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When Mary became pregnant with Jesus, she was “betrothed” to Joseph. Betrothal (in Hebrew, kiddushin) at that time was somewhat similar to our modern-day “engagement,” with a few significant exceptions. First, girls as young as twelve and boys as young as thirteen were considered old enough for betrothal and marriage. More importantly, this kind of engagement was not simply a romantic obligation—it was a legal one.

Betrothal was a binding promise of marriage governed by Jewish law and enforceable in court. In fact, for all practical purposes the betrothed woman (Mary, in this case) was regarded as already being married. Thus, any sexual impropriety during the betrothal period would be grounds for divorce and, worse, could be considered adultery—punishable by stoning to death.

Matthew 1:18-24

Works Cited:

[ZP4, 96-97]

 

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