The Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary, most fully understood as flowing from her place at the foot of the cross, is a mystery cherished by all who find themselves under her motherly care, protection, and overabundant love. Dr. John Roskoski, in this article, traces this mystery through scripture and shows it wondrously fulfilled on Calvary in the words of the dying Lord. Dr. Roskoski is an Adjunct Lecturer at both St. Peter’s College and Middlesex Community College, and is a professor of Theology, Exposition, and Exegesis at the Omega Bible Institute and Seminary. –Assistant Ed.

Roman crucifixion was a brutal method of executing prisoners. It was designed to illustrate the power of Rome and humiliation of the crucified. The places of crucifixion were always heavy with intense emotions and the drama of the last moments of life. All four Gospels reflect these aspects when they recount the crucifixion of Jesus. However, the Gospel of John, 19:25-27, places a particular focus on Mary, the mother of Jesus and the “Beloved Disciple.” In his last moments, Jesus speaks a powerful couplet of phrases; “Woman, behold your son” and to the Beloved Disciple Jesus states “Behold your mother.”

{footnote}The Greek literally reads “Woman, behold the son of you” and “Behold the mother of you.”{/footnote} E. Julian points out that “this is the only Marian scene in the Book of Glory.”  It is here, “in the middle of the account of the crucifixion that we meet Mary.”{footnote}E. Julian, “Mary of Nazareth as a Disciple: A Developing Biblical Portrait,” Stimulus 14, no 4 (2006):28.{/footnote} In Jesus’ last words we encounter a mother, whose authority is defined by the culture of the Ancient Near East, Scripture, and Theology.

The Spoken Word in the Ancient Near East
When Jesus spoke these words to the Beloved Disciple and to his mother, Mary, He knew that death was imminent. On a practical level, Jesus’ words ensure the care of his mother to a disciple whom He loved. This can rightfully be interpreted as an act of filial love, even in tremendous agony and at the moment of death, for his mother.  However, the ancient beliefs surrounding the spoken word and the cultural setting give this couplet a special power.
In antiquity, unlike today, the spoken word was given a great deal of authority and credibility. J. Lauterbach states the following:
“The belief in the effectiveness of the uttered word is common among primitive peoples and was widespread among ancient civilized peoples.  The Jewish people were, in this respect, not different from other peoples.  According to this belief, whatever is spoken . . . comes true and actually happens . . . the word becomes fact.”{footnote}J. Lauterbach, “ The Belief in the Power of the Word,” Hebrew Union College Annual 14 (1939): 287.{/footnote}

In Hebrew, the term for “word” is dabar (דבר).  In addition to “word,” this term connotes “thing” or “event.”  According to J.L. McKenzie, there is a dynamic quality to the dabar.  McKenzie will argue that “the reality and power of the word are rooted in the personality” of the one who utters it. Furthermore, when the word is uttered with power it posits the reality which it represents or signifies.{footnote}J.L. McKenzie, “Word,” Dictionary of the Bible (Chicago: Bruce, 1966): 938. McKenzie’s argument illustrates the point made by Lauterbach, in that the word becomes fact.  The idea that the word reflects the power of the speaker, or is rooted in his personality, is illustrated in the Creation Account, Genesis 1. God spoke and creation came into being and it was good. This means that Creation is good, therefore the word which generated it is good, therefore the one who uttered the word, God, is good.{/footnote}
McKenzie, in discussing the Blessing of Jacob, states that “ancient conceptions regarded the dying man as granted a peculiar insight into the future.”  The words of a dying man, especially a blessing or a curse, were regarded as having even greater power than an ordinary blessing or curse.{footnote}Ibid., “Jacob, Blessing of”, 410.{/footnote}
Based on McKenzie’s argument regarding Jacob, it can be argued that any statement, testimony, or designation of a dying man would have greater import than words spoken under normal conditions. These beliefs were not lost on Jesus; He knew the significance of His words to the Disciple and Mary.  He knew that coming from the Cross, in His last moments of life, his designations of the Beloved Disciple and Mary would have tremendous authority. If this were simply an act of filial devotion, Jesus could have arranged the care of Mary at any time during the last stages of His ministry with the Disciple, as He knew that His mission was to end on the Cross. Therefore, Jesus’ dying words, in a cultural context, begins to define the Motherhood of Mary.

