Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Joseph her husband.—The word was applied with strict accuracy from the moment of betrothal onwards.
Being a just man. . . .—The glimpse given us into the character of Joseph is one of singular tenderness and beauty. To him, conscious of being of the house of David, and cherishing Messianic hopes, what he heard would seem to come as blighting those hopes. He dared not, as a “righteous” man, take to himself one who seemed thus to have sinned. But love and pity alike hindered him from pressing the law, which made death by stoning the punishment of such a sin (Deuteronomy 22:21), or even from publicly breaking off the marriage on the ground of the apparent guilt. There remained the alternative, which the growing frequency of divorce made easy, of availing himself of a “writ of divorcement,” which did not necessarily specify the ground of repudiation, except in vague language implying disagreement (Matthew 19:3). Thus the matter would be settled quietly without exposure. The “bill of divorcement” was as necessary for the betrothed as for those who were fully man and wife.Matthew 1:19. Joseph her husband, being a just [or righteous] man — That is, as many understand it, a strict observer of the law, and of the customs of his ancestors, and therefore not judging it right to retain her under these circumstances. But the following words, and not willing to make her a public example, seem manifestly to lead to another and even an opposite sense of the word here rendered just, or righteous. Hence some interpret the clause thus: Joseph, being a good-natured, merciful, and tender- hearted man, was unwilling to go to the utmost rigour of the law, but chose rather to treat her with as much lenity as the case allowed. But, Dr. Doddridge very well observes, it is without any good reason that δικαιος should be here rendered merciful or good-natured, because, “if we consider the information which Joseph might have received from persons of such an extraordinary character as Zachariah and Elizabeth, who would certainly think themselves obliged to interpose on such an occasion, and whose story so remarkably carried its own evidence along with it; besides the intimation the prophecy of Isaiah gave, and the satisfaction he undoubtedly had in the virtuous character of Mary herself; we must conclude that he would have acted a very severe and unrighteous part, had he proceeded to extremities without serious deliberation; and that putting her away privately would, in these circumstances, have been the hardest measure which justice would have suffered him to take. It seems the expression, παραδειγματισαι, here rendered to make her a public example, “may perhaps refer to that exemplary punishment which the law inflicted on those who had violated the faith of their espousals before the marriage was completed. See Deuteronomy 22:23-24, where it is expressly ordered that a betrothed virgin, if she lay with another man, should be stoned. We may suppose, however, that the infamy of a public divorce, though she had not been stoned, may also be expressed by the same word. But then there was besides a private kind of divorce, in which no reason was assigned, and the dowry was not forfeited as in the former case, and by this she would not have been so much defamed.” But it must be observed, that as their being betrothed to each other was a thing publicly known, he could not have put her away so privately, but there must have been witnesses of it, two at least, her parents, suppose, or some of her nearest relations.
A just man - Justice consists in rendering to every man his own. Yet this is evidently not the character intended to be given here of Joseph. The meaning is that he was kind, tender, merciful; that he was so attached to Mary that he was not willing that she should be exposed to public shame. He sought, therefore, secretly to dissolve the connection, and to restore her to her friends without the punishment commonly inflicted on adultery. The word just has not unfrequently this meaning of mildness, or mercy. See 1 John 1:9; compare Cicero, De Fin. 5, 23.
A public example - To expose her to public shame or infamy. Adultery has always been considered a crime of a very heinous nature. In Egypt, it was punished by cutting off the nose of the adulteress; in Persia, the nose and ears were cut off; in Judea, the punishment was death by stoning, Leviticus 20:10; Ezekiel 16:38, Ezekiel 16:40; John 8:5. This punishment was also inflicted where the person was not married, but betrothed, Deuteronomy 21:23-24. In this case, therefore, the regular punishment would have been death in this painful and ignominious manner. Yet Joseph was a religious man - mild and tender; and he was not willing to complain of her to the magistrate, and expose her to death, but sought to avoid the shame, and to put her away privately.
