Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

The Mother of the Lord

In the sixth month of Elisabeth's conception, the Angel Lukei. 26-38. of the Lord was sent to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary, who was betrothed to a man named Matt. i. 20. Joseph, of the house of David, to announce to her that she should be the mother of the Messiah.

The most important point that meets us here is the relation of Mary to the house of David. Was she of that royal family ? But before we consider it, let us sum up what is known, either from the Gospels or from tradition, of the personal history of Joseph and of Mary.

Joseph is distinctly declared by Matthew to have been of the house of David through Solomon, and his genealogical register, going back to Abraham, is given. (Matt. i. 1-18.) In his dream the angel addresses him as "the son of David," (v. 20.) So by Luke (i. 27) he is said to be of " the house of David," (also ii. 4.) He was thus of royal descent, though occupying an humble position in society. His calling was that of a Tcktwv, or carpenter, or, as the word may mean, any worker in wood.1 He was generally believed by the early Church to have been an old man at the time he was espoused to Mary, and is so represented in the earliest paintings of the Holy Family.1 In later pictures he is represented as younger, and from thirty to fifty years of age. According to Epiphanius, he was more than eighty; whilst in the Apocryphal Gospel, " Historia Josephi," he is said to have been ninety, and his age at the time of his death 111 years.2 It is not improbable that he may have been considerably older than Mary, as, though alive twelve years after Christ's birth, (Luke ii. 42,) his name is not afterward mentioned ; a circumstance most easily accounted for upon the supposition that he was dead before the Lord began His ministry. Some have inferred from Luke's words, (ii. 51,) that He was subject unto His parents, that Joseph lived till He had reached manhood. Tradition also relates of him, that he was a widower, and the father of four sons and two daughters. This point of a prior marriage will be considered when we come to inquire who were the Lord's brethren.

Of Mary, the Gospels give us even less information than of Joseph. In Matthew, her name only is mentioned, and no allusion is made to her family or lineage. In Luke, she is simply spoken of as a virgin; and only incidentally is it mentioned that Elisabeth, the wife of Zacharias, was her " cousin," or relative, arvyywrjs, (i. 36.) But the silence of the Gospels is amply compensated by the fulness of tradition.3 We thus learn that she was the daughter of Joachim (Eliachim or Eli) and of Anna, her father being of Nazareth, and her mother of Bethlehem. They seem, however, to have resided at Jerusalem, as the church of St, Anne is said to have been built over the grotto which was the birthplace of the Virgin.4 Yet another tradition makes them to have resided at Sef-furieh, a village a few miles north of Nazareth.1 Many fables are related of the miracles heralding her birth, of her education at Jerusalem in the Temple, of her vow of perpetual virginity, and of her marriage to Joseph.2 That she was young at the time of her marriage, we may infer from the fact that females were married in the East at a very early age, generally from fourteen to seventeen, and often earlier.3 The Apocryphal Gospels make her to have been, some twelve, and some fourteen, when betrothed to Joseph. The latter was more generally received in later times, though a few theologians make her to have been twenty-four or twenty-five when Jesus was born, ut perfecta mater perfectum filium gigneret.* No allusion is made in any of the Evangelists to her parents, or to any brothers, but Mary the wife of Cleophas is spoken of as her sister, (John xix. 25,) though this relationship, as we shall hereafter see, has been called in question.

1 Jameson: "Legends of the Madonna."

2 Thilo, Codex Apoc, 861, note; Hofmann, 62.

3 Hofmann, 5. 4 Robinson, i. 233. i Robinson, ii. 346. 2 See Apocryphal Gospels, Baronius, Sepp.

From the statements of Luke, (i. 26 ; ii. 4,) we naturally infer that both Joseph and Mary resided at Nazareth at the time of the Annunciation. But some have maintained (see Meyer) that this is inconsistent with the statements of Matthew, (ii. 22, 23,) which show that he then dwelt at Bethlehem. But there is no real discrepancy. None of the Evangelists tells us where Joseph lived before he was espoused to Mary. Matthew, relating the circumstances connected with the birth of Christ, (i. 18-25,) makes no allusion to the place where they occurred. He does not mention Nazareth or Bethlehem. Afterward, in connection with the visit of the Magi, (ii. 1,) he speaks of Bethlehem as His birthplace, and mentions that Joseph intended to return thither from Egypt after Herod's death, and that through divine direction he was made to change his purpose, and go and dwell at Nazareth. All this proves

s Greswell, i. 398. * Hofmann, 52.

