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December 10, 2016 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

An Early Pregnancy

The virgin birth of Jesus is an integral part of the Christmas story for Christians.  It is a part of the earliest baptismal confession of the Church; The Apostles Creed.  The creed states Jesus was, “Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilot, was crucified, dead and buried…”  The teaching has at least two aspects; doctrinal and practical.  Setting the doctrinal aside for the time I want to present a few ideas on the practical side of the situation for Mary and Joseph.

The idea that Mary had to endure the shame of an unwed pregnancy has no foundation in Scripture.  She was married.  The customs of the time were that the legal contract of marriage was arranged by the family.  This is likely why Joseph was in Nazareth, since his home was in Bethlehem.  The contract is called a ketuvah and is signed not only by the bride and groom but the fathers of each.  It is legally binding and requires a divorce to nullify it.  When the angel appeared to Mary she was already “betrothed,” that is legally married (Lk. 1:27).  The contract was signed sealed and delivered.

The normal practice was that after the ketuvah was signed the groom would begin to prepare a home for the couple.  They normally did not consummate the marriage until they began to live together.  This occasion was accompanied by a “marriage feast.”  We need to remember that couples married young in the simpler culture of early Israel.  How well this worked out is an interesting question.

It seems from Luke that Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth immediately after the angelic visit.  She would not have been showing her pregnancy at the time, although Elizabeth knew about it.  She stayed with Elizabeth until John was born; about three months.

Just when Joseph knew about Mary’s pregnancy is difficult to determine.  She may have told him before leaving for Judea.  It may have been on her return when she may have been showing.  When he was informed about Mary’s pregnancy his plan was to quietly divorce her.  Keep in mind they were legally married.  It took an angel’s visit to bring Joseph into line with the plan of God.

The only one who would have been troubled by Mary’s pregnancy would have been Joseph.  Only he knew the child was not his.  Everyone else would assume the child was the son of Joseph.  They may have snickered a bit at the young couple who jumped the gun, but no one would have assumed that Mary would have been unfaithful to her husband.  There is no indication of social disapproval in the stories.

The virgin conception of the Savior was clearly a secret kept by this remarkable young couple, probably until the announcement of Jesus’ ministry.  To their world Jesus was the son of Joseph, the builder.  Matthew and Luke certainly got their information from Mary who outlived her husband and was part of the Jerusalem church.

The doctrinal importance of the virgin conception of Jesus is discussed by Paul in Romans, chapter five, and by John in the first chapter of his Gospel.  That is another story for another time.  For now it is enough to contemplate the faithfulness of this couple who raised the Messiah of Israel, but could not share that fact with anybody.  A few people knew.  Some shepherds knew.  Some Magi from Persia knew.  Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, knew.  But, for the most part Mary “Treasured up all these things in her heart.”  “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man (Lk. 2:51f).”

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at END-whs