Was Adam immortal on earth before the Fall? After death, in light of the sacrifice?

Q. I have a couple of questions to ask, if I may. (1) If, pre-Fall, Adam had say fallen from a tree he was climbing, would he have bounced, or might he have been killed or badly injured? After all, gravity and the earth’s hardness then were presumably as now. (2) Does Genesis 3 (in the original Hebrew) in any way indicate that post-mortem eternal life is being offered to Adam and Eve through the institution of sacrifice to cover sins? Thank you for any light on this.

(1) In response to you first question, let me refer you to a post on one of my other blogs in which I take up the very thing that you are wondering about: “Do we suppose that if Adam, when innocent, had fallen forty feet out of tree and broken his neck, he would not have died?” This is the post:

44 Was there death before the fall of humanity? (Part 1)

However, I would caution you, and ask you to respect the fact, that as you can see, not only is this post the first half of a two-part discussion, both parts will also only make sense within the context of this entire blog, Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology, and Biblical Interpretation, of which they are posts 44 and 45 of a total of 53. So you may also wish to read the introduction to the blog, at least, which will explain the background to the entire blog and help you see where I’m coming from as I offer the observations in this post.

(2) In response to your second question, I can assure you that there is nothing latent in the original Hebrew that does not come out in the typical English translation of the account of the fall in Genesis. The statements that might point to a substitutionary sacrificial atonement are straightforward in Hebrew, and they come out that way in English. Perhaps most relevantly, “The Lord God made garments of skins for the man and his wife and clothed them,” and then also, spoken to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.”

The first statement indicates only by implication that animals at least died, and more likely were sacrificed, to provide the “garments of skins” with which God “clothed” the man and woman. I would personally say that we can only appreciate the implications of this action by situating it in light of the Scriptures as a whole, where we learn about the function of animal sacrifices in God’s redemptive purposes and the notion of “clothing” someone, giving them garments or new garments, as a metaphor for salvation. (For example, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”)

Similarly it is only in the context of the Scriptures as a whole that we can appreciate the meaning of the statement “he will bruise your head,” that is, the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent. If Keith Green could sing in his song “The Victor,” “See Him bruise the serpent’s head,
the prisoners of hell he’s redeeming, all the power of death is dead,” this is only because centuries of Scriptural development, interpretation, and understanding have enabled us to connect this promise with the work of Christ on the cross.

Nevertheless, I would commend you for wanting to go deeper into the biblical text to get the answer to your questions. In this case, it is just a matter of going broader rather than deeper, of catching the sweep of the whole story of Scripture, rather than understanding a specific Hebrew expression. So … read on!

How can heaven be perfect if my loved ones aren’t there?

Q. I keep worrying that I committed the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because one time I was mad and said that I didn’t want to go to heaven if my family wasn’t there. I didn’t really mean it. Of course I want salvation and to go to heaven. Is this the unpardonable sin? Also how do I reconcile the fact that heaven is supposed to be perfect if my loved ones who aren’t saved won’t be there?

Thank you for your thoughtful questions. Regarding your first one, I would invite you to read this post:

Have I committed the unpardonable sin?

The bottom line in that post is basically that if you are concerned that you have committed the unpardonable sin, you haven’t, because you are still under conviction of sin and thus under the recognizable influence of the Holy Spirit. That means you are not beyond salvation. If you actually had committed the unpardonable sin, you would be indifferent to the Spirit’s influence, and so you wouldn’t be concerned about whether you had committed it.

Regarding your second question, I would say first, on the authority of the word of God, that God is “not willing for anyone to perish, but wants everyone to come to repentance.” So if anyone is not in heaven, that will not be because God did not want them there. Rather, it will be because God gave them a choice and is respecting their choice.

I firmly believe that God will not keep anyone out of heaven simply because they didn’t get the chance to make a choice, or because they didn’t understand the kind of choice they needed to make. Please see this post for some further thoughts about that:

Will there be anyone in hell who doesn’t want to be there?

But in that post I also describe the kind of attitude a person might take that would lead them to consciously and deliberately choose their own way rather than God’s way, even if that meant not being in heaven (since heaven, by definition, is the place where God’s will is done joyfully and without resistance).

In other words, there actually are people who will want to be in hell if that means they can maintain self-determination rather than obeying God.  They will take the same attitude as Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”  To give another example, in James Joyce’s novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the main character, Stephen Dedalus, after explaining that he has “lost the faith,” continues:

“I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile, and cunning.  … I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake, and perhaps as long as eternity too.”

