Let’s start with what we know. The Bible clearly tells that Mary was the cousin of Elizabeth.
Luke 1:36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
The Bible also records Mary’s genealogy. In Luke 3:23-31 a genealogy is given from Adam to Joseph. While Joseph is listed, this is actually Mary’s bloodline. This is explained in these articles: Why are there two different genealogies for Jesus? and The Blood Curse of Jeconiah. This genealogy indicates that Mary is from the tribe of Judah, tracing back from father Heli, through King David, back to Judah, the fourth son of Jacob.
We can also discern that Elizabeth was a Levite. It was required of all Levitical priests who served in the Temple to marry within their tribe, the tribe of Levi (Lev 21:14). Since we know Zechariah served as a priest in the Temple (Luke 1:5,8), and it would have been required that he marry a Levite to be in right standing, we know that Elizabeth was Levite and so also her father (tribal affiliation was through the father). However, if Elizabeth’s father had not been a priest who served in the Temple there would not have been any restriction on him regarding marrying outside his tribe. So Elizabeth’s mother could have been a Levite or a non-Levite.
We know Mary’s father, Heli (Luke 2), was from the tribe of Judah (Read: Why are there two different genealogies for Jesus?). Let’s consider Mary’s mother’s lineage. There are several possibilities.
If Mary’s mother was the sister of Elizabeth’s father, a Levite, then Mary’s mother would have been a Levite.
If Mary’s mother was the sister of Elizabeth’s mother, and Elizabeth’s mother was a Levite, then Mary’s mother would have been a Levite.
If Mary’s mother was the sister of Elizabeth’s mother, but she was not from a tribe of Levi (we don’t know her tribal heritage), then Mary could not have been part Levite.
While there is a higher probability that Mary’s mother may have been a Levite through being the sister of either Elizabeth’s mother or father, we simply cannot know for certain. There remains the possibility of Elizabeth’s mother not being a Levite and Mary’s mother having been her sister. But even if Elizabeth’s mother was a Levite, making Mary’s mother a Levite (whether sister of Elizabeth’s father or mother), and thereby making Mary part Levite on her mother’s side…it wouldn’t matter.
Mary Was Not a Levite
Tribal affiliation in ancient Israel was through the male line. Since Mary’s father was of the tribe of Judah, Mary would have been from the tribe of Judah and so also Jesus, fulfilling many prophecies.
What About Jesus Being Both King and Priest
People like to claim the levitical tribal heritage as support that Jesus was (and is) both King and Priest. However, even if there was a familial connection to the tribe of Levite, it does not fit with Scripture.
1) Jesus could not have been a priest because He is clearly from the Tribe of Judah on both His earthly father’s side and His mother’s side (remember Mary’s father, Heli, was of the Tribe of Judah).
2) In his incarnation, Jesus did not come to be King or Priest. He came in the office of Prophet, as prophecied (Deut 18:15, Acts 3:22). He came to preach “the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19) and, as the Lamb of God (John 1:29), to fulfill God’s purpose and plan of redemption that was first prophesied in the Garden (Genesis 3:15).
3) Most significantly, Jesus’ priesthood is not of the Levitical priesthood (of Aaron). It is of the priesthood of Melchizadek (Hebrews 5:8-10). Jesus fulfills this office now, as our High Priest, at the right hand of the Father in Heaven (Hebrews 1:3, 13, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2), interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25).
In conclusion: We do not know the relationship that made Elizabeth and Mary cousins. What we do know is that Jesus was of the Tribe of Judah. In His humble incarnation, He came to earth and lived and taught as the Prophet of prophets (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, Matthew 13:57, Luke 24:19). In offering Himself as the perfect Lamb of God for the sins of mankind and now reigning in Heaven and interceding as our High Priest (Hebrews 5:5-10, Hebrews 7), He is the Priest above all priests. And, one day Jesus will come again in all His glory to live and reign as the King of kings. He will sit on the throne of David and all the earth will know of His righteousness.
Revelation 11:15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever.
Psalm 72:19 And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.
The Season of Advent (the 4 weeks before Christmas)
Will You Find Rest This Advent Season?
Advent Candle 1 – HOPE: Prophecy Gives Hope (video)
Advent Candle 2 – LOVE: Promise Reveals Love (video)
Advent Candle 3 – JOY: Jesus Is Our Joy (video)
Advent Candle 4 – PEACE: Pause to Find Peace (video)
Christmas-themed GOT QUESTIONS?
- Does “Xmas” Cross Jesus Out of Christmas?
- The Most Important Lesson for YOU in the Nativity Story?
- Misconceptions about the Journey to Bethlehem (video)
- Errors in the Nativity Story? Is Jesus’ birthplace wrong?
- Who were the Three Wise Men? Fact or legend?
- How Did the Wise Men Know to Follow His Star?
- Did The Wise Men Arrive 12 Days After Jesus’ Birth? Or Was It Much Later?
- What is the significance of the Three Kings' gifts?
- Was Jesus born in a stable, a cave or a house?
- Was Mary a Levite, making Jesus both King and Priest?
- Was Jesus born in September (not December?)
- Should we celebrate Jesus’ birthday in September?
- Was Jesus born in a stable, cave or house?
- Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?
- How did Jesus become a man?
- How did Jesus become a man?
- Do You Get These 7 Things Right or Wrong About the Nativity Story?
- Are You Stuck in the Middle This Christmas? (short video lessons from the popular comedy TV show "The Middle.")
- What are the Prophecies of Christmas? (video)
- Where are the genealogies of Jesus in Mark and John?
- Why are There Two Different Genealogies for Jesus?
- A Boastful Christmas Letter
- Peace Delivers Hope
- Promise Ignites Hope
- Preparation Produces Hope
- Prophesy Reveals Hope
- Alone at Christmas? Feeling lonely?
- Another reason God came to dwell with man.
- How can you have a white Christmas without snow?
- Christmas, abortion and Joseph, the forgotten man of Christmas
- Remember the Wonder of Christmas
- Will you find rest, peace and joy this advent season?
- A Christmas Morning Prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
- What If You Had Been There When Jesus Was Born? (video)
- Pause to Find Hope (video)
- Pause to Receive the Promises of God (video)
- Pause to See Jesus (video)
- Pause to Hear God’s Plan (video)
- Christmas Trivia Fun
- Songs of Christmas Series: Away in a Manger; Mary, Did You Know? Rose of Bethlehem; Good Christian Men Rejoice; Hark! The Herald Angels Sing; I Wonder As I Wander; What Child Is This? The First Noel In the Bleak Midwinter (a golden oldie)
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