Motherhood in the Old Testament
Jesus entrusting Mary to the Disciple is an action which rests on the status and importance of motherhood in Israelite and Jewish history.  According to R.J. Meade, the role of mother was “one of the most important roles a woman could fulfill in ancient Israelite society.”  The role was a primary source of prestige within her community.{footnote}R.J. Meade, The Status and Role of Motherhood in Ancient Israelite Narratives: The Barren Wife Stories and the Book of Ruth. (Thesis: University of Alberta, 1998): Abstract.{/footnote} Motherhood was a “social construction,” not a biological necessity, and as such is “constrained and redefined by time and place.”{footnote}Ibid., 1.{/footnote}  In Mary’s case, the time and place of the redefinition of her motherhood, the Cross of Jesus, was a major factor in establishing her future role and authority.  Meade also argues that motherhood was a method by which woman were able to increase their relative status within society.{footnote}Ibid., 7.{/footnote}

L. Bronner expands upon the argument of Meade. She emphasizes the authority of the mother, and explains:
“The mother of the Bible is a figure of power.  She influences the course of life in her home and, in some cases, wider society.  The Biblical mother is a force to be reckoned with in social, political, and religious spheres.  Her power stems in part from her role as wife, but far more so from the nurturing and influential relationship she has with her children . . . As the mother of the Bible cares for her clan, she does so with wisdom and purpose, acquiring authority and position within the household and beyond.”{footnote}L. Bronner, Stories of Biblical Mothers: Maternal Power in the Bible (NY: University Press of America, 2004): IX.{/footnote}
Bronner also introduces a concept which she calls the “Metaphorical Mother.” This term refers to a woman who nurtures, or “mothers,” a population of symbolic children, although biological ties are not precluded.  These are women who contribute to the birth and growth of a budding nation and the advancement of their people.  They are administrators of God’s plans, protectors of the community, and givers of wise and much needed counsel at momentous points in Israel’s history.{footnote}Bronner cites and discusses Miriam, Deborah, and Esther as models of this kind of mother.{/footnote}
Mary fulfills and culminates these traditions and, through the words of Jesus, moves beyond them.  Jesus is giving Mary a special motherly role at the beginning moment of his glorification, which finds completion in the Resurrection.  This is the great saving action of God, according to the Gospel. It signals a new era of faith and a new relationship, or Covenant, with God.  God’s glory made manifest in such a way may be understood as to point to a new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-11) Therefore, Mary is foundational to this Covenant of faith and vital to its growth.{footnote}As history has overwhelmingly demonstrated, as the Christian community grew into a Christian nation Mary’s role and popularity has grown accordingly.{/footnote}  However, by creating this bond with the “Beloved” Disciple, Jesus allowed Mary to intensify and move beyond the traditions of the great maternal figures of the Old Testament. This was the disciple with whom Jesus had a special relationship, a loving relationship.  Furthermore, there is not evidence in the Gospel that Jesus’ words were symbolic or parabolic.  Therefore, this motherhood to which Jesus is assigning Mary is not simply metaphorical or representational as those figures who “mothered” ancient Israel.  The motherhood to which Jesus is entrusting Mary is, undoubtedly, based on the maternal figures of Israel’s history.  However, because of his personal ties with the Beloved Disciple, Mary’s motherhood becomes real and intimate. With Jesus’ words, Mary’s motherhood is being defined not as symbolic or distant, but as personal and loving.

Old Testament Imagery and Prophecy
The words of Jesus from the cross to Mary and the Beloved Disciple culminate many Old Testament traditions. J. McHugh argues that the passage, part of the larger account of John 19:17-42, is “composed of details which show the fulfillment of prophecy.” He makes the following parallels:
vv. 17-18 and Isaiah 53:12; vv. 19-22 and Zechariah 10:9; vv. 23-24 and Psalm 22:9; vv. 28-30 and Psalm 69:22; vv. 31-37 and Exodus 12:36, Numbers 9:12, Psalm 34:21, Zechariah 12:10; vv. 38-42 and Isaiah 53:9.{footnote}J. McHugh, The Mother of Jesus in the New Testament (NY: Doubleday, 1975), 371. We purposely omitted vv. 25-27 because we will deal with these verses at length below.{/footnote}
Specifically regarding John 19:25-27, McHugh sees a parallel to Genesis 3:15, as the victory over sin through the cross invokes the image of the victory over the serpent in Eden. In the LXX, the Genesis account is understood as saying that not the woman’s offspring as a whole, but the individual offspring will be victorious over the serpent.{footnote}Ibid., 374.{/footnote} He continues, according to Genesis 3:15 the woman is also at war with the serpent and will share in the victory of her offspring over the serpent. This means that Mary’s physical presence at the foot of the cross “associates her forever with the triumph of Jesus: For in John the cross is never a gibbet, but always a royal throne.”{footnote}Ibid., 375.{/footnote}
While the victory of the offspring, in Genesis 3:15, is promised by the words of God, John 19:25-27 presents an “apostolic exegesis” according to McHugh.  The evangelist, through the presence of Mary and the words of Jesus, gives a “new and deeper sense to the words of the Old Testament.”{footnote}Ibid., 376. This new sense is often called sensus plenior by Biblical interpreters.{/footnote}  Therefore, according to McHugh’s argument, Mary is the new Eve.  However, unlike Eve of Genesis, Mary is a model of faith and obedience to the word of God.{footnote}Cf. Luke 1:38.{/footnote}  Also, unlike Eve, who was expelled from Eden where the victory was foretold, Mary is prominent at the place of victory- the Cross of Jesus. Because Mary’s motherhood was defined from the Cross, the place of victory and glory, her motherhood is entwined with Jesus’ victory and glory.

