Miriam and Jesus: No Ordinary Mother and Child

Posted on December 24, 2020


By David Ettinger

Who Was Miriam?
The relationship between Miriam – I much prefer her Hebrew name to the highly Anglicized “Mary” – and Jesus was a fascinating and complex one. And it is fascinating to think that Jesus lived in Miriam’s house until He was age 30.

Olivia Hussey as Mary from the 1977 movie Jesus of Nazareth.

Just who exactly was Miriam, the earthly mother of Jesus? Miriam was a devout Jewish girl who obeyed the Mosaic Law. She was not a saint nor was she perfect. She was a sinner like everyone else, but was “highly favored” and the Lord was with her.[1] She was approximately 13 to 16 years old when she married the older Joseph, and she would later give birth to several children.

The Early Years
The Bible grants us but a few snippets of the relationship Miriam shared with Jesus, and they present somewhat of a complex mother-son relationship, though certainly nothing negative.

We are familiar with Miriam’s momentous visit from the angel Gabriel announcing she would bear Israel’s Messiah.[2] We know of her delivery of the Christ Child in humble conditions in Bethlehem.[3] We know that Miriam and Joseph took the 2-year-old Jesus to Egypt to flee the wrath of King Herod, who sought to kill Jesus.[4]

We know that after Herod’s death the small family returned to their home in Nazareth.[5] We also know that God blessed Miriam and Joseph with at least six other children, four sons – James, Joseph, Simon and Judas[6] – and several daughters.[7] Therefore, Jesus grew up in a large household of at least 9 people. It is believed Joseph died well before Miriam, because he is not mentioned in any of the accounts of Jesus as an adult.


The only other account we have of Jesus’ youth occurs when He was 12 years old. The family had gone up from Nazareth to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Passover.[8]  Following the celebration, the family set off to return to Nazareth. Because they probably traveled with a contingent of relatives and neighbors from their hometown, Miriam and Joseph failed to notice Jesus was not with them. In fact, it took them a full day to realize it.

When Miriam and Joseph returned to Jerusalem, they found Jesus, “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Miriam mildly rebuked Jesus, saying, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you” (Luke 2:48). Jesus replied, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49-50).

Jesus’ Self-Awareness
This response may seem somewhat disrespectful, but Jesus was no ordinary Son, and He was well aware of it. Jesus’ reply to Miriam was a clear indication that He knew exactly who He was and what His true mission on earth was to be.

Jesus’ words could not have been lost on Miriam. It was as if Jesus were saying, “It is true that you are my earthly mother and I love you. But you must understand that I am God’s Son. In fact, I am the God who created you.”

Jesus would return to Nazareth with His parents and spend the next 18 years in the family home. We can only imagine the comfort Jesus brought to Miriam following Joseph’s death. Not only would His secure arms embrace her during her time of mourning, but as the oldest child, Jesus would have become head of the family.

It is possible He took over the family’s carpentry business, though any one of the brothers could have done that. Either way, Jesus would have been a major influence in Miriam’s life.


Jesus’ Ministry and Beyond
When Jesus finally left home to fulfill His mission, we know Miriam continued to have a relationship with her Son, visiting him on occasion when He ministered.[9] And, of course, Miriam was there to see her Son crucified. As Jesus neared His final moments of life during His first coming, He looked down from the cross and saw Miriam.

Next to her was the beloved apostle John. Wishing to secure His earthly mother’s future, Jesus said: “‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’” (John 19:26-27). Miriam had four other sons, why didn’t Jesus entrust His mother to one of them? It is probable that at the time none of the four accepted Jesus as Israel’s Messiah (though James and Judas [Jude] later wrote the New Testament books that bear their names).

The final mention of Miriam in the Bible gives us wonderful insight into her relationship with Jesus. Following His resurrection, Jesus’ disciples would meet in the upper room of “where they were staying” (Acts 1:13). We then read that with them were “the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and … his brothers” (Acts 1:14).

In the end, Miraim persevered through witnessing her Son’s crucifixion and became a disciple and worshiper of Jesus, no longer her son, but the Savior of the world to whom she came for salvation.

[1] Luke 1:28

[2] Luke 1:26-33

[3] Luke 2:6-7

[4] Matthew 2:13-15

[5] Matthew 2:19-23

[6] Matthew 13:55-56

[7] Mark 6:3

[8] Luke 2:41

[9] Matthew 12:46

[9] Matthew 12:46