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Ask Pr. Sophie
Abstract: Pr. Sophie fields a controversial question about Jesus' parentage.
Pr. Sophie Fortresson, our resident expert on all matters of theology, Lutheran etiquette, and social protocol, answers questions submitted by our readers and occasionally simply volunteers advice when no question has been asked. Send your questions to email@example.com.
Dear Pr. Sophie,
Last week I heard someone say that Jesus was a "mamzer". From the context, it did not sound like being a mamzer was a good thing. Can you tell me, please, what is a "mamzer"? Was Jesus a mamzer? Why didn't they tell me about this in confirmation?
Well, that is a very complicated question, but Pr. Sophie feels she is up to the challenge.
"Mamzer" is a Hebrew word (ממזר) that is usually rendered as "bastard" in English. See Deuteronomy 23:2, for example, which declares that a bastard shall not enter the assembly of the Lord up to the 10th generation. However, Pr. Sophie thinks simply equating mamzer and bastard obscures many nuances of the Hebrew term.
Technically, a mamzer is not a child born out of wedlock, but a child of a forbidden union, such as adultery or incest.
Taken in its technical meaning, Jesus is almost certainly not a mamzer. However, it is clear from the accounts of Jesus birth that Jesus is a bastard in the plain English sense: an O.W., a child born out of wedlock. Jesus illegitimacy is something the church has almost always felt compelled to explain away, and it is particularly embarrassing to those who look to the Bible for an unambiguous teaching on marriage and sexuality.
Recent commentators (Wayne-Daniel Berard among them) have begun to write more positively about Jesus' unusual family circumstances in relation to his message: Jesus, the illegitimate son of Mary, is an outcast who is uniquely able to bring a message of redemption to the outcasts of his day. Viewed in this way, Jesus' illegitimacy is not something to be covered up or explained away, but a facet of his being truly human and an integral part of God's Good News.
The opinions expressed by Pr. Sophie and the colorful language she uses to express them are not necessarily those of Lutheran (True) Confessions (lutheranconfessions.com) nor does their appearance here constitute an endorsement of these opinions and language.