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Author:
James Spruell, Ph.D.

 

Mary, the Mother of Christ


Mary, the mother of Christ is unique among all women in her divine role in giving birth to the Messiah. Her story is fascinating, regardless of whether we are Catholic, Muslim, or LDS. And yet, for the countless pages that have been written about her, we still know so little about Mary, the person, & Mary, the Mother of God.

Here is Part III of her story:


Her Earthly Family

Mary's Parents & Lineage

The Gospel of Mathew records Joseph's father as Jacob, son of Matthan...  However, Luke records a different genealogy with Jesus as the son of Joseph who was the son of Heli, son of Matthat.

Many Christian scholars attribute the difference to Mathew's record as Joseph's lineage while Luke records that of Mary. If so,  Mary & Joseph were likely first cousins. In either case, Jesus was be a descendant of King David and of the house of Judah.

Others scholars attribute the difference to an error in the record while tradition and early Christian writings declare her parents as Joachim and Anne. The Gospel of James, an apocryphal gospel written about AD 145, discusses Mary's early life and identifies her parents as Joachim and Anne.

Elizabeth & Zachariah

Mary's cousin, Elizabeth, played an important role as John the Baptist's mother. John's mission was to prepare the way for Jesus in the spirit and power of 'Elias'. John, as a descendant of Zachariah, and hence Aaron, would hold the Aaronic priesthood and the right to baptize others, including Jesus.

The relationship  is also important from the prophesy of Elizabeth  that Mary carried the 'mother of my Lord.' The story of Zacharias and Elizabeth are significant in their own right and demonstrate a wonderful love and faith in God, the Father.

The Brothers/Sisters of Christ

Scripture records that Jesus had four brothers -- James, Joses, Simon, and Judas -- and at least two sisters, probably three. The latter is based on Greek manuscripts of Mathew containing the phrase ' hai adelphia'  (the sisters -- a plural) vs.  'amphoterai'   (both) commonly used for two of (sisters). 1 Either way his family included several brothers & sisters.

The Family of Jesus in Scripture



While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him Matt. 12:46;
Mark 3:31
Is not this the carpenter’s son? s not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?
And his sisters, are they not all with us?
Matt. 13:55-56
Mark 6:3
He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ.
John 1:41
After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days.                                                  
John 2:12
For neither did his brethren believe in him.
John 7:5
Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.
John 19:27
These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren
Acts 1:14
But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.
Gal. 1:19



A conflict does exist between the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations as to whether the 'brothers' mentioned in the New Testament were actually brothers or cousins. For me, the scriptures are clear:

After the birth of Jesus and the wise men's visit, Joseph and Mary were warned to flee unto Egypt to escape the tyrany (insanity) of Herod. There they remained until the Herod's death (about AD 4) before returning to their home.

Given that Herod sought to slay all male children under the age of two, some authors suggest that Jesus was about 18 months old when they moved to Egypt where they lived until Herod's death. Later, they sought to return to Judea but were warned to turn aside to Galilee (Nazareth) to escape Archelaus, son of Herod.

Hence, the first of Mary and Joseph's children quite possibly were born in Egypt, and others later in Galilee. I also suspect that the sons were born in the same order as they were mentioned in scripture -- given the importance of birth order in Judea.

In the absence of 'hard data,' family history research often employs a rule of thumb of 2-3 years between children to provide a 'ball park' estimate for children's ages. With 6 known and probably seven+ siblings, Jesus grew up surrounded by infants, toddlers, and young siblings.

His love for children recorded in New Testament writings reflects that of a loving family life. It also could reflect time spent in a caregiver role of younger brothers and sisters after the death of Joseph. Either way, coming from a family where children were loved and cherished seemed to have a great impact on the Lord.

Mary, the Widow

The last record of Joseph was when Jesus was 12 in the temple, and a common belief is that he died between then and the wedding at Cana. With the 6 or 7 children that came along, likely every 2-3 years, Joseph could have passed away any time from when Jesus was a youth -- the math would suggest maybe 15ish, but we really don't know -- until he was about 30.

The time Mary spent as a widow helps us appreciate the Savior's stories of widows, e.g., the widow and her 2 mites. Although not likely, it's possible that Mary was the widow that tithed the 2 mites. I am sure, though, that he observed his own mother tithing and knew well the sacrifices of widows & single parents.

After Joseph died, Jesus would have assumed a critical role in the family helping /teaching his younger brothers & sisters. The experience as a surrogate father of sorts would provide a keen understanding of the challenges righteous father's face.

As the oldest son, he was also expected to play a critical role in providing for the family. He had learned his carpentry skills from his step-father, and later was remembered as a carpenter and carpenter's son... the latter suggesting that Joseph was around long enough for the neighborhood to remember him.

Although scripture does not record the where/when of Joseph's death, I firmly believe that Mary's time as a widow played a significant role in the Savior's mortal experience. The death of Joseph, would help him appreciate first hand the challenges faced by those who have lost a love one and struggle to provide and move forward. He would understand how difficult things can get & the sacrifice charity requires, e.g., the widow who offered Elijah a cake from her last bit of bread.

Mother of Children Who Doubt

Many have struggled with children who chose to disregard ‘God’s good word', and Mary was no different. The Gospel of John records that Jesus' brothers did not believe that he was the Messiah. Luke recorded a seeming rebuke in reminding all that his brothers and sisters are these which hear the word of God.

Carlfred Broderick in a 1987 Ensign article related how painful that it must have been at Calvary to not find his brothers supporting him or his mother:

From the cross, Jesus looked down at his distraught mother weeping together with a small cluster of disciples. She had four other sons, yet apparently none were present to comfort her.

The situation must have been quite difficult! Fortunately, the New Testament reveals that with time that the brothers of Jesus did gain a testimony with James eventually serving as an apostle.

In spite of her son's disbelief, Mary proved faithful in her witness of Jesus, and traveled with him on several occasions. The gnostic Gospel of Thomas further relates that Jesus rarely traveled without the company of Mary, his mother, and Mary, Magdalene. If accurate, the record serves as but another example that displays Mary's discipleship and that of Mary, Magdalene.

Her life with John the Beloved

At the crucifixion, Christ gave John charge of his mother, Mary.  We read in Luke that she was present with the 11 disciples in the upper room after the ascension. We know that John spent time in Ephesus, and wouldn't be surprised if Mary was also there with him. 

Tradition holds that she died at either Ephesus or Jerusalem surrounded by all the apostles. Indeed her life touched some of Heavenly Fathers most valiant children: She walked the earth with Jesus the infant, toddler, and adult. She was cared for by John the beloved after the crucifixion, and knew Cephas along with John the Baptist, the son of her cousin Elizabeth.

And it seems, she also got acquainted with Gabriel, angel of the Most High God...

Part 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |      The Life of Mary in Video