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The apocryphal writings like the Protoevangelium of James and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew give the background story of Joseph and Mary. Since these writings are non-canonical books, they may be true or myth. However, they help us connect the gaps in the life story of Jesus.

According to these writings, Joachim and Anne were childless for a long time. Joachim was rich and used to offer a double offering in the Temple. Childlessness was a shame and lack of blessing from God because the lineage of the family could not persist to the next generation through children. According to the old concept, one’s life continues after death through his children and the fame of his good works.

Childlessness was discouraging for Joachim based on widespread belief and his own study of the Scriptures. He went to desert and lived in a tent fasting for 40 days, seeking God’s mercy to have a child similar to one God gave to Abraham at his old age. Anne also prayed in the garden under a tree, seeking God’s intervention for a child as He gave to Sarah. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to Anne and informed her she would have a child who “will be spoken of everywhere people live.” Anne said, “As the Lord God lives, whether I give birth to either a male or a female child, I will bring it as an offering to the Lord my God and it will be a servant to him all the days of its life.” Angel also informed Joachim about the same promise. Anne gave birth to a baby girl whom they named Mary.

When Mary was three years of age, her parents presented her in the Temple for God’s service, as Anne had promised. Zachariah was in charge of training Mary in the Temple. She studied religion and scripture there. As she grew up, Mary made a vow of lifelong virginity. When she was 12 (15), she could not continue in the Temple. Children could not remain in the Temple from puberty so that they will not defile the sanctuary of the Lord. Mary’s parents might have died by that time. So, she was to be entrusted to a dependable person who would marry her while keeping her virginity.

According to the apocrypha, when Joseph was 40 years old, he married Salome (Melcha or Escha). They lived for 49 years together and had four sons and two daughters. The youngest was James the Less, also known as “the Lord’s brother.” This story helps us to understand the connection of perpetual virginity of Mary, and the siblings of Jesus mentioned in the gospels (Mk 6:3; Mt 13:55-56). “A year after his wife’s death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Judah a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age. Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took place” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08504a.htm). Joseph’s role, though married to Mary, was to protect her life and her virginity. However, God called him also as the Redeemer’s foster father.

While the high priest was praying for a way to find a guardian for Mary, an angel of the Lord appeared and told him to gather the widowers in the area and let them bring a staff to the Temple. All the widowers, including Joseph, gave their rod to the High Priest who took them to the Temple and prayed. When he returned the staff, a dove came out of the Joseph’s rod and stood on his head. Another version of this story is that Joseph’s staff bloomed into flowers and a dove descended from heaven and landed on it. It was a divine revelation that Joseph was to take Mary as his spouse. This is the reason for the artists to depict a wooden stick with blooming flowers on the pictures and statues of Joseph.

This legend is an imitation of an event described in Numbers 17:16-26. Israelites were grumbling against Moses for having Aaron as the high priest. God instructed Moses to ask the leaders of the twelve tribes to bring their staff, along with the staff of Aaron, to the Tent of God. The next day, only Aaron’s staff flowered and produced almond fruits, proving Aaron as the God’s selected high priest.

The aged Joseph had a vow of chastity after he became a widower and Mary had a vow of virginity. She was married to Joseph not to bear children, but as a protector of her life and virginity with a covenantal relationship. However, God called him also to be the foster father of the redeemer.

Joseph became the father of Jesus, not by adoption, but by his marriage to Mary, the mother of Jesus. But unlike other stepsons, Jesus had no human father. That made Joseph’s relationship with Jesus more intimate. Besides, Joseph knew he was protecting and nurturing the God incarnate who had created him and had been protecting him.


The Angel of the Lord saluted Joseph, Mary’s husband as “son of David.” (Mt 1:20). It is an acknowledgement of the fact that Joseph was descended from the bloodline of King David. Through this, the angel prepared Joseph for the next part of the message. The Israelites were expecting a Messiah who would be a descendant of King David because of God’s covenant with him (2 Sam 7:12- 16). So, Joseph, as legal father to Jesus, also had a role in the genealogy of the Messiah.

