Harper’s Bible Dictionary
edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)
You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition, edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms, http://www.borders.com, or http://www.christianbook.com.
Martha (Aramaic, ‘lady’ or ‘mistress’; feminine of ‘lord’), a close friend and follower of Jesus as attested by Luke and John. According to Luke 10:38-42 she invites Jesus into her home, apparently as head of the household. She is described as ‘busy with much service’ (Gk. diakonia), presumably meal preparation, while her sister Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to his teaching. Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her, but Jesus replies that while Martha is troubled about ‘many things,’ only ‘one thing is needful’ (or ‘a few things, indeed only one’ in some ancient versions). The reference to ‘many things’ may be to dishes for the meal, or perhaps to different kinds of service as in Acts 6:1-6, with Martha’s kind corresponding with the office of deacon in the church as known to Luke.
This story may have influenced the account of Jesus’ anointing in a home in Bethany in John 12:1-8. Here Martha serves while her brother Lazarus sits at table with Jesus, and her sister Mary anoints his feet. That John’s Gospel sees Martha as an important disciple of Jesus is clear from the story of the raising of Lazarus in Bethany (11:1-44). Martha is named first, before Mary and Lazarus, as loved by Jesus (11:5). Going out to meet him, she receives teaching concerning the resurrection, acknowledges him as Lord, and confesses faith in him as ‘the Christ, the Son of God’ (11:20-27). Although she expresses confidence in Jesus and his ability to receive from God whatever he asks (John 11:22-27), she expresses doubt at the tomb of Lazarus (11:39).
Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer