Martha is usually mentioned first, suggesting that she was the older of the sisters. Though it doesn’t seem possible to prove this, her being the firstborn is more consistent with her display of personality in the gospel accounts.
  • They lived with their brother, Lazarus. (Is it more than coincidence that the figure in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus [Luke 16:19-31] is also named Lazarus?) No mention is made of children or aged parents, though of course the silence does not rule out their presence.

Martha & Martha

  • Luke 10:38-42, John 11:1-12:8
  • Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, even as Saul of Tarsus sat at Gamaliel’s feet (Acts 22:3). The purpose was presumably not only to learn, but also (in turn) to teach. This is revolutionary. See note ** below.
  • Contrasting characters
    • higher-strung / lower-strung
    • more task-oriented / more relational
    • more controlling /more accepting
    • standing and serving / seated and learning and waiting
    • leader / follower


  • People are wired differently, whether due to nature or nurture, genetics or family of origin, social conditioning, or other factors. Personality differences are not condemned in the Bible. There’s always room to improve, and to the extent that we fall short of the character of Christ, we should never become complacent about “who we are.” Still, contentment (when accompanied by godliness) is a positive thing, and highly desirable (1 Timothy 6:6).
  • Even in a single family, personalities differ significantly. Everyone interacts with Jesus Christ in his or her own way. We shouldn’t try to force everyone to respond the same way. Genuine commitment may manifest differently in different people.
  • Jesus Christ, as busy as he was, made time for relationships. It is clear that this family held a special place in his heart. Notice also that among his friends he counted not only men, but also women. Of course he comported himself with propriety at all times, but the requirements of holiness and dignity did not dictate that he hold aloof from those with whom he had no immediate “ministry business.”
  • Life can be burdensome and distracting, and it’s all too easy to focus too much on all the duties and chores. Every day let us take time to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn. May we all strive to have a “Mary heart” in a “Martha world.”



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