Put her away privily - The law of Moses gave the husband the power of divorce, Deuteronomy 24:1. It was customary in a bill of divorce to specify the causes for which the divorce was made, and witnesses were also present to testify to the divorce. But in this case, it seems, Joseph resolved to put her away without specifying the cause; for he was not willing to make her a public example. This is the meaning here of "privily." Both to Joseph and Mary this must have been a great trial. Joseph was ardently attached to her, but her character was likely to be ruined, and he deemed it proper to separate her from him. Mary was innocent, but Joseph was not yet satisfied of her innocence. We may learn from this to put our trust in God. He will defend the innocent. Mary was in danger of being exposed to shame. Had she been connected with a cruel, passionate, and violent man, she would have died in disgrace. But God had so ordered it that she was betrothed to a man mild, amiable, and tender: and in due time Joseph was apprised of the truth in the case, and took his faithful and beloved wife to his bosom. Thus, our only aim should be to preserve a conscience void of offence, and God will guard our reputation. We may be assailed by slander; circumstances may be against us; but in due time God will take care to vindicate our character and save us from ruin. See Psalm 37:5-6.
being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example—to expose her (see De 22:23, 24)
was minded to put her away privily—that is, privately by giving her the required writing of divorcement (De 24:1), in presence of only two or three witnesses, and without cause assigned, instead of having her before a magistrate. That some communication had passed between him and his betrothed, directly or indirectly, on the subject, after she returned from her three months' visit to Elizabeth, can hardly be doubted. Nor does the purpose to divorce her necessarily imply disbelief, on Joseph's part, of the explanation given him. Even supposing him to have yielded to it some reverential assent—and the Evangelist seems to convey as much, by ascribing the proposal to screen her to the justice of his character—he might think it altogether unsuitable and incongruous in such circumstances to follow out the marriage.
was minded to put her away privily. Had Joseph at this time heard and believed that the Holy Ghost had come upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadowed her, being a good man, he would not have entertained thoughts of putting her away. But though she had before received this revelation, and might possibly have communicated it to some of her friends, yet it is manifest that her husband Joseph had not heard it, or at least was not easy to believe a thing of so unusual and extraordinary a nature. That she was with child was evident, how she came to be so was as yet hidden from him in nature, and so incredible a thing, as it had argued too much of easiness of belief for him to have believed, had not Joseph had (as afterward he had) a Divine revelation for it: he therefore receiving such a report, and finding it to be true, resolves to put her away in the most private manner he could, rather than to expose her to a public shame, or to be made a public example. Their being betrothed was a thing publicly taken notice of, and he could not put her away so privately but there must be witnesses of it; the meaning therefore must be, as privately as the nature of the thing would bear. Joseph in this case had the choice of three things:
1. He might, notwithstanding this, have taken her to his house as his wife, for the law of divorce, or putting away, was but a law giving a liberty in case of a discerned uncleanness to put away the wife, it did not lay any under an obligation so to do.
2. He might give her a bill of divorce, and leave her with her friends. Now those skilled in the Jewish writings tell us this might be done, either more privately before two or three witnesses, putting a writing of that import into her bosom; or more openly and publicly before the magistrate.
3. He might, according to the law, Deu 22:23,24, &c., have brought her forth to be examined, whether she had only suffered a rape, or had herself consented. If it was done with her consent, she was by the law to be stoned.
Of these Joseph, in his first thoughts upon the matter, and before he rightly did understand the thing, chooseth the second and the milder part, and resolves to put her away, but in the most private manner the law would in that case allow him. He did this (saith the evangelist) because he was
a just man, where the term dikaiov signifieth equitable, in opposition to severity and rigour; nor ought any to say Joseph in this showed himself an unjust man, because by the law she ought to have been stoned to death; for that is a mistake. Supposing she had been with child by man, yet if she had been forced the man only was to die, Deu 22:25,26; or she might have been with child before her betrothing, in which case she was only obliged to marry him that had so abused her. A kind and equitable man always presumes the best, especially in a case where life is concerned; besides that, no doubt Mary had by this time told Joseph the truth, and what the angel had said to her, to which (it being so incredible a thing as not to be believed but upon a Divine revelation) though Joseph was not obliged, having as yet no such revelation, to give a present easy faith, yet he might reasonably give so much credit as to resolve upon the mildest course he could take, though he was willing also to avoid the blot upon himself by taking her to him for his wife according to his contract. God will not leave so good a man long unresolved what to do. Deuteronomy 22:23 though not yet come together,
being a just man, observant of the law of God, particularly that which respected adultery, being wholly good and chaste, like the Patriarch of the same name; a character just the reverse of that which the Jews give him, in their scandalous (b) book of the life of Jesus; where, in the most malicious manner, they represent him as an unchaste and an unrighteous person:
and not willing to make her a public example, or to deliver her, i.e. to the civil magistrate, according to Munster's Hebrew edition. The Greek word signifies to punish by way of example to others, to deter them from sinning; and with the ancients it (c) denoted the greatest and severest punishment. Here it means either bringing her before the civil magistrate, in order to her being punished according to the law in Deuteronomy 22:23 which requires the person to be brought out to the gate of the city and stoned with stones, which was making a public example indeed; or divorcing her in a very public manner, and thereby expose her to open shame and disgrace. To prevent which, he being tender and compassionate, though strictly just and good,
was minded to put her away privily: he deliberately consulted and determined within himself to dismiss her, or put her away by giving her a bill of divorce, in a very private manner; which was sometimes done by putting it into the woman's hand or bosom, see Deuteronomy 24:1. In Munster's Hebrew Gospel it is rendered, "it was in his heart to forsake her privately."Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Matthew 1:19. Ἀνήρ] Although only her betrothed, yet, from the standpoint of the writers, designated as her husband. The common assumption of a proleptic designation (Genesis 29:21) is therefore unfounded. It is different with τὴν γυναῖκά σου in Matthew 1:20.
