Joseph, the Very Type of the ‘Just Man’

And her husband Joseph, being a just man…”[1] How many times have we as Catholics heard these words of Scripture and experienced the meaning of them go right over our heads? I know that this has been the case with me. Over and over again in my young life I have heard these words in Matthew’s Gospel describing Joseph as a “just man,” and I found that the title of “Just Man” never seemed to hold much weight for me; for I often had read about countless people in the Bible — particularly in the Old Testament — and found many examples of people who seemed to exhibit such great moral virtue that they would seem to merit the title of “just man” too; King David’s sparing of King Saul’s life on two occasions despite the latter’s efforts to take the life of the former,[2] Moses’ intercession before God for the Israelites after their idolatry,[3] and Joseph the Patriarch’s great mercy that he exercised toward his treacherous and repentant brethren.[4] If so many of the figures in the Old Testament exhibit such great virtue, and yet show other signs of being fallen, sinful, and imperfect, what significance does the title of “Just Man” carry for Saint Joseph?

The reason why I, like so many Catholics, have been desensitized to the greatness, significance, and unicity of Joseph’s title of “Just Man”, is tied in with the issue of a faulty biblical translation. For the adjective that is used in the original Greek text of Matthew’s gospel to describe Joseph as “just” is the Greek word δίκαιος,[5] which can be translated either as “just” or as “righteous.” Thus, the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition of the Bible renders this translation of the Greek word as “just” when describing Saint Joseph, and so does the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible.[6] However, when we look throughout the Bible to see which other Old Testament figure is also styled with this Greek adjective, we notice that the man who bears this description is none other than the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth — namely, Noah the Patriarch.[7] The reason for this variance in translation between the RSVCE and the Douay-Rheims is due to this fact: the RSVCE is based off of the Greek text for the Bible,[8] which — as was noted above — allows for δίκαιος to be translated as either “just” or “righteous,” which for some reason the translator decided to render as “righteous” for Noah[9] and as “just” for Joseph;[10] whereas the Douay-Rheims Bible is based off of the Vulgate,[11] and the Vulgate translates the Greek word δίκαιος as iustus for both Noah[12] and Joseph,[13] of which the direct translation in English is not “righteous” but “just,” and thus the Douay-Rheims Bible translates the Greek word δίκαιος and the Latin word iustus as “just” for both Noah[14] and for Joseph.[15] Hence, the RSVCE seems to obscure what Saint Matthew the Apostle by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us about Joseph and Noah which the Douay-Rheims Bible, the Vulgate, and the Septuagint reveal to us; namely, that because Matthew uses the same Greek word to describe both Noah and Joseph, Matthew is alluding to a typological relationship between Noah the Patriarch and the Greatest of Patriarchs — in other words, Matthew is trying to tell us that Noah is a type of Saint Joseph.[16]

Thus, this is our first piece to the puzzle of finding out the significance of the title of “Just Man,” and thus whenever Catholics read Matthew 1:19 and hear Saint Joseph described as a “just man,” they should automatically be thinking of Noah, and apply whatever is true of Noah to Saint Joseph. Why is this the case? There are two reasons: 1) in biblical typology, the antitype not only fulfills but also always surpasses the type; 2) as Edward Healy Thompson observes in his book The Life and Glories of Saint Joseph, the reason that Matthew in 1:1-16 of his gospel gives the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah is to show us that Saint Joseph not only fulfilled but also surpassed the Old Testament Patriarchs in everything — including Noah.[17] Hence, what this means in relation to Saint Joseph and Noah is that since Noah is an ancestor of Joseph, and since Joseph has a twofold superiority over Noah both because: 1) Joseph is the antitype of Noah, and 2) according to Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, Joseph embodies all the perfections and virtues of the previous patriarchs, this means that whatever is encompassed by the title of “just man” for Noah must also be appropriated to Joseph but in a surpassing and more excellent way.