William Ernest Henley wrote similarly at the end of his poem Invictus, using biblical imagery to show that he was referring to a choice of hell as a way of maintaining self-determination:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

So there are some people who will chose self-determination above God’s gracious offer of salvation, because they want to run their own lives, no matter where that leads. (These are all examples from literature, but they capture an attitude that can be found in life as well.) And because God has given human beings genuine freedom to choose for or against him—which is the only basis on which we can truly love him—God will respect those choices.

But I hope and pray that those people do not include your family members. I hope that instead your concern for them—which certainly reflects God’s concern for them—will lead you to pray for them and demonstrate your faith to them in loving ways, and that those influences, among others, will one day lead them to choose to love and serve God as you have.

Why were some books removed from the Bible and is it a sin to read them?

Q. Why were some books removed from the Bible and is it a sin to read them?

I believe you are talking about the so-called Apocrypha. That term refers to books that were written in Greek within the Jewish community in the centuries before Christ. Those books are distinct from the Old Testament because they were written in Greek, not Hebrew, and they are distinct from the New Testament because they were written before Christ came, not after. So there is already something about them that sets them apart as different from the books that all Christians accept as inspired Scripture.

Nevertheless, after lengthy discussion and debate in the few centuries after Christ, regional councils in the western part of the Roman Empire, at Hipppo in 393 and Carthage in 397, approved adding these books to the canon of Scripture, as long as this decision was ratified by the central authority in Rome.

No action was taken in that regard for over 1,000 years. But finally, in 1546,  the Council of Trent, largely in response to the way Martin Luther had separated out these apocryphal books and placed them between the testaments in his German translation of Bible, decreed that they were as fully canonical as the others. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic church still describes these books as deuterocanonical, meaning that they belong to a second group of books “whose Scriptural character was contested in some quarters,” as opposed to the protocanonical books, the collection of “sacred writings which have been always received by Christendom without dispute.”

The Council of Trent also decreed that the Vulgate was the authoritative text of Scripture. That actually sent something of a mixed message about the Apocrypha, because St. Jerome’s prologues were always included in the Vulgate, and in his prologue to the book of Kings, in which he surveyed the entire Old Testament, he specified that the books that had been translated from Greek, rather than from Hebrew, are “set aside among the apocrypha” (inter apocrifa seponendum) and “are not in the canon” (non sunt in canone).  He made similar comments in the prologues to several of the apocryphal books themselves. So while the Roman Catholic Church’s embrace of these books is explicit, its position on them is not without internal tensions.

Eastern Orthodox Bibles include all the books in the Catholic Apocrypha along with several more. However, it classifies all these apocryphal books as Anagignoskomena (“worthy to be read”), meaning that they are read during services of worship, but that they are not as authoritative as the other books. Orthodox theologians sometimes call the apocryphal books deuterocanonical to indicate their secondary authority, using this term differently from Catholics, for whom it describes how these books were received after first being disputed.

And Protestants, ever since Martin Luther, have not considered the Apocrypha canonical, except for Protestants in the Anglican/Episcopalian tradition.

So maybe the real question is not why some books were removed from the Bible, but why some books that were different from both the Old Testament and the New Testament were added to the Bible. The answer is that, as the Eastern Orthodox say, they are “worthy to be read.” They provide important information about what happened in the years between the testaments,  they tell inspiring stories of how people remained faithful to God during difficult trials in those times, and they add to the collection of wise advice for living that is found in the canonical wisdom books.

So it is certainly not a sin to read them. Even Protestants, who do not consider them to be inspired Scripture, say that they are edifying, meaning that reading them can strengthen our faith and devotion to God. As a Protestant myself, I do not have these apocryphal books in the Bibles that I use regularly for study and devotions. But I do have copies of these books in some other Bibles that I own. I have read the apocryphal books and gotten a lot out of them.

I hope this provides you with some helpful background to the issue. As I said, it would certainly not be a sin to read those books, and I think they would help you learn some useful things if you did read them. If you belong to a community of Christians, and if this issue is important within that community, you could explain to anyone you told about reading the books that you were not reading them as Scripture, but as edifying literature that has come down to us from within the tradition of our faith. I hope no one would be upset about that.

Does the Bible forbid dating?

Q. Why is it that the church has latched onto the modern concept of dating instead of following the Bible’s command of betrothal?