i Thilo, Codex Apoc, 668, note.

nothing respecting his previous residence at Bethlehem. Matthew relates only the fact that the child was born there ; Luke tells us how it happened that this was His birthplace. Matthew states that it was Joseph's purpose to return there from Egypt, but unable to do so he went to ISTazareth; Luke states only that leaving Bethlehem he went to Nazareth. The only ground for supposing that Joseph had formerly resided there is found in his purpose to return thither; but this is easily explained as springing from the desire to rear the child of David's line in David's city. That he had no possessions there is apparent from Luke's statement respecting the circumstances of Mary's confinement. The only interest that Matthew takes in Nazareth or Bethlehem is from the connection in which these two cities stand to the Messianic prophecies, (ii. 5-G, and 23.) In itself it was of no moment to him where either Joseph or Mary had lived before the birth of Jesus, nor indeed after it, except so far as their residence was His.

We now turn to the question of the Davidic descent of Mary. If we set aside for the present the genealogical table in Luke (hi. 23-38) as of doubtful reference, there is no express declaration that she was of the house of David. The reference to her, (Luke i: 27,) though formerly defended by many, and lately by Wieseler,1 is very doubtful.2 Some have supposed that she wTent with Joseph to Bethlehem at the time of the taxing, (Luke ii. 5,) because she, like him, was a descendant of David.3 This journey, however, may be explained, as will soon appear, on other grounds.4 This silence respecting Mary, contrasted with the prominence given to the Davidic descent of Joseph, has led many to suppose that the Evangelists attached no importance to her lineage, but only to her conjugal relation to him. As his wife she became a true member of David's family. Her child belonged to him according to the principle which lay at the foundation of marriage amongst the Jews, that what was born of the wife belonged to the husband. As it had no human father, and as he adopted it, it became in fact his, and inherited whatever rights or privileges belonged to Davidic descent. Since then through His legal relationship to Joseph Jesus could truly be said to be of the house and lineage of David, it was wholly unimportant to specify the family of Mary.1 That she was however in fact of David's line, is maintained by most who regard the fact as in itself unimportant, or not proved.

i Stud u Krit, 1845:

2 Against it Bengel, Meyer, Patritius, Alford, Fairbairn.

3 So Robinson's Harmony, 186; Mill, 209: "The words distinctly indicate that Mary accompanied Joseph for the purpose of being enrolled herself."

4 Patritius finds in Mary's supposed vow of perpetual virginity a proof that she was an heiress, and married to Joseph as a kinsman.

When we compare the very remarkable declarations of the prophets respecting the Messiah, as the son of David, with their historical fulfilment as recorded by the Evangelists, it may at first appear that they refer to Him rather as the adopted and legal son of Joseph than as the son of Mary. Had His descent through His mother been regarded as the true fulfilment of the prophetic predictions, and of the covenant with David, would the Evangelists have passed it by without distinct mention ? We might therefore infer from their silence respecting Mary's relation to David, that they regard her royal lineage as not essential to the fulfilment of prophecy. Joseph had a good title to the throne?' and Jesus as his son stood in his stead, the rightful Heir of all the Covenant promises.2

The question of the Davidic descent of Mary thus regarded becomes one of secondary interest, as no promise of God is made dependent upon it.

1 So lately Da Costa, Fairbairn.

3 So Da Costa, who supposes Mary to have been of the tribe of Levi. See contra Spanheim, Dubia Evangelica, i. 128, against Antonius, who defends this view. See also an able paper on this side in Bibliotheca Sacra of April, 1861, by G. M'Clellan.

