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  • Writer's pictureBrian O'Kelly

59 - Unexpected - A Surprise Pregnancy

Matthew 1:18-25

1) This is episode number 59 of the footlight broadcast as we continue our study in the life and times of Jesus, a study in all four Gospels which I believe will be quite lengthy and likely had a kind of depth that you haven’t heard before.

2) Christ Born of Mary – Matthew having finished the genealogy of Jesus now turns to the birth story of Jesus. In this account we see the story from the point of view of Joseph.

a. 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.

i. What is betrothal and what does it mean to be betrothed? The word betrothal comes from the old English word “troth” which is also the root of “truth”.

ii. A betrothal was a promise to marry. It was considered to be as inviolate as a marriage and only breakable on the same grounds as a divorce. In other words, once you would betrothed to someone the only way out of it would be the same as the only way out of marriage.

iii. Betrothal was often and even typically the result of an arranged marriage. Often, families would decide even when their children were infants that they would marry one another. Sometimes this was for the reason of uniting families where it was perceived to be beneficial for those families while other times it was simply because of friendship or proximity.

iv. Families didn’t always select a mate for their children. Some young people knew each other and selected one another. We saw in the genealogy of Jesus that we just studied the Judah had chosen wives for his sons. However, his father Jacob had chosen his own wife and we see both of these things in the biblical record.

v. The idea of “dating” with a series of trial relationships and the resulting trials of their breakups was not a practice.

vi. The status of Joseph and Mary was that of people who had made a commitment to be together for life. One of which had not yet been celebrated ceremonially nor consummated.

vii. It was in this state of commitment that Mary was found to be pregnant.

viii. Now what would you think if your fiancé turned out to be pregnant? It seems to me that the normal conclusion would be that she had been with another man. No doubt that this is what Joseph thought at least initially. And we see this in the next verse.

b. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.

i. Joseph was a man of good character. He was “just”. It’s difficult to believe that Joseph didn’t feel at least some sense of betrayal. He was likely angry, disappointed and possibly even embarrassed that he had been betrothed to a woman who would fool around on him. It’s more likely than not that Joseph knew Mary and probably knew her somewhat well.

ii. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary he said this ““Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

iii. Mary was a woman of good character. Joseph likely had some sense of disbelief that this could even happen to a woman he knew to be of good character. While we don’t see this in Scripture, it’s likely that Mary communicated her experience with Gabriel to Joseph. She probably told him the means by which she became pregnant. Now you can imagine Joseph being highly skeptical of her claims. He also might be wanting to believe them rather than believe that she had engaged in sinful behavior.

iv. Regardless of what Joseph thought we know that because he was a just man, he didn’t desire that she bear the public shame of turning up pregnant unmarried. He knew that the penalty for this would be lifelong ostracization at a minimum.

c. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.

i. At this point Joseph had not yet arrived at a decision. He had some choices here. He could end the betrothal in a public fashion or in a private fashion but he didn’t really consider continuing in his relationship with Mary. Continuing the relationship and claiming the child is his own was also an option here since ultimately that is what he decided. At this point it appeared not to be an option he was considering.

ii. Mary probably wasn’t really “showing” yet. It would not have been obvious to everyone that she was pregnant. Given that the style of dress for women was much more modest than today’s formfitting clothing a woman could be pregnant for a few months before it would be obvious to everyone. This would allow for them to be married immediately and for everyone to believe that the baby was Joseph’s. This doesn’t appear to be in Joseph’s considerations at this point or at least not very much.

iii. It’s likely that there was some level of desire to end the betrothal in a public fashion to provide justification for the betrothal not going forward. It would’ve been known by most people in their circles that they were betrothed to be married. When this process didn’t go forward Joseph would need an explanation. Putting her away quietly and secretly meant he would’ve had to provide some other reason for the end of the betrothal. Any reason he might offer other than her pregnancy would have been a lie. We see that Joseph was a just man. This would’ve made him extremely hesitant to lie about this situation.

iv. For this reason, he was thinking about these things. I see some internal conflict in Joseph in deciding what to do. To the extent that Joseph was considering going forward with the marriage he may have been concerned about whether the baby would look like him. In American culture we have these stories about kids that looked like the milkman. Of course, it was well known that often children looked like their fathers.

v. The angel instructs Joseph “do not fear”. One of my favorite Bible teachers, Steve Gregg, suggest that Joseph may have feared marrying her because he had believed her story about her pregnancy and was concerned that since God had chosen her that made her off limits to him. He didn’t want to find himself in competition with God for her affection. This could be true. I think it’s more likely that Joseph feared that if her story was not true it would ultimately be exposed resulting in his own shame. He also may have feared marrying a woman who had apparently fooled around on him once.

vi. The appearance of the angel to Joseph was the confirmation he needed that Mary had been telling the truth and that it was safe for him to move forward with the marriage.

d. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

i. Jesus was a common name. Jesus is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name Joshua.

ii. It was the name of the lieutenant of Moses who took the people into the promised land. We also see a number of other people named Joshua in the Bible.

