(mahr' thuh) Personal name meaning “lady [of the house]” or “mistress.” Sister of Mary and Lazarus of Bethany and one of Jesus' best-loved disciples. True to her name, Martha is portrayed as a person in charge: she welcomed Jesus as a guest in her home (Luke 10:38); she was concerned with meeting the obligations of a hostess, whether preparing food (Luke 10:40;
John 12:2) or greeting guests (John 11:20). Together with Mary, she sent for Jesus when Lazarus was ill (John 11:3).
Luke 10:38-42 contrasts Martha's activist discipleship with Mary's contemplative discipleship. The church cannot minister without “Marthas” who are willing to serve alone. Jesus' gentle rebuke serves as a perpetual reminder not to major on minor matters. Jesus must not be neglected in the name of service. In
John 11:21-27, Jesus led Martha from an inadequate to a lofty confession. Faced with the realities of death, Martha, however, later doubted (John 11:39). Some interpreters identify Martha as the wife (widow) or daughter of Simon the leper on the basis of harmonization with
Matthew 26:6-13 and
Mark 14:3-9. The three traditions which involve anointings of Jesus (1.
Luke 7:37-39,Luke 7:44-50;
John 21:1-8) present a nearly insurmountable challenge to a harmonizer. A more sound approach is to appreciate each tradition within the context of the Gospel of which it is a part.
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'MARTHA'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".