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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Existence of Jesus Christ

Don Stewart :: What Do We Know about Joseph, Jesus' Earthly Father?

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What Do We Know about Joseph, Jesus’ Earthly Father?

The Existence of Jesus Christ – Question 13

Some two thousand years ago, God the Son became a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ. In doing so, the Bible tells us that He had earthly parents. There are some facts that we know about them. For one thing, we know they were his earthly father was named Joseph. Scripture tells us certain things about this man. It is important that we discover what it says because there are some valuable lessons for us.

1. Joseph Was Not the Biological Father of Jesus

To begin with, Joseph was the husband of Mary the mother of Jesus but clearly he was not the His biological father. The New Testament makes this point quite emphatically. Matthew explains what occurred in this manner:

The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:18 HCSB)

Joseph while the husband of Mary, was not the father of Jesus. Indeed, he discovered Mary was pregnant through the Holy Spirit.

Faced with this dilemma, Joseph thought of divorcing Mary. Scripture says, however, that the angel of the Lord intervened:

Because Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately. When he had contemplated this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:19-20 NET)

The angel told Joseph the source of the pregnancy of Mary, the Holy Spirit. Joseph was then commanded to take Mary has his wife.

The angel also told Joseph what the name of the Son would be, Jesus. Joseph as further informed that this Child would be the Savior of the people of Israel:

She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” (Matthew 1:21-23 NET)

The Child of Mary would actually be “God with the people.” He would be like no other child who has ever lived.

We find that Joseph immediately obeyed the commandment of the angel of the Lord. Matthew writes:

When Joseph got up from sleeping, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her but did not know her intimately until she gave birth to a son. And he named Him Jesus. (Matthew 1:24, 25 HCSB)

Joseph married Mary the virgin. Scripture emphasizes that they did not have any intimate relations until after the time Jesus was born.

2. Joseph Takes Mary to Bethlehem Where the Child Jesus Is Born

Scripture says that Joseph brought his pregnant wife Mary to Bethlehem in obedience to the commandment of Caesar. Luke writes,

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered. This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough—because there was no room for them at the inn. (Luke 2:1-7 HCSB)

Since Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to David’s city, Bethlehem, to register in accordance with the decree of Caesar.

3. Joseph Takes The Child And His Mother To Egypt

Joseph is again mentioned after Jesus was born in Bethlehem. King Herod, upon discovering the Messiah had been born, ordered the young male babies in Bethlehem killed:

After they were gone, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to destroy Him.” So he got up, took the child and His mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. He stayed there until Herod's death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called My Son. (Matthew 2:13-15 HCSB)

The flight to Egypt fulfilled what the Lord had predicted through the prophet Isaiah.

4. The Return from Egypt and the Move to Nazareth

The Holy Family eventually returned to Israel from Egypt but moved to Nazareth upon hearing that Archelaus was ruling:

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Get up! Take the child and His mother and go to the land of Israel, because those who sought the child’s life are dead.” So he got up, took the child and His mother, and entered the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned in a dream, he withdrew to the region of Galilee. Then he went and settled in a town called Nazareth to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets, that He will be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:19-23 HCSB)

In sum, there are not many facts recorded about Joseph in the four gospels. He is mentioned only with respect to the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, flight to Egypt, and return to Galilee. We find Joseph obeyed the Lord without question during this time.

5. Joseph Is Last Heard of with the Episode in the Temple

The only other reference to Joseph is the episode regarding Jesus teaching at the temple at age twelve. Luke records this:

And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. His parents didn’t know what to think. “Son!” his mother said to him. “Why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been frantic, searching for you everywhere.” “But why did you need to search?” he asked. “You should have known that I would be in my Father’s house.” But they didn’t understand what he meant. (Luke 2:47-50 NLT)

It is interesting to note that Joseph is not mentioned by name in this account, neither is there any record of him saying anything to Jesus. In fact, there are no recorded words of Joseph contained in Scripture.

