Mary with Elizabeth
Mary, Jesus’ Mother
(according to the Bible)
The English name “Mary” comes from the Greek Μαρία, which is a shortened form of Μαριάμ. The New Testament name was based on her original Hebrew name מִרְיָם or Miryam. Both Μαρία and Μαριάμ appear in the New Testament. (1) The meaning of the name “Mary” is “bitter or bitterness”. (2)
Gospels mentioning Mary, the mother of Jesus:
- Matthew – 1:16,18, 20; 2:11;13:55
- Mark – 3:31; 6:3
- Luke – 1:27, 30, 34, 38, 39,41,46, 56; 2:5, 16,19, 34.
- John – 2:1-12;19:25-26.
- Parents: The 2nd century Protoevangelium of James is the first source to name her parents as Joachim of Nazareth and Anna of Bethlehem. She is called a daughter of Aaron – Luke 1:5, which would belong to the tribe of Levi. (3)
- Genealogy: Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38. Luke 1:32 says, “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord GOD will give Him the throne of David, His father, and He shall be king over the house of Jacob forever.” Notice that the descendant of David is Solomon in Matthew 1:6. Matthew clearly shows that the bloodline of Joseph does go back to the tribe of Judah, and through king David. If Jesus Christ is the Son of David, then His mother, Mary has to be also of the house of David and therefore by implication, of the tribe of Judah. In Romans 1:3, it could have not been said that the Son was born according to the flesh of the offspring of David unless Mary were of Davidic descent. (4) Prophecy – Psalm 132:11.
- Cousin of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist : Luke 1:39-66. Mary, being pregnant, was with her for 3 months in “the hill country” (Hebron?).
- Lineage of Aaron and tribe of Levi: Luke 1:5, 36
- Home: Nazareth of Galilee
- Purification of Mary after Jesus’ birth: 33 days – Lev. 12:1-8
- Presentation of Jesus in the temple: Luke 2:23; Simeon and Anna there (Luke 2:25-38)
- Jesus’ brothers and sisters: James the greater/just (Gal. 1:19), Joseph, Simon, Judas and 2 un- named sisters: Mt. 1:24-25
- Jesus’ cousins: James and Joses, the son of Mary Clopas . This is another Mary listed and was married to the brother of Joseph. (5)
- James, the son of Zebedee and Salome: he was brother of John: Matt. 4:21-22. Patron saint of Spain.
- James, son of Alphaeus, the less: possible brother of Matthew. (6)
- Occupation of Joseph, her husband was a carpenter.
There have been probably tons of books written about the life of Mary, and I haven’t read them all, but I thought it would be interesting if I just wrote a few things I observed about her. And in doing this, I must admit that I am making a lot of assumptions because the Bible doesn’t say a lot of things. Plus, there are at least two things against me. First, I have little idea about the culture she comes from and what it was like. And secondly, I will never be a mother, so that is another draw back. And thinking about this last issue, the story regarding Mary itself came from four guys as well (the Gospel writers).
Now my guess is Mary was probably 13 years old (7) when she got engaged to Joseph. The Bible doesn’t say. But she was a teenager. But back then, girls grew up with alot more maturity than they have now as their life was so different in terms of what they had to do and how long they would live. Most people died in their mid 30’s. Some noble or wealthy people possibly lived longer, even into their 60’s if lucky. Disease, warfare, sanitation, work conditions, etc contributed to many early deaths. (8)
So here is a young girl who is suppose to be a virgin (prophesy – Isaiah 7:14), pregnant and not married yet (Mat. 1:18). And she knows that the baby she is carrying is God – Mt. 1:23. But she also knows, for being pregnant, that everyone including her family, friends, and the town all think she has slept with someone making her an adulterer and according to the Mosaic law, she should be stoned to death (Ex. 20:14). But she knows this isn’t true (Lk. 1:26-38). And Joseph, who she is betrothed to her in marriage, does not want to put her to shame, but thinks of divorcing her quietly. (Joesph is probably 18 years old). But an angel comes in a dream and explains to him what happened as to why she is pregnant (Mat. 1:18-25). So up till now, everything seems to be normal for a girl her age except for being considered an adulterer.
