We all know Saint Joseph as the foster father of Jesus. But there are a lot interesting parallels between Saint Joseph, and someone you may not be as familiar with—Joseph the Patriarch of the Old Testament. Let’s dive a little deeper into some similarities between Saint Joseph and his Old Testament ancestor of the same name.
Foster Father? True…but False
It’s true that St. Joseph is technically the foster father of Jesus. Even the Litany to St. Joseph refers to him as “Foster father of the son of God.” But while that title is technically correct, it’s also a bit inaccurate because it diminishes, or denies Joseph’s rightful role and authority in the life of Jesus, and it denies Jesus of his hereditary lineage as the son of David—something that is essential to his nature as the Messiah. Here’s why.
” Joseph is never referred to in scripture as the foster father of Jesus”
Our Lord’s natural, biological mother is Mary, but he has no natural (biological) father. Hence St. Joseph becomes Jesus’ foster father because he has no biological connection to Jesus. But in truth, Joseph is never referred to in scripture as the “foster father” of Jesus. He is, instead, referred to as Jesus’ father by Gospel writers who knew very well that St. Joseph had no biological connection to Jesus. Here’s one example, when Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the temple after searching for him for three days:
“When Jesus’ parents found him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”Here scripture says, “Jesus’ parents…” not “His mother and stepfather.” Mary doesn’t say, “Joseph and I have been anxiously searching for you,” but calls him “your father.” [Article Continues Below]
So why is Joseph called Jesus’ father rather than stepfather or foster father?
Jesus’ biological mother is Mary. St. Joseph, being lawfully married to Jesus’ mother (meaning by divine law, not merely human law),becomes the lawful father of Jesus. He is Jesus’ father in every way except biology. St. Joseph has a father’s authority over Jesus, a father’s responsibility to Jesus, and by Jewish law and tradition, Jesus derives his hereditary lineage from his father—not his mother—which is why, as Joseph’s son, Jesus is the son of David (Joseph is of the lineage of David.). It was always known by the Jews that the messiah would be of King David’s line—the “son of David”. If Joseph, who is descended from David, is not the lawful husband of Mary, he can’t be the lawful father of Jesus, and Jesus could not be the “son of David” who inherits the throne of King David. This is why while St. Joseph is technically the “foster father of the Son of God”, he is lawfully Jesus’early father, and is referred to accordingly in the Gospel.s
A Tale of Two Josephs
St. Joseph shares his name with another famous Joseph, Joseph the Patriarch, in the Old Testament. These two pillars of our ancient faith have a lot in common apart from their names.
Joseph the Patriarch was a famous interpreter of dreams. St. Joseph is known for being directed by God in his dreams.
Joseph the Patriarch was sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt. St. Joseph brought the Blessed Mother and Jesus into Egypt to flee persecution by Herod.
The mother of Joseph the Patriarch was Rachel. In Jewish tradition, Rachel is known as the mother of all Israel. St. Joseph was married to Mary, who became the mother of all the faithful when, at his crucifixion, Jesus told St. John, “Behold your mother” (John 19:27).
Joseph the Patriarch rose to become second in command in the Egyptian palace. St. Joseph is traditionally seen as second in holiness only to the Blessed Mother
Joseph the Patriarch famously rescued Egypt from famine. As custodian of the grain reserves, he stored up grain for bread during a six-year period of abundance. When famine struck in the seventh year, there was plenty of bread to live off of. St. Joseph was the custodian of Jesus, the bread of life that gives life to the world.
One last similarity is my personal analysis rather than a fact. So take it with a grain of salt.
When you read about the Patriarch Joseph’s life in the book of Genesis, you get a strong sense that he was a very devout, meek, and humble man. He was, in fact, the favorite of all of Jacob’s 11 children. One example of his goodness and holiness is when he is reunited with his brothers many years after they plotted to murder him and then sold him into slavery; Joseph forgives them and treats them with tremendous kindness and generosity.
St. Joseph was likely very similar to the Patriarch in holiness and meekness. While scripture tells us very little about the life of St. Joseph, we can be confident about some of his personality characteristics. Being chosen to be the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and earthly father to the Son of God, St. Joseph was clearly a man of exceptional holiness. God wouldn’t let just anybody take care of his two most precious possessions (Mary and Jesus).
Though Jesus was true-God, he was also fully human. His human personality needed to be developed; he needed to learn his trade and his work ethic; he needed to learn how to be a devout Jew; he needed to learn how to be disciplined in his spirituality; he needed to draw from human examples of what being a righteous man looks like, and how a righteous God-loving man behaves, and so on. He learned many of these things directly from St. Joseph. As head of the house of the Holy Family, he was the primary former of his son, the primary spiritual leader of the household, the chief provider of the family, and therefor the one who taught Jesus his craft (carpentry) and his work ethic. The meekness, humility, spiritual discipline, and devotedness we observe in Jesus in the Gospels directly reflect St. Joseph. Of course, our Blessed Mother raised Jesus, too. Mothers are always the first teacher of the children, and their influence is uniquely significant. But only men can teach boys how to become the men they become. That is God’s design. And so, while we see the image of Mary in her son, we also, in a significant way, see the just and righteous St. Joseph reflected in the personality of Jesus.