I’m not entirely sure what you mean by “betrothal,” but in any event, I do not believe personally that the Bible specifies one particular way of finding a spouse. Instead, I think we see the people in the Bible following the customs of their own cultures in this regard, and the Bible warning against ways that those customs could be abused.

In some cases we see arranged marriages. One well-known example is when Abraham sends his servant back to the family homeland to get a wife for Isaac from his own “country and kindred.” Isaac is expected to marry the woman the servant comes back with.

However, in other cases, even though the parents would ultimately arrange the marriage, the child seems to have some say in the matter. For example, Samson says to his parents, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” The parents don’t reply, “Now we’re the ones who will choose a wife for you.” Instead, they reply, “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the Philistines to get a wife?” So they don’t object, in principle, to Samson letting them know whom he wants to marry. They object to him wanting to marry a Philistine, but they seem open to accommodating his choice of a wife as long as he wants to marry a fellow Israelite.

In the New Testament period, marriages took place under the laws and customs of the Roman Empire. In those circumstances, while parents arranged most first marriages for their children, the children had the right, on certain grounds, to refuse to marry someone the parents had selected. Moreover, many marriages ended in divorce or after the death of a spouse, and men and women had much greater freedom to choose a spouse when remarrying. One possible meaning of one of Paul’s commands in First Thessalonians is, “Each of you should know that finding a husband or wife for yourself is to be done in a holy and honorable way.” If that is the meaning, then this shows that people in this time and culture could choose their own spouses, whereas in other biblical cultures, parents arranged marriages.

So, as I said, I think the Bible allows for a lot of creative cultural freedom in this regard. When it comes to dating, I would not say that the Bible forbids it, but rather that people should follow biblical principles to make sure that dating is done in a healthy and God-honoring way. For example, I personally believe that anyone a person might get into a dating relationship with should be a potential spouse. This means that for a follower of Jesus, that person must also be a follower of Jesus. (I say that people should only get into a dating relationship with a potential spouse because people who date can form strong emotional attachments, and those can lead to marriage, even if the people dating didn’t have that in mind to begin with. A simple way to put this is, “Don’t play with fire.”)

I would also say that people who date should be careful to maintain healthy emotional and physical boundaries, appropriate to the commitment level of dating. They are not married. They are not engaged. So they should not build their emotional lives around one another, and they should act toward one another in a “holy and honorable way.”

In short, I personally believe that dating is one way in which people in some cultures go about looking for a spouse. Like all such ways, it can be done in a healthy way or in an unhealthy way. The Bible gives us principles to show us how to do it in a healthy way. But the Bible does not privilege one cultural practice over another.

God didn’t seem to give Isaac a very happy old age

Q. My question revolves around Issac and Rebecca. When Issac was old, his son Jacob deceived him, his wife deceived him. Issac died without his son Jacob and with a wife who was not trustworthy. This is not what we would have expected from the earlier part of Isaac’s story. He would certainly have remembered his father Abraham taking him to the mountain where God provided the ram for the sacrifice and protected him. He would also have remembered how his father sent his servant to get him a wife and the remarkable way that this turned out to be Rebecca. So this ending is not what I would think would be a positive note for the aging Issac from a “Creator Father Loving Providing God.” I would appreciate hearing your thoughts about this.

Thank you for your thoughtful question. As I say in other posts on this blog, God advances his purposes by working through the free choices, both good and bad, of human moral agents. And I believe that, unfortunately, Isaac ended up in the situation you are describing through some of his own bad choices. And those can be traced to other people’s earlier bad choices.

Specifically, his parents Abraham and Sarah tried themselves to fulfill God’s promise to give them a child by having Abraham take Hagar, Sarah’s servant, as his concubine so that he could become the father of Ishmael. When God fulfilled his own promise supernaturally and Isaac was born to Sarah, Ishmael had to be sent away so that Isaac could be the undisputed heir. Abraham tried to intercede with God for his son Ishmael, even before Isaac was born, asking God to make him the heir instead. God said in response about Ishmael, “I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac.” And so Ishmael still needed to be sent away.

I believe that Isaac unfortunately got the unintended message from all of this that favoring one child over another was acceptable. The book of Genesis tells us this about Isaac and Rebekah’s two sons: “The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” So each parent favored one son.

It was this favoritism that led Isaac to say to Esau one day, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. Now then, get your equipment—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.” The blessing that Isaac should have given to Esau automatically as his firstborn became tied up with the grounds for favoritism, and this opened the door for Rebekah to deceive Isaac and get the blessing for her favorite instead.

