Does the marital status of Mary & Joseph matter?

The Bible is full of mysteries that many people have pondered throughout the years. We search for answers that make us feel better, that match up to our own sense of right and wrong. I wonder, when we are digging so deeply into the scriptures how much we miss, how many truths we pass by simply because we want to find something different.

I recently spent some time dissecting the Christmas story. You know, that simple day in time when Jesus was born? As a Christian, I have always believed that Jesus was born of a virgin, Mary. I believe that Mary was a virgin because the Bible tells us so. However, I was a little taken aback by something else I discovered in the Christmas story.

Was Mary and Joseph married at the time of Jesus’ birth?

Now, I am not claiming to know the answer. I do know that scripture does not contradict itself, so the two renditions of the Christmas story must tell the same story. Matthew chapter 1 refers to Mary as Joseph’s wife, while Luke 2 refers to her as Joseph’s ESPOUSED wife.

Is there really a difference? I’m not sure. I do know that history tells us espoused was similar to engaged. A “contract” for marriage that usually lasted at least a year. When Joseph learned of Mary’s “condition” he wanted to divorce her quietly.

Why would he need a divorce if he weren’t married? Well, this type of contract for marriage was a legal contract not a verbal agreement between two consenting adults like we make now. It would have taken a divorce to undo the contract.

Once again, I am NOT claiming to have the answer to this situation, merely trying to explain some of the opinions before getting to the point I’d like to make.

Is this study of words (wife or espoused wife) important to our walk with Christ? Does it have any consequence on our faith?

I say no it doesn’t. It honestly does not matter to me whether they were married at the time of Jesus’ birth or not. It does not change who Jesus was or what He came to do. It does not change my decision to follow Him.

Apparently, though, when I referred to Mary as Joseph’s fiancé in a play I wrote, I offended someone. The comment was made that it presented the wrong message. It was almost like someone thought I was advocating premarital sex and creating babies out of wedlock.

That’s what I’d like to look at today. If we “present” Mary as Joseph’s espoused wife are we presenting the “wrong” message?

1 Corinthians 1:27 (King James Version) 27But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
God does not use things that present the “right message” to get His message across.

If something “makes sense” to us, then it is probably not of God. We want God to present a message of abstinence until marriage no matter what. He does instruct us through his word to be virgins until we are married. He does tell us that Mary was a virgin until after Jesus was born. He does NOT explicitly tell us that Mary was married BEFORE Jesus was born.

And would it matter whether she was or not???? NO!!! Joseph was NOT the sperm donor of Jesus. He was NOT his biological father. God told him to marry her even though it “looked” as if she had broken their contract for marriage.

I saw the story of Jesus’ birth in a different light this year. I kept wondering about the visitors in our congregation that might have had a child out of wedlock. How would they view the presentation if Mary were Joseph’s fiancé rather than his wife? Would the story of Jesus’ birth touched someone who had made wrong choices in life if they realized Mary must have felt some of the same persecution they’ve felt.

Am I saying that Mary and unwed mothers today are alike? No, I’m not. There’s a huge difference between immaculate conception and making bad choices. Mary didn’t really have a choice. We today have that choice.

Even though Mary didn’t make the choice to bear a child out of wedlock, we naturally assume that she was condemned by many in her society for being pregnant outside of marriage. Scripture is very clear that she was pregnant before she and Joseph married.

Mary, mother of Jesus, marked as unclean by her family, friends, and community. How sad. We think on that and are shocked at how people could respond that way to our Savior and the woman chosen to carry Him.

But then we want to rewrite scripture in order to present Mary’s situation in a “better” light. We don’t want people today to get the impression that it was ok for her to have a baby without being married. We want to gloss over the not-so-pretty details in order to present a message we can be comfortable with.

I have to wonder how many unwed mothers could find a connection with Mary if we stopped “glossing over”. I wonder if people would come to see Mary and Joseph as real people with real problems if we told it the way it was rather than the way we’re “comfortable” with.

What do you think? Does the marital status of Mary and Joseph affect the meaning of the Christmas story? Please leave your answer here, or e-mail me if you’re not comfortable with that. This inquiring mind would like to know what YOU think about this!!!


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