On Joseph and Mary’s Betrothal

Matthew 1 and Luke 2 describe the birth narrative of Christ, and give some fascinating details that point to just how shocking, how inappropriate, how unfitting an arrival this was for the long-awaited king of Israel.

The nativity involved a surprising amount of humiliation and shame. Read the account of Matthew 1:18–25 below, and then ponder with me a few surprising elements of the birth narrative over the next couple of days.

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. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Joseph and Mary were betrothed, as we see in verse eighteen. Some translations use the word “engaged,” and that’s a little misleading. Engagement in modern times just means you’re planning to get married. But what does it take to get out of an engagement? Just break up, right? With betrothal, in the ancient world, you were legally man and wife. And to end a betrothal, you had to get a divorce.

The process of Jewish marriages involved (1) the betrothal, and (2) the wedding feast. When you became betrothed, you were legally married, but you were not to come together to have relations until after the wedding feast. So there was a betrothal period, during which time the bride readied herself for the groom to come get her, and the groom went and built and prepared their house. When the groom was done with all of his preparations, he would come and fetch his bride, and there would be dancing and singing as they paraded to the wedding feast (which would usually last for seven days).

Okay, what’s the point?

During that betrothal period, although they were legally man and wife, they were not to come together physically—it was not an option. So, for Mary to be found pregnant during the betrothal, before the wedding feast, would have been one of the most shameful, humiliating things for her to go through. It’s hard for us to grasp the level of shame that would have been present here—we don’t really work in categories of public honor and shame anymore—but this would have been utterly devastating. It would have shamed not only Mary, but also her family, her husband, and the child.

As far as anyone knew, there was no explanation for Jesus’ birth other than impurity (and, in Joseph’s mind, unfaithfulness) on the part of Mary. So, Matthew 1:19 says, “her husband Joseph, being a just man, and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” What’s being said here is probably that although he was just man (and therefore of right ought to divorce her before the wedding feast), but also unwilling to put her to further public shame (which he would be fully within his rights to do), he decided to divorce her quietly—in other words not to make a public spectacle of it.

But, verse 20 says, as he was considering these things, an angel appeared to him and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife.” Now, the Greek doesn’t say, “don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife,” which we read as meaning, “don’t be afraid to marry her.” Remember, she already was his wife, as we see in verses 19 and 24. What it says is, “don’t be afraid to take your wife.” In other words, “Go fetch your bride. Don’t divorce her; she’s remained pure; this is of God. So bring her to your house, finish the wedding process. There’s not going to be any celebrating. There will be no parade of dancing and singing. But don’t be afraid, don’t divorce her, don’t delay anymore—go get your bride.”

Right from the start of his life, Jesus’ first advent is characterized by hushed tones, shame, and scandal. This continues in the birth narrative itself, which we’ll look at next time.

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Why the Virgin Birth Matters

A couple of fragmentary thoughts on why Jesus needed to be born of a virgin.

Why was it important that the Messiah be born of a virgin? Well, I think there are three basic reasons.

First, it’s the most unique and powerful sign possible, to mark out the anointed one of God. Isaiah 7:14 gives the sign that the Messiah would be born of a virgin (we’ll talk about the nature of that prophecy another time). Virgins didn’t get pregnant back then any more often than they do now, so this was an unmistakable, inescapable miracle, clearly demonstrating that this child is conceived by God to be the promised king.

The second reason the virgin birth is significant is, of course, that by the virgin birth, Jesus could be born without inheriting a fallen human nature. The transmission of the sin nature is through the father, because the man is the representative head. When Adam sinned, as the head of the human race, the entire human race fell. And that fallen nature is inherited through the father. So in order to be a man who could also live a sinless, perfect life, Jesus had to be born without an earthly father.

I think it was also important for a third reason—the curse on Joseph’s ancestor, Jeconiah. According to Matthew 1:12, Jesus is a descendant of Jeconiah. Jeconiah, though, was cursed in Jeremiah 22:24ff, such that none of his descendants would ever sit on the throne of Israel. Now there are three possible solutions to this problem: 1) Some say the curse was reversed; 2) Some say the curse only referred to “in his lifetime;” 3) Some say the virgin birth allows Jesus to avoid the curse.

Now, if you take view #3, as I do, it doesn’t diminish the reality that the virgin birth also allows Christ to be born without a fallen nature. In fact, it gives an illustration of that salvific reason the virgin birth was important. By the virgin birth, Jesus avoided the curse of Jeconiah that he would have inherited through Joseph, which would have precluded Him from being the king of Israel. And by the virgin birth, Jesus avoided the curse of Adam that he would have inherited through Joseph, which would have precluded Him from qualifying to be the sinless, perfect sacrifice, to take on Himself the penalty for sin that we deserved.

