Where Was Joseph When Jesus Died?

Joseph, the husband of Mary and the earthly father of Jesus, is an important figure in the early chapters of Matthew and Luke. The Gospels depict Joseph as faithful, loving, and protective of his wife and son and sensitive to God’s guidance. Yet what many people want to know is where he was when Jesus died.

Most Bible scholars believe Joseph died years before Jesus was crucified. The last time Joseph appears in a story in the Gospels was when Jesus was 12 years old. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John focus on Jesus’ three-year public ministry, in which Mary and Jesus’ siblings appear, but Joseph doesn’t.

In what way was Joseph protective of Jesus? What story in the Gospels records Joseph’s last appearance? Does any Gospel mention him after that? When do scholars believe Joseph died? How does an exchange between Jesus on the cross and John suggest that Joseph was dead? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Also, see Why Did Jesus Descend Into Hell? to learn more.

Joseph Jesus father
When does Joseph appear last in the Gospels? See below

Joseph’s in the Gospels: Faithful to God and Family

Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, was a descendant of David and worked as a carpenter (Matt. 13:55). The Gospels report that he was betrothed to Mary when he learned she was pregnant. Though Joseph initially intended to divorce her discretely, God assured him that Mary’s pregnancy was a miracle (Matt. 1:18-25).

Luke reports that Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem (Luke 2:8-33). Even though the miracle child was the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6) and sought to bring peace to people (Luke 2:14), Herod, a jealous and violent politician, sought to kill him. However, Joseph strategized to protect his family.

When Herod attempted to exterminate all males under two years old in an attempt to kill Jesus, Joseph took Mary and his son south to Egypt (Matt. 2:13-23). When the family returned, they sought to avoid Herod’s brother, so they settled in Nazareth, where Jesus would grow up (Matt. 2:22-23).

The last time Joseph appears in the Gospels

The only story of Jesus between two years old and 30 in the Gospels is Luke’s account of him at the temple at the age of 12. The scene is the last time the Gospels mention Joseph, and Luke is the only writer who includes the story.

Jesus was at the temple in Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph when his parents started to make the journey home. Likely thinking that Jesus was with other family members, they soon realized their son was missing. “When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him” (Luke 2:45, ESV).

When they found him three days later, he was with the teachers, amazing them with his understanding. Mary told him that she and Joseph had been worried because they couldn’t find him. Jesus responded, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).

Joseph is absent from later stories in the Gospels

Although people refer to Joseph in the Gospels after this story, he doesn’t appear in any narrative. Mary plays a role in Jesus’ ministry before and after his crucifixion. Yet, when writers mention her, she is with Jesus’ siblings, other female disciples, or part of the early church. But there is no mention of Joseph.

Bible readers must not confuse Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, with other men named Joseph in the New Testament. For example, Joseph of Arimathea, a follower of Jesus who appears in stories after the crucifixion, wasn’t his earthly father. He merely had the same first name as Jesus’ earthly father.

Also, see What Happened After Jesus Rose? to learn more.

Jesus crucifixion
When do Bible scholars believe Joseph died? See below

Joseph Isn’t With Mary and Jesus’ Siblings In Key Texts

The New Testament doesn’t mention Joseph’s death, so readers must examine details in other stories to get insight into his death. Most Bible scholars believe that Joseph died sometime between when Jesus was 12, i.e., Luke’s temple scene, and 30 years old, the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, i.e., his baptism.

How does Joseph’s absence suggest he was deceased? Bible scholars believe Joseph died before Jesus started his public ministry because he isn’t mentioned in passages that refer to his family after that point.

For example, when Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth and started teaching in the synagogue, people recognized him and his family. Yet, Joseph is absent, and people don’t say his name.

They said, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3).

Commonly, people refer to a man as his father’s son. It was rare to describe a man as his mother’s son unless the father was dead.

One scholar explains that the best explanation “is that Joseph is now dead and so Jesus is identified as part of Mary’s family. While it would still be unusual to refer to a son as his mother’s child… if Joseph had died many years earlier, during Jesus’ childhood or youth, he would be a distant memory in the minds of the townspeople. Perhaps Jesus had long been ‘Mary’s son.'” [1]

Does Matthew 13:55 imply that Joseph was alive during Jesus’ ministry? A few scholars speculate that Joseph may have been alive well into Jesus’ public ministry based on this verse. “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?”

Others respond that the reference to the carpenter’s son doesn’t mean Joseph was still alive. The same statement can refer to a deceased person.

Furthermore, if Joseph were alive, it would have been likely that those speaking would have used his name, not Mary’s, because of the important role fathers had in their families.

Also, see How Long Was Jesus on Earth After His Resurrection? to learn more.

Jesus cross
Who does Mary go home with after Jesus dies? See below

Jesus Tells John To Watch Over Mary

The Gospel of John tells the story of when Jesus was on the cross and asks John (the author of the Gospel) to take care of his mother, Mary.

John writes, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26-27, ESV).

Many scholars and Bible readers have concluded that if Joseph were still alive, Jesus would not have asked John to take care of his mother and take her to his home. The implication of this is that Joseph was dead.

One scholar summarizes: “We do not hear of [Joseph] in connection with the Crucifixion (John 19:26-27), [so] it may be inferred that he had died prior to that event.” [2]

Also, see What Day Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? to learn more.

[1] Mark by Mark Strauss. ZECNT. p. 242.
[2] New International Bible Dictionary. p. 546.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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