Mary, Witness To Entire Life of Jesus

 

Mary was more than just the famed mother of Jesus. She was a witness throughout the exceptional life of her son and it was because of her that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke are able to present firsthand accounts about the Nativity of Jesus.[1]

As a mother, every amazing detail about her son was memorable. Mentioned twice in Luke before Jesus turned 13, the Gospel says Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.”[2] The author of Luke says the Gospel is based on witness accounts “from the beginning” and Mary is the only one who was there for it all.[3]

Mary’s remarkable life took a turn from ordinary to extraordinary in only a moment. As a girl who had become of marriageable age at about 13 years old living in Nazareth, a town of about 2000 or less, she became betrothed to Joseph.[4] Her betrothal was no different than for any other Jewish girl…until Mary was visited by the angel Michael who announced she would be impregnated by the Holy Spirit and would give birth to the Son of God.[5]

Mary promptly left Nazareth after Michael’s visitation to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who was married to a priest named Zachariah.[6] Merely a few days pregnant, Elizabeth confirmed Mary’s pregnancy the moment she arrived.[7]

A perfect ice-breaker, it opened the door to share something they had in common – special pregnancies.[8] Elizabeth had been married for many years, but had been barren. Even Zechariah doubted the possibility of Elizabeth becoming pregnant because of her age.[9]

When it was time for Elizabeth to give birth to her son, later known as John the Baptist, according to Matthew Mary went back home to Nazareth, but did not tell Joseph she was pregnant.[10] When Joseph found out and knowing he was not the father, he assumed Mary had a paramour. Joseph considered a divorce although he was concerned it could have dire consequences for Mary.[11]

It is safe to assume Mary’s secret pregnancy caused stress in their betrothal relationship, but before Joseph took any action, an angel paid him a visit delivering a message from God. The message caused Joseph to have a change of heart deciding that God’s divine plan trumped the difficult situation for himself.

As if things in Mary’s home life weren’t tough enough, as Mary was preparing to give birth any day, the Nazareth town crier announced a registration decree by Caesar August. On very short notice because of their lineage, the decree required Mary and Joseph to trek some 90 miles away to Bethlehem, the ancestral home of King David.[12] Matters got even worse when the couple found the inns in Bethlehem were full and Mary was forced to give birth in a stable.

Joy overcame the difficult circumstances followed by more amazing events. Heralded by a choir of angels, shepherds left their herds in the country to see Mary’s newborn baby.[13] That was followed by a visit from Magi who came from a faraway country bearing expensive gifts including gold and they worshipped her baby![14] Events again took another dramatic turn for the worse – Herod, the King of Judea, wanted to kill her baby forcing Mary’s new family to journey through the desert to escape to Egypt.[15]

Finally things settled down after the death of Herod and the new family returned to Nazareth. Over the following years, Mary and Joseph raised a family of at least four boys and two girls.[16]

A stark reminder that their 12-year old son, Jesus, was distinctively different from his siblings came when they lost him for 3-4 days during their trip home from Jerusalem at the Passover.[17] When Joseph and Mary eventually found Jesus in the Temple, his questions probably rocked the senses of his parents when their 12-year old son asked: “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”[18]

Mary knew her son had special powers who could perform miracles suggesting Jesus had done other miraculous things privately within their family. When a wedding party ran out of wine, she knew Jesus could save the event – Mary asked her son to turn the pots of water into wine. In-spite-of being a grown adult and not ready to publicly reveal his miracle capabilities, Jesus did as his mother asked by performing his first recorded miracle.[19]

At his home in Capernaum, Mary and her family tried to meet with Jesus, but they could not reach him because the crowd was too dense. Some people told Jesus his family was outside wanting to see him. Jesus responded by saying that he considered those around him to be his family.[20] It is not stated if Jesus actually met with his them.

Next mention of Mary three years later was during the most dreadful of scenarios, all the more horrifying for a mother, as she watched her tortured son being executed by crucifixion.[21] What emotions she experienced can scarcely be imagined.

Much attention is made of Mary Magdalene’s Resurrection encounter at the tomb although his own mother and family seem even better qualified to confirm or refute that Jesus was alive again after his death on the cross. Mary and at least one brother confirmed Jesus was alive again after he had been crucified and buried.[22] According to Roman Jewish historian Josephus, a brother of Jesus became a martyr for his belief that the resurrected Jesus is the Messiah:

“…he [Ananus] assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions.]  And when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned…” – Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews [23]

Mary was the sole witness to the entire life of Jesus from her miraculous conception, the circumstances of his birth, his miracles, and his crucifixion to his Resurrection. The incidents are substantiated by various sources outside of the Gospels – Roman historians, Judaism, astronomy, archeology, etc.

Does Mary’s witness account, corroborated by various diverse sources outside the Bible, provide enough evidence that the appearance of Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah?

 

Updated February 25, 2023.

