Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
Then Joseph her husband, being a just [man], and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
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.
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:18-21 KJV)
I believe there is a misconception of what the messenger was saying to Joseph, when he said “fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife” (KJV), or according to the YLT, “to receive Mary thy wife“. (Some translations even insert the word “as” between Mary and thy wife.)
Many understand this statement as speaking of Joseph and Mary coming together as husband and wife in holy matrimony, as in a formal ceremony.
I think this stems from two things:
- The reading of the preceding passage “before their coming together” as being a reference to marital relations or a ceremony of holy matrimony, and
- The expression “to take a wife“, used throughout the Bible.
But is this what the source text is alluding to?
Before Their Coming Together
While it does seem likely the phrase “coming together” could be alluding to either marital relations or a matrimonial ceremony, the understanding of how that relates to Mary being found with child is significant.
The common understanding is that Mary was found with child of holy spirit before their (Joseph and Mary’s) coming together.
However, the Greek grammar of the text from which most English translations are derived points to the understanding that this is simply saying Mary was espoused to Joseph before their coming together.
The fact that Mary was found with child is a separate thought. And the natural understanding is that she conceived this child after having marital relations with her husband.
The notion that this child is a result of a miraculous conception without the participation of her husband is far-fetched, given that this idea is a deviation from the norm, and the text does not come right out and say this.
To Take a Wife
The Greek word used here in Matthew is a form of paralambano, whereas the expression “to take a wife” uses the word lambano.
Paralambano vs. Lambano
Take a look at all the uses of the word used in Matthew 1:20 in the rest of the book of Matthew, as well as the references used in the Old Testament, to help gain a better understanding of what the author of Matthew sought to convey in using this word.
In every instance of a man taking a wife in the Old Testament, the word lambano is used. Whereas, paralambano carries a different meaning.
Then, reconsider the immediate context in Matthew 1.
The Immediate Context
The author clearly identifies Mary was espoused to Joseph before their coming together.
Then he says, she was found with child of holy spirit, and Joseph, her husband, being righteous and not willing to make an example of her thought privately to send her away.
The fact that Joseph thought to send Mary away suggests the two are together at that point.
Then, when the instruction from the messenger to “fear not to take unto thee (or to receive thee) Mary thy wife” was given, it seems that it was specifically addressing Joseph’s thought to send her away.
Simply speaking, Joseph and Mary were together as husband and wife when she was found with child.
Joseph thought to send her away for fear of her being made an example/show (given that she was pregnant with the Christ child), but the messenger reassured him of their remaining together.
See the Greek text for the application of the phrase “before they came together” and the uses of the Greek words often translated as “to take” to gain a better understanding of what the author sought to convey in the passage surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.