Her baby is born in Bethlehem, which wasn’t her plan (Mat. 2:1 – prophesy Mal. 5:2). But Mary had family in or around Bethlehem, and Joseph, who had to go to Bethlehem to be registered, also continued to maintain his inheritance in that area – as that city was also not his home. But the main “ancestral home” area for Mary would have been around Bethlehem, which would be true of Joseph as well. (9)
Luke 2:1-7 describes Joseph and Mary as residents of Nazareth in the Galilee. They would have had to travel for about a week to cover the approximately 90 miles (140 km) from Nazareth in the Galilee south to Bethlehem in Judea. Luke says that they had to do this in order to take part in the Roman census and taxation. During their trek to Bethlehem, Mary was pregnant with Jesus and there would be robbers and thieves to attack them, but God took care of them! Can you imagine traveling by donkey and pregnant some 90 miles on who knows what kind of trails? But in Bethlehem, they would encounter relatives who would take care of them. Mary visited her relative, Elizabeth, whom she had just visited (Lk 1:39) and Elizabeth lived somewhere nearby (Hebron?) in the “hill country of Judea.”
The early name of the city was Ephrata; afterwards Bethlehem, “House of Bread”; today Beith-Lahm, “House of Flesh.” There died Rachel, Jacob’s wife (Genesis 35:19); David was born there (1 Samuel 17:12), and many other Biblical personages. (10) Benjamin was born near Ephratah (or Ephrath), which was either an earlier name for Bethlehem or a nearby town. David and his family neglected their city of Bethlehem, which became obscure, forgotten by all except those who looked for the Messiah who would eventually be born there (Micah 5:2). (11) Funny that some wiseman from the Orient knew this but not King Herod (Mat. 2:1-12).
Jesus was born in Bethlehem but not in a cave nor in an inn but rather he was born in a “guest room” . The greek word used is Kataluma or “guest room”. In Luke 22:11, Katalum means “guest room”. In Mark 14:14, Katalum means “guest room”. So it was not a “commercial inn” because in Luke 10:34 the word is Pandochion which means “commercial inn” and not Katalum. (12)
The text of the New Testament itself alludes to the one-room peasant home in Matthew 5:15 where it states that a lamp is put on a lamp stand so that it “gives light to all who are in the house.” Obviously, the house must have one room if a single lamp shines on everyone in it. Furthermore, the one-room house with a lower end for the animals is presupposed in Luke 13:10–17. In the case of Luke 2:7, any Palestinian reading the phrase, “She laid him in a manger,” would immediately assume that the birth took place in a private home, because he knows that mangers are built into the floor of the raised terrace of the peasant home. (13)
The word “manger” is φάτνη and was not a stall but rather a feeding trough for animals. (14)
Issues to be addressed:
- One problem with Jesus being born in a stable in a commercial inn was that the city of Bethlehem was too small to have a commercial inn.
- Men, like Joseph, did not assist in the childbirth process. So he wouldn’t be there in a stable with Mary.
- In a Western culture things are done individualistically. In an Eastern culture, things are done together. The Middle Easterner is profoundly attached to his village or family of origin. Indeed, though the man himself may not have been born there, his home village is an integral part of his identity. Even if he has never been there before he can appear suddenly at the home of a distant cousin, recite his genealogy, and he is among friends. Joseph had only to say, “I am Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Matthew, son of Eleazar, the son of Eliud,” and the immediate response must have been, “You are welcome. What can we do for you?”
