Matthew 1:17-25 MIRACULOUS CONCEPTIONS


Moving past Jesus’ genealogy, Matthew informs us of a mighty miracle: a woman pregnant by the Spirit of God. Yet he mentions the virgin conception almost as an aside. We can attribute Matthew’s nonchalant delivery to the fact that he is a Jew writing to Jews, and the Jews of all people are fully acquainted with such wonders. After all, every Jew’s own genealogy includes very similar miracles. Abraham, the first of all the Hebrews, fathered Isaac by way of Sarah’s own miraculous conception. This was followed by additional miraculous pregnancies for those other matriarchs of the Jewish faith and bloodline: Rebekah and Rachel.

So the Torah prepares Matthew’s Jewish readers for the idea of a virgin birth by establishing that God had already worked in a similar fashion to establish the Jewish people.

In view of this, one can imagine Mathew telling Mary’s amazing story with the preface, “Just as you would expect, it all begins this way . . . .” But here we find no such hint, no remez . . . just a simple statement of fact. Perhaps Matthew felt the connection was so obvious there was no need to point it out. Nevertheless, through these parallels we find one reason why the virgin birth matters. It grounds Jesus’ story solidly in the over-arcing Biblical account of redemption, which begins in Genesis.

Many Christian scholars, especially Catholics in search of support for the Immaculate Conception dogma, see other strong reflections of the book of Genesis in Mary’s story, particularly as compared to Eve. In the Catholic tradition it is taught that Mary never sinned and never felt the effects of Adam and Eve’s original sin, in other words, Mary was conceived in an immaculate state. Understand that the Immaculate Conception dogma is not the same as the ancient doctrine of the virgin birth, which makes no such claims of perfection on Mary’s part. With few exceptions, the rest of the Christian church rejects the notion of Mary’s spiritual perfection. Indeed, while the virgin birth has been part of Christian belief from the start, the Immaculate Conception did not become a Catholic dogma until a papal proclamation in 1854. But while even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits scant scriptural support for the dogma of Mary’s sinless state, (“No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture.”—CE), Protestants can nonetheless learn much by pondering possible connections between Eve and Mary, just as Paul would have us consider Jesus in terms of Adam. If the history of our fallen world is a symmetrical story beginning and ending in a garden paradise, what other parallels exist at both ends of the tale?

It is certain God had no need of a perfect Mary to effect a virgin birth, since the Bible is replete with examples of God drawing miracles from corrupted material. Moses stretches out his hand and the Reed Sea parts, but Moses had grave sins on this hands and nowhere are we told the sea itself was holy water. Contrary to the Marian dogma, the Psalmist tells us all have sinned, and Paul of course agrees. Even manna straight from heaven rots upon the earth. On one level, this is something Christians should cherish. All acts of God are miracles, but it is the contrast between profane and holy that invests a sense of wonder in His handiwork on earth. If original sin is true, a sinless son from a sin-stained mother is a miracle indeed, while perfection from perfection is only what one would expect. All is heavenly in heaven. So the all too human sinfulness of Mary gives another reason for the virgin birth: in awe and wonder we observe that Jesus entered this fallen world through the very thing he came to sanctify. And again we come to symmetry, because this is also one message of the cross. Jesus sanctified life by departing it through a form of evil symbolism already well established in the Torah. It makes sense that he would enter life in that same way. If there are connections between Eve and Mary, surely they begin with the fact that pain in childbirth is both a parent’s act of sacrificial love, and humanity’s first curse for sin.

The full dimensions of this aspect of the virgin birth can be understood only by converts, since Rabbinic Jews in Matthew’s day, as in ours, denied original sin. But there are other reasons for the virgin miracle more in keeping with Matthew’s Jewish audience, as we will see next week.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 9:37 AM  

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