While the image of Eve, the “mother of all life,” provides a strong backdrop for John’s definition of Mary’s motherhood, he also uses the Old Testament imagery of the mother of Zion.  John’s intent is made clear by the focus he builds in the scene of 19:25-27.  In the midst of the suffering and intensity which is attendant to the crucifixion of Jesus, John draws our attention to Mary and Beloved Disciple.  The key to understanding this Zionist image of Mary is the presence of the Beloved Disciple.{footnote}Scholars have long debated over the identity of the Beloved Disciple and a full discussion of this issue would take us far from the scope of the present work.  However, we feel the weight of current scholarship indicates that the Beloved Disciple was John, the author of the Gospel or an author of an early edition of the Gospel.{/footnote} The presence of the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the Cross indicates that he was not recognized as one of the “Twelve” or a Galilean by anyone.  However, he enjoyed a very close relationship to Jesus (John 13:23).  The fact that the Gospel notes his presence signifies that he was to have an important role; as such details were never superfluous.  It seems that the most likely explanation of his presence is that he was to embody, or represent, the community of those who believed in Jesus. Depicting the Beloved Disciple as the community of believers rests on a Biblical mindset, called “corporate personality.”{footnote} This is scholarly term first used by Wheeler Robinson in 1907.  In 1911, Robinson used the term to explain the punishment of the House of Achan in Joshua 7, and other passages which strongly connect an individual with the entire group.  The concept emerges in the New Testament as well; cf. Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:21.{/footnote}  According to J. Rogerson, there are two main ways Biblical authors implemented this concept: Corporate Responsibility, wherein the group was culpable even if only one member commits an offence; Corporate Representation, wherein one person could embody an entire group (Psalm 44-5-9).{footnote}  J. Rogerson “Corporate Personality” Anchor Bible Dictionary (NY; Doubleday, 1992), I:1156.{/footnote}  The Gospel depicts the Beloved Disciple as the Corporate Representation of the community of believers, the New Israel or Zion.
If the Gospel casts the Beloved Disciple, the embodiment of Zion, as the new son of Mary it follows that the Gospel casts Mary as the mother of Zion.  This argument is typified by R.E. Brown.  Brown proposes the following argument:
“The sorrowful scene at the foot of the Cross represents the birth pangs by which the Spirit of Salvation is brought forth (Isaiah 26:17-18) and handed over (John 29:30).  In becoming the mother of the Beloved Disciple (the Christian) Mary is symbolically evocative of Lady Zion who, after birth pangs, brings forth a new people in joy.”{footnote} R.E. Brown, The Gospel According to John XII-XXI (NY: Doubleday, 1970), 925.{/footnote}
The image of Zion is significant. Originally, Zion seems to have referred to a fortress in the Jebusite city of Jerusalem.  Once David captured the city, he changed the name of the “Stronghold of Zion” to the “City of David” (2 Samuel 5:7, 9).  Solomon, David’s son and successor, expanded the city to the NW and built his Temple of YHWH upon a hill that became known as “Mount Zion” (Psalm 78:68-69).  The term “Zion” also came to designate the Temple Mount. This meaning was expanded, by the process of metonymy, and “Zion” came to refer to Jerusalem itself, the Temple city. Also through metonymy, “Zion” came to refer to the people of Israel.{footnote}  J. Levenson “Zion Traditions” Anchor Bible Dictionary, VI:1098. Metonymy is a figure of speech in which one name or noun is used instead of another, to which it stands in a certain relation.  In others words, the names of persons or places can be used to represent something which stands in a special relation to them.  This is why the place-name, Zion, is tied tightly to Jerusalem and the Temple.{/footnote}
Zion became a powerful theological symbol.  Zion was the holy mountain of God, upon which He has set His king (Psalm 2:6).  Zion was the place of the presence of YHWH and, after its destruction, the restoration of Zion became the focus of the messianic kingdom.  According to McKenzie, Zion, or Jerusalem, was the symbol of contact between God and man and “the point from which salvation radiates.”{footnote}McKenzie, “Jerusalem” Dictionary, 431.{/footnote}
However, the book of Isaiah provides key prophecies which will be fulfilled in Mary at the foot of the Cross.

