Bible Question:

What do we know about the life history of Joseph?

Bible Answer:

What do we know about the life of Joseph? The biblical record about the life of Joseph is given to us in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. They mention Joseph before Jesus’ birth, when Jesus was a youth at the age of twelve, and then later during Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 13:55; Luke 4:22).

Joseph Supposed Father of Jesus

It is important to note that ancient writers or biographers did not value the early years of a person’s life. A complete biographical sketch of an individual’s life was avoided. They usually focused on only important events in the life of the person. The early years were growth and development, but the final years reflected the maturity of the individual and his or her character. How a person died was considered to be of greater value in assessing the character of a person than the early or middle years. The degree of their maturity said it all.

So it is not surprising that the youth years of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus are almost completely ignored, and only the later years are mentioned when we collect all the information in the Bible and put it in chronological order.

Joseph’s Father and Birth

Joseph’s father was named Jacob according to the gospel of Matthew.

Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. Matthew 1:16  (NASB)

Almost 900 years after King David died, Jacob was born. Jacob was a physical or biological descendant of King David, the greatest king of Israel. Matthew tells us that Jacob was the father of Joseph. That means Joseph was born into the royal line of David. The Scriptures had prophesied that the Messiah would be born of the royal line of David (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2).  Matthew reveals that Joseph had the incredible privilege of playing the role of an earthly father to the long-awaited Messiah, but he was not the physical father of Christ (Luke 3:23).  Joseph’s genealogy reveals that because Joseph as a legal descendant of King David, Jesus was a legal heir to the royal throne of King David. Mary’s genealogy reveals that Jesus was a physical descendant of King David.

Joseph Met Mary in Nazareth

We know very little about Mary’s or Joseph’s youth. The first information that we have about Joseph and Mary is that they lived in the city of Nazareth during their youth (Luke 2:4).

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David . . . Luke 2:4  (NASB)

Both the gospels of Matthew and Luke reveal that Mary and Joseph were engaged to be married.

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)

. . . in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him . . . Luke 2:5 (NASB)

Joseph’s and Mary’s marriage would have been arranged by their parents. Both of them may have been asked for their opinion about the marriage before the final agreement was made. We read in Genesis 24:57-58 that Rebekah was asked for her consent before she married Isaac. Once the marriage was arranged, the couple had to wait one year in order to see if the young bride had had sexual relations with another man. If she was not pregnant at the end of the year, the contract would be fulfilled and they would be married.

A Righteous and Loving Man

Joseph must have been in great inner turmoil when he discovered that Mary was pregnant. This was a personal insult to Joseph and a great public embarrassment to both sets of parents. The first glimpse of Joseph’s character is the manner in which he handled this situation. Matthew says that he was a righteous man and that he wanted to show compassion to Mary. So he planned to “put her away secretly.”

. . . before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. Matthew 1:18-19 (NASB)

An angel came to their rescue and told Joseph that the child was from God and that he was to marry Mary.

And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.  Matthew 1:24-25 (NASB)

Joseph believed in God and responded by obeying. This reveals Joseph’s heart toward God. Most of us would have “been practical” and not proceeded with the marriage, but Joseph was righteous, compassionate, and obedient to God. Joseph was a godly man. What a great example he is to us!

Joseph, Supposedly the Father of Jesus

Normally, Jewish genealogies refer to males being descendants of males and not females. But in this verse we are told that Jesus came from Mary. This is a clear indication that Matthew is telling us that Jesus’ birth was abnormal. We should also note that Matthew 1:16 indicates that Joseph was not the father of Jesus. Jesus did not have an earthly father according to both Matthew, a tax collector, and Luke, a medical doctor, who also reported that Jesus did not have an earthly father. Joseph was supposedly Jesus’ father.

When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli . . . Luke 3:23 (NASB)

The phrase “the son of Joseph” should be taken as an explanation since the Greek definite article is missing from Joseph’s name but is included with all of the other names. Since both Matthew and Luke were professionals, they would have paid great attention to details.

Matthew 1:18 teaches us that Joseph and Mary waited to have sexual relations until after she gave birth to Christ. Luke 1:34 reveals the same truth. We also discover in Luke 3:23 that Eli was Jesus’ grandfather on Mary’s side of the family tree.

Joseph Was a Loving Husband

Matthew 1:18-19 reveals the heart of Joseph. We are told that after he heard that Mary was pregnant, he did not want to disgrace her as he assumed that she had committed adultery. That reveals a compassionate man who loved her. Then Matthew 1:20-23 tells us that an angel from heaven appeared to him in a dream and told him that Mary was pregnant due to the Holy Spirit. This was in fulfillment of the ancient prophecies.

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 1:22-23 (NASB)

Then Joseph obeyed the angel and kept Mary as his wife. This reveals Joseph was a humble man who willing submitted to God.

Luke 2:1-5 tells us that Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem. After Jesus was born, we are told that Joseph was still with her (Luke 2:16). We can imagine that he cared for her and the child. In summary, the gospels reveal that Joseph was a righteous, loving, and humble man who submitted himself to God.

Joseph, the Skilled Craftsman

We know that Joseph was not a professional man but a carpenter since some of his town’s people made the following comment.

Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? Matthew 13:55 (NASB)

The Greek word that is translated as carpenter is tekton. The word can refer to a craftsman of wood, metal or stone, but a carpenter was more common. Joseph was a laborer.

Joseph was poor at the time that Jesus was born. The offering Joseph made at the temple at the time of Jesus’ circumcision was the offering a poor man would give (Luke 2:24). Joseph gave to God even when he did not have much to give. Joseph was self-sacrificing. He was not selfish. Joseph might have been wealthier later, but Scripture does not tell us.

Loving Father of the Messiah

Joseph loved and cared for Jesus.This was evident at the time the family visited Jerusalem on Jesus’ twelfth birthday (Luke 2:41-51). When His parents left the city, Jesus did not follow them but remained in Jerusalem and talked with the religious leaders about Scripture. His parents thought that He was in their group returning home, but several days later discovered He was not. So they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.” Luke 2:48 (NASB)

This event reveals that Joseph really cared for Jesus even though He was not his biological son. Joseph was a wonderful dad. Everybody considered Jesus to be his son (Luke 4:22).


That is the last glimpse we have of Joseph. He is not mentioned at the cross when Jesus died, but Mary was there. Scripture says absolutely nothing else about him. Why? The answer is probably found in the fact that the gospels are about Jesus and no one else – not his mother, brothers, or sisters. But what God  does say about Joseph, I hope is what God sees in me. Joseph believed God. He was righteous, compassionate, obedient, caring, loving, a great father, and a man who financially supported his family. It appears that Joseph was not consumed with himself. He was a godly man who followed God.

Suggested Links:

Joseph’s Genealogy
Joseph’s Dream
Mary’s Genealogy
Was Joseph a carpenter, stone mason or metallurgist?