Matthew 1: 18-25 – Joseph Husband of Mary

Joseph is already designated as the “husband of Mary” (Mt 1: 16, 19) and Mary, both as “betrothed to Joseph” (Mt 1: 18) and as Joseph’s wife (Mt 1: 20). This may prompt us to ask: were they already married or only engaged? Marriage in Jewish society at that time was in two stages: first, the formal exchange of consent before witnesses, which we call betrothal or engagement and second, the subsequent taking of bride to the bridegroom’s home. The marriage ceremony is completed only when the bridegroom brings the bride to his home which may take place about a year after their engagement. Nevertheless, the more important stage was the first because engagement already constituted a legally valid marriage. According to the Jewish law of the time, the same legal process was necessary for the engaged as for the married, to divorce a woman. Matthew in 1: 18-25 makes it clear that Mary and Joseph have been engaged to each other, namely, that they have gone through the first stage in the matrimonial process. And the angel tells Joseph to complete the marriage process by “taking Mary as your wife” (Mt 1: 20, 24).

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