I have been reading your articles on misconceptions about Christmas and have been really, really enjoying them and learning a lot. I was sharing what I learned (about Jesus being born in a house, rather than the traditional stable) and my friend brought up this point. Would Joseph's relatives still have accepted him, or more importantly Mary, into their homes, because they would have thought that Mary was pregnant out of wedlock?
That got me thinking...I looked into it but couldn't find any answer.
Thank you SO much for all you do. It is very appreciated! And please know that I am praying for you everyday.
– A.F., Canada
Hello A. F.,
Since the Bible does not tell us Joseph’s family’s response to Mary’s pregnancy, we cannot make any definitive claims. Scripture does, however, give some background details, and we know some things about their culture, so we can speculate. Of course, they may have faced quite a bit of rejection and persecution from friends and family, as is commonly assumed, but is it possible that this wasn’t the case?
Let’s first take a look at Joseph’s reaction to the news that Mary was pregnant. At the time, the couple was betrothed, which was as legally binding as marriage is today. They were regarded as husband and wife, and a certificate of divorce would be required to dissolve that union. These truths are referenced in Matthew 2:19:
Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
Based on the Old Testament, Joseph had a couple of options. He could have charged her with adultery so that she would be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:23–24). However, he was an upright man who wanted to show mercy to her. He wanted to put her away secretly, which means he was planning to obtain a legal divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1; cf. Matthew 19:8–9). His difficult decision may also have been influenced by the fact that Mary was obviously a godly young woman with a desire to serve the Lord (Luke 1:38). Yet due to the angelic visit, Joseph chose a different option: he did not press any charges and kept her as his wife.
Thinking about the families of Mary and Joseph can be an interesting topic. Since Joseph was upright and Mary was chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah, they probably both came from devout homes. Mary’s relative, Elizabeth, was the godly wife of a righteous priest (Luke 1:6), and she rejoiced with Mary about the good news (Luke 1:39–45). Also, when she gave birth to John the Baptist, the one who would prepare the way of the Lord (John 1:23), her relatives “heard how the Lord had shown great mercy to her [and] they rejoiced with her” (Luke 1:58). So, Mary’s and Joseph’s families may have offered their support rather than mistreating the young couple.
Although both he and Mary were descendants of David (from the tribe of Judah), they did not live in the area once known as Judah.1 Joseph was living in Nazareth when he and Mary were betrothed, so his immediate and some extended family likely lived in that area, too. We find support for this in Luke 2:44 and Mark 6:4. If they were going to face any rejection, it more than likely would have started in Nazareth, from either of the families or from their friends.
As a result of the census, Joseph and Mary (and perhaps some of their relatives, too) traveled to their ancestral home of Bethlehem (in Judah). It is unknown how long Joseph’s family had been away from Bethlehem; it may have been several generations, and he may not have had any close relatives living there. When they arrived in Bethlehem, it would have been natural for him to seek out any relatives that may have been able to house them.
Since Joseph did not press any charges against her, that should have ended the matter as far as his family was concerned.
Assuming that they found lodging with relatives, would Joseph have needed to inform anyone there that the child Mary was carrying was not his biological child? Not necessarily. She was his wife, and he could have honestly introduced her as such. If someone asked questions beyond that about the pregnancy, Joseph could have told them the truth. If this happened, then it may have brought on some ridicule or persecution, but this would all change when Jesus was born and some shepherds arrived sharing the message that the angel had told them.
However, since Joseph did not press any charges against her, that should have ended the matter as far as his family was concerned.
So, even though we cannot be certain of the details that are not given in Scripture, we can study what the Bible does reveal to us. We know that God would certainly have provided for the safety of the family He chose to raise His Son. We also know that Mary did safely give birth to the Messiah in Bethlehem, and that He would go on to live a sinless life, die a sacrificial death on the cross for our sins, and rise from the grave a few days later.
Praise God for His unfathomable love demonstrated by the gift of His Son!