“Mary Did You Know” is one of the few Christmas classics that was written in the last few decades. Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene wrote the popular Christmas song in 1984. Lowry wrote the lyrics and Greene the music. The song’s lyrics wonder if Jesus’ mother could grasp the incredible power that was held in her tiny newborn. But despite the Biblical backing, the song has raised a bit of controversy in recent years. But what kinds of Biblical truths can we glean from this newer classic?
Who Wrote "Mary Did You Know?"
The lyrics to “Mary Did You Know?” were written by Mark Lowry in 1984. It may surprise you that Mark Lowry wrote “Mary Did You Know?” especially if you know him for his comedy.
Mark Lowry, however, is much more than a humorist. He’s been an entertainer since he was eleven, growing up in Houston, Texas. Apart from penning “Mary Did You Know?”, he is best known for singing with the Gaither Vocal Band.
Lowry was born in 1958 to Charles and Bev Lowry. His mother was also a songwriter and singer, and Mark inherited her talents. He attended and graduated from Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA.
In 1984, Lowry was contacted by Liberty’s president, Jerry Falwell, who asked him to write the program for The Living Christmas Tree, a church music performance. Today, The Living Christmas Tree is known as The Virginia Christmas Spectacular. A 2008 press release from Liberty University News describes the event as “Thomas Road Baptist Church’s holiday musical featuring church members, the choir and Liberty University students. The church has been hosting the annual show… since 1971, the year Liberty University was founded.”
While writing the program that year, Lowry meditated on the Christmas story found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and especially pondered the person of Mary, the mother of Jesus. He asked questions now posed in the song: Did Mary know her Son was as special as He was? Did she know that her Son had come to save humanity, including her? Did she know that her baby would be able to heal, to calm storms, to walk on water? Did Mary know that she was kissing the face of God?
Seven year later, Mark contacted his friend Buddy Greene and asked for his help writing the music. A few weeks later, Lowry and Greene met up and recorded the song and then got it into the hands of Michael English, who sang it and included it in the album he was making at the time.
Lyrics to "Mary Did You Know?"
Mary did you know that your baby boy will some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.
Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.
Oh, Mary did you know?
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the great I am.
Adaptation and Criticism of the Song
The song was well received, became beloved by many, and has been sung by many including: Michael English, Kenny Rogers, Kathleen Battle, Clay Aiken, Pentatonix, Rascal Flatts, Reba McEntire, Jeremy Camp, Kutless and others. Kathy Mattea even sang it at the White House, according to a post from the St. Augustine Record.
Surprising criticism for the song exists though.
Some Catholics disapprove due to the line, “Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new? This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.” This notion that Mary needs deliverance (from sin and the penalty of sin) defies the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. According to Father Robert McTeigue, SJ, “In other words the lyrics depend upon the dogma of the Immaculate Conception being false. If Mary needs a Savior, then she cannot be the vessel of the Incarnation. And “No-Incarnation” = “No-Christmas.” How ironic that a song sung with so much gusto as a hymn logically precludes what it claims to celebrate!”
A Washington Post article by Ruth Everhart said that some reject the song because of its emphasis on Mary’s virginity “is part of purity culture, which is destructive for rape victims.”
Others have complained that Mary did indeed know that she would bear the Christ child, the Messiah, and therefore the song’s questions are redundant and unnecessary. Joy Clarkson explains this in a Christianity Today article title “Yes, Mary Knew.”
But amidst all the controversy and discussion, is there any Biblical truth to the story? What encouragement can we glean from these verses?
5 Biblical Truths that Mary Knew
“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.’ … The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God’” (Luke 1:30-33, 35).
1. Mary knew that she had found favor with God. Catholics and Protestants disagree about the Immaculate Conception, or Mary’s sinlessness, but both agree that Mary was special, chosen, and blessed.
2. Mary knew that she would bear a son who would be named Jesus, meaning savior. “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
3. Mary knew Jesus was the Son of God, the Son of the Most High.
4. Mary knew that Jesus was from the kingly line of His ancestor David and that God would give Him David’s throne, an eternal kingdom that will never end.
5. Mary, more than anyone, knew that her pregnancy was a result of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High.
So, did Mary know? Yes, she did, but that does not and should not ruin this beautiful Christmas song. The questions are rhetorical and could easily be answered with a “yes.” Even when we know the Biblical answers, we still ponder the questions, and it’s a good exercise to do so. Regardless of how much Mary did or did not perfectly understand, we can be sure the young Jewish girl asked many questions of God, the Father as she cradled God, the Son. How is that even possible? One of many great questions.
In the words of the author, Mark Lowry, “As my mind went back to the manger scene, I began to think about the power, authority and majesty she cradled in her arms. Those little lips were the same lips that had spoken worlds into existence. All of those things were contained in the young child lying quietly on her bosom. Even now, he was the very one who had given life to his mother, Mary.” Extraordinary!
Photo credit: Unsplash/Gareth Harper
Kristi Walker has been a missionary in Berlin, Germany for over 15 years working with an international church as the Director of Student Ministries. She is the author of two books - Disappointment: A Subtle Path Away from Christ and Convinced. Applying Biblical Principles to Life’s Choices.