Posts tagged ‘angel’

Joseph and Mary


“Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

by Beth Piepenburg

24 Now when Yoseph arose from his sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and he took his wife, 25 and he did not know her until she had given birth to her first-born son and she called his name Yeshua.

Joseph, who had been contemplating on divorcing his espoused wife, had an angel appear in a dream. When Joseph arose from his sleep, he did several important things expressed by Matthew in four subordinate clauses, which are not always translated well in most English translations.

First, Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him. I’ve heard some indicate Joseph was a mediocre step-father whom God needed to hit over the head by an angel so God’s plan could move accordingly. I disagree! Scripture says Joseph was righteous, and I think he was God’s best man for the calling. Desiring his actions to be done God’s ways, Joseph sought the Lord for help, and he was very much in tune with God’s plans. Because of Joseph’s receptivity, the Lord sent an angel to Joseph on three different accounts to confirm or prepare Joseph for the next major changes that would affect the life of Jesus. Most of all, Joseph was obedient and full of faith.

Second, Joseph took his wife. Since Mary was espoused to Joseph, they had already entered into a written agreement of marriage called a ketubah. Having believed that Mary had violated the contract by becoming pregnant from another man, Joseph would have been justified to seek for a divorce.  However, the angel of the Lord confirmed Mary’s story that her pregnancy had come from the Holy Spirit, and validated the event as prophesied by Isaiah. Therefore, instead of “putting her away”, he took her into his home as his wife fulfilling the legal contract.

Third, Joseph did not know Mary until she had given birth to her firstborn son. Although Matthew had already written they had not come together previous to Joseph taking her as his wife, the gospel account continued to emphasize their celibacy status after marriage. Apparently, the angel must have conveyed that they were to remain celibate until the birth of the Lord. However, the word until does not necessarily mean that they did or did not have marital relationship after the birth. If a parent tells a child that he/she cannot legally vote until he/she is eighteen years old, it does not mean that the child will ever vote in an election, but that age is no longer a restriction. Likewise, Joseph and Mary would be free to fulfill intimate relationship towards each other. However, did they?[1]

In the Jewish culture, firstborn does not mean that others siblings follow. Primogeniture is right of the one who is first to come forth from the uterus to have a title of preeminence, and to receive the double inheritance.  The firstborn had first place among his siblings (Gen. 43:33, Deut. 21:17), and held some authority over his siblings (Gen. 37:21-30). Before the Law was established, the firstborn included a right to the priesthood. In Ex. 13:2, the Lord tells the Israelites that the firstborn were to be sanctified. In Ex 34:19-20, the Lord tells the Israelites that the firstborn were to be redeemed. In Num. 18:15-16, every firstborn male was to be redeemed for 5 shekels. So, Joseph and Mary would have had to pay this redemption price for Jesus.

Fourth, she named him Jesus, as translated from the Aramaic Peshitta. The angel had already told Joseph that Mary was to call the name of the baby Jesus (Yeshua). Thus, Joseph is obedient to angel’s words. Why? Mary is the woman chosen by God to bear the Seed of salvation promised after the fall of mankind (Gen. 3:15). As Eve birthed sin into the world by her act of disobedience, Mary has to be responsible to speak the name of the child as Jesus (Yeshua), a savior for mankind. As Adam had supported Eve in their disobedience, Joseph is to support Mary in their obedience to God.

Therefore, Joseph was obedient to the angel’s directive by taking Mary as his wife, by protecting her virgin status, and by allowing her to name the baby Jesus.

Copyright by Beth Piepenburg, 2014. All rights reserved.


[1] As a Protestant, I have researched this topic and have found some surprising conclusions. From the time of the early church until the last century, the Christian Church comprised of Protestants, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Catholic believed that Mary remained celibate. With exception of the Roman Catholic Church, everyone else believed Mary was born with a sinful nature and was in need of a Savior. From early writings, both Joseph and Mary believed that her female anatomy had become too sacred to enjoy a normal marriage relationship as a result of what God had done in the conception and birth of Jesus. Remember, Joseph was much older, and references to brothers and sisters could be children born to Joseph from a previous marriage or just cousins. It’s a topic worth researching with open eyes, mind, and heart.



474px-'Joseph's_Dream',_painting_by_Gaetano_Gandolfi,_c._1790Mt 1:20-21. But while he pondered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, the son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife: for he who is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son, and she shall call his name JESUS (YESHUA), for he shall save (yawshah) his people from their sins.”

What was Joseph to do? As his weary mind was overwhelmed with his predicament, he fell asleep while seeking God’s help. Surely, you have had life situations that left you tossing and turning during the night, too. Lo and behold, an angel appeared in his dream! The angelic message served two purposes, one of which is to help Joseph understand his immediate circumstances, and the other will be captured in my next story.

Whenever the word, behold, is used in Scripture, it is a signal for the reader to pay attention. Recognizing the word behold is not just some kind of archaic introductory word, but rather the word is alerting the reader that an angel of the Lord has appeared to Joseph. Angels are very important to Jewish culture, because they are sent from God to deliver a special message. Interestingly, Matthew records four angelic appearances. Three times an angel appeared to Joseph concerning the Christ child, and the fourth time an angel appeared to the women who came to the tomb of Jesus. However, the focus isn’t upon the angel, but the message.

First, the angel addresses Joseph by his name, and then by his ancestry since Joseph is the son of David. Now that the angel has Joseph’s full attention, he addresses Joseph’s problem. Fear! Although I think this was a cautious fear on Joseph’s part, he needed to be assured that God was involved in his and Mary’s lives in a unique way. The reason he was not to fear is that the conception was the work of the Holy Spirit.

Then, the angel foretells that Mary will have a son and that she is to name him Jesus (Yeshua)[1]. Depending on the community, Jewish naming of the firstborn could be done by either the father or the mother. However, the angel Gabriel had already told Mary that she was to call the baby’s name, Jesus[2]. The reason his name is to be called Jesus (Yeshua) is that He shall save (yawshah) his people from their sins. Notice the Hebrew word play between Jesus (Yeshua) and save (yawshah).

Another reason the angel is specifically saying that Mary is to call the name of the baby Jesus (Yeshua) has to do with her significant role. Besides needing a personal Savior, she is the woman chosen by God to bear the Seed of salvation promised after the fall of mankind[3]. As Eve birthed sin into the world by her act of disobedience, Mary has to be responsible to speak out the name of the child as Jesus (Yeshua), a savior for mankind. As Adam had supported Eve in their disobedience, Joseph is to support Mary in their obedience to God. Also, Mary, the Elect Lady (2 John), symbolizes those who would recognize their own necessity for a personal savior and become future members of the universal Church, the body of Christ[4].

For Joseph to understand his role as protector of Mary and Jesus, he needed to seek the Lord. However, what God had planted in Mary, the promise to Adam and Eve for the redemption of mankind, was so much greater than Joseph could have imagined.

Copyright by Beth Piepenburg, 2013. All rights reserved.

[1] Since the Gospel of Matthew was written in the Aramaic Hebrew, I reference the oldest Aramaic Peshitta copies. Older Greek and Latin variants are divided as to the use of the pronoun, she or you, because of the ambiguity in the Aramaic. The only clues to what is correct is context.

[2] Luke 1:31

[3] Gen 3

[4] As a Protestant, my research using ancient Christian writings broadens my understanding of the Orthodox.

Tag Cloud