Tag Archives: Mary

Guest post: Joseph, did you know?

The Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us
The Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us

Well, I gave the reins of the blog over to my friend the senior software engineer last time, and it was one of the most popular posts of the year. So, we’re doing it again. I don’t know where he finds the time to write these things. This time, he has written a post analyzing the conduct of Joseph during the story of Mary becoming pregnant with a very special child.


If you haven’t heard it already, I encourage you to go listen to the classic holiday song “Mary Did You Know?

Not because it is filled with inspirational content. Quite the opposite. It regularly gets panned, and rightfully so, as an example of a song with a great melody but terrible theology. More can be written about that song along, but I will simply leave you with this: Yes, Mary Knew.

But this post isn’t about Mary. It’s about Joseph. What did he know?

To find out, let’s turn to Matthew 1. Skip past the genealogy. Yes, it contains useful lessons on its own. And let’s look at verses 18-25:

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).

24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife,

25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

After genealogies, Matthew opens not with a focus on Mary, but with the focus on Joseph. We’re likely used to reading this passage in Church and especially at Christmas time knowing what’s going to happen next. But let’s step back and look at this from Joseph’s perspective.

First, we need to understand what Joseph’s relationship was with Mary. We are told that they were betrothed but not married. While we have those same distinctions today, our emphasis on weddings is the opposite to what the emphasis would have been in Joseph and Mary’s time. And that’s because marriage has historically been viewed as a financial transaction.

Until late in the Middle Ages, marriage consisted of two ceremonies that were marked by celebrations at two separate times, with an interval between. First came the betrothal [erusin]; and later, the wedding [nissuin].

[…]Marriage, as with any type of purchase, consisted of two acts. First the price was paid and an agreement reached on the conditions of sale. Sometime later the purchaser took possession of the object. In marriage, the mohar was paid and a detailed agreement reached between the families of the bride and groom. This betrothal was followed by the wedding, when the bride was brought into the home of the groom, who took actual possession of her.

There is no prescribed duration of time between betrothal and wedding but most of the sources I’ve read say the norm (and even recommended by some Rabbis) was a year. However, the interval between betrothal and wedding could be shortened depending on circumstances. So it’s reasonable to think that Matthew’s gospel opens up somewhere in the year between when Joseph and Mary, and their families, have hammered out, signed, and celebrated their betrothal and when Joseph took Mary into the home he was preparing for her.

It was in this time of waiting and anticipation that Mary comes to Joseph and tells him she’s pregnant. We may be tempted to read that in the modern sense of Mary telling Joseph privately, just between the two of them. But the reality is that Mary’s friends and family knew she was pregnant. This wasn’t something that could easily be hidden. Mary claims divine intervention. Although we, in the 21st century, know this is true, put yourself in Joseph’s position for a minute. Nothing like that had ever happened before. There is no prior reason to expect or believe such a claim. So, Joseph is right in rejecting this explanation and instead decides to dissolve the betrothal.

This is the right decision for Joseph to make. We tend to gloss over this point but I think it’s worth considering in our time where the very suggestion that men prefer debt-free virgins without tattoos is met with shock and rage.

It was not merely Joseph but Joseph’s family that had a contract with Mary’s family. In our time we treat engagements and marriages as if they were only the concern of the individuals who fell in love. The Jewish understanding of marriage is not focused on the individual and neither should we be when reading Matthew.

Joseph had three options for dissolving his unconsummated marriage. He could publicly accuse Mary of being promiscuous. He could quietly dissolve the contract by claiming he was displeased with her. And finally, he could move the taking-home ceremony up and claim the child as his own. Each one of these paths is distinctly different and deserves to be examined.

Public accusation and divorce

Since Joseph and Mary had already signed a contract, and the only thing left to do was take her home and consummate the marriage, Joseph could have made a big deal about Mary violating the terms of their contract. Deuteronomy 22:13-30 has a lot to say here and while it’s worth reading I’ll sum it up by saying this route involved an awful lot of drama. And again, unlike modern marriage dissolutions where the state tries to cover over the ugliness of tearing a one-flesh (i.e. consummated) union apart, the law in Deuteronomy 22 was to air all the grievances.

This would necessitate that Joseph accuse not Mary but Mary’s father of not doing his job in guarding Mary’s virtue.

20 If, however, this accusation is true, and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found,

21 she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house, and there the men of her city will stone her to death. For she has committed an outrage in Israel by being promiscuous in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.

