Family Ties

Questions Come Up

One part of being a pastor is something I never get tired of: people tend to ask you random Bible questions. Using the Bible goes with the territory, of course, but I'm thankful that I don't just feel the Bible is something I have to use on a daily basis on my job; it's also something I get to use and actually enjoy digging into more and more.

One question that sometimes comes up when someone is studying to be a pastor is, “How am I going to deal with all the questions that people ask me? What if I don't know the answers?” The panic just isn't there for me, though, but it's not because I know everything. Far from it. I'm aware of how much I don't know, and this gives me the freedom to say, “I don't know” when someone asks me a question rather than just try to come up with the best answer I can on the spot.

Here's a question I recently searched out.

The Problem

A woman in my congregation said that this was a question she had had for a few years. She knew that Jesus' mother Mary was related to John the Baptist's mother, Elizabeth. She also knew that Jesus was of the tribe of Judah and John the Baptist was of the tribe of Levi since his father Zacheriah was a priest. So, she wondered, how could Mary and Elizabeth be related but be in different tribes?

The Answer

We know that Elizabeth and Mary are related from Luke 1:36. The word there translated “relative” (or even “cousin” in some translations) does not let us know specifically how they were related. The underlying Greek word συγγενίς does not tell us anything beyond the fact that they were related. They could have been first cousins, aunt and niece, second cousins; we just don't know.

The question is, how could Elizabeth have been a different tribe from this relative of hers, Mary? Well, one key here is that the tribe you were considered a part of had to do with your husband. Women, it seems, could marry outside of their tribe, after which their children would be considered a part of their husband's tribe. I couldn't find any one verse that said this in a simple way, but a few examples bear it out.

The first story that I found is from Judges 25. There, the tribe of Benjamin had almost been made extinct, and the few men that were left had no one to marry. It seems that marrying a girl of a different tribe would've normally been a viable option. But in this case, the other Israelites had taken a vow not to give any of their daughters to a Benjamite. So they came up with a scheme to actually allow the Benjamites to basically kidnap women from the town of Jabesh Gilead, which would've contained women from the tribe of Manasseh. They ended up marrying the men from Benjamin, eventually producing Benjamite children to allow the tribe to continue.

The other story is the resolution of an issue in Numbers 36. There, the 5 daughters of Zelophehad had already been told that they could inherit their father's property, since he hadn't had any sons. The question in this chapter, though, is if they married someone outside of their tribe. If this happened, the husband would get their property, which would then be taken out of their clan's inheritance. Since the land was supposed to remain for each tribe, this would be a problem. The result here was a special command that in this case Zelophehad's daughters had to marry within their own tribe of Manasseh so the land would stay within that clan.

Which brings us back to Elizabeth and Mary. Since marrying outside of one's tribe was, um, kosher, Elizabeth and Mary could have been related in any number of ways. For example, Elizabeth could have been Mary's first cousin and of the tribe of Judah who happened to marry Zacheriah from the tribe of Levi. Elizabeth's child would've been of a different tribe than Mary (and Jesus) but this wouldn't make them any less related.

Now, what I actually have to do is pass this info on to the member of my church who asked the question. (I don't think she uses the internet, unfortunately.) The neat part about this is that it shows that I don't know everything myself, and it shows how she herself could dig through the Scriptures to find the answers. It's not just the clergy who somehow are only capable of finding such answers.

And You?

Have any of my readers answered any interesting questions lately? Or do any of you have questions? I'd be interested to hear them!


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