Topic Study: Joseph Son of Heli

(December 2004 BD Joseph2.  Updated December 25, 2011.)


Merry Christmas to you.  It is an honor to be asked to speak today, Christmas day, in this meeting where we commemorate the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The adults this month have been blessed this month to have been instructed by an Apostle on the nativity.  I have pondered deeply upon what I might say to you today, and ask that you might have a prayer in your heart, that together we may “understand one another, and both [be] edified and rejoice together.” (D&C 50:22)

Recently I realized that at times, because we talk so much of the Savior’s Atonement, we might be inclined to think that the Atonement was his life.  Certainly his life was critical to being able to work out the Atonement, but the Atonement itself was not His life.  It was accomplished in less than 24 hours.  It was an event within his life.

Likewise, because over 95% of what we have recorded of the Savior’s life is about a three year period (89 total chapters in Matthew through John, less 2 chapters each from Matthew and Luke = 95.5%), we similarly think that his life was full of public miracles and teachings.  But he began his ministry at 30 years of age, and it lasted approximately 3 years.  It was not 95% of this life.  It was approximately 10% of his life.  Similar to a young man serving a two year mission at 20, giving 10% of his life to the Lord, His ministry was his mission at 30, 10% of his time given in a very public way.

But what can we learn from the rest of his life?  Is there no meaning in it?  That is hard to believe; otherwise why would we annually read about, try to learn from, and celebrate His birth?

And yet the record of his life other than (1) the nativity, (2) his visit to the temple, and (3) His ministry is a total of five additional verses (three of which are from modern revelation in the Joseph Smith Translation).  If we are to learn of the rest of his life, we must do so very careful, so as not to “create” truth where none is given, and likely given for a reason.  The absence of details may well tells us a great deal about this time.

Frederic W. Farrar in his book “The Life of Christ” (a book quoted extensively by LDS General Authorities including Elder Bruce R. McConkie in his “Mortal Messiah” series) says of this time period:

There is, then, for the most part a deep silence in the Evenagelists repecting this period; but what eloquence in their silence!  May we not find in their very reticence a wisdom and an instruction more profound than if they had filled many volumes with minor details?

In the first place, we may see in this their silence a signal and striking confirmation of their faithfulness.  We may learn from it that they desired to tell the simple truth, and not to construct an astonishing or plausible narrative.  That Christ should have passed thirty years of His brief life in the deep obsurity of a provincial village; that He should have been brought up not only in a conquered land, but in its most despised province; not only in a despised province, but in its most disregarded valley; that during all those thirty years the inefffable brightness of His divne nature should have tabernacled among us, “in a tent like ours, and of the same material,” unoticed and unknown; that during those long years there should have been no flash of splendid circumstance, no outburst of amazing miracle, no “sevenfold chorus of hallelujahs and harping symphonies” to announce, and reveal, and glorify the coming King—this is not what we should have expected—not what any one would have been likely to imagine or to invent.

We should not have expected it, but it was so; and therefore the Evangelists leave it so; and the very fact of its contradicting all that we should have imagined, is an additional proof that so it must have been.  An additional proof, because the Evangelists must inevitably have been—as, indeed, we know that they were—actuated by the same à priori anticipations as ourselves; and had there been any glorious circumstances attending the boyhood of our Lord, they, as honest witnesses, would certainly have told us of them; and had they not been honest witnesses, they would—if none such occurred in reality—have most certainly invented them.  But man’s ways are not God’s ways; and because the truth which, by their very silence the Evangelists record, is a revelation to us of the ways of God, and not of man, therefore it contradicts what we should have invented; it disappoints what, without further enlightenment, we should have desired.  But, on the other hand, it fulfills the ideal of ancient prophecy, “He shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground;” and it is in accordance with subsequent allusions, “He made himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant” (Frederick W. Farrar, “The Life of Christ” pp. 70-71, emphasis in the original).