- Jesus was not born outside the village. If Joseph was rejected in Bethlehem and had no remaining family in the area, he could have turned to Mary’s family or relatives and easily found shelter inside the city. (15)
All of the internal cultural evidence from the story points to a birth in a private home. This data is of two kinds: the make-up of the Middle Eastern extended family, and the physical structure of the Palestinian peasant home. In the one-room peasant homes of Palestine and Lebanon, the manger is built into the floor of the house. The standard one-room village home consists of a living area for the family (Arabic mastaba), mangers built into the floor for feeding the animals (mostly at night), and a small area approximately four feet lower than the living area into which the family cow or donkey is brought at night (Arabic ka’al-bayt). (16)
Gustaf Dalmann in his study of Luke 2:2 writes. “In the East today the dwelling place of man and beast is often in one and the same room. It is quite the usual thing among the peasants for the family to live, eat, and sleep on a kind of raised terrace (Arab. mastaba) in the one room of the house, while the cattle, particularly the donkeys and oxen, have their place below on the actual floor (ka’ al-bet) near the door…. On this floor the mangers are fixed either to the floor or to the wall, or at the edge of the terrace.” (17)
Later, Jesus had to be circumcised on the 8th day, and Luke 2: 12, 22 tells us that Mary went to the temple in Bethlehem to present Jesus and fulfill the requirements for purification at 40 days from birth (Leviticus 12:1-8). It is unlikely the wise men came before then. Once the wise men visited, which could have been up to Jesus’ age 2, Herod the king wanted all the male children in Bethlehem two and under killed. So Joseph knowing this, took the family Egypt as Matthew 2:14 indicates. The sojourn of Joseph and Mary with Jesus to Egypt was in fulfillment of prophecy. (Mat. 2:15,”spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son”). (18)
Regarding the issue of the wise men who came from the East to bring Jesus gifts (Mat. 2:1-12), and what happened with King Herod (Mat. 2:16-18) who killed all male children in Bethlehem two years old or under, Greek Liturgy asserts that Herod killed 14,000 boys (ton hagion id chiliadon Nepion), the Syrians speak of 64,000, many medieval authors of 144,000, according to Apocalypse 14:3. (19)
The village area of Nazareth was populated mostly by Jews, but also with some diversity of Syrians, Greeks, and Romans. (20)
Matthew 2:23 says that, after Herod died, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus came back and went to the district of Galilee to the city of Nazareth (Lk. 1:26-27, 2:39). Nazareth was despised at the time and was an agricultural settlement (Jn. 1:46). Dr. James Strange, of the University of South Florida, points out that Nazareth was only a small place at the beginning of the first century A.D., and it had a population of probably no more than 480 people. But by the time of Jesus, it grew to 1,600 to 2,000 people. (21) Mary went to get water at a well called now “Mary’s well” which was in the center of Nazareth. It is said the spot at which Gabriel the Archangel appeared to Mary. (22)
It is my guess she must be around 17 years old by now, living in a poor town with poor neighbors and she has a baby to take care of, or maybe two (Jn. 7:5). But at least Jesus had others boys to play with his own age including maybe his own small brothers, because all the boys his age in Bethlehem were dead! (Mat. 2:16-18).
Jesus at 12
The next story we have was when Jesus was 12 years old, or a teenager (Lk. 2:41). So some 12 years have passed and we know little about those years and how Mary carried on life. We know she was a carpenter’s wife and maybe even a widow, took care of the kids, and took care of her chores as a wife and mother. But the specifics we don’t know. There was no Face Book or Twitter to record things. But being a mom, my guess is that she loved her kids very much and did her best to take care of them, ie. feeding them, clothing them, bathing them, taking them to religious ceremonies (Lk. 2:22), and more. They were part of her life. And even though she knew Jesus was different from the others, my guess is that it still wasn’t completely “real” to her until he got older.
But can you imagine raising a boy from birth to 12 years old who is good all the time? He never disobeys what you tell them to do? And even going through the “terrible twos”? What that must have been like? (Heb. 7:26-28). At least he was a normal boy (Luke 2:40-52).
Most mothers today celebrate certain occasions throughout the year with their family. For Mary, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter didn’t yet exist, ha!ha! but Joseph and her took the whole family every year to the Feast of Passover in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41).
