What Do We Know about Jesus’ Earthly Father, Joseph?

Pastor, writer
What Do We Know about Jesus’ Earthly Father, Joseph?

What does it mean to be a person of integrity? Integrity is defined as, “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles that you refuse to change.” When it comes to those in Scripture, and because no one can claim perfection, there are many who fit this description. Two names immediately come to mind. 

“Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!’” (Job 2:9).

After the devastation of losing his family and possessions, and then being struck by a loathsome disease, as he attempts to scrape the ugly outbreak from his skin to find some comfort, Job is chided by his own wife for remaining steadfast. She implores him to curse God and die. He responds by telling her that she has spoken foolishly and that we must be willing to receive that which God allows in our lives, whether it is good or bad. Scripture says that in all this Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:10)

David the psalmist was also a man of integrity, who in spite of his flaws was a man after God’s own heart, as God himself pronounced (1 Samuel 13:14). He was the only person in all of Scripture to be described in such a way. David spoke these words of himself:

“But as for me, I will walk in my integrity; Redeem me and be merciful to me” (Psalm 26:11).

With these two shining examples before us, there is yet another powerful and very notable example of integrity, for when I spell integrity, I spell it J-O-S-E-P-H. To be sure, Joseph the son of Jacob and Rachel would fit this description, but I speak of Joseph the earthly father of Jesus. What makes him stand out among others?

Joseph’s Role in Raising Jesus

When we see Joseph, he seems to be but a minor player in the grand story of the birth and early childhood of Christ. But this is most definitely not the case. To be sure, the man to whom the God of the universe would entrust the raising of His only begotten Son on this earth would have to be a man with impeccable spiritual qualities. Being the earthly father of the Savior of the world carried with it certain responsibilities. It would be Joseph, along with Mary, who would show Him how to interact with others. It would be Joseph who would teach the young child a valuable trade, being a carpenter. This alone tells us that Joseph was a provider. And concerning Christ, he raised Him well, for we read in two places respectively:

“And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (Luke 2:40).

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

And while Scripture only speaks sparsely of Joseph, there is enough that we can safely conclude that he was a man of rare humility whose heart was one that desired to please and obey God.

A Test of Joseph’s Character

We first read of Joseph in Matthew’s gospel as we are told that he was espoused to Mary. We learn further that Mary had been promised in marriage to Joseph, except that the marriage had not taken place yet. According to Jewish custom at this time, betrothal was a form of engagement; the marriage vows were spoken at the betrothal, which made it more binding than what we call engagement today and could only be broken by divorce. Jewish custom also stipulated that the couple did not live together or consummate their union until after the ceremony, and any unfaithfulness by the betrothed was treated as adultery and was punishable by death according to Jewish Law. 

It was during this betrothal period that Mary was found to be pregnant, and with Joseph no doubt very well aware of the consequences, finds himself in a moral dilemma which would prove to be a test of his character.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly” (Matthew 1:18-19).

No doubt this situation was scandalous for its time, but what should he do? Because Joseph was a righteous man, he decides to privately divorce her, in an effort to spare her the embarrassment and likely public disgrace that would inevitably follow Mary’s apparent indiscretion — though we know that this was not the case. This reveals another powerful quality possessed by this man: he was selfless. Joseph, being the man he was, rather than respond out of sheer emotion alone, chose to think on his next course of action. Though we’ll never know the thoughts that were swimming through his mind at the time, we can reasonably presume that he wanted God’s will on the matter — whatever that was. 

“But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins’” (Matthew 1:20-21).

What Joseph here receives is an explanation and a command, through which is revealed more proof as to why he was God’s man for this time. We do not read of any of the doubt that seemed to have been displayed by Gideon; there was no sign of unbelief as was the case with Zacharias, John the Baptist’s father. We see only a quiet faith and simple obedience, for we read:

“Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus” (Matthew 1:24-25).

Joseph Prioritize His Family’s Spiritual Well-Being

When last we read of Joseph, Christ is twelve years old, and is by this time in full recognition of His own identity. But there is one final thing that is striking concerning the character of Joseph:

“His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover” (Luke 2:41).

Being a man of exceptional faith and obedience, we find here that as the head of the home, he was consistent, and was concerned about the spiritual welfare of his family. Each year he was responsible for bringing his family up to Jerusalem to participate in the feast of Passover.

When we speak of his family, Scripture makes it clear that Joseph had three other sons and at least two daughters with Mary after the birth of Christ, and they were married (Matthew 13:55-56). Joseph disappears from the biblical record following the events at Passover when Jesus was twelve. Tradition says that by the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, he may have already died. Scripture may allude to this, but it remains obscure.

Following the days of Mary’s purification, which would have been about a month after Jesus was presented for circumcision and naming, a man by the name of Simeon takes Jesus in his arms and speaks these prophetic words:

“Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed’” (Luke 2:34-35).

The sword here refers to Jesus’ death, and it should be noted that Simeon speaks these words directly to Mary. Is Simeon’s exclusion of Joseph from this statement ample proof that he would not be alive when these things took place? There is no way that we will ever know. We must simply take the life that Joseph did live, weigh it in the balance, and conclude that this man, divinely chosen by God for a blessed task, for the time that he was allowed, did that which the Lord had called upon him to do.

There is no doubt that the words spoken by Paul the apostle to the church at Ephesus, apply wholeheartedly to Joseph: 

“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

This Joseph did, being a man of integrity, and he did it well. Praise the Lord!

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/kieferpix

Michael Jakes is a Bible teacher, and co-founder of That’s The Word! Ministries, a distinctly online Cross-centered outreach. He hosts several live weekly webcasts, including 'The Bible Speaks Live', 'The Cutting It Right Bible Study', and the 'Line By Line Webcast'. He has also authored three books, The Lights In The Windows, Churchified Or Sanctified?, and Living In Between Sundays. He and his wife Eddye have been married for over 40 years, and reside in New York. You can follow him on Facebook and Youtube , or listen to his podcasts on Spreaker.