Gospel Gazette Online
Vol. 14 No. 10 October 2012
Page 13

Confusion about the Birth of Jesus

Emanuel Daugherty

Emanuel DaughertyIn recent days a document has come my way in which the circumstances of the birth of Jesus have been discussed, raising the point that Mary’s pregnancy was scandalous and an embarrassment and subject of whispers and rumors to the townsfolk of Nazareth. Here is a quote:

An unwed mother… A fiancé who is not the father. Whispers, Handwringing. Innuendo. Scandal. Red faces. Just who was the father? Forty weeks of rumors; nine long months and finally a baby boy is born. But the usual congratulations are muted, reserved, cut short. A mother’s joy is mixed with pain… But it didn’t end there it continued into the adult years. Since illegitimate children in those days were identified by town instead of by father, He was called “Jesus of Nazareth” most of the time instead of “Jesus ben Joseph.”

Is this a fair and accurate picture of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth? Was Mary the subject of scandal and shame as she carried Jesus in her womb? Was Jesus’ birth thrown into His face in his adult years during His public ministry? I deny these charges as being true, and it shows a serious lack of in-depth study of the Bible facts. It is my contention that there was never a question among the citizens of Nazareth regarding the birth of Jesus.

First, let us study together Matthew 1:18-25. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise” [after this manner]; Joseph and Mary were “espoused” (betrothed). The betrothal of a man and woman was a very serious matter. “Though they did not live together as husband and wife till actual marriage, breach of faithfulness on the part of the betrothed was treated as adultery punishable by death” (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the NT).

Joseph learned that Mary was expecting a child “before they came together.” Joseph “her husband” (the binding nature of their betrothal) was going to put her away (divorce her) privately, to keep her from shame, embarrassment and scandal.

While he was thinking on these things, an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream telling him “fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.” The son to be born would be named “JESUS, and would save his people from their sins.”

The things surrounding the birth of Jesus happened according to the prophecy of Isaiah. “A virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is interpreted, ‘God with us’” (Isaiah 7:14).

Joseph “arose from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife.” Though there is no biblical record of their marriage, it is certainly implied. Joseph was not disobedient to heaven’s message; he and Mary were husband and wife from that time forward. This eliminated any hint of scandal. The townspeople of Nazareth had no knowledge otherwise. This is corroborated by other Gospel accounts of Jesus life.

Joseph “knew her not, till she had brought forth her firstborn son…” He had no intimacy with Mary till after the birth of Jesus. Note that Jesus was the firstborn son, implying that there were other children as the Scriptures record.

In the second place, in the genealogy of Luke is recorded these words, “and Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph…” All in Nazareth believed Joseph to be the father of Jesus, thus no shame and embarrassment, no idle talk or rumor mongering.

Third, that we are to conclude that the pregnancy of Mary was without scandal is seen in references to the family of Mary and Jesus. “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary?” (Matthew 13:55).

Fourth, if the Jews had any idea that Jesus was illegitimate, He would have fallen under the Law on that subject: “A bastard shall not enter into the assembly of Jehovah; even to the tenth generation shall none of his enter into the assembly of Jehovah” (Deuteronomy 23:2). This put a stigma on such a person and assigned a severe penalty on the offspring of those engaging in sexual promiscuity. The Jewish Senate would have certainly denied Jesus access to the Temple if it suspected any indication that His birth was improper. However, at His trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus told them, “I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and you laid no hold on me” (Matthew 26:55). Do you not think that they would have prevented Jesus from entering the Temple if they thought His birth was suspect?

The fact that the rulers of Jesus’ day never charged him with scandal regarding His birth shows there was not the slightest misgiving on the part of Jesus’ contemporaries; they thought Jesus was the son of Joseph and Mary. The world did not learn until the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written that the birth of the Son of God fulfilled the Isaiah prophecy. It was several years after the death and Ascension of Christ that the Jews scandalized his birth.

Why were Mary and her son protected in this way? You can imagine what would happen if an unmarried, pregnant woman today claimed to be carrying a baby prepared by Deity; she would be laughed to scorn. The same thing would have happened in the first century. God, in his wisdom, put safeguards around the details of the birth of Jesus, to be revealed when the world could receive it. It was after the teaching and mighty works, wonders and signs of Jesus, after His tragic death, after His glorious resurrection, after His Ascension and mighty intercession, after the amazing success of a handful of His disciples in preaching salvation to the whole world, then the news of the condition of His birth could be given and would be everywhere accepted.

Information about the circumstances of his birth was shrouded in mystery in Old Testament prophecy, and the information given to Joseph and Mary was kept private. They never said a word about it to anyone. Mary did not discuss the pregnancy with Jesus with any of her neighbors, nor did Joseph. “But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

One more thing needs clarification: the Jews statement to Jesus in John 8:41. Some understand this verse to be saying that the Jews were accusing Jesus of being illegitimate. “We are not of fornication,” like you are (implied). Yet, the context shows that they were not speaking of Jesus’ birth, but their own. Though they claimed to be children of Abraham, Jesus said they were not because Abraham would not do as they were doing (i.e, seeking to kill him). Jesus told them they were the seed of their father, the devil (8:44). The Jews’ statement shows they were on the defensive, not Jesus. Again, it must be concluded that the Jews of Jesus' time knew nothing of the circumstances of his birth, or there would have been an abundance of accusations in the Gospels about it.


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