The next question to ask and investigate is what does it mean to be a “just man” for Noah the Patriarch? The Vulgate tells us that “Noe vir iustus atque perfectus fuit in generatione sua,” which translates in English as “Noah was a just and also a perfect man in his generation.”[18] Hence, since this passage is using the coordinating conjunction atque or “and also” to join the adjectives of iustus or “just” and perfectus or “perfect,” we can understand that Moses the author of the book of Genesis is telling us that being a “just” man and being a “perfect” man go together when applied to Noah. Perfectus in Latin comes from the Latin verb perficere, which etymologically comes from the words per which means “through” or when added onto the beginning of a word in Latin this word per strengthens the sense of the word it is joined to; and facere which means “to make, do,” and thus the word perficere means “to make or do completely, to perfect,” and hence perfectus means “made or done completely, perfect.” Therefore, what Moses is telling us about Noah is that he was a just man on account of the fact that Noah was a perfect man. How is a man perfect? When a man is morally perfect — when a man is sinless. This is what the translation of the RSVCE tells us, because it says that Noah “was blameless in his generation,”[19] and blame can only be ascribed to a person when they are at fault or have sinned in some way; hence, when it says that Noah was “perfect,” this means that Noah was “blameless,” and was therefore sinless.

The Septuagint seems to give us an even deeper meaning of the term “just” as applied to Noah. The Septuagint says that “Νῶε ἄνθρωπος δίκαιος, τέλειος ὢν ἐν τῇ γενεᾷ αὐτοῦ,” which translates as “Noah [was] a just man, being perfect in his generation.[20] The Greek seems to imply at a deeper level what it means to be a “just man” than the Latin for two reasons. The first is that it does not use a coordinate conjunction to join two ideas, but rather uses the participle ὢν, which means “being,” to express causally that the reason for why Noah was an “ἄνθρωπος δίκαιος” or a “just man” was because he was τέλειος or “perfect.” Furthermore, this Greek phrase in the Septuagint version of the book of Genesis is closer to the Greek phrase in Matthew 1:19 because in both spots the participle ὢν is used with an adjective and the same word order of the participle and adjective is employed in the phrase describing Noah and in the phrase describing Joseph, with ὢν coming first and the adjective following ὢν both in Genesis and in Matthew, with the only difference being that δίκαιος is the adjective used instead of τέλειος to describe Saint Joseph.[21] To give you a better picture, here are the phrases side-by-side: 1)“Νῶε ἄνθρωπος δίκαιος, τέλειος ὢν ἐν τῇ γενεᾷ αὐτοῦ,”[22] and 2) “Ἰωσὴφ δὲ, ὁ ἀνὴρ αὐτῆς, δίκαιος ὢν.”[23] Thus, since the phrase describing Joseph is similar to the phrase describing Noah, and since the phrase describing Noah as a “ἄνθρωπος δίκαιος” naturally encompasses being “τέλειος” because of the use of the participle ὢν to explain that Noah was an “ἄνθρωπος δίκαιος” or a “just man” for the reason that he was “τέλειος,” this means that being a “ἄνθρωπος δίκαιος,” or a “just man” also incorporates within it being “τέλειος” or perfect. Hence, when Saint Joseph is called a “just man,” the meaning of “τέλειος” as applied to Noah is also applied to Saint Joseph through the mere description of him being a “just man.”

The second reason is that the word τέλειος is the Greek word that means “having reached its end, finished, complete,” and when it is applied to persons it means “complete, accomplished, perfect in his or its kind.” It is also related to the Greek word τέλος, which means “the end,” or “the fulfilment or completion” of anything, and this word τέλος was the Greek word that both Plato and Aristotle used to name the function, purpose, or end of a thing.  Therefore, the Greek word τέλειος by virtue of its similarity to the word τέλος gives a more precise sense of completion than the Latin word perfectus because τέλειος states that something is “done or made completely” in the sense that it has reached its function, purpose, or end. What is the end of man? “By the ‘end of man’ we mean the purpose for which he was created: namely, to know, love, and serve God” replies the Baltimore Catechism.[24] Thus, a man is just when he is perfectus and τέλειος, and a man is perfectus and τέλειος when he knows, loves, and serves God through abiding by the law of God without anything standing in his way — when he is sinless.