And yet, the Savior has commanded that we “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118)  As I have pondered over many years upon the life of Joseph, the husband of Mary, I have had insights about what a unique testimony he would be able to bear if he were with us today.  I would like to speak to you today, particularly to the youth, as if I were Joseph, the husband of Mary, one of the participants in the Nativity.  Imagine if you will, Joseph might bear witness of if he were allowed to be with us today.  Consider this like perhaps a parable the Savior would have used; a story that did not have to actually happen useful in increasing faith.

I             Introduction

My name is Joseph, son of Heli, of the house of David.  In my day I was thought to be the Father of Jesus Christ. I am best known today as the husband of Mary.  You usually remember my name every year at Christmas.  However, who I am, what I did, and what I know is mostly forgotten now.  I am glad to have the chance to speak to you today, and bear my testimony about Jesus Christ.

II            King

Elder James E. Talmage, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught that if Judah had been continually ruled by kings since the time of David, I “would have been her crowned king; and [my] lawful successor to the throne would have been Jesus” (Jesus the Christ, 3rd. ed. [1916], 87).  I was addressed by Gabriel as “Son of David”, signifying that I was recognized as the legal heir to the thorn.  The Savior also, “…though repeatedly addressed as Son of David, never repudiated the title but accepted it as rightly applied to Himself.”  (Jesus the Christ, 3rd. ed. [1916] ,87)

Let me say that again, to give you a moment to consider what it means.  Had Israel followed the prophets and been righteous, they might have revered me as they did King David.  And yet, they were not righteous; and thus my lot at the time of my marriage was to be a simple carpenter in Nazareth, a town you today might describe as being very hickish.

I was a student of the scriptures, having been taught them by my father.  Through them, although I was not then the literal King of Israel, I knew that the Savior of the world, the King of Kings, would be my descendant.  God had so promised David.  Similar to the specificity of the Book or Mormon prophecies about the timing of the Savior’s birth, we had prophecies about his coming.  Similar to the revelation Simeon was given that he would not die before he had seen the Lord, I also felt many times that the time was drawing close for the Savior to be born.

III           Marriage

I always tried to be a kind, righteous man, worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost.  I was very troubled when I learned that Mary was with child.  She was so pure, and such a good person.  She told me what the angel had told her, but the story was so fantastic, I found it hard to believe her.  I spent many hours in prayer about what I should do.

I almost broke off our engagement.  I could have told everyone, including the Jewish leaders, about Mary.  Under the Mosaic Law she would have been stoned.   However, because I loved her very much, I did not wish to humiliate her. I had just about decided to privately break the engagement when the angel appeared unto me.

I bear witness today that I heard the angel’s voice.  He told me, by the power of God, that the child carried by Mary was the Son of God.  I knew the truth of it.  I witness to you, as I did throughout my life, and even to Jesus when he was old enough to understand, that Jesus of Nazareth was not my child.  He was not Jesus son of Joseph.  He was the Son of God.

IV          Birth

The journey to Bethlehem was long and very tiring for Mary.  Many people passed us by every day.  They could travel faster than we could.  I worried about her all the way.  Finally we arrived but of course all the inns were full.  I was humiliated to bring my wife to the stable.  I worked to clean the stable, and make it acceptable.  But, I could not help feeling a failure in my duties to provide as a husband, and earthly father.  I, the rightful King of Israel, could provide nothing better than a stable for my queen, and the future King of Israel.

We were amazed that shepherds would be told by angels that he had been born, and describe the situation such that they could find us.  There were many that gained testimonies the night of his birth about who He was, and what His mission on earth would be.

After eight days, about a week from now, we took him to the temple according to the Law of Moses, to be circumcised.  Because I was not wealthy, we purchased the less costly animals for sacrifice that day, two doves or pigeons.  Again, I and Mary “marvelled at those things which were spoken of him” (Luke 2:33) by Simeon and Anna.  We were amazed again when respected leaders from the East sought us out and brought Him gifts.