But if we take higher ground and seek more than a legal relationship, there is good reason to believe that she was of the royal family, and that thus Jesus was in every sense the son of David. Peter upon Pentecost (Acts ii. 30) declared that in Him was fulfilled the oath which God sware to David " that of the fruit of his loins according to the flesh He would raise up Christ to sit on his throne." This language, taken in connection with the phraseology of the original promise, (2 Sam. vii. 12,) "I will set up thy seed after thee which shall proceed out of thy bowels," seems to point to Jesus as his lineal descendant. The words of Paul readily bear the same interpretation (Acts xiii. 23): " Of this man's seed hath God according to His promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus." Again, he says, (Rom. i. 3,) " Which was also made of the seed of David according to the flesh." (See also Isaiah xi. 1; 2 Tim. ii. 8; Heb. vii. 14; Rev. xxii. 16.) In the words of the angel to her, (Luke i. 32,) "the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David," it is intimated that as her son He was son of David, and so . heir of the throne. (See also Luke i. 69.)

The prominence given by Matthew to the Davidic descent of Joseph, and his silence respecting the family of Mary, finds a ready explanation in the peculiarities of his Gospel as designed for the Jews. Its very first sentence gives the clue to its right understanding: " The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of Abraham, the son of David." He aims to show that Jesus is the heir of the two great Jewish covenants, that with Abraham, and that with David. To this end he must establish first, that Joseph, Jesus' legal father, was of David's house and so a lawful heir of the dignity promised in the covenant; second, that Jesus stood in such relation to Joseph as Himself to have legal claim to all promises belonging to the latter. He therefore brings prominently forward in the beginning of his Gospel the fact that Joseph was of royal lineage, and cites his genealogical register in proof. To have said that Mary was of the house of David, and to have cited her genealogy, would have availed nothing, as it was a rule of the Rabbins, and one universally recognized, that " the descent on the father's side only shall be called a, descent; the descent by the mother is not called any descent."* He could not therefore speak of Jesus as son of Mary, even had it been generally known that she was of David's line, for as such he had no royal rights. It was only as the son of Joseph that he could be the heir of the covenants. Matthew must therefore bring forth clearly the legal relation in which Jesus stood to Joseph as his adopted son, but for his purpose it was wholly unimportant who his mother was. Hence he says very little of Mary, mentioning only her name, and without any explanatory remarks except respecting her relation as a betrothed virgin, but says much of Joseph. His silence, therefore, so easily explained from the character of his Gospel, respecting Mary's lineage, proves nothing against her Davidic descent.

In our examination of this point it should be remembered that from the earliest period the testimony of the Church has been that Mary was of David's family.2 This was a matter of fact about which the Apostles and early Christians could not well have been ignorant; and it is difficult to see how such a belief, if not well founded, could have become so early and universally prevalent.

The allusion (Luke i. 36) to kinship between Mary and Elisabeth determines nothing respecting the family of the former, as the term used denotes simply kindred, or relationship without defining its degree. As all the,, tribes mighjb intermarry, Mary might have been of the tribe of Judah, though Elisabeth was of the tribe of Levi. It was early said that the Lord was both of kingly and priestly descent, by Joseph on the one side and Mary on the other.1 But this has no foundation.

1 Da Costa, 474. a Meyer on Matthew, i. 17;

Thus we find sufficient grounds aside from the genealogical table of Luke to regard Jesus as the son of David through His mother. Yet the question, to whom does this table refer, is one of no little interest, as well as difficulty, and worthy of our careful examination.

The fact that there should be two genealogies of Jesus given is in itself a remarkable and perplexing one, and the most obvious explanation is that presented by the peculiar circumstances of His birth. As the legal son of Joseph, the genealogy of His father must be given; as the son of Mary and without any earthly father, her lineage becomes His. Yet in point of fact this explanation in early times found few^ or no advocates; the general opinion being that both tables were those of Joseph.2 But how could the same person have two such differing lines of ancestors ? The most probable answer is that which refers the table of Matthew to the legal successors of the throne of David, and that of Luke to Joseph's paternal ancestors.3 The former gives those who were the legal heirs to the kingdom. The line of Solomon failed in Jechonias, (Jer. xxii. 30,) and the right of succession then passed over to the line of Nathan in the person of SalathieE From Joseph a younger son of Juda, or Abiud of that line, Joseph, the husband of Mary, traced his descent. The family of the elder son becoming extinct, Matthan, Joseph's grandfather, became the heir. This Matthan had two sons, Jacob and Heli. The elder Jacob had no son, but probably a daughter, the Virgin Mary. The younger Heli had a son Joseph, who thus became both heir to his uncle and to the throne. Thus Mary and Joseph were first cousins, and the genealogical tables have equal reference to both.

i Testamentum 12 Patriarchum, in Lardner, ii. 330. Hofmann, 7.

