Were Mary and Joseph Married?
As depicted in The Chosen, Jesus’ conception and birth is familiar to viewers and Christians alike. As described in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, a young virgin woman by the name of Mary found favor with God. She was visited by the angel Gabriel, who announced to her the vital role she would play in the coming of the Messiah. Despite the fact that she had never been with a man, she would conceive of a child directly through the Holy Spirit, and this child would be the Son of God. And thus Isaiah’s ancient prophecy was fulfilled, where he said “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son…” (Isaiah 7:14).
Obviously, an unexpected pregnancy can be an anxiety-inducing experience in any circumstance. But for Mary, there was an added complication—she was engaged to a man she had not yet been with, and by becoming pregnant outside of wedlock, she risked severe legal reprisal according to the law of the day.
Of course, we read in the New Testament that Joseph, Mary’s husband to be, was a good and decent man who was likewise visited by an angel. In a dream he learned of the divine parentage of Mary’s son; he later went on to raise the child Jesus as his own, guiding and protecting Him during those vital early years. But for some modern Christians, there remains a difficult question: Were Joseph and Mary married?
Was Mary Married to Joseph?
To answer this question in as few words as possible: Yes, Mary and Joseph were married—we have access to scriptures that are very clear on this point. When did Mary and Joseph get married in the Bible? In the same chapter with the account of Joseph’s angelic visit, we read “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24). This suggests that the marriage occurred not long after Mary became pregnant. Earlier in that same chapter, Matthew details the lineage of Christ’s earthly parents, and refers to Joseph as “the husband of Mary” (Matthew 1:16).
But to some, this issue isn’t nearly straightforward. This is because, by modern standards, a marriage is not considered valid until it is consummated. In other words, were Mary and Joseph ever really married, if Mary was a virgin?
Was Mary a Virgin Through Her Entire Life?
Mary’s virginal purity is central to nearly everything we know about her. Without ever before having experienced intimacy with a man, she conceived, carried, and gave birth to a child. This idea of the Virgin Mary is so prevalent, that many Christians believe that Mary remained a virgin through her entire life. However, not every Christian is in agreement on this point.
The Gospel of Matthew reads “But [Joseph] did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus” (Matthew 1:25), seemingly implying that they did consummate their marriage at some point after Jesus was born. Additionally, there are scriptures mentioning possible siblings of Jesus later born to Mary and Joseph—Jesus’ brothers and sisters (Matthew 13:55-56; Mark 6:3; Luke 8:19; John 2:12; Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians 1:19).
Still, there are many who believe that Mary remained a virgin in perpetuity. The translation of Matthew 1:25 may not be fully accurate to the original text, and the siblings mentioned throughout the New Testament may actually be children of Joseph’s from a previous marriage. If this were the case, and if Mary really was a virgin forever, would it mean that her marriage to Joseph never actually existed?
Differing Definitions of Marriage
When studying the scriptures it is always worth remembering that the practices, customs, and laws of the people of the Bible differ in many ways from what we understand in modern times. Specific to this particular issue, there is the question of whether Joseph and Mary’s marriage would have been legal if they had never consummated. But the truth is that the prerequisite of consummation is a fairly recent development—and even by today’s legal standards, consummating a marriage is not always necessary for the union to be considered official.
At the time of Jesus, although it was understood that married couples would almost certainly be intimate together and attempt to bear offspring, there was no legal prerequisite. Instead, the couple was recognized as legally ‘together’ once they had been united under the law; conjugation, much like having children, was expected, but not necessarily a defining factor.
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