Oh, you thought the questions in the song “Mary, Did You Know?” were rhetorical? Think again. The Bible has answers…and I’ve gathered some of them here as a handy reference.
To come to my conclusions, I ran each of the lines in “Mary, Did You Know?” through the following tests:
- Did someone directly say it to Mary or someone close to her? Then she probably knew it.
- Does the Old Testament, which Mary would have been familiar with, prominently feature the information? Then there’s at least a chance she knew it.
- Was it not mentioned in either form, and/or totally illogical? Then she probably didn’t know it.
Ready? Let’s go.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Answer: Probably not. There aren’t any prophecies I could find in the Old Testament relating to the Messiah walking on water (let me know in the comments if you know of one). You could maaaaybe stretch things and say that the Messiah was a “prophet like Moses” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) and walking on water would be parallel to the parting of the Red Sea. But chances are good that Mary would not have predicted this particular miracle.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Answer: Yes. In Matthew 1:21, the angel tells Joseph, “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Since in that same dream, the angel told Joseph not to call off the engagement, and since angelic visitations were highly unusual and highly terrifying, you know Joseph told Mary every word. Whether Mary understood what “save his people from his sins” meant…we aren’t sure.
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
Answer: Maybe. The concept of deliverance that most people were expecting seemed to be a physical, beat-up-the-Roman-empire sort of thing, even among Jesus’s followers (Luke 24:19-21). Mary’s cousin Zechariah’s prophetic song in Luke 1 contains some amazing promises, but most are very Psalm-like in their praise: “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” And yes, Mary knew that Jesus would “save his people from their sins,” but would she have thought of a personal, individual spiritual renewal, or was she still thinking of corporate deliverance like the Exodus or the high priest atoning for the people in general? I don’t think we can say for sure.
This child that you’ve delivered will soon deliver you.
Answer: Not a question, but yes. But maybe not in all the ways that Jesus accomplished on the cross. See above.
Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Answer: Totally possible. If Mary was at all into reading or listening to recitations of Isaiah, she couldn’t have missed the theme of blindness and sight going through his prophecies (Isaiah 29:18, Isaiah 35:4-6, others), although this might have been interpreted as restoring spiritual sight. Also, Elisha prayed for God to strike the Syrian army blind, then restore their sight once they’d wandered away into Samaria (2 Kings 6:8-21). So there’s at least precedent for this one.
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Answer: Probably not. Again, no OT water references related to the coming of Jesus that I’m aware of. The closest I could come is an argument that Mary might have read God’s smackdown-speech to Job in Job 38 which references God’s power over the sea and rain multiple times (Job 38:8-11, 16, 25-27, 24-35) and suspected that Jesus would demonstrate that control. Then again, that same monologue references God as knowing the number of mountain goats born each spring and fishing for a sea monster, and Jesus didn’t make those tasks part of his ministry. (That we know of. Maybe on his off-Sabbaths he went goat-birthing and monster-wrangling. Who can say?)
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
Answer: No, but entirely on technicalities, because I’m not sure that angels do much trodding (what’s the point of those six wings if you’re not going to use them?), and Jesus, before he was in human form, probably didn’t walk. Then again, making concrete statements about the form and nature of God always gets tricky, so maybe I’ll just back away slowly from this one.
When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God.
Answer: Again, not a question, but yes. The angel directly told Mary in Luke 1, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Later, her cousin Elizabeth said to her, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Maybe Mary didn’t have a full understanding of what it meant that Jesus was the son of God until after the resurrection, but she had a very clear understanding that this was a once-in-human-history divine birth (Luke 1:46-55).
Bridge Bonus: No questions here, but because we’re overachievers, let’s see if the Old Testament predicted any of the following miracles. (In which case Mary might have known about them.)
The blind will see.
The deaf will hear.
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap.
The dumb will speak.
The praises of the lamb.
Basically this a combination of Isaiah 61:1–2 (Which Jesus quotes in Luke 4:16–21) and Isaiah 35:4-6, except without the dead-raising part. That might have been a surprise, although Ezekiel and the extremely startling valley of dry bones incident (Ezekiel 37:1-14) could be used as a reference for this part, which would give Mary a 5/5 chance of predicting these things if she was up on her prophetic literature.
Okay, back to the rhetorical questions.
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Answer: See above, Mary knowing whether Jesus was God. Again, who knows if she was thinking through every single aspect of what that would mean, including how Jesus was involved in the creation process.
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Answer: Yes, as long as you’re talking about after going to the temple and hearing Simeon prophesy over Jesus, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32) The Magi, from Gentile territory, worshiping Jesus as king (and Herod’s subsequent rage-fest) was probably also a tip-off for this one.
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect lamb?
Answer: Maybe? If Mary made the connection between Jesus as saving people from their sin and the Passover lamb, then sure. But it wasn’t until John the Baptist started his ministry that anyone went around declaring, “Behold, the lamb of God,” and outside of the cryptic reference in Isaiah 53:7 that probably only made sense after the crucifixion, God usually portrayed himself as the shepherd and his people as sheep, so this one isn’t a slam-dunk.
That sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.
Answer: See above, Mary knowing whether Jesus was God. “I Am” is a pretty audacious claim to divinity, which is why people tried to stone Jesus when he actually made it (John 8:58-59).
And just in case you’re wondering just how introspective Mary actually was about all this and how likely she’d be in general to put details together, I give you Luke 2:19, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
Conclusion: Mary probably knew most of this.
That, however, doesn’t keep me from enjoying the song, all jokes aside. Because by asking us to reconsider aspects of Jesus that we often take for granted, “Mary, Did You Know?” puts us in the place of Mary, with the thousands of questions and prophecies and paradoxes that must have been whirling through her head as she looked at the baby in her arms. It asks us, with each line, to consider the significance of Jesus’ birth and ministry, his death and resurrection, and all of the mysteries and miracles in between.
It’s a chance to briefly un-learn the things we’ve grown up reciting since we were little kids in Sunday School…and puts us instead in the position of a young Israelite woman who reflected on some amazing truths. And it invites us to wonder at the beauty of it all.
Maybe it’s not about what Mary did or didn’t know. It’s about how what we know changes the way we celebrate Christmas.