July 10, 2018

Pregnant from the Spirit (Matthew 1:18)

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew :: Permalink

In the popular story, Mary is found to be pregnant. Gossip starts to spread. Joseph, too, is sure she has been unfaithful to him. Because he’s righteous, he wants to divorce her, but because he’s merciful he doesn’t want to do so publicly. Then an angel comes and calms him down and relieves his suspicions so that he can go ahead and marry Mary anyway.

In the Bible, the story is quite different. The Bible does not say “Mary was found to be pregnant.” It says “Mary was found to be pregnant from the holy Spirit” (Matt 1:18).

It says nothing about people’s suspicions, nothing about gossip, nothing about Joseph being upset because his wife had been unfaithful. What people thought — what was “found” to be the case — was that Mary was pregnant from the Spirit.

After all, as Luke tells us, as soon as Mary became pregnant, she went and spent several months with her cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zacharias, the priest. Elizabeth knew immediately, by the Spirit, that Mary was pregnant as “the mother of my Lord.”

The priest and his wife could testify that Mary was not guilty of adultery, that she had not been unfaithful, that the child in her womb was from the Spirit of God. And Luke says, “All these sayings were discussed throughout all the hill country of Judea.”

As for Joseph, we are not told that he was angry, suspicious, jealous, or upset in any way. We are told that he was afraid, and the angel comes, not to relieve his suspicions or calm down his anger but to calm his fears.

Why would he be afraid? Because the child in his wife’s womb is from the Spirit. She is the Spirit’s workshop, and how could Joseph then take her as his wife? Wouldn’t that be interfering with the Spirit’s work?

And so Joseph, being a righteous man and wanting to do what is right, is willing to step aside and let the Spirit do his work without Joseph’s interference, which means that he wants to divorce her, but without witnesses and publicity, so that Mary is not pilloried and put on a level with an immoral woman.

But the angel says, “No.” The holy Spirit doesn’t want to interrupt their marriage. What’s happening is exactly what the Spirit wants, is in fact the fulfillment (the angel says) of Isaiah 7. Joseph must take her as his wife. He has a job to do with regard to this baby, welcoming this son into David’s house and lineage and giving the baby the name that God wanted him to have, the name — never before found in David’s line — of “Jesus,” because this baby would save his people from their sins.

[Most of what I’ve written here is a summary of Jakob van Bruggen’s remarks in his commentary on Matthew.  In this connection, Van Bruggen writes: “Already in the Early Church, the opinions were divided about the question of whether Joseph behaved mildly in connection with the suspicion of adultery (Justin, Augustine, Chrysostom) or whether, in fact, out of fear for the work of the Spirit wanted to distance himself from Mary (Eusebius, Basil, Ephraim, Theophylactus).”]

Posted by John Barach @ 2:37 pm | Discuss (0)

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