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” —Isaiah 7:14

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Classical Education Options

I care about education. I care about education a great deal. As I explained in this series, I didn’t particularly enjoy school, but I did learn to value the importance of education as the cultivation of virtue and wisdom, and have become a life-long learner. Specifically, I think that a classical education is the best all-around education you can give a child. But where to start?

Well, allow me to recommend to you Roman Roads Media. Expert teachers, exceptional video courses, and outstanding written curricula come together to provide parents with a classical, Christ-exalting, and academically excellent source for feeding their children’s souls on truth, goodness, and beauty.

Enjoy this clip of Western Culture instructor Wes Callihan using Calvin and Hobbes to explain the classical understanding of virtue as happiness, and then use this affiliate link (or the Roman Roads banner on the sidebar at any time) to check out the many extraordinary resources at Roman Roads Media!

Which Children’s Bible Should I Buy for My Child?

A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education. — Theodore Roosevelt

So, you want to get your child his very own Bible. Good! Since our mission as parents is to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, a copy of the Word of God is the single most valuable possession you can give them. But which edition? Which translation? What size? What color?

It’s common for parents to give their children Bible storybooks as their first “Bible.” In my opinion, this is generally unwise. For an example of why, read this helpful review of one of the most popular Bible storybooks, the Jesus Storybook Bible.

My conviction is that the wisest thing to do is put an actual translation of the Word of God into the hands of a child as soon as he can read. There are things to take into consideration, of course, such as readability. But we must be cautious not to sacrifice accuracy for readability. Avoid translations of the Bible that are specifically aimed at young readers. This pretty much always leads to periphrastic renderings or inaccuracy for the sake of simplicity. Remember that early American families taught their children how to read with the Geneva Bible. The Word of God is something worth getting right, even if it’s difficult, right?

Read with your child; and encourage them to come ask for help anytime they don’t understand a word. But give them the actual Word of God. I would recommend the Holman Christian Standard Bible for young readers. Try a large print, compact Bible such as this or this. I also would recommend getting an edition that is not indexed, as I think it actually aids in memorizing the order of the canon to have to find a book or be reminded of its location every time. But, of course, some prefer indexed Bibles, and it may be helpful for your kid. The best Bible for your child (assuming the accuracy of translation) is the one he will actually use.

So then, if you’d like a children’s edition, with pictures and applications directed toward younger readers, what should you get?

Comparing children’s editions (of actual Bible translations), it basically came down to two that I would probably recommend: The “ESV Children’s Bible,” and the “HCSB Illustrated Study Bible for Kids.”

The ESV Children’s Bible has far more pictures, illustrations, and other features for kids, but the translation is definitely a higher reading level—probably not as understandable for kids under 8 or 9. The HCSB has fewer illustrations and resources, but it’s a very readable translation—recommended for ages 6–12.

Now, for your teens, I’d encourage you to avoid the “teen edition” Bibles. Get them a solid translation, such as the HCSB or ESV, in a helpful edition. For a solid study Bible, try the HCSB study Bible, the MacArthur Study Bible, or the Ryrie Study Bible. If your teen is more artsy, try out the Illumination ESV

For the note-takers out there, I would recommend the Bible I actually use for my own personal study and for preaching (it has 2-inch wide margins). I would love to find a double-column ESV (I don’t care for single-column), with wide, note-taking margins, that still has helpful cross-references as well—that’s the one drawback of this edition I use. I’ve yet to find that. Better yet, I’d love that in the Lexham English translation, which is probably my favorite current translation—but that’s only available digitally so far. It’s on the Bible app if you’re interested.

And for your note-taking, you’ll also need a good pen that’s actually designed for it!

I hope this has been helpful. What other editions have you found beneficial for your kids?

Moore About that Invitation to “Go Home”

Below, you’ll find some running observations on the unmatchingly emotionally loaded topic of Beth Moore. I pray it may be helpful to some.

If you’re on the internet at all—or you know someone who is—you’ve almost certainly heard something about John MacArthur’s now-infamous invitation to Beth Moore to “go home” [video]. Of course, the reactions were immediate and explosive. John MacArthur has “attacked” Beth Moore; there’s no excuse for such a vile, violent, immature mockery of a fellow Bible teacher. Many have declared (with a not insignificant amount of virtue signaling) that, due to this two-word response and the laughter it garnered, they have “lost all respect for John MacArthur.” Mrs. Moore expressed her opinion via twitter that this was a “shameful” example of “misogyny,” even as she asked her followers not to return insult for insult.