ISAIAH 49:21

In this text, Jerusalem is depicted as a woman.  Her conditions of widowhood and barrenness make it impossible to bear children. Yet, despite of her condition, children surround her.  According to McKenzie, this foretells of an ingathering of Israel that is so great and sudden that no one can see it happen.{footnote}J.L. McKenzie, Second Isaiah (NY: Doubleday, 1968), 113.{/footnote}
Zion is not destined to grieve, according to P. Hanson, because of the loss which she has endured.  Instead, she will be able to compare her former desolation with the “bustling activity of returnees filling her towns and cities.” In astonishment, she proclaims her questions.{footnote}P. Hanson, Isaiah 40-66 (Louisville: John Knox, 1995), 134.{/footnote}
The answer to her questions is YHWH. D. Jones points out that there are three conditions described in v. 21, widowhood, divorced, and barrenness.  These are all descriptive of the exile.  However, the three-fold references to the children represent the repopulated Zion.  The same images will occur in Isaiah 54: 1-3, 4, 6.  C. Stuhlmueller argues that v. 21, when read with Isaiah 54: 1-3, offers a clue to the meaning of the Emmanuel passage, Isaiah 7:14.{footnote}C. Stuhlmueller, “Deutero-Isaiah”, The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, 1968), 1:376.{/footnote}

ISAIAH 54:1-3

Jones argues for a purposeful placement of this text, it completes the message of Isaiah 53. He contends:
“The issue of the servant’s sacrifice shall be the justification of ‘the many’ (53:11b), but also he himself shall live again to witness the fulfillment of the promise of ‘seed’ (53:10b) and to receive a ‘portion’ (53:12) as one of the great nations of the earth.  This portion is now defined.  Isaiah 54 describes the portion or heritage of the servant . . . with a repeated emphasis on the permanence of this heritage as founded in the indestructible love of God.”{footnote}D. Jones, “Isaiah II-III”, Peake’s Commentary on the Bible (Nashville: Nelson, 1981), 528.{/footnote}
The “barren one” is an echo of Sarah (Genesis 11:30).  The tent of the mother of Israel is the sign of her station (Genesis 24:67).  As the barren Sarah became the mother of Israel, so too will this childless, bereft, and bereaved woman – an image of the punished Israel- become the mother of the new Israel.{footnote}Ibid., p. 528{/footnote}
The barren woman, according to Hanson, has received God’s promise that her desolation will be transformed into blessing.  Therefore, the childless woman will be rejoicing, an image which echoes Hannah (1 Samuel 2:5b). Hanson contends that the argument is that the “god who was able to bless the barren matriarch of old surely is able to do so again.”  By using the figures of the Old Testament, the Isaian author is presenting the promise of restoration as part of Israel’s history, not as a new or unique occurrence.  Restoration is a “renewal” of God’s original intention for His people.  Hanson continues that desolation and destruction represent the deviation from Israel’s true destiny; a people of promise.{footnote}Hanson, 171.8{/footnote}
McKenzie suggests that there is a probable allusion to Sarah in the background of this text, the historic nomad wife from whom Israel first sprang.  However, the primary image is that of the wife, hitherto barren or childless, who must now act quickly to enlarge her tent for her astonishingly numerous children.{footnote} McKenzie, Second Isaiah, p. 139{/footnote} The promises to Zion point to YHWH establishing a lasting city of his “good pleasure,” according to McKenzie.  It is not a city of material reality of walls and buildings.  Instead, it is a community of the redeemed, instructed by YHWH, and established in his righteousness.{footnote}Ibid., 140.{/footnote}
Stuhlmueller sees this passage, with 49:21, as an authentic interpretation of Isaiah 7:14.  Throughout the Old Testament, the childless women all bore their offspring through God’s special power of favor (cf. Genesis 15:2, 16:1, 29:31, Judges 13:2, 1 Samuel 1:2).  The new Zion, or Jerusalem, will be “peopled” if she shares the faith with the earlier figures.  Through faith, Zion’s tent is enlarged to a house, which will include “the nations” in the new family.{footnote}Stuhlmueller, 379{/footnote}

ISAIAH 66:7-11

Isaiah 66 culminates the theme which has recurred throughout the second half of the book.  Verses 7-11 tell of the birth of the new age, according to Jones, but without birth pangs, “so unexpected and swift will salvation be.”  The new Israel will be eschatological in that it involves the end of the old dispensation and a new creation.  However, it remains still within history and does not yet signal the end of history.{footnote}Jones, 535{/footnote}  McKenzie compares the sudden nature of the saving act to conception and birth in a single day. The saving act means the sudden appearance of a large number of true Israelites, children of the New Jerusalem.{footnote}McKenzie, Second Isaiah, 209. McKenzie points out the rare comparison of YHWH to a mother, in order to illustrate his care and tenderness. This illustration is made by the image of infants at the breast.{/footnote}
J. Blenkinsopp argues that this image is part of the summons to those who now mourn to rejoice. Zion is depicted as a mother whose children have been lost, but the children are now returning from far way.  Mother Zion rejoices in having a new family.{footnote}J. Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 56-66 (NY: Doubleday, 2003), 304-305.{/footnote}

