The Conception of Jesus: Matthew 1:18-25


Jesus’ earthly father Joseph is one of least remembered characters in the entire Bible. Yet his action is crucial in the fulfillment of God’s promises to His people. As we shall see if it were not for his obedience to God the line of the Messiah would not have been solidified.

Here’s the text:

18 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 from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.


The term “betrothed” here can be understood as a kind of binding engagement agreed upon by two families. About a year after being betrothed the women would leave her parents and go to be with her husband where there would be a public marriage ceremony and consummation.[1] In the context of this passage it appears Mary and Joseph were still in the “engagement stage” of the process because at the realization of Mary’s pregnancy Joseph moves to divorce her. Michael Wilkins explains the situation Joseph found himself in as a pious Jew, “Divorce for adultery was not optional but mandatory among many groups in ancient Judaism, because adultery produced a state of impurity that, as a matter of legal fact, dissolved the marriage.”[2] It wasn’t something Joseph necessarily “wanted” to do (as evidenced by the Greek usage of thelo [purpose] and boulomai [desire])[3] but was bound to because of his desire to live righteously under God’s law.


Now the apparent “mystery” of the verb change in Matthew 1:16 will be explained (see lasts weeks article here). The reason why there wasn’t anything “active” (verb) in Joseph’s fathering of Jesus was because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

But we have a problem.

If Joseph doesn’t affirm paternity over Jesus then Jesus will not be recognized as an descendant of David and the genealogies just explained inverses 1-17 will be meaningless.  Thus the angel of the Lord appears and explains to Joseph what took place and gives instructions to Joseph regarding his naming and his purpose. His obedience validates Jesus’ genealogies because “by naming Mary’s son, Joseph will be accepting legal paternity.”[4]

But after this passage we don’t ever see anyone referring to Jesus as Immanuel. This is probably because “Matthew surely intends his readers to understand that “Emmanuel” was his name in the sense that all that was involved in that name found its fulfillment in him. The quotation and the translation of the Hebrew name underline the fact that in Jesus none less than God came right where we are.”[5] Because He is Immanuel and the Messiah he will shatter many of the Jews Messianic expectations by becoming a Savior from sins (1:21).[6]

mary and holy spirit 2Why the immaculate conception?

Michael Wilkin’s provides four helpful reasons:

1)    “…the virgin birth points to the divine nature of Jesus

2)   The virgin birth speaks of a one person in whom is united full deity and full humanity

3)   The virgin birth signals Jesus’ true humanity without inherited sin

4)   The virgin birth of Jesus denotes the beginning stage of redemption of humanity that had been created in the image of God but had been distorted by the effects of sin”[7]


There are two main difficulties associated with these passages that rest in Matthews usage of Isaiah 7:14 as fulfillment of prophecy in 1:23. The first deals with whether the translation of “virgin” as oppose to “young maiden” is correct from the Hebrew.[8] David Turner provides a helpful response to this issue when he writes, “Be that as it may, there is no doubt that, for Matthew, Mary was a virgin, a sexually inexperienced young woman.”[9] Put another way, while it’s possible that the word may be translated in both ways, even if it’s translated as “young woman” it’s not a leap to assume that Matthew’s intent in using the word was to refer to a virgin given the context of the passage.

The other issue has to do with Matthew’s usage of that prophecy (Isa. 7:14) because it seems to have previous fulfilled in the Old Testament.[10] Three basic interpretative methods have developed to explain this: the historical (it was fulfilled in the Old Testament but Matthew is using a kind of typology in referencing it to Christ), New Testament fulfillment (there wasn’t any real fulfillment of this prophecy in the Old Testament only as its described here in the New Testament), and the multiple fulfillment (partial fulfillment in the Old Testament and climactic fulfillment in the New Testament).[11]

For me the multiple fulfillment path is the most satisfactory in terms of explaining why Matthew would have used this prophecy the way he did without doing some crazy hermeneutical gymnastics.


What’s the pay out for all of this information? I think there are two huge applications from these passages.

1) Have confidence in what Jesus says, who He is, and what He did

These passages show that Jesus is God incarnate, the promised Messiah and the only being capable of saving humanity from its sins. Therefore we can trust what His Words say and we can be sure that His way of living life is always the best way.


2)  Follow Joseph’s example of obedience to God even when things aren’t working how you’d hoped and dreamed

Put yourself in Joseph’s position before He realized what God was doing with his life. He must have felt frustrated, betrayed and humiliated. He was going to have to explain why he had to divorce Mary to his parents and friends. On top of this I’m sure he loved Mary had affections for her which were probably crushed when he realized he wasn’t the father. But God had other plans that He didn’t know about.

Whatever situation you find yourself in trust God and stay obedient He won’t forget you or forsake you (Heb 13:5).

For more thoughts on Joseph see Dustin Neelev’s post here.

[1] R.T France, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Matthew, pg 50

[2] Michael Wilkins, NIV Application Commentary: Matthew pg 75

[3] Ibid

[4] David Tuner, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew, pg 67

[5] Leon Morris, Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Matthew, pg 31

[6] R.T. France, pg 54

[7] Wilkins, pg 85-86

[8] R.T France, pg 55

[9] David Tunrer, pg 69

[10] R.T France, pg 56

[11] See Michael Wilkins pg 79-80 & David Turner pg 69-70


~ by simplesage on December 17, 2013.

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