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Hugh Galvin III wrote:

Hello,

  • Was St. Joseph a widower before he married Mary and did he have children by his first wife?
  • If so, why aren't they mentioned in the Bible?

Thanks,

Hugh

  { Was St. Joseph a widower before he married Mary and did he have children by his first wife? }

John replied:

Hi Hugh,

There is no Scriptural record of Joseph being a widower however both Eastern Orthodox tradition as well as the Eastern Catholic tradition tell us that he was.

In fact, it is possible that the Scriptural references to Jesus' brothers and sisters could, in fact, be references to children of Joseph by his first marriage.

John DiMascio

Terry replied:

Hi Hugh,

There are basically two schools of thought.

Both are conjecture but based upon the reading and study of what is in (and what is omitted) in Sacred Scripture, especially Matthew 13:55; Luke 3:23, 4:22; and John 1:45, 6:42.

One school suggests that St. Joseph was a widower and the early arguments in favor of this justified the apparent contradiction in Western language of the brothers of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels. Later study of the Hebrew and Semantic languages gave a clearer understanding that members of the extended family (cousins, first cousins, etc.) were also described as brothers in those languages. The suggestion that Joseph was a widower is also put forward in the non-canonical Apocrypha.

Another reason propositioned is there is no mention of Joseph when Jesus was an adult in His public ministry, and it is propositioned that Joseph must have died and therefore was considerably older than Mary.

Finally, there is the sadness of the modern world skepticism that cannot conceive Mary could remain a virgin in a marriage with a virile young man.

The other tradition, and the one favored by Professor Jean Guitton (Sorbonne), is that Joseph was a virile and strong young man. There are many convincing arguments for this:

  • Consider his strength as an artisan.
  • Consider his strength on the flight into Egypt.
  • Consider his tender care of Mary and Jesus.

The child Jesus needed a strong protector, not an aging old man. That said, I find the most convincing argument for Joseph being a young man, is that God cannot be contradictory to Himself:

Consider the evidence of the Sacrament of marriage: Joseph and Mary had a true and valid marriage, even though Joseph respected and encouraged Mary in her vow of virginity. The Holy family was a real family, full of love between Joseph and Mary, not a relationship between Mary and her formal guardian. It was a real marriage.

The Very Rev. Dr. Arendzen writes:

"Joseph and Mary were man and wife. Although Our Lady ever retained her spotless virginity, St. Joseph was truly her husband. The sacred contract of marriage was real between them, it gave all the rights of wedlock, though in a deep and mutual reverence they persevered in virginal purity. St. Joseph is the model for husbands; he was a workman but he married a Princess. He had a share in carrying out the eternal plans of God."

Take your own view, but I would suggest there are strong and persuasive arguments that
St. Joseph:

  • was both a young man at the time of his marriage to Mary, and
  • that he also maintained his own virginity as a fitting spouse of Mary, Theotokos.

Terry Quinn

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