2 Mill, 196, says: "We find no tradition more clear, more perpetual and universal."

3 So Hervey in Smith's Bible Dictionary, 666.

Both tables were referred to Joseph by Africanus, (220 A. D.,) whose solution of their difficulties is given by Eusebius, (i. 7.) It supposes that Melchi and Matthan, Joseph's grandfathers in the two genealogies, the one being of the family of Nathan, the other of the family of Solomon, had married successively the same woman, Estha, by whom the former had Eli, and the latter Jacob. Eli and Jacob were thus brothers uterine, though by their fathers of different families. Eli married and died childless, and Jacob according to the Jewish law married his widow, and had by her a son Joseph, who was in the eye of the law the son of the deceased Eli. According to Jewish custom the pedigree is recorded following both descents, the legal and the natural, that of Eli given by Luke in the line of Nathan, and that of Jacob given by Matthew in the line of Solomon.1

It deserves to be noticed that Africanus affirms that his account is not an idle conjecture, nor incapable of proof, but came from the relatives of the Lord, who " gloried in the idea of preserving the memory of their noble extraction." Whether his statement respecting the destruction of the Jewish family registers by Herod is historically true has been often doubted.2 Of this mode of solution by reference to the ancient law of Levirate marriages, Lightfoot says, (on Luke iii. 23,) "There is neither word, nor reason, nor indeed any foundation at all."3

But whilst the early Church generally ascribed both tables to Joseph, many since the Reformation have strenuously maintained that Luke gives the genealogy of Mary. And this view has not a little in its favor. It is not improbable that the tables given by Matthew and Luke are to be regarded as copies of family registers to which they had access, and which they give as they found them.

i Some, in later times, reversed this, making Joseph the natural son of Eli and legal son of Jacob.

2 So Hervey in Smith's Bible Dictionary, 663; contra, Sepp, ii. 106. s See, however, Mill, 201.

It is said that there is no reason to believe that they were guided by the Spirit to make any corrections, for only as exact copies would the Jews deem them of validity.1 This must be taken with some limitations. It, however, would not forbid the insertion of an explanatory clause not affecting the order of the descent. Looking at the table in Luke in this light, we find it thus introduced (iii. 23): " And Jesus Himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph—of Eli," &c. The text is thus given by Tischendorf: o)v vios, ws evofxi&To, Tov Ico(n?<£, &c.—"being son, as was supposed, of Joseph," &c. The first jDoint to be determined is respecting the explanatory statement here made by the Evangelist. Is it only a as was supposed," or rather " as was supposed, son of Joseph"? If the latter be taken, then the table proper would read, " being (as was supposed, son of Joseph) son of Eli," &c. If the former be taken it would read, " being (as was supposed) son of Joseph—of Eli," &c.

If now, to determine the construction of this clause, we consider the general scope of Luke's Gospel, we observe that he has already stated at length that Jesus was the son of Mary through the immediate power of God. None of his readers could therefore suppose that he here speaks of Joseph as His natural father. If, like Matthew, it was his purpose to found Christ's Messianic claims upon His legal relationship to Joseph, he would, like him, give Joseph's genealogical table. But such does not seem to have been his purpose. Had he designed to set forth Jesus as the Messiah he would in some way have designated the covenants with Abraham and David, which were the basis of all Messianic hopes. But no allusion is made to these covenants, nor any prominence given to Abraham, or David, and the genealogy is continued upward to Adam. We do not therefore find grounds for believing that Luke had in view, like Matthew, the proof that Jesus as the legal son of Joseph was the promised Messiah. What then is his purpose ? It is one in conformity with the general scope of his Gospe], which was designed for Gentiles, and takes little note of the special relations of the Jews to God. After giving a full narrative of the Lord's miraculous conception and birth, and a brief mention of His baptism, as preparatory to His public ministry, he proceeds to give His genealogy on that side only on which it could be really given, that of His mother. Through her He was made man, and through her should His descent from Adam be traced.

i So Morrison.

