Luke 1:26-38 gives us the full text of conversation that took place between Blessed Virgin Mary and Angel Gabriel . The Angel does explain to Mary how she would conceive of the Holy Spirit, but does not assure her of the patronage of Joseph , her would-be husband.

We also see in Mtt 1: 18-19 (NRSVCE) how Joseph was on the verge of abandoning Mary in private:

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 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.

Now, during the Annunciation which preceded the Vision to Joseph, Mary would have naturally been worried about the prospects of her acceptance by Joseph who had not yet taken her home . One wonders if single-motherhood was socially acceptable in those days. Mary, therefore, would have expressed her fear to the Angel, of her chances of loosing the patronage of Joseph . But we find no such discussion in the Gospels.

My question therefore is: According to Catholic Church, are there any apocryphal writings which narrate the discussion between Blessed Virgin Mary and the Angel, on how she would be accepted as wife by Joseph.

  • 1
    It's a good question but if I were Mary, wouldn't the honor of bearing God's Messiah/Son and my preexisting trust in the God-Who-Provides (exemplified by the paradigmatic stories of the faith of Moses, Joshua, and David) would have been sufficient that the question of Joseph's willingness would be very remote from my mind because I would trust that God will make a way to provide for everything I need? Nine months later, this mindset will show itself in that the gospel doesn't record Mary's worry for not finding a place to deliver the baby in Bethlehem. Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 10:31
  • 1
    My understanding is that the betrothal period is part of the marriage contract. Mary and Joseph were contractually married but it had not yet been consummated. This explains why Joseph considered "divorcing" her quietly. She was already accepted as Joseph's wife in the contract. Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 13:22
  • @Geremia I do not believe this question is a duplicate of the post: When did Mary and Joseph marry? As such I am reopening it. Yes, they are very similar, but not exact duplicates.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 20:50

7 Answers 7


The available data

According to the Catholic Church, are there any apocryphal writings which narrate the discussion between Blessed Virgin Mary and the Angel, on how she would be accepted as wife by Joseph?

The Catholic Culture article Was St. Joseph Previously Married? by Phillip Bellini has an overview of how the six apocryphal sources which could potentially have this information were variations and reworking of the accounts in:

Except for the account in Matt 1:18-25, the only other mention of how Mary would be accepted by Joseph was in the Protoevangelium of James paragraphs 9 and 13-17. Discounting the theory that Joseph married Mary in his old age (to protect Mary's vow of perpetual virginity), Phillip argued for Joseph's betrothal to Mary when "he was in the prime of life", which according to the custom of the times must be around 17-19 years old. Catholic tradition settled to perpetual virginity of St. Joseph (cf. St. Thomas Aquinas's opinion) although it is not a settled doctrine.

What's incontrovertible, which both Catholics and Protestants believed, is how we should interpret the gospel accounts in terms of the Jewish custom at the time. I use the following 3 resources to write the interpretation summary in the next section:

  1. Biblical Archaeology Society 2021 article by Mark Wilson (NT professor) Were Mary and Joseph Married or Engaged at Jesus' Birth?
  2. 2014 article Mary's crisis-pregnancy and noble Joseph by Denny Burk (professor of Biblical Studies)
  3. 2013 web article A Question with Regard to the Betrothal of Mary and Joseph at the Concord Baptist Church website.

Summary interpretation

  1. Before the annunciation, Joseph was contractually betrothed to Mary (NOT the same as modern era engagement) and paid the bride price (mohar) to Mary's parents. This conferred the legal status of being married. (source: resource #1)
  2. The marriage would NOT have been consummated until the public wedding ceremony about 1 year later. This gives the husband time to prepare their future living home as a couple. (source: resource #3)
  3. At the time of the Annunciation, Mary and Joseph would still be living separately despite their using the terms of "husband" and "wife" (see the conclusion of resource #3). Thus, Joseph could legally "divorce" Mary when he found out that Mary was pregnant because their betrothal was "an unconsummated legal covenant" (source: resource #2)
  4. Being a "just man" (Matt 1:19), was Joseph obligated to have Mary punished according to the law (Deut 22:20-21) or to seek justice so the man who could have raped Mary was punished according to the law (Deut 22:23-27)? NO. Joseph had the right to publicly shame Mary and her parents but he also had the option to cancel the unconsummated marriage. Either option would be consistent with the law and of Joseph being a "just man". The gospel account demonstrated that Joseph was also merciful, which is greater righteousness: to seek divorce quietly:

    The text says that Joseph desired to divorce her “quietly” or “secretly.” What’s so righteous about that?

