Could St. Joseph have conjugal relationships with Holy Mary?

Some claim, “yes, he could and actually had – after all, they were married, there is nothing wrong with that”.

But the actual answer is that St. Joseph didn’t and he couldn’t! St. Joseph received from God the mission to represent Him as the visible father of Jesus and visible husband of Mary by being their guardian and protector. The Primary Father of Jesus is God and the Primary Spouse of Mary is God. How is that possible?

St. Joseph was only betrothed, not completely married yet, to Mary when she conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18) (Luke 1:27). So, by this miraculous intervention, Mary became the manifested spouse of the Holy Spirit [i].

Betrothal in ancient Judaism was a temporary period between the commitment of marriage and its actual completion, but the commitment was so real that the engaged man was already called “husband” and the bride could not be freed other than by repudiation (rejection or dismissing her) or by death (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) (Luke 1:19).

Regarding ancient Jewish marriages:

“Until late in the Middle Ages, marriage consisted of two ceremonies that were marked by celebrations at two separate times, with an interval between. First came the betrothal [erusin]; and later, the wedding [nissuin]. At the betrothal the woman was legally married, although she still remained in her father’s house. She could not belong to another man unless she was divorced from her betrothed. The wedding meant only that the betrothed woman, accompanied by a colorful procession, was brought from her father’s house to the house of her groom, and the legal tie with him was consummated.”

More information:

When the Angel told Mary: “You have found favor with God …. ” (Luke 1:30 ff), this was a declaration which was meant from all Eternity for the One proposing to Mary was God Himself. The Angel is just the messenger. God respects our free will, He does not disrespect our free will, and when Mary responded “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to Thy word.” (Luke 1:38), the Holy Spirit passed over her and she conceived Jesus, her mystical marriage with God was made manifest in a unique way.

This is the reason why St. Joseph could not possible have conjugal relationships with Mary because Mary already belonged to God in an exclusive way. Mary carried in her womb God Himself. As Mother of God, Mary is also St. Joseph’s Queen. As member of the mystical Body of Christ whose mother is Mary, Mary is in this sense also St. Joseph’s mother (See this post: Why calling Mary our Mother?) [ii] [iii].

Furthermore, when The Angel told Mary: “the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35), this is also ancient Jewish nuptial language:

{3:9} And he [Boaz] said to her, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your handmaid. Spread your covering over your servant, for you are a near relative.”

By way or foreshadowing, notice also that Mary responds similarly as Ruth: “I am your handmaid”.

When St. Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant, he wanted to dismiss her but privately.  By doing so, the one who will look bad before people is him, not her, because he was not giving an explanation. This dismissal was allowed per Jewish written Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 24:1) but he decided to do so privately instead of publicly (filing a divorce) for he did not want to put her to shame (Matthew 1:19). However, when it was revealed to St. Joseph by the Angel that the Father of the Child in Mary’s womb is God, and therefore the Child in her womb is God, no conjugal relationships was possible because of this exclusive relationship between God and Mary. St. Joseph, a just man, however, ought to return and live with his legal wife all the days of his life because her virginity was proven to be kept intact, she did not commit any violation (Deuteronomy 22:15-19) and this was the plan of God from the beginning. This mystical marriage between God and Mary is unique but not forbidden for the One who was born is our Lord and Savior (Deuteronomy 23:2).  St. Joseph understood who Mary was in God’s plan, he had no intentions of conjugal relationships with her.

God transcends all creation. The Catechism teaches that God is not bound by His Sacraments (CCC # 1257), so any visual ceremonial rite, protocol, laws or rules are not necessary to God; however, St. Joseph represented God as the visible, rightful and actual husband of Mary and was present in the usual ceremonies and laws before men as husband of Mary and as father of Jesus.

God has the first right over all creation for He is our Creator. Per Jewish Mosaic law, the closest relative of a deceased husband had the rights over the deceased man’s wife (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). But in this unique event even though God was not going to be physically present as Mary’s Spouse, God is alive, He IS Life (John 4:16) [iv]. Therefore, St. Joseph “the next in line” [v] after God could NOT have intimate relationships with God’s bride.

{20:17} You shall not covet the house of your neighbor; neither shall you desire his wife, nor male servant, nor female servant, nor ox, nor donkey, nor anything that is his.”

St. Joseph could not even desire the woman who belonged to God Himself.

