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Mary knew! Stop asking stupid questions!

Note: I originally published this December 3, 2010 over on FPR.

The popular Christmas song “Mary Did You Know?” by Mark Lowry is a pretty song is many ways. However it is also stupid.

Did Mary know? Well, she was visited by an angel of God. See the following from Luke Chapter 1:

26. And in the sixth month the aangel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27. To a avirgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

28. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among awomen.

29. And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30. And the angel said unto her, aFear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name aJESUS.

32. He shall be great, and shall be called the aSon of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the bthrone of his father cDavid:

33. And he shall areign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no bend.

My guess then is that she knew. Unless she somehow totally forgot about this visitation by an angel. The song is meant to be simple and cute. But it treats Mary like she is clueless. While it is not unusual to see female characters treated this way…the is inconsistent with how Mary is portrayed by the Bible.

Did Mary know? Heck ya! And she was one of the few who did know. She was an active player in one of the greatest stories every told. She was the mother of the Christ and she knew it.

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Comments

  1. So you accept Luke’s infancy narrative at face value?

  2. Bah humbug.

    First of all, most of the questions posed by the song were never answered by Gabriel to Mary.

    Second, most likely the entire Lukan birth narrative was constructed well after the death of Jesus and is composed of later creative imaginings of Jesus’s conception and birth, so it is quite possible that Mary had no idea about what or who her little baby would become.

  3. I am open to the entire narrative being bunk. My guess is that most people who love the song do not love critical bible studies.

    So, yes. I give special weight to the Biblical narrative over 1980s country songs.

    narrator, well Gabriel does not answer all of those questions he seems to be hinting that maybe something special is going down.

  4. Maybe Kenny Rogers is really advocating for the historical Jesus movement.

  5. Thank goodness I don’t listen to country music and have to hear that crap.

  6. Actually, what makes Luke’s gospel so interesting is that his goal was to gather info from as many first-hand sources as possible & create a comprehensive history of Christ, the apostles & the early church. He in fact could have asked Mary specifically about this event, and he wouldn’t include it if it wasn’t from a reliable source.

    Also, do you actually think that God would give His Son to Mary without telling her some specifics of what was happening? Now, I haven’t heard the song that this post mentions, but I do acknowledge the difference between knowing something intellectually versus knowing something experientially; in other words, she could “know” without really “knowing”.

  7. I think that the more important question here for many is whether Mary was known. AmIRight?

  8. Donny Osmond also recorded the song. I think that takes it from the realm of country music into the realm of scripture.

  9. She was a virgin at the time of conception & remained a virgin right through when she gave birth to Jesus, until she & Joseph had their own children later; ancient & modern scripture attest to this. Any other ideas are spurious opinions & deny an essential part of the miracle of the conception & birth of the literal Son of God.

  10. I like the post and wish I hadn’t read the comments. Don’t anybody read this one, please.

  11. Ardis: What is wrong with the comments?

  12. Andrew: Calm down. I am sure that not all views you disagree with as spurious.

  13. I am calm. [?]

    The idea that God & Mary had sex is absolutely spurious. I have looked it up & discussed it quite a bit previously, & it is doctrinally garbage. It’s not about whether I disagree with something or not that makes something spurious to me; I am open to being wrong & to changing my mind, but from available information on this topic, I am not wrong about this.

    Do you usually make insulting generalizations about people who comment on your blog?

  14. Andrew

    how bout the idea that Mary and Joseph had sex or that mary was raped by a roman soldier or mary got pregnant by any mortal man?

    Is the problem for you sex? Its not really that degrading you know.

  15. I have always been fond of Mary’s words in Luke 1:46-55 which suggest she knew and knew more than most of us still today about Jesus’ grand mission in turning society upside down and addressing social justice.

  16. David Clark says:

    Chris,

    It’s actually not such a stupid question. Luke’s own narrative says she may not have known, or at least she forgot. Read Luke 2:41-51, paying very close attention to verse 50.

    For more, read Mark 3:19-35. It can be a little confusing to see what is going on because Mark likes to use a technique some people call “sandwiching.” The story involving Jesus’ family, including his mother, is in vv 19-21 and then picks up again in vv 31-35. The parts in vv 22-30 are a related controversy story involving the scribes that has been sandwiched in for both narrative and theological effect. But, the whole episode is meant to be seen as taking place at one time. In any event, it appears that Jesus’ whole family, including his mother, are a little confused about who he is.

  17. Andrew, are you okay with the artificial insemination of Mary?

    Even so, we still have the problem of Isaiah’s so-called prophecy of Jesus’ conception really only having an explicit prophecy of a young woman conceiving in his (Isaiah’s) immediate future.

  18. Right now my major issue is that this blog community is not based on belief but on doubt & criticism. Good day.

  19. Actually, this blog community is based on faith. Discuss.

  20. oudenos was alluding to the question of whether of not Mary was a virgin and whether she remained as such. His play on words has led some to read too much into it.

  21. David Clark,

    I think the question of what they really knew is a good one. However, the song seems to be asking what Mary knew…as though we now have it figured out.

  22. Sorry for the mini theological firestorm I started with my chiste. Apparently this is kind of a sensitive topic for some. Maybe TT can complicate things a bit; I hear tell that he is pretty knowledgeable about ancient knowing, sowing, etc. etc.

  23. Chris, I just don’t understand why you have to be such a jerk to Mark Lowry. Expect to be visited by three ghosts tonight.

  24. narrator,

    The Dickens approach to Christmas is more my style.

    This in a way started when listening to some of the cheesy song my kids sing in their Christmas programs in school. I am more concern about the way in which pop-Christianity undermine the holiday than I am Santa Claus.

    I have meant to do this post many season now. A Facebook status about the Forgotten Carols inspired it to actually go posted.

  25. Huh. I guess I’d always thought the point of this song was that if Mary DID know, and it must have been weird, even tragic, for her to hold her own little baby in her arms and consider what would happen to him.

  26. TT’s post linked to above is a classic. It is a post that I come back to quite often.

    Most likely anything on religion and the bible has been said better by one of my fellow bloggers at FPR.

  27. As long as we’re making fun of country pop-Christianity Christmas, can we rag on the shoes song? That song makes me ill.

  28. What shoes song? Do you have a link?

  29. Is it this one:

  30. Please don’t make me post a link.

    Also, what about the “Homeless” Forgotten Carols one?

  31. Homeless is up there. It reminds me of the Mary Did You Know song because they are both pretty songs, but so cheesy. I am pretty cheesy, but I think some of this cheapens Christmas. The shoe song is so manipulative. Ugh.

  32. Really? I thought you and your ethic-of-care hoo-ha would be right on board with the “Homeless” vibe.

  33. (And because there have been some recently misinterpreted jokes, let me specify that my comment above is intended as a joke)

  34. I got the joke. Thanks!

    No worries. I am also a snob. I worked at a women’s domestic violence shelter while working on my MA. Nickleback had a song about shooting abusers. It was good intentioned (hard rock calling out domestic violence), but ultimately hideous. Pop culture can do some great stuff (and I have plenty of FPR posts about the stuff I like), but most of it sucks. Christmas seems to highlight a lot of the bad.

  35. I enjoy the drama of the angelic visitation. The account of Zechariah and Elisabeth may be even more impressive.

    Putting yourself into the place of Mary, Elisabeth and Zechariah makes for great reflection. The situation of each one of them is so compelling, you can squander hours thinking about it.

  36. The song is NOT assuming she didn’t know. It doesn’t say “Mary, you didn’t even know that the child you delivered will save you. How stupid!”
    It is a beautiful song. I heard it for the first time after I had given birth to two children and it was a very powerful song to think about all of the powerful emotions of giving birth and holding a baby and understanding your relationship with your child and who he really is…….
    A song saying “jks, did you know that this child that was just in your womb was just in heaven? jks, did you know that this baby would bring joy into your life? jks, did you know you would love this child? jks, did you know that the glory of god will be shown through this child? jks, did you know this child would bring sorrow and joy and miracles in your life?”
    I knew all that before I had my children……but it is amazing to look at that baby and you can only imagine, only guess, about the future. Even if you know things, you then live through it and then you know more.
    So, don’t knock the song. It is beautiful and it is about something important.
    She knew. But there was much she only had begun to understand.

  37. It is beautiful to listen to for sure.

    It is also fluff. I am tired of fluff.

  38. “The account of Zechariah and Elisabeth may be even more impressive.”

    Hellmut, that is an amazing account. I guess I find the biblical narrative to have much beauty. Yet, we feel a need to water it down

    Looking around my living room, we have tons of Christmas decorations. There are many aspects of this holiday that are fluff which I like. If one likes the song discussed in this post…that is fine. I am just saying it drives me nuts. All others are free to love it as they please.

  39. Today, I’m preferring songs about Joseph.

    Well your eyes just haven’t been the same, Joseph
    Are you bad at dealing with the fame, Joseph
    There’s a pale moonshine, above you
    Do you see both sides, do they shove you, around

    Is the touchstone forcing you to hide, Joseph
    Are the rumors eating you alive, Joseph

    When the holy night is upon you
    Will you do what’s right, the position is yours

    From the temple walls to the New York night
    Our decisions rest on a child
    When she took her stand
    Did she hold your hand
    Will your faith stand still or run away
    Run away

    When they’ve driven you so far
    That you think you’re gonna drop
    Do you wish you were back there at the carpenter shop

    With the plane and the lathe
    The work never drove you mad
    You’re a maker, a creator
    Not just somebody’s dad

  40. I think the question is more a rhetorical device than some sort of historical statement. Besides, the answers to most of the questions asked are ones that she almost certainly didn’t know. Unless she saw of a vision of both time and eternity.

    So you can count me as one who think this song belongs in the top one percentile of all Christmas songs ever written. It is not fluff so much as a summary of twenty or thirty key points of Christian belief about the Savior. How many hymns has anyone in the LDS Church written in the past three decades that are half as worthwhile?

  41. “How many hymns has anyone in the LDS Church written in the past three decades that are half as worthwhile?”

    Given that I have also dismissed the Forgotten Carols, what makes you think this is a defense of Mormon culture? Saying this is better than any LDS music is like saying it is better than disco.

    Yes, it is a rhetorical device. I still do not like it.

    NOTE: All are free to like it even if I do not. In case anyone was wondering.

  42. The song never said Mary didn’t know!!! Quit posting this complaint! The song is beautiful and it is about motherhood and maybe if you were a mother you would understand this song.
    When I gave birth to my babies, did I know I would love them? Yes. Did I know I would sacrifice for them? Yes. Did I know I would teach them? Yes. I knew a million things, but I had not yet experienced them did I?
    This song evokes all sorts of emotions, especially because I have given birth and held my newborns. There are things I KNOW and things I will come to know.
    Did I know that my Heavenly Father loved my baby? Yes. But it is a truly amazing experience to actually experience raising a child, even a regular child like my four children are. But God has a plan for each of his children. I have a testimony and accepting a child/delivering a child in your life (even a regular child) brings you close to heaven in many ways. But it is the start of a journey, even if you know a million things about that journey.
    I have a testimony of the plan of salvation, but I know much more now about it than I did when my children were infants. I learned.
    So please stop claiming that Mary knew all there was to know about anything when Jesus was born, surely she learned something during the rest of her life.
    Please stop claiming that the song says that the answer is no. It doesn’t.
    Please stop claiming that the question ruins the song because it doesn’t. It is lyrically beautiful.
    Please stop and think about the fact that women put their lives at risk when they give birth to babies. Mary was a mother, just like billions of other women, and just because it is so common doesn’t make it any less noble of a sacrifice to carry a baby and give birth to a baby, and then raise it.
    You might find it insulting, you might think the song claims she didn’t know, but as a woman and a mother I do not get that message at all. I feel the respect that is given to Mary, the consideration of her own thoughts. It is in keeping with the beautiful scripture that Mary kept these things and pondered them in her heart.
    Please stop dismissing Mary in this cold hearted fashion. She had a brain. She had thoughts. She had feelings. From the time she was pregnant to giving birth to Christ’s death she had her own thoughts and feelings. This song honor that.

    • jks,

      I am arguing that Mary was no regular mother, but instead one of the most important players in the NT. I am not in any way dismissing Mary! I am dismissing people like you that prefer sappy sentimentality over scripture.

      Merry Christmas, Chris H.

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