V           Egypt

All of these things impressed upon me the importance of my responsibility to care for and protect the child.  I was willing to sacrifice to take the child to Egypt.  As I pondered upon that responsibility, I was grateful that the Lord would send an angel to warn and instruct me.

Your Christian tradition holds that we were in Egypt almost four years.  Although Herod was very near the end of his life, if you read Matthew’s account carefully, you will see that it was not just he who sought the child’s life.  The shepherds, wise men, and other’s messages had been heard far and wide.  For the angel told me “…for they are dead which sought the young child’s life” (Matthew 2:20, emphasis added).  And even with that, as we returned and I learned of who was governing Judea, I felt impressed to return to Nazareth.

22  But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judæa in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:

23  And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth (Matt. 2:19 – 23)

Another author of your day has said,

The bitter opposition that would plaque the ministry of Mary’s Son almost 30 years later had already raised its head.  But because May and Joseph spent these intervening years first in Egypt and then in Nazareth, far from Bethlehem and Jerusalem and the centers of power, the opposition which had begun to flare in the early months of Jesus’ life died down, giving Mary an opportunity to raise her Son out of the gaze of powerful and hateful eyes.  (S. Kent Brown, “Mary and Elizabeth”, p 61)

VI          Boyhood

Jesus was a typical boy in most ways.  In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 53:2, “…He… [grew] up before [me] as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and [if you were to] see him, there [was] no beauty that [you] should desire him.”  You could see nothing different just by looking at him.

He grew, played, learned, and had experiences just like every other child.  His cousin, John the Baptist, who knew Jesus as a boy, recorded in D&C 93:12 that Jesus grew “grace for grace”.  Luke records that “And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:40)

Because he was the literal son of Mary, a mortal, he experienced life as a mortal.  As Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written in your day:

As a babe he began to grow, normally and naturally, and there was nothing supernatural about it. He learned to crawl, to walk, to run. He spoke his first word, cut his first tooth, took his first step—the same as other children do. He learned to speak; he played with toys like those of his brothers and sisters; and he played with them and with the neighbor children. He went to sleep at night and he awoke with the morning light. He took exercise, and his muscles were strong because he used them. During his ministry we see him walk long dusty miles, climb mountains, drive evil men—with force—from his Father’s House.

We cannot do other than believe he was subject to disease and illness on the same basis as we all are. We know he was hungry, weary, and sorrowful; that his eyes were keen, his ears alert, and his tongue fluent. We know he seemed to his enemies as but another man, that he had to be singled out and identified with a traitor’s kiss, and that he felt the stabbing pain of the Roman nails in his hands and feet the same as any mortal would. We cannot state too plainly that as a man he felt what other men feel, did what other men do, had the same appetites and passions as others have—all because he had been sent into mortality by his Father to be a mortal.

And as with our Lord’s physical growth and development, so with his mental and spiritual progression. He learned to speak, to read, to write; he memorized passages of scripture, and he pondered their deep and hidden meanings. He was taught in the home by Mary, then by Joseph, as was the custom of the day. Jewish traditions and the provisions of the Torah were discussed daily in his presence. He learned the Shema, reverenced the Mezuzah, and participated in prayers, morning, noon, and night. Beginning at five or six he went to school, and certainly continued to do so until he came a son of the law at twelve years of age.

On Sabbaths and on week days he attended the synagogue, heard the prayers and sermons, and felt the spirit of the occasion. He participated in the regular worship during the feasts, particularly at Passover time. Indeed, the whole Jewish way of life was itself a teaching system, one that made the Jews a unique and peculiar people, a people set apart from all the nations of the Gentiles. It is also apparent that Jesus learned much from nature—from observing the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, and the foxes that have holes for homes. (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Vol.1, p.368 – p.369)

He was so typical in so many ways that many of our friends and neighbors in Nazareth did not recognize anything unusual about him.  When he returned to Nazareth many years later, as Luke 4:22 records, many said “Is this not Joseph’s son?” They thought him just another of my children.