δίκαιος] not: aequus et benignus. So (after Chrysostom and Jerome) Euth. Zigabenus (διὰ τὴν πρᾳότητα καὶ ἀγαθωσύνην), Luther, Grotius, Kuinoel, Fritzsche, B.-Crusius, Bleek. For δίκαιος, like צַדַּיק, means generally, he who is as he ought to be (Hermann, ad Soph. Ajac. 543; Kühner, ad Xen. Memor. iv. 4. 5; Gesen. Thes. III. p. 1151); therefore rightly constituted, and, in a narrower sense, just, but never kind, although kindness, compassion, and the like may be in given cases the concrete form in which the δικαιοσύνη expresses itself. Here, according to the context, it denotes the man who acts in a strictly legal manner. Δίκαιος down to δειγματίσαι contains two concurring motives. Joseph was an upright man according to the law, and could not therefore make up his mind to retain Mary, as she was pregnant without him; at the same time he could not bring himself to abandon her publicly; he therefore resolved to adopt the middle way, and dismiss her secretly. Observe the emphasis of λάθρα.
δειγματίσαι] to expose; see on Colossians 2:15. Here the meaning is: to expose to public shame. This, however, does not refer to the punishment of stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23), which was to be inflicted; nor to a judicial accusation generally (the common view), because δειγματίσαι must mean a kind of dismissal opposed to that denoted by λάθρα; comp. de Wette. Therefore: he did not wish to compromise her, which would have been the result had he given her a letter of divorce, and thus dismissed her φανερῶς.
λάθρα] secretly, in private, i.e. by means of a secret, private interview, without a letter of divorce. This would, indeed, have been in opposition to the law in Deuteronomy 24:1, which applied also to betrothed persons (Maimonides, Tract. אישוֹת, c. 1; Wetstein in loc.; Philo, de leg. spec. p. 788); but he saw himself liable to a collision between the two cases,—of either, in these circumstances, retaining the bride, or of exposing her to public censure by a formal dismissal; and from this no more legal way of escape presented itself than that on which he might with the more propriety lay hold, that the law itself in Deut. l.c. speaks only of married persons, not of betrothed. De Wette thinks, indeed, of dismissal by a letter of divorcement, but under arrangements providing for secrecy. But the letter of divorce of itself, as it was a public document (see Saalschütz, M. R. p. 800 ff.; Ewald, Alterth. p. 272 [E. T. p. 203 ff.]), is in contradiction with the λάθρα.
On the distinction between θέλω and βούλομαι,—the former of which expresses willing in general, the action of the will, of the inclination, of desire, etc., in general; while βούλομαι denotes a carefully weighed self-determination,—see Buttmann, Lexil. I. p. 26 ff. [E. T., Fishlake, p. 194 ff.], partly corrected by Ellendt, Lex. Soph. I. p. 316. Observe the aorist ἐβουλήθη: he adopted the resolution.Matthew 1:19. Ι. ὁ ἀνὴρ: proleptic, implying possession of a husband’s rights and responsibilities. The betrothed man had a duty in the matter—δίκαιος … δειγμανίσαι. He was in a strait betwixt two. Being δίκαιος, just, righteous, a respecter of the law, he could not overlook the apparent fault; on the other hand, loving the woman, he desired to deal with her as tenderly as possible: not wishing to expose her (αὐτὴν in an emphatic position before δειγματίσαι—the loved one. Weiss-Meyer). Some (Grotius, Fritzsche, etc.) take δίκαιος in the sense of bonitas or benignitas, as if it had been ἀγαθός, so eliminating the element of conflict.—ἐβουλήθη … αὐτήν. He finally resolved on the expedient of putting her away privately. The alternatives were exposure by public repudiation, or quiet cancelling of the bond of betrothal. Affection chose the latter. δειγματίσαι does not point, as some have thought, to judicial procedure with its penalty, death by stoning. λάθρα before ἀπολῦσαι is emphatic, and suggests a contrast between two ways of performing the act pointed at by ἀπολῦσαι. Note the synonyms θέλων and ἐβουλήθη. The former denotes inclination in general, the latter a deliberate decision between different courses—maluit (vide on chapter Matthew 11:27).19. being a just man] i. e. one who observed the law, and, therefore, feeling bound to divorce Mary. But two courses were open to him. He could either summon her before the law-courts to be judicially condemned and punished, or he could put her away by a bill of divorcement before witnesses, but without assigning cause. This is meant by “putting her away privily,” the more merciful course which Joseph resolved to adopt.Matthew 