On the women who bankrolled Jesus

Lynn Cohick clears up some misunderstandings about Mary Magdalene.



Lynn Cohick clears up some misunderstandings about Mary Magdalene.


I don’t think people realise that in the first century, women could control part of their wealth – that is to say, many women carried a dowry into marriage, and the husband would control that dowry, but women also could have wealth independent of that. And many women, both Jew and Gentile, used their wealth to support either people or projects or events, maybe supported a temple.

So the same thing happens with Jesus. We have a couple of women that we know of who supported Jesus’ ministry. We know them by name: Mary Magdalene and Joanna, these are two women that we find mentioned in the Gospel of Luke.

And I just want to say a note about Mary Magdalene, who has a rather interesting history in the church. Mary Magdalene, as Luke introduces her, is someone who was healed by Jesus. Luke tells us she had seven demons removed, which may be something … a very serious illness that Jesus healed her from. And she supports him. And she becomes a very devoted follower of Jesus.

Now that’s not the Mary Magdalene we usually know about. We usually think of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute who maybe had ill-gotten gains, that then she gave to the Christian coffers. But actually, that is a misreading of Scripture. It comes about because there’s a story earlier, just a chapter earlier in Luke, that talks about a prostitute who comes to Jesus and anoints his feet and worships him. And Jesus praises her and says, your sins are forgiven, welcomes her into his band of followers.

And down through church history, those two stories get conflated, and suddenly now Mary Magdalene has this very chequered past. But that’s in fact not the case. Mary Magdalene was a businesswoman who wanted to follow Jesus. And she’s not alone – as I mentioned, Joanna – there were others. And also, others who support Paul in his ministry. So we have Lydia, who lived in Philippi. We have Phoebe, who lived just outside of Corinth. These women used their finances to help Paul, and to help his ministry.