iii. Joshua is a name that comes from the combination of two words. Jehovah and Shua. Jehovah being the name of God and Shua meaning one who saves. So Joshua ends up meaning God who saves.

iv. Notice that the angel tells Joseph that Jesus will “save his people from their sins”. This was not the common expectation of the Messiah.

v. Most people expected the Messiah to be a political and/or military leader who would save Israel from the Roman occupation. The idea of salvation from sins was a totally foreign idea to Jewish culture. They had the temple, the temple sacrifices and the festivals and holiday as a solution for sin. No one had even considered the idea of the sacrifice of God’s own son as a solution for mankind’s sin problem. Furthermore, the idea that the Messiah will would be the actual son of God was also not in consideration or expected whatsoever.

vi. The idea of a son of God at all, let alone as salvation from sins would have been totally foreign to Joseph and to any Jew at the time.

e. 22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

i. This verse is an example of a “double fulfillment”. The prophecy is about the son of Isaiah, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz and appears in Isaiah 7:14. In this reference the word virgin is the Hebrew word Alma. Alma in this case means a young girl. Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was not born through a supernatural conception as we see that Isaiah “went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son”.

ii. Immanuel can be translated either “God is with us” or “God with us” in the case of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz it was the first definition as his birth and the meaning of his name were to indicate that God was with Israel against Assyria. Here, Matthew explains to us that this verse also refers to Jesus using the second definition.

f. 24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife,

i. At this point Joseph and Mary must have had a wedding that would have transformed their relationship from a betrothal to a marriage in the eyes of everyone they knew. This would have been what is referred to as a “shotgun wedding” today. A hastily prepared event that happens with very little notice as opposed to a wedding with a date set further in the future that everyone knows is on the calendar for some time. We get the term “shotgun wedding” from the idea that because of an unmarried pregnancy the reluctant groom is threatened by the father of the bride to get married “or else”. While I don’t believe that Joseph was threatened, I do believe that he was reluctant and in part moving forward out of a sense of compulsion. It says he “did as the angel of the Lord commanded him”.

ii. I know what these things feel like from personal experience. My wife was pregnant before we were married, and we were married because of that. My father told me that I was going to “do the right thing” and marry her and raise our baby whether I liked it or not. Joseph was under similar pressure to marry, in his case from the command of an angel. In my case, I knew my wife to be a woman of good character who I had led into the mistake of pre-marital sex. I had no concerns about her ultimate faithfulness to me and I won’t say that I loved her. At least not in the way that I should have to be entering into a marriage. In the case of Joseph, I believe he knew Mary to be a woman of good character as well. We can only speculate as to whether or not he loved her or not, but we can say that he was committed to right action.

g. 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.

i. The idea that Mary was a perpetual virgin that is taught by the Catholic church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as some Lutherans and other churches is simply not supported by the biblical record and this is one of many reasons I can never be a member of any of those churches. For a church to teach this false idea means a great deal of biblical illiteracy or a willingness to ignore this section of scripture on the part of a leadership class that should know better. The statement of Matthew that Joseph “did not know her until” is a statement that he did “know her” or have normal marital relations after Jesus was born.

ii. We have a statement in Luke 2:7 saying “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” If she had a firstborn, I suppose it could mean an only child, but since Luke was writing after Jesus had died and resurrected, it’s reasonable to consider that the context here indicates she had at least one other baby who would have been the second born.

iii. Joseph and Mary had other normal biological children. We see at least four other sons, Joseph, James, Jude and Simon. These were half-brothers of Jesus. They also had daughters since Jesus had sisters.

1. Matt 12:46-49 While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. 47 Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” 48 But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! Thus, Jesus indicated that his mother and brother went beyond the biological while agreeing that these were His biological relatives.

2. Matt 13:55-56 Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? 56 And His sisters, are they not all with us? Parallel verse in Mark 6:3

3. John 2:12 After this He went down to Capernaum, He, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples; and they did not stay there many days.

iv. The churches that hold to the perpetual virgin doctrine say that these references to “brothers” were references to followers or that this term was used broadly toward other family members like cousins.

v. In John chapter 7:3-10 it depicts his brothers as being hostile to him and in verse 5 it says, “For even His brothers did not believe in him”. Therefore, it can’t be a reference to his followers.

vi. I’ll encourage you to study the times when the word brother is used in reference to brothers of Jesus in John, 7:3-10, Acts 1:14, 1 Cor 9:5 and Gal 1:19 and decide for yourself whether you think it’s reasonable to think of these as extended family.

vii. If you are attending a church that teaches the perpetual virgin doctrine, you might ask yourself how the leadership of your church could get it so wrong and since they are wrong on this, what does that mean for the quality of their biblical scholarship and what does it mean in terms of the balance of their doctrinal positions.

viii. I don’t want to come across as a basher of any of these churches. Many of these churches have done much to spread the gospel and have many fine theologians and authors who have benefitted our understanding. Yet I do think it’s important to point out where such influential and important organizations have drifted from the biblical narrative.


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