Tim Staples' article on when Mary and Joseph were married

Please pardon me, I can’t figure out how to ask this in the right place. In an article about Mary’s virginity and state of betrothal at the time of Gabriel’s visit. He states that betrothal is the same as marriage, and does not mean engagement, as a Protestant apologist maintained. This whole thing just swirls around in my head and makes no sense. I point to the fact that the Catholic encyclopedia defines betrothal as an engagement, and does not equate it to marriage as Mr.Staples says.

I have a hard time accepting that Mary was married at the time of the angel’s visit, but I confess I never really wondered when Mary and Joseph were married. Mary was “betrothed” at that point, which means “engaged” in my mind. Help in understanding please?

I believe someone will chime in who knows better than me, but here is what I remember hearing and I don’t remember where:

Although a betrothal was considered as a marriage, the male that was betrothed did not take the betrothed to his house until a year had passed.

Now I await with you for more clarification! :slight_smile:

An easy way to prove that Tim S. is right: if they were only engaged, then why is it that Joseph was contemplating divorcing her? You can’t divorce unless you’re married.

Betrothal united a man and woman together in a way that carried the force of marriage, only they didn’t live together until the wedding.

I haven’t finished reading it yet but it appears that THIS ARTICLE answers the question.


What you are missing here is Jewish tradition at the time. Back in those days the way that a Jewish couple would marry is that first they would have the marriage ceremony andaafter the ceremony they would enter into the betrothal which was a period of let’s say spiritual purification. During this period the couple would not be together as husband and wife instead they would lock themselves in prayer and Jewish rituals. When the angel visited Mary she had already been formally married with st Joseph but they have yet to live or be together, they were in this prayer period. Eventually this costume has been translated as engagement as the concept of engagement kinda reflects more the situation as a couple in this period under Jewish because the marriage is not yet consumed, is seen as not as a married couple living together. The problem comes because there is no proper translation for this and this doesn’t exist anymore and what that eventually turned into was engagement. But yes Mary and Joseph had already had a ceremony but weren’t seen as husband and wife yet.

There is an awful lot to read here and it was found on a Protestant site but there’s good info speaking directly to the question:


Thanks for the helpful links, and especially thank you to MaryMary for your clear explanation of the customs of the day. I think I get it now.

Mary, you are partly right in that we don’t have a modern day equivalent to the state of marriage that Mary and Joseph had, but you did not word it correctly.

I just recently had a conversation, by email, with Rev. Msgr. Anthony A. La Femina, S,T.L., J.C.D.

He stated that Mary and Joseph were fully married when the angel appeared.

To quote the site getysbg referred to :

*]Confusion over Jewish Betrothal: When the groom and the father of the bride signed the ketubbah, the couple was 100% legally married.
*]The couple was legally married, but sexual co-habitation has not yet begun until stage two up to a year later.
*]This is seen in the fact that although Mary and Joseph were betrothed, they had never had sex, even though they were 100% legally married.
*]Although called betrothal, it was not equivalent to our modern engagement today, which is nothing more than “monogamous promise dating” with no legal consequences if broken.
*]Once signed, a legal divorce was required to dissolve the “betrothal”.

Mary was not an unwed woman. She was fully married.

Thank you for this. This makes the understanding of the topic very much clearer.

There are still “breach of promise to marry/breach of contract” statutes in some of our U.S. states.

legalmatch.com/law-library/article/damages-for-breach-of-promise-to-marry.html ("… In about half of all U.S. states, a promise to marry is considered to be legally enforceable, so long as the promise or agreement fulfills all the basic requirements of a valid contract. …" )

Wikipedia also has an interesting entry: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breach_of_promise

I think it is only in the past 100+ years that the binding aspect of an engagement has been taken more loosely in our culture.

Yes you are right Joseph and Mary were fully married but I had difficulty finding the specific words to describe the situation. Is one if those things that was explained to me and I fully understand but becomes a little difficult to explain to others especially when you don’t have a specific equivalent today. Your explanation was very good and way better explained than mine. Thanks for posting that.

Nita this information may be a little outdated. My understanding is as of January 2014 all jurisdictions in the USA have abolished the breach of promise to marriage. I think Georgia was a few years ago the lone ranger who still had it but right now it has been completely abolished. Though that is not the case in other countries.

Hang on that means that when they say Mary must have taken a vow of virginity because she knew know man, is still wrong…?

Although she was married, they didn’t have sex for a year after…Gabriel visited her during this period so she would have still been a virgin and therefore knew no man? That doesn’t mean she had taken a vow, only following the custom and may very well have had sex after this period?

It changes nothing. The “vow of virginity” is not doctrine, it is a pious tradition. But not inconsistent with Mary’s response to the angel.

However, a married woman with less than 12 months to go before beginning relations with her husband would not ask “how is this possible”.

It would be a matter of “when”, not “how” if she had intended to have relations with Joseph.


Absolutely. A Jewish betrothal was binding - it was equivalent to a marriage, even if the couple began to live together only later. As the NJB’s notes explain, a man could only be released from it by a formal act of divorce.

Not necessarily, if she took the angel to mean within the near future…the correct response would be how as she is still a virgin?

And again, the dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary is not based on any supposed vow of virginity.

So where does it come from then? In the article Tim Staples used the vow of virginity as a reason for her being an ever virgin?


Just to be clear, the this web page is using the New American Bible translation.
No translation is perfect.
The NAB has undergone many improvements over the ages.

After Vatican II there was been a big push for an “Ecumenical” translation.

Instead of
[FONT=Times New Roman,Times,serif][size=3]“Hail, full of grace”[/size][/FONT] as found in Douay-Rheims they subjected us to the awful
“Greeting, highly favored daughter”

Eventually, the former was restored.

Anyway, the webpage above uses.

“How can this be, since I know not man?”,

The original Greek does not use the word “can”.
Mary was not doubting whether or not it could happen as [FONT=Times New Roman,Times,serif][size=3] Zachary had done.

The Greek text says
** "How shall this be done, because I know not man?”**



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