We might note that this favoritism continued into the next generation. Jacob favored Joseph over his older brothers, and that led to much trouble within this extended family for many of the years that followed.

So there is a lot of human responsibility here. We can’t consider God responsible for Isaac’s situation, so we do not need to ask how a loving Heavenly Father would leave him in such a situation at the end of his life.

That much said, however, we should also observe that God actually did not leave Isaac in this situation at the end of his life. He did not die without his son Jacob. Rather, when Isaac said, “I don’t know the day of my death,” he was right. He lived at least another twenty years, because he was still alive when Jacob returned from Paddan Aram. He got to see all of Jacob’s children, who were his grandchildren. In the end, “Isaac lived a hundred and eighty years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.

“Old and full of years” is a figurative phrase that some Bibles translate as “having lived a good long life.” Isaac actually died with both sons present to care for him at the end and, as I said, surrounded by grandchildren as well. I can’t say for sure that he also patched things up with Rebecca regarding the betrayal. But I’m going to speculate that Isaac’s attitude in the end may have been the same as Joseph’s, as he looked back on how God had worked even through the harmful consequences of favoritism to advance his purposes through this family: “What you planned against me was wrong, but God planned it for good, to bring about the present result.”

How can the violence in the Bible be reconciled with a God of love?

Q. Hello – I am really glad to have found your site. It helped answer my question and astonishment over the issue of God or Satan inciting David to take census. Thanks. Yet, I am still extremely disturbed by the use of sacrifices in the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures. Why would God demand, expect, permit, approve of any such killing, violence against any thing in creation? The 10 commandments state : You Shall Not Kill. Isn’t that crystal clear? Humans are to be the caretakers of the earth, along with all life. Much of the Hebrew Scriptures is filled with Killing, Destruction, War, Annihilation, of men, women, children, babies and animals. How can this be reconciled with a GOD who is a Father, GOD of LOVE? Makes no sense and I’m really struggling. Sure appreciate your reply!

Let me assure you that you are not alone in your struggles. Thoughtful readers of the Bible throughout the ages have wondered how the violence it records can be reconciled with its own teaching that God is love. Other readers of this blog have asked similar questions previously. Let me quote from my response to one of them in answer to your question.

I consider these violent accounts to be exceptional and even incongruous within the Bible.  The challenge is not to see how we can incorporate them into the heart of our faith and practice (for example, by interpreting them figuratively as symbolizing the struggle against sin), but rather to see whether we can somehow account for them without losing our faith.

I think the way to do that is to recognize that Jesus’ life and teachings provide, for his followers, the interpretive key to the entire Scriptural record of God’s dealings with humanity. In light of them, believers identify what things are normative and what things are exceptional.  Jesus taught that we should love even our enemies, and that we should show mercy to others so that we will receive mercy ourselves.  He died to save people who were, at the time, his own enemies.  So his life and teachings show that judgments of total destruction are truly exceptional.

The question then becomes, “Why did such exceptional events even occur?”  This is one of the greatest difficulties in the entire Bible for thoughtful, compassionate followers of Jesus.  It does not have a simple, easy solution.

But I would suggest that if we did abandon the God of the Bible because we found these violent episodes impossible to reconcile with the biblical presentation of God as essentially loving and merciful, then we would also be abandoning that loving, merciful God in the process.

I think it’s better to take as our bottom line John’s statement that “no one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”  If we want to know what God is really like, we can look to Jesus.  This is the “made him known” part. The challenging questions that remain then have to do with the “no one has ever seen God” part. We can hope that those will finally be resolved once we do see God.

I hope these thoughts are helpful to you.

Once saved, always saved?

Q. About salvation, I have always believed, “once saved, always saved.” In other words, we cannot lose our salvation. What do you think about this?

This question is generally considered to be one about which Christians of good will, with equal commitments to the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, can legitimately differ. However, individual churches and denominations may consider the issue important enough to their doctrine and practice to say that only one thing may be taught about it under their auspices, and that seems reasonable to me.

As for me personally, let me say that this is an issue that we often feel most strongly in the context of experience. We know someone who seems to make a heartfelt commitment to follow Jesus, but then at some point down the road they seem to abandon that commitment. What happened? Did they lose their salvation?

I would observe, based on the teachings of Jesus, that there are two further possibilities, two alternatives to that. The person may still be in fellowship with the Lord, just not living that out in a way that allows anyone to recognize it. Or, they may never really have made a commitment in the first place.