To go down this route Joseph would first have to come to the conclusion that Mary was evil.

Instead, Joseph’s decision to divorce Mary quietly not only spared Mary’s life. It also spared Mary’s father from a world of pain and shame.

Displeasure

For years I thought this was the only alternative to simply continuing on with the wedding and that Joseph’s decision to put Mary away quietly was a cop-out. But it turns out that a quiet divorce was allowed for exactly this in Deuteronomy 24:1-4

1 If a man marries a woman, but she becomes displeasing to him because he finds some indecency in her, he may write her a certificate of divorce,a hand it to her, and send her away from his house.

2 If, after leaving his house, she goes and becomes another man’s wife,

3 and the second man hates her, writes her a certificate of divorce, hands it to her, and sends her away from his house, or if he dies,

4 the husband who divorced her first may not marry her again after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination to the LORD. You must not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.

This could have been either before the wedding or after but there is a strong indication here that this is before the marriage has been consummated. I would argue that Joseph was still wisely holding this option in reserve even after the angel visited him by refusing to have sex with Mary until after the child was born. We know that Joseph eventually fully accepted Mary and the Angel’s explanation for Jesus’s conception, since he went on to have more children, that were fully his own, with Mary.

Shotgun wedding

It’s not uncommon for couples to fail in resisting the urge to come together sexually prior to their wedding night. As a response, most cultures have an acceptable way to fast-track marriages between couples who fail to wait until the wedding to consummate their union (e.g. Exodus 22:16-17). While such a situation is certainly shameful, it is not irreconcilable. It is certainly more desirable for the couple to go ahead and get married and form a family than it is for the child to be born outside of wedlock in a broken home.

I think it’s worth highlighting that Joseph’s initial decision to divorce Mary on the grounds of displeasure was counted to him as both righteous and loving. Righteous in the sense that he couldn’t simply ignore the fact that his wife had been unfaithful as far as he knew. And loving because, while the evidence of being with child wasn’t hard to deny, he didn’t have the other half of the equation needed to bring a solid charge against Mary. Presumably Mary had not acted dishonorably before and had offered him an explanation, no matter how odd or implausible, for her condition. So in light of this complicated circumstance Joseph decided not to act on the righteous fury he was no doubt feeling.

Enter into this the angel of God.

The angel that appeared to Joseph provided an additional witness and evidence to corroborate Mary’s account of her pregnancy. It’s not that Mary’s word was untrustworthy because she was a woman. Though that is certainly a factor. It’s that without evidence of divine intervention her story makes no sense. And like all miracles in Scripture, Mary’s conception of Jesus comes with God proclaiming his handiwork.

God provided the seeds of doubt in the circumstances of Jesus’s birth for anyone looking for an excuse to not believe Jesus is the promised Messiah. That’s likely why Matthew opens up with a robust genealogy. Because I imagine the #1 argument against Jesus by the Jews of the day was that he wasn’t pure enough to be what they were looking for in the promised messiah. In the New Testament, Christ regularly hides himself and invites men to seek him out. It’s incredible to think that even the circumstance surrounding his birth presents a stumbling block to the hard hearted.

What else did we expect from the promise made in Isaiah 17:14 quoted by Matthew in verse 23? The Hebrew grammar in Isaiah indicates that it will be the child’s mother who provides her son with a name. There’s no socially acceptable way for the promised sign in Isaiah to come about. From the beginning the promised messiah would be controversial.

And that controversy would start in the most intimate human relationship. Between husband and wife. Like Martha and Mary, Joseph was presented a choice. He had to decide whether to trust the angel and take the risk of accepting Mary into his house and the child he knew was not his.

And to counter the terrible song this post started with. Here’s a Christmas song featuring Joseph.

There are Roman Catholics in my family but I’m not one: why not?

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

In this post, I have a couple of challenges to Roman Catholic doctrine. The point of this post is not to piss off my Roman Catholic readers, it’s more to explain why I’m not Roman Catholic. And maybe to explain how Protestants like me think about religion.

Purgatory

Here’s the first article from Cold Case Christianity, by the Master of the Evidence J. Warner Wallace. He writes about the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, and his experience with studying and then rejecting it.