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REFERENCES:

[1] Northcote, James Spencer. “The Life of Mary in the Gospels.” 1856-60. <https://www.salvemariaregina.info/SalveMariaRegina/SMR-182/LifeMary14.htm> “Who was With Jesus When He Ascended?” Pathos.com. 2017. <https://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2015/12/15/who-was-with-jesus-when-he-ascended> “Mary.” SquareSpace.com. image. 2013. <http://static1.1.sqspcdn.com/static/f/498894/21585377/1357687844620/Mary-Mother-of-the-Christ-Myriam-Christian-Movie-Christian-Film-DVD-Odeya-Rush-Peter-OToole-Ben-Kingsley1.jpg?token=HQ84OGWo1X3XauVE74a6xoLFvXY%3D
[2] Luke 2:51. NASB. NASB, NIV. Luke 2:19.
[3] Luke 1:2.
[4] “Nazareth.”  New World Encyclopedia. 2018. <https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/nazareth>  “Nazareth.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2019. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/nazareth> Kiddushin 3b.  Sefaria. <https://www.sefaria.org/Kiddushin.3b?lang=bi>  “Marriage.” Judaism 101. <http://www.jewfaq.org/marriage.htm>  “Majority.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10310-majority>
[5] Luke 1:26-35.
[6] Luke 1:39, 56.
[7] Luke 1:39-45.
[8] Matthew 1:18-19, 36-37, 58; Luke 1:36.
[9] Luke 1:8-25, 57-66.
[10] Matthew 1:56.
[11] Mathew 1:18. Net.bible.org. 2019. Greek text word “heurisko.” <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=2147> Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon. Eliyah.com. n.d. <http://www.eliyah.com/cgi-bin/strongs.cgi?file=greeklexicon&isindex=2147>
[12] Luke 2:1-6.
[13] Luke 2:8-20.
[14] Matthew 2:1-12.
[15] Matthew 2:13-17.
[16] Matthew 13:55; Mark 3:31-34, 6:3; John 2:12; Acts 1:14.
[17] Luke 2:41-51.
[18] NASB.
[19] John 2:1-11. CR John 4:46.
[20] Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-34, Luke 8:21.
[21] John 19:25. CR Luke 23:49.
[22] Acts 1:12-14. CR John 2:12;
[23] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Book XX, Chapter IX.4.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Angels at the Tomb – a Gospel Conflict?

 

Angelic encounter descriptions in the Gospels at the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth seem to vary, thus posing a potential conflict. One Gospel describes two angels and two Gospels describe one angel at the empty tomb.

Setting the scene, earlier that afternoon Jesus of Nazareth had been executed by crucifixion requiring a hasty burial before Jewish Sabbath Law restricted various activities. By Jewish day-reckoning, the Saturday Sabbath began at sunset of Friday evening.

When Sabbath restrictions were no longer a concern after sunset on Saturday, the chronicles of the Resurrection of Jesus begins. The three synoptic GospelsMatthew, Mark and Luke – join the story line at different points.

Mark’s account establishes the earliest timeline identifying Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome purchasing burial spices as soon as the Sabbath ended Saturday evening.[1] The women worried about how they would move the stone from the entrance clearly indicating they were not aware the tomb was sealed and guarded.

Matthew’s account begins at the tomb as sunrise approached Sunday morning. The joint-contingent of armed koustodia, established by the command of Pilate at the behest of the Jewish council, were on-duty guarding the sealed tomb to prevent the theft of the body. Arriving at the tomb were the two Marys, Salome, Joanna and other unnamed women.[2]

Suddenly a great earthquake struck when the women witnessed an angel rolling away the stone from the entrance to the tomb. Matthew described the angel:

MT 28:2-3 “And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.” (NKJV)

At this point Mark and Luke join the story line at the tomb with each describing, differently though consistently, the physical attire of the angels:

MK 16:5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a long white robe sitting on the right side…” (NKJV)

LK 24:4 “… behold, two men stood by them in shining garments.” (NKJV)

Luke, written after Matthew and Mark, unambiguously says there were two angels. Consistently, Luke quotes Cleopas’ witness account that he unwittingly gave to the resurrected Jesus. Cleopas said, “they [women] came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. The statement is plural – more than one woman witnessed the empty tomb that is later corroborated by John’s account.[3]

Tomb – Israel

Matthew and Mark only refer to one angel with unnecessary and unexpected information, yet personifying and specific detail that adds authentic realism. Such descriptive details are typically absent from a deceptive statement.

Matthew reports that after an angel rolled away the large stone, he did a curious and unusual thing – he sat on it. Not standing or hovering in the air like the stereotypical image of an angel. In dazzling array there he sat, perhaps with his legs draped over the side of the stone.

Mark describes the angel inside the tomb specifically on the right side also sitting, not standing. Such descriptive details are typically absent from a deceptive statement. Logically, this angel cannot be the same one sitting outside on the rolled-away stone.