Where God has entered into the temple, no one else can enter except the prince:

[Ezekiel 44]
{44:1} And he turned me back, toward the way of the gate of the outer sanctuary, which looked toward the east. And it was closed.
{44:2} And the Lord said to me: “This gate will be closed; it will not be opened. And man shall not cross through it. For the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered through it, and it shall be closed
{44:3} to the prince. The prince himself will sit at it, so that he may eat bread before the Lord; he will enter by the way of the vestibule of the gate, and he will depart by the same way.”

Mary became a temple (or sanctuary) of the Divinity; the only one who was permitted to enter this temple was God Himself, God’s only begotten Son, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

[Song of Songs 4]
{4:12} An enclosed garden is my sister, my spouse: an enclosed garden, a sealed fountain.

No man can enter the bride of God for she is a “sealed fountain”.

Now, it was God’s will that, before men, it was fitting for Jesus to have a visible father, and for Mary to have a visible husband (Matthew 1:20) (1:24) so the marriage ceremonies proceeded as customary but, since the beginning, Mary was to be united in a Holy, Pure, Spiritual, mystical marriage with God.

Is it wrong to call Mary the “Spouse of the Holy Spirit”? No. This terminology is totally Biblical: (Isaiah 54:5), (Isaiah 62:5) (Jeremiah 31:32) (Hosea 2:16) (Hosea 2:19-20). So, Mary who had a unique and exclusive relationship with God (Luke 1:46-49) conceiving Christ by the Holy Spirit can rightfully be called Bride of the Holy Spirit or Spouse of God [vi].

The Principal Father of Jesus is God and the Principal Spouse of Mary is God. St. Joseph, as God’s servant, represented Him on earth as Jesus’ rightful, visible and actual father (Matt 13:55) (Luke 4:22) (John 1:45) (John 6:42) and as Mary’s rightful, visible and actual husband (Matt 1:19).

Now, notice Jesus’ response when his parents find twelve year old Jesus in the temple:

{2:48} And upon seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: “Son, why have you acted this way toward us? Behold, your father and I were seeking you in sorrow.”
{2:49} And he said to them: “How is it that you were seeking me? For did you not know that it is necessary for me to be in these things which are of my Father?”

When Mary tells Jesus “Behold, your father …” she was referring to St. Joseph, yet Jesus responded that it is necessary for Him to be in things that are of His Father, referring to God.

So St. Joseph’s fitting mission and charge was to be God’s representative, to be God’s vicar and he accomplished his mission faithfully.

St. Joseph is a figure of God the Father (though God transcends all fatherhood). God the Father has adopted us as His children through His only begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ by remaining in His Spirit, thus being members of His Body. St. Joseph has adopted God, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Bible does not say that Joseph and Mary had intimate physical relationships nor that they had more children.

Some people claim that the following verse proves the contrary:

“And [St. Joseph] knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS” – (Matthew 1:25 – KJBV).

There are two things that some separated brothers interpret from this verse: (1) since the word “til” or “until” is there, it means that after that, the opposite happens; and (2) “firstborn” means the first of various children. However, as we’ll see below, these are misinterpretations:

(1) In Biblical terms, words such as “until”, “till”, “unto” or “to” are used to describe what happened or what would happen during that period. It does not describe or mention what happens after that. We simply don’t know the events that happens after that point in time (after the term “until” is mentioned) unless it is actually described in the Bible.

In Matthew 1:25, what the Bible actually says is that St. Joseph did not know her ‘until’ she gave birth to Jesus. This simply means that St. Joseph didn’t know her (intimately) during that period, but the Bible does NOT say that, after that, he did.  The Bible does not say anywhere that “after that, Joseph knew Mary”.  This is just a supposition by some readers, but a supposition doesn’t make it true.

It is only a supposition by some readers that, because the word “till”, “unto” or “until” is there, it means that after that point in time, St. Joseph did have intimate relationships with Mary. However, as we are going to see, in Biblical terms, the word “until” does not necessarily mean that after such events, the contrary happens, or that it is “proof” that after the described events, the contrary happens.

For example, in 2 Samuel 6:23 we read:

“Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto (until) the day of her death.”. (KJBV).

Does this mean that “after” her death she had a child? of course not.

Also, notice the following passage regarding the cure of a blind man by Jesus and that some Jews did not believe that He performed such miracle until they asked this man’s parents:

“They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents.” (John 9:18 – NIV).

Does this mean that “after” those Jews called that man’s parents, they believed? Let’s see:

“His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”” (John 9:22-23).

