Matthew tells us that when “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 divorce her quietly.”
Why did Joseph intend to divorce Mary?
The view that suggests itself to most people is that Joseph thought Mary had been unfaithful to him.
But there is another theory: that Joseph knew the Child had been conceived “of the Holy Spirit” and so Joseph was afraid to take Mary as his wife.
What are we to make of this issue?
And what does Pope Benedict have to say in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives?
What Did Joseph Know & When Did He Know It?
The idea that Joseph did not think Mary had been unfaithful to him may be suggested by the fact that Matthew mentions the miraculous conception of Jesus before he introduces Joseph’s idea of divorce.
He says: “before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit.”
Found by whom? Who knew that the Holy Spirit was responsible for the pregnancy?
Presumably, Joseph would have been one of the first to be told.
If he believed this then one could understand why he would be afraid to take Mary as his wife.
Who wouldn’t hesitate to take to wife someone who, in later centuries, would be called “the spouse of the Holy Spirit”?
Thus, as a “just man” he might seek to quietly sever the legal bond between them and would need the assurance of the angel telling him “do not fear to take Mary your wife.”