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Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
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Our readers asked:

In Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of Christ” he shows that Mary Magdalene was the woman who was caught in adultery who was almost stoned until Jesus saved her. Is that true?

Ann Naffziger Answers:

Mel Gibson took some “creative license” in his movie, including making the unfortunate connection you mention here.

John’s gospel recounts a story of a woman, unnamed, who is caught in the act of adultery (Jn 7:53-8:11). As she is about to be stoned, Jesus says “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” There is no mention of the woman’s identity, and certainly no evidence to suggest any connection with Mary Magdalene. For some reason, some Christians like Mel Gibson have repeatedly marred Mary Magdalene’s reputation by making this unfair and biblically unwarranted connection.

Contrary to being identified as an adulterer or otherwise sexual sinner, the portrait of Mary Magdalene in the gospels is a supremely positive one. Never is there any mention of her sinfulness. In fact, the only biographical detail we have of her is a mention by Mark (Mk 16:9) and Luke (Lk 8:2) that Jesus cast seven demons out of her. Otherwise, she is given prime importance as a witness to the crucifixion, her presence at the empty tomb, and then meeting the risen Jesus. Her witness at these events surpasses that of even Peter who was said to have deserted Jesus at his Passion. In John’s gospel, especially, Mary Magdalene is upheld as an apostle in the most positive sense when Jesus appears to her first after his resurrection and missions her to proclaim the resurrection to his other disciples. (Jn 20:11-18).

The Author : Ann Naffziger
Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Ron Bedell

    Great article l ike it. But I would be care full about using the word apostle. There were only 12 apostles and they were all men appointed by Christ.

  • Bel

    @Zeb… Good point, and true, “So what if she was.” But… She WASN’T. And that IS the point, entirely. There are many women who admire and look up to what Mary Magdalane represents. To some, even non-Christians like myself, she is a Goddess and a symbol of strength, in the midst of the chaos of what Christianity has become (overall), today.

    • http://www.facebook.com/guinevere.s.jacobs Guinevere S Jacobs

      Mary, Jesus’ mother, is the true symbol of strength. She agreed to have God’s son when she was 16, knowing that she could be stoned to death for promiscuity, she was married off to a much older man who could have been abusive, she was a single mother when Joseph her husband died, and she witnessed the torture and agonising death of her only Son. Besides that, she was the one who continued motivating the Apostles during the period of the Ascension of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. No one on this planet has ever followed in her example – giving up their entire lives from adolescence to old age to the will of God, and all that without a quibble or complaint.

    • Steve67

      So you’re offended at the notion that Mary Magdalene was the adulterous woman or that she was a prostitute, but you have no problem believing she was a “goddess”? The fact is you don’t know for sure whether she was and neither does Ms Naffziger, even though she states it as if it was a fact. Feminists want to believe that there was some mysoginyst agenda behind the puported connection between Mary Magdalene and the adulterous woman or that she was a prostitute and there isn’t. I don’t know if I believe it or not, but regardless of what you believe about her, to Christians the question of whether she was a prostitute or adulterer is an “interesting topic” at most. Zeb is right. The fact that some Christians get bogged down shows that they are missing the point and are likely allowing a feminist agenda to be a distraction from the Gospel.

  • Cathy

    I wouldn’t look to Mel Gibson for guidance in anything Catholic

    • http://www.facebook.com/jcchrislan Christine J Lan

      Mel Gibson sought theological experts before he made the movie.

      • http://www.facebook.com/guinevere.s.jacobs Guinevere S Jacobs

        Despite all the criticism and abuse he received, I’d like to thank Mel Gibson for the wonderful evangelical work he did – in announcing to the world what Jesus Christ did for each and every one of us. He brought so many to Christ, and brought so many Christians back to Christ too. He should be greatly commended, not abused as he is.

        And, yes, Mel Gibson sought the assistance of theological experts, otherwise the entire movie would not have been so well portrayed.

  • Zeb

    Anyone who complains about Mary Magdelene being unfairly maligned by being conflated with the saved adulteress or the repentant prostitute is missing the point of those stories, and maybe Christianity all together. It’s true that there is no Biblical reason to connect Magdelene to those other women, and Gibson and other deserve criticism for bad scholarship. But the idea that Magdelene’s reputation is marred by the suggestion of past sexual sin reflects immature prudishness and a failure to take seriously the universality of sinfulness, the efficacy of grace, and the genuineness of repentance. The proper response is, there’s no reason to believe she was the adultress (or prostitute), but so what if she was? So much the better for her, to be a paragon not only of witness and service, but of repentance and redemption.

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