Was St. Joseph a virgin or a widower with children?

Full Question

Can you tell me if the Church teaches that Joseph was a virgin, or was he a widower with children who was quite older than Mary?


An early tradition has it that Joseph was a widower who married the Virgin Mary later in life (after already having a family with his first wife). A later tradition says that Joseph was a virgin and that the “brothers” of Jesus were other relatives, perhaps cousins. Because we simply don’t know, Catholics are free to believe either tradition. All that is required of us to believe is that Mary remained a perpetual virgin, including throughout her marriage to Joseph.


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    • They were still under mosaic law, and Mary was open to life. So yes, the marriage was valid. You can go over to Catholic Answers, I’m sure you’ll find something more in depth there.

    • Please? Do not denigrate the Sacrament of Marriage or the act of procreation with fairy tales. Sex between married people who live each other is natural and beautiful and is an experience if an encounter with God. Stop teaching fairy tales.

    • They must have consummated, any healthy marrige did. Now no one really knows if they did or did not have sex. He was not obligated to tell!

  1. Mother Mary is the spouse of the Holy Spirit. Joseph was necessary to justify and protect the image of Mary by having a spouse and father to Jesus. thus, the Holy Family. Joseph protected and aided Mary and Jesus as this was his mission.

  2. Ridiculous. The virginity of Saint Joseph is not the question. He was going to break up with our blessed mother if not for the intercession of an angel in his dream because she was with child. This only goes to point towards his his faith but his sacrifice. Jesus had no brother or sisters. In the Arabic translation; all friends are called brothers or sisters (similar to street slang today). If Joseph had children what would one more be to him? His love of Mary then and his worship of God (as well) had put him in a passenger seat so that the Jesus would be the central character in the gospels. To try to change the focus to Jesus non-existent siblings or Josephs virginity would be to to lose the focus of God’s perfect sacrifice. Further the marriage of Joseph to Mary was not one of sex (as one comment alludes to above) – it was a marriage of scrifice – similar as Nuns and priests make today. In essence all clergy try to walk in the steps of Joseph.

