Just a Just Man

By Olin Williams
December 1, 2023

Leading to the story of the birth of Christ, we read in Matthew 1:18, 19, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: when as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.”

The doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Christ is based on this event. To understand this story, we must not forget that wedding arrangements in Eastern places were vastly different from those in modern Western society. This Bible account is based on the Eastern wedding arrangement. A Jewish wedding was arranged in three stages. The first stage is the engagement.

This was an agreed arrangement when the girl was very young and was promised to a young man, chosen by the parents. This is very strange to the Western view because the bride and bridegroom had never met.

Parents were responsible for the continuance of the family name, and it was their task to find a husband for their daughter.

The second stage was to ratify the arrangement made. This was called the betrothal. This was like our modern engagement party. At this point, the entire affair could be canceled if the bride or bridegroom objected. Once the betrothal is approved, there was no way of escape. This betrothal lasted for one year. During this time, the couple were considered man and wife, although the marriage was never consummated.

The third stage was the marriage service. After one year of preparation, the ceremony was held and festivities lasted for several days. This is the background of this story. It was during this year of betrothal or espoused to Joseph that Mary was found pregnant.

This was a devastating dilemma for Joseph and Mary. If Joseph denied having a marital relationship with Mary, she would have been tried by law and sentenced to death by stoning.

According to Jewish law, Moses said in Deuteronomy 22:20-21, “But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found in the damsel: then they shall bring the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.”

Joseph was contemplating keeping this secret and somehow resolving this matter without having Mary stoned to death when the angel appeared and removed his doubt.

Verse 20 says, “But while he thought on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.”

One mistake from Joseph could have changed the gospel story. Joseph was a man of principle and a just man.