New Testament

Gospels and Acts of the Apostles

What did Joseph think about her pregnancy?

Joseph did not want to disgrace Mary, but he did not want to marry her, either. At that time, an engagement was as legally binding as marriage. The Law of Moses was not on Mary’s side. One law stated, “If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death.” (NRSV, Deuteronomy 22:23–24). So if Mary was raped, then she (along with the baby) would be stoned.

Another law stated, “If the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. You shall do nothing to the young woman; the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death, because this is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor.” (NRSV, Deuteronomy 22:25–26) So if Mary had been raped, she would not be stoned, but would face shame as an unwed mother, and possibly be banished.

For these reasons, Joseph planned to divorce Mary discreetly.


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