  3. I have read various articles on St. Joseph all over the net, the early tradition vis-à-vis the new tradition on him, and on the basis of my readings, I have come up with my own theory, more in support of the new tradition:
    1. The Holy Family is the earthly representation/equivalent of the Holy Trinity- God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.-
    The Gospels speak of Jesus as God-incarnate, born of the Virgin Mary. Church tradition has it that the Virgin Mary was immaculately conceived, remained a perpetual virgin, and was assumed into heaven body and soul after her earthly death. The Gospels and the Credo (Nicene) speak of the fate of Jesus who suffered, died, rose from death, ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Thus, if the Holy Child and His Mother would have those perfect attributes, the earthly representation/equivalent of the Holy Trinity should likewise be perfect, and to complete the picture, it is therefore very, very likely that St. Joseph has the same attributes of Mary: immaculately conceived, remained a perpetual virgin, and was assumed into heaven body and soul after his earthly death. That completes the Holy Family picture, perfect on earth, in perfect reunion in heaven.
    2. The “kibbutz” setup in Israel-
    When you say family, it is non-sequitur in Israel to say family as equating only to the immediate family. Family in Israel includes extended relatives. The term “brothers” and “sisters” include cousins up to the farthest degree, for as long as they live in one compound. Thus, it is very possible that the Gospels may actually refer to Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” as His cousins (regardless of degree). This example extends to the Apostle James the Less, “brother/relative” of Jesus. Hence, consistent with #1 above-cited, and defeats the “St. Joseph as a widower with children from a first wife” tradition.
    3. Young/middle-aged man’s feat, not an old man’s feat-
    The Gospels of Matthew and Luke speak of long journeys covering Nazareth, Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth, Jerusalem. Tradition and archaeological research explains the possibility that Joseph, Jesus, and their male relatives (consistent with #1 and #2) are all engaged in labor/trade (carpentry = a general term covering not just wood work but “jack of all trades” including stone masonry) all over the Galilee area. If we are to adhere in the old tradition that Joseph was an old man at the time of his marriage to Mary, and got older as surely as Jesus was growing up, these herculean tasks depicted in the Gospels, tradition, and archaeological studies would not match his physique. He should’ve been plainly at home, and retired. These depictions clearly match that of a young or middle-aged man in the prime of his life, which brings the high possibility (again consistent with #1), that St. Joseph could be a young man at the time of his engagement and marriage to Mary, and a young or middle aged man as he was rearing the Holy Family and actively engaged in labor.
    4. How old, I mean how young could St. Joseph be at the time he was engaged to Mary? –
    Possible backdrop: Jewish tradition has it that at the age of a boy’s “Bar Mitzvah”, he becomes capable of all legal functions, including marriage. And this occurs at age 13! Early tradition has it that the Virgin Mary was around 12 to 16 years old at the time she conceived Jesus, and at that time, she was already engaged to St. Joseph.
    Thus, St. Joseph’s possible age at the time of his engagement to Mary and the birth of Jesus could roughly be:
    4.1. Around 13 (consistent with youth, virginly purity, and the “Bar Mitzvah” tradition); OR
    4.2. If we are to adopt Middle Eastern majority-cultures where a young virgin woman gets engaged/arranged for marriage with an older [but not very old] man, and consistent with #3 above-explained, his maximum possible age could be 30 years old.
    4.2.1. Possible basis for 30? Age 30 heralds the “beginning of the God-mandated mission”. Analogy: Jesus started His public ministry at age 30. St. Joseph’s ministry as the mandated Foster Father of our Lord and caretaker of the Blessed Virgin can roughly be at the same age. 30. Hence, St. Joseph being at the possible range of 13 to 30 years old at the time of his engagement to Mary and the eventual birth of Jesus stands consistent with # 1 (of Joseph being an immaculately conceived, perpetual virgin), # 2 (His immediate family is Mary and Jesus, he could have nephews and extended relatives, and they are all engaged in the Galilean labor trade) and #3 (the young/middle-aged man’s feat).
    The “old widower with many children” theory has no place in this possible scenario, hence, there could be the possibility that the newer tradition could be the fairly accurate and realistic one.
    5. How old could St. Joseph be at the time of him rearing the Holy Family?-
    In relation to #4 and subparagraphs, here are the possible answers:
    5.1. St. Joseph could possibly be in between 13 to 30 years old at the time of the Lukan and Matthean Infancy Narratives; and
    5.2. Add 12 years from Jesus’ birth to the time of the Finding of Jesus in the Temple- St. Joseph could possibly be 25 to 42 years old at the time Jesus was 12 years old and stayed in the Temple, to the worry and dismay of His parents. Definitely, this age range is the possible age-range of fatherhood at its peak (taking care of a young wife and child), as he took care of His Wife Mary and Foster-Child Jesus in the same way that normal fathers do.
    6. When and how old was St. Joseph when he passed away?-
    Likely backdrop: The Virgin Mary was already a widow at the time of Jesus’ public ministry–
    – Gospel reference refers consistently on Jesus’ “mother and brothers and sisters”– this implies the possibility that Mary was already a widow at the time from the start of Jesus’ ministry (The Miracle at Cana narrative), and, at the time when Jesus was “hitting the road” in the course of His Ministry, Mary was under the care of Jesus’ “brothers and sisters”, which as explained in #2, under the care of her nephews and nieces;
    – The biggest possible explanation and justification of Mary’s status as a widow? Why did the crucified Jesus entrust Mary to the Beloved Disciple John, of all people? Why not to St. Joseph, if ever he was still around?
    Thus, from the above explanations, and coupled with the fact that St. Joseph was no longer mentioned after the Finding in the Temple incident, Church tradition could be correct in saying that St. Joseph already passed away. But again, when? And at what age?
    6.1. WHEN: If Mary was implied/hinted as a widow at the time of the start and in the course of Jesus’ public ministry, Then St. Joseph could’ve passed away (and was assumed body and soul to heaven) sometime when Jesus was around 12 to 30 years old.
    6.2. HOW OLD: These could be the possible ages of the death of St. Joseph:
    6.2.1. At a young age of 25 (youngest probable age)- Survived by His young wife and the Holy Child aka a pre-teen Jesus definitely turned the Virgin Mary and the Jesus as part of the helpless sector[s] of Jewish society- “the widow and the orphan”. As the helpless who make ends meet on their own, on a “you and me against the world” status, it is no wonder that they lost the protective shield that they had after losing their young “padre de familia”. No wonder Jesus became an easy pushover when He returned to His hometown Nazareth during His ministry, rejected even by His own people; or
    6.2.2. At the middle-age of 43- feasible to adopt par. 4.1 aka “the widow and the orphan” (Still Mary would be a widow, Jesus as a growing teen and could have possibly inherited or started learning and mastering St. Joseph’s trade and His role as the man of the family). If Jesus was rejected by His own people in the course of His ministry, a possible motive could be jealousy, for the “helpless” were able to stand on their own; or
    4.3. At the oldest possible age of 60- It could be possible that at the time of St. Joseph’s death, Jesus is already established as an all-around carpenter in his own right, who effectively took over the role as head of the family who took care of his parents especially of his foster father who no doubt, gave his all in rearing the Holy Family that was created by God Himself. After St. Joseph died, The widow Mary would still be very helpless, but His grown up Son is already her protective shield, alongside their extended family, to whom she was entrusted to as Jesus went around performing His public ministry. Again, If Jesus was rejected by His own people in the course of His ministry, a possible motive could be jealousy. Jesus most likely financially established Him and His Mother by the time He embarked to His ministry.
    Thus, the possible age range of St. Joseph at the time of his death- safe to say, around 25 to 60 years of age.
    With all said, again, these are just my theories based on various readings. We are all free to adhere to either the early tradition or the new tradition on St. Joseph. Hence, the word “possibilities” and “likelihood”. God bless everyone. 🙂