We also know from Saint Thomas Aquinas that man in the state of original sin cannot fulfill all of the precepts of the Law and thus cannot know, love, and serve God perfectly without the infusion of grace into his soul to cleanse him from original sin and its effects,[25] and therefore if Noah is to be a sinless man, grace must be infused into his soul at some point in his life such that not only was he cleansed from original sin, but also such that from a certain point on Noah lived a blameless life, and hence, given these two reasons, Noah was a just man because he was sinless — without personal sin.

Therefore, given that: 1) it has been proved that tied in with the meaning of being a just man is the meaning of being a sinless man, 2) there is a typological relationship between Noah the Patriarch and Saint Joseph, namely, Noah being the type of Joseph, and Joseph being the antitype of Noah, and lastly 3) according to Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, Joseph possessed all of the virtues and perfections of the previous patriarchs, we must conclude that Saint Joseph, like Noah, was not only cleansed from Original Sin at least by the time of his marriage with Mary and most probably immediately after his conception in the womb,[26] but also that Saint Joseph lived his life free from personal sin after that Baptismus Flaminis, whenever it occurred. But why would the Almighty Father give this great privilege to Saint Joseph? Why would the Eternal Father grant Joseph these graces of a Baptism of Desire and of Confirmation in the State of Grace?[27] Well, what is the purpose of Saint Joseph? What was his end? How was he called to know, love, and serve God? This is precisely how; Joseph the Noble Offspring of David and True Husband of Mary was called to know, love, and serve the Only-Begotten Son of God as His father; Joseph was called to be the very Image, the very earthly reflection of Jesus Christ’s Almighty and Eternal Father,[28] and as such, any violation of the Law of God through sin or any imperfection through concupiscence would be a hindrance to this great and lofty call to know, love, and serve the Son of God as His father,[29] thus making Joseph to be an imperfect man, an imperfect father, and necessarily an unjust man and an unjust father to Jesus, which obscures the reflection of God the Father for His Son, and is thus a danger for Him in His humanity because Joseph would have passed on this bad example of sin and this marred image of God the Father to Jesus.[30] But we know from the foregoing in this article concerning the book of Genesis and Matthew’s Gospel that Joseph — like Noah — was indeed a just man because he was a perfect man — more precisely, because he was the perfect father.

This, then, is the significance that every Catholic should understand when they hear the words of Matthew 1:19 relaying that Joseph was a “just man”; they should remember that God the Son is proclaiming his great encomium for his earthly father Joseph by styling him as a “just man.”[31] For Joseph is called “just” because he not only has the perfection of all the virtues — as Doctors and Fathers of the Church Saint Jerome and Saint John Chrysostom tell us[32]— but also because he lacks all vice and all sin,[33] for the very reason that the greatest of patriarchs Saint Joseph Most Just is the most perfect of fathers — the very Image of God the Father.

[1] Matthew 1:19 (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition), emphasis added.

[2] 1 Samuel 24:1-22, 26:1-25 (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition).

[3] Exodus 32: 1-30, Numbers 14:1-25 (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition).

[4] Genesis 42-45, 50:15-21 (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition).

[5] Matthew 1:19, emphasis added: “Ἰωσὴφ δὲ, ὁ ἀνὴρ αὐτῆς, δίκαιος ὢν.”

[6] Matthew 1:19 (Douay-Rheims Version), emphasis added: “Joseph her husband, being a just man.”

[7] Genesis 6:9 (Septuagint), emphasis added: “Νῶε ἄνθρωπος δίκαιος.”

[8] Introduction to The Holy Bible (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition) (Charlotte: Saint Benedict Press, 1966), vi: “[T]he Latin, on which the Douay Version is based, is notably longer than the Revised Standard Version which is based on the Greek.”

[9] Genesis 6:9 (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition), emphasis added: “Noah was a righteous man.”

[10] Matthew 1:19 (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition), emphasis added: “And her husband Joseph, being a just man.”

[11] Introduction to The Holy Bible, loc. cit.

[12] Liber Genesis 6:9 (Nova Vulgata), emphasis added: “Noe vir iustus…fuit.”

