The Bible says that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus because Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

However, I have heard that Augustine may have suggested that the differences between the genealogies in Matthew's gospel and Luke's gospel led him to conclude that Joseph was adopted.

This question is helpful in explaining why the two accounts differ, but I am specifically looking for a reference to Augustine that suggests Joseph was adopted.

1 Answer 1


It can be found from St. Augustine's Harmony of the Gospels Book II, Chapter III.

Quote from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 1.6: Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels (1888), Philip Schaff (ed.):

  1. Furthermore, as to those critics who find a difficulty in the circumstance that Matthew enumerates one series of ancestors, beginning With David and travelling downwards to Joseph, while Luke specifies a different succession, tracing it from Joseph upwards as far as to David, they might easily perceive that Joseph may have had two fathers,—namely, one by whom he was begotten, and a second by whom he may have been adopted11. For it was an ancient custom also among that people to adopt children with the view of making sons for themselves of those whom they had not begotten. For, leaving out of sight the fact that Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses (as she was a foreigner), Jacob himself adopted his own grandsons, the sons of Joseph, in these very intelligible terms: “Now, therefore, thy two sons which were born unto thee before I came unto thee, are mine: Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon: and thy issue which thou begettest after them shall be thine.” Whence also it came to pass that there were twelve tribes of Israel, although the tribe of Levi was omitted, which did service in the temple; for along with that one the whole number was thirteen, the sons of Jacob themselves being twelve. Thus, too, we can understand how Luke, in the genealogy contained in his Gospel, has named a father for Joseph, not in the person of the father by whom he was begotten, but in that of the father by whom he was adopted, tracing the list of the progenitors upwards until David is reached. For, seeing that there is a necessity, as both evangelists give a true narrative,—to wit, both Matthew and Luke,—that one of them should hold by the line of the father who begat Joseph, and the other by the line of the father who adopted him, whom should we suppose more likely to have preserved the lineage of the adopting father, than that evangelist who has declined to speak of Joseph as begotten by the person whose son he has nevertheless reported him to be? For it is more appropriate that one should have been called the son of the man by whom he was adopted, than that he should be said to have been begotten by the man of whose flesh he was not descended. Now when Matthew, accordingly, used the phrases, “Abraham begat Isaac,” “Isaac begat Jacob,” and so on, keeping steadily by the term “begat,” until he said at the close, “and Jacob begat Joseph,” he gave us to know with sufficient clearness, that he had traced out the order of ancestors on to that father by whom Joseph was not adopted, but begotten.

The Joseph he is speaking about is Joseph the husband of Mary:

  1. But even although Luke had said that Joseph was begotten by Heli, that expression ought not to disturb us to such an extent as to lead us to believe anything else than that by the one evangelist the father begetting was mentioned, and by the other the father adopting. ...

In the edition cited above, within Paragraph 5 there is a footnote 11 about the adoption that Augustine mentioned on another occasion:

In the Retractations (ii. 16), Augustin alludes to this passage with the view of correcting his statement regarding the adoption. He tells us that, in speaking of the two several fathers whom Joseph may have had, he should not have said that there “was one by whom Joseph was begotten, and another by whom he may have been adopted,” but should rather have put it thus: “one by whom he was begotten, and another unto whom he was adopted” (alteri instead of ab altero adoptatus). And the reason indicated for the correction is the probability that the father who begat Joseph was the mother’s second husband, who, according to the Levirate law, had married her on the death of his brother without issue. [That Luke gives the lineage of Mary, who was the daughter of Heli, has been held by many scholars. Weiss, in his edition of Meyer’s Commentary, claims that this is the only grammatical view: see Robinson’s Greek Harmony, rev. ed. pp. 207, 208. Augustin passes over this solution apparently because he was more concerned to press the priestly lineage of Mary.—R.]

  • 1
    @Lesley - no its the Joseph with Mary. I added the next sentence that makes that clearer as it never occurred to me he might have been speaking about a different Joseph
    – Mike
    Commented Apr 25 at 14:26
  • Thank you for the clarification in your edit.
    – Lesley
    Commented Apr 26 at 6:58

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .