The Birth of the Virgin Mary
“The canonical Gospels otherwise give little information about Mary, the mother of Jesus, so that the complete picture of its mythical – divine personality can be appreciated only by considering the great amount of apocryphal and hagiographical literature, folk legends, and medieval iconography. Most of all, this requires the published apocryphal work The Book of the Birth of Mary (later known as the Protoevangelium of James) from the second century, The Book of the Death of Theotokos from the third century, or The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus’ childhood from the sixth century. Some of these legends were collected in the Middle Ages in an entire compendium that comprehensively describe many events in the life of Mary. According to these imaginative descriptions, the non-canonical Virgin Mary as a three-year old child was raised in the temple in Jerusalem, performed manual work, and was fed from the hands of angels. At the age of twelve, Mary made a vow to perpetual virginity.”
The Orthodox Church tells us (based on apocryphal non-canonical literature) that Mary was born out of the marriage of two old parents, Joachim and Ann, who had to wait fifty years until God blessed them with their child. Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic in his “Prologue of Okhrid” says that after their persistent prayers, God sent his angels to announce the birth of “a daughter most-blessed, by whom all nations on earth will be blessed and through whom [will come] the salvation of the world.” Additionally, the same writer states:
“For He gave them not just a daughter, but the Mother of God. He illumined them not only with temporal joy, but with eternal joy as well. God gave them just one daughter, and she would later give them just one grandson-but what a daughter and what a Grandson! Mary, Full of grace, Blessed among women, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Altar of the Living God, the Table of the Heavenly Bread, the Ark of God’s Holiness, the Tree of the Sweetest Fruit, the Glory of the race of man, the Praise of womanhood, the Fount of virginity and purity-this was the daughter given by God to Joachim and Anna.”
In the Prologue for September 9 (under the old Julian calendar), Bishop Nikolai alludes to a reference that Joachim was the son of Varpafir, came from the tribe of Judah, and was a descendant of King David.
However, the Evangelist Luke never states anything about Mary’s male forerunners, including nothing about Joachim or Varpafir. (This is in spite of Luke’s effort to give a perfect understanding of “all things from the beginning”). Namely, when we compare the genealogy of Christ starting in Matthew 1:1-16 with that recorded in Luke 3:23-38, at first glance we see that they greatly differ. The genealogy from Luke’s gospel not only is longer (and goes back from Christ to Adam), but also differs with Matthew, which descends only from Abraham to Jesus. Matthew presents to us the family tree of Mary’s husband, Joseph, whose father is Jacob, a descendent of David, the famous king of Israel, through his son Solomon. Of course, we know that this genealogy has no real connection with Jesus Christ, because Joseph was not his father but His foster father (stepfather). Therefore, even Joseph’s ancestors were not the real ancestors of the Lord Jesus.
If we examine the eleventh verse of Matthew chapter one, we see that Matthew mentions the name Jeconiah (Jehoiachin). The Lord promises in Jeremiah 22:30 that none of his descendants will ever sit upon the throne and rule Israel. Then it becomes truly clear that Jesus has no physical origin through Solomon, son of David – who was a distant ancestor of Joseph. However, although we found that this is not a genealogy of Christ, but Joseph,
why does Matthew record it? Why does Matthew call it the Lord’s genealogy? The audience of Matthew’s gospel was the Jews who lived in the then occupied state of Israel. Their belief about the Messiah stemmed from Old Testament prophecies manifested through the anticipation of the divine ruler descended from King David who was from the tribe of Judah. Although Joseph was not Jesus’ real father, Jewish society from an earthly perspective would view Jesus from the perspective of His stepfather. Featuring the origin of Jesus’ royal guardian, Matthew wanted to inform the Jews that Christ belonged to the royal family, e.g. He was the expected Messiah.
From another perspective, Luke’s gospel shows another genealogy for the Lord Jesus. It starts with:
“Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Janna, the son of Joseph.”
Since we have already determined that Joseph’s father was named Jacob, and Jacob’s father Mathan, etc., we see that the two family trees do not match. However, it is true that in that time people could be known under different names. For example, the Apostle Peter (Cephas) was called Simon, the name given to the Apostle Bartholomew
after his circumcision was Nathaniel (Bartholomew means “son of Tolmay”, e.g. Nathaniel’s father was named Tolmay), and the Evangelist Mark had a different name
But it is quite unlikely that Luke merely listed the nicknames of people, yet Matthew records their actual names (assuming, in fact, the names on both lists are the same people). To affirm this more clearly, Luke identifies Nathan, as the son of David, not Solomon as listed by Matthew (Lk. 3:31). Therefore, Joseph cannot simultaneously be the son of Jacob – a descendant of Solomon – and the son of Heli – a descendant of Nathan. Based on this observation, the logical conclusion is that Luke’s genealogy is not a list of Joseph’s family tree. Since Luke tells us about Jesus in verse 23: “He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli…”, it is clear that the Jews assumed a familial connection that, in fact, did not exist. The simple answer to this “riddle” about the two genealogies is that Luke records Jesus’ true physical ancestors all the way to Adam. Thus, the person called Heli is not the father of Joseph, but the father of Mary. Indeed, Heli is actually Joseph’s father-in-law. However, no separate terms for “father”, “father-in-law”, “grandfather”, “great-grandfather”, “grandson”, “son-in-law”, and other words related to “father” or “son” existed in the Aramaic or Hebrew languages at that time.
In this way we have found that the Orthodox tradition does not tell the truth about Mary’s parents, because instead of Joachim and Varpafir, we find Heli and Mathat. Earlier, we also refuted the allegation that Mary bore only one son. The Bible also tells us that Mary was not the only daughter, but in fact had a sister (John 19:25).