07 December 2022

How Joseph became Jesus’s father.

Matthew 1.18-25.

The gospel of Luke tells of Jesus’s birth from Mary’s point of view, but Matthew does it from Joseph’s. Which is useful, ’cause it gives us a better picture of Jesus’s dad and what kind of person he is.

And let me preemptively say yes, Jesus’s dad. Way too many Christians try to downplay Joseph of Nazareth, and say he’s only Jesus’s foster father, only step-father, but his real dad is God.

No; Jesus’s biological dad is God. But God himself chose Joseph to be the guy to raise Jesus. And the guy who raises you is your actual dad. Doesn’t matter what custom and law say.

Although custom and law, in first-century Israel, likewise considered Joseph to be Jesus’s actual dad. And no, not because of any subterfuge on Joseph’s part; not because Joseph pretended to father Jesus or anything like that. Once you read the gospels, once you learn the historical background, you’ll realize Joseph is Jesus’s legal father. No foster- nor step- prefix needs to be added.

First the text.

Matthew 1.18-25 KWL
18 The genesis of King Jesus is like this:
His mother Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph,
before coming to live together,
is found to have a child in the womb
from the Holy Spirit.
19 Her man Joseph, a right-minded man,
not wanting to make a show of her,
intends to privately release her.
20 As he was thinking these things,
look, the Lord’s angel appears to him in a dream,
saying, “Joseph bar David, you shouldn’t fear
to accept Mary as your woman:
The child in her, fathered by the Spirit, is holy.
21 She will birth a son.
You will declare his name to be Jesus,
for he will deliver his people from their sins.”
22 (All of this happened so it could fulfill
God’s message to the prophet, saying,
23 “Look, the maiden will have a child in the womb,
and will birth a son,
and they will declare his name to be Immanúël,” Is 7.14
which is translated “God is with us.”)
24 After rising up from his sleep,
Joseph does as the Lord’s angel commands him,
and accepts Mary as his woman,
25 and doesn’t ‘know’ her till after she births a son.
Joseph declares his name to be Jesus.

The bit where the angel tells Joseph, “You will declare his name to be Jesus” in verse 21, and Joseph actually does this in verse 25? Naming a kid, in first-century Israeli culture, was something the child’s father, and only the child’s father, did.

Jesus’s adoptive father.

Sometimes, honestly, you didn’t know who a child’s biological father was. The mother might be promiscuous, or an adulterer. The father might not even be aware of this, and raise a kid who’s not biologically his.

Or the father might be fully aware this child isn’t biologically his. And not care. Or care a lot—but not so much he didn’t want the child. Children are a blessing! To ancient Israelis, having kids, and lots of them, was a big deal. And no, it didn’t have to do with proving one’s virility… although insecure men have always made a big deal of that throughout history. But mainly it’s because, under the customs of ancient patriarchy, how you built yourself a great house was by having lots of great kids who did lots of great things. More kids raised your chances of having more great kids.

Anyway, a lot of ancient cultures recognized this, and regularly had some man stand up and declare the child to be his. The Israelis made it part of their ritual circumcision ceremony: Eight days after a boy is born, you circumcise him, Lv 12.3 then sacrifice two animals on his behalf. Lv 12.6-8 Two weeks after a girl is born, you don’t circumcise her, but you still do the animal sacrifice. But either way, at that time, the Israelis named their kids—and this was when the father, biological or not, declared himself by declaring the child’s name.

The father’s declaration was really more about his intent. He intended to raise this kid as his own. He intended to feed it, care for it, teach it to read, make sure it knew who the LORD is, make sure it learned a trade, find it a spouse, and do all the parental stuff a father usually did. Sometimes badly, but still: This is his child. That’s why he gets to name it.

That’s who Joseph is. He’s Jesus’s adoptive father.

And it confuses nobody when we describe Joseph as Jesus’s father. A lot of Christians feel they have to qualify themselves whenever they say, “Joseph is Jesus’s father… well, his earthly father.” Yeah yeah yeah: You don’t have to qualify yourself as much as you think you do. We tell this story every Christmas, and everybody knows it by now. Everybody’s fully aware we Christians, and Jesus’s mom, claims Jesus’s biological father is the LORD God Almighty.

Not everybody believes it; that’s a whole other issue. But everybody’s heard the claim, and everybody knows Joseph was fully aware Joseph was raising a boy he didn’t biologically make. And was okay with it.

Me, I’m pretty sure Joseph was more than okay with it. He was probably thrilled. He, like all the other Israelis of his culture, were waiting for a mighty king to come and save his people… and this was that. Because the angel addressed him as “Joseph bar David,” meaning “Joseph, descendant of David.” David wasn’t his father’s name; Joseph was a descendant of King David ben Jesse. Referring to him as “bar David” meant something having to do with the royal line was happening. The mighty king was coming. And Joseph was now tasked with adopting him, thereby making him the legitimate successor of David.

From what little Matthew tells us, we have no idea how many of the details about this the angel gave Joseph. We only know that when he woke up, he did a full 180-degree flip from where his mindset was before. He was gonna dissolve his engagement to Mary; now he wasn’t. He was gonna be a dad! And raise a Messiah.