The Bible

Luke 1:26-27 : A Virgin Betrothed to a Man

Study the Inner Meaning

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

Study the Inner Meaning

Commentary on this text:

Stories:

Explanation(s) or references from Swedenborg's works:

Apocalypse Revealed 548

The Lord 19, 29

Show references from Swedenborg's unpublished works

Spiritual Topics:

Prophecies About Jesus


Commentary

The Betrothal

By Rev. Dr. Andrew T. Dibb

Mary, By Henry Ossawa Tanner - http://www.classicartrepro.com/artistsb.iml?artist=427, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4864395

The Betrothal
A Christmas Doctrinal Class by Rev. Andrew M.T. Dibb

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.
(Luke 1:26-27)

So begins the wonderful story of the Lord's conception in the Gospel of Luke. The scene is familiar to each of us: Mary is at home, when suddenly she sees the angel Gabriel and hears his words of great joy:

"Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" (Luke 1:28)

An angel is a messenger of the Lord. In the Word angels came to bring wisdom and comfort, hope and the good news, the “euangellion” or Gospel, to those to whom the Lord wanted His presence revealed. This Gospel is the teaching that the Lord Jesus Christ was born into this world, that He made it possible for all people to be saved and brought into His kingdom. Thus the angel Gabriel came in excitement to Mary to inform her that she was the Lord’s choice as His natural mother.

When Mary saw the angel Gabriel, she didn't know that he was the human form of an entire society of angels. Nor did she know that his greatest love is to tell people about the Lord, especially that He would be born into the world to save the human race from spiritual bondage.

The scene of the angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, and call His name Jesus, is one of the most poignant in the Word. Mary was a simple person, living in Galilee far away from the centre of worship at Jerusalem. She was neither highly educated nor socially well connected, except that she descended from Israel’s greatest king, David. There is a beautiful innocence in Mary’s simplicity. The last thing she expected in life was to see an angel. The image we have of Mary is of a demure young maiden, a virgin in every sense, for, as she said to the angel, 'I do not know a man'. Her state of life was that of a young woman about to embark on her married life to Joseph, but still living at home with her parents. The marriage had not yet been celebrated.

It is central to the Christmas story that Mary was betrothed to Joseph when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. This fact is mentioned in the lesson we read in the Gospel of Luke, where it is plainly stated that she was a 'virgin betrothed'. In Matthew we are again told that Mary was 'betrothed to Joseph'. This means that she had been promised as a wife to Joseph. In our culture, we would say that they were engaged to be married.

There are several good reasons why Mary should have been in this state when she conceived the Lord:
- In the Jewish Church of that time betrothal was considered marriage, although the marriage had not yet been consummated. This meant that the people around her considered Mary a woman, and it also meant that her mind was focusing on the upcoming marriage and future life as a wife and a mother.
- She was expected, during this period of betrothal, to remain in a state of order. She was not free to come into romantic contact with any other man, and she certainly was not permitted to have sexual intercourse with any man, including her husband to be.

The angel appeared to her in this state precisely for that reason - the child who was to be conceived needed to be conceived in a state of virginity, and there could be no question down the ages that Jesus was the son of an ordinary man. This is why Mary protested that she could not conceive because she 'had not known a man'.

There is a very good reason for this: the doctrines tell us that the human soul is transmitted as the living principle of the masculine seed. That soul, or internal human is passed from father to child, is an image of the father's own soul - although the life in it is from the Divine Itself. When a child is conceived, that human soul can receive life from the Lord, and, using the life in it, begins to draw from the mother the various substances needed to form the human body. When the child is born, he or she becomes an individual, drawing life from the Lord, and potential spiritual things from both mother and father, and the body from the mother. Thus there is a complete mixing of parents in the birth of a child.

When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, he announced the birth of the Lord. It was to be a miracle of all miracles, for according to prophecy a virgin would conceive and bear a son. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit. His soul was Divine, given to Him by the Father, or, put another way, the soul within Jesus was not limited and finite as our souls are, but infinite and eternal, and capable of overcoming the powers of hell and saving the human race.

Here's an excerpt from Swedenborg's work, Arcana Coelestia 1999: "But the Lord's Internal was Jehovah Himself, since He was conceived from Jehovah, who cannot be divided or become the relative of another, like a son who has been conceived from a human father. For unlike the human, the Divine is not capable of being divided but is and remains one and the same. To this Internal the Lord united the Human Essence. Moreover because the Lord's Internal was Jehovah it was not, like man's internal, a recipient form of life, but life itself. Through that union His Human Essence as well became life itself. Hence the Lord's frequent declaration that He is Life, as in John,

As the Father has Life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have Life in Himself. John 5:26."

Yet even a soul such as that, if it is to live and walk amongst the people of this earth, must be clothed in a body. The Lord always operates within the boundaries of the order of creation - and order dictates that a soul must be clothed with a material body.

At first the father’s soul is clothed with human elements, for it begins as a reproduction of the father’s own soul, then,

"during its descent, … the soul is enveloped by elements of a type that have to do with the father's natural love. This is the source from which hereditary evil springs." (Conjugial Love 245)

And so the Lord needed an orderly environment in which to be born. Mary was chosen as His mother because, according to the Lord's all-seeing wisdom, He saw that she would be willing to carry this child, and she would be able to nurture Him in such a way that He would grow up prepared for the great work ahead of Him.

Yet Mary had to be in a state of order herself. In ancient Israel, to bear a child meant that she had to be married, and yet to preserve the honesty of the conception and ensure that the soul was Divine, not human, she had to be in the state before actual physical union with Joseph had taken place - otherwise the Lord could have been Joseph's son. So she had to be betrothed, and no motive should be found as a basis for accusations against the Virgin Birth.

It was partly for this reason that when Joseph heard that she was carrying a child he decided to put her away. Effectively this meant he planned to divorce her. According to the law of Moses, a betrothed woman carrying a child had broken the rules. Ideally speaking, the man responsible should be put to death. Joseph had no idea who the man was, but assumed that there was one. He was, however, a kind man, and so decided not 'to make her a public example', but to put her away privately.

It was at this juncture that the angel Gabriel came to Joseph in a dream, and soothed his fears. 'The child she is carrying,' the angel said, 'is conceived by the Holy Spirit.' Now Joseph understood, and the state of betrothal could continue, and order could be maintained so that the Lord could be born into this world with the full appearance of two loving parents, bound together in marriage after an orderly betrothal.

We now need to expand our vision of the Lord's life in this world. The conception of the Lord was but the first step in his development. He had to be born and grow up. His mind and body had to develop as does our own. The home of Mary and Joseph was needed to provide a stable and orderly environment for Him where He could live and grow, undergoing not only physical and mental development, but also the very processes by which His Divine soul could become present within His natural mind.

In picking these two people to be his 'parents' in the natural world, the Lord was able to provide for the future as well. The Word does not tell us anything about the marriage relationship between Joseph and Mary. We know that Joseph was obedient to the angel when he was told to take Mary and the infant Lord down to Egypt to escape Herod's cruelty. We know that each year they travelled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. We know that had other children, whom likewise they loved and nurtured. But that is about all we know.

The book, Conjugial Love, by Emanuel Swedenborg, however, gives us some insights into the kind of orderly relationship they had. They begin in the concept of Betrothal, for betrothal is introductory to marriage. The kinds of preparation people make for their marriages determine a great deal the course their marriage will follow. The fact that Mary in her betrothed state had 'not known a man' indicates that she took the responsibilities of that state serious. Similarly, the fact that Joseph immediately knew that he was not the father of the child Mary carried indicates a similar seriousness about the state of betrothal. They were both innocent of any wrongdoing, and were obviously committed to building a life together based on the firm foundation of proper preparation.

Their betrothal prepared them for their future life together as man and wife, and, thus as the Lord's parents on earth. Betrothal is a preparation for marriage. It is a time when the minds and spirits of the two partners begin to grow together.

