A Weekly Defense of the Faith: Matthew 1:25 – Joseph knew her not until…

Week 2: January 9, 2017

Opening Prayer

Saint Joseph, foster father of Jesus and protector of the Virgin Mary, teach us the hardest lesson we have to learn in life; to love as you loved, by putting our affections to use, and by acting on the sentiments we so often express in our prayers. Teach us to understand what Mary meant when she said, “Be it done to me according to your will.” And what Jesus meant when He said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

Did Mary remain a virgin after she married Joseph?

A big stumbling block to many protestants about Catholic Marian doctrine is the perpetual virginity of Mary. In fact, they will often refer to Matthew 1:25 as proof that Mary only remained a virgin until Jesus was born. Looking at the passage, is that actually what it is saying? Let’s take a look.

Matthew 1:25  but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.

The author of Matthew here is emphasizing that Joseph was not responsible for the conception of Jesus. The Greek word translated “until” does not imply normal marital conduct after Jesus’ birth. The word “until” here does not necessarily mean a change in status after the event has passed. Dads, have you ever gone on trips and said to your children “be good until I get back?”  So are you saying that your kids should start being bad after you get back home?  In Matthew 28:20, Jesus tells us all that He is with us always, “until” the end of the age.  I am sure that no one would say that Jesus is implying that He won’t be with us in heaven after the end of our time here on earth.

The Greek word used in Matthew 1:25 for until, ἕως (heōs), does not imply that he knew her afterward. Look at 2 Samuel 6:23.

2 Samuel 6:23 “Michal, the daughter of Saul, had no children UNTIL the day of her death.”

The same word ἕως (heōs) is being translated here as “until”, Michal obviously didn’t have any children after her death. Or,  in Matthew 22:44,

Matthew 22:44 “Sit at my right UNTIL I make your enemies your footstool.”

Again, the same word ἕως (heōs), translated as “until”, Is Jesus to sit on God’s left after his enemies are made his footstool?

For a really in-depth study on the meaning of ἕως (heōs) I suggest you read Heõs Hou and the Protestant Polemic” by John Pacheco.

Why it was important that Mary remained a virgin ALL her life

Let’s look at it this way. God could have brought Jesus into the world in any way he wanted. But, he chose to bring him into the world in a way that one can deduce, to emphasize that Jesus is the son of God. Had Mary not have been a consecrated virgin and had gone on to have a normal marital relationship with Joseph and had even had other children with him, then it would have called into doubt the virgin birth of Jesus. Think about it: Mary later having children with Joseph would have called into question the fact that Jesus was born of a virgin. It’s not just important that Mary was a virgin at the time of His birth, but that Mary WAS a consecrated virgin, vouched for by the priesthood and everyone knew it. In essence, it helps to safeguard the fact that Jesus is, in fact, divine and that it is right and proper that his mother remained a virgin, pure and undefiled by man. Had Mary had other children, then it is doubtful that anyone would have believed that Jesus was born of a virgin. Imagine this conversation that might have taken place had Mary had other children.

Jewish priest: So, you are supposed to be the messiah?

Jesus: I am.

Jewish priest: It is foretold that the messiah would be born of a virgin.

Jesus: That is true.

