Jesus’ Birth 1:18-25 Part 1
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth is blunt and to the point, lacking Luke’s beguiling detail. Matthew seems to rush into the messianic narrative, impatient to recount Jesus’ powerful, earth-shaking ministry. So he summarizes the story of the incarnation. But the words he does use are charged with meaning.
The word Matthew employs to depict Joseph and Mary’s marital status is “betrothed” or “engaged” in the Greek. The NIV translates it as “pledged”. We modern readers need a little help with this, because Joseph is referred to as Mary’s “husband”, not “fiancé”.
In those days marriages were arranged by the parents and/or a matchmaker. From there earliest memory Mary would have known that Joseph was her intended husband. Their “betrothal” was totally bindings and could be broken only by death or “divorce”. When the day came where within a year she would be married she would call Joseph her “husband” and he would call Mary his “wife”. But, there would be sexual union until he “took her into his house” after that twelve month period. If, on the other hand, a man were marrying a widow that trial period was reduced to one month.
So even thought Joseph and Mary were not yet married, Matthew tells us in v. 19, “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”
Joseph was “law-abiding”, a righteous man. He was also kind. He didn’t ask questions or confront Mary with her extra-marital pregnancy. He simply decided to protect her dignity and privately divorce her. Impressive.