Protestants often used Matthew 1:25 as proof text that Mary did not remain a perpetual virginity after her marriage to Joseph, but did any of the Early Church Fathers interpret or understand this verse as NOT speaking in a sexual sense? therefore perserving her virginity.

And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS. [Matthew 1:25 KJV]

And he knew her not, till she brought forth her first born son: and he called his name Jesus. [Matthew 1:25 Douay Rheims]

και ουκ εγινωσκεν αυτην εως ου ετεκεν τον υιον αυτης τον πρωτοτοκον και εκαλεσεν το ονομα αυτου ιησουν [Matthew 1:25 TR]

et non cognoscebat eam donec peperit filium suum primogenitum et vocavit nomen eius Iesum [Matthew 1:25 Vulgate]

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    Are you suggesting that Joseph did not know Mary at all . . . . ever and, therefore, did not dwell with her ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 1:32
  • @NigelJ is that not precisely what Catholics believe? Commented May 25, 2023 at 4:37
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    "Knew her" is the Scriptural euphemism for intercourse. As far as I know, no Christian believes Matthew 1:25 means other than Joseph did not engage in such with Mary prior to Jesus' birth. Where arguments arise is whether the reference to Jesus' birth represents an end to that state. On the one hand, literally, that is an acceptable interpretation. On the other, why would the author include that rather than simply writing "[Joseph] knew her not" unless that status did change subsequently?
    – Matthew
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 15:40
  • Matt 1:25 certainly uses "knew her not" in a sexual sense, so I doubt you will find fathers who hold that it is meant in some other sense, but the word until does not imply that they had relations after the birth of Christ. See the "Until Then" section of this Catholic Answers article: catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/…
    – jaredad7
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 21:08

1 Answer 1


If Matthew 1:25 was not speaking in a sexual sense, then those who say it was not are obliged to say in what sense it was speaking. Then they have to explain why Matthew added the word 'till".

Given that way back in the book of Genesis, the phrase "knew her" (speaking of a man knowing a woman) always meant that he knew her carnally - sexually - and this is the case right throughout the Bible - none of the earliest Church Fathers could claim that Matthew 1:25 had a non-sexual meaning with regard to Mary and Joseph. Well, not based on anything the Bible or the first century Church taught. The apostle Matthew wrote that statement, and he wrote unambiguously.

Genesis 4:1 says, "And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain [their firstborn]". That could not be clearer. If Joseph never "knew" his wife Mary at all - ever - till the day he died - then their marriage was not consummated, and it would therefore be invalid. Their marriage would have been a sham. It would not have been legal.

In this Catholic book, reasoning on Mary's perpetual virginity is put like this:

"Since Augustine (De Sacra Virginitate, 4, 4). theologians in general were convinced that Lk 1:34 ["How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man?"] meant that Mary must have made a vow of virginity. But this traditional view has been criticized in recent years [i.e. from the mid 20th century]. Why should Mary have let herself be espoused if she had no intention of leading a married life? Hence many theologians now assume that Mary resolved on a life of virginity only at the moment of the annunciation. She then dedicated herself exclusively and without reserve to the service of the divine plan of salvation. Through this dedication, she conceived the Son of God in her spirit as well as in her body." Encyclopedia of Theology, p.895, article 'Mariology' by Michael Schumaus, Burns & Oates, 1981

Note that that does not face up to Matthew 1:25. Note that it admits to making an assumption. Note that it implies Mary contributed to the conception of the Son of God through a supposed 'dedication'. But the next page deals with her claimed perpetual virginity more clearly:

"The virginity was primarily regarded as virginitas ante partum (Ignatius of Antioch, Justin.) [i.e. virginal before conception and giving birth.] As regards the perpetual virginity of Mary there was no fully general consensus before the Council of Ephesus [431]. It was not taught by Tertullian, Origen or Jerome. But it was upheld by Irenaeus, the apocryphal writings of Clement of Alexandria, the Consultationes Zacchaei et Apollonii, and Gregory of Nyssa.

...Basil held that the contrary opinion was not against the faith. The most powerful defenders of the virginity of Mary in and after the birth were John Chrysostom, Ephraem, Ambrose and Augustine. The conviction of the vrginity of Mary soon grew into belief in her perpetual virginity. From the 4th century on, her perpetual virginity is often mentioned. After the 7th century (Latern Synod of 649), the formula of "virginity before, in and after giving birth" came into use." (Ibid. p. 866 Bold emphases mine)

Note that that also does not face up to Matthew 1:25. There may be some Catholic writings that do, but I have not seen them in the literature I have access to. This leaves your question unanswered in a direct manner, but does answer it as to who reasoned from the 4th century onward to claim that Joseph must never have "known" Mary sexually.

  • Even Protestant scholars like Scot Mcknight admit that Matt 1:25 is not a problem for the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity, and McKnight is hostile towards the doctrine! She his work "The Real mary" which is an evangelical take on Mary. He admits in that book that all of the Catholic Marian doctrines are not only plausible, but well-supported.
    – jaredad7
    Commented May 25, 2023 at 21:05
  • Consider this : Matt 1:25 is more about the MANLINESS of St.Joseph than about the virginity of St. Mary. Matthew wanted to testify that Joseph was ' man enough' to beget children , but sublimated his desire for the upbringing of the Son of God entrusted to his care. The concept becomes clearer when one reads the Gospels as one cohesive unit keeping in mind the 'Will By Word 'of Jesus pronounced from the Cross entrusting Mary' s care to John. Commented May 26, 2023 at 1:57

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