I heard someone claim that Joseph, Jesus's father, died a very short time after Jesus was born.

But we know from Luke 2:41-52, that when Jesus was twelve years old he went with his parents (οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ) to the Jerusalem temple, and his father was still alive:

Lk 2:48 When they saw him [i.e., Jesus], they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, "Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You."

Throughout Jesus's adult ministry, and explicitly at the time of Jesus's crucifixion, however, we see only His mother. Note especially this passage from John 19:

25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!

27 Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

Joseph doesn't appear in this scene; rather, it strongly implies he has died.

Is there any document that tells us more about when Joseph died?

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    There is no information, only speculation. John Miller's Jesus at Thirty is one responsible attempt to speculate. (It was written in the 60s, but he couldn't find a publisher for it until the 90s, I believe.) | P.s. Don't believe everything you hear! ;)
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 10:45
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    @Davïd Sure, I don't believe everything I hear, but I was just asking. It's clear that the statement is false because Joseph lived when Jesus was 12 year old. Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 11:03
  • That Joseph of Arimathea volunteered to put Jesus dead body into his own grave could be an indication of that he actually was Jesus father. Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 23:32

1 Answer 1


CAVEAT: For those who are offended by the inclusion of humor into an answer, be forewarned that there will be an instance of humor in the paragraph coming after the words highlighted in yellow, "Is not this the carpenter's son . . .."

As Davïd indicates above, there is more than a little speculation as to when, or even if, Joseph died at some point after the "child-left-behind" incident recorded in Luke chapter 2.

Those arguing for a death at some point prior to the beginning of Jesus' public ministry, cite the following verses as "proof"; the fifth reference is used to argue Joseph may have been alive, at least at some point during his stepson's public ministry.

  • Matthew 12:47

  • Mark 3:31

  • Luke 8:19

  • John 2:12

  • John 6:42

Those arguing for Joseph being alive during Jesus' public ministry might cite John 6:41-42:

"Therefore the Jews were grumbling about [Jesus], because He said 'I am the bread of life that came down out of heaven. They were saying, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, 'I have come down out of heaven?'"

You can read the first four verses, above (in context, of course!), at your leisure. The first three verses are parallel one to the other, and reading them side by side at a website such as biblestudytools can be both enlightening and enjoyable. The incident these verses have in common occurred in Capernaum of Galilee, where Jesus' teaching drew a crowd, which included His mother and half-brothers who, for whatever reasons, came to see Him.

While the chronology of the incident, particularly what came before it, is a bit murky, the reason Jesus' family ("His own people," Mark 3:21) came to see Him could likely have been to protect Him by taking Him into their custody (ibid). Clearly (well, they thought they were thinking clearly!), they thought He was out-of-His-mind bonkers.

The point is: Jesus' mother--not His stepfather and mother, His stepbrothers (viz., James; Joseph, Jr.; Simon; and Judas) and His stepsisters (not named in Matthew 13:55) are mentioned in the synoptics, but not Joseph, Sr. Could Joseph, Sr., have been dead at this time? Perhaps he was alive and well and simply could not leave his work to come to see Jesus. Perhaps he entrusted Mary his wife to his sons and daughters, confident they would take care of her.

Moreover, from the astonished reaction of His fellow Capernaumites to Jesus' wise teaching and miraculous powers in Matthew 13:55-58,

"Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary . . .,"

we cannot necessarily conclude that Joseph was dead at this point. Is there significance in the Capernaumites not mentioning Joseph by name in referring to Jesus as "the carpenter's son"? Perhaps, but then perhaps not. Again, Joseph may have been away on business, or at the local Home Depot picking up materials for his next job!

If, however, Joseph was an "older" man at the time he was engaged to Mary (prior to Jesus' birth), he could have been in his sixties or seventies by the time Jesus entered His public ministry. At the time, a man of that age would be considered really "old," so speculating that he was either dead or perhaps even retired or infirm may be justified.

As for the reference to John 2:12, this is where the Apostle John wrote (on the heels of Jesus' first miracle at Cana of Galilee, a small town about 15 or so miles from Capernaum) the following:

"After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days."

Is there significance (vis a vis your question) that John did not mention Joseph in this verse? Perhaps. Again, however, the reason Joseph is not mentioned could be because he simply wasn't there at the time due to a previous engagement (or sickness, or lack of interest--not likely, or death).

As for Mary and not "Joseph and Mary" being at the crucifixion of her Son, the suggestion that Joseph was dead at the time may or may not be warranted, for the same reasons mentioned above.

My own belief is that Joseph did indeed die sometime between Jesus' twelfth birthday and His bursting on the scene, so to speak, at about age 30, though the fifth verse above (John 6:42) seems to indicate Joseph may have in fact been alive at the time of Jesus' "I am the bread of life" sermon:

"They were saying, 'Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, 'I have come down out of heaven?'"

Is our inability to answer definitively this question about Joseph, Jesus' stepfather, a cause for alarm? I think not. Had God wanted us to have a definitive answer, He would have included it in His word. (Take for example Jesus' post-resurrection Bible study with Cleopas and the other disciple on Emmaus Road, in Luke 24. I would love to know what Jesus talked about there, but again, the Holy Spirit did not see fit to include that particular tutorial in the canon of Scripture.)

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    The reference to "son of Joseph" says nothing either way about Joseph being alive or dead. "Son of" was the common identifier and often used well after the father was dead to distinguish between those with the same personal name. For instance, Joseph ben Matityahu and Simeon ben Gamliel are both referred to that way. ('Ben' meaning 'son of.'
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 18:55
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    @FrankLuke: Yes. Good point. However, Jesus' critics did go on to say, "whose father and mother we know." As for the thinking of the translators who translated this phrase, I guess we'd need to engage in a thoroughgoing hermeneutic to determine what that particular phrase meant back then. Can we infer, for example, that in saying these words, Jesus' critics assumed that both of Jesus' parents were alive? I don't know. Let me know if you unearth an answer to my last question. Don Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 19:15

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