I cringe when someone speaks of the Virgin Mary was an unwed mother, usually in a silly attempt to make the Christmas story “relevant” for today’s licentious audience. Such people not only blaspheme, they reveal their own ignorance of Jewish wedding customs.
The Jewish wedding employed two ceremonies before completion and consummation for thousands of years, although very recently they have begun merging them into one. At the first one, the betrothal or kiddushin, the couple promise to remain faithful to each other until “death do us part.” A written contract, ketubah, is completed where the groom promises to provide for the bride and the bride promises to keep herself for him. A religious divorce is required to nullify the marriage after this point. Only the groom can ask for one if he finds something untoward in his bride.
In the time of Joseph and Mary, each then went back home to live with family while the groom prepared a home for his bride, often by adding rooms to his father’s house. When his father decided that the new quarters were ready for the bride, then the groom and his friends went through the town to get the bride and bring her to the new home.
There, another ceremony takes place with vows and blessings under the wedding canopy.
This nissuin is the ceremony that permits the bride to her husband and permits the consummation of the marriage. The party usually lasts seven days and friends and family join in the celebration.
Therefore, Mary was legally bound to Joseph when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. When it became known that she was with child, Joseph began considering a quiet divorce to spare her as much as possible. But the Lord God told him to stay in the marriage to protect and provide for Mary and the child in her womb. She was wed the whole time, but conceived by the Holy Spirit, not Joseph.
Interesting Side Note: When one studies the common wedding practices of at the time of Jesus, he gets a new appreciation of John 14:12-13
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.