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?
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.
 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.