Mary and the birth of Jesus. Studying Matthew 1:18

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
-Matthew 1:18

So we first meet Mary.

Of the four gospels, Matthew and Luke both give these stories about the birth of Jesus. Luke’s gives a lot more information on Mary, Matthew’s has more of a focus on Joseph. 


The passage says that Mary had been betrothed to Joseph. Betrothal is a formal engagement. It’s still practiced today in some circles of Christendom and Judaism. 

I’m going to talk for a moment about what betrothal looked like in the first century.

In his commentary on Matthew, Grant Osborne gives some helpful notes on betrothal. Betrothals were arranged by families. The engagement period lasted a year. Something that’s very different from our society is that the bride was usually around 12 at the time so it’s likely that Mary was very young.

During the betrothal period, the bride would still live with her parents. 

Joseph was probably around 18. The groom was older in order to be a little bit more established. 

Certainly very young people by our standards. But it’s important to remember that it was a different time and culture. They had a different concept of adulthood and coming of age. And life expectancies were shorter. 

As I said, betrothal was more formal than engagement. 

In our society, if two people are engaged, someone can basically break it off at any time for any reason. Not so in first century Judea. To break off a betrothal, you had to have a formal writ of divorce. You couldn’t just decide you didn’t like someone or had found someone else better. 

It was a binding commitment to marriage.

The text says that before Joseph and Mary came together, she was found to be with child. 

That is clearly a reference to before they had consummated their relationship, Mary became pregnant.

Matthew says: she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit

Now it’s pretty amazing. 

Up until the resurrection, the virgin conception is the most significant event in human history and Matthew mentions it almost in passing. 

Nothing fanciful in Matthew’s language. He let’s the event speak for itself. There’s no need to oversell it. 

Luke’s account

Before we move to Joseph, I wanted to talk for a moment about Luke’s account because it does give some additional details. 

I don’t have a slide for this, but Luke 1:26-35 also describes Mary’s pregnancy and her response to it: 

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 

35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 

In Luke’s gospel, Mary is told about this child that she will carry. 

She asks the obvious question. “How is this all going to happen since I’m a virgin?” 

Both Matthew and Luke say how it’s possible that Mary could be with child. The child has been conceived of the Holy Spirit. 

God is at work in this. Humanity could not have made its own savior. It needed the intervention of God. 

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