Isaiah and Mary

These three passages have a common theme; Mother Zion, in the midst of sorrow over the loss of her children, suddenly has been given a new and large family which is an occasion of rejoicing.  Mary culminates this theme and, therefore, these prophecies.  Standing at the foot of the Cross, watching Jesus as he endures horrific agony in his last moments, Mary had to feel the intense sorrow of the impending loss of her son. Certainly, she knew of His mission to establish the Kingdom of God and integral role which the Cross was to play.  While Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, bringing about salvation through a redeeming death, he was also her beloved son who was about to die in a torturous manner. To deny her this moment of sorrow and, possibly, grief, is to deny her humanity and love for Jesus.  Yet, in the midst of her heart-rending sadness the words of Jesus entrusts her with a new family- the new Zion.  Sorrow will now be replaced with rejoicing and glory and Mary will have to make room in her tent and heart for the community of believers.

Mary’s Motherhood in the New Testament

Gospel Foreshadowing

The phrase “Behold, your mother,” occurs in Mark 3:32 and Matthew 12:47, both are part of larger texts which deal with the “brethren” of Jesus and with theological content that is very similar to the Johannine passage.{footnote} We are not going to rehearse the arguments about the relationship of Jesus to these persons.  We will only say that the weight of scholarship does not support the conclusion that they were other children born of Mary.{/footnote}  It is ironic that these words should be said to Jesus during His ministry when these same words, spoken by him, completed His ministry.  The point of these passages is that the ties of common obedience to God take precedence over those of blood kinship.{footnote} R. Wilson, “Mark,” Peake’s, 803.{/footnote}  E. Mally continues this line of thought.  He states that while Jesus does not deny his “natural kinship,” he radically subordinates it to a “higher bond of brotherhood.” Mally argues that “the reign of God makes demands on the personal commitment of a disciple, which must transcend at times all natural bonds of family or ethnic grouping.”{footnote} E. Mally, “The Gospel According to Mark,” Jerome,  2:29{/footnote} J. Marcus argues that the entire depiction of the scene in Mark indicates its message. He notes that the family of Jesus was standing outside.  On the other hand, the crowd of listeners was sitting around him, forming a new family circle.  This picture of a new family takes on an eschatological aspect, as Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian traditions saw the restoration of the family as a sign of the end-time (Isaiah 49:18-21, 60:4, Malachi 4:6, Sirach 48:10, and Luke 1 :17).{footnote} J. Marcus, Mark 1-8 (NY: Doubleday, 2000), 286.  It should be observed that the listeners sitting around Jesus echoes images of a father and his children or a rabbi teaching his students, both of which were common in Jewish traditions.{/footnote}
J.L. McKenzie, in regards to the Matthean passage, argues that Jesus’ response is forming a “new unity” about himself.  To this unity other bonds, including that of kinship, are sublimated.  In forming this unity, Jesus is raising all who believe in him to an intimacy of kinship.{footnote} McKenzie, “Matthew,” Jerome, 2:86.{/footnote}  J.D Kingsbury suggest that Jesus’ response suggests that only his disciples remain as those who are his real relatives, the ones who do the will of his heavenly Father.{footnote} J.D Kingsbury, Matthew (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 50.{/footnote} W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann point out that “mere affiliation does not determine membership of Israel or the messianic community.  The only criterion is obedience to the Father’s will, which is a message completely consistent with the Israelite prophetic tradition.{footnote}W.F. Albright, C.S. Mann, Matthew (NY: Doubleday, 1971), 162.{/footnote}
B. Vawter summarizes the meaning of these passages succinctly.  Jesus “has come to establish a family of faith and they make up this family who do the will of God as he does it.  This is part of New Testament theology, according to Vawter, and we know from the book of Acts and the Pauline epistles that “brother” became a customary title by which the early Christians recognized each other.{footnote} B.Vawter, The Four Gospels: an Introduction (NY: Image, 1969), 1: 220.{/footnote}  In establishing this family of faith, Jesus begins to redefine Israel, or Zion.  No longer will Israel be defined by national boundaries or birthright.  The new Zion will be defined by faith, as is proper for the people of God.