    The expectation in that day was that a man had the right to publicly expose a philandering wife—to subject her to open shame and to demand punishment (Deut. 22:13-21, 23-24; cf. Col. 2:15). But Joseph didn’t do that. The evidence in her womb seemed to say that he had to divorce her. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to humiliate her and exact justice. Joseph wasn’t the kind of guy who was prideful. He wasn’t the kind of guy who needed to save face or to triumph over the woman who had humiliated him with another man. He determined to just let it go quietly. There would be no marriage, but neither would there be retribution.

    What does it look like to be a righteous person? In Joseph’s case, it looks like a guy who is conscientious about God’s law but who is also conscientious about grace.

    (source: resource #2)


How did Mary know after the Annunciation that she would be accepted as wife by Joseph?

By all available accounts, there was no certainty, no knowledge. But having perceived the mission to bear God's Son and Messiah as an honor given to a humble servant, I'm sure the matter of Joseph's cooperation must have been seen by Mary as taking a relatively minor risk in faith, in the providence of the God she has trusted since childhood, the God who delivered Israel from mighty Egypt and mighty Babylon, who now was about to deliver the whole world from evil !

Every pious Jew would have understood that responding to God's mission entails taking risk and going out of our comfort zone, from Abraham's being asked to sacrifice Isaac, to Moses to confront Pharaoh, to Israel fighting the "giants" to enter Canaan, etc.

Therefore, it's a small matter for her to trust that God would:

  1. help Joseph believe in her innocence, which could have added to Joseph's motivation to at least seek divorce quietly, before his own angelic visitation.
  2. help Joseph to be willing to "adopt" Jesus as his son by staying in the marriage so Jesus could be raised properly in society, having a physical mother and father. This also allow Jesus to acquire the status of being the "son of David" through Matthew's genealogy (Matt 1:1-17), although Luke's genealogy through Mary would probably be sufficient already (see GotQuestions.org article What was Mary's lineage?).

At any rate, I'm sure Mary's character of being pious and righteous must have been visible to Joseph, and I'm sure the peace of being innocent at heart would have manifested in her countenance when she explained her pregnancy to Joseph in confidence, not in fear. This took care of #1 above.

God's additional providence in sending the angel in Joseph's dream would only be an additional assurance Joseph needed to embrace his mission to be the father of Jesus (#2).

What does "take Mary as your wife" in Matt 1:20 mean?

Again, we need to see this in the context of the Jewish marriage custom. As explained above, they were already contractually husband and wife, but not yet living together. "Take Mary as your wife" must have meant to Joseph as to:

  1. stay in the legal covenant (instead of quietly divorcing)
  2. go through the public wedding ceremony
  3. take Mary into the home he must have been preparing
  4. begin cohabitating and wait for the pregnancy to mature
  5. go to Bethlehem for the census, where Jesus was also born
  6. raise his adopted son Jesus until he dies prior to Jesus's crucifixion

(see more explanation in resource #1).

  • Thanks, GD. Somewhere between Jesus' birth and his own death, Joseph would have remorsefully told Mary that he had thought of abandoning her. What would have been Mary's response ? "Yes dear, I knew it ; but I simply trusted in God and your righteousness " . Or, would she retort : "You wicked man ! Why did you hide it from me so far ? " ? Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 5:00
  • @KadalikattJosephSibichan That's funny. I have a feeling that St. Joseph would have confessed very early on, and St. Mary would have easily forgiven him graciously and both praised God's grace. And as Jesus grew up year after year, they would have witnessed the amazing fullness of what a sinless and fully alive human being can be, since at the core, the Incarnation is about completing what Adam couldn't do. Any of their venial sins would pale into insignificance at the awe and privilege of raising a perfect child. Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 6:58
  • Thanks. I stand corrected. Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 7:40

How did Mary know after the Annunciation that she would be accepted as wife by Joseph?

Mary trusted the Holy Spirit would reveal this to St. Joseph in due time, from the very beginning. Mary knew God had started this and she firmly believed that God would bring everything to a proper conclusion. ”Hail Mary, full of grace.”

This is a unique perspective that I know some Catholic theologians have tackled in the past.

Sorry for the lack of primary references, but they are extremely hard to pin down. I know they are out there because I have read them while living in France.

Put in a nutshell, it goes something like this (If I can locate these reference, I will add them in):

Mary totally had confidence in what the Holy Spirit was doing at the Annunciation.

