Tag Archives: luke

Why was Mary betrothed?

Origen poses this question in hist sixth homily on Luke[1],

Again I turn the matter over in my mind and ask why, when God had decided that the Savior should be born of a virgin, he chose not a girl who was not betrothed, but precisely one who was already betrothed.

I find his response and reasoning interesting on a number of fronts. First, he poses a new question on the text that I have not thought of (or read?). Second, his reasoning as we will see is highly theological. Third, it reveals some of his thoughts on Satan in relation to Jesus’ ministry.

The main reason that Origen supposes that Mary was betrothed is so that the birth could be concealed from the “ruler of this age.” This idea is rooted in Ignatius who says in his letter to the Ephesians,

Now the virginity of Mary and her giving birth were hidden from the ruler of this age, as was also the death of the Lord — three mysteries to be loudly proclaimed, yet which were accomplished in the silence of God.[2]

Origen argues that if she had not been betrothed then her virginity and the birth could never have been concealed from the “ruler of this age.” In his thinking if Mary had not been betrothed then there would have been a bigger uproar on the pregnancy of Mary and it would have come out that she was a virgin and conceived by the Holy Spirit. By being betrothed this could be concealed. He goes on to say, “But the Savior had so arranged his plan that the devil did not know that he had taken on a body. When he was conceived, he escaped the devil’s notice.”

He notes that Jesus did not actual reveal himself to be the Son of God in the temptation narrative. To Origen, he interprets this even to mean that the devil knew that Jesus was someone special but couldn’t quite figure out who he was so this part of the temptation is a genuine inquiry in who Jesus is. Jesus’ response does not confirm or deny that he is the Son of God but only that he should not turn stone into bread.

So why does Origen go to length to explain why the devil does not know who Jesus is? His grounding for this is found in 1 Corinthians 2:6–8 which says,

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

He then brings up an objection that could be stated. He notes that in Matthew 8 the demons show that they know that he is the Son of God. So how does this fit in with his theory? Origen stresses that the demon is “less evil” than Satan and knew who Jesus was. He says,

The fact that his wickedness is greater prevents him from knowing the Son of God. We ourselves can advance to virtue more easily if we are less sinful. But, if we are more sinful, then we need sweat and hard labor to be freed from our greater evil. This is my explanation of why Mary was betrothed.

I claim to be no expert on Origen but here are some thoughts that I had after reading this homily.

First, Origen is asking questions that I would have never thought to ask. If I would have thought of this question today I would have probably dismissed by saying we just don’t know. Origen poses the question and then answers it theologically. This is the opposite direction that most would have taken this question. Most would have tried to ground it in some historical reasoning that Mary had to be betrothed but Origen addresses this theologically. Here we see the cohesive view of Holy Scripture. He naturally connects Paul saying the wisdom of God has been hidden from the rulers of this age to the idea that the devil did not realize that God had come down from heaven to this earth.

Overall I found his interpretation enlightening and edifying. Even if I may not completely adopt his interpretation it has forced me to think of the text in a new light and who knows one day this may spark further thought on the birth narrative of Jesus.


  1. All quotes are from Origen. Homilies on Luke. Translated by Joseph T Lienhard. Fathers of the Church. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1996.  ↩

  2. Ignatius Letter to the Ephesians 19:1 in Holmes, Michael W. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007.  ↩

“Your faith has saved you” in the Gospel of Luke

 

Luke depicted by a winged bull

Luke depicted by a winged bull

As I study the Gospels I am always amazed at the emphasis of bringing in the Gentiles and outcasts into the kingdom of God. The new people of God are defined by their faith rather than ethnicity or ritual purity. The Gospel according to Luke is no exception. From the start there is emphasis on the Gentiles and outcast being brought into the kingdom of God (Lk. 2:31–32; 3:6; 4:18–19 etc.).

One emphasis that is played out in the Lukan narrative is the key phrase ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε (your faith has saved you). This phrase occurs four times in the Gospel and each time it is in relation to an outcast.

