Voices of Christmas: Joseph

What shall we say about Joseph?  I’ve read comments ranging from, “There’s no fool like an old fool,” for him going ahead and marrying Mary after she was, as it was thought, unfaithful to him, to the idea that Joseph was an elderly man simply assigned, as it were, to “protect her virginity.”

Though the Scripture doesn’t address the issue of “age” for either of them, it is possible that Joseph was indeed older than Mary.  He’s never mentioned after the Temple incident when Jesus was 12 years old, Luke 2:41-50.  As for the other, that he was just there to protect her virginity, Scripture teaches that Joseph and Mary enjoyed a normal marital relationship after the birth of Jesus.

Matthew 1:24, 25 says that after the angel of the Lord assured him that everything was all right, Joseph immediately took to him his wife, and did not know her until she had brought forth her firstborn Son. The phrase, “did not know her not UNTIL…” indicates there came a time when he did “know” her, that is, they became a normal married couple. Further, Matthew 1:18 says before they came together she was found with child…. Matthew continues with child of the Holy Spirit,” something which wouldn’t be obvious from her condition.  Divine intervention was necessary for both of them to understand what was going on.  The word “before” tells me there was an “after.”  They had other children “after” Jesus.  Matthew 13:55, 56 lists four brothers and at least three sisters.  It’s argued that these are Joseph’s from a previous marriage, but the description of Jesus as Mary’s firstborn would seem to indicate that she had “otherborn.”  Matthew 13 lists them.

What was it like for Joseph after Mary’s three-month absence visiting Elizabeth, when she came home and would be beginning “to show?”  Everything we said about Mary and contemporary attitudes about marriage, sex and virginity would hold here, except on the other side.  Promiscuity was not acceptable, though there were undoubtedly those who were guilty of it.  Indeed, the Law had a provision that if a woman came to a first marriage and was not a virgin, she was liable to death, Deuteronomy 22:13-21.

Feminists and unbelievers find these strictures offensive because they single out the woman and don’t punish the man.  However, there is no physical way to tell whether or not a man is a virgin.  And there are plenty of other verses, like the next one in Deuteronomy 13:22, which call for the punishment of the man as well in cases of sexual misconduct.

There is a reference to this in Matthew 1:19, Then Joseph her husband, being a just man…. He was faced with what the Bible said about sexual sin, and it seemed Mary was guilty.  After all, there was no other explanation for what happened to her.  At the same time, he couldn’t bring himself to demand her execution.  I believe he truly cared for her, and was extremely distressed by the whole thing.  And notice, he’s already called “her husband,” and she is called his “wife.”  This shows how legally binding a “betrothal” was.  And it shows a merciful spirit even in the face of a death penalty sin.

We don’t know how long it took before the Lord intervened.  I don’t think it was more than a day or two, if even that long.  Too much was at stake for this couple, and for Him. The Angel of the Lord told him not to be afraid, but to go ahead and marry Mary, because her child was conceived of the Holy Spirit.  Her Son was to be the Savior of His people.  That was enough for Joseph, though it seldom satisfies any but believers.  As soon as he woke up, and I tend to believe the Angel awakened him, Joseph married his betrothed, and did not know her [was not intimate with her] till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.  And he called His name JESUS.