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Roman Catholics believe that the virgin Mary was not only a virgin up until her birth of Christ, but remained a perpetual virgin until her death, but doesn't Matthew 1:25 affirm that Mary and Jospeh did in fact have sexual relations?

Matthew 1:25 reads:

And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.

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A: The word "until" does not imply change

It is a feature of our English language that the world until has the implication of "up to, but not after" a thing. The Greek word it is translated from is heos, which does not have such an implication.

Heos is used in Deuteronomy 34:6 (DRV)

And he buried him in the valley of the land of Moab over against Phogor: and no man hath known of his sepulchre until this present day.

But is the meaning that at the time these words were written, men then knew of Moses' tomb? Of course not.

Also see 2 Samuel 6:23:

Therefore Michol the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

Are we to think Michol had a child after the day of her death? No, because that is absurd.

Heos also appears in the Epistles without implication of a future change.

1 Timothy 4:13

Till I come, attend unto reading, to exhortation, and to doctrine.

1 Timothy 6:14

That thou keep the commandment without spot, blameless, unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ

1 Corinthians 15:25

For he must reign, until he hath put all his enemies under his feet.

Tim Staples, a Catholic apologist covers the subject in more breadth here and Karlo Broussard, another apologist addresses this specific issue here.

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  • Incidentally, it seems the Eastern Orthodox believe this as well goarch.org/-/the-ever-virginity-of-the-mother-of-god, oca.org/questions/romancatholicism/… Jul 28 at 19:22
  • Can you add a source from Catholics to support your answer?
    – User 14
    Jul 28 at 23:54
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    the adverb of time εως (heos), meaning until, unto, as long as. For instance, Matthew 1:17 is the exact same form of this adverb. Here is a list of 147 uses of this adverbial form in the NT: abarim-publications.com/Concordance/III/c-2193-1.html. There are many forms of this adverb but this form is absolutely an "until" that expresses a threshold beyond which is or may be change. Aug 1 at 12:35
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    +1 for giving it a shot. But " does not imply change" seems wrong to me. Rather, it does not necessarily imply change. But a bigger problem for this view is why did Matthew include "until she gave birth" at all? The problem goes beyond a narrow semantic debate about heos. Aug 2 at 22:05
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    1 Cor 15:25's 'until' does imply change, tho'. Just go to 1 Cor 15:28. There is a change in the nature of the reign at that point. 15:25 could be paraphrased "He must reign in a certain way, until ..." Aug 2 at 22:09
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In those days, the fault of a married couple not having children, was attributed to the wife, and not to the husband. See God promising Abraham at Gen 17:16:

I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.

Now, Evangelist Matthew at Matt 1:25 makes the statement:

But he [Joseph] had no marital relations with her [Mary] until she had borne a son.

We could, for the sake of academic interest, construct an elucidation from Matthew in his own words, on the following lines:

  • (A) Mary proved herself that she could be a biological mother by conceiving and giving birth to baby Jesus.

  • (B) A basic knowledge of biology tell us that one cannot impregnate a woman who is already pregnant, with a subsequent child

  • (C) Joseph, like every man around, was capable of producing children provided his wife was not barren.

  • (D) If Joseph remained a celibate till the birth of Jesus and reclaimed his rights as the legally married husband of Mary thereafter, they would have more children, which you my readers, don't see around. My friend John has already written how Jesus, just before his death on the cross, entrusted Mary's care to John who took her to his home (for the rest of her life). Would the Lord have done so if Mary had other surviving children ?

That said, Matt 1:25, if interpreted in the right perspective, would go a long way in postulating that Blessed Mother Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. After all, there is nothing superhuman if Joseph and Mary vowed for a life of celibacy after the conception and birth of Jesus. Incidentally, virginity may not have been considered a highly regarded virtue for lay people in those days, to the level as it is today, especially for the Catholic religious people. Hence the short statement of Matthew.

