This week I'm preaching about Joseph in the story of the Jesus' birth. The characters around Jesus give us plenty to think on and emulate in our own response to Jesus, as we encounter Him as Emmanuel, God with us.
In verse 25 of chapter 1 Matthew says about Joseph that he "had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son." (NRSV)
Most of the translations say it something like this, that is they indicate that Joseph and Mary did not have the normal arrangement of marriage while Jesus was in the womb. Christians across time and space and family (denominational/sect) concur on this. What is less agreeable, since the Reformation, is what took place following the birth of Jesus.
Consulting Thomas Oden's wonderful work - Commentary on Matthew, vol. 1, in the series, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, it is clear that the early church believed that there was never a "knowing" between Mary and Joseph. It doesn't matter from what place or time, the early church believed Joseph viewed Mary's womb sacred ground, once inhabited by the Holy Spirit and Son of God and as such, a road he wouldn't go down. They understood Jesus' brothers and sister, spoken of later when they come to see him and he's out of his mind, as Joseph's kids from a previous marriage, or his cousins.
Generally I was under the assumption that Protestants were uniformally headed in the opposite direction. That after the birth of Jesus, they in fact had a "knowing" of one another and this produced the siblings of Jesus.
I am surprised to report that John Wesley does not track with the protestant persuasion. In his Notes on the New Testament he writes: He knew her not, till after she had brought forth - It cannot be inferred from hence, that he knew her afterward: no more than it can be inferred from that expression, 2Sam 6:23, Michal had no child till the day of her death, that she had children afterward. Nor do the words that follow, the first - born son, alter the case. For there are abundance of places, wherein the term first born is used, though there were no subsequent children. Luke 2:7
I'm intrigued by this differing perspective regarding the nature of Joseph and Mary's relationship. What does it say about our view of marriage, of intimacy, of sexuality, of being devoted to God and to one another? Maybe the discussion says more about us, than it does about them or even God.
I'm quite convinced that Joseph wouldn't fit in well in the current western world, Christian or not, but he does fit in well in the Kingdom of God.