So they asked the cured man’s parents and still didn’t believe, the parents responded to ask their son (again). Let’s see if, at least, they believed after that:

“A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.””– (John 9:24).

So, after those Jews asked the parents of the one who had received sight, they still didn’t belive! Even though the word “until” is in verse 18.

Jesus confirmed their unbelief by saying:

“For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” – (9:39).

Another example:

“Of David. A psalm. The LORD says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” – (Psalm 110:1).

This is a figure of speech meaning that ‘sitting at the right hand of the LORD’ the Lord Jesus has power, but this does not mean that after the enemies of the Lord are made a footstool of His feet, Jesus will cease to sit at the Father’s right hand. No, for He is a King forever (Psalm 45:6-7) (Acts 7:55) (Ephesians 1:20) (1 Timothy 1:17) (1 Peter 5:11).

Now, if be read the Holy Scripture thinking that the word “until” in biblical terms only means that nothing happens after a particular event, then reading Daniel 6:26 with a more literal translation from the Hebrew would make no sense:

“I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he [is] the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom [that] which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion [shall be even] unto the end.” – (Daniel 6:26).

The King James Bible has a similar translation.

Notice that it says that the living God stedfast forever (God is forever), His Kingdom shall not be destroyed, and yet, His dominion shall be unto the end.  Does this mean that God’s Kingdom will have an end? God’s dominion shall be up to that point? – of course not!  God’s Kingdom will also last forever.

St. Paul teaches:

“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:25).

This doesn’t mean that Jesus will cease to reign after He has put all His enemies under His feet.

Another example:

“Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” – (Matthew 28:20) (KJBV).

After the world ends, God will continue to be with His Apostles (Matthew 19:28).

Another one:

“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15).

God will never leave Jacob, for He will be with him forever (Luke 13:28-30).

Therefore, the word “until” (or similar terminology) used in Biblical narratives is used to emphasize the events of what is being described before the word “until” is used. It does not mean to say anything about events beyond that point. We don’t know how events beyond that point could unfold, it may happen the opposite OR it may not happen the opposite. We can know how it unfolds IF the information is given. It is like saying “Since the beginning of Church’s history until now true Christians have been calling Jesus “God “ or “Lord””. This is mentioning what has been happening during this time, it doesn’t say anything about future events; or “Until next time, have a good day!” – it does not mean that “after” next time we meet, have a “bad” day.

(2) “Firstborn” does not mean the first of various children. In Biblical terms, it means the first boy who is born, regardless of more children coming after the first one:

““Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats.
“You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day.”
– (Exodus 22:29-30).

Notice the “Do not hold back” the offerings to the Lord. So, after the first boy is born, the parents had to offer the firstborn to the Lord on the eight day! Just a few days away! They could not wait until another child is born in other to realize whether he is the first of various children who are born or not and then offer first one to the Lord. “Firstborn” simply means “the first boy who is born”, period.

Now, prophet Zechariah proves that our Lord Jesus Christ is an “only Child” AND a “Firstborn”:

““And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” – (Zechariah 12:10).

So here we see that “firstborn” does not mean “first of various children”, for in this case Jesus is an only Child and a Firstborn Son.

Furthermore, what Matthew 1:25 also tells us is that the marriage between Joseph and Mary was NOT and ordinary marriage for, according to Jewish tradition, the consummation of the marriage between the groom and the bride was to occur on their wedding night.  Therefore, Joseph’s abstinence from relations with his wife on his wedding night tells us that this marriage was not an ordinary one.

Regarding the alleged “blood brothers” of Jesus, that will be another post.

-Francisco Figueroa.

[i] “Unite, then, Venerable Brethren, your prayers with Ours, and at your exhortation let all Christian people add their prayers also, invoking the powerful and ever-acceptable intercession of the Blessed Virgin. You know well the intimate and wonderful relations existing between her and the Holy Ghost, so that she is justly called His Spouse.” – (Pope Leo XIII, Divinum Illud Munus, n. 14).

“She herself is a virgin, who keeps the faith given to her by her Spouse whole and entire. Imitating the mother of her Lord, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, she keeps with virginal purity an entire faith, a firm hope and a sincere charity” – (Lumen Gentium, n. 64).

“For all this, since the time of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Church calls the Virgin “Spouse of the Holy Spirit…. In the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater I wrote: “The Holy Spirit had already come down upon her, and she became his faithful spouse at the Annunciation, welcoming the Word of the true God” – (St. John Paul II, General Audience May 2, 1990 with inner-quote from Encyclical Redemptoris Mater).

