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Mary’s Perpetual Virginity . . . Did Joseph Know Her As A Husband Knows His Wife?

April 20, 2014 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


Part 3

“And he [Joseph] did not know her till she brought forth her firstborn son. And he called his name Jesus” — Matt. 1:25.
It seems pretty evident for those non-Catholic Christians who disagree with Luther and Zwingli on the issue of Mary’s perpetual virginity that, after the birth of Jesus, Mary would have had other children in due course. Again, the argument is fallacious and inconclusive. And it is very simple to demonstrate it.
The great Bible scholar St. Jerome (fourth century), who translated the whole Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, was the first to answer it. The words till, and until, reflect a manner of speaking, usual among the Hebrews, which refers to a state or condition which may or may not continue after a given point in time: They say nothing about what happens after: in Latin donec, in Greek heos, in Hebrew aths. The words convey the same meaning, that is, they speak only about what happens up to a particular point but say nothing about what happens after.
“And he [Joseph] did not know her till she brought forth her firstborn son” simply means that up to the birth of the Divine Child, they did not have marital relations, without implying anything after the birth, one way or the other.
St. Jerome himself quotes a few examples:
Gen. 8:6-9: “At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window which he had made in the ark [and released a raven. It flew to and fro until the waters had dried off the earth.]” But the raven did not return anymore.
Gen. 28:15 [Jacob’s dream]: “Behold I am with you and will keep you in all places you may go, and will bring you again into this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you of.”
Did God leave Jacob after He had done what he had spoken to him of? Of course not. God remained with Jacob all the time.
Numb. 14:19: (Moses is praying for the people): “Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people, according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”
Did God cease to forgive His people from then on? Of course not.
Esdras 2:59-63: Regarding men claiming to be sons of an Israelite priest, but could not prove their genealogy, and so were cast out of the priesthood. “And Athersatha said to them, that they should not eat of the Holy of Holies, till there arose a priest learned and perfect.”
Were those cast-out men allowed to eat of the Holy of Holies after a priest learned and perfect arose? No, they did not. As they could not prove their genealogy, their condition remained the same.
Psalm 110:1: God says to His Divine Son: “Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool” — Will the Son of God cease to sit at His right hand after the enemies are subdued? Of course not.
Job 27:5: “Till I die I will not renounce my innocence.” Did Job renounce his innocence after his death? Of course not.
Isaiah 22:12-14: The prophet Isaias is calling Israel to penance, but all they want to do is to enjoy themselves. So the prophet says: “You feast and celebrate, you slaughter oxen and butcher sheep, you eat meat and drink wine: ‘eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’ This reaches the ears of the Lord of hosts — you shall not be pardoned this wickedness till you die, says the Lord, the God of hosts.”
Were those merry eaters and drinkers pardoned after they die? Of course not.
Isaiah 46:4: God says, “Till you grow old, I am.” Did God cease to be after the prophet grew old? Of course not.
Osee 10:12: “It is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.” Should the people cease to seek the Lord after He come and rain righteousness upon them? Of course not.
Phil. 1:9-10: “And this I pray that . . . you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ.”
Is St. Paul telling the people that they should cease to be sincere and without offense after the day of Christ? Of course not.
St. Paul to Timothy: “Until I come, be diligent in reading [the Scriptures] in exhortation and in teaching” — 1 Tim. 4:12-13. Is St. Paul telling his brother/son Timothy that he should stop reading the Scriptures after he comes? Of course not.
In the Gospel of St. John, chapter 9, we read the story of the man born blind, whom Jesus healed, and who was interrogated by the Jews. And “the Jews did not believe him until they called his parents” — John 9:18. Did the Jews believe the ex-blind man after his parents came? No, they did not.
St. Matthew (12:15-21) quotes Isaiah (42:1-4): “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoking wick he will not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory; and in his name will the gentiles hope” — v. 20. Will the Gentiles cease to hope in Him after He sends forth judgment unto victory? Of course not.
I saved the best quote for the end. We remember good King David, who married the beautiful Michol, the daughter of Saul the first king. They had a big fight, as it happens sometimes even among the best. But as Michol did not fight well, God punished her with childlessness: She did not bear children until she died — 2 Kings 6:23.
Did Michol start bearing children after her death? If she did, she was a very remarkable lady indeed!

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“And he [Joseph] did not know her till she brought forth her firstborn son. And he called his name Jesus” — Matt. 1:25.
All that St. Matthew is saying is that the child was not fathered by Joseph. The Jerusalem Bible gives the right translation:
“Although he had no intercourse with her, she gave birth to her firstborn son.”
Conclusion: In biblical terms, the words, till, or until, do not necessarily bear the strict meaning given by those who wish to oppose the faith of the Early Christians about our Lady’s perpetual virginity. Their argument is inconclusive. Those words refer only to what happened before a given point in time, and say nothing about what happens after. In some cases yes, in other cases no. Those who oppose the teaching of our Lady’s perpetual virginity must go somewhere else to find their argument.
I finish with a conclusive quote: “There have been certain folk who have wished to suggest from this passage [Matt. 1:25] that the Virgin Mary had other children than the son of God, and that Joseph had then dwelt with her later. But what folly this is! For the Gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply wished to make clear Joseph’s obedience and to show that Joseph had been well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His Angel to Mary. He had therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company [as husband and wife].”
Who wrote that? An Early Church Father? A medieval Pope? A contemporary lay apologist? No. it was John Calvin, the founding father of the Presbyterian religion (Calvini Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Braunschweig-Berlin, 1863-1900, Sermon on Matthew, 1:22-25, published in 1562).
Let Protestants of all orientations, especially Presbyterians, stop the folly and listen attentively to their founding father, who, at least in this aspect, retained the faith of the apostles of Jesus Christ.
Next article: Was the firstborn son followed by a second-born?

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(Raymond de Souza is director of the Evangelization and Apologetics Office of the Winona Diocese, Minn.; EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI], president of the Sacred Heart Institute and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His web site is:

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