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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

 

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MARTHA

mar'-tha (Martha, "mistress," being a transliteration of the feminine form of mar, "Lord"): Martha belonged to Bethany, and was the sister of Lazarus and Mary (Jn 11:1 f). From the fact that the house into which Jesus was received belonged to Martha, and that she generally took the lead in action, it is inferred that she was the eider sister. Martha was one of those who gave hospitality to Jesus during His public ministry. Thus, in the course of those wanderings which began when "he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerus" (Lk 9:51), he "entered into a certain village"--its name is not stated--and "a certain woman named Martha received him into her house" (Lk 10:38). Martha, whose sense of responsibility as hostess weighed heavily upon her, was "cumbered about much serving," and her indignation was aroused at the lack of assistance given to her by her sister. Her words, "Lord, dost thou not care?" implied a certain reproach to Jesus also, in that she felt He showed a want of sympathy with her efforts and was the cause of Mary's remissness. But Jesus, in tones of gentle reproof, reminded her that for Him not the preparation of an elaborate meal but the hearing of His Word in the spirit of Mary was the "one thing needful" (Lk 10:39-42).
Martha is first mentioned by John--the only other Gospel writer who refers to Martha--in his account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead at Bethany (Jn 11:1-44). The narrative indicates, however, that Jesus was already on terms of the closest friendship with her and her household (compare 11:3,5). In the incident which John here records, Martha again displayed her more practical nature by going out to meet Jesus, while Mary sat in the house (11:20). But she was not behind her sister in her love for her brother (11:19), in her faith in Jesus (11:21 f) and in her belief in the final resurrection (11:24). The power of Him, whom she termed the "Teacher," to restore Lazarus to life even upon earth was beyond her understanding. To the words of Jesus concerning this she gave, however, a verbal assent, and went and informed Mary, "The Teacher is here, and calleth thee" (11:27 f). Yet she remained inwardly unconvinced, and remonstrated when Jesus ordered the stone before the grave to be removed (11:39). Jesus then recalled His previous words to her remembrance (11:40), and vindicated them by restoring her brother to life (11:41-44). After the raising of Lazarus, Jesus then made His departure, but after a short stay in Ephraim (11:54) He returned to Bethany (Jn 12:1). While He supped there, Martha once more served, and Lazarus was also present (Jn 12:2). It was on this occasion that Mary anointed the feet of Jesus (Jn 12:3-8). According to Mt 26:6-13; Mk 14:3-9, the anointing took place in the house of Simon the leper, and it has hence been concluded by some that Martha was the wife or widow of Simon. The anointing described in Lk 7:36-50 happened in the house of Simon a Pharisee. But in none of the synoptist accounts is Martha mentioned. For the relationship of these anointings with each other, see MARY, IV. As, according to John, the abode of the sisters was in Bethany, a further difficulty of a topographical nature is raised by those who hold that Luke implies, from the Galilean setting of Lk 10:38-41, that the sisters lived in Galilee. But the information supplied by Luke, upon which this inference is based, is of the vaguest (compare Lk 10:38), and the great division of Luke's Gospel (Lk 9:51 through 18:31) has within it no organic cohesion of parts. In it is mentioned that on two separate occasions Jesus passed through Samaria (Lk 9:52; 17:11). It is therefore more logical to suppose that the events described in Lk 10:38-41, falling within the intervening period, took place in Bethany during an excursion of Jesus to Judea, and formed one of the several visits upon which the friendship recorded in Jn 11:3,5 was built. According to a fragment of a Coptic gospel belonging to the 2nd century (compare Hennecke, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen, 38, 39), Martha was present with the other two Marys at the empty grave of Jesus (compare Mt 28:1,11), and went and informed the disciples.
C. M. Kerr

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'MARTHA'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE; 1915.

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