In John 19:26-27, Jesus, from the cross, speaks to Mary and Beloved Disciple in the following words:
“Woman, behold, your son; Behold, your mother.”
This phrase is stark and abrupt, but each word adds to the power of the phrase.  The first word, “woman,” thrusts the focus of the scene onto Mary.{footnote}There are many fine theological works regarding the significance of the title, “woman.”  Although we acknowledge them, to rehearse them would take us from the scope of the present work.{/footnote}  Mary becomes the prime object of Jesus’ words. The full attention of the witnesses and later audience is now guided to Mary.  Structurally, the term serves as an introduction to the couplet of parallel phrases which follow.{footnote}This is a figure of speech known, technically, as synthetic or constructive parallelism, meaning parallelism consists in the similarity in form of construction. {/footnote}
The key to understanding the significance of this couplet is in the term, “behold.”  The term connotes more than Jesus simply commanding Mary and the Disciple to look upon one another in the mother-son union he has just formed. The construction of this couplet is built on the term “behold.”  Moreover, the function it serves, linguistically, adds to the motherhood of Mary as defined by Jesus from the Cross. The term, “behold,” has a similar significance in both Semitic and Greek usages.
In Hebrew the term is hinnēh (הנה) and comparable interjections and particles are attested in almost all Semitic languages, including Aramaic. There are over 1000 occurrences of this term in the Old Testament.  According to D. Vetter, the term can still be recognized as “a component of a primitive command, presenting the substance of the command.”  Vetter continues;
“In the dual function of an address or exclamation as well as the temporal characterization of an event or circumstance, the interjections refer to a person or thing.  Followed by a noun they form a clause, they precede a complete nominal clause, or they replace a clause.”{footnote}D. Vetter, “behold,” Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1997), 1:379.{/footnote}

Often, the term was used as an introduction to the prophetic announcement of judgment indicating God’s intervention and frequently stood in the immediate context of the messenger formula (Jeremiah 6:21, 9:6, 10:18).{footnote} Ibid., 1:380. {/footnote}

According to C. Weber hinnēh is sometimes used as “predicator of existence,” something that looks to a new state of being.  The hinnēh clauses emphasize the immediacy and “here-and-now-ness” of the situation.  The term may be used to point things out, but more frequently it is used to point out people (Genesis 30:3).  Significantly, most hinnēh clauses occur in direct speech.  They introduce a fact upon which a following statement or command is based.{footnote} C. Weber, “behold,” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody, 1980), 1:221.{/footnote}  The Gospel account fits this pattern precisely.  After Jesus entrusts Mary and the Beloved Disciple to one another (the fact), the text makes a specific reference to the Disciple taking Mary into his care (statement).
In Greek, idŏu (ιδου) is a demonstrative particle, with no exact English equivalent.  Like hinnēh, the term idŏu often serves to enliven a narrative by introducing something new or extraordinary.  The term is often used to emphasize the importance of something. {footnote} W. Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament , trans. Arndt and Gingrich (Chicago: University Press, 1979), 370-371.{/footnote}
Therefore, based on the connotations of “behold,” Jesus’ words represent a new role for Mary, that was to begin immediately. This sudden change, which redefines her role as a mother, is perfectly congruous with the images of Lady Zion throughout the Old Testament.  Both the Zion imagery and the term “behold” point to a dramatic and sudden change.  This is the type of change brought about by the words of Jesus from the Cross.