The nomenclature “son of David” used by the angel for addressing Joseph, is not the messianic title, but only meant that God sees his ancestral connection with David, from whose line the deliverer would come. There is a difference in using “son” by the translators: capital “S” for Jesus as the “Son of David” and the lowercase “s” for Joseph as the “son of David.”

Though Saint Joseph was not wealthy, he was of the royal lineage of King David. He married Mary, who was also of the same lineage. God had promised to King David: “I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom” (2 Sam 7:12). The Jews preserved the genealogy of the descendants of David to assure that the Kings of Jews and the Messiah were from this lineage. The gospels of Matthew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38) give the genealogy of Jesus. Luke presents Mary’s genealogy to prove that Jesus was biologically the son of David. Matthew presents Joseph’s genealogy to prove that the legal or adopted father of Jesus was also a son of David. According to the Jewish tradition, adopted and biological sons could have hereditary rights. Jesus, his mother Mary, and the legal father Joseph were born in Bethlehem, the city and the birthplace of David.


Some fathers of the Church, like Thomas Aquinas, Bernard, Basil, and Ephraim interpret that Joseph considered divorcing Mary out of “reverential fear”. Mary had told Joseph of her vision and the message of the Angel Gabriel, and what had happened afterwards. Joseph trusted Mary’s narration and considered himself unworthy of being the husband of the mother of God and the foster father of her divine Son. So, the Angel of the Lord relieved Joseph of the fear of taking Mary home as his wife.


The Bible presents Joseph as a righteous man because he was a devout observer of the Mosaic Law. He had to do justice to himself and Mary. His dilemma was that he was uncertain of the truth. Joseph could trust Mary’s credibility and consider himself unworthy of being the husband of the Saviour’s mother. So, he wanted to be free from his legal relationship with her. Since the betrothal had legal validity, he had to divorce her to free himself from his legal bond with her.

Joseph had no evidence to prove Mary’s innocence or guilt. There was no first-hand evidence to prove Mary’s guilt because no one could find a man who abused her. Joseph might have found it hard to believe Mary’s justification because pregnancy cannot happen without the sexual union of two people. Joseph knew the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 – “Therefore, the LORD himself shall give you a sign: The virgin is with child and will bear a son and will name him Emmanuel.” But Joseph might have found it hard to believe that it would happen to his wife.

If Joseph had accused Mary of committing adultery, the Jews would have stoned her to death. It would cause great grief for her family and friends. If the Jews set Mary free for lack of evidence, it would still cause her shame. In case Mary was telling the truth, Joseph would be accountable for hurting his innocent wife. So, the only choice he had was to divorce Mary privately by writing a bill of divorce (Deut 24:1). However, he did not take this action at once; he only considered it.


Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus. The Angel Gabriel told Zechariah: “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son” (Lk 1:13). This differed from what the Angel of the Lord said to Joseph: “She will bear a son” (Mt 1:20) implying that this son shall not be his biological child. So, Joseph had to avoid consummating his marriage with Mary.

Joseph became the father of Jesus not by a formal adoption but by his marriage to Mary, the mother of Jesus. However, unlike other stepsons, Jesus had no human father. That made Joseph’s relationship with Jesus more intimate. Besides, Joseph knew he was protecting and nurturing the God incarnate who had created him and had been protecting him.

God entrusted a great responsibility to Joseph as the foster father of Jesus. This role was a hard one because of the circumstances in which Jesus was born. When Mary was about to deliver the baby, Joseph had to go with her from Nazareth to Bethlehem walking over 90 miles. There Joseph could not find a house for Mary to give birth to Jesus. Later, the Holy Family had to flee to Egypt as refugees and stay there for a few months and then travel the long distance from Egypt to Nazareth. Though the post was crucial, the role was a humble one.


