The genealogy of Jesus has always fascinated biblical scholars. It has also influenced the church very deeply since the time of the apostles. We have two genealogies in Scripture. Matthew stresses the royal lineage of Jesus whereas Luke stresses his blood relationship with the whole human race.

The divine liturgy of the fourth century (John Chrysostom) refers to the parents of Mary as Joachim and Anna. They are actually called "the ancestors of God." This language creates some deep anxiety for many evangelicals. It should not. Let me explain.

The eternal God has no human forebears. No orthodox church ever taught otherwise. What the church has actually taught is that in the incarnation the human Jesus also has a divine nature. He is "very God of very God." The third ecumenical council (431 A.D.) affirmed this doctrine of the two natures in one person, Jesus of Nazareth. The conclusion of this council was that Mary should be called Theotokos, or "mother of God" (the God-bearer). To describe Mary in this way meant that Christians wanted to underscore the fact that Jesus had a fully divine nature along with his fully human nature. If Mary is God's mother then her parents are his grandparents or ancestors, though they are all fully and only human. Mother of God was not about Mary being divinity but rather about Jesus being truly God in human flesh.

142 As noted above the ancestors of Jesus are mentioned in Matthew and Luke and among them are princes and kings as well as ordinary people who played important redemptive roles in Israel's history. Some of these people were not even ethnically Jewish (Rahab and Ruth).

The earliest record of the church reveals that Christians treasured the witness of Mary. When Luke says "she kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart" this formed a deep and growing impression of Mary in their minds. Early icons of Mary have her holding the baby but the babe has the face of a man. In one icon Mary has her hand raised pointing to Jesus who is Lord of all. These early Christians were not mistaken about Mary. They knew she was only human but they plainly believed that she was an honored and highly esteemed person, indeed esteemed by God himself.

From this understanding various dogmas about Mary began to develop. The Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church do not agree on these dogmas. Both esteem her far more than the majority of Protestants. Tomorrow we shall look at these differences more closely.

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  1. Chris Criminger August 7, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Hi John,
    I look forward to these distinctions and discussion about Mary.
    I will ask, When you describe Matthew tracing Jesus royal lineage, I am assuming this is through Joseph? I don’t disagree with this but I suspect for your more literalistic Evangelicals, it would seem strange for Matthew to be tracing Jesus lineage through Joseph when Joseph wasn’t even Jesus biological father.
    If this is the case, maybe we put to much emphasis in our modern day science and biology concerning our understanding of what does it mean to be a “Father?”

  2. Ray Prigodich August 8, 2009 at 12:32 pm

    But isn’t it saying too much to refer to Mary as the mother of God? She is indeed the mother of God incarnate — the God-man Jesus Christ. She is not, however, the mother of the Trinity — of God apart from the incarnation. At best, I believe to refer to Mary as the mother of God is potentially misleading. And it’s significant, I believe, that scripture never refers to her in this way.

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