  • Luke 7:50 – In the surrounding pericope Jesus is eating with the Pharisees and a “sinful woman” comes and anoints Jesus’ feet. This alarms the Pharisees, to which Jesus replies that she will be forgiven much because she loved much. Jesus tells the woman that she has been forgiven and concludes with “ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε· πορεύου εἰς εἰρήνην” (your faith has saved you; go in peace).
  • Luke 8:48 – In this section a woman who had “a discharge of blood for 12 years” goes to Jesus and touches him and she is healed. He says to the woman, “θυγάτηρ, ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε πορεύου εἰς εἰρήνην” (Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace).
  • Luke 17:19 – This story Jesus approaches 10 lepers between Samaria and Galilee and has mercy on them. Jesus tells them to go show themselves to the priest and Luke says that they were ἐκαθαρίσθησαν (cleansed). The Samaritan returns to give praise to God and Jesus tells him “ἀναστὰς πορεύου· ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε” (Rise and go; your faith has saved you).
  • Luke 18:42 – Finally, Jesus heals a blind man who cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Jesus replies, “ἀνάβλεψον· ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε” (Regain your sight; your faith has saved you).

In each one of these stories it is the outcast from society (one was even a Samaritan!) that Jesus saves because of their faith. In my opinion Luke has intentionally blurred the lines between spiritual and physically healing. The individuals who come to Jesus are saved, both from physical illness/disability and spiritual illness. The kingdom of God is one in which the people of God have been restored. We are told that the already-not-yet(ness) of the kingdom says that we are restored spiritually but Jesus gives us a glimpse of the physical restoration that will also happen in the new kingdom.

The theme of peace is also present in these stories. Jesus told both woman to go in peace. The gospel is a gospel of peace. At the beginning of the Gospel the angels are praising God saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased. The woman can go in peace because through their faith they have found God’s favor.

Side note: The ESV makes a hard and fast distinction between spiritual and physical healing. In the encounter with the “sinful woman” the ESV translates “your faith has saved you” but in the other pericopes it is translated “your faith has made you well.” I think this interpretive judgment actually weakens Luke’s use of σῴζω, which he has purposely intended a two-fold meaning. The Greek word σῴζω carries this two-fold meaning while the English word “save” is primarily used biblical only in a spiritual salvation context. A word that could possibly bring out this double meaning would be “restored”. This word carries the idea of bringing something back to its original state. This is probably an imperfect solution but I think we should attempt to bring this two-fold meaning into English the best we can.

Venerable Bede’s use of Luke in James 1:9-11

 

One of the differences between a modern reading of scripture and an ancient reading is the use of examples in sermons and commentary writing. Often times the Fathers use biblical narrative examples of truths found elsewhere in Holy Scripture, whereas most of our examples in modern day exegesis and preaching come from everyday life. This is not necessarily a negative thing but it is different. I think sometimes we have a phobia of moralizing narratives that we often neglect using them as examples altogether but the Church Fathers were not paralyzed this fear. Venerable Bede provides a good example of this in his exegesis of James 1:9–11, which says:

“Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.”

Bede uses the story from Luke 16:19–31 goes on to describe that being rich isn’t inherently destructive but it is the pride that often times accompanies being rich that cause people to lose their devotion to God. He says:

“For even Abraham, although he was a rich man on the world, nevertheless received a poor man after his death into his bosom, a rich man he left in torments. But he did not leave the rich man because he was rich, which he himself also had been, but because he had scorned being merciful and humble, which he himself had been; and on the contrary, he did not receive Lazarus because he was poor, which he himself had not been, but because he had taken care to be humble and innocent, which he himself had been. Therefore, such a rich man, that is, one who is proud and wicked and places earthly ahead of heavenly joys, will languish in his ways, that is, he will perish in his evil actions because he has neglected to enter the Lord’s straight way. But when he falls off like the hay under the sun’s heat, the righteousness on the same sun, that is, the severity of the judge, unblemished, and in addition brings forth fruits for which he will be rewarded for ever.”

Bede isn’t worried whether or not this is a parable or peek into the afterlife but instead he sees value in the Gospel narratives that sheds light on other parts of Holy Scripture. He knows from the text of Genesis that Abraham is a wealthy man so this sets up alarm bells in Bede’s mind that James cannot condemn being rich but rather it has to be something else. In this case he uses Luke’s Gospel to show that James condemning being rich but rather the pride that accompanies money.

What do you think of Bede’s use of Holy Scripture? Is this helpful or unhelpful?