We don’t hear much about Joseph in the Bible. Do we know how old he was when Mary and he married? How old was he when he died, how did he die, and how old was Jesus when he died?
We don’t have exact answers to any of these questions because, as you say, we don’t hear much about Joseph in the Bible.
We do know that in New Testament times, Jewish women often married in their mid-teens, while Jewish men married when they were a bit older, perhaps around twenty, once they had become somewhat established and could support a wife. So if Joseph and Mary’s experience was typical for the period, he might have been just out of his teens when he married her, and she was likely still a teenager.
We know from the gospels that Joseph was at least still alive when Jesus was twelve years old. Luke tells us how Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to Jerusalem at that age, where he spoke with the teachers of the law in the temple. But Joseph seems to have died by the time Jesus was 30 and began his ministry. The gospels portray Jesus interacting with his mother and brothers at several points during his ministry, but never with Joseph.
We know nothing about how Joseph died, or how old he was when he died, except that if he married at around age 20, and had died by the time Jesus was 30, then he would like have died before age 50. So he would have lived a little shorter time than the average for a man in the Roman Empire, which was the mid-50s. But whether he died of illness or an accident or some other cause, we just don’t know.
So the primary picture we have of Joseph comes from the time around the birth of Jesus. What stays in our minds is that he was a righteous man, unwilling for Mary to experience public disgrace, and that he accepted the challenging role of being the adoptive earthly father of the Son of God. Perhaps it’s best that we think of him mostly in that light.
First appearing in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Saint Joseph was the earthly father of Jesus Christ and the husband of the Virgin Mary.
Who Was Saint Joseph?
Venerated as a saint in many Christian sects, Saint Joseph is a biblical figure who is believed to have been the corporeal father of Jesus Christ. Joseph first appears in the Bible in the gospels of Matthew and Luke; in Matthew, Joseph’s lineage is traced back to King David. According to the Bible, Joseph was born circa 100 B.C.E. and later wed the Virgin Mary, Jesus’s mother. He died in Israel circa 1 A.D.
Fact and Fiction
Everything we know about Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus, comes from the Bible, and mentions of him are underwhelming. The 13 New Testament books written by Paul (the epistles) make no reference to him at all, nor does the Gospel of Mark, the first of the Gospels. Joseph first appears in the Bible in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, one of which (Matthew) traces Joseph’s lineage back to King David.
To add to the problem of not knowing enough about Joseph, some apocryphal writings — such as the second-century Protevangelium of James and the fourth-century History of Joseph the Carpenter — muddy the historical waters further, presenting him as a widower with children when he met Mary and claiming that he lived to the age of 111. These claims, however, are spurious and are not accepted by the church.
Marriage to Mary
After marrying Mary, Joseph found that she was already pregnant, and being “a just man and unwilling to put her to shame” (Matt. 1:19), he decided to divorce her quietly, knowing that if he did so publicly, she could be stoned to death. An angel, however, came to Joseph and told him that the child Mary carried was the son of God and was conceived by the Holy Spirit, so Joseph kept Mary as his wife.
After Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, an angel came to Joseph again, this time to warn him and Mary about King Herod of Judaea and the violence he would bring down upon the child. Joseph then fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus, and the angel appeared again, telling Joseph that Herod had died and instructing him to return to the Holy Land.
Avoiding Bethlehem and possible actions by Herod’s successor, Joseph, Mary and Jesus settled in Nazareth, in Galilee. The Gospels describe Joseph as a “tekton,” which traditionally has meant “carpenter,” and it is assumed that Joseph taught his craft to Jesus in Nazareth. At this point, however, Joseph is never mentioned again by name in the Bible—although the story of Jesus in the temple includes a reference to “both his parents.”
Death and Sainthood
The circumstances of Joseph’s death are not known, but it is likely that he died before Jesus’s ministry began, and it is implied that he was dead before the Crucifixion (John 19:26-27). Already a patron saint of Mexico, Canada and Belgium, in 1870, Joseph was declared patron of the universal church by Pope Pius IX, and in 1955 Pope Pius XII established May 1 as the “Feast of Saint Joseph the Worker” to counter the Communists’ May Day.
Many traditions hold that Joseph died in the arms or presence of Jesus and Mary.