1:19. δίκαιος, just) It is disputed in what sense this epithet is applied to Joseph. The thing is clear. Joseph wished to put away Mary, and he also wished to put her away privately. The Evangelist indicates the cause of both wishes. Why did he wish to do it privately? Because he was unwilling to publish the matter, and exact the penalty which the law permitted in the case of women guilty, or suspected, of adultery, and thus to make an example of one, whose sanctity he had in other respects so greatly revered. But why did he wish to put her away at all? We learn from the context. Because he was just (justus), and did not think it reputable (honestum) to retain as his wife one who appeared to have broken her conjugal faith. His thoughts were many and conflicting; his mind was in doubt. St Matthew expresses this with great beauty, by a phraseology somewhat ambiguous in this its brevity: for Greek participles may be resolved into the corresponding verbs with the conjunctions although, because, or since: [and μὴ θέλων, therefore, may be rendered either although he was unwilling, because he was unwilling, or since he did not wish]. Elsewhere δίκαιος is sometimes found with the signification of yielding and kind, as injustus (which signifies primarily unjust or unrighteous) with that of severe.—παραδειγμάτισαι, to make an example of) Thus the LXX. in Numbers 25:4, have—Παραδειγμάτισον αὐτοὺς τῷ Κυρίῳ, κατέναντι τοῦ ἡλίου, Make an example of them to the Lord before the sun: where the expression is used of persons executed by hanging. The simple form, δειγματίζειν, occurs in Colossians 2:15 : for both δεῖγμα and παράδειγμα [from which the verbs are respectively derived] denote that which is exhibited as a public spectacle.—λάθρᾳ, privily) i.e. without a public trial, without even a record of the reason on the writing of divorcement. Two witnesses were sufficient.—ἀπολυσαῖ, to put her away) fearing to take her.
 In Bengel, “justus,” which, as well as the original, δίκαιος, signifies, and is translated, either just or righteous, as the case may require. In Bengel’s own German version, it is rendered in the present instance GERECHT, which is equally ambiguous.—(I. B.)
 Ex. gr. Virg. Ecl., “Injusta noverca.”—ED.Verse 19. - Then Joseph her husband; and (Revised Version). The thought is slightly adversative (δέ); though this was "of the Holy Ghost," yet Joseph was about to put her away. Being a just man; righteous (Revised Version); i.e. who strove to conform to the Divine precepts manifested for him in the Law (cf. Luke 1:6; Luke 2:25). And not willing; i.e. "and yet not wishing," though the Law, which he was striving to follow, seemed to inculcate harshness. This clause has been taken in the opposite sense equivalent to "and therefore not wishing," because the spirit of the Law, which he had learned to understand, was in reality against all unnecessary harshness. The negative used (if it can be at all insisted upon; cf. Simcox, 'Language of the New Testament,' p. 188) is in favour of the former interpretation. To make her a public example; rather, to proclaim her ("Wold not pupplische her, Wickliffe); avery αὐτὴν δειγματίσαι (cf. Colossians 2:15). The thought is of public proclamation of the fact of the divorce, not that of bringing Mary herself forward for public punishment, and so making her a public example ( παραδειγματίσαι). Was minded (ἐβουλήθη). The tense indicates the resolution come to as the result of the conflict between duty and wish implied in the preceding clause. To put her away secretly. Adopting the most private form of legal divorce, and handing the letter to her privately in presence of only two witnesses, to whom he need not communicate his reasons (cf. Edersheim, 'Life,' 1:154). Observe in this verse Joseph's insistance on his personal and family purity, and yet his delicate thoughtfulness for her whom he loved.
These two words, describing the working of Joseph's mind, and evidently intended to express different phases of thought, open the question of their distinctive meanings in the New Testament, where they frequently occur (θέλω much oftener than βούλομαι), and where the rendering, in so many eases by the same words, furnishes no clue to the distinction. The original words are often used synonymously in eases where no distinction is emphasized; but their use in other eases reveals a radical and recognized difference. An interchange is inadmissible when the greater force of the expression requires θέλειν. For instance, βαούλεσθαι, would be entirely inappropriate at Matthew 8:3, "I will, be thou cleansed;" or at Romans 7:15.
