Matthew 1:19

ESV And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
NIV 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.
NASB And her husband Joseph, since he was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.
CSB So her husband, Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.
NLT Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
KJV Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.

What does Matthew 1:19 mean?

While Luke's version of the story of Jesus' birth focuses more closely on Mary's experience, Matthew is describing it from Joseph's perspective. Mary and Joseph were betrothed to be married, something far more formal than a modern engagement. This likely meant Joseph had made an agreement with Mary's father, perhaps years earlier, to take Mary as his wife. The agreement was binding—legally, they were as good as married, other than the wedding ceremony and physically consummating the relationship.

The previous verse revealed that Mary was found to be with child "from the Holy Spirit." It's helpful to remember that, at first, the only part of this Joseph knows is that she is pregnant. He would not have known, immediately, about the crucial explanation. He knew only that his almost-wife was pregnant with a child that is not his.

Joseph is said to be "a just man." He may have felt hurt and betrayed, but he did not apparently fly into a rage or wish to hurt Mary, even though all signs pointed to what amounted to adultery in their culture. On the contrary, he seems not to want additional shame for her if he could help it. This seems extraordinarily kind, given the circumstances. Part of this kindness might have been that Mary was likely much younger than Joseph. We don't know that for sure, and marriage arrangements such as this were common, even when there was an age gap. Still that's a possible explanation for why Joseph disappears from the Gospel narratives by the time Jesus is grown.

Compassion did not require Joseph to go through with marrying a seemingly-unfaithful woman. Instead, he was going to divorce her as quietly as possible. He did not intend to make a public issue about why he was breaking off their agreement by legal means. The fact that this required divorce papers shows just how binding a betrothal was in the culture of the day.
What is the Gospel?
Download the app: