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Mary, Mother of Jesus
See also Mary (Mother of Jesus)
MARY, MOTHER OF JESUS (Μαρία, Μαριάμ from Heb. מָ֨רָה, bitter).
Mary was brought up in Nazareth, and prob. was still in her teens when she was betrothed. In the 4th-cent., she was said to be twelve when she was betrothed to Joseph, a widower of ninety with a grown-up family. The Biblical picture, however, suggests a young man entering marriage for the first time. Betrothal was in Jewish custom almost tantamount to marriage. A declaration was made to the prospective bride, and a small gift given her as a pledge, in the presence of witnesses; or else the declaration might be in writing. From this time the woman was called “wife”; if her betrothed should die before the marriage was consummated, she became a widow and the custom of levirate marriage might apply to her. She could not be dismissed from the betrothal relationship except through a writing of divorce, and any sexual relationship during the betrothal period was treated as adultery. In the case of a virgin, the betrothal lasted about a year.
The annunciation (
During this period of betrothal the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, and greeted her with the words, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” The address, κεχαριτωμενη, means that Mary has received grace; not that she has grace to bestow. The following clause may be interpreted as a wish, “the Lord be with you” or as a statement defining the grace which Mary had received. The additional words in the KJV, “Blessed art thou among women” have some MS support, but are most likely a gloss from Elizabeth’s words (
The angel then told Mary that Elizabeth, in her old age, had conceived a son six months earlier, “for with God nothing will be impossible.” A great deal was implied by Mary’s words of meek acceptance, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” It was the humble acceptance of the embarrassment, suspicion and misunderstanding which would undoubtedly follow, by this lowly, devout maiden.
The visit to Elizabeth (
Shortly after the angel’s departure Mary went to visit the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Luke states merely that this was in a city of Judah in the hill country. Tradition identifies the town as ’Ain Karim, a village five m. W of Jerusalem. If so, Mary traveled some eighty m. from Nazareth. On entering the house she was surprised by Elizabeth’s greeting, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” and reference to her, not as kinswoman, but as “the mother of my Lord.” Doubtless the promises she had received through Zechariah would have filled Elizabeth with hopes for the early appearance of the Messiah; now there was the physical sign of the movement of the babe in her womb, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (
The song that follows is attributed to Elizabeth by three OL MSS, and by Niceta of Remesiana; but all Gr. and most Lat. MSS, and almost all Patristic references, speak of it as Mary’s. The Magnificat is more calm and majestic than the ecstatic outburst of Elizabeth, and is modeled on the OT Psalms, and esp. the Song of Hannah (
The birth and infancy narratives.
It was prob. some time after Mary returned to Nazareth that “she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit” (
If we had only Matthew’s account, we would have thought Joseph and Mary belonged to Bethlehem, but Luke makes it clear that the birth of Jesus occurred in Bethlehem only because of the census, which brought his parents to their ancestral home town. Luke’s accuracy has been challenged on the grounds that there is no record of a census at the time of Jesus’ birth; that no one would be required to journey eighty m. to fill out a census paper; that the census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria was in a.d. 6-7, long after Jesus’ birth. The conclusion drawn is that Matthew and Luke brought Bethlehem into the picture only to make the record fulfill the prophecy of
Ramsay discusses the question carefully in his book, Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? He produces evidence from Egyp. papyri that a census was taken in the Rom. world every fourteen years, so one would have occurred about 8-7 b.c., and it may have been somewhat delayed in Pal. In a census in a.d. 104 people in Egypt were required to return to their own town for enrollment. When Quirinius was appointed governor of Syria in a.d. 6, it was his second such appointment; he may well have been an additional legate to Sentius Saturninus at the time of the earlier census. There seems no valid reason, therefore, to reject the historicity of Luke’s clear statement about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth.
The census would account for the shortage of accommodation in Bethlehem. The “inn” (κατάλυμα, G2906), prob. a simple lodging place, was full. Somewhere nearby, perhaps in a cave, as some apocryphal gospels say, Jesus was born and laid in a “manger” (φάτνη, G5764)—not a stall, but a feeding trough for animals.
Out in the fields a group of shepherds stood guard over their flock that night. Such flocks were always needed for the sacrifices of the Temple at Jerusalem, a mere six m. away. Informed of the birth by an angel, the shepherds went to Bethlehem, found the babe wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger, and excitedly repeated the message they had received. For others, the shepherds’ words were a passing wonder, “but Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (
There is no indication in Matthew’s account how long after the birth it was when the wise men, or magi (μάγοι) came, following the lead of the star they had seen in the E, in search of the one born king of the Jews (
During the course of the presentation in the Temple, two aged Heb. saints came in and praised God at the recognition of the infant Redeemer. Simeon held the babe in his arms and blessed God for the gift of salvation in the
Luke’s account suggests that the family returned immediately to Nazareth (
Life in Nazareth.
Jesus’ development is described as that of an entirely normal boy in Luke’s restrained and dignified account (
The home in Nazareth was one full of boys and girls, for Joseph and Mary had at least six other children (
Incidents during Christ’s ministry.
At the cross.
Only John states that Mary was present at the crucifixion, and that Jesus gave her into the care of the beloved disciple with the words, “Woman, behold your son!,” “Behold, your mother!” (
After the resurrection.
The only further mention of Mary is after the ascension, when Mary and Jesus’ brothers, now in Jerusalem, joined the eleven apostles in prayer while they waited for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit (
Worship of Mary.
There is no hint anywhere in the NT of veneration offered to Mary. Jesus expressly warned against such (
Mother of God.
In the fourth and fifth cents. controversy raged around the propriety of applying the term θεοτόκος, “Godbearer,” or “mother of God” to Mary. The title was intended to confirm the full deity of Christ. Nestorius proposed the less explicit χριστοτόκος, but this, along with his other teaching, was condemned at the in a.d. 431, where it was affirmed that in Christ there were not two persons but one; “the perfect existing God made at the same time perfect man, made flesh of the Virgin.” The expression, then, does not mean mother of the divine nature. On this understanding both Lutheran and Reformed confessions at the time of the Reformation allowed the term, but it has never been popular among Protestants. It is as mother of God that Mary is termed mediatrix, not, in the thought of the Rom. communion, to take the place of Christ as sole mediator between God and man (
The phrase, “born of the Virgin Mary” used in the Apostles’ Creed, is held to imply not only that Mary was a virgin when she conceived, but also “in birth and after birth.” The apocryphal Protevangelium of James states that Jesus was born miraculously, leaving Mary’s virginity intact. It is held that Mary’s words to Gabriel, “I know not a man” (
This doctrine has no explicit support in the NT, and the application of OT texts such as Song of Solomon and
Augustine is the first notable theologian to declare that Mary was free from actual sin (Nature and Grace, ch. 36). Later theologians discussed whether she was free, not only from actual sin, but from original sin, like Eve in her innocence. Aquinas taught that though Mary contracted original sin, between conception and birth, by God’s miraculous power, the “inflammation of sin was rendered harmless,” and then completely removed at her conception of Christ. Duns Scotus opposed this view, and taught that she was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin at the first instant of her conception. This was promulgated as Roman Catholic dogma by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
The earliest versions of this legend come from the later 4th cent., and show widely varying details, the one common feature being that Mary was miraculously transported, body and soul, to heaven by Jesus. The legend has no historical evidence, is foreign to Scripture, and contrary to all extant writings of the first three centuries. But the “feast of the Assumption” has long been observed as August 15 in the Christian calendar, and “the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin” was proclaimed a part of official Roman Catholic dogma by Pope Pius XII in 1950.
T. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III (1273) 27-30; A. Plummer, St. Luke, ICC (1896); W. M. Ramsay, Was Christ Born at Bethlehem? (1898); M. R. James, The Apocryphal NT (1924), 38-49, 194-227; J. G. Machen,of Christ (1930); J. J. Lilly, “Jesus and His Mother During the Public Life,” CBQ (1946); V. Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark (1952), 247-249; J. B. Carol, ed., Mariology, 3 vols. (1955, et seq.); C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to St. Mark, CGT (1966), 133-135; G. A. F. Knight, “The Protestant World and Mariology,” SJT 19, 1 (1966).
MARY, BIRTH (OR DESCENT) OF. A Gnostic document known only from its mention by Epiphanius (Heresies XXVI. 12. 1-9). It identifies the Zechariah of