08 December 2022

Joseph, father of Jesus, prophet.

Matthew 1.18-21.

The idea of Mary being a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus, doesn’t work for a lot of people nowadays. “She was a virgin? Yeah right. She totally had sex with somebody. And then lied about it, and said God did it, and that sucker Joseph believed her.”

Clearly they’ve not read the gospels, because Joseph clearly didn’t believe her.

Matthew 1.18-19 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.

Joseph knew you don’t just “have a child in the womb from the Holy Spirit.He knew how babies are made.

Greek myths abound of stories where Zeus disguised himself so he could have sex with Greek women, and produce théhi-human hybrid spawn who grew up to be famous Greek heroes. And more than likely, all the women who contributed to this myth of a horny god raping various noblewomen in the Greek Empire, had simply had sex with somebody, and blamed Zeus rather than suffer the usual consequences of non-marital sexual activity.

Of course if you read the myths, you’ll notice when women claimed Zeus impregnated them, the Greeks didn’t believe ’em either. They took out their outrage upon their wives and daughters all the same. Banished ’em, imprisoned ’em, sealed ’em in a coffin and threw them into the sea. (Then, say the myths, Zeus had to smite them for their unbelief.) The ancients knew exactly how babies are made. The “Zeus did it!” story never worked.

And the “God did it” story didn’t work on Joseph either. To his mind, Mary clearly had sex—and not with him. And she was trying to blame the Holy Spirit, of all people. But the Spirit isn’t Zeus! He’s not gonna transform himself into bulls and geese so he can rape silly teenage girls. The very idea is the most ridiculous, offensive sort of blasphemy.

Mary’s apparent infidelity and outrageous excuse aside, Joseph was what Matthew calls δίκαιος/díkeos, which the KJV translates “just” and the NIV “was faithful to the law.” It means as I translated it: Right-minded. He’s the type of person who always seeks to do the morally right thing. He didn’t wanna be vengeful, and expose Mary to public ridicule. He simply wanted this relationship to be over with.

Betrothals among first-century Israelis were a contractual agreement between the husband and wife’s families. (The husband would provide this, the wife that.) But all it took to end these agreements, was for the husband to declare, “I divorce you” three times, and bam, the contract was null, the couple would stop living together, and the wife would go back to her parents. So Joseph figured he’d do that. Not in the town square; probably just in front of their parents.

So yeah, let’s put aside this idea that the ancients were naïve idiots who’d believe such stories. They didn’t. Devout Israelis in particular, whose God isn’t at all like that. Joseph didn’t believe the virgin-conception story any more than any pagan nowadays.

But something flipped him 180 degrees—so much so that he legally adopted Mary’s kid and raised him as his own. This something was a prophetic dream—and from what we know about prophetic dreams, it wouldn’t have worked on Joseph unless

  1. he was stupid, or
  2. he had multiple experiences with prophetic dreams, and his experiences taught him they were reliable.

Me, I’m pretty sure it’s that second thing.

The two Josephs in the bible.

Every once in a while little kids and newbies will get confused by the fact there are two different guys in the bible named Joseph, son of Jacob:

  • Joseph ben Jacob in Genesis.
  • Joseph bar Jacob in Matthew.

(The words בֶּן/ben and בַּר/bar both mean “son of,” depending on the language they spoke—Hebrew in the early Old Testament, Aramaic in the later Old Testament, and the New.)

People in New Testament times liked to give their kids biblical names; same as Evangelicals in the United States. I have a bunch in my own family. (Including a nephew named Joseph.) Jesus himself has an Old Testament name; there are 10 different guys in the Old Testament named ישֵׁוּעַ/Yešúa, and he’s not the only Jesus in the New Testament either. Jesus’s mom has an Old Testament name (Mary is a form of Miriam), and he has brothers named for Jacob, Simeon, and Judah. Jesus’s students have plenty of bible names among ’em too. Bible names everywhere.

When you have the same name as someone in the bible, you’re gonna be naturally curious about that person in the bible. You’re gonna hope it was a good guy! (You’re gonna be really irritated, as just about everybody named Saul is, when it turns out he’s not so good.) And more often than not, you’re gonna try to pattern yourself after the person in the bible with your name. Or fellow Christians are gonna encourage you to pattern yourself after that person. Every Christian named David or Josiah or Deborah gets pressured into leadership; every Christian named Isaiah or Daniel or Hannah gets encouraged to try out prophecy. It’s silly, but it’s all too common.

