A Study on the Birth of Jesus Christ

Matthew Chapter 1, Verses 20-21

Please return to the main page of this study for the introduction and other verses.

By Mary E. Stephens
Nov. 2014

As I mentioned before, we are getting Joseph's part of the story from the Gospel of Matthew now. This time I'm going to add some more thoughts to these same verses from last time.

Matthew 1:20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

One thing that is interesting here is that the Lord (speaking through the angel) calls Mary Joseph's wife. This gives us food for thought on several levels since they were only espoused but not yet fully married.

First of all, Joseph had been thinking of "putting her away." This is biblical language in this context for divorce. 

Ezekiel 44:22 Neither shall they take for their wives a widow, nor her that is put away: but they shall take maidens of the seed of the house of Israel, or a widow that had a priest before.

Matthew 5:31 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:

Now we learned in verse 18 that they had not "come together" yet, but God called her his "wife" here. This provides an insight on the famous divorce passages that explain the "high calling of God in Christ Jesus" on the subject of marriage and divorce that was put into effect during His life on this earth.

Two of the passages don't mention fornication.

Mark 10:11-12 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

Luke 16:18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

The passage that is used to try to squirm out of the reality of these other two passages is the one in Matthew.

Matthew 5:31-32 It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

Jesus expressly says here that divorce is not permissible except for the cause of fornication. The word "fornication" has been interpreted by some to mean any sexual unfaithfulness is just cause for divorce and remarriage. But, this is not what the verses say. The problem for that interpretation is that He used the word "adultery" at the same time. If He had only used the word "fornication" or the word "adultery" that might have given them some room. Since He made a distinction between the two sins it tends to indicate that He was distinguishing between premarital sexual unfaithfulness and marital sexual unfaithfulness. It looks to me like what He is saying is that putting away a "wife" for premarital sexual unfaithfulness, as Joseph was planning to do, is acceptable but divorce after marriage is adultery, as is remarriage after divorce. 

As much as I'd like to agree that divorce is an acceptable solution for adultery, I don't feel clear to do so based on what the Bible actually says. But, as a rabbit trail that someone will surely want to run down, there are times that a marriage may need to be dissolved when abuse - especially to children - is involved. Luke 17:1-2 Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. The punishment one who offends children is worthy of is far worse than what is said about divorce, as far as I can see. There is no clear punishment mentioned, although in the Old Testament adultery was punishable by stoning, so that would be death in either case. But, if children are being offended, then it would be wise to consider divorce rather than to allow the offense to continue.

As discussed before, an espousal was a more binding relationship than what modern engagements tend to be in Western culture. She was considered his wife, though he had not taken her yet and they had not come together in the physical sense. Joseph's obvious conclusion could only be that Mary had been unfaithful - had committed fornication; so he was going to divorce her - put her away. This looks like a clear example of what Jesus Christ was talking about. Which indicates that divorce for adultery is still not acceptable, and God still means what He said about not putting asunder what He has joined.

Someone might want to know what you do if you find out after you are married that your spouse was unfaithful to you before marriage.  Well, consder, What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. Mark 10:9 It looks like it should be handled as adultery would be. God knew it all along. Are you going to blame Him for allowing you to marry in that situation? Is there possibly a more obvious culprit to blame? Maybe you were not listening to sound council. Maybe there were sign markers you ignored. Maybe you could not have known and God allowed it for His reason which you don't understand. I don't know. I can't tell you what God is doing in your life or why. I don't fully understand a lot of the time what He's doing in my own, let alone figuring out everyone else's problems. I know that isn't a good answer, but that's as much as I can say about it at the moment.

There is another interesting aspect in God already considering Mary Joseph's wife. It pretty much debunks the ideologies that say that marriage is strictly a physical relationship.  

[Painting by Vladamir Makowsky]

There have been many cultures, religious groups, and individuals who have interpreted marriage only as marriage if it has been physically consummated. I have even heard the idea set forth that when a husband or wife commits adultery they are already effectively divorced because they are now "married" to someone else, so it's really just up to the injured spouse to decide if they want to act upon that "divorce." Some people believe that when two people commit fornication they are married and if they later marry someone else it would be remarriage after a divorce and therefore adultery.

These notions are actually rather wild and even offensive in my opinion. Wild because they are extreme and cause unending complications which will be nearly impossible to sort out. Offensive because reducing "holy matrimony" to the very base element of the act of sex is disgusting. The manipulations, word antics, and explaining people have to go through to "prove" these views ought to be a clue that they are on perilous ground. Much to their disadvantage, God shot a big hole in this ugly ideology here by calling Mary Joseph's wife "before they came together". (Thank you, Lord!)

Besides a clearer understanding of what God thinks about marriage and divorce, one thing we can learn here is not to force our own opinions or what we want to see onto scripture. Trying to justify, reinterpret, excuse or even accuse any sin or ugliness of man by playing word games with scripture is perilous ground. God does not take lightly those who meddle with His word and therefore make Him say things He did not say. 

In Proverbs 30 we read "Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar." Proverbs 30:6 It is not good to be reproved by God. So, let's just let Him speak for Himself and not try to force our ideas in where they don't belong. Let's "let Him be God" as the cliché goes, which also happens to be a good thing to do. Doing otherwise can get us in a lot of trouble and make a lot of trouble for other people who may be influenced by our ideas.

Matthew 1:21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

This is probably the single most important thing in scripture. Around this revolves all the other aspects of scripture. From the fall of Adam onward, this one thing was the focus of human history. It all comes down to this, no matter how you look at it, and whether you acknowledge it or not. We are sinners in need of a Saviour and only Jesus Christ could be that Saviour. Nothing else makes sense outside that fact. Nothing else can explain the great questions of the human condition. There is only one final answer to all of the problems this world faces now or has ever faced - "a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:11

His people, of course, are the Jews, but He also said, And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. John 10:16 Praise God for that! As we will see in Luke 2 when Simeon prophesies over Him at the Temple, He is also "A light to lighten the Gentiles" Luke 2:32  No one is left out. This Saviour is available to all! Have you accepted the salvation that He bought when He died on the cross for you? Romans 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.


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