The teachings of the New Church tell us that true marriage, or conjugial love as it is often called, is a meeting and union of two minds. A true marriage is one in which the couple recognises the essential differences between masculinity and femininity, and rejoices in those differences without any attempt to dominate the other. In order for a couple to come into a true appreciation of each other, they need to put aside physical love to foster and nurture spiritual love. This is why Mary and Joseph lived apart during this stage of their relationship, and why they refrained from sexual activity, for in that way they made it possible for their minds to soar, and be united at the highest levels of idealism.

The book Conjugial Love tells us that in this state the mind of each partner is opened by his or her spiritual love. They are able to reach higher levels of love and commitment to each other as they foster the growth of mutual understanding unencumbered by physical things. The passage describing this development, then, goes on to describe how when a couple marry their love descends from the mind to the body. It is worth reflecting on the statement that

"It needs to be known that the quality of conjugial love as it comes down is determined by the height to which it climbs. If it reaches the heights it comes down chaste, but if it does not, it comes down as unchaste." (Conjugial Love 302).

With Mary and Joseph we can but only assume that their love reached its heights during their betrothal, and that their marriage was one of purity and chastity. Chastity in this sense means a marriage love between two people that has been cleansed of all impurities. In such a state the husband and wife enjoy the full pleasures of marriage, beginning on the spiritual level with a full meeting of minds, and descends into the body, where their love is consummated.

A marriage of this kind provides the most wonderful environment, for the love between the husband and wife provides a state of tranquillity and peace in which children can be reared. This is the kind of environment the Lord chose to be born into. He knew that during his life in this world He would have to face the most terrible of temptations. He knew that He would have to battle against hell continuously, and face the disbelief of the people around Him. His first thirty-three years were a preparation for this work lying before Him. And so He chose to be born to a couple who were in a state of order, who because of that order, were willing to receive Him into their lives, to nurture Him as if He was their own.

There is a message in this for us. Each one of us wants the Lord to be born into our own lives, and He is willing to come to us. "Behold,' He says, 'I stand at the door and knock'. Yet He can only enter into us to the degree that we bring our lives into order. Mary and Joseph clung to their betrothal - they committed themselves and stood fast. That is what the Lord wants us to do: to commit ourselves to Him, to live according to His Word in every detail of our lives, especially in our relationships with others, in our preparation for marriage, and in our marriages themselves. As we do, then He enters into us, establishes His presence there, and lifts us up to heaven.
AMEN

Lessons:
Deuteronomy 22:25-29
Isaiah 7:14-16
Luke 1:26-38
Conjugial Love 302

Commentary

Prophecies About Jesus

By Steve David

By Meister des Ludwig-Psalters [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Currently at Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

For Christians, Christmas time is one of the most sacred, most joyous celebrations of the year. What about for people who are thinking about it, but who aren't sure about the whole "reason for the season"? What do we really know about what happened in Judea, 2000 years ago?

We're going to try to approach this topic from a neutral standpoint, and see where that leads us.

It's well-established that Jesus existed. He was physically, historically real. There is voluminous evidence from Christian sources, of course. Jesus Christ was also mentioned in non-Christian historical documents that have survived from that period. He's referred to twice by Josephus, the Jewish historian, in his work "Antiquities of the Jews" published in 93-94 AD. Tacitus, the Roman historian, writing in around 116 AD, also refers to "Christus" being put to death by the Romans under Pontius Pilate.

Was Jesus special? Even skeptics would need to wonder why and how this man from a small village in Galilee could launch a religion which would become the biggest, most influential one for at least the next two millennia of human history.

One of the intriguing things about Jesus is that his birth and life seem to have fulfilled prophecies from the Old Testament, which date back to the time of Moses - at least 1500 years BC, and to far older stories in an oral tradition. Those prophecies existed in texts written long before the Christian Era started.