Consider, for example, the parable of the sower. Jesus talks about four kinds of soil that seed may fall into. Jesus explains that “the seed is the word of God,” so these soils represent four different responses that a person can make to the gospel message.

One response is for a person not to receive it because their heart is not open to it. That is like the hard-packed soil on the path. A person who responds that way is not saved, and they never appear to be saved.

The opposite response, corresponding to the “good soil,” is to hear the word with “a noble and good heart,” to “retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” A person who responds that way is saved, and they appear to be, right from the start and all along.

But the responses represented by the other two kinds of soil correspond to people who appear to be saved but who then seem to lose their salvation. Jesus also speaks of people whom he compares to shallow soil, who “hear the word and at once receive it with joy,” but who “quickly fall away when trouble or persecution comes.” Jesus says that they do this “because they have no root.” I take this to mean that these people were not really saved, although they appeared to be.

The fourth kind of soil, the thorny soil, represents those who “hear the word, but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” I take this to mean that these people really are saved, but after a point this is no longer evident, because other things are taking precedence.

So, without saying that the belief that a person can lose their salvation is an unbiblical idea, I would want to say that there are these two other alternatives. A person might have appeared to be saved, but they actually were not, or a person might appear no longer to be saved, but they actually are. But whether these two alternatives account for all situations where a person appears to lose their salvation is, as I said at the beginning, a matter on which Christians of good will can legitimately differ.

What does Isaiah mean about the Suffering Servant receiving a “portion” and “spoils”?

Q. What do these lines in Isaiah mean: “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong?”

The specific meaning of those lines is that this person will get a share in the plunder from a battle. The “great” and “strong” are the victorious warriors, and the “portion” and “spoils” are the plunder that the victors divide up among themselves.

There is a paradox, however. Those two lines are paired with the two lines that follow:

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.

So somehow, even though this person died in the battle, and seems to have done something wrong, he will still get the rewards of the victory. How can that be?

Those four lines continue a paradoxical theme in one of the passages where Isaiah talks about the “Suffering Servant.” In that passage, the servant suffers to the point of death for the sake of others, but then seems to live again: “he was cut off from the land of the living,” but “he will see his offspring and prolong his days.” “After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.”

Christians who read this passage see in it a prediction of the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. They believe that Jesus not only suffered for the sins of the world, he was considered a sinner so that he could represent guilty humanity. “He poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.” But because he gave his life to become the Savior of the world, in a supreme example of sacrificial love, as the Bible says elsewhere, “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.”

In other words, God gave Jesus the rewards of victory, because even though his death seemed to be a loss and a defeat, it was really the culmination of all of God’s work to bring salvation to the world. “Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong.”

What are the two great wings in Revelation?

Q. The book of Revelation says, “The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle.” What are these two wings?

I personally don’t believe that these wings are individually symbolic. That is, one wing doesn’t stand for something, and the other wing for something else. Rather, I think this is an allusion to a statement that God makes to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, right after bringing them out of Egypt and just before giving them the Ten Commandments: “I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”

The book of Revelation is full of quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. It uses these to portray the experiences of Jesus’ faithful followers as continuous with the experiences of God’s people down through history to that point. I believe that the passage in Revelation where these wings are mentioned is, in its initial application, a description of an experience that the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem had in the middle of the First Century. As I say in my study guide to Daniel and Revelation:

“Many interpreters believe that the story of the woman’s escape from
the dragon recapitulates how Jewish followers of Jesus escaped from
Jerusalem during the Jewish-Roman war of AD 66–70. In the
spring of ad 68, they fled across the Jordan River. It was swollen with spring
floods, but it unexpectedly subsided enough to permit them to cross. This
was like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea to escape from Egypt, when, as
Moses said, God carried them ‘on eagles’ wings.’ On the other side of the
Jordan, these Jewish followers of Jesus reached the city of Pella, where Gentile Christians from Galilee provided for them throughout the period of danger.”

(You can download a free copy of this study guide at this link.)

It is possible that this passage will have a further fulfillment sometime in the future, when faithful followers of Jesus experience a similar deliverance. But I believe that we need to start by understanding such passages in their initial historical setting, and then think about further applications by analogy.

An illustration of the woman of the Apocalypse in Hortus deliciarum (redrawing of an illustration dated c. 1180), depicting various events from the narrative in Revelations 12 in a single image. Public Domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

How old was Joseph when he married and when he died?

Q. 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.