Knowing that she had been enlightened by the Divine Grace of the Holy Spirit, Mary knew well to keep silent about the origins of the incarnation. If the Paraclete had operated this miracle in her sacred womb, them the only way for St. Joseph to believe and understand this mystery would be through his own annunciation.

The Angel of the Lord did that very thing in time and Mary trusted the Divine Inspiration would come to St. Joseph through God himself. Mary obviously did not want to interfere in this.

Would not Joseph believe in the incarnation if it were to be revealed to him from God rather than herself. Mary accepted this.

Mary trusted Divine Providence totally and she let God work out the details. What an amazing Mother she would be.

Let’s look at the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and see what it implies:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly.

First, the text explicitly states that Mary “was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit.” The Gospel’s words are few and packed with meaning. Matthew specifically tells us that she was not just found to be with child, but found to be with child of the Holy Spirit. Second, the text tells us that Joseph is a just man, meaning he would do what he knew to be right, not acting out of fear or emotion. Third, he wanted to spare Mary of shame and therefore wanted to find a quiet solution.

Here is what justice requires for adultery, according to the Law: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10). If Joseph decided not to act according to the Law, we might consider him merciful, but not just. The just response would be to bring the culprits to light so that they could receive the punishment God had commanded. If Mary had willingly committed adultery (a thought that should make us shudder with horror) then she would deserve punishment.

Second, maybe Joseph thought Mary had been raped. The Law also has commands in this regard. Deuteronomy 22 specifies death to both parties when a betrothed woman willingly sleeps with a man. It goes on to speak of rape:

But if in the open country a man meets a young woman who is betrothed, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die. But to the young woman you shall do nothing; in the young woman there is no offense punishable by death, for this case is like that of a man attacking and murdering his neighbor; because he came upon her in the open country, and though the betrothed young woman cried for help there was no one to rescue her (vv 25-27).

I find this scenario much more likely than the first. It is possible that Joseph thought Mary had been grievously wronged and like Deuteronomy states he decided to “do nothing” to her to harm her, but simply decided to break off the betrothal quietly.

There are a couple of problems with this scenario as well. Justice demanded more than simply calling off the betrothal. Justice required punishment for the man. Also, simply to put Mary away when she was pregnant with the child of another man would do her immense harm and would expose her to much shame, which he did not want to do. A just man would care for a woman in this situation, who needed much help and support. With his justice, he would have brought the perpetrator to punishment and taken Mary as his wife to care for her.

Third, there is another possibility put forward by tradition. As Matthew states, Joseph found Mary to be with child of the Holy Spirit. He was just and recognized that nothing in the Law of Moses addressed this problem. He was betrothed to a sinless woman, who miraculously conceived a child. In justice, he could not fathom his role as spouse to the very tabernacle of the Holy Spirit. He did not want to bring attention to Mary’s situation, but would quietly remove himself to allow God to continue acting directly in Mary’s life.

But then the angel came and made God’s will known to Joseph. He would have a role in God’s plan and his justice would be put to good use, caring not only for Mary but the divine Son she bore. Joseph would pass on the Davidic line to his adopted son and create a just household for the child.

We praise Joseph for his justice and courage. He knew Mary and could think no ill of her. In a family of the God-man and a perfect spouse, Joseph, though singularly graced as well, definitely felt himself to be the odd man out. His Annunciation story reflects this humble position, but also the grace God gave him to exercise his justice in a supernatural way.

Reflecting on Joseph’s role helps us to give him the praise and honor he deserves for his justice and obedience. He continues to be the steward of God’s house, caring for the Church and our families. If you didn’t see the new prayer to St. Joseph I proposed to help us to honor his virtues and his role in the Church, here it is again:

Joseph, Son of David, you are the just man the Lord placed over His house. You did what the angel commanded and so we go to you in time of need. O foster father of Jesus, pray to your Son for us. - A Closer Look at Joseph’s Response To Mary’s Pregnancy

For more information on this subject matter, please see my answer to this question: When did Mary and Joseph marry?


Lev 20:10-12 reads:

If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.

Deut 22:22-24 also reads:

If there is a young woman, a virgin already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies with her, you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor’s wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

So, Mary, along with the child in her womb, stood the risk of getting stoned to death irrespective of her marital status i.e. whether she had only been betrothed to Joseph, or whether their marriage had been ratified. What other than pregnancy was the handy tool of judging a woman !There is no way that Mary did not know the scriptures concerning purity. Same with Joseph too. Joseph's plan to abandon her in secret would mean that Mary stayed put with her parents till the child was born , but appeared to the society to be his legally wedded wife staying separately for personal reasons. The decision on how things should work out, entirely rested on Joseph and his empathy towards Mary. That was a question of life and death not only for Mary , but for the Son of God to be born through her . Either the Angel suo moto assured Mary of the continued patronage of Joseph , or he simply asked her to leave the matter to God, in response to her innocent query. Absence of mention of such a discussion in the Gospels does not imply that it did not take place. And, as the maximum goes: Everything that ends well is well !