What were some of those prophecies? There are many of them! Swedenborg lists some here, Doctrine of the Lord 6. In this article, we're just going to focus on a few of them.

In this very early prophecy, it's indicated that the Messiah would be born as the son of a woman:

"And Jehovah God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, cursed art thou above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life, and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. Genesis 3:14-15. This is confirmed in the story in Matthew 1:20.

In Micah, much later in the Bible, we read that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, in Judea:

"But thou, Beth-lehem Ephrathah, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall one come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting."

Micah 5:2. This is confirmed in the story in Matthew 2:1, and Luke 2:4-6.

In Isaiah, we read that the Messiah would be born to a virgin:

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14. This is confirmed in the story in Matthew 1:22-23, and in Luke 1:26-31.

Lineage was an important factor, too. At least 5 forefathers of the promised Savior are named. First, he was prophesied to come from the line of Abraham, the progenitor of many of the peoples of the modern Middle East, including the Jews, the Arabs, the Lebanese, the Druze, and others. Genesis 12:3, Genesis 22:18. This prophecy is confirmed in Matthew 1:1, and Romans 9:5.

In the next generation, prophecy stated that the Savior would be descended from the line of Isaac, one of Abraham's two sons. See Genesis 17:19, Genesis 21:12. This is confirmed in Luke 3:34.

For the third generation, the Word states that the Messiah would be a descendant of Jacob. It's prophesied in Numbers 24:17, and confirmed in Matthew 1:2.

For the fourth generation, attention focuses on the tribe of Judah, who was one of the twelve sons of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel). See Genesis 49:10, and then Luke 3:33, and Hebrews 7:14.

Many generations later, in the second book of Samuel, and again in Isaiah, there are prophecies that the Messiah would be heir to King David's throne. Read 2_Samuel 7:12-13, and Isaiah 9:7. Then see Luke 1:32-33, and Romans 1:3.

There are many more prophecies, and we will look at more of them in a future article. But, to summarize these ones that we've just listed, what would Old Testament readers in the time of Caesar Augustus be expecting?

In Bethlehem, a virgin would bear a son. He would be descended from Abraham, through the line of Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David.

That's the way the story runs, in the Gospels.

It's clear that the Old Testament wasn't altered to suit the "facts on the ground". The prophecies are already there in pre-Christian scrolls. That leaves two possibilities:

1) Scenario A: The New Testament could have been written to twist the facts to match the old prophecies. Faithful Jews were awaiting the Messiah; they would have wanted to find matching stories. In this scenario, Jesus could have been just a regular man, but a standout leader and teacher and healer. He was so inspiring that his apostles endured hardship and death to spread what became a global religion. The stories about him were exaggerated or modified to help match the prophecies.

2) Scenario B: The Old Testament text contains deep inner meaning, and its prophecies were actually prophetic and true. The facts of Jesus' birth and life and ministry actually did match and fulfull the prophecies. In this scenario, Jesus was truly a miracle baby.

Which scenario is right? In both, there's a recognition that the teachings of Jesus contained wisdom, and that there is great value in them. In New Christian thought, the choice is for Scenario B -- that Jesus really was the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah, or Savior.

This of course requires some level of belief in miracles - prophecy, fulfillment, the virgin birth, angels bearing tidings, healings, feeding the multitudes. Can miracles really happen? Is it scientifically possible? Maybe they can... maybe as science advances, we will begin to understand those boundaries better. At some level, don't most of us believe in miracles -- in the miracle of the very existence of the universe, and of living organisms that can reproduce, and of human life, and of love?

How to end this article? The whole subject of miracles needs more thought. And, here it is, December 22, and... instead of getting more analytical, I find that right now I just want to "be" in the holy days of Christmas.

If you're feeling skeptical, have a look at Arcana Coelestia 2568, Arcana Coelestia 2588. They offer an interesting perspective!

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One source for this article was "100 Prophecies Fulfilled by Jesus: Messianic Prophecies Made Before the Birth of Christ", by Rose Publishing.


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