Beckett: Commentary on Matthew 1:18-25, The Birth of Jesus Christ

Matthew 1:18-25
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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but he knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called His name Jesus.

For such a simple reading (at least for Christians who have heard and read this hundreds of times), this text is packed with deep theological significance. Thus, let us deal with them in the order the text presents them.

First, we have simultaneously the person of Jesus Christ and Mary the θεοτόκος (theotokos, Mother of God). Briefly, Jesus is fully man (human) because He was born of a human woman. He is also fully God because His conception was made “from the Holy Spirit,” the third person of the Trinity. Even more, Mary was still a virgin in this conception and even after she had conceived, which is an impossible thing only God can do. Therefore, Jesus must be God. And since God the Son was born of this virgin, Mary is truly the Mother of God (the Son). Not God the Father, not God the Holy Spirit, but God the Son.

If Mary did not conceive God the Son, then Jesus cannot be God and His death and resurrection are meaningless. Additionally, verse 21 is even further proof that Jesus is God. Only God has the power to forgive sins, as the Jews well know (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:7). The angel says this Jesus will save His people from their sins. Who has the power to do this saving but God alone? Therefore, Jesus must be God.

Secondly, silent Joseph, a just man. Consider how bad we think of infidelity today. This taboo was considered even worse in these days. Yet Joseph’s uncommon righteousness is shown in that he wanted to divorce Mary quietly so as not to shame her (which it is a man’s right to divorce his wife for infidelity; Matthew 5:32). That Joseph did not desire to shame her shows both his righteousness (just = righteous, from δίκαιος, dikaios) and his love for his wife.

We also see here Joseph’s silent obedience to God’s will. The gospel writers do not quote Joseph saying a thing not because he’s unimportant, but because he is silently obedient. He therefore acted with faith—faith in God the Son, the promised Immanuel, as the angel quotes from Scripture. As a Jew (especially as a righteous one, an all too rare thing), Joseph would’ve been familiar with this text from Isaiah. He therefore acted with faith in the promise—the promise of Immanuel.

The perpetuity of Mary’s virginity (Semper Virgo) is not supported in this text. Joseph “knew her not until she had given birth to a son” (v. 25). The Greek word used here for “until” is ἓως (heos), which denotes “the end of a period of time” and “contemporaneousness” (BDAG, pp. 422-423), meaning Joseph did not “know” her for a specific period of time, being her pregnancy.

Mary only needed to remain a virgin during her pregnancy; she did not need to remain one after she had given birth. What theological purpose would Semper Virgo serve (besides worship of Mary)? Not to mention: what married couple remains celibate? That’s absurd. Mary and Joseph are not a “special case” either. That, too, is absurd, for what cosmic purpose would it serve? None whatsoever.

Mary’s virginity pertains only to Jesus’ conception and birth, not His life. After His birth, the marriage bed of Mary and Joseph no longer becomes our business. Leave them alone. Mary is blessed, yes, but she is still only human. Do not make her out to be more than the Scriptures present her.

Regardless of whether Mary’s virginity was perpetual or not, which is none of our business, the point here—and of the whole Gospel—is not Mary; it is Jesus. Immanuel is coming! That should be our only concern and reverence.

Author’s Note: I realise I will upset many with my opinion on Semper Virgo, such as Catholics and cancerous Lutherans who don’t know how to love and be patient with their neighbour, but please, keep your anger out of the comments. “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil” (Psalm 37:8). This place is not a forum for such theological debates. If you wish to discuss the matter, talk with me privately. I will not respond to angry/wrathful emails, however. If you leave wrathful comments about your own opinion on Semper Virgo, the comments will be automatically deleted since it is in indication to me that you have not read this note or you simply don’t care (which is sin).

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