Body language of the angles indicates they were waiting, relaxed and inviting in demeanor. According to Matthew, the angel who was sitting on the stone at the tomb’s entrance spoke to the women inviting them to go inside:

MT 28:5-6  “”Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying.”(NASB)

At the angel’s invitation, at least some of the women entered the tomb. While inside, Mark describes another angel who spoke to the women, his message similar to Matthew:

MK 16:5-6 “Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid Him.’””(NASB)

Pointed out to the very same witnesses – the two Marys, Salome and perhaps other unnamed women – was the same spot where the dead body of Jesus had lain on Friday as they watched Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus preparing it for burial.[4] Had the angel’s statement been untrue about the crucified body of Jesus, the women would be expected to refute it – they didn’t.

All three Gospels’ descriptions vary, yet they are all tightly consistent on the main details – there was an angelic presence; the tomb was empty; the body of Jesus was gone; and the angelic pronouncement that Jesus is alive, just as he had predicted.

Corroborating information is provided by the eyewitness Gospel of John’s account. His personal knowledge begins where he and Peter were mourning when terrified women burst into the room and Mary Magdalene excitedly announced the empty tomb. The two Disciples raced to see it for themselves.[5] Also arriving back at the tomb was Mary Magdalene.[6]

Marveling at finding the tomb empty with only the burial cloths used to wrap the body, John and Peter decided to go home leaving Mary behind. Standing outside the tomb crying, Mary stooped and looked back inside where she saw two angels who spoke to her:

JN 20:12-13 “And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”(NKJV)

John’s source, Mary Magdalene, consistently described the two angels dressed in white sitting on each end of the stone slab.[7] Mary Magdalene’s reaction, or lack of one, to the supernatural beings indicates familiarity with them. As reported in the other Gospels, she had a previous engagement with the angels earlier that morning when the terrified women did not speak to the angels and ran. This time she is not alarmed and she spoke with the angels.

One other detail, one not called out by the Gospels, is a Jewish legal fact that, if not in met, could diminish the credibility of the Resurrection event. God’s Law required two witnesses to corroborate the same point of evidence to establish a fact. Two angels as witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth met that requirement.[8]

Witness statements must be evaluated based on their own merit using longstanding investigative principals to decipher credible and truthful statements from deceptive ones. Using of a form of literary analysis and comparing other statements is part of the investigative process.

Statements of those witnessing the same event are expected to vary and, as long as they are consistent on key information, it is a hallmark of truthful authenticity and credibility. If two statements vary too much or are very nearly or exactly the same, it is a strong indication of deception.

Investigations must factor in any hard evidence, such as the empty tomb and abandoned burial cloths, and key facts, information, perspective, sequence of events, etc. to recreate the scene and attempt to determine what happened. A common denominator to evaluating all evidence is one basic question – can the evidence be logically explained?

Are the Gospels accounts in conflict, one angel vs. two angels at the empty tomb, who witnessed the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth?

 

Updated February 16, 2023.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Mark 16.
[2] Luke 24.
[3] Kirby, Peter. “Gospel of Luke.” EarlyChristianWritings.com. 2019. <http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/luke.html>  “The Book of Luke.” . Quartz Hill School of Theology.  n.d.  <http://www.theology.edu/biblesurvey/luke.htm> Tzaferis, Vassilios. Bible Archaeology Society. “Crucifixion – the Archaelogical Evidence.” n.d. <https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/crucifixion/a-tomb-in-jerusalem-reveals-the-history-of-crucifixion-and-roman-crucifixion-methods
[4] Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23.  Edersheim, Alfred. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.1883. Book 5, Chapter XV. pp 1419-1420. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Life%20and%20Times%20of%20Jesus%20the%20Messiah.pdf>  “Centuries later, archaeologists opened the tomb of Jesus.” News24hours. photo. 2016. <https://news24hours.in/2016/10/31/centuries-later-archaeologists-opened-the-tomb-of-jesus-christ
[5] John 20.
[6] Luke 24; John 20.
[7] Shanks, Hershel.  “Crucifixion Bone Fragment, 21 CE” The Center for Online Judaic Studies. 2004.  <http://cojs.org/crucifixion_bone_fragment-_21_ce>   Romey, Kristin. “Unsealing of Christ’s Reputed Tomb Turns Up New Revelations.” National Geographic. 2016. <https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/jesus-christ-tomb-burial-church-holy-sepulchre>
[8] Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15; Numbers 35:30.  Soncino Babylonian Talmud.Sanhedrin. 9a; 30a; 56a, footnote #1. <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/sanhedrin/index.html>  Resnicoff, Steven H. “Criminal Confessions in Jewish Law .“ Project Genesis. 2007.  <https://web.archive.org/web/20160122222638/http://www.torah.org/features/secondlook/criminal.html>