Mary Magdalene: “Prostitute?” (by Sarah Sparks)

Several times now, I have seen bloggers and sites note, “Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute, please remember this on Easter.” First of all, the word “prostitution” is no longer an accepted term in circles working to prevent human trafficking and sexual exploitation. It is a legal term that is used by law enforcement, but when using a victim centered approach, the preferred term instead is “commercial sexual exploitation.”

“Prostitutes” are victims. Today, they are generally controlled by pimps and do not choose to be sexually exploited by their own will. The overwhelming majority are trafficked individuals, or soon will be. Looking at the legal definition of trafficking, I will refer to the AMP model– action means and purpose, which says, “The trafficker recruits, harbors, transports, provides, obtains, or so attempts through force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of commercial sex acts or labor acts.”[1]

What if Mary Magdalene was a prostitute? Why does it matter? Where would the shame be in that? Could Jesus not use a “prostitute” as the first woman preacher? Could his radical inclusion not have changed her is she was? Or, more practically speaking, what if we have human trafficking victims coming to our church services? How would they feel if we are over-emphasizing that Mary was not a prostitute?

Bloggers and others should be conscience of media best practices when dealing with content that could pertain to human trafficking. Below is a resource from the Trafficking in Persons Report from 2014. Let’s honor victims and survivors by creating a space where all are welcome. Let’s be advocates. (resource is a PDF)

[1] Link is to a PDF file.


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5 thoughts on “Mary Magdalene: “Prostitute?” (by Sarah Sparks)

  1. It’s not about shame, it’s about misogyny and inaccuracy. Nowhere in the New Testament does it say she was a sex worker of any kind. She may have been an important disciple, but some of the early Church Fathers couldn’t accept a woman in a position of leadership and decided to denigrate her. Some think Magdalen means (watch) tower.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Karin, to be clear, the concern isn’t in saying that she was one. Specifically, the question being addressed is, “How can we say that without using language which stigmatizes those who have been exploited in the sex trade?” A particular article spoke of Mary’s reputation being tarnished by the characterization and that language, however unintentional, creates shame for exploited persons. I don’t think that preserving an accurate portrayal is exclusive of thinking about how it is worded.

      Does that make sense? Thanks for the comment 🙂


      1. If there is no evidence that Mary M was a prostitute I don’t think we should keep the myth going. We don’t need to over emphasise this, just stop repeating the lie. It’s good to acknowledge that she may have had some authority and even been in a position of leadership. That is good for all women everywhere.

        As to prostitutes and sex workers, is our attitude more important than what we call them or does the word prostitue mean someting much worse in American? Most of these people are being exploited and some are forced into this trade by violence. Some claim it is their chosen profession, but I wonder what makes anyone choose such a profession.

        All exploitation is wrong and those who are exploited should not be made to feel ashamed as they are more sinned against than sin. Church should be a place where they can be empowered to escape and rebuild their lives. Jesus taught that we should put an end to exploitation and oppression. The heart of the Christian message is that God gives us all another chance and helps us to rebuild our lives.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Agreed. In the U.S. the word “Prostitute” is used often to distinguish trafficked persons from those who “choose” to work in the sex trade. As you rightly note, even the notion of “choosing” is difficult because there is such a disparity of power in such a transaction. Exploitation is wrong across the board.

          We just want to be sure the words used don’t imply something to those who have been exploited. No one is arguing Mary M deserves to designation of “prostitute” just asking people to be sure they are considering their motives in arguing and the language used to make the argument.

          I think we’re in agreement.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I haven’t been in an Evangelical church for a while. Perhaps it’s more of an issue there. On the other hand I’m not aware of anyone who has been trafficked in our church. However we do aim to be an Inclusive Church and have signed up to that movement. I like to hope that some of us would be accepting of a person who had been trafficked. It’s interesting to have been made to think about this.

            Liked by 1 person

Thanks for taking the time to read and engage. I look forward to your feedback, I welcome any criticism. However, as my goal here is mutualy respectful, beneficial conversation, I only ask that we keep civility in mind with our words. Grace and Peace.

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