[ii] Whoever wishes to be a member of Jesus Christ must be formed in Mary through the grace of Christ.  She possesses this grace in its fullness, so that she may bestow it fully upon her children.” – (“The Secret of Mary” by St. Louis de Monfort adapted by Eddie Doherty; Monfort Publications; pg. 13).

“As the Holy Spirit has espoused Mary; and in her, by her, and from her, has produced the Word Incarnate, and has never repudiated her; so He now continues to produce in her, and by her, in a mysterious but real manner, all the elect” – (ibid; pg. 13).

“Mary has received a special office and power over our souls, that she may nourish them and give them growth in God.  St. Augustine says that the elect, even in this life, are hidden in Mary’s womb, and are not truly born until the Blessed Mother brings them forth to life eternal.  Thus, as children draw all their nourishment from the mother, the elect draw their spiritual strength and well-being from Mary” – (ibid; pg. 14).

[iii] “Mary is Mediatrix of all grace given to all angels and to all created persons, other than graces to Christ and to Mary herself.  The Virgin Mary is the Mediatrix of all the graces given by God throughout all Time and all Creation (except Christ and Mary).” – (“New Insights Into The Deposit Of Faith: A Work Of Roman Catholic Speculative Theology” by Ronald L. Conte Jr.; pg. 191)

[iv] If a man was betrothed to a wife but not taken her yet and died, another man was able to take/marry her without sinning (Deuteronomy 20:7), since the betrothed is dead, there were no issues regarding conjugal relations with her in order to bring posterity to the deceased man or having children with such woman (Matthew 22:24) (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) (Tobit 3:8) (6:20-22).

[v] The “Next in line” had the privilege or rights over a deceased man’s wife if the nearest relative of such deceased man transferred this privilege. This is how Boaz could obtain his rights to marry Ruth (Ruth 4).

[vi] “She [Mary] is a virgin who “keeps whole and pure the fidelity she has pledged to her Spouse” and “becomes herself a mother,” for “she brings forth to a new and immortal life children who are conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God.” – (Redemptoris Mater #5, n3).

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5 Responses to Could St. Joseph have conjugal relationships with Holy Mary?

  1. Denis says:

    It seems the Bishop of Porto (Portugal) disagrees –
    “He [Christ] was conceived by Mary and Joseph as any other person… Virginity is only associated with Mary as a metaphor to prove that Jesus was a very special person.”

    Special Christmas interview with the Bishop of the most populous diocese in Portugal, Oporto (Porto), Manuel Linda.

    Can you address the reported comments of the Bishop as they appear, at best, to be confusing.

    • Ron Conte says:

      That Bishop and priest are both heretics, teachers of heresy, blasphemers, and are automatically excommunicated for heresy. They are also manifestly persevering in obstinate grave sin, and so are unfit for Communion, and are guilty of grave scandal.

    • franciscofigueroa1 says:

      If any Catholic claims that in some way Jesus is not the Son of God the Father and therefore God; but only a “special person” is a heretic.

      “2. If anyone will not confess that the Word of God has two nativities, that which is before all ages *from the Father*, outside time and without a body, and secondly that nativity of these latter days when the Word of God came down from the heavens and was made flesh of holy and glorious Mary, mother of God and *ever-virgin*, and was born from her: let him be anathema” – (Second Council of Constantinople – 553)

      There must not be any confusion among the Catholic faithful regarding the perpetual virginity of Mary for it is a dogma of the Catholic faith. Any “Catholic”, even if he is a Bishop, who claims that Mary is not an ever-virgin is a heretic and is automatically excommunicated per the following canons:

      Canon 751: “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

      Canon 1364 §1: “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

  2. Joseph learned Mary was to conceive of the Holy Spirit in a dream (and the Magi learned not to return to Herod in a dream, too).
    How do we know when we are to listen to dreams? If I listened to my dreams, I’d have even more of a reputation for being a nut than I do now!

    • franciscofigueroa1 says:

      Some times God uses this mean (vision/dream) to reveal His plans to His people (Numbers 12:6) (Job 33:14-15). St. John Bosco, for example had these type of messages from God. However, in order to distinguish a message from God through a dream is good to test the spirits as Scripture says (1 John 4:1), so a message from God by way of a vivid dream/vision contains no error, is not absurd, is clearly given so the recipient of the message or another person chosen by God interprets it correctly. A true message of God does not fool around people.

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