The Bible describes Joseph as “a righteous man” (Mt 1:19). The basis of righteousness in the Bible is how one relates to God and fellow humans. Matthew 1:19-25 exemplifies Joseph’s righteousness. When he came to know that Mary, his betrothed “wife,” was pregnant despite having had no sexual intimacy with him, he could have exposed her to the harsh penalty of death by stoning as per law (Deut 22:19-20). “If a young woman has been promised in marriage to a man, and another man meets her in the city and lies with her, they shall bring the two to the city gate and stone them to death: the young woman because she did not cry for help when she was in the city, and the man because he violated the wife of his neighbour. So shall you purge the evil from your midst” (Deut 22:23-24). However, Joseph could not find any man as a culprit for Mary’s pregnancy. That would have added to the credibility of Mary. Since she was espoused to the Holy Spirit, Joseph might have felt himself unworthy of being her husband. So, instead of exposing Mary for public trial, he preferred divorcing her quietly.

While Joseph was patient to implement his decision, an angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream and told him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her” (Mt 1:20). The Biblical sense of taking the betrothed virgin home meant to celebrate the wedding. “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do and he took Mary as his wife” (Mt 1:24). Joseph’s plan to divorce Mary and the subsequent events prove the divine origin of Jesus.

Joseph was an obedient servant of God. Unlike Zachariah and Mary who had visions of Angel Gabriel, Joseph had only a dream revealing the innocence of Mary and his special vocation as the foster father of Jesus. A vision happens when one is awake and conscious. Whereas a dream occurs while one is asleep. That means the dreamer is not free to ask for clarification as Zachariah and Mary did during their visions. Still, Joseph believed and obeyed what the angel said. Joseph obeyed without question the messages he got from the angel later. Thus, he fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus to protect the life of the baby Jesus. Later he travelled back to Nazareth based on another dream.

Joseph loved and took care of Jesus as his very own son. Though Jesus was the son of God, Joseph worked hard to support his poor family. When Jesus was lost at 12, Joseph was searching with Mary for three days “with great anxiety” (Lk 2:48). From the way Joseph treated Jesus, the people of Nazareth used to say of Jesus, “Who is this but Joseph’s son?” (Lk 4:22). Philip introduced Jesus to Nathaniel, as “Jesus, son of Joseph” (Jn 1:45).

Joseph respected God, and the Mosaic Laws. He followed the Jewish laws of circumcision for the child Jesus on the eighth day and took Mary and the infant to the Temple to present Jesus and for the purification of Mary on the 40th day after Jesus’ birth. He also used to take Jesus to the Temple every year for the Jewish feast of Passover (Lk 2:41) though the Law did not oblige him to do so because he lived over 15 miles away from Jerusalem.


Joseph was a carpenter by profession. The sceptics of Nazareth asked about Jesus: “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” (Mt 13:55). Carpenters of the time didn’t just do woodwork. They did all kinds of building work.


The means of support for the Holy Family was the carpentry or construction work of Joseph. That he wasn’t very well off is clear from the Bible. When Joseph and Mary presented Jesus in the Temple on the 40th day, they could offer only two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons (Lk 2:24) as the offering for the firstborn and his wife’s formal purification. The normal offering was: “When the days of her purification are completed whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the door of the Tent of Meeting, a lamb born that year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering” (Lev 12:6). Only those who could not afford to offer the lamb could substitute the lamb with an additional turtledove or pigeon (Lev 12:8).


The angel gave both Mary (Lk 1:31) and Joseph (Mt 1:21) the right to name the child Jesus. However, it was Joseph who named Jesus as the angel instructed (Mt 1:25). Thus, Joseph received Jesus as his adopted son.

According to the concept of the time, to name a child was to claim the child as one’s own. The fatherhood of Jesus belongs to God the Father, who assigned the name Jesus to His son. God asked Joseph and Mary to use that name at the time of Jesus’ circumcision.


Joseph is a silent actor in the Bible. We do not hear him speak. He did not say a word to the angel, because the angel spoke to him in a dream. When Joseph and Mary, after a tiresome search, found the Child Jesus in the Temple, Luke in his gospel narrative did not record anything having been said by Joseph. It was Mary who spoke to Jesus. Joseph probably felt unworthy of questioning the Son of God.


