Q: #428. What ever happened to Joseph, Jesus' father?
A: First, I should point out that Joseph was not technically “Jesus’ father,” but rather His legal/earthly father (like a step-father). Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:18,20)(Lk 1:35), and spoke of God the Father as “My Father” (Lk 2:49)(Mt 10:32-33)(Mt 26:39,42,53). As for what happened to Joseph, we cannot know with certainty since the Bible does not tell us. In fact, the Bible really tells us very little about Joseph. He is mentioned only in these places (Mt 1:16-24)(Mt 2:13-15)(Mt 2:19-23)(Lk 1:27)(Lk 2:1-7,16,21-52)(Jn 6:42).
Following are some of the things we learn about Joseph in these verses. He was of the royal lineage of David (Lk 1:27)(Mt 1:1-16) (as was necessary for the Messiah). His father’s name was Jacob (Mt 1:16). He was from Nazareth (Lk 2:39,51)(Mt 2:23), a carpenter (Mt 13:55), and the husband of Mary. Jesus was his first son, but he later had other sons with Mary: James, Joses, Simon, Judas, and at least two girls (Mt 13:55-56)(Mk 6:3). (More on Jesus’ brothers here.) Several actions show that he was a devout follower of Jewish law (See: Lk 2:21-24,39,41-42). He is called a “just man” (Mt 1:19).
Joseph’s love for Mary seems very apparent in that when he found out that she was pregnant, but not by him, he was going to “put her away (divorce her) secretly” rather than publicly (Mt 1:19), which could have ended in her harm (adultery was punishable by death: Lev 20:10, Deut 22:22). When an “angel of the Lord” appeared to him 3 different times in a dream (Mt 1:20-21)(Mt 2:13)(Mt 2:19-20), telling him what to do, he obeyed without hesitation (Mt 1:24-25)(Mt 2:14-15)(Mt 2:21). (God also warned him in a dream not to go to Judea, and he obeyed: Mt 2:22.) The fact that Mary offered the sacrifice of a turtledove or young pigeon instead of a lamb for her purification (Lk 2:22-24) indicates that Joseph and Mary were not wealthy (See: Lev 12:2-8).
The last place we see Joseph is when Jesus was at the Temple when He was 12 years old (Lk 2:41-52). The Bible is silent about what happened with Jesus between this time and the time He began His public ministry at about the age of 30 (Lk 3:23). Jesus ministry lasted for 3 years (explained here). Several key things that happened during these 3 years seem to point to the fact that Joseph may no longer have been alive at that point.
1. At the wedding feast in Cana, it says that “the mother of Jesus was there,” without mentioning Joseph (Jn 2:1). (Also see: Jn 2:12)
2. In (Mk 6:3), Jesus is called “the son of Mary,” instead of Mary AND Joseph.
3. In (Mt 12:46-47)(Mk 3:31-32)(Lk 8:19-20), Mary, and Jesus’ brothers appear at a gathering where Jesus was, and Joseph is not with them.
4. The most significant evidence is found in (Jn 19:25-27) when Jesus was on the cross and He gave care of His mother Mary to the apostle John. If Joseph had been alive, this would have been unnecessary. However, if Joseph had previously died, Jesus as firstborn would have been responsible for her care. With His death, Jesus needed to transfer her care to another, and He did so with John. Normally, His brothers would have been responsible for this, but since they were unbelievers in Jesus at that time (Jn 7:1-10), He did not choose them. (They later became believers after Jesus’ resurrection: 1 Cor 9:5, Gal 1:19, Acts 1:14, 1 Cor 15:7).
5. After Jesus died, Joseph would have been responsible for taking care of the body of Jesus. Instead, this responsibility was handled by another Joseph: Joseph of Arimathea (Mt 27:57-60)(Mk 15:42-46)(Lk 23:50-53).
In addition, it is also worth noting that when Simeon prophesied about the crucifixion and death of Jesus, he said to Mary, “a sword shall pierce through thy own soul,” speaking of the pain she would feel at that time (Lk 2:33-35). However, he did not say this to Joseph, even though he was there too.
There are a number of apocryphal writings and traditions which speak of Joseph dying. Many of these teach that Joseph was significantly older than Mary when they married, and therefore may have died of old age. (I speak of Mary’s age when she gave birth to Jesus here.) However, since none of these are God-inspired, we cannot know for sure.
One more interesting fact on Joseph: The Bible never records a conversation between Joseph and Mary, nor does it record ANY spoken words of Joseph.