Women Paul wrote to in Rome
Mary of Rome (Romans 16:6)
There were three important Mary’s in Jesus’ life—the virgin Mary, who gave Him birth; Martha’s sister Mary, who became Jesus’ disciple, and anointed Him for the cross; and Mary from the town of Magdalene, the person Jesus waited for, to show Himself risen from the dead, and to carry that stupendous news to the rest of the disciples.
It seems there was an important Mary in Paul’s life, too, Mary of Rome, of whom he wrote,
“Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.”
Of all the people Paul mentioned in this last chapter, Mary is the only person with a Jewish name. One thought is that she took on this honored Jewish name when she put her faith in Jesus, and was baptized into new life. Another theory posits though she was Jewish, she worked hard to ground the mostly Gentile church in Rome, teaching them from the scriptures she knew so well, and discipling them in the ways of the Lord.
According to one scholar, the “Tal Ilan (Lexican of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity part III p64) counts 23 Jews with the name Mary/Mariam/Marian in the western diaspora, out of 552 females. This amounts of 4.2%. In Palestine, on the other hand, (part I p55-56) 70 Jews had the name, out of 317 female Jews.
“This amounts to 22.1%. Therefore the name was about 5 times more popular in Palestine than in the western diaspora. This observation, which has been overlooked by the commentators, suggests that she had moved to Rome from Palestine. She may have introduced the Christian faith to Rome, and this would account for her prominence there.
“It matters little whether the Latin name Μαρίαν or the Hebrew Μαριάμ was the original. A Μαριάμ could easily have adopted the name Μαρίαν after moving to Rome.” (thoughts taken from “Paul and Coworkers”)
Now, let’s do a little digging into the data, scanty as it may seem to be. Open your Bible, or Bible app, and look where Mary is listed. First comes Phoebe, as is absolutely right—she couriered Paul’s epistle to Rome, and was the Prostatis, either of the church in Cenchreae, or of the city of Cenchreae. Either way, she was first in importance.
Next came Priscilla and Aquila—Priscilla will be featured in another post, as her story is rich in detail. They were close friends, traveling companions, and missionaries with Paul, and would certainly have come next in his greetings. Notice, they also had a church in their home.
Third in the list was Paul’s dear friend, and the very first person to put his faith in Jesus, in the province of Asia. Again, makes total sense Paul would list such a beloved and honored person early in his greetings and commendations.
Then comes Mary, of Rome. She is listed before Andronicus and Junia, who were apparently prominent apostles, and had been in prison with Paul. That should give us pause!
That she is mentioned ahead of Andronicus and Junia, seems a little surprising, since Paul gave no indication of personal links with her. If she had been an important co-worker of Paul's, or his close friend, he surely would have mentioned it.
So it seems to me that her position in the list, ahead of Andronicus and Junia, is explainable only if she was already someone of some import to the Christians in Rome.
Paul's audience must have known of her prominence in their church, so Paul would have had no need to mention that, they already knew it. What he did say, in his reminder and approbation of her labors in the Lord, was that Mary deserved the respect and cooperation that should come with her leadership role in thier church. Paul gave similar instructions in his other letters. For example, iin 1 Corinthians 16:15-16, Paul wrote,
"You know that the household of Stephanas were the first convertsin Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it."
Paul rightly honored Mary of Rome, and recognized her importance to the believers there.
All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.