The Betrothal      

By Rev. Dr. Andrew M. T. Dibb

Mary, By Henry Ossawa Tanner -, Public Domain,

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.

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

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Doctrine of the Lord #19

Doctrine of the Lord (Rogers translation)      

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19. In Relation to His Divine Humanity the Lord Is Called the Son of God, and in Relation to the Word the Son of Man

People in the church know no other than that the Son of God is the second person in the Godhead, distinct from the person of the Father. This has led to the belief that the Son of God was born from eternity.

Because this notion has been universally accepted and has to do with God, no opportunity or consent has been granted for thinking about it with any understanding, not even about what being born from eternity implies. For someone who thinks about this intellectually inevitably says to himself, “This surpasses understanding. But still I say it because others say it, and I believe it because others believe it.”

Be it known, however, that there is no Son from eternity, but that there is a Lord from eternity. When people know who the Lord is, and what the Son is, they may also be able to think intellectually about a triune God, and not before.

[2] The Lord’s humanity, conceived of Jehovah as the Father and born of the virgin Mary , is the Son of God, and this is clearly apparent from the following verses.

In Luke:

...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. Having come in, the angel said to her, “Hail, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

When she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered how great a greeting this was.

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest....

However, Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I do not know a man?”

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, the Holy One who is born (of you) will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:26-35)

It says here “you will conceive and bear a Son;” “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest.” And furthermore, “The Holy One who is born (of you) will be called the Son of God.” This makes apparent that the humanity conceived of God and born of the virgin Mary is what is called the Son of God.

[3] In Isaiah:

...the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name God-With-Us. (Isaiah 7:14)

It is apparent that the Son born of the virgin and conceived of God is the one who is called “God-With-Us, ” thus who is the Son of God. The reality of this is confirmed in Matthew 1:22-23.

(References: Matthew 1:23)

[4] Again in Isaiah:

...unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; the government will be upon His shoulder. And He will call His name Wonderful, Counselor, God, Hero, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

So, too, here, for He is called a Child born to us, a Son given to us, who is not a Son from eternity, but a Son born in the world. This is apparent as well from the prophet’s declarations in verse 7 of the same chapter, and from the declaration of the angel Gabriel to Mary (Luke 1:32-33), where similar words are found.

(References: Isaiah 9:6)

[5] In Psalms:

I will declare a decree, “Jehovah has said..., ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You....” ...Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way....” (Psalms 2:7, 12)

Neither is a Son from eternity meant here, but a Son born in the world, for it is prophetic of the Lord to come. That is why it is called a decree which Jehovah declared to David. “Today” does not mean from eternity, but in time.

[6] Again in Psalms:

I will set His hand on the sea.... He shall cry to Me, “You are my Father.... ...I will make him My firstborn....” (Psalms 89:25-27)

The subject of this Psalm throughout is the Lord to come. Therefore it is He who will call Jehovah His Father and who will be His firstborn, thus who is the Son of God.

[7] It is the same elsewhere, as where the Lord is called a rod from the stem of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1), an offshoot of David (Jeremiah 23:5-6), the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), the only begotten (John 1:18), a priest forever and the Lord (Psalms 110:4-5).

(References: Isaiah 11:1-2, 11:10; Jeremiah 23:5)

[8] People in the Jewish Church interpreted the Son of God to be the Messiah they were waiting for, whom they knew would be born in Bethlehem.

That they interpreted the Son of God to be the Messiah is apparent from the following passages.

In John:

(Peter said:) “We believe and acknowledge that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (John 6:69)

Again in John:

“...You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27)

In Matthew, the chief priest asked Jesus if He were the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus said, “I am.” (Matthew 26:63-64, Mark 14:62)

In John:

These have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.... (John 20:31)

See also Mark 1:1.

(References: John 1:41; Mark 14:61-62)

[9] “Christ” is a Greek word and means “anointed, ” as does “Messiah” in Hebrew. John says, therefore, “We have found the Messiah, which means, if you translate it, the Christ.” (John 1:42) And in another place, “The woman said..., ‘I know that Messiah is coming, who is called Christ.’ ” (John 4:25)

The Law and the Prophets, or in other words the entire Word of the Old Testament, has as its subject the Lord, as we showed in the first section, and consequently the Son of God to come can only mean the humanity that the Lord took on in the world.

1[0] It follows from this that that humanity was meant by the Son when the Lord was baptized and Jehovah from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22); for it was His humanity that was baptized. And when He was transfigured, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7, Luke 9:35)

See also elsewhere, as Matthew 8:29, 14:33, 27:43, 54; Mark 3:11, 15:39; John 1:34, 49, 3:18, 5:25, 10:36, 11:4.

(References: John 1:41)

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Related New Christian Commentary

Published by the General Church of the New Jerusalem, 1100 Cathedral Road, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania 19009, U.S.A. A translation of Doctrina Novae Hierosolymae de Domino, by Emanuel Swedenborg, 1688-1772. Translated from the Original Latin by N. Bruce Rogers. ISBN 9780945003687, Library of Congress Control Number: 2013954074.

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Conjugial Love #245

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245. To what we have just affirmed, an objection may be raised on the ground that life is still procreated from the father's life - even if his soul is not united with the soul of the mother - indeed, even if a deep-seated coldness there separates them. But souls or offspring are nevertheless still procreated for the reason that a man's intellect is not so closed up that it cannot be elevated into the light that the soul is in (in contrast with love in his will, which is not elevated into a warmth corresponding to the light there except by his living a life which transforms his character from natural to spiritual).

It is owing to this that life is still procreated, but during its descent, until it becomes seed or sperm, 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.

To this I will add a secret, which I have from heaven, that between two disunited souls, especially those of married partners, conjunction is accomplished in the area of some intermediary love. Otherwise conceptions would not occur among human beings.

(For more on the subject of coldness in marriage and where it has its seat - namely, in the highest region of the mind - see the concluding narrative account at the end of this chapter, no. 270.)

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Thanks to the General Church of the New Jerusalem for the permission to use this translation. The full title of this translation is "DELIGHTS OF WISDOM RELATING TO CONJUGIAL LOVE".