Joseph’s Inward Musing: a word from the ancient church

“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly….he…considered this” (Matthew 1:19-20)

When studying for my message on Joseph this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I stumbled upon this excerpt from a sermon by an anonymous church leader in the early church. The way that he speculates on the thinking of Joseph about Mary’s situation was enlightening. This excerpt is taken from an incomplete work on the Matthew, Homily 1.

Perhaps Joseph thought within himself: If I should conceal her sin, I would be acting against God’s law, and if I should publicize it to the sons of Israel, they would stone her. I fear that what is in her womb is of divine intervention. Didn’t Sarah conceive when she was ninety years of age and bring forth a child? If God caused that woman who was like dry wood to flower, what if the Godhead wanted to cause Mary to bear a child without the aid of a man?

Does the conception of a woman depend on a man? If the conception of a woman depends always on a man, doubtless when a man so desires, the woman will conceive. But in this case it is not when the man so desires that the woman conceives but when God so desires. Therefore, if a woman’s conception does not depend on a man but on God, what is so incredible if God should wish to give her offspring without a man?

What shall I do then? I will put her away secretly because it is better in an uncertain matter that a known prostitute should get off free than that an innocent person should die. It is indeed more just that an unjust person should escape justly than that a just person should die unjustly. If a guilty person should escape once, he can die another time. But if an innocent person should die once, he cannot be brought back.

Anonymous, Incomplete Works on Matthew, Homily 1, from Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 12-13.

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