I’m assuming you have seen or heard the reactions of others already, whether positive or negative, so my goal here is simply to fill in a few of the cracks in the discussion.

What’s wrong with her preaching?

If by “preaching,” we simply mean teaching the Bible, well, there’s not necessarily a problem with a woman “preaching” in that sense (depending on the context). If by “preaching” we mean the announcing of the gospel, with no reference to context, well, of course there’s nothing wrong with women giving the good news. But if by “preaching” we mean a woman expounding the text authoritatively to a congregation of men and women, in a way that binds the conscience in directing how one might obey Christ, well, others have dealt abundantly with the problem here as explained by Paul in 1 Timothy 2; but, of course, this is what Mrs. Moore and others would prefer to reinterpret in light of our enlightened cultural progress.

Now, if by “preaching” we mean the particular style and homiletical techniques employed in the communication of the Word, then let me explain something that I think most women do not consider, because it doesn’t affect them the way it does men, and thus is not as readily apparent. When a woman “preaches”—in this sense of having authoritative and powerful communication techniques—it actually comes across as aggressive, and is thus repelling to masculine men. This is, at the basic level, because masculine men value and appreciate and are attracted to feminine women; and when a woman preaches in this authoritative, aggressive manner, she’s actually becoming less feminine in order to do it. And just as men assuming effeminate manners is nauseating (particularly in the pulpit), women donning the trappings of masculinity is repulsive. The pulpit is reserved to men because of the inherently combative nature of preaching. And, as Pastor Wilson often points out, when a woman steps onto the front lines of conflict, either the nature of the combat changes, or the nature of femininity changes, and often both.

But the fundamental reason a woman is not to teach or have authority over a man, is not that she is inferior, not because she is incapable of theological study, not because she is unable to effectively communicate truth (obviously none of that is true), but because that’s how God designed it from the moment of creation (1 Tim. 2:13).

What’s wrong with her teaching?

But is there anything actually problematic in Beth Moore’s teaching? The actual content of her instruction? I’ll share more specific critiques at the bottom of the post; but for now, I’ll simply quote Pastor Tom Buck on the matter.

Beth Moore:

1) Claims Jesus talks to her and she recounts the exact words exchanged between the two of them… including things like Jesus telling her to “come out and play” to “build a snowman” and calling her “honey” and “babe” when they talk.

2) Claims to get revelation, knowledge, and directions from God that she records and speaks: “God began to say to me, ‘I’m gonna say something right now, Beth. And boy you write this one down. And you say it as often as I give you utterance to say it.’”

3) Claims God speaks to her in visions. “… something God showed me sitting out on the back porch…. I’m a very visual person. So he speaks to me very often by putting a picture in my head…”

4) Promotes and partners with known false teachers like Joyce Meyer and Joel Osteen (just google it). Claims that God gave her a vision that churches that preach a false gospel (e.g., Roman Catholicism) are part of the true church.

5) Violates God’s created order and usurps the role and function of an elder in violation of 1 Timothy 2:12. She regularly assumes the function of teaching and leading men, including in corporate worship gatherings.

These are but a FEW examples.

The rest of Pastor Buck’s post is very worth reading, here.

To this list, I would add the numerous attacks Mrs. Moore has made on complementarianism, the issue of contemplative prayer, her increasing emotionalism (treating experience and emotion as a guiding principle, sometimes outweighing objective truth), social justice, her newfound softness on the issue of homosexuality (example)—even calling Christians who unqualifyingly teach that homosexuality is sin “hyper fundamentalists”, and devaluing the writing of the apostle Paul in order to defend her practice of preaching to men.

What’s wrong with listening to her?

But many who are made aware of the problems with Mrs. Moore’s teaching argue that it’s not all that bad, she doesn’t always say these things, so it’s okay to still listen to her. Indeed, I have long been reluctant to say that you should not listen to Beth Moore at all. But there does come a point (read the apostle John’s letters) when a teacher should be marked and avoided. I think we are there. We are responsible for whose teaching we put ourselves under (Galatians 1), and it’s just not enough to say that she has helpful things mixed in as well. It’s not worth it to sit at the feet of someone who misinterprets and defies the Word of God, simply because she’s an effective communicator and has some helpful things to say. Ideas have consequences, and theological error in some areas eventually seeps into and affects other areas. A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

Find a faithful pastor. Find solid women teachers who have some talks or have written some studies who may not be as prolific because they are busy serving as a wife and mother. It’s no longer wise to associate with, sit under, promote, or endorse Mrs. Moore.