The distinction, which is abundantly illustrated in Homer, is substantially maintained by the classical writers throughout, and in the New Testament.
Θέλειν is the stronger word, and expresses a purpose or determination or decree, the execution of which is, or is believed to be, in the power of him who wills. Βούλεσθαι expresses wish, inclination, or disposition, whether one desires to do a thing himself or wants some one else to do it. Θέλειν, therefore, denotes the active resolution, the will urging on to action. Βούλεσθαι is to have a mind, to desire, sometimes a little stronger, running into the sense of purpose. Θέλειν indicates the impulse of the will; βούλεσθαι, its tendency. Βούλεσθαι can always be rendered by θέλειν, but θέλειν cannot always be expressed by βούλεσθαι.
Thus, Agamemnon says, "I would not (οὐκ ἔθελον) receive the ransom for the maid (i.e., I refused to receive), because I greatly desire (βούλομαι) to have her at home" (Homer, "II.," 1:112). So Demosthenes: "It is fitting that you should be willing (ἐθέλειν) to listen to those who wish (βουλομένων) to advise" ("Olynth.," 1:1). That is to say, It is in your power to determine whether or not you will listen to those who desire to advise you, but whose power to do so depends on your consent. Again: "If the gods will it (θέλωσι) and you wish it (βούλησθε)" (Demosth., "Olynth.," 2:20).
In the New Testament, as observed above, though the words are often interchanged, the same distinction is recognized. Thus, Matthew 2:18, "Rachael would not (ἤθελε) be comforted;" obstinately and positively refused. Joseph, having the right and power under the (assumed) circumstances to make Mary a public example, resolved (θέλων) to spare her this exposure. Then the question arose - What should he do? On this he thought, and, having thought (ἐνθυμηθέντος), his mind inclined (tendency), he was minded (ἐβουλήθη) to put her away secretly.
Some instances of the interchanged use of the two words are the following: Mark 15:15, "Pilate willing" (βουλόμενος); compare Luke 23:20, "Pilate willing" (θέλων). Acts 27:43, "The centurion willing" (βουλόμενος); Matthew 27:17, "Whom will ye that I release" (θέλετε); so Matthew 27:21. John 18:39, "Will ye that I release" (βούλεσθε); Matthew 14:5, "When he would have put him to death" (θέλων). Mark 6:48, "He would have passed by them" (ἤθελε); Acts 19:30, "Paul would have entered" (βουλόμενος). Acts 18:27, "He was disposed to pass" (βουλόμενος). Titus 3:8, "I will that thou affirm" (βούλομαι). Mark 6:25, "I will that thou give me" (θέλω), etc., etc.
In the New Testament θέλω occurs in the following senses:
1. A decree or determination of the will. (a) Of God (Matthew 12:7; Romans 9:16, Romans 9:18; Acts 18:21; 1 Corinthians 4:19; 1 Corinthians 12:18; 1 Corinthians 15:38). (b) Of Christ (Matthew 8:3; John 17:24; John 5:21; John 21:22). (c) Of men (Acts 25:9). Festus, having the power to gratify the Jews, and determining to do so, says to Paul, who has the right to decide, "Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem?" John 6:67, Others of the disciples had decided to leave Jesus. Christ said to the twelve, "Will ye also go away?" Is that your determination? John 7:17, If any man sets his will, is determined to do God's will. John 8:44, The lusts of your father your will is set to do. Acts 24:6.
2. A wish or desire. Very many of the passages, however, which are cited under this head (as by Grimm) may fairly be interpreted as implying something stronger than a wish; notably Mark 14:36, of Christ in Gethsemane. Our Lord would hardly have used what thou wilt in so feeble a sense as that of a desire or wish on God's part. Mark 10:43, "Whosoever will be great," expresses more than the desire for greatness. It is the purpose of the life. Matthew 27:15, It was given to the Jews to decide what prisoner should be released. Luke 1:62, The name of the infant John was referred to Zacharias' decision. John 17:24, Surely Christ does more than desire that those whom the Father has given him shall be with him. Luke 9:54, It is for Jesus to command fire upon the Samaritan villages if he so wills. (See, also, John 15:7; 1 Corinthians 4:21; Matthew 16:25; Matthew 19:17; John 21:22; Matthew 13:28; Matthew 17:12.) In the sense of wish or desire may fairly be cited 2 Corinthians 11:12; Matthew 12:38; Luke 8:20; Luke 23:8; John 12:21; Galatians 4:20; Matthew 7:12; Mark 10:35.
Βούλομαι occurs in the following senses:
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