Mary’s Motherhood Redefined
From the Cross, Jesus redefines Mary’s motherhood.  He does not renounce his own filial bond with her, but creates a new dimension for her role as mother. Brown, et al, argues that the scene at the foot of the Cross brings together two people for whom the Gospel writer never gives us personal names.  This suggests that their significance lay in their respective roles.  J. McHugh states that the title “mother of Jesus” is a term of respect.  In the Ancient Near East, the status of “mother” was placed in high regard, especially if the son was a famous man. Therefore the use of the title, and not her name, signifies the importance of Mary as in the Gospel she is the mother of the “Word Incarnate.”{footnote} J. McHugh, The Mother of Jesus in the New Testament (NY: Doubleday, 1975), 362.{/footnote}  Brown continues the argument by suggesting that Mary’s role, given at the hour of death by Jesus, does not pertain to his earthly ministry but to the era of community after Jesus’ glorification.{footnote}  R. Brown, K. Donfried, J. Fitzmyer, J. Reumann, eds. Mary in the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978), 212.{/footnote}
From a strict Old Testament perspective we have seen how Mary and the Disciple embody the Zion traditions. However, from a Christian perspective the Zion imagery must be redefined.  As Brown, et al, suggests, there are symbolic possibilities of Mary being depicted as Israel giving birth to the new Christian community.  This means that the Beloved Disciple is the symbol, or embodiment, of Johannine Christianity.  The image-based argument leads the reader to the conclusion that Israel is the true mother of Jewish Christianity.{footnote} Ibid., 216-217.{/footnote}
McHugh argues that in the scene at the foot of the Cross, the Beloved Disciple is representative of all disciples who love and follow Jesus.  Mary is cast as the mother of all these disciples.  This is why, according to the Zion images; she must now enlarge her tent because of the sudden increase of children.  She must now make ready for an enlarged family, because through the Disciple all disciples of Jesus are charged to view Mary as their mother.{footnote} McHugh, 377.{/footnote}
The text narrates that the Disciple took Mary into his care from that moment onward.  This action is also rooted in Israel’s traditions. It was common that a mother would take up residence with her son. Based on Old Testament inheritance laws, only the male offspring inherit anything.  Daughters would inherit nothing, because the property would pass outside of the family to the husbands. Therefore, a son would be the one with the resources to care for the mother in a way in which daughters were not able.{footnote} Meade, 13. McKenzie, Dictionary, “Inheritance,” 388.{/footnote}
While based on ancient traditions and practices, the Disciple’s immediate and selfless response to the words of Jesus serves as a model for future followers of Jesus.  The Greek word connoting “took” is lambanō (λαμβάνω).  This term connotes “take in the hand,” “take hold of, grasp.”  It also encompasses the meaning to take away, take up, receive, or remove, without the use of force.  The term also has mental or spiritual aspects when it is translated “make one’s own,” “apprehend,” or “comprehend.”{footnote}Bauer, 464-465.{/footnote} McHugh builds upon the spiritual connotation of the word.  He argues that the Disciple accepted Mary as his mother and as part of the “spiritual legacy bequeathed to him by his Lord.”{footnote} McHugh, p. 378.{/footnote}
The use of the term lambanō indicates an importance that moves beyond the death scene being played out on the Cross.  First, one must observe that the Disciple received Mary without question or hesitation as his mother.  Likewise, Mary offered no reluctance or hesitation to be entrusted into the Disciple’s care.  Second, as the spiritual connotation and McHugh point out, there seems to be an unspoken understanding that occurs between the Disciple, Mary, and Jesus.  The Disciple now comprehends that this is a beginning, the start of something new.{footnote} This comprehension might be foundational to the account in John 20:8, wherein the Disciple ran to the tomb looked in and “believed.”  It is at that moment when all of Jesus’ teachings, signs and wonders, words from the Cross, and Resurrection combine to form in the Disciple a new and powerful faith .{/footnote}  It might be overstating his understanding, at this point, to attribute to him the connections between Mary, himself, and the restored Zion or new Christian community.  However, in light of his acceptance of the powerful words of Jesus and his immediate response to them it seems likely that the Disciple realized that a special role was being assigned to him and Mary by Jesus.
Vawter comments on this passage extensively.  He argues that this is a “sign” of the “spiritual motherhood of Mary, the new Eve, the mother of the faithful.” The representational character of Beloved Disciple is very clear in this passage.  He states:
“In a historical sense, this expression signifies that from this moment the disciple accepted Jesus’ mother as his own.  In the spiritual sense, which John also intends, we understand that the glorification on the cross has enacted the relationship that has just been signified.”{footnote} B. Vawter, “The Gospel According to John,” Jerome, 2:462. “sign” (simeia) is a term used throughout John’s Gospel to denote work of power by Jesus.{/footnote}
Regarding the Beloved Disciple, Vawter states that he “bears the character of every true Christian who is in the heart of Christ as Christ is in the heart of God (Jn 1:18, 13:23).  It is altogether fitting that this proclamation be made at the moment of Jesus’ expiration, the beginning of the saving work of the Church through the power of the Spirit.”{footnote} Vawter, Four Gospels, 2:258.{/footnote}
R.E. Brown states that the Johannine passage brings together two great symbolic figures of the Gospel.  Although there is little reason to doubt their historical validity, their names are never used.  Their primary importance was the symbolism which they embodied for discipleship.  Regarding Mary, the Gospel was presenting an interpretation about what constituted her true motherhood.{footnote} R.E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple (NY:Paulist, 1979), 196.{/footnote} Jesus giving Mary the role of the mother of the Beloved Disciple indicates that his natural family may indeed be regarded as his true family through discipleship.  By assigning the Beloved Disciple the role of Mary’s son, Jesus is claiming him as His brother.  The Beloved Disciple is depicted as the ideal of discipleship.  Mary is now intimately involved and connected to him and, as his mother, now claims an equal share in the true family of Jesus. Therefore, the Beloved Disciple and Mary stood at the foot of the cross as models for Jesus’ true family of disciples.{footnote} Ibid., 197.{/footnote}
E. Julian argues in a similar way, stating that “in John, Mary is brought into the family of discipleship in a highly significant way.  She is now the mother of the most perfect disciple, the Beloved Disciple, who becomes Jesus’ brother.”{footnote} E. Julian, “Mary of Nazareth as Disciple: A Developing Biblical Portrait,” Stimulus 14 no 4 (2006): 26-28{/footnote}  On Calvary John puts the themes of “motherhood and discipleship together.”  Mary and the Beloved Disciple are now related to each other, although not biologically.  Julian continues, “by entrusting Mary and the Beloved Disciple to each other Jesus has inaugurated a new community of believing disciples to continue his mission.”{footnote} Ibid., 28.{/footnote}
The Johannine scene fulfills the foreshadowed message found in the Mark and Matthew texts. Mark and Matthew are concerned with the new Israel, or Zion, which is in agreement with the focus of their Gospels; the establishment of the Kingdom of God.  John focuses on the relationships, or family, of Jesus, which is consistent with his emphasis on the identity of Jesus.  Matthew and Mark argue that national boundaries and geography are no longer the only keys to salvation.  John argues that bloodlines, while not stripped of worth, are no longer the main bonds of Jesus’ family.  National ties and blood kinship are subordinated to faith and obedience, the true keys to salvation and the new Zion-the Kingdom of God.