The Bible makes no mention of Joseph during Jesus’ public ministry. However, his townsfolk in Nazareth still remembered him as the father of Jesus. Historians conclude that Joseph would have died before Jesus started his public ministry. That must be the reason Jesus entrusted the care of his mother Mary to John while he was on the cross. The Apocryphal books date the birth of Joseph as 90 BC in Bethlehem and his death on 20 July, 18 AD in Nazareth.

Joseph did not get the honour of the ‘father of the Messiah’ in his lifetime because Jesus was hardly known before Joseph’s death. However, he would have had the special privilege of dying in the very arms of the Messiah and Mary. Let us ask for the intercession of Joseph for a similarly blessed death.


Joseph, the husband of Mary, resembles Joseph of the Old Testament. He, too, was a chaste and righteous man. The Bible presents his moral integrity in Genesis 39, where he spurned the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife even though he knew she could give him hell for not yielding to her.

Joseph of the Old Testament could well have taken revenge on his brothers, or at least put them to public shame when they came before him in Egypt looking for food. Instead, he treated them well and consoled them, “You intended to do me harm, but God intended to turn it to good to bring about what is happening today – the survival of numerous people. So have no fear! I will provide for you and your little ones” (Gen 50:20-21). Joseph in the New Testament is also a favourite son of God the Father. Having inherited the holiness and righteousness of his forefathers, especially Joseph of the Old Testament, he now felt urged to deal honourably with Mary.

Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob in the Old Testament, and Joseph, the husband of Mary in the New Testament, have similarities.

1. Both Josephs were from the lineage of Abraham, the father of faith.

2. Joseph of the Old Testament was the favorite son of Jacob, his father. Joseph, the husband of Mary, was the favorite son of God.

3. Both Josephs were dreamers. Joseph, the husband of Mary, had four dreams with messages from the Angel of the Lord (Mt 1:19-25; 2:13; 2:19-20; 2:22).

4. Both Josephs were chaste and righteous men. The Bible presents the moral integrity of the first Joseph in Genesis chapter 39, where he overcame sexual seduction from Potiphar’s wife even though he knew she would give him misery for not yielding to her.

5. Both had occasion to put their family to shame but did not. Joseph of the Old Testament could take revenge on his brothers, or at least put them to public shame when they came in front of him in Egypt searching for food. Instead, he treated them well and consoled them, “You intended to do me harm, but God intended to turn it to good to bring about what is happening today – the survival of numerous people. So have no fear! I will provide for you and your little ones” (Gen 50:20-21). Joseph in the New Testament is also a favorite son of God the Father. He inherited the holiness and righteousness of his forefathers, especially Joseph of the Old Testament, who also wanted to deal honorably with Mary.

6. Both Josephs protected their family.


Joseph of the Old Testament and the foster father of Jesus were righteous people. God chose them to protect their families. However, they had to face hardships in life. Let us learn from the lives of these holy men to be non-judgmental and righteous in our dealings with others.

Like Joseph, who was non-judgmental in his approach towards Mary, let us also adopt the same approach to others (Mt 7:1-6). Even if we do not agree with the views of others, let us be tolerant of them and leave judgement to God. “There is only one lawgiver and one judge who has the power to save or condemn. Then, who are you to judge your neighbour?” (Jas 4:12)

Joseph was patient in correcting his misconception of and with Mary. Though Joseph was considering a private divorce, he took time to proceed with its implementation. An immediate reaction from Joseph could have made Mary’s life miserable, he himself missing out on his vocation as foster father of the Messiah. Timely action is necessary in an emergency. However, when it is a question of a conflict within oneself or concerning others, patience for a while with trust in God will help us reach better solutions. Reasonable forbearance can be beneficial to securing help from God or from others to resolve issues.


Devotion to Saint Joseph was not popular in the early church. Saints like Bridget of Sweden, Bernadine of Siena and Saint Teresa fostered the devotion. So, it developed in the fifteenth century. Saint Joseph is the patron saint of the dying because of the belief that he had the privilege of dying in the presence of the Blessed Mother and Jesus. Saint Joseph is also the patron and the protector of the Universal Church because God entrusted him the responsibility to care and protect the Virgin Mary, the mother of the church and her son Jesus, the head of the church. Since Joseph was a builder, husband, and protector of the Holy Family, he is the patron saint of families, fathers, pregnant women, travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers, and working people. Because Joseph was righteous, he is also the patron of social justice. Many dioceses, religious orders, and communities have selected him as their patron saint.


Two feast days are popular in honour of Saint Joseph: March 19th for Joseph the Husband of Mary and May 1st for Saint Joseph the Worker. March 19th has been the most celebrated feast day of Saint Joseph. It is one week before the feast of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary on 25 March. That feast commemorates Angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah. According to the tradition from the apostolic times, this mystery of Incarnation occurred on 25 March, nine months before Christmas.

Pope Pius XII added another feast of Saint Joseph on 1 May in 1955 as the Feast of “Saint Joseph the Worker.” The Pope selected May Day or International Workers’ Day to reflect Joseph’s status as the patron of the workers.


Italians have special traditions for Saint Joseph’s Day in commemoration of God, saving the Sicilians from a profoundly serious drought in the middle ages through the intercession of Saint Joseph. When the distressed people pleaded to him for rain, they received it. In response, they began the feast in honour of Saint Joseph. The dress code for this feast is red. On this feast day, people bring vegetarian food to the church and place them on a big altar or table. Symbolic foods include pasta with breadcrumbs reminding the sawdust that covered Saint Joseph’s workshop and fava beans that thrived while the crops failed during the drought. The priest will bless the table and the participants share the food and take home the rest of the food in bags.


Saint Joseph’s depiction in art follows the apocryphal books and traditional beliefs. Artists portray him with a balding head, grey hair, a beard and holding a staff, thus portraying him as being an already elderly person when he married the virgin, Mary. The three white lily flowers on the top of his staff recall the (legendary) method of his selection as the husband-protector of Mary. His staff alone blossomed when many widowers presented their staff at the Temple for selection to be the husband of Mary. The three flowers represent the three members of the Holy Family and white shows the purity of the family. The lily symbolizes the chastity of Mary. Joseph is holding the infant Jesus because he took care of Jesus and Mary in Jesus’ infancy and childhood. Artists depict Joseph with the two turtle doves that he submitted as a common man’s offering when he presented Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem. He carries the carpenter’s tools, signifying his humble profession to support his family. Thus, artists took symbols from the Bible, apocryphal books, and legends on Saint Joseph’s life.

Since Saint Joseph had God’s revelations through the dreams of angels while sleeping, there are icons and images of Saint Joseph sleeping. Pope Francis made this image popular disclosing that he often places his prayer requests under the image of the Sleeping Saint Joseph.


1. Saint Joseph was a silent servant of God. Though Joseph spoke in his life, we do not see Joseph speaking in the Bible. He was at the service of God and his family. By performing simple things according to God’s will for him, he rose to an elevated position. Thus, Joseph is a role model for us to be humble servants of God in our given situation.

2. Joseph was a righteous man and was non-judgmental in his approach to Mary during his time of great crisis. Joseph reminds us to leave the judgement to God and never maltreat others with our limited knowledge.

3. Joseph was the protector and caretaker of the Holy Family. Let us entrust our life, family, home, and profession in the safe hands of this saint.

4. Saint Joseph was privileged to have a holy death in Jesus and Mary’s presence. Let us entrust our life journey towards heaven to the Holy Family. Our ancestors used to recite at the time of their death and also prompted to the dying, the words: “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, be the companions of my soul.” Let those be the last words of our earthly life.

Joseph’s life offers profound lessons for Christians. His righteousness, humility, and unwavering faith in God’s plan serve as an example for us all. As we navigate our own lives, we can look to Joseph’s silent strength and compassionate heart, striving to emulate his obedience to God’s will.

Let us entrust our lives and families to Saint Joseph’s care, seeking his intercession for a life of righteousness and a holy death. In our moments of doubt and fear, may we remember Joseph’s example, turning to God with trust and humility. As we reflect on Joseph’s life, let us commit to living with the same faithfulness and dedication, honoring God in all we do.

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