[13] Evangelium Secundum Matthaeum 1:19 (Nova Vulgata), emphasis added “Ioseph autem vir eius, cum esset iustus.”

[14] Genesis 6:9 (Douay-Rheims Version), emphasis added: “Noah was a just… man.”

[15] Matthew 1:19 (Douay-Rheims Version), emphasis added: “Joseph her husband, being a just man.”

[16] “The Humility & Self Effacement of St Joseph,” Sensus Fidelium, March 19, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6p_EHaWu24, 0:15-0:52, emphasis added: “But on this solemn Feast of Saint Joseph let us consider a type of Saint Joseph in the Patriarch, Noah.”

[17] Edward Healy Thompson, M.A., The Life and Glories of Saint Joseph: Husband of Mary, Foster-Father of Jesus, and Patron of the Universal Church (Charlotte: TAN Books, 1888), 59-60, emphasis added: “Doctors of the Church have observed that the Evangelist [Saint Matthew the Apostle] enumerates all the ancestors of Joseph…to make us understand that in Joseph were accomplished all the glories of his forefathers, all their hopes, all their prayers; that in Joseph all their virtues were combined, but in far greater fullness and perfection; that in Joseph was closed and terminated that line of great patriarchs who were the glory of Israel, but whom Joseph greatly surpassed from his incomparable election to be the destined husband of [Mary] of whom, by the operation of Divine power, Jesus was born.” For a more detailed explanation for why this is the case, especially how this is apparent in Jacob the Patriarch’s blessing for his son Joseph the Patriarch, see Joshua Francis Filipetto “Joseph, the Image of God the Father,” Catholic Insight, November 22, 2021, https://catholicinsight.com/joseph-the-image-of-god-the-father/.

[18] Liber Genesis 6:9 (Nova Vulgata).

[19] Genesis 6:9 (Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition), emphasis added.

[20] Genesis 6:9 (Septuagint).

[21] Ibid: “Νῶε ἄνθρωπος δίκαιος, τέλειος ὢν ἐν τῇ γενεᾷ αὐτοῦ.” Matthew 1:19: “Ἰωσὴφ δὲ, ὁ ἀνὴρ αὐτῆς, δίκαιος ὢν.”

[22] Genesis 6:9 (Septuagint).

[23] Matthew 1:19.

[24] Baltimore Catechism Three, also known as A Catechism of Christian Doctrine No. 3, (Charlotte: Saint Benedict Press, Tan Books, 2010), 35.

[25] Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 109, a. 4, co: “[I]n statu naturae corruptae non potest homo implere omnia mandata divina sine gratia sanante.”

[26] Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, The Predestination of St. Joseph and His Eminent Sanctity, in Donald H. Calloway, MIC, Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father (Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2020), 274, emphasis added: “We cannot say at what precise moment St. Joseph’s sanctification took place. But we can say that, from the time of his marriage to Our Lady, he was confirmed in grace, because of his special mission.” Thompson, M.A., The Life and Glories of Saint Joseph, 39-54; “Saint Joseph: The Model of Manhood,” Sensus Fidelium, March 19, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-OXUfeFFjXg, 3:29-4:21: “The great theologian Father Reginald Marie Garrigou-Lagrange he’s written a number of books he was basically the last of the neo-thomist theologians in Rome before the Second Vatican Council he writes about Saint Joseph and he says — this was in the 50’s, late 50’s early 60’s — he says that the general consensus among Josephologists — and a Josephologist is a theologian who specializes in Saint Joseph — he says that the general consensus is that at least from the time of the marriage between Our Lady and Saint Joseph that Saint Joseph did not commit any sin — no venial sins at all; and that’s at least from that time, probably from before then.”

[27] “Lenten Mission on St. Joseph: Joseph and the Most Blessed Sacrament,” Sensus Fidelium, May 23, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ipa2wLl9frI&t=3s, 27:54-28:03; Locution of Saint Joseph, October, 1956, Messages of Our Lady of America, https://www.ourladyofamerica.org/wordpress/; Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, The Predestination of St. Joseph and His Eminent Sanctity, in Donald H. Calloway, MIC, Consecration to St. Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father (Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2020), 274.