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  • +1 for laying out some context. "they would have more children, which you my readers, don't see around" A bit of a head-scratcher. Many people believe the readers do see this (Matthew 12:46-50, Matthew 13:55-56). Sep 20 at 17:05
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Matthew 1:24-25

Matthew 1:24-25 (RSVCE)

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until [ἕως οὗ] she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.1

The most common response from Rome’s apologists is to note that the term ἕως alone does not prove, of necessity, that Mary lost her virginity after the birth of Jesus. See, for example, 2 Sam. 6:23 [2 Reigns 6:23 (LXX)]2

καὶ τῇ Μελχολ θυγατρὶ Σαουλ οὐκ ἐγένετο παιδίον ἕως τῆς ἡμέρας τοῦ ἀποθανεῗν αὐτήν3 [and to Melchol daughter of Saoul there was no child to the day of her death (NETS)4]

She had no children until the day of her death (and she continued to be childless after her death).

This objection seems to miss the mark, however, given that Matthew does not use the term ἕως but rather ἕως οὗ.

Cf. Mat. 1:25 (NA28)

καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως οὗ ἔτεκεν υἱόν· καὶ ἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν.5

Eric Svendsen explains:

This construction . . . occurs only seventeen times in the NT... All NT occurrences are temporal. Two of these have the meaning “while” (Matt 14:22; 26:36)... The rest of the fifteen NT occurrences are instances in which the action of the main clause is limited by the action of the subordinate clause and require the meaning “until a specified time (but not after).” Hence, the disciples were not to tell anyone what they had seen “until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matt 17:9), but they surely were not to keep silent afterwards. The wicked servant was to be tortured “until he should pay back all he owed” (Matt 18:34), but that torture (it is implied) would cease after payment had been rendered. The woman who loses the coin sweeps the house and searches carefully until she finds it (Luke 15:8), but ceases the search once it is found. Similarly Jesus’ promise to abstain from eating and drinking at table will be kept only “until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18), after which he will inaugurate the Messianic Banquet . . . in the case of ἕως οὗ and ἕως ὅτου. Both constructions are used solely—not only by Matthew but also by all NT writers who use this construction—to convey that the action of the main clause is discontinued by the action of the subordinate clause (the ratio for these two constructions combined is seven to zero for Matthew, and twenty-two to zero for the NT). Matt 1:25 is just such a case, and there seems to be no justification for assigning to ἕως οὗ here any other meaning than that demanded by normal usage elsewhere in the NT.6

Notes:

1. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1965, 1966 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

2. Cf. Gen. 8:7; Deu. 34:6 and Psa. 110:1 in the LXX.

3. Septuaginta, ed. A. Rahlfs, (Württembergische Bibelanstalt, 1935).

4. A New English Translation of the Septuagint, eds. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright, (Oxford University Press, 2007).

5. Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament: 28th Edition, (Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012).

6. Eric Svendsen, Who Is My Mother? The Role and Status of the Mother of Jesus in the New Testament and in Roman Catholicism, (2001), pp. 35-36, 40). For an in-depth analysis see: Ibid., pp. 30-40, 251-259. Jack P. Lewis: …the phrase (heōs hou) followed by a negative always implies that the negated action did take place later. (Jack P. Lewis, The Living Word Commentary: The Gospel according to Matthew: Part I, ed. Everett Ferguson, (Austin: Sweet Publishing Company, 1976), p. 42). Cf. Mat. 13:33; 17:9; 18:34; Luk. 13:21; 15:8; 22:18; 24:49; Jhn. 13:38; Act. 21:26; 23:12, 14, 21; 25:21; 2Pet. 1:19; Mat. 14:22; 26:36.

Καὶ αὐτός ἐστιν πρὸ πάντων καὶ τὰ πάντα ἐν αὐτῷ συνέστηκεν.

~ Soli Deo Gloria

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  • It's unclear whether you mean to support the Catholic interpretation also given in other answers or counter it. Of course, countering it would technically not be a valid answer since the question asks what Catholics would say not whether the Catholics are right
    – eques
    Sep 20 at 13:40
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    Seconding what @eques says here. Although you have the standard Catholic response here, the emphasis is on the counter-response. I think this answer would benefit from having the Catholic response to that counter-response as well. Sep 20 at 17:08
  • But that counter-response is pretty brutal, isn't it? Sep 20 at 17:09
  • Ironically, if you insist that Matt 18:34 means until (heos ou) requires a change, you imply a doctrine of Purgatory.
    – eques
    Sep 20 at 18:30
  • @eques Yes, good point. Or something like it, and supports universalism. Sep 20 at 19:07

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