What is the history of Joseph who was the father of Jesus Christ? How did he live? How did he die?
Who was Jesus’ father? Was Joseph the biological father of Jesus? That is, was Joseph the father of Jesus Christ? The answer to these questions is given in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. It is important to realize that both Matthew and Luke were detail men: Matthew as a tax collector and Luke was a medical doctor. Their attention to precise details is valuable in determining how Jesus was born. More importantly, the gospels were written by God the Holy Spirit Himself. So, there are multiple reasons to believe their reports. The gospels give us insight into who Jesus considered His father to be.
Prophecies about the Virgin Birth
There are two significant Old Testament prophecies that reveal the Messiah would be virgin born. The first one is quoted by the gospel of Matthew in Matthew 1:23. The Old Testament prophecy is Isaiah 7:14.
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 (NASB)
It clearly states that a sign would be given. Some claim that the Hebrew word for virgin means a young woman. Those who make this claim have distorted the meaning of the word. But if it were true, then how is it a sign if a young woman bears a child? That happens everyday around the world! But it is a sign if a virgin gives birth to a child. The sign was given so that we could identify God when He was virgin born in human flesh and blood. We needed a sign in order to identify Immanuel.
A second important prophecy is Micah 5:2. It states,
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.
Micah 5:2 (NASB)
This prophecy is about the Messiah who is Jesus Christ. The prophecy states that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. This verse was quoted in Matthew 2:6 as an answer to the magi who want to know where the king of the Jews, the Messiah, would be born. So, when God was born in human flesh, that revealed Jesus already existed as God for the prophecy said He was “from long ago, from the days of eternity.” The Hebrew word for eternity means eternal or forever. So, Christ could not have been born as a human by sexual intercourse for He had already existed in eternity past.
Gospel Records of the Virgin Birth
There are multiple facts that reveal Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. First, Matthew 1:18 states that Mary was engaged to Joseph before they came together. That is, before they engaged in sexual activity. The verse states,
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18 (NASB)
The Greek word for “came together” is synerchomai. It is a compound word of syn, which means to be with or to join, and erchomai which means to come. That is before Mary and Joseph joined themselves together sexually, it was discovered that Mary was pregnant. Matthew 1:18 is the most direct and clear statement in the New Testament that reveals Joseph was not the earthly or biological father of Jesus Christ.
A second fact is that Matthew 1:19 says that as a result Joseph had planned to “send her away secretly.” That is, he planned to secretly divorce her for in the Jewish culture of the times, an engagement was the equivalent of a contract leading to marriage. This reveals that Joseph knew he was not the father of the baby.
Third, Matthew 1:20-23 also tells us that an angel visited Joseph in a dream and told him that Mary was with child or pregnant as the result of the Holy Spirit causing her to conceive.
But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for 1the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” Matthew 1:20-23 (NASB)
The passage is very important for it reveals why Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and not by sexual intercourse or human sperm. The reason given is that Jesus would save His people from their sins. He would be the Savior for our sins, not only for the Jewish people but also anyone who believes in Him (John 3:16). Another reason the Holy Spirit caused Him to be conceived is that He was God. This passage stated His name was Immanuel which means God with us.
Fourth, Matthew 1:24-25 tells us that Joseph kept Mary a virgin until she gave birth. So, they did not have any sexual activity until after she gave birth to Christ in the city of Bethlehem.
Fifth, Luke 3:23 clearly tells us that people thought Joseph was the biological earthly father of Jesus.
When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph . . . Luke 3:23 (NASB)
But Joseph was not the physical father of Christ. Matthew has already revealed that Joseph did not have sexual intercourse with Mary until after Jesus was born.
Sixth, Luke 1:34-35 records a conversation between the angel Gabriel and Mary. It says,
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. Luke 1:34-35 (NASB)
So, Mary’s pregnancy was caused by the Holy Spirit and not through sexual activity. Joseph was not the father of Jesus Christ. God the Father caused the pregnancy to occur by the Holy Spirit.
Testimony of the Early Church Fathers
The early church fathers believed and taught that Jesus was virgin born. The doctrine of the virgin birth was not created in the fourth and fifth centuries as claimed by some. The weight of Scripture in the prophecies, the gospels, and the early church fathers in the first and second centuries A.D. was that Jesus was virgin born. Here are quotes from their documents.
Ignatius (c. 35-107) was born after Jesus was crucified and resurrected. But he lived during the time of the apostles. In his epistle to the Smyrnæans, he stated that Jesus was born of a virgin.
He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin.1
Another early church father who believed that Jesus was virgin born is Justin Martyr (A.D. 110-165). He stated,
We even affirm that He was born of a virgin.2
And hear again how Isaiah in express words foretold that He should be born of a virgin; for he spoke thus: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bring forth a son, and they shall say for His name, ‘God with us.’”3
Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215) stated,
. . . is Jesus, whom of the lightning flash of Divinity the Virgin bore. 4
Irenaeus of Lyons (A.D. 115-202) wrote,
Him who was born Emmanuel of the Virgin. . . To this effect they testify, [saying,] that before Joseph had come together with Mary, while she therefore remained in virginity, “she was found with child of the Holy Ghost;” and that the angel Gabriel said unto her, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
. . .
Carefully, then, has the Holy Ghost pointed out, by what has been said, His birth from a virgin, and His essence, that He is God (for the name Emmanuel indicates this).5
Origen (A.D. 185-254) said,
And to the house of David has been given a sign: for the Virgin bore, and was pregnant, and brought forth a son, and His name is Emmanuel.6
The early church father Irenaeus of Lyons made this comment,.
The heretics . . . do not acknowledge His incarnation. Others ignore the arrangement of a virgin and maintain that He was begotten by Joseph.7
That is, unbelief rejects the facts about Christ and seeks proof that He is not God. This is a critical issue in any discussion about the deity of Jesus Christ. But the testimony of ancient prophets, the apostles and the early Christians who suffered for their beliefs, and the writings of the early church fathers reveal that the Messiah was to be virgin born, and He was! His name is Jesus Christ.
1. Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnæans,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 86.
2. Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 170.
3. Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 174.
4. Clement of Alexandria, “Fragments of Clemens Alexandrinus,” in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. William Wilson, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 578.
5. Irenaeus of Lyons, “Irenæus against Heresies,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 452.
6 Origen, “De Principiis,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Frederick Crombie, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 353.
7. David W. Verdot. A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs. Hendrickson Publishers. 1998. p. 670.
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