VII         In The Temple

We were a devote family; although not required, Mary attended the Passover every year with me.  When he turned twelve, under the Law of the day, he became a Son of the Law, and was required to attend the temple at Passover.

You young people of today could profitably ponder upon the fact that he went to the temple at age twelve.  Because he had studied the gospel “in primary” if you will, he understood what the sacrifices in the temple meant; he knew what they pointed to, the great last sacrifice.  He felt the spirit of the temple deeply, and understood his mission in life.  He reminded us of this when, after three days of great anxiety while searching for him, his mother gently reprimanded Jesus, saying:

Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us?  behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.

Again, we the Savior’s parentage, but treated him like our child.  He was known in the community as my son.  Indeed, you have recorded in John:

45  Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. (John 1:45)


42  And they said, Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?… (John 6:42)

And yet, in the privacy of our home, we were honest with him about his parentage.  Because we had been honest, the Savior, even at the age of twelve, knew the truth of the matter for he answered:

And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me?  wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? (Luke 2: 48 – 49)

And he was about his Father’s business, as a Son of the Law, performing all the duties of such perfectly.  It was not because he had no choice as the Son of God; that somehow he had to do the right thing.  He was perfect in His agency; he could choose to do anything the wanted to do.  No, he was not forced to choose the right; He chose to choose the right, consistently.  It was not easy for him to do so, but he did it nonetheless.

I never saw him make a mistake.  I never saw him do something wrong.  There were times when I did not understand why he did something.  Because of my weaknesses, there are times when I would have done something different, less perfect.  But I always saw how His choice ended up being the perfect choice.

I testify that he lived a sinless life.

VIII       Apprenticeship

Luke ends this incident with the following statements:

51  And he went down with [us], and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.

52  And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. (Luke 2:51 – 52)

His mother pondered a great deal upon him.  He was subject to us, as a dutiful young man.  Joseph Smith restored these lost verses from the record of Matthew chapter 3 verses 24 through 25:

And it came to pass that Jesus grew up with his brethren, and waxed strong, and waited upon the Lord for the time of his ministry to come.

And he served under [me, who was called] his father, and he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him. (JST Matt. 3:24 – 25)

Babies behave very similarly and as teenagers our differences begin to become pronounced.  Similarly, as he aged, the differences in Jesus became more pronounced.  He served under me, learning the trade as a carpenter; and yet as time went on, I could teach him less and less.

Again, quoting from Elder McConkie:

It seems perfectly clear that our Lord grew mentally and spiritually on the same basis that he developed physically. In each case he obeyed the laws of experience and of learning, and the rewards flowed to Him. The real issue of concern is not that he grew and developed and matured—all in harmony with the established order of things, as is the case with all men—but that he was so highly endowed with talents and abilities, so spiritually sensitive, so in tune with the Infinite, that his learning and wisdom soon excelled that of all his fellows. His knowledge came to him quickly and easily because he was building as is the case with all men upon the foundations laid in preexistence. He brought with him from that eternal world the talents and capacities, the inclinations to conform and obey, and the ability to recognize truth that he had there acquired. Mozart had musical ability at the age of six that only a handful of men have ever gained in a whole lifetime. Jesus, when yet a child had spiritual talents that no other man in a hundred lifetimes could obtain.

Further: In his study, and in the learning process he was guided from on high in a way that none other has ever been. Being without sin—being clean and pure and spotless—he was entitled to the constant companionship of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that will not dwell in an unclean tabernacle, the Spirit that, conversely, always and everlastingly dwells with the righteous. The Holy Ghost is a revelator and a sanctifier. Anyone who receives the Holy Ghost receives revelations; anyone who obtains the companionship of the Holy Spirit is sanctified. Of the Lord Jesus the scripture says: “God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him” (John 3:34), which is to say that he enjoyed, at all times, the fulness of that light and guidance and power which comes by the power of the Holy Ghost to the faithful. (Bruce R. McConkie, The Mortal Messiah, Vol.1, p.369 – p.370)