Throughout the Gospel traditions Mary has always been identified as the “mother of Jesus.” This definition of Mary’s motherhood is without question and, on its most basic level, suggests a powerful relationship between Mary and Jesus, and His ministry.  However, in John 19:25-27 Mary’s role is redefined.  Furthermore, this new definition, or redefinition, of Mary’s motherhood rests on cultural, scriptural, and linguistic authority.

The setting of Jesus’ words, the Cross, which redefines Mary’s motherhood, establishes a cultural authority for her new role.  The cross was Jesus’ place of death, as verified by official Roman witnesses and countless onlookers.  In the Ancient Near East, the words of a dying man were given great authority.  Therefore, any words spoken by Jesus from the Cross would be ascribed a special significance.  On the surface, Jesus’ words could be interpreted as a final detail of a devoted son entrusting the care and provision for his mother to a close and trusted friend.  That Jesus, in the moments before His death and in tremendous agony, thought to care for his mother reflects the love he had for her.  It was also consistent with the Biblical view of family.  The family was a religious unit and the sense of solidarity was extremely close, as the individual depended on the family for support and protection.  Life was not conceived as possible outside of the family institution.{footnote} McKenzie, “Family,” Dictionary, 273.{/footnote}  Therefore, Jesus established a core network of support and protection for the Beloved Disciple and Mary when he entrusted them to each other that was wholly consistent with the cultural dictates of his people.
In the Ancient Near East, the words of a dying man were given a particular authority.  The words were seen as, perhaps, akin to prophetic speech and would be expected to find fulfillment.  In this instance, Jesus is uttering words which would change the course of the lives of the Beloved Disciple and Mary, and therein find fulfillment.  It is in this moment, when Jesus establishes this maternal bond between Mary and the Beloved Disciple, which we see the beginning of the redefining of Mary’s motherhood.
In this scene, the Gospel juxtaposes two opposite emotional images; grief and joy.  Mary, undoubtedly, was filled with grief and sorrows watching the son of her body die on the gibbet of the cross. Yet, in this horrific moment she is given another son, a son who represents all the followers or disciples of Jesus.  Her grief will now be turned to joy.  This juxtaposition echoes the Mother Zion traditions of the Old Testament.  Zion, in her deep heartache and sorrow, must make room for a sudden increase and return of children.  The sorrowful pain, once felt, is gone and replaced with exuberance and rejoicing.  Therefore, with Jesus’ words, particularly at this moment of intense sorrow, Mary’s role as mother is redefined in terms of Old Testament traditions.
Many scholars, as has this work, argued for the representational aspect of the Beloved Disciple, and of Mary, in regards to the Christian community.  Many of these masterful works are forward oriented, or beginning with the Cross and moving into the age of the Church.  We take no issue with this argument, but we also suggest that the representational nature of the Beloved disciple and Mary is foreshadowed in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew in their accounts of Jesus’ family.  As the family of faith sat around, or encircled, Jesus in Mark and Matthew, now the Beloved Disciple and Mary are at the feet of Jesus, at the foot of the Cross.  Now, the Disciple and Mary form the inner circle around Jesus and they are now the core of Jesus’ family of faith.  Mary is a model for this family not simply because of her blood ties to Jesus, but because of her obedience to God’s will and her faith which she had shown throughout her life.  Therefore, Mary is now deemed the mother of all the followers of Jesus and her motherhood is redefined in terms of discipleship.
Mary’s redefined motherhood, or assumption of a new motherly role, is supported by the linguistic construction of the couplet; Behold, your son/ Behold, your mother.  The term, “behold,” signifies something new and emphasizes its importance.  The phrase is stark and powerful, and the construction serves the same function in both the Semitic and Greek languages.  This construction was not mere chance or a simple result of Jesus’ dying breaths. The construction of the phrase, based on the term “behold” (hinnēh/idŏu), allows the words, and their full impact, to be understood by Jew and Gentile throughout the Roman Empire, and into the modern era.
Overall, the Beloved Disciple is depicted as the ideal and representational disciple in the Fourth Gospel.  His actions and response to Jesus in faith secures his position in the new family of Jesus.  Mary is not only a disciple but is Jesus’ mother, with all the attendant images of love and nurturing.  From the Cross she is made mother of all Christians, always ready to accept, enlarge her tent- and heart- to accommodate her children, given to her through faith in her son, Jesus Christ.


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This is scholarly term first used by Wheeler Robinson in 1907. In 1911, Robinson used the term to explain the punishment of the House of Achan in Joshua 7, and other passages which strongly connect an individual with the entire group. The concept emerges in the New Testament as well; cf. Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:21.