According to Exodus 23 and Deuteronomy 16, all Jewish men were required to attend in Jerusalem the mayor feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. The trip from Nazaraeth to Jeruslem took about 3 to 4 days as it was 80 miles away and Joseph and Mary did not go alone but traveled in a caravan with others, including relatives. When they arrived in Jerusalem, they would find other Jews, perhaps hundreds of thousands, who had come to celebrate the Passover also from many other places and cities who some spoke different languages from their countries of origin (Acts 2:9-11). (23)
So while in Jerusalem, her son Jesus who was a 12 year old teenager, went with them. At age 13, he was to have his Bar Mitzvah, which means “son of the law” or “covenant” (24) when his parents would no longer be held responsible for his actions and he would bear his own responsibility for Jewish ritual law, tradition, and ethics. So this particular Passover was very important in his life!
After the Feast of the Passover was over, his parents headed back to Nazareth. Jesus decided to stay in Jerusalem and talk to the teachers (Rabbis) in the temple (Luke 2:41-52). He knew that all the learned rabbis, priests, and religious leaders would be at the Passover in Jerusalem and so he saw it as a special chance for him to converse with them.
Now still being considered a boy (vs. 43), and being a good son (Heb. 7:26-28), Mary probably figured he was with the group. But a day later, Joseph and her started to look for him among their relatives and acquaintances but he couldn’t be found (vs. 44). Then 3 days later, they finally discovered him back in Jerusalem talking to the teachers in the temple. Now I am imagining that as a mom, Mary was probably freaked-out wondering what had happened to her eldest boy.
In Matthew 18:5 we see that children were powerless, vulnerable, and without rights and anyone could prey on this, like wolves among sheep! These thoughts probably would have been going through Mary’s mind. And the question she had was, “where was he?” When Joseph and Mary finally found him after 3 days, she said, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress”.
So, at this point I am asking myself the question, “did she really remember that he was God in a human body and his dad really wasn’t Joseph?” Because Jesus’ answer to her in vs. 49 gives me the impression that she really didn’t have a clue, ie. “they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them” (Luke 2:49). But Jesus kept being submissive to them (vs.51).
It is interesting to note, that Jesus only being 12, caused all that heard him speak with the Jewish leaders to be amazed at at his understanding and his answers (Luke 2:18, 33; 4:22, 32, 36; 5:9; 8:25, 56; 9:43; 11:14, 26; 24:41). Up to this point Jesus was a learner, but after this point he was known as a teacher or rabbi (Luke 4:31-32).
Before Jesus ministry
The next time we read of Mary is at the wedding of Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-12) where Jesus turns the water into wine par excel-lance (prophecy – Isaiah 35:56). Jesus was with his disciples, so he had to be 30 years old (Luke 3:23). But before we go there, let’s talk about Jesus life from 12 to 30 years old.
During the total of some 18 years, “he (Jesus) increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God a man” (Luke 2:52). Nazareth was his hometown (Mark 6:1). Everyone in the town knew him. He was by trade a “carpenter” (Mark 6:3), which Joseph was. He was known as being a teacher in the synagogue come Sabbath, and he went once a year to the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem (Jn. 2:13).
So until he was 30, he did the carpentry business. Carpenters normally worked with artisans and masons in building homes. Carpenters supplied tables and other aspects of houses. They would be considered blue-collar workers. They also provided needed furniture and other services. (25) But the meaning of the word itself, especially from the Aramaic, had other possible meanings which include poet, author, or scholar. (26)
It is also interesting about Joseph, since we don’t hear much about him, that he probably died during this period of Jesus life. Legend says he died when Jesus was 18. (27) So Mary was a widow and Jesus was without his presence at 18 till 30 years old, which is about 12 years in all.
Also, knowing that boys probably got married around 16 years old, that would have meant that the children of Mary, like James, Joses, Judas and Simon got married. And her daughters probably got married too (Mark 6:3). So Mary probably had grandchildren at that time.
But Jesus was 30 and still was single. He probably lived at home (Lk, 6:4) . He did heal a few people before his ministry began (Lk. 6:5). He also went around to different towns teaching (Lk. 6:6). But most of the area around Galilee thought of him as a normal guy who was not married yet. And I wonder to myself, knowing how much mothers love grand kids, if that could have been an issue that Jesus had to deal with. He never did get married so I wonder how that affected Mary, considering he was her eldest son. The Bible doesn’t say.