Here is his introduction:

The notion of purgatory assumes many of us die with unforgiven sins that need to be purged from our account; some of us are not good enough to go to heaven, but not bad enough to go to hell. Purgatory, therefore, is a temporary, intermediate place (or state of being) where good deeds and works can be performed in order to purge our impurity prior to our final destiny with God. Although millions of Catholics believe purgatory to be a reality, the idea needs to be tested in light of the Scripture. Is purgatory something we, as Bible believing Christians, should accept as true?

He’s got a stack of Bible verses to make two points against Purgatory: first, that Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient to atone for all our rebellion against God, and we don’t need to endure any suffering or punishment to supplement it. And second, the teaching about the afterlife in the Bible says that believers are immediately ushered into the presence of God after they die (without resurrection bodies, yet), while unbelievers are separated away from God.

Here’s what he says about the first point:

Our Salvation Isn’t Based On Our Good Works
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, forgiveness is not based on the good works of the believer. For this reason, deeds or works performed for those in purgatory are both unnecessary and ineffectual:

Romans 3:21-24, 27-28
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus… Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

Romans 8:1
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.

Our Salvation Is Based On Jesus’ Work on the Cross
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, Jesus’ work on the cross (His blood) purifies us from allsin. For this reason, there isn’t a lingering sin problem requiring the existence of a place like purgatory:

Titus 2:13-14
…we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

1John 1:7b
…the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1John 1:9b
…he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1John 2:2
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Hebrews 10:14
…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Our Salvation Has, Therefore, Already Been Guaranteed
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, Jesus has already purified and purged believers of sin based on our faith in Him. For this reason, there is no need for a place like Purgatory where additional purging must be performed…

[…]The Biblical doctrine of Salvation clearly eliminates the need for purgatory.

I was never able to find anything in the Bible to support purgatory. It’s a very very late doctrine that was unknown to the early church until the late 2nd / early 3rd century, where it is spoken about by a handful of people. But lots of weird doctrines were creeping up on the fringe around that time, so we shouldn’t be surprised… the point is that they have no support from the Bible, and not in the community of believers for the first 150 years after the death of Jesus.

The bodily assumption of Mary

Anyway, my turn now. The Roman Catholic church teaches that Mary was “bodily assumed” into Heaven after her death, i.e. – she didn’t just stay in her grave. Let’s see if that is in the Bible or in the early church.

Here’s what I found:

  1. To be a Roman Catholic, you need to believe in Papal infallibility in matters of dogma.
  2. In 1950, the Pope pronounced the assumption of Mary to be infallible dogma.
  3. This pronouncement was solicited by a petition featuring over 8 million signatures.
  4. There is no historical record of this doctrine in the Bible.
  5. No early church father mentions the assumption until 590 AD.
  6. Documents dated 377 AD state that no one knows how Mary died.
  7. The assumption appears for the first time in an apocryphal gospel dated about 495 AD.

Data

I only cite Roman Catholic sources for my facts.

6. “But if some think us mistaken, let them search the Scriptures. They will not find Mary’s death; they will not find whether she died or did not die; they will not find whether she was buried or was not buried … Scripture is absolutely silent [on the end of Mary] … For my own part, I do not dare to speak, but I keep my own thoughts and I practice silence … The fact is, Scripture has outstripped the human mind and left [this matter] uncertain … Did she die, we do not know … Either the holy Virgin died and was buried … Or she was killed … Or she remained alive, since nothing is impossible with God and He can do whatever He desires; for her end no-one knows.” (Epiphanius, Panarion, Haer. 78.10-11, 23. Cited by Juniper Carol, O.F.M. ed.,Mariology, Vol. II (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1957), pp. 139-40).

7. “The idea of the bodily assumption of Mary is first expressed in certain transitus–narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries. Even though these are apocryphal they bear witness to the faith of the generation in which they were written despite their legendary clothing. The first Church author to speak of the bodily ascension of Mary, in association with an apocryphal transitus B.M.V., is St. Gregory of Tours.” (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma(Rockford: Tan, 1974), pp. 209–210).

It should be noted that the apocryphal gospel in which the doctrine of the assumption of Mary first appeared was condemned as heretical by two Popes in the 5th and 6th centuries. However, I was not able to find a CATHOLIC source for this fact, so I deliberately chose not to use it in my case.

Conclusion

The first thing I want to say is that the Bible is not the only place you look to decide these issues. You also look in church history, and you are looking for a clear chain of custody of the doctrine as far back as it can go. Purgatory and the perpetual virginity of Mary have some track record, but the bodily assumption of Mary is just nowhere – not in the Bible, not in the Early Church fathers. So that’s the silver bullet against Roman Catholicism, since they made it “infallible”.