And while I’m at it, since the damage is done… you ought also to steer clear of many other popular, prominent speakers such as Priscilla Shirer, Jen Wilkin, Rachel Hollis, Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, Lysa TerKeurst, Lisa Bevere, Christine Caine, and Joyce Meyer, to name a few.

Now, regarding that heinously insensitive laughter…

Todd Friel asked John MacArthur to give a pithy response to the word (or name) he said. When Pastor MacArthur, who has always conducted himself with a statesmanly dignity and care, came back with the unexpected, and undeniably pithy response, “Go home,” what do you expect the reaction to be? Well, the reaction many people think would have been appropriate is audible gasps from the audience, perhaps with a number of the more mature pastors standing up and walking out of the room in appropriately woke disgust.

Ironically, Phil Johnson was much harsher toward Mrs. Moore than MacArthur, and yet somehow MacArthur seems to be getting all the heat. Yet after his pithy word-association response of “go home,” MacArthur’s comments were all as serious, careful, and weighty as his responses normally are. Do I think Pastor MacArthur was a bit harsher or more blunt than I would be? Yes. He probably would have done better to say his other comments without voicing the infamous “go home.” But our modern inability to objectively evaluate the truthfulness of the content when we find one’s tone distasteful means that I’m going to push the other way. Pastor MacArthur was not really very abrasive. Let’s think about it objectively.

So what was the deal with that raucous laughter? How DARE they?!

It seems that the laughter is the primary target of the internet outrage. The infamous laughter is seen as evidence that the whole event was some kind of locker room mocking and bullying session… an old boys club stuck in their outdated ways having a laugh at the expense of the innocent victim.

I am in no way arguing that Mrs. Moore has not been the victim of real mocking, or of even worse treatment than that. But allow me to offer another interpretation of that hearty laughter, in light of the culture (both secular and Christian) in which we find ourselves.

I believe the ill-famed laughter was not that of a mocking, immature locker room full of boys making fun of a poor victimized woman. In fact, this wasn’t a pastors conference, it wasn’t a room full of boys, you can hear the women laughing more clearly than the men. But this was, it seems quite clearly to me, the laughter of unexpected relief and delight at Pastor MacArthur speaking truth more bluntly and pithily than we’re used to from the politicized, feminized pulpit of today. (Oh, but now I’m in trouble for referring to something as “feminized”). It was the laughter of a congregation relieved to be given, by Pastor MacArthur’s statement, the opportunity to breathe in the midst of a culture that devours with the efficiency of piranhas anyone who would dare, oh, for example, give a pithy rebuke to a public Bible teacher who is out of line.

When Todd Friel said “Beth Moore,” there was initial laughter because of the way Friel introduced it, saying (sarcastically) that he was starting out with an “easy” one, which of course, was humorous precisely because of the tension surrounding the issues. So, when MacArthur gave his brotherly but blunt admonition, “go home,” it was as if he cut through the tension with a machete, and the audience, not knowing exactly what to expect (though the general theological sentiment of MacArthur’s comments would not be a surprise to anyone who knows anything about him; this is the conservative, inerrantist understanding of Scripture), they burst into laughter at the surprisingly light, witty, and straight-shooting response that perfectly spoke to the issue. You are out of your lane; you have ventured into an arena that is off limits; your true glory is in being a wife and keeper of the home (Ps. 128; Pr. 31; Titus 2; Ephesians 5)… reclaim that glorious calling.

A couple of resources to read for a fuller and better articulation of the biblical response:

Doug Wilson discusses the increasing trend of inviting women to preach on Sundays.

Toby Sumpter has an excellent post here.

Rachel Jankovic (a woman worth following) is helpful both here and in the video below.

Kyle Labosky shares some helpful thoughts on Pastor MacArthur’s tone.

Kyle Mann gives a balanced but not entirely positive (toward MacArthur) analysis of the controversy here.

Here’s a list of more critiques examining the specific issues with Beth Moore. Disclaimer: some of these resources are harsher than I would be, such as calling Moore a false teacher etc. Be willing to look past the angle or specific labels these critiques take, and honestly examine the content of Moore’s teaching they bring to light.

In that regard, I’ll quote Anthony DeRosse, a friend and pastor in Tampa:

Do I think she should stop teaching men? Absolutely.

Do I think she should go home in that regard? I do.

Do I think Beth Moore is being extremely unwise, and potentially misleading for a massive group of people? Yes.

Do I think she’s a heretic and a false teacher? I don’t.

…Being egalitarian and a continuationist is not enough for me to call you a heretic and a false teacher.

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