  4. That’s a very dumb question. Come on lost Catholics, your continued defiance of what is written in the Bible is depriving you of human wisdom. The Bible says it clear: Joseph and Mary had children after the birth of Jesus (Matthew 13:55-56). Also, if Mary was virgin until her death, how come the Bible didn’t say so? And what husband and wife would live and die together without consummating their marriage? Was Joseph a homosexual? Come on.
    The problem with all of you, lost Catholics is that you have your own separate gospel . . . or teachings never found in the written Word of God—-which will place all of you under God’s curse (Galatians 1:8-9) come Judgment Day. Come out of that cult church before it’s too late.

    • Madeline, you need to read the comments above. “Brothers” does not mean the same. How about Mark 3:35 “Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me.” You need to remember the times this was written. But if you choose to believe that, that is fine. But you should also practice some tolerance. Seeing that Christ formed the Catholic Church, it would seem that any others would be the ones “lost”.

    • As far as I know we are all brothers and sisters in Christ… yet your mom is not my mom and my mom is not your mom… the same applies here…. dear little brother.

    • In the Old Testament it states that when a woman marries and if she has a celibacy bow it be up to the man if he upholds such bow.

  5. The Catholic Church was the one that compiled and canonized the 27 books of the New Testament at the Councils of Carthage, Rome and Hippo in the 4th and 5th centuries. At the time there were over 700 writings and over 50 gospels. Protestants didn’t come into the picture until 1,000 years later,yet they accept the same 27 books that the Catholic Church accepted as inspired by God but refuse to accept Holy Tradition along with those 27 books. How then are Protestants so sure that the Catholic Church was correct in accepting those books and not the other ones if the Catholic Church is a “cult” as they say? Besides, not everything is written in the Bible, St. John the Apostle says so in his Gospel Chapter 20:30 and 21:25. So much for the Protestant teaching of Sola Scriptura by Martin Luther.
    From the earliest times, the Catholic Church has believed that Mary remained a virgin all through her life, even the Eastern Orthodox Church believes this. St. Joseph, being a just man knew that Mary was the spouse of the Holy Spirit and that her womb was consecrated for Jesus the Son of God alone. St. Joseph respected this and was her chaste spouse and the protector and provider of Jesus and Mary. They weren’t your average couple. Protestants have rejected Tradition and accept what they want to, there is no Magisterium. That’s why there are more than 30,000 different Protestant churches with conflicting beliefs since Martin Luther’s “reformation” in 1517 AD. Each Protestant church interprets scripture as it sees fit, so then, who is “lost?” certainly not the Catholic Church. If the Blessed Virgin Mary had other children there was no reason for Jesus to put her under the care of St. John the Apostle at Calvary. When Joseph and Mary were looking for the 12 year old Jesus and found him preaching at the temple there is no mention of any other brothers or sisters with them. The Bible never says that the “brothers” and “sisters” of Jesus were the children of Mary. Not one verse says the sons and daughters of Mary or Mary their mother. In the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke there was no word for cousin. Uncles, cousins and extended relatives were called brothers and sisters and it was common for them to live within the same area and travel together to the temple, etc.. St. Jerome, who was born in the 4th century was a scholar and was the first one to translate the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. He wrote that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were His cousins, the sons and daughters of the other Mary at Calvary, the wife of Cleophas, who tradition says was the brother of St. Joseph. Mary the wife of Cleophas is called the “sister” of Mary the Mother of Jesus in St. John’s Gospel but she was her sister in law. In Aramaic there was no word for sister in law either.
    The Protestant reformers like Luther and Calvin believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity and that she was the Mother of God even after they broke with the Catholic Church. The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley also believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity. Fundamentalist anti Catholic Protestants need to go to the Catholic Answers website and look up these doctrinal issues and also get a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church instead of listening to the same old anti Catholic diatribe.

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Written by Raphael Benedict

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