Mary was his wife at the time of the Annunciation:

Matt 1:19: "Joseph her husband (vir, ανήρ)"
Matt 1:20: "Mary thy wife (conjugem, γυναίκά)"

The Greek is: "μνηστευθείσης γαρ της μητρός αυτού Μαρίας τω Ιωσήφ"
St. Jerome translates it: "desponsata mater ejus Maria Joseph"
English: "his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph"

Although their marriage was a virginal marriage, it was still a true marriage.

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    Many versions state: > Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife. That implies that at the moment of the vision, Joseph was yet to take Mary ``AS HIS WIFE . " – Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 11:30

Mary would have known about the laws of defilement and specifically about the law of adultery (Numbers 5). Recall she also knew about the law of circumcision (Lev 12:3, Luke 2:21) and offering after a baby is born (Exo 13:2, Luke 2:23).

After the test, with the results clear to all, that she was sinless on the matter, she knew or believed Joseph would be who he was; that is, just (Mat 1:19).

This scenario is described in the Infancy Gospel of James.


Her concern at the Annunciation was the preservation of her vow of virginity, which is why she asked: "How shall this (conception) be done, because I know not man?" (Lk. 1:34), i.e., "How shall I conceive, considering I have vowed my virginity?"

St. Gabriel's salutation troubled her, too, because "she, in the greatness of her humility, thought far different, yea, even contrary things of herself" (Cornelius à Lapide on Lk. 1:29) and "It is the habit of virgins to tremble and to be afraid at the approach of a man, and to be bashful when he addresses her." (St. Ambrose, Expositio in Lucam, in Catena Aurea in Luc. 2, l. 9).

As Cornelius à Lapide on Lk. 1:34 writes:

The sense [of "How shall this be?] therefore is:

I surely believe that I shall conceive and bring forth Jesus, the Son of God, but I am doubtful as to the way in which this will be. I know not a man, because I have made a vow of virginity: if God wishes to dispense with this vow, though it be hard, yet I will obey the will of God: but if He seeks to know my desire, I certainly declare that I earnestly desire to preserve the virginity that I have vowed to Him: for He who is a most pure spirit, and therefore the first virgin, has Himself put it into my mind; and it will be honourable to my Son Jesus if He is born of a virgin. For I know what has been foretold by Isaiah [7:14], Behold a virgin shall conceive, and shall bring forth Emmanuel; and it may be the will of God that I should be that virgin. If it is so, be it so.
Whence on hearing immediately from Gabriel that she would conceive not by a man, but by the Holy Spirit, she immediately breaks forth with great joy of heart, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word [Lk. 1:38].

The mystics say that she was troubled when God commanded her to marry:

WHEN MARY reached the age of thirteen and a half, having grown considerably for her age, Almighty God in a vision commanded her to enter the state of matrimony. Because of her intense love of chastity and her early vow of perpetual virginity, which she had often renewed, this divine order meant to her a sacrifice as painful as that of Abraham when God commanded him to offer up his son’s life.

When Mary heard this unexpected decree, she was astonished and became greatly afflicted. Nevertheless she prudently suspended her own judgment and preserved her faith and hope more perfectly than Abraham.

—Brown, O.F.M., The Life of Mary as Seen by the Mystics: From the Revelations of St. Elizabeth of Schoenau, St. Bridget of Sweden, Ven. Mother Mary of Agreda and Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich ch. 6,
from this answer to the question "Why did the Blessed Virgin Mary marry?"

It seems more likely that she would have been pleased if St. Joseph had "put her away privately" (Mt. 1:19), though she probably would've been concerned for St. Joseph if he had actually done so.

The mystics do say she married because her parents died and young girls' service in the Temple was not perpetual, so perhaps whether St. Joseph would take her under his patronage was a concern for her, but her main concern was the preservation of her virginity, doing God's will above all.

