Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:18)
John's Gospel does not record the reaction of the disciples to Mary's news, but Luke tells us that "they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense" (Luke 24:11). I had a new thought about this during Easter this year, but first the old thoughts on Mary and the women who were the first witnesses on that first Easter morning.
"All four Gospels agree that the first primary witnesses to the resurrection were women," says NT scholar Craig Blomberg who goes on to explain the commonly held assumption, that this "detail [is] unlikely to have been invented, inasmuch as their testimony, because of their gender, would have been inadmissible in a court of law." In other words, if you were making this story up, you would not have made these women to be the first witnesses. Therefore, it is more likely that this is historically what really happened than something fabricated.
So here's the new thought: If the testimony of women could be so easily discounted in that culture and time, how much more so the testimony of the very first witness, "Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out" (Luke 8:2)? "Seven" is of course a numerical way of saying "complete"—that is to say, the demons were in complete control of her. She was likely crazy, suffering from some kind of mental defect, until Jesus set her free. In the movie The Miracle Maker, on that Sunday morning after the crucifixion, Mary excitedly keeps repeating the news that Jesus is alive and tries to get Peter to come to the tomb. Peter quite certain of what has happened to Mary responds to her saying, "The grief has made you mad." He raises an interesting point. Could Mary have gone crazy in her grief over Jesus?
Sure enough, doing a little research, I discovered that this point has been made before! The first known pagan written critique of Christianity includes this exact argument. Writing in A.D. 175,
Celsus... says that a hysterical female... was the witness to Jesus' resurrection, which Celsus then discounts.... Origen responds (c. A.D. 225) to Celsus by saying that there were other witnesses... and that the Gospels do not say she was hysterical (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 883-884).
If the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus in the Gospels had been fabricated, a fiction being sold to the public, it makes no sense to have women as your first witnesses. And it makes even less sense to have your very first witness to be a woman who could be accused of having gone mad in her grief. The best explanation for this is that the Gospel writers are capturing what truly what happened. Mary who had suffered a great deal in her life, being under the control of seven demons was set free by Jesus. She was loyal to him, staying with him through the trials and crucifixion, even when the male disciples had abandoned Jesus. And she becomes the first witness of Jesus' resurrection, commissioned by Jesus himself to go and tell the other disciples which it is claimed makes her "an apostle to the apostles." It is a true mark of Christianity that "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.... God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are" (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). So, yes, of course, he chose Mary Magdalene to be the first witness of the resurrection of Jesus.
By the way, I am available to preach! As I am no longer in full-time pastoral ministry, I do have opportunity to preach. This blog is a great place for me to explore the intersection between life today and our faithfulness to Christ. I hope it gives you a sampling of what I might preach; here is a sermon I've preached that examines what the Scriptures do say about Mary Magdalene.
Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci
The bestselling book The Da Vinci Code is a work of fiction and even the claim it makes to be historically accurate is fiction. In particular the character of Mary Magdalene as presented in the novel is completely inaccurate. The New Testament (and even the Gnostic writings) present Mary as a premier, exemplary disciple of Jesus.