Martha

MARTHA (Μάρθα, G3450). The sister of Mary and Lazarus, all three being among the special friends of Jesus (John 11:5). Their home is clearly stated by John to be in Bethany in Judea (11:1), but Luke does not name the village (Luke 10:38). The topographical context of Luke 10:38 suggests that the village might be in Galilee, but there is no certainty about this. Some explain this apparent discrepancy with John’s account by suggesting that Luke has placed the event too early in the ministry of Jesus, but it is more likely that Jesus visited the home in Bethany on a journey to Jerusalem unrecorded by the synoptists (cf. John 10:22, 23).

Martha appears three times in the gospel narratives (Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-44; 12:2). The historical accuracy of the accounts in Luke and John is supported by the consistent characterization in the two independent accounts. In both, Martha is busy serving at table, and tends to be outspoken, in contrast to Mary’s quieter devotion to Jesus.

Luke’s statement that Martha received Jesus into her house (10:38) implies that Martha was mistress of the house, prob. being the elder sister; but there is no evidence that she was married to Simon the leper or was his widow. If one assumes that the event of John 12:1-8 is the same as that of Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9, Martha is serving in Simon’s house, and Lazarus and Mary are also present, but so were other guests. Martha’s aptitude for serving was sufficient reason for her assistance on this special occasion.

Jesus’ affectionate rebuke (Luke 10:41, 42) was evoked by Martha’s failure to recognize the primary importance of His teaching. Her activity was not out of place but out of proportion.

Jesus did not condemn Martha’s work, but her excessive attention to material provision, which disturbed her peace of mind, prompted criticism of both Mary and Jesus, and robbed her of the benefit of receiving the Lord’s instruction. Both Martha and Mary expressed the same faith in Jesus’ power to save Lazarus from dying (John 11:21, 32). The Lord would not have spoken to her the profound truth of John 11:25, 26 did He not know that she was sufficiently receptive to hear it. Her declaration of belief rose to the highest level (11:27), but her hesitancy of faith (v. 39) shows that she did not yet realize its full implications.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Martha belonged to Bethany, and was the sister of Lazarus and Mary (Joh 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" (Lu 9:51), he "entered into a certain village"--its name is not stated--and "a certain woman named Martha received him into her house" (Lu 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" (Lu 10:39-42).