If upon these grounds we assume that Luke gives the genealogy of Mary, let us note the force of his explanatory statement. Why does he insert the clause, " as was supposed, son of Joseph"? Is it that, being about to give Joseph's genealogy as the legal father of Jesus, he thinks it necessary to insert a declaration that he was not His true father ? This in view of the previous narrative seems superfluous, for he had already shown Him to be the son of God. And it is plainly incongruous to assert that He was not the son of Joseph, and then proceed to give Joseph's genealogy, unless he would make prominent His legal sonship, which, as we have seen, he has not done. If, however, we suppose that he designs to give the Lord's descent through His mother, the bearing of the parenthetical clause is obvious. By the Jews at large he was regarded as the son of Joseph, and some explanation therefore was necessary why, contrary to all usage, the mother's, not the father's, genealogy should be given. This explanation is made in the statement that He was supposed to be son of Joseph. " Jesus, generally but erroneously supposed to be son of Joseph, was the son of Eli, of Matthan, of

Levi," &c. That Mary's own name is not mentioned makes no difficulty, since the mention of female names was contrary to usage in such tables, and as she had already been distinctly mentioned as His mother, there was no danger of misapprehension. Her name being omitted, Jesus must be brought into immediate connection with her father, His grandfather. That He is called son, not grandson, is unimportant, the former term being often used to express the more distant relationship. That it is not strictly used throughout the table is apparent from v. 38, where Adam is called the son of God. That Eli is not expressly said to be Mary's father is not essential, since the form of the table implies the degree of relationship.1

Some, who regard the table in Luke as that of Mary, and Eli as her father, suppose that Joseph is brought into it as his son-in-law or adopted son.2 If it be admitted that this degree of relationship may be thus expressed, it is doubtful whether it would, without express mention, find place in a table in which only the direct line of descent is given. Jesus, having no earthly father, may well be called the son of Eli, although strictly grandson, from the necessity of the case, but the same reason does not hold in the case of Joseph.

Thus the two tables given by Matthew and Luke, regarded as those of Joseph and of Mary, are in beautiful harmony with the scope of their respective Gospels. Through that of Matthew Jesus is shown to be the heir of David as the legal son of Joseph; through that of Luke, to be of David's seed according to the flesh by His birth of Mary. The former beginning with Abraham, the father of the chosen people, descends through David the king, to Christ the royal heir, in whom all the national covenants should be fulfilled; the latter beginning with the second Adam, the eternally begotten Son of God, ascends to the first Adam, the son of God by creation. Each Evangelist gives His genealogy in that aspect which best suits his special purpose ; to the one He is the Messiah of the Jews, to the other the Saviour of the world.

* That the Jews so regarded him is shown by Lightfoot on Luke iii. 28 j Sepp, ii. 8.

a Robinson's Harmony, 185. Alexander,

The opinions of modern scholars upon this point are about equally divided. Among those who regard Luke's table as that of Mary, not of Joseph, are: Newcome, Robinson, Greswell, Lange, Wieseler, Riggenbach, Auberlen, Ebrard, Krafft, Bloomfield, Alexander, Oosterzee. Contra —Alford, Meyer, Winer, Bleek, Fairbairn, Da Costa, Friedlieb, Patritius, Mill, Ellicott, Westcott.

Our purpose does not lead us to consider further the special features of these genealogies. Regarding them as copies of family registers, documents for whose accuracy in every point the Evangelists are not responsible, any real or seeming discrepancies do not affect their credibility, unless disproving the fundamental fact of Christ's descent from Abraham and David. But in this fact both tables agree, and any minor inaccuracies, if there be such, are unimportant.1

That Joseph was the legal heir to the throne of David his relation to Jesus, the promised Messiah, sufficiently shows. Whether he and Mary were the only surviving descendants of David we have no positive data to decide; but it is not probable, for if they had been the sole survivors, this very fact, which could not have been unknown, must have made them conspicuous. Hegesippus2 makes mention of the grandchildren of Juda, the brother of the Lord, who were brought before Domitian, as being of David's race.