[28] Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins, “St. Joseph in the Church since 1917 – Msgr. Calkins, Fatima Centennial Conference – October 7, 2017,” YouTube, October 10, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rAJaFIly2I, 17:38-18:00.

[29] Thompson, The Life and Glories of Saint Joseph, 1-12, 39-54. It is interesting to note two things in relation to this point on Saint Joseph’s cleansing of Original and Personal Sin. The first is that this cleansing of Original Sin is actually typified in the Old Testament in the figure of Joseph the Patriarch. For since Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers and shackled — Egypt being a symbol for sin — and then lifted out of slavery and set free from his shackles by Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, so also was Saint Joseph set free from slavery to sin and from the shackles of Original and Personal Sin by the Son of God, who is the King of Heaven and Earth. See Br. Bartholomew Calvano, O.P., “Ite ad Joseph,” Word on Fire Blog (blog), May 1, 2019, https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/ite-ad-joseph/23941/. The second is that Joseph’s sanctification in the womb is actually confirmed in a set of visions called “Our Lady of America” which have the status of an approved apparition from Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, who reviewed these apparitions when he was a Canon Law lawyer and the prefect for the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. The Apostolic Signatura is the highest court in the Church underneath the Pope, and so therefore when the Apostolic Signatura gives the status of an approved apparition to visions, this means that there is nothing that is contrary to the Catholic Faith in these visions, and such apparitions merely need the approval of the Pope through his charism of infallibility for the visions to be officially approved. See Mark I. Miravalle, STD, Meet Your Spiritual Father: A Brief Introduction to St. Joseph (Lighthouse Catholic Media and Marian Press, 2015), 90-101, 155-156n81-82; see also https://www.ourladyofamerica.org/wordpress/ for the entire body of messages from Our Lady of Revelation and for Cardinal Burke’s letter stating that the Our Lady of America apparitions have the status of an approved apparition. The apparition where Saint Joseph appears to the visionary Sr. Mary Ephrem and tells her about his Baptism in the Womb is worth quoting at length here: “It is true, my daughter, that immediately after my conception I was, through the future merits of Jesus and because of my exceptional role of future Virgin-Father, cleansed from the stain of original sin. I was from that moment confirmed in grace and never had the slightest stain on my soul. This is my unique privilege among men. My pure heart also was from the first moment of existence inflamed with love for God. Immediately, at the moment when my soul was cleansed from original sin, grace was infused into it in such abundance that, excluding my holy spouse, I surpassed the holiness of the highest angel in the angelic choir,” Locution of Saint Joseph, October, 1956, Messages of Our Lady of America, https://www.ourladyofamerica.org/wordpress/, emphasis added.

[30] Calkins, “St. Joseph in the Church since 1917 – Msgr. Calkins, Fatima Centennial Conference – October 7, 2017,” 22:02-23:34.

[31] Thompson, The Life and Glories of Saint Joseph, 90: “God Himself, in the Holy Gospel, pronounces the encomium of St. Joseph by calling him ‘just.’ (Matt. 1:19).”

[32] Ibid: “God Himself, in the Holy Gospel, pronounces the encomium of St. Joseph by calling him ‘just.’ (Matt. 1:19). And the great Doctor, St. Jerome, thus expounds the term: “Joseph is called just on account of having possessed all virtues in a perfect degree.” See also Saint John Chrysostom, In Matth. hom. 4,3;4,5;5,3;8,3 (MG 57, 43-46; 57; 85), as quoted in Francis L. Filas, S.J., S.T.D., Joseph Most Just: Theological Questions about St. Joseph (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1956), 43, emphasis added: “‘Joseph, her husband, being a just man.’ Here, ‘just man’ means adorned with every virtue.”

[33] It should be noted that having the perfection of all virtues by is very definition excludes the possibility of having any vice or sin, and thus when Saint Jerome and Saint John Chrysostom maintain that Joseph has the perfection of all virtues, what is implicitly said here is that Joseph has the absence of all vice and sin.