The account speaks of Jesus’ parents. Mary calls Joseph “Jesus” father” however Jesus corrects her when He emphasizes who His real Father is. This is the last we hear of Joseph.

6. Joseph Was Not around for Jesus’ Public Ministry

Joseph is not mentioned as being around when Jesus began His public ministry. He is conspicuous by His absence. Almost everyone agrees that he had died before the time Jesus revealed Himself to the world. We know nothing of the circumstances surrounding his death.

What we do know of Joseph, the husband of Mary, is that he was a godly man who unquestioningly obeyed the Lord. We can only imagine how difficult it was for him to hear the whispers about Mary and the Child she bore. It was all the more difficult because he could not tell anyone the real story about what had occurred. That would have to wait until the time the Child grew to be a man. However, Joseph, like so many others, never lived to see the vindication of his wife Mary.

7. His Death May Have Been Indicated

There may be an indication in Scripture that Joseph would never live to see Jesus’ public ministry. When the newborn Jesus was brought to the temple in Jerusalem, they were met by an elderly man named Simeon. This man had been promised by the Lord that he would not die until he saw God’s Messiah. After speaking prophetic words over the Child Jesus, Simeon spoke to Joseph and Mary about their newborn Son:

So the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “Listen carefully: This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected. Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul as well!” (Luke 2:33-35 NET)

Joseph is called the “child’s father.” However, Luke has already told his readers who was the real Father of Jesus, God Himself. Since Joseph adopted Jesus at His birth, he could rightly be called Jesus’ earthly father.

We find that Simeon had direct words for Mary, but not for Joseph. He predicted that a sword would pierce Mary’s soul concerning Jesus. Among other things, it speaks of Jesus’ rejection and crucifixion.

Yet Simeon said nothing about what would happen to Joseph. This may be an indication that Joseph would not be around to see Jesus rejected and crucified by the people whom He came to save. Whatever the case may be, it seems relatively certain that Joseph did not live to see Jesus’ public ministry.

In sum, we can say that Joseph was a godly man who was obedient to the Lord. Indeed, he was asked to do a number of difficult things. We find that each and every time the Lord commanded Joseph to do something, he complied with the command. Therefore, Joseph provides a great example to all of us.

Summary – Question 13
What Do We Know about Joseph, Jesus’ Earthly Father?

We know some details about Jesus’ family. The name of His earthly father was Joseph. However, Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. The Bible makes this as clear as can be.

While engaged to Mary but before they had any intimate relations, Joseph was told by the angel of the Lord that his wife to be was pregnant through the Holy Spirit. She would give birth to a boy whom he was to name “Jesus.” Joseph was thus commanded to take Mary as his wife and raise Jesus as his own. He obeyed and adopted Jesus upon His birth. Interestingly, we have no recorded words of Joseph. Every time he is mentioned with other people, he is never the one doing the speaking.

We find that Joseph was prominent in the accounts surrounding Jesus’ birth, the family’s flight to Egypt, and their return to the Holy Land. Joseph is also mentioned in the story of the boy Jesus when He was teaching the elders at the temple though there is no record of him saying anything at this occasion. We know nothing of the circumstances of the death of Joseph.

There may be a hint of his death before the public ministry of Jesus would even begin. When the Child Jesus was brought to the temple in Jerusalem, a man named Simeon held Him in his arms. He specifically told Mary that a sword would pierce “her heart.” He said nothing about Joseph. This may indicate that Joseph would not be around when Jesus entered His public ministry.

What we do know is that Mary is referred to on certain occasions during Jesus’ ministry but Joseph is nowhere mentioned. It seems that Joseph passed from the scene before the Lord began the work for which He had been called.

We can sum up the life of Joseph by observing his godly behavior. Indeed, each and every time the Lord called upon him to do something, Joseph immediately obeyed.

In addition, Joseph obeyed the command of Caesar to enroll his family in the hometown of his ancestor David. Although it caused hardship on his pregnant wife to make the long journey, it allowed for the prophecy to be fulfilled of the Christ to be born in Bethlehem. This unquestioned obedience of Joseph is a lesson for all of us.

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