And as for turning water to wine, it is interesting to note in John 2:3 that this was wedding feast that Jesus was invited by his mother. She probably knew the bride and we get to see what happened after the wedding was completed! The ceremony afterwards normally lasted for about 7 days. This was when certain elements were served. But something went wrong! We see that at one point Mary turned to Jesus, knowing at this point that he was God (Luke 1:35), and said, “They have no wine”(meaning they ran out ,which was poor wedding planning, and she wanted him to do a miracle). And Jesus responded back, “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” So Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn. 2:5). And from there we see a miracle performed. But it is interesting what we see here in the passage.
- First, we see that Jesus went to this wedding with his disciples just as an invited guest. He wasn’t invited to do anything.
- Second, we see a miracle performed in front of his disciples but the miracle itself is done quietly. It is not a miracle done so that everyone can see it.
- Third, he says to his mother “woman”. This may seem “brusk” but it was an expression used of polite distance. Jesus at this stage is not interested in the people thinking of him as being Mary’s son (Mark 6:3), but rather seeing him as being “God’s son”. He himself really is God (John 1:1, 14, 18; 8:29, 58; Mark 5:7; and more).
The Crucifixion and after
We see Mary at Jesus’ crucifixion. In Luke 23:44- 49 it mentions what Jesus said on the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” that “all of his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things” which probably included his mother. And in John 19:26-27 says, “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved (John) standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.” (28)
- First, in should be noted as it was said previously, the Greek for Woman does not denote any disrespect. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, published by Zondervan states, “the word ‘Woman’ (gynai) was a polite form of address and used as a title of dignity.” It is a formal mode of speech equivalent to the English titles, “Lady” or “Madam.” (29)
- Second, the word “mother” does not mean that Mary was John’s physical mother. Mary was John’s aunt, and John was Mary’s nephew. And that means John and his brother James were not only Jesus’ disciples, but also Jesus’ half-cousins. So when Jesus told John to “Behold your mother” (John 19:27), Jesus was telling John to take care of his aunt like his own mother. (30)
In Acts 1:14, which is Luke’s second writing, Mary and the “brothers of Jesus” are mentioned in the company of the eleven who are gathered in the upper room after the ascension. (31) Acts 1:14 says, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” (32) Mary was probably part of the group of 120 people (Acts 1:15) that were present at the choosing of Mathias to replace Judas as Apostle and who was filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:11-4). (33)
Mary is “blessed among women”(Luke 1:42) but should not be venerated. She was a sinner just like everyone (Rom. 3:23) except for Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21). But she saw Jesus as her Messiah and Saviour (Luke 1:47-50). She should be considered very blessed and an outstanding example of a life dedicated to God.
- ed. Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Zondervan, 1975; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_(mother_of_Jesus)
- http://home.inreach.com/bstanley/geneal.htm; I. Howard Marshall, A.R. Millars, J.I. Packer, D.J. Wiseman, New Bible Dictionary, IVP, 1997.
- I. Howard Marshall, A.R. Millars, J.I. Packer, D.J. Wiseman, New Bible Dictionary, IVP, 1997.
- Walt Russell, Ph. D., “Hermeneutics and Bible Study Methods”, Talbot Seminary, 2011.
- ed. Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Zondervan, 1975.
- Gustaf Dalmann, Sacred Sites and Ways, trans. from the German by Paul P. Levertoff, (London: SPCK, 1935), p. 41; http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2008/11/08/The-Manger-and-the-Inn.aspx
- http://wiki.answers.com/Q/If_Jesus_was_born_in_Bethlehem_and_=_and_Jesus_the_Nazarene , http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazareth
- Bob Foyle, “Luke 2:39-52, The Amazing Child Who Was God”, Mar. 7, 2012.
- ed. Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Zondervan, 1975.
- http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/lenten_series_here_is_your_son.htm ; ed. Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Zondervan, 1975.
- I. Howard Marshall, A.R. Millars, J.I. Packer, D.J. Wiseman, New Bible Dictionary, IVP, 1997
- ed. Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, Zondervan, 1975.