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What the Bible says about Joseph and Mary
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Luke 2:4-7

Luke's account is once again very straightforward, providing succinct details and moving the story along quickly. The events probably took place around the time of the fall harvest. The evangelist informs us that Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem to be registered for the tax that had been decreed by Caesar Augustus in 8 BC, but which was not levied on the Jews until 4 BC due to a Jewish revolt. Normally, registrations like this were done after the people were finished harvesting their fields so that they, first, would not be working and, second, would have the money to pay the tax. This latter reason was very important to the Romans.

The best estimate is that Jesus was begotten, as announced in Luke 1:26-38, ironically, during the end of December, and that He was born near the end of September or in early October of the following year. This means His birth occurred around the Feast of Trumpets in 4 BC. Scripture, of course, nowhere states this explicitly, but the internal evidence points to this general time.

That these events took place around the fall holy days, and that the Romans' registration was happening at the same time, indicates why "there was no room for them in the inn." Jews would have begun to travel to Jerusalem for the holy days to be there for the Feast of Trumpets, and would have remained there until the Last Great Day. Bethlehem, being only about six miles outside of Jerusalem, would probably have received much of the capital city's overflow. There were probably no rooms available for miles around.

Joseph and Mary did not have a convenient Holiday Inn or Motel 6 to pull into, so they had to go wherever they could find a place to stay. They probably ended up in a grotto, a cave behind a home or an inn, where the owner housed his or his customers' horses, donkeys, and oxen. As the text relates, Jesus' first crib was a trough for the animals. With a good cleaning and some fresh straw, this stable was probably not a bad place to stay. They were at least out of the elements and had a roof over their heads.

Many people mistakenly believe that the swaddling cloths Luke mentions are rags. It was a custom of the time to wrap a child in strips of cloth, especially the limbs, perhaps to help them to develop straight. Today's equivalent would be a receiving blanket. Swaddling cloths are not an indication of Joseph and Mary's poverty. In all likelihood, they were neither better nor worse off than the average Jew of the day.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Birth of Jesus Christ (Part Two): Nativity

Luke 3:23-38

How do we know that the Luke 3 lineage is Mary's? We do not know it for certain, but that conclusion is the most reasonable. One factor is, again, the purpose of this particular gospel. Luke wrote primarily to Gentiles, and he stresses Jesus' humanity throughout his book. The evangelist thus gives our Savior's natural, biological family tree to show He shares humanness with the common man. He is not just the Jews' Messiah, but He is also the Gentiles' Messiah! So Luke's genealogy goes all the way back to Adam, rather than stopping at Abraham as Matthew's does.

Another factor is that Luke had to deal with a virgin birth. What a unique situation for a genealogist! Luke had to determine, therefore, what points would matter to a Gentile. Would he be concerned with Jesus' Davidic ancestry? Not initially. Would he care that Jesus is a Jew and an Israelite? Maybe. Would he desire to know if Jesus was a man like he was? Certainly! Thus, Luke would record a line of descent that showed His universality to every man, and this would go through Mary, Jesus' link to humanity.

Some raise objections to this on the basis of verse 23, particularly because it says, "Joseph, the son of Heli." Notice, though, that Luke does not use the word "begot" as Matthew does. In fact, he uses no word at all, just a marker to denote possession. So the phrase literally says, "Joseph, of Heli."

Some say, then, that this connotes a levirate marriage because Matthew says Joseph's father was Jacob. Levirate marriage, however, was fairly rare, so this is an unlikely stretch. Others argue that this is Jesus' "priestly" lineage, but this is even less probable, since it shows Judah, not Levi, as an ancestor (see Hebrews 7:14).

Bullinger, in his Companion Bible, gives a more likely explanation: "Joseph was begotten by Jacob, and was his natural son (Matt. 1:16). He could be the legal son of Heli, therefore, only by marriage with Heli's daughter (Mary), and be reckoned so according to law." At that time, Jewish law traced inheritance and descent through the male, not the female line. Thus, Luke 3:23 would be clearer if translated as, "Joseph, the son-in-law of Heli," or "Joseph, the legal son of Heli."

No matter which we choose, it traces Heli's line from that point on back to Nathan, the son of David. There is no stigma or disqualification in Solomon's name being absent from the list. In messianic terms, David's name is the vital one.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jesus Disqualified?


 




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