Against Heresies

by Saint Irenaeus

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What does Irenaeus say about St. Joseph in Against Heresies?

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In Against Heresies, Irenaeus clearly states that St. Joseph is not Jesus's biological father. While many heretical groups maintain otherwise, Irenaeus shows that the Scriptures are explicit in the claim that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and not through normal relations between Joseph and Mary.

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Irenaeus's primary point about St. Joseph in Against Heresies is that Joseph is most definitely not the biological father of Jesus.

Irenaeus spends a great deal of time cataloging the various heresies that plagued the Christian Church of his day. Many of them, he notes, hold that Joseph was the actual father of Jesus and that Jesus was human just like everyone else. Carpocrates and his followers believe this, for instance, as do Cerinthus and his followers and the Ebionites.

Yet the Scriptures are very clear that such is not the case. Irenaeus quotes the Gospel of Matthew about how the angel of God appears to Joseph in a dream when Joseph is confused and upset and wondering why his betrothed, Mary, is expecting a child. Joseph knows that this child is not his own (for they have not consummated their marriage), and that is why he is considering putting Mary away quietly (i.e., not going through with the final stage of their marriage). But the angel tells Joseph not to be afraid and to take Mary into his home, for the child has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph obeys and names the child Jesus as the angel directs, realizing that in this event, the ancient prophecies are being fulfilled, especially the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 that a virgin shall be with child and bear Emmanuel (God-with-us). Scripture, therefore, is explicit about Joseph's role in Jesus's life. Joseph is not His biological father; Jesus is not begotten of Joseph in the normal human fashion.

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