This post is more directed to non-Christians to sort of show you how we do our homework. I am the first Protestant in my family. We have half the family who is Muslim, and the other half mostly Hindu, with some Catholic. I had to debate all these people growing up, and I wiped the floor with them. It was not even close. I simply settled on the beliefs that allowed me to win every argument, every time. That’s how you do religion. If you have to go against your whole family in order to be right, you do it. It’s not good to be wrong about things just because that’s what your family believes. These things were not pushed hard on me by my parents, I studied them on my own in order to win arguments. After a while of winning, I found myself acting consistently with what I was arguing for. Although that might sound really weird to you, that’s probably the right way to do this. Don’t listen to parents and church, find your own way forward by winning arguments, and believing only what the evidence supports.

Although most people think that if I had kids, I’d bully them into my beliefs, I actually would not. Because that’s not what worked on me. What really works is fighting about evidence, welcoming questions, and allowing differences of opinion. Being free to pursue truth is more important in the long run than coercing your kids to act nicely.

What if Facebook had been around when Jesus was born?

Mary sent me this cute video from Facebook.

And she also sent me this Ronald Reagan video.

Should have a bigger post up later! I got a Wii and a new LCD TV for my Dad for Christmas, so we are spending all our time going to the gym and playing Wii Sports Resort. He is beating me at about half the games. But we are talking about interesting things and I should write about some of those things pretty soon.

UPDATE: Here’s a new Facebook-nativity video. This one made me laugh out loud.

Choosing my religion: why I am not Roman Catholic

I’ve decided to spend some time writing extremely short explanations about why I am an evangelical Protestant Christian instead of anything else.

I have two aims.

First, I want show how an honest person can evaluate rival religions using the laws of logic, scientific evidence and historical evidence. Second, I want people who are not religious to understand that religions are either true or it is false. Religions should not be chosen based where you were born, what your parents believed, or what resonates with you. A religion should be embraced for the same reason as the theory of gravity is embraced: because it reflects the way the world really is.

Why I am not a Roman Catholic

  1. To be a Roman Catholic, you need to believe in Papal infallibility in matters of dogma.
  2. In 1950, the Pope pronounced the assumption of Mary to be infallible dogma.
  3. This pronouncement was solicited by a petition featuring over 8 million signatures.
  4. There is no historical record of this doctrine in the Bible.
  5. No early church father mentions the assumption until 590 AD.
  6. Documents dated 377 AD state that no one knows how Mary died.
  7. The assumption appears for the first time in an apocryphal gospel dated about 495 AD.

Data

I only cite Roman Catholic sources for my facts.

6. “But if some think us mistaken, let them search the Scriptures. They will not find Mary’s death; they will not find whether she died or did not die; they will not find whether she was buried or was not buried … Scripture is absolutely silent [on the end of Mary] … For my own part, I do not dare to speak, but I keep my own thoughts and I practice silence … The fact is, Scripture has outstripped the human mind and left [this matter] uncertain … Did she die, we do not know … Either the holy Virgin died and was buried … Or she was killed … Or she remained alive, since nothing is impossible with God and He can do whatever He desires; for her end no-one knows.” (Epiphanius, Panarion, Haer. 78.10-11, 23. Cited by Juniper Carol, O.F.M. ed., Mariology, Vol. II (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1957), pp. 139-40).

7. “The idea of the bodily assumption of Mary is first expressed in certain transitus–narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries. Even though these are apocryphal they bear witness to the faith of the generation in which they were written despite their legendary clothing. The first Church author to speak of the bodily ascension of Mary, in association with an apocryphal transitus B.M.V., is St. Gregory of Tours.” (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford: Tan, 1974), pp. 209–210).

It should be noted that the apocryphal gospel in which the doctrine of the assumption of Mary first appeared was condemned as heretical by two Popes in the 5th and 6th centuries. However, I was not able to find a CATHOLIC source for this fact, so I deliberately chose not to use it in my case.

I am not saying that Roman Catholicism is necessarily WRONG, I am just explaining why I am not a Roman Catholic. I hope that my Roman Catholic readers will not be too angry with me for disagreeing with them on theology. I will try not to test your patience too often like this. I would encourage everyone to be as civil as you all have been so far, and I will be extra vigilant in filtering comments.