Describing Relations in Greek: Mother, Wife, and Daughter

There are words in Greek to describe clearly that someone is a mother (mētēr), wife (gunē) or daughter (thugatēr). However, if the meaning is clear, it is acceptable in Greek to describe someone simply as ‘X of Y’ where X is the mother, wife, or daughter of a male Y. It is more problematic when the meaning is not clear, as with Mary of Clopas.

In the New Testament, excepting Mary of Clopas for a moment, there is only one place where ‘X of Y’ refers to a wife. This is in Matthew 1.6 when the English ‘And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah’ reads literally in Greek, ‘And David begat Solomon from her of Uriah’. Here there can be no doubt that this is the wife of Uriah; we know this from the Hebrew Scriptures and her name was Bathsheba.

There are seven other places where someone is described as the wife of X, and in all these cases the word ‘wife’ is added. Every single reference to someone being the daughter of X in the New Testament (there are eight of them) uses the word ‘daughter’.

There are just three places in the New Testament where ‘X of Y’ denotes a mother without explicitly stating so. These are Mark 15.47 and 16.1 where Mary of Joses and Mary of James respectively are assumed to refer to mothers, because Mark 15.40 has already told us that Mary was the mother of James the Younger and Joses, and the proximity of the later verses suggest that the same person is being referred to. There is also Luke 24.10, which follows Mark 16.1.

All other references to someone being the mother of X (either Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the mother of James and Joses, Mary the mother of John Mark, Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, and Herodias the mother of Salome) include the word ‘mother’ explicitly.

Therefore, there are only five instances in total of the expression ‘X of Y’ where X is a female in an unspecified relationship to a male Y. In four of these, the meaning is clear (admittedly, in the case of Luke 24.10, only because of the parallel with Mark 16.1), and therefore ‘Mary of Clopas’ is something of an anomaly.

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