The Doctrine of the Virgin Birth Part V

Continuing the series first posted by me on the Catholica Forum...

The Gospel of Luke : Part II

The Promise to King David

"And when your days be fulfilled, and you shall sleep with your fathers, I will set up your offspring after you, who shall come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever." [II Sam 7:12-13]

Imminent Fulfillment

Luke 1:32b -1:33

Gabriel announces the imminent fulfillment of this Davidic promise:

"...and the Lord God shall give to him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." [See Note below]

At this time, Mary was betrothed to Joseph, a descendant of David. As we have already seen in the Gospel of Matthew : Parts I and II, Joseph's line had been debarred forever from sitting on the throne of David - by God himself.

It is important to note here that Luke has already identified Mary as a Levite and that her relative Zacharias served in the temple. The Levitical priesthood kept the genealogical records, paying particular attention to those of the Levites and to those of the descendants of King David. As such, Mary would have been well acquainted with Joseph's genealogy. [Josephus, in his autobiographical Life, refers to the "public registers" from which he extracts his own genealogical information.]

Knowing that her betrothed could not father a child entitled to sit on the throne of David, Mary asked the angel the most logical of questions -

Luke 1:34

"...How shall this be, seeing I don't know a man"?

Even though proponents of the Virgin Birth doctrine assert that the word "know" [ginóskó] here refers to knowing sexually, the correct view is that Mary did not know - did not have knowledge of - a man who could father a child entitled to sit upon the throne of David. Most new Testament occurrences of ginóskó - know -  refer to a state of knowledge and is the only interpretation that fits with Luke's narrative.

As we have seen, the angel has made some startling promises concerning the child to be born - promises that cannot be fulfilled if Joseph is to be the father.

So what was Gabriel's response to Mary's question?

Luke 1:35a

"And the angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you..."

An underlying Hebrew parallelism is evident here (Expressing the same thought twice using equivalent words). The "Holy Spirit" is synonomous with the "power of the Highest."

It is this divine power, the "Holy Spirit," which will "overshadow" or protect Mary. The image of the Spirit "overshadowing" Mary is drawn from the image of Boaz covering Ruth with the "wings" of his garment and from the Israelitetheme of overshadowing protection which is found in the Psalms. "He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler." (Psalm 91:4)

Luke 1:35b

"...Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you..."

There is nothing singular or exclusive about the word 'holy' in reference to Jesus. At the time of his birth, every first born male that opened the womb had to be called 'holy' [sanctified] according to the Law of Moses.

A comparison of texts will place the matter in its correct perspective:

"And while they were there (in Bethlehem) Mary brought forth her first born son." (Luke 2:7)

"And YHWH spoke unto Moses saying, Sanctify unto me all the first born, whatsover openeth the womb among the Children of Israel, both of man and beast: it is mine." (Exodus 13:1-2)

"...the males that openeth the womb shall be YHWH's." (Exodus 13:12)

"And when the days of their purification according to the Law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called 'holy' to the Lord)." Luke 2:22-23

Luke 1:35c

"...shall be called the Son of God."

As demonstrated exhaustively in the Gospel of Luke : Part I, the appellation "son of God" is not exclusive to Jesus. For a comprehensive list of other sons of God see here.

Luke 1:36-37

"And Elizabeth your kinswoman, she has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren. For no word from God shall be empty of power."

Just as God had ensured the conception of the aged and barren Sarah [Gen 18:14] so has God now ensured the conception of the aged and barren Elizabeth. These conceptions were of a far more "miraculous" nature than the relatively simple task of finding an eligible man to father a child with the young and obviously fertile Mary.

Luke 1:38

"And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word. And the angel departed from her."

A suitable descendant of King David was found. The New Testament goes on to record the fulfillment of the promise made to King David and then to Mary:

"...concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh... "(Romans 1:3-4)

"Of this man's [David] seed has God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus. (Acts 13:23)

"Has not the scripture said that the Anointed one comes of the seed of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was? "(John 7:42)

"Remember Jesus Anointed, risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel." (2 Timothy 2:8)

NOTE: One important point that should not be overlooked is that Gabriel promises that the child to be born will  reign over the "house of Jacob." The term "house of Jacob" signifies the whole twelve tribes of Israel, whereas the "house of David" signifies just two tribes - those of Judah (David's own tribe) and Benjamin (with a sprinkling of Levites).

A little background is necessary to understand Luke's intent here. The Kingdom of David originally included the entire twelve-tribed Israel - the twelve sons of Jacob. After the death of Solomon, David's son, the Kingdom split into two parts: the northern Kingdom of Israel consisting of 10 tribes, and the southern Kingdom of Judah consisting of two tribes.  Around 721 BC, the Assyrians invaded the northern Kingdom. The Assyrians had a policy of removal and replacement of native populations so they removed a fair proportion of the Israelites and replaced them with another group of captive people. These replacement people later became known as the Samaritans. Around 604 BC, the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, invaded the southern Kingdom of Judah, destroyed the temple of Solomon, and carried off the leading citizens to Bablyon. These people became knows as "Jews" (Judahites). Some returned from Babylon, and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. The descendants of these returnees and those who had always remained in the land are the people we meet in the New Testament. Of the entire New Testament, only Luke makes mention of a descendant of the ten northern tribes - Anna of the tribe of Asher. [Luke 2:36]

Luke's purpose in mentioning "the house of Jacob" and Anna the prophetess of the "tribe of Asher" [Luke 2:36] is to reinforce the memory that Messianic promises were made to the entire people of Israel - all twelve tribes. We will see when we come to a future commentary on Apostolic Succession why this is important.

to be continued...