Matthew 1:19, Righteous Joseph

“And Joseph her husband was righteous and, not wishing to disgrace her, desired to release her secretly.”

I wonder if he is righteous (δίκαιος) because of wanting to release her secretly, or if his desire to release her because of her pregnancy is what makes him righteous? His desire to release her secretly would be an indication of compassion more than righteousness. Maybe his adherence to the law is what makes him righteous.

There is a similarity in process between Joseph’s actions here and Peter’s actions in Acts 10:9-15. Peter was to preach to the gentile Cornelius’ household. Normally he would have objected since Peter was a Jew and Cornelius and his people were gentiles, and Jews didn’t associate freely with gentiles. However, he received a vision in which he was commanded, “Do not call anything unclean that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15), and thus he obediently went to Cornelius’ home and shared the good news about Jesus with them. As a result, the entire household was baptized.

In Matthew 1, Joseph thought that the best thing to do with a pregnant betrothed would be to secretly release her from betrothal. In this way she would not be disgraced and he would preserve his righteousness. However, an angel of the Lord told him in a dream not to be afraid, but to take Mary as his wife, and to call her son “Jesus.” Because of the vision, he obeyed the Lord and married Mary, and named her son in accordance with the angel’s message.

Both Peter and Joseph were concerned with doing what they viewed as right. In both cases, each received a vision which communicated that the actions they were to take, though seemingly against what they viewed as proper conduct, was actually according to the Lord’s will.

Perhaps also, in calling Joseph “righteous” allows the reader to expect Joseph to obey the angel of the Lord. I will be watching for more allusions to the righteousness of Joseph, and to how Matthew characterizes righteousness in other characters.


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