  • On the contrary Mary willingly offered Her virginity, when She accepted St.Joseph, if sacrificing Her virginity would give birth to the Messiah. But, Mary was overjoyed after knowing God, have a mysterious plan for the birth of Messiah. Mary was troubled, not for the loss of Her virginity but for the ordination done by St.Gabriel, clothing Her with royal robe, making Her Queen of all Angels.-Ave! Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 22:45
  • @jongricafort "Mary was troubled, not for the loss of Her virginity" She never lost her virginity; she's a perpetual virgin.
    – Geremia
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 22:47
  • Yes She never lost it. What I mean is, She accepted St.Joseph as husband, because Her heart was already pregnant with a desire to be the Mother of the Messiah. Mary was troubled at St.Gabriel greetings, not because She will in the future will loss Her virginity if she will get pregnant naturally, in which She already offered it to God, accepting to be married. Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 22:51
  • @jongricafort "Mary was troubled at St.Gabriel greetings" Yes, but she was also troubled by Lk. 1:31 "Behold, thou shalt conceive." etc. I've added some more explanation on that.
    – Geremia
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 23:45
  • @jongricafort related: "Did Mary desire to be the Mother of the prophesied Messiah?"
    – Geremia
    Commented Dec 7, 2021 at 23:46

How did Mary know during the Annunciation that she would be accepted as wife by Joseph?

The simple answer is, "Mary's primary concern is to follow the Will of God", She won't mind the outcome, because the Will of God is what matters most.

"..Let it be done to me according to thy Word." - Luke 1:38

Besides, Mary was already pregnant before the Annunciation happens according to St. Augustine..

"She conceived first the Messiah in Her immaculate Heart before She bore Him in her pure womb..." - St. Augustine

"The Highest Heavens cannot contain God, whom She carried in Her womb." - Book of Kings

The problem with Joseph was after the Annunciation, Mary was transformed from "lowly handmaid to a Royal Queen", a Queen of all the angels, and a Virgin Priest. The transformation from lowly handmaid to a Queen and a Virgin Priest is the reason, why St. Joseph no longer feel worthy to be near Mary. But since. St.Joseph has a contemplative and a heart docile to the voice of the Holy Spirit, he was shown his role as the foster father of the Messiah, and since both Mary and St. Joseph and most of the Jews are pleading God for a thousand years to send the Messiah, an angel explaining the Will of the Father is enough for St.Joseph to embraced it, and accept his new role as the foster father.

One more thing, the greetings of St. Gabriel was not an ordinary greeting....

"The Annunciation was Mary's ordination into a royal priest, a Virgin Priest" - 17th century Theologians.

Source :https://stchrysostoms.wordpress.com/2010/03/17/the-priesthood-of-mary/

Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to cloth Mary with a celestial robe of a Queen, bowing down to Mary and showed, that he acknowledge that he was subject to the Sovereignty of Mary the Queen Mother of the King of Kings, St. Gabriel is a high ranking angel, nearest to the Throne of God.

In closing, Mary was troubled with the "greetings of Archangel Gabriel" because it transformed or anointed Her soul, to become a Virgin Priest via celestial ordination coming from a celestial prophet, higher than King Saul and King David ordination which only falls in the hands of prophet Samuel. Higher than St. Paul ordination as seen in Acts 13:1. Mary's ordination was even higher than Jesus, because St. John the Baptist was the only present in Jesus Baptism n the Jordan River, and not a high ranking angel or prophet like St. Gabriel who ordained Mary. And Mary. was never worried about St. Joseph not accepting Her, because Her primary concern is to follow the Will of the Father.

  • Please stop making up Catholic theology. No Magisterium teachings state that Mary was anointed at the Annunciation. Not one.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 16:38
  • Gauna is a northern Indian ceremony associated with the consummation of marriage, especially in child-marriage(since prohibited by law). The ceremony takes place several years after marriage until which , the bride stays at her natal home. Marriage is considered only as a ritual union ; conjugal life begins only after gauna. It is possible that child-marriage was prevalent among the Jews and betrothal meant real but unconsummated marriage. That explains the scripture which cite Joseph and Mary as husband-wife even before he would take her home as wife for consummation of marriage . Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 6:28
  • Please cite Magisterium authority on this subject matter!
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Dec 9, 2021 at 16:55
  • @jong ricafort That proves nothing. Mary shared the Royal Priesthood of all baptized Catholics. Still no Magisterium teaches she was an ordained priest. If so prove me wrong!
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 21:31
  • @KenGraham "Mary Virgin Priest, pray for us." is an approved devotion with plenary indulgences. Are you saying, St.Pius X and the ten others who are popes, theologians, saints,etc. committed a mistake in recognizing the priesthood of Mary? Commented May 9, 2022 at 2:54

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