Life of Joseph
(Jesus' Stepfather)

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This short article discusses the life of Joseph, a man entrusted by God to be the stepfather of Jesus. What were some of his outstanding character traits? Was he converted at the time of the virgin birth? Did he and Mary produce any children after the Lord was born? Was he still alive when Christ was on the cross? How long did he live and when did he die?

The Bible introduces us to Joseph as a man who was a physical descendant of King David (Luke 1:26) through David's son Solomon (see Matthew 1:1 - 16). He lived in the Galilean city of Nazareth (Luke 2:4) as a carpenter (Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3). A woman named Mary, who also lived in the city (Luke 1:26 - 27), was espoused to be his wife. Although it is unknown at what age the couple got married, Jewish tradition at the time stated that boys could marry starting at the age of 18 and girls at the age of 12 (Complete Word Study Dictionary).

Joseph discovers his betrothed wife is pregnant (Matthew 1:18) after she returns from a three month stay with her cousin Elizabeth (who likely lived in the Judean city of Hebron). Although he could expose her adultery publically and risk she is stoned to death (the penalty for such a crime - Deuteronomy 22:23 - 24), he desires to be merciful and divorce Mary privately. It is only after God intervenes, through a dream, that he decides to stay married (Matthew 1:19 - 21). Joseph also decides to refrain from having sex with Mary until after the Messiah is born so that the prophecy concerning his virgin birth could be perfectly fulfilled (verses 22 - 25). Please see our map showing the couple's journeys for information regarding what the family endured in order to carry out God's will.

Joseph, though informed of the supernatural origin of Mary's pregnancy, had to exercise a great deal of faith and courage to continue his relationship with her. His decision to stay married meant he would have to endure, for the rest of his life, the ridicule and gossip of neighbors, relatives and others who rejected the Lord's miraculous conception and believed he married a pregnant fornicator. For further background on this subject, please see Mark 6:1 - 3 and Matthew 13:54 - 57 concerning how those in Nazareth treated Jesus when he came to preach in their synagogue.

Timeline of Jesus' Birth
Lineage from Abraham to Christ
The Life of King David
Did the Romans write about the Messiah?

After the Messiah was born, the family grew by at least six children - four boys and at least two girls. The names of the boys were Simon, James, Joses and Judas (Jude) and the name of one of the girls was Salome (Matthew 13:54 - 57, Mark 6:3, 15:40, 16:1). At least two of Joseph's biological sons, James and Jude, eventually became Christians and pillars in the first century church. In fact, these two sons wrote books that are included in our New Testament (the books of James and Jude)!

Jesus' stepfather was a loving parent who was concerned about the wellbeing of those under his care (Luke 2:45, 48). He was a just man who was obedient to the Bible's laws and commandments (Luke 2:21 - 24), including keeping God's Holy Feast days (Luke 2:41). He faithfully followed God's direction when told, on several occasions, what to do (Matthew 1:20 - 21, 2:13 - 14, 19 - 22). He willingly obeyed the laws of the land even when some of them were not only difficult to keep but also enforced by an occupying, and unwelcomed, foreign power (Luke 2:1 - 5).


Rest on Flight to Egypt by Caravaggio
Rest on Flight to Egypt
(Joseph holds music for angel playing violin)
Caravaggio (1596 - 97)

Scripture does not tell us how long Joseph lived or when he died. The last known reference to him occurs after he and his family keep the Feast of Passover in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41 - 51) in 9 A.D. He almost certainly, as most Bible commentaries declare, passed away by the time Christ began his public ministry. This means he perished somewhere between the middle of 9 A.D. and the fall of 26, and was dead for several (possibly many) years before our Savior was crucified.

Interesting Facts

Joseph is one of the most common names found in God's word and means increase, addition or "let him add." It occurs at least 250 times in the King James Version of the Bible, making it the eighth most frequently mentioned name. Its use, when referencing Jesus' stepfather, occurs sixteen times in the New Testament.

On four separate occasions, Joseph received instructions from God while he was dreaming. He has the most recorded dreams in Scripture as well as the most dreams in which the Eternal's will was directly conveyed to a person.

God's word does not directly state that Jesus' stepfather (or Mary) had the Holy Spirit in them (e.g. they were converted) when Christ was born. They likely had the Spirit WITH them, but not IN them, a situation Jesus' closest disciples experienced during his ministry (John 14:17, see also 7:39). Although Mary would receive the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14, 2), Scripture is silent regarding whether her husband was converted before his death.

Even though he played an important role in God's plan to save man, the Bible does not record any words spoken by Joseph! In fact, when Jesus was found in Jerusalem after his parents spent three days searching for him, it was Mary's words questioning her Son that were written down (Luke 2:41 - 49).

Additional Study Materials
The Life of Abraham
Why wasn't Jesus named EMMANUEL?
Journeys of Mary and Joseph Map
What early Christian beliefs have changed?

Life of Joseph (Jesus' Stepfather)
Bibliography

Holy Bible, a Faithful Version


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