Both of the nativity accounts, those of Matthew and Luke, concur that Joseph was not the father of Jesus. Further, they both associate the Holy Spirit with Mary's conception of Jesus. In Matthew, Mary is pregnant of the Holy Spirit, and in Luke the Holy Spirit "will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God." (Luke 1:35) In the absence of the gospel writers identifying another man as the father of Jesus, doesn't that mean that they were saying that Mary's conception was miraculous?
Well, on the surface that is a reasonable conclusion, however, a closer look suggests that there may be more to it than that. First, while Mary is identified as being a virgin at the time she receives the angelic visit, when she is referred to later in the gospels, for example during Jesus' ministry, she is never called by the gospel writers "a virgin". Was that because she had other children with Joseph? Perhaps. However, even at the time of Jesus' birth, Mary is never called a virgin.
Further, a careful reading of Luke will show that at the time of Gabriel's visit he always uses the future tense when referring Mary's conception. Again the Holy Spirit "will come" upon Mary and the power of God "will overshadow" her, meaning that at the moment the angel Gabriel departed the miraculous conception had not yet taken place. When did it then occur? Is that an irrelevant question?
Perhaps of further significance is that the angel Gabriel makes some parallel between the coming pregnancy of Mary and that already accomplished of her cousin Elizabeth. Was it just a casual comparison? Of interest is that Luke also associates the Holy Spirit with John the Baptist, the child to be born from Elizabeth and Zechariah. Again, it is the angel Gabriel who tells Zechariah that John "will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth." (Luke 1:15) So in one sense Luke is telling us that both births, that of John and Jesus, are special consecrated births, in which the Holy Spirit is involved.
A further question that arises concerning Luke's nativity account is why Mary felt compelled to go to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth at all. Is it because she is overjoyed at the news of her cousin's pregnancy? However, Elizabeth had already been pregnant for 6 months, and in a society in which familial relations and bearing children were so extremely important, it is highly likely that Mary already knew that Elizabeth was pregnant. Mary, by her action of immediately departing with a sense of urgency to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth after the angel's visit, shows that somehow she made a strong connection between Gabriel's prophecy and the trip she was undertaking. She felt she was doing God's will, as revealed by Gabriel, by going to the home of her kinswoman.
Luke portrays John's conception as being God ordained and blessed, involving the work of the Holy Spirit, and has the angel revealing to Mary that her conception of Jesus will bear some similarity to that of John. One reasonable interpretation is that Luke is trying to imply that Mary came to understand that Zechariah, a priest of God, would be the agency that God would use to allow her to conceive as well. Further, Luke shows that upon Mary's arrival at the home of Elizabeth, her cousin immediately receives the revelation that Mary will give birth to the Messiah. Such a revelation would have provided the unusual circumstances in which Elizabeth herself could have understood that her husband Zechariah had been chosen not only to father John, the prophet who would go before the Lord in the spirit of Elijah, but also to father Jesus, the one whom John would serve.
This evidence is far from conclusive, but in my view needs to looked at much more carefully than it has been so far. But, for those who are rightfully somewhat skeptical of these conclusions, there is in fact even stronger biblical evidence, in my opinion, showing that Luke is pointing, for those who have eyes to see, to Zechariah as the father of Jesus. I want to get into that evidence in the next post.