Another inspired author of your day, Frederick W. Farrar, has said:

…[I]t was in utter stillness, in prayerfulness, in the quiet round of daily duties—like Moses in the wilderness, like David among the sheep-folds, like Elijah among the tents of the Bedawin, like Jermiah in his quiet home at Anathoth, like Amos in the sycamore groves of Tekoa—that the boy Jesus prepared Himself, amid a hallowed obscurity, for His might work on earth.  His outward life was the life of all the other children of peasant parents in that quiet town, and in great measure as they live now.  (Frederick W. Farrar, “The Life of Christ” pp. 72-73).

IX          Miracles

The first recorded miracle is when at a wedding Jesus turned water into wine.  He was about to begin His three year mission, thus telling Mary “mine hour [meaning his mission] is not yet come.”  In other words, He would continue to do as she asked him to do.

Mary’s response shows that we were aware of his special powers from pervious experiences.  We knew he was capable of fixing the situation.  We were aware of this from quiet family experiences.  He was very careful to not make a public show of his abilities.  But He could not help responding to the empathy that was within Him, and this at times produced miraculous results, including at times healings.  We were aware that as the “Sun [or Son—see 3 Nephi 25:2] of righteousness” he had “healing in his wings;” even as he was growing up “as calves of the stall.”  (Mal. 4:2).

X           Death

Your Bible dictionary entry about me says “It is probable that Joseph died before the crucifixion (and probably before our Lord’s baptism), as otherwise Mary would hardly have been committed by our Lord to the keeping of John (John 19:26–27).” (Bible Dictionary, sv Joseph)

I am not mentioned after the time in the temple.  Tradition holds that I died when Jesus was nineteen (See Farrar “The Life of Christ”).

Similar to the fact that the Savior would not use his powers to create bread for himself after fasting, although tempted to do so, I never witnessed him using His powers to serve His own desires.  I believed, in fact knew, he had power to keep me from death.  And yet I knew it was not right for him to do so.  It was important for Him to be the recognized king of Israel before his ministry could begin.  I had to die before his reign could begin.

XI          Spirit World

Thus I was in the spirit world during his mortal ministry.  I saw or heard about experiences you are familiar with from the written record from the other side of the veil.  There were those who visited us for a time as spirits, only to return to their mortal bodies, including the daughter of Jarius and Lazarus.  We witnessed His command of evil spirits.  We sensed the power and majesty of His mortal ministry.

Your prophets have taught that as we pass through the veil, we are greeted first by family members.  As Mary was still alive when Jesus died, and because he would not ascend to His true Father until after the resurrection, I was privileged to greet him, with others of his ancestors, on that afternoon.

I was in the spirit world when his spirit left his body.  Your prophet Joseph F. Smith as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants Section 138 about that moment.

15  I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand.

16  They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death.

17  Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy.

18  While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful;

D&C 138:15 – 18

I was there has he entered the spirit world.  I then listened to him teach us in the spirit world those three days.  I was thrilled with his teachings, his presence, His glory.  I was one commissioned to teach the truth to the wicked, and given power under his hands to be a missionary.  I also saw Him leave us that beautiful Sabbath morning.  He told us where He was going.  He told us His spirit would enter His body, that He would be resurrected.


XII         Testimony

I witness to you that I was there when He was born.  I know, like no other man knows, that He is the Son of God.  I know, like no other man, that He lived a sinless, perfect life.  I know that He died, for I saw His ministry among the dead.  I know He is not now among the dead.  He does not reside with the spirits, for He is risen.  He is alive.  He lives.  I know this.


Perhaps this is what Joseph would say if he were here today.  We cannot know for certain now.  We can, however, know for ourselves the things he knew.  I am a witness, by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the only perfect man, and that He lives.

“And now, I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever.  Amen.”  (Ether 12:41)

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