1 Those who will see the questions respecting the divisions in Matthew's tables, his abridgments and omissions, and the relations of his table to that of Luke, will find all points fully treated by Mill, 147. See also Ebrard, 188, and the Dubia Evangeliea of Spanheim, Pars Prima.

a In Eusebius, iii. 20.

Not improbably there were many in more or less distant affinity to this royal family. It has been supposed by some, that the residence of Joseph and Mary, so far from their ancestral seat, in despised Galilee and in one of its most obscure villages, is to be explained by the fact that they were generally known to be of David's line, and so exposed to the jealousy of Herod.1 But of this there is no proof. It is rather to be explained as a sign of the fallen state of that once royal house. Its members were now amongst the humblest of the people, too humble to arouse the jealousy of the Idumean usurper. We do not learn that in the course of his reign he took any precautionary measures against any of the descendants of David, looking upon them as claimants of the throne. They seem to have sunk wholly out of public sight. Yet, on the other hand, the expectation that the Messiah should spring from the house x>f David, was strong and general*2 How can these facts be reconciled ? If the people were really looking for a Messiah descended from that family, must not all who were known to be members of it have occupied a large space in public attention ?

Perhaps the following may be the just solution of the difficulty. The promise made to David and his house respecting the throne of Israel was not absolute. (2 Sam. vii. 12, &c.) Its fulfilment was to depend upon the condition of obedience. Yet if the condition failed the promise was not withdrawn. His descendants were not reduced to the rank of private citizens, but its fulfilment was suspended, and their kingly claims were in abeyance. After the return from the captivity of Babylon, the house of David, at first prominent in Zerubbabel, fell more and more into obscurity. Other families began to be prominent. At last, the Maccabees through their wisdom and valor won the highest place, and became the acknowledged heads of the nation— both the civil and ecclesiastical chiefs. After their decay the family of Herod through Roman favor became dominant. During these 400 years no one of David's lineage seems to have been conspicuous, or in any way to have drawn to himself public attention; and probably little faith existed among the people , at large that the Divine promise would have any fulfilment in that house. But the Messianic hopes of the Jews had, during the wars of the Maccabees, and under the usurpation of Herod, been constantly gaining in depth and strength. Everywhere they began to turn to their Scriptures, and to read them with new earnestness and faith. And as the expectation of the Messiah became more and more prevalent, it was naturally connected with the promise to David. Yet among his descendants there was no one to whom public attention was turned as in any way likely to fulfil their hopes. Hence, while a general belief existed that the Messiah should be of that family, its individual members continued to live in obscurity. And as it was also firmly believed that Elijah the prophet must personally come as the forerunner of the Messiah, this belief would naturally prevent any special attention being turned to them till that prophet actually appeared. Thus Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, might have been known to be of David's line, and even the legal claimant of the throne, and yet live unhonored and unnoticed.

1 So Bucher.

2 According to Mill, (285,) it was with the view to obviate this national expectation that Herod, two years before his death, imposed an oath of fidelity to Caesar and himself. This is hardly warranted by the language of Josephus.

Nazareth and its geographical position will hereafter be more particularly spoken of. It is disputed where Mary was when the angel visited her to announce the Lord's birth.1 The Greek Church affirms that she was not at her own house when he came, but had gone to the fountain of the village,

1 See Hofmann, 74.

and that he found her there.1 Over this fountain, the source of the present one, to which its waters are conducted by a stone aqueduct, the Greeks have built a church which is called the Church of the Annunciation. The Latins affirm that the angel found her in a grotto, over which stood the house that was carried in the thirteenth century by angels, first to Dalmatia, and thence to Italy, where it still remains.2 The exact places in this grotto where the angel and the virgin stood during their interview are marked out by two pillars. Over this grotto now stands a church, which is said to be, after that of the Holy Sepulchre, the most beautiful in Syria.3 Tradition also points out the workshop of Joseph, now a Latin chapel. The time of Gabriel's appearance was, according to Bengel, (in loco), at evening, vesperi, ut probabile est. See Dan. ix. 21.

MarchApril, 749. 5 B. C.

Immediately after the visit of the angel Mary left Naz- Luke i. 39-56. areth, and went to the home of Zacharias in the hill-country of Judah, and remained there about three months.