Mary and Joseph


The more we know about Mary and Joseph, the more we come to appreciate the two special people who were chosen to be the earthly guardians of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Mary was the noble woman from whom Jesus would obtain a body of flesh and blood. Joseph, a kind and spiritual man, received the assignment to watch over and care for the boy Jesus.

Modern Latter-day Saint scholars have commented on several aspects of the lives of these two remarkable people.

Could Joseph have been a king?

Actually, both Mary and Joseph were of royal lineage. “Had Judah been a free and independent nation, ruled by her rightful sovereign, Joseph the carpenter would have been her crowned king; and his lawful successor to the throne would have been Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 82).

What were the names of Joseph’s and Mary’s fathers?

Mary’s ancestors were the same as Joseph’s. She was a descendant through the royal line of King David. “Matthew says Joseph was a son of Jacob, and Luke says that he was a son of Heli. It appears, however, that Jacob and Heli were brothers and that Heli was the father of Joseph and Jacob the father of Mary, making Joseph and Mary first cousins with the same ancestral lines” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, 4 vols. [1979–81], 1:316).

What does it mean that Joseph and Mary were espoused?

“Espousal among the Hebrews was significantly more binding than are our engagements today. It was entered into by written agreement and was considered the formal beginning of the marriage itself. While the couple might not actually live together for as much as a year after the betrothal—a time designed to allow the bride to prepare her dowry—the espousal was as legally binding as the formal marriage” (Gerald N. Lund, in Celebration of Christmas: A Collection of Stories, Poems, Essays, and Traditions by Favorite LDS Authors [1988], 31).

How old were Mary and Joseph at the time of their marriage?

“No hint of the age of either Mary or Joseph is given in the scriptural text, but from existing sources we can make some educated guesses. … Marriage at earlier ages than to which we are accustomed was the general rule. … For a girl, probably the most common age of marriage was fifteen or sixteen. Sometimes it was later, sometimes earlier, but it is likely that Mary was around sixteen and Joseph, her espoused husband, only two or three years older than that” (Gerald N. Lund, in Celebration of Christmas, 31).

Why was it necessary for Jesus to have a mortal mother?

“As the Eternal Father’s Only Begotten Son in the flesh, Christ possessed the inborn power to withstand death indefinitely, and this just as naturally as that He, being the offspring of a mortal mother, should derive the ability to die. Jesus Christ inherited through the operation of the natural law of heredity the physical, mental, and spiritual attributes of His parents—the Father immortal and glorified, the mother human. He could not be slain until His hour had come, the hour in which He would voluntarily give up His life, and permit His own decease as an act of will. … Consider for example this: ‘Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again’ (John 10:17–18)” (James E. Talmage, The Vitality of Mormonism [1919], 57).

How many brothers and sisters did Jesus have?

In the New Testament, it mentions the brothers and sisters of Jesus. “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3; see also Matthew 13:55–56).

“We don’t know how many other children there were in the family, but the New Testament names four boys and lists some sisters. The Greek manuscripts are helpful here. Matthew speaks of ‘all’ (Greek: pantai) his sisters (Matthew 13:56), suggesting more than two. The Greek term hai adelphia (the sisters) is used in the manuscripts, signifying a plurality—that is, three or more sisters. If the record had intended to convey that there were only two sisters, it is probable that the word pantai would not have been employed, but instead the word amphoterai, meaning ‘both,’ would have been used” (Robert J. Matthews, Selected Writings of Robert J. Matthews [1999], 232–33).

Jesus could have had at least seven siblings.

Was Mary widowed?

“The last mention of Joseph is at the Passover in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years of age. At the wedding feast at Cana, when Jesus was about thirty, specific mention is made that Mary and Jesus were present, but no mention is made of Joseph (see John 2:1–10). Finally at the time of the Crucifixion, Mary is said to have stood at the cross with other women, but again no mention is made of Joseph. At this time Jesus gave his mother to the care of his beloved disciple, John (see John 19:25–27). The record of these events suggests that Mary was widowed sometime after Jesus was twelve years old and before he began his ministry” (Robert J. Matthews, Selected Writings, 233).

“There is a poignancy in the prospect of Mary’s widowhood with a family of children, all younger than Jesus. If this assumption is correct, it may be that Jesus was confronted with the responsibility in early life of providing for a widowed mother and several younger brothers and sisters. This makes most meaningful the scriptural statements that say the Lord is especially mindful of the widow and is a father to the fatherless (see Psalm 68:5; 146:9; James 1:27)” (Robert J. Matthews, Selected Writings, 233–34).

[illustrations] The Savior needed a loving family here on earth. Mary and Joseph provided that family. (His Name Shall Be Called Wonderful © Simon Dewey, may not be copied; Shepherd at Nativity © Robert Barrett; My Son, My Savior © Simon Dewey.)

[illustrations] The Christ child learned about his Heavenly Father at his mother’s knee. Joseph loved the child and was his protector. (In Favor with God © Simon Dewey, may not be copied; And the Child Grew and Waxed Strong in Spirit © Walter Rane, courtesy of Museum of Church History and Art; photography by Christina Smith.)

[illustrations] Though Mary was the only earthly parent of Jesus, Joseph was regarded as his father and Jesus treated him as such, being “subject unto” him (see Bible Dictionary, “Joseph,” 71). (Photography by John Luke; illustration by Paul Mann; About Our Father’s Business © Seventh-day Adventist Church, do not copy; Young Jesus Comforting His Mother, by Del Parson.)