Mt 1:19 vs. Protoevangelium - a contradiction?


Whereupon Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, was minded to put her away privately.

(Mt. 1:19)

“And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of priests, saying, ‘Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her, lest perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord?’ And they said to the high priest, ‘You stand by the altar of the Lord; go in and pray concerning her, and whatever the Lord shall manifest to you, that also will we do.’ . . . [A]nd he prayed concerning her, and behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him saying, ‘Zechariah! Zechariah! Go out and assemble the widowers of the people and let them bring each his rod, and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be. . . . And Joseph [was chosen]. . . . And the priest said to Joseph, ‘You have been chosen by lot to take into your keeping the Virgin of the Lord.’ But Joseph refused, saying, ‘I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl’” (ibid., 8–9).

“And Annas the scribe came to him [Joseph] . . . and saw that Mary was with child. And he ran away to the priest and said to him, ‘Joseph, whom you did vouch for, has committed a grievous crime.’ And the priest said, ‘How so?’ And he said, ‘He has defiled the virgin whom he received out of the temple of the Lord and has married her by stealth’” (Protoevangelium of James., 15).

“And the priest said, ‘Mary, why have you done this? And why have you brought your soul low and forgotten the Lord your God?’ . . . And she wept bitterly saying, ‘As the Lord my God lives, I am pure before him, and know not man’” (ibid.).

So, the Gospel implies that Joseph’s secret divorce from Mary might protect Her from being exposed. While the Protoevangelium says She was a consecrated virgin, so everyone knew She was supposed to be chaste. And Her divorce from Joseph might only have made the things worse for Her, as She would have had no witness to testify in her defense. :confused:

Of course, I know that Protoevangelium is not a canonical book, but still…


The Protoevangelium of James is not merely non-canonical, it is a heretical gnostic work. The stories in it are fictional with elements of truth woven in.

It is highly unlikely Mary lived in the temple as a young girl with that public vow of virginity, it is just a story. She may have made a private vow herself, in which case Joseph would have to have known about it (Numbers 30:3-8) but no one else would have had to know.


Well, “heretical” or not, it is referred to by the CA in “Mary: Ever Virgin” article! :confused:


The most that can be said from the Protoevangelium is that there was a tradition of Mary’s virginity, but you shouldn’t expect it to conform to Scripture because it really is a fictional work. Mary began walking at 6 months, the annunciation is different etc.

and of course the biggest thing is the fact that the author lied in claiming he was James.


I see no contradiction. Joseph thought to send Mary away, at least until her child was born, to avoid public shame. The angel then told Joseph that the Child was conceived of the Holy Spirit.

In any case, the Gospel is divinely inspired, and the other story isn’t, so that ultimately settles any contradiction between the two.


Umm… precisely which heresies do you see in it? :hmmm:


You’re failing to quote the salient parts of the text, though. Joseph says to himself, “I received her a virgin out of the temple of the Lord, and I have not watched over her.” In other words, his concern isn’t that she’s pregnant, so much that it is that she’s pregnant illicitly. He’s complaining that, if she were to be pregnant, then it should be by him – her betrothed/husband – not by another man.

Further, he says, “If I conceal her sin, I find myself fighting against the law of the Lord; and if I expose her to the sons of Israel, I am afraid lest that which is in her be from an angel, and I shall be found giving up innocent blood to the doom of death. What then shall I do with her? I will put her away from me secretly.” In other words, if he presumes she sinned, then he’s complicit in her sin if he simply conceals it. On the other hand, if she’s innocent – as he presumes she is – then he’s complicit in the capital punishment of an innocent woman. That’s the conundrum he’s facing, and that’s why “putting her away quietly” is a possible solution: it means that she’s not punished (justly or unjustly), and therefore, he’s not at risk at being complicit with injustice.


Sorry that was my error in writing “heretical” is describing Gnosticism in that sentence.

There are plenty of errors in it though, such as the wise men going to Bethlehem rather than jerusalem to inquire of Herod. Plus the lie that it was written by James.

They are stories, any truth in them comes from the person adding truth from the canonical writings, but it is a work of fiction.

I can never understand why anybody references it except to point out there was at least a concept among people that Mary was a perpetual virgin, but honestly I wouldn’t even use it for that.


I think it is wrong to assume every non-canonical writing of the time to be gnostic. It doesn’t seem to display gnostic characteristics. The protoevangelium of James seems to have been excluded from the canon on the basis that it was more focused on Mary than it was on Jesus Christ, therefore was not necessary.


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