The New Testament of the Holy Bible is centered around Jesus Christ. We’re given narratives, contextual information, and even the internal conflicts pertaining to Jesus, his disciples, and even Jesus’s adversaries. What is striking, though, is that we are given very little information about Jesus’s earthly father, Joseph. There are certainly some characteristics of Joseph that we can contrive, and we can see how his relationship with Jesus’s mother works. But Joseph is a vital piece of the divine plan’s puzzle, so why do we see so little of him?
Mary is mentioned repeatedly throughout Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. She is with Jesus from his birth until his crucifixion. The last we see or hear of Joseph, though, is an episode from Luke during Jesus’s prepubescence.
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” Luke ch 2 v 41-48
This information is more than we are given in Matthew- we see none of Joseph after Jesus’s birth and childhood in the first book of the New Testament. Historians generally agree that Joseph died before Jesus started his ministry. Historians consider that Jesus might have remained home and delayed his ministry because he had an obligation to care for Mary in Joseph’s absence or death.
Historians give credibility to the theory that Joseph died before Jesus’s ministry, also, because of the account given in John 19: 26-27:
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”
Joseph’s death is assumed because if he had been alive, Mary would have been committed to him and not had to have been taken care of by John. I doubt Joseph, had he been alive, would’ve appreciated his wife being given to someone else, and I doubt that john would’ve appreciated the extra burden put on him had it not been necessary.
There is no consensus or evidence on exactly when he died or what the cause of death might have been. Some would entertain that perhaps Joseph’s role is downplayed so as to not draw too much attention to the paternity of Jesus. Some Jews and pagans rumored that Mary had become pregnant with the son of a Roman soldier, Panthera. Still others sit on the other extreme side. In the Proto-Gospel of James, Jesus’s half-brother, we are told of the midwife who attended to Mary and baby Jesus. The midwife was skeptical of Mary’s virgin birth, so she opted to give Mary a vaginal inspection, just so that we all could be sure that Mary was a virgin after all. Whew! I sure am glad that the midwife took care of that problem for us all. Thank goodness that we have the midwife to let us know without a shadow of a doubt whether or not Mary was truly a virgin. Of course, Mary’s hymen was still intact, and God punished the midwife by burning her hand for doubt, but Jesus heals her in his first of many miracles.
Obviously there are several theories surrounding Joseph’s absence, almost all of which center around Mary’s virginity. Both sides have an agenda: the Jews and pagans to prove that Jesus is just an ordinary guy, and the Christians to prove that his birth was a miracle and that Mary was a virgin. All things considered, my reason leads me to believe that regardless of Roman soldiers and midwives, Joseph probably was dead. As always though, one’s personal beliefs and internal indictments are usually what seals the deal pertaining to personal belief systems- particularly with that which has good arguments on either side.
Joseph and Mary’s relationship centered entirely on God’s will. Both Mary and Joseph were approached by angels who revealed God’s plan. Gabriel, the archangel, told Mary she would give birth to God’s son. Mary’s will became God’s will. Joseph was going to divorce Mary because she had become pregnant, not of him, out of wedlock. An angel approached Joseph and told him to not be afraid to take Mary as a wife. Joseph did as the angel said and remained faithful to Mary. Once again, an angel came to Joseph and warned him that King Herod aimed to kill the baby Jesus. The angel told Joseph to move to Egypt with Mary, and the angel told Joseph when it was safe to come back to Palestine. Joseph and Mary continually made their relationship more about God than themselves. They were more interested in God’s will than their own.
Joseph was a simple man. He worked hard, and feared God. He carefully and strictly observed Jewish customs. He never hesitated to answer God’s command, and sacrificed his livelihood for the good of God’s plan- like when he left all behind to flee to Egypt. Joseph was graceful; when he wanted to divorce Mary because he feared she had been unfaithful, he wanted to do it in secret so to not embarrass her. Joseph had every legal right to divorce Mary- she was pregnant with a child that was obviously not his. She would have been subject to be stoned if he had publicly ousted her. Even when he didn’t know that the child she carried was the son of God, he wanted to spare her.
Mary and Joseph are a perfect example of a couple that put their wants second to what they believe is God’s will. They placed their faith in God when most would be unwilling. Joseph showed his willingness to do as God commanded even when it meant moving thousands of miles away from his job with his pregnant wife. Joseph is truly one of the unsung heroes of the New Testament.