Early Church History: Part 4, The Bethany Family
Jul 28, 2007
In the earliest records, there were three Marys: (1) Jesus' mother, (2) her sister who was the wife of Cleopas and, however unusual, seems to have had the same name as her sister, and (3) Mary Magdalene--also known as Mary of Bethany. Later, after Jesus' ascension, we read of another Mary, the mother of Mark, whose family owned the "upper room" of Pentecostal fame.
Mary Magdalene has been deified by Merovingian Catholicism--that faction which seeks to displace the Virgin Mary from her throne. Their motive is to enhance their own claim to the thrones that they have lost in Europe, for they claim to be direct descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. To do this, however, they must destroy the idea that Jesus died on the cross. Such are "enemies of the cross."
Most if not all of the ancient writings identify Mary Magdalene as Mary of Bethany. She first appears as the sinner who washed Jesus' feet with her tears (Luke 7:38) shortly after He had raised the widow woman's son from the dead in the town of Nain (Luke 7:11). No doubt she heard of this great miracle and was cut to the heart.
The widow woman's son was known in later Church history by the Latin name, Maternus, from the Latin word maternal. Maternus later became the assistant to Eucharius, whom Peter sent from Rome to preach the Word at Trier (Treves) and from there to Cologne. We read in J. W. Taylor's The Coming of the Saints, page 61, footnote:
"Eucharius was appointed as bishop, and Valerius and Maternus as his assistants. Maternus was of Hebrew birth, and came from the little town of Nain in Palestine, being 'the only son of his mother,' whom Christ had raised from the dead."
When the gospels were written, it was dangerous to be identified as a Christian, and so only a few of the characters are identified by name. This also explains why "the man born blind" in John 9 remained unnamed, though he was later known as Restitut, or by his Latin name, Restitutus. When the Bethany family later sold their property, laying it at the apostles' feet (Acts 4:37), they were forced to leave the country, and Restitutus accompanied them to Provence, in Gaul. There Restitutus became the bishop of Augusta Tricastinorum and the nearby village that still bears his name, St. Restitut, where he is buried.
According to the ancient History of Rabanus, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were the children of a Jewish mother and a Syrian prince. Their mother was a descendant of King David and therefore known to their Kinsman, Jesus. The family was wealthy and had a large estate in the city of Magdala, where Mary herself had gone to live, apparently as a mistress, separating herself from her family in Bethany. But when she heard of the dead being raised, she was somehow quickened by the Spirit that the Messiah had indeed come, and this was enough to cause her to come to Jesus in deep repentance.
This repentance, of course, brought reconciliation to the family, and we find her then returning to Bethany to live.
Later, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead on the first of Abib just before Jesus' crucifixion, he became a man marked for death, for he then had become living proof that Jesus was the Messiah (John 12:10). According to the law, Lazarus had to undergo purification rites for a week for touching a dead body (his own, when dead). Afterward, on the 8th day of Abib his family held a great feast for him, and this was "six days before the Passover" (John 12:1).
The timing of Lazarus' resurrection on the first of Abib became a prophetic type of the first of Ethanim (7th month), the day of Trumpets, which signifies the day of our own resurrection.
After Pentecost, we know from Acts 8:5 that Philip went to Samaria to preach the Word with great success. Afterward, he was led by the Spirit to go to Gaza (Acts 8:26), where he explained Isaiah 53 to the Ethiopian eunuch. Then, as the record says, he was "caught away" supernaturally to a place near Azotus (old Ashdod). He preached the Word from there all the way to Caesarea Sebaste (or Stratonis), a city built on the coast by Herod in honor of Augustus Caesar. It had a man-made harbor as well, making it a major seaport and travel center.
Here Philip settled with his four prophetic daughters. Many years later, Luke tells us in Acts 21:8 and 9,
" (8) And on the next day we departed and came to Caesarea; and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. (9) Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses."
Caesarea was a Roman city under the protection of Cornelius, the Centurion (Acts 10:1). No doubt Philip ministered there after Peter had conferred upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit. His daughters prophesied in that home fellowship as well. Philip's house became a safe haven for many believers who were persecuted in Jerusalem, and from that city, many found passage out of the country when the Church was scattered by Saul's persecution. Yet Philip was not the bishop of Caesarea, that honor going to Zaccheus, the ex-publican (Roman IRS agent).
Lazarus, whose life was in danger even before Jesus' crucifixion, went to Cyprus as a missionary and became known as the first bishop of that island country. He was later replaced by Barnabas, while Titus was bishop of Crete.
The Coming of the Saints, page 55, states,
"The chief port from which these missions started was Caesarea, and the local head or 'organizing secretary,' from whom the missionaries went and to whom they returned, appears to have been St. Philip the Evangelist, who settled at Caesarea, and evidently helped the early Christians on their journeys."
It also seems that Barnabas, one of "The Seventy," was the first to preach in Rome not long after the day of Pentecost, even preceding Peter's trip there. Years later, Clement of Rome says that he first became acquainted with Christianity through Barnabas' preaching. It is likely that Barnabas took a ship from Caesarea and had some good fellowship with Philip and Cornelius before departing for Rome. Clement also relates that when Barnabas finally left Rome, he accompanied the Apostle back to Caesarea, where he met Peter, Zaccheus, Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and others.
It is likely that Peter then followed up with his trip to Rome (45-46 A.D.), shortly after the death of James (Acts 12), while Barnabas' next mission was to Antioch. Barnabas was in Antioch about a year (Acts 11:26) before he sent for Saul (Paul) in late 46 or early 47. Paul had been living just south of Antioch in the city of Tarsus. This is where Paul comes back on the scene to make his mark on the early Church (Acts 11).
Caesarea was the obvious place for a Christian to find refuge in the persecutions taking place in Jerusalem. Taylor writes on page 63,
"At Caesarea we find (according to the "Recognitions") St. Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, St. Lazarus, St. Zaccheus, and the 'Holy Women'--probably St. Salome, the mother of St. James, St. Mary, the wife of Cleopas, St. Martha, and St. Mary Magdalene. Such appears to have been, so far as we can gather, the earliest disposition of the disciples after the persecution which arose about St. Stephen."
It was not long, however, before even Caesarea was unsafe for the believers in Christ. Joseph of Arimathea (the Virgin Mary's uncle), Lazarus, Mary and Martha were set adrift in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea in a boat without oars to let God determine their fate. God spared them, and they made their way to Massilia (modern Marseilles in southern France) and finally to Britain.
This is the fourth part of a series titled "Early Church History." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones