SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
The second reading for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, during the Octave of Christmas, comes to us from St. Paul’s famous letter to the Galatians. And it’s the only time in all of Paul’s letters where he ever mentions Mary, where he ever mentions the mother of Jesus. So you can…it’s pretty obvious why the Church chooses this passage for today. But what does it mean? Let’s read through it together, and we’ll try to unpack it, because it’s one of these classic Pauline texts that’s very brief, but it’s dense. It’s rich. It’s got a lot going on in a short amount of text. So in Galatians 4:4-7…this is the one time Paul mentions Mary in all of his letters, and this is what he says:
But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.
Okay. So obviously since today’s the feast of Mary as mother of God, Theotokos
(God bearer), the verse we want to home in on is that first one there:
..when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman… (Galatians 4:4a-c)
Now, what does Paul mean when he says this? Well, on the one hand you could say, well, he’s just giving you a kind of account of the mystery of the Incarnation. God sends His Son to Earth, and He’s born of a woman, and He’s born under the law so that He can redeem those under the law—in other words, to bring about the redemption of Jerusalem, the long awaited hope of Israel, the salvation of Israel and the nations. And that’s absolutely true, but one of the things that readers since ancient times have noticed here is that the way Paul formulates his description of the birth of Jesus is a little...it’s a little peculiar. So for one thing, notice, he says that God sent His Son.
So on the one hand, that could mean that God just sends the Son on a mission—in other words, like he sends John the Baptist or he sends Isaiah or one of the prophets to bring His message to the world. On the other hand though, many interpreters have seen in this an implication of the Son’s preexistence—in other words, that the Son takes human form in a way that’s different than all other human beings. So all other human beings are created directly and immediately by God—you could say they’re conceived in the womb. Especially from a biblical world view, humans don’t exist in Heaven and then are sent to the Earth, right? Humans are conceived and they’re born in this world and of this world.
But Jesus is different, and you’ll see Paul himself actually does say as much elsewhere in his famous hymn in the letter to the Philippians. So if you look at Philippians 2 just for a second…in Philippians 2:5, the famous parallel with this is in his verses where he says this:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
So notice, in Philippians, Paul says that Christ Jesus was first in the form of God, but then He emptied Himself, and He took the form of a servant and was born in the likeness of men. So you have there Paul’s description of the mystery of the Incarnation—that the Son exists in the form of God before He exists in the form of a human being.
So when you take that information from Philippians and you look back at Galatians, what Paul is saying there is not just in Galatians that Jesus is sent like, say, St. John the Baptist is sent or one of the prophets is sent...but that God sends His preexistent Son to be born of a woman in the mystery of Christmas, in the mystery of the Incarnation.
Now, if you have any doubts about that, the second part of the phrase is key there. What it says:
...God sent forth his Son, born of woman… (Galatians 4:3b-c)
...that should immediately strike you as somewhat redundant. Notice that when Paul says “born of a woman”—you can’t see this in the English very easily, but in the Greek it’s really clear. He doesn’t use the word for childbirth, like delivery. So whenever you want to say a woman bore a child or she gave birth to a child, the Greek verb is tiktō.
It literally means “to give birth” or “to bear.” But the verb that Paul uses here is ginomai
, and it means to be begotten, to come forth of a woman.
So the emphasis here—a case can be made—is really on the conception of Jesus, of His being begotten of a woman. And that actually would be unique, because all human beings are begotten, not just of a woman, but of a man and a woman. Just think of Genesis 2...a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and the two become one flesh. Or in Genesis 4...Adam knew his wife Eve, and she bore a son. She bears Cain.
So some interpreters—although this is a debated point—actually see in Paul’s language here, his seemingly redundant, somewhat strange phrase “born” or “begotten of a woman,” an implicit allusion to the virginal conception. So this is one of those passages—if that’s what Paul’s saying—it would provide yet one more witness to the miraculous nature of Jesus’ coming into the world.
Because sometimes skeptics, for example, about the virginal conception will say, “Well, if Jesus was born of a virgin, why is it only mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke? Why don’t we read about it anywhere else in the New Testament?” And sometimes people will respond by saying, “Well, actually we do read about it elsewhere in the New Testament.” Paul refers to it here in Galatians 4.
Now, it’s true he doesn’t explicitly say that, just like he doesn’t explicitly give the name of Mary and he doesn’t use Mary’s name. He doesn’t explicitly talk about the virginal conception. But if Paul is describing Jesus’ being begotten of woman in this kind of unique way, it’s reasonable to conclude that he’s here alluding to the fact that when God sends His Son, He is born of a woman. He is begotten by a woman in a unique way...
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