And it’s not that new a practice. No doubt Joseph of the New Testament heard plenty about Joseph of the Old Testament… and decided to look into how to hear God, or how to receive his revelations, through your dreams. Because that’s what Old Testament Joseph did.

Genesis 37.5- NET
5 Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 There we were, binding sheaves of grain in the middle of the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose up and stood upright and your sheaves surrounded my sheaf and bowed down to it!” 8 Then his brothers asked him, “Do you really think you will rule over us or have dominion over us?” They hated him even more because of his dream and because of what he said.
9 Then he had another dream, and told it to his brothers. “Look,” he said. “I had another dream. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 When he told his father and his brothers, his father rebuked him, saying, “What is this dream that you had? Will I, your mother, and your brothers really come and bow down to you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept in mind what Joseph said.

Joseph’s brothers hated his guts partly because he was his father’s favorite, but no doubt it was mostly because he was a little snot about it. The way he told ’em about his dreams didn’t help. The dreams did actually get fulfilled, when he later became the vizier of the Egyptian pharaoh, and his family members did bow to him. Thankfully the Joseph of the New Testament learned from this bad example, and sought to be a right-minded man instead of a dick. But at the same time, y’notice he likewise paid attention to his dreams. Clearly God used that, and started guiding Joseph bar Jacob this way—because that’s exactly what we see in Matthew.

Matthew 1.20-21 KWL
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.”

Skeptics who don’t believe the gospels, who don’t believe in prophetic dreams either, figure this dream wasn’t from God. It was nothing more than Joseph’s subconscious, telling him exactly what he wanted to hear: Mary’s preposterous story was true, and he could marry her. It was Joseph psyching himself into faith-by-wishful-thinking. Or they simply deny the dream ever took place: Joseph fathered Jesus himself. Or Joseph ignored Mary’s infidelity, married her anyway, and Jesus’s apostles spread the legend of a virgin birth. Regardless, non-miraculous.

Cessationists think God turned off the miracles during the “silent years” between Malachi and Matthew, and turned ’em off again in our present day. Therefore they’ve no idea how prophetic dreams work. They presume Joseph believed the angel in his dream because it was a really profound mystical experience. Joseph was so euphoric with revelatory warm fuzzy feelings, he couldn’t possibly disbelieve the angel. That, they believe, is how such dreams work: Heavenly endorphins. Just like the Mormons use to confirm their gospel.

In real life, people believe their prophetic dreams because they’ve been having them their whole life.

Many of us have prophetic dreams. We just don’t always recognize them as prophetic. When they come true, we think, “Hey, wasn’t that an interesting coincidence? I just dreamed about that.” We don’t realize God’s trying to communicate to us through our dreams—and when we ignore them, God tends to stop using them to communicate. After all, why call a person who only texts, and never picks up the phone? (Seriously, folks: Why? Stop that.)

For those of us who do pay attention to our dreams, this ability develops and grows. As it did with Joseph’s namesake in Genesis. And it stands to reason that having a hero from the bible with the same name as you, who heard from God through his dreams, would tend to make you receptive to the very same ability when you find it in yourself.

Hence we see Joseph dream of angels three times in the first two chapters of Matthew—and each time, immediately obey them. Not ponder the messages for weeks, and wonder if they were really true; when Joseph heard the angel order him to get out of Bethlehem, he left that night. Mt 2.13-14 He’d learned, from plenty of previous experience, to trust these dreams.

’Cause three experiences isn’t enough! And zero experiences doesn’t work at all. Let’s say you never had a prophetic dream before, ever. Then clean out of the blue, you have one of an angel, who claims it came straight from God. Will you automatically trust it, and obey everything the angel tells you? Some do, but they’re 20 kinds of stupid. You don’t know whether this angel works for God or not. Nor do you know whether this dream, no matter how real it felt, was legitimate revelation.

Instead you’d do as anyone does with a weird dream: You’d wonder about it. You might share it with others and talk it over. Or you might never speak of it, worrying you’ll sound nuts. You might try to confirm it some way—which is good; we should do that. Or you might be cessationist yourself, and since you believe God stopped speaking through dreams, you’ll ignore it as nothing more than a really vivid, interesting dream.

If dream-visions never happen to you, there’s no reasonable basis for taking one freak occurrence seriously. But on the other hand, if this happens all the time, you’ve learned by now to listen. You’ll respond to your dreams precisely as we see Joseph did in Matthew. Joseph didn’t second-guess his dreams. He was used to hearing from God.

So now you see one of the major reasons God picked Joseph to become Jesus’s father.