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Icons of the Bible: Joseph & Mary

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Icons of the Bible: Joseph & Mary
Icons of the Bible: Joseph & Mary

Icons of the Bible

Were Mary and Joseph Married or Engaged at Jesus’ Birth?

"The atmosphere of our church service was pregnant with expectation: four candles of the Advent wreath and the colored lights from the tree and wreaths lit the darkened room. My wife and I were among the tens of millions gathered on Christmas Eve to rehearse the Nativity story again. As one of the readers read aloud Luke 2:5, I was struck by the New International Version (NIV) translation: “Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” Chronologically, the narrative had advanced some eight months from Luke 1:26-27, where it stated that Gabriel was sent to a virgin named Mary “pledged to be married to a man named Joseph.” The Greek verb mnēsteuō was translated identically in both verses.

The translation suggested to me that an unmarried Jewish couple was traveling a long distance unaccompanied by other family members. And the woman—still only pledged in marriage—was in an advanced state of pregnancy. If such a situation is still scandalous in the Middle East, how much more in first-century Judea!.." from the article: Were Mary and Joseph Married or Engaged at Jesus’ Birth?

Mary & Joseph go to Bethlehem

Lk. 2:1-5 Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem in Judaea, where Joseph’s family live (see 1 on Map 4). The journey takes four or five days as Nazareth is 65 miles / 105 km north of Jerusalem (in a straight line), while Bethlehem is a hilltop town situated on a ridge near the edge of the Judaean desert, 5 miles / 8km south of Jerusalem.

map of Mary and Josephs travels
The Birth of Jesus

The Roman Census

Luke, writing his gospel in 60-62AD for a Roman audience (see Luke 1:3), gives the census ordered by Augustus Caesar (who was emperor from 27BC to 14AD) as the reason why Mary and Joseph travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem before the birth of Jesus (see Luke 2:1-3 and 1 on Map 4). He explains that, as men had to register at their home town (so they could be taxed by the Romans), Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem because Joseph was a descendent of King David and Joseph’s family came from Bethlehem (see Matthew 1:1 & 1 Samuel 16:1&13). Luke states that the census took place when Quirinius was the Roman governor of Syria.

The Jewish historian Josephus confirms that a general taxation was indeed overseen by Cyrenius (Quirinius). He notes, however, that Cyrenius was appointed as Governor of the province of Syria when the Romans deposed Archelaus (Herod the Great’s son) as ruler of Judaea in 6AD. Judaea was then taken under direct Roman rule and incorporated into the Roman province of Syria. This resulted in a revolt led by Judas of Gamala (‘Judas the Galilean’), a Jewish zealot (see Acts 5:37).

As Jesus was born in 6 or 5BC, this Roman census occurred eleven or twelve years after his birth. As Jesus was born while Herod the Great was King of Judaea, no Roman governor of Syria would have had the jurisdiction to organise a census and general taxation in Judaea at the time of Jesus’s birth.

It appears, therefore, that Luke was mistaken when giving this Roman census as the cause of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. Whatever the reason, Joseph made the decision to return to his family home in Bethlehem in time for his newly betrothed wife to give birth amongst his close relatives.." from the article: Mary & Joseph go to Bethlehem

The Prophecy of the Virgin Birth

"Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph less than nine months after they had been married. That was probably the basis for the Pharisees’ accusation against our Lord: “We were not born of sexual immorality” (John 8:41)—insinuating that Jesus was the result of an illicit union. The real scandal, however, is that Jesus of Nazareth was not conceived by a sexual union at all, because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary (cf. Matt. 1:18–25; Luke 1:26–38). God ordained that His Son would be produced in the womb of His mother, apart from the normal means of human procreation. Thus, by the Spirit, God worked the quietest miracle of all.

The clear teachings of Scripture are usually among the first doctrines to be ridiculed by skeptics. This should not be surprising, for everything about “Christ crucified”—including the manner of His incarnation—is a stumbling block (Greek skandalon) to the mind of the flesh (1 Cor. 1:22–25). God’s wisdom, revealed in Christ, capsizes human power and expectation. The miracle of Jesus’ conception in the Virgin Mary’s womb tells us from the very beginning that “salvation belongs to the Lord” (Jonah 2:9), so that our “faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5). If any part of our Savior’s arrival could be traced to the will and work of mankind, then the gospel would cease to be about the gift of salvation and would instead become a message about human achievement, with the angelic chorus singing something like “Let us find the good in all of us” rather than “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14).

The Messiah came to His people in an undeniably miraculous way. Our wonder can only be magnified when we consider that this “sign” was announced long beforehand by the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). As a trailblazer clears away trees and brush to make a path, the Lord through the prophetic word creates the way for the coming Messiah, revealing both who He will be (God with us) and how He will come to His people (born of a virgin). It is worth considering the biblical context of this divine promise, as the setting illumines the redemptive significance of this prophecy and its fulfillment.

The Isaiah 7 passage focuses on Ahaz, the faithless king of Judah. During his reign, the kings of Syria and Ephraim had marshaled their armies to overtake Jerusalem. King Ahaz and all of Judah were terrified as they faced this double threat—their hearts “shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Isa. 7:2).

The Lord then summoned Isaiah to bring word to Ahaz that the enemy alliance would soon be broken and their plans to seize the holy city would be thwarted. Isaiah faced Ahaz and declared, “It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. . . . Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered from being a people” (Isa. 7:7–8). In short, Ahaz was told, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).." from the article: The Prophecy of the Virgin Birth

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