MARY IN THE HOLY SCRIPTURES
The text which describes “our” first historical encounter with her in the apostolic writings is found in Luke 1:26-38:
“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”
At that time, she grew up as a teenage girl (probably between 14 and 20 years of age, although the evangelists do not tell us this information), lived in Nazareth, and was betrothed to a man named Joseph. Matthew 1:16-25 and Luke 2:5 tell us that Joseph later became the husband of Mary, and that after Jesus’ birth, she bore at least six children:
“When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’ they asked. ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?’”
According to the New Testament, Mary was a modest and pious girl who lived in the house of her parents. Although already betrothed by the custom of that time, she was allowed to spend one more year at home with her parents until the wedding and then move into the house of her husband.
Just at that time, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced to her the good news about the miraculous conception and the birth of the Son of God. Having heard the angelic message about the conception of the child, Mary was shocked and frightened of his visit.
Although He had made His choice to give birth through Mary, even after the betrothal, the news of her pregnancy frightened her, since she knew that until then she had not had sex with any man. “How will this be since I am still a virgin?” (Luke 1:34). The angel’s response was that this child will be the Son of God, and will be conceived of a virgin by the power of the Most High, without the participation of men (Luke 1:35). Mary, the pious girl, calmly replied: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be as you have said.” (v. 38).
After having spent three months in the house of her cousin Elizabeth (the mother of John the Baptist) in Judea, when John was born, Mary returned to Nazareth. It was the fourth month of pregnancy (Luke 1:56), and Joseph immediately saw that his betrothed was pregnant. He was very distressed by the fact (from his perspective) that Mary had cheated on him and got pregnant by another man. She was unable to persuade him that an angel visited here and told her the child she bore was of divine nature. Out of deep disappointment and pain in his heart, this man could not believe it. He came up with the idea to divorce her without telling most people about it. Otherwise, he would have to make a public announcement that Mary was unfaithful. According to the laws given to Moses by God, it most certainly would have resulted in death by stoning for Mary (Mt. 1:18-21; Dt. 22:13-21).
However, at precisely the time when Joseph planned to secretly separate from Mary, God’s messenger appeared and told Joseph to take Mary as his wife freely and without fear, since the child in her womb was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Obeying the revelation of the Lord, they got married and continued to live in conjugal harmony and honor of the Lord.
It cannot be emphasized enough that Joseph and Mary lived in full marital relations (i.e. they were husband and wife in the true sense of the word). This contradicts the hard-line Orthodox tradition that they were merely relatives. (The Orthodox claim that Joseph was an eighty year old man and took the girl Mary into his home in order to preserve her virginity.) Here are some verses that confirm Joseph was really Mary’s husband:
“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
“…to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”
“He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.”
Also, it is critical to emphasize that Joseph and Mary after the birth of Jesus, the firstborn and eldest of several siblings to follow, had more children. Joseph abstained from sexual relations with her only during her first pregnancy (Matthew 1:25). In translating the New Testament compiled by the Commission of the Holy Synod of the Archbishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, this verse reads like this:
“And he did not know her until the birth of the firstborn son, and they called Him Jesus.”
Other translators translate this verse in similar ways. So, the word “he did not know” (i.e. “that he did not know”, the translation of Dr. Emilian Carnich) certainly cannot mean that Joseph knew Mary (in terms of introduction, i.e. a first meeting), because in the gospel we read that Mary was already betrothed to Joseph months before the dream, and that means that they already knew each other quite a long time. Also, the writers of the gospel show that Mary traveled with her husband to Bethlehem for the census (Luke 2:4-5), and they lived in marital union when the Lord through the angel spoke to Joseph in a dream (five months before they were supposed to travel). However, Scripture tells us that Joseph did not “know” his wife until the birth of Jesus (emphasizing the word “until”, which clearly says that Mary’s husband “knew” his wife after the birth of her firstborn). The term “know your wife” is used in several places in the Bible and it is always a description of the establishment of sexual contact, after which they could produce children. Here are a few examples:
“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, ‘I have acquired a man from the Lord.’”
“And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, ‘For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.’”
“And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. So it came to pass in the process of time that Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, ‘Because I have asked for him from the LORD.’”
The translation of the Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church is consistent with other translations of the Bible. They all emphasize that Jesus was the firstborn child of Mary (and not the only child of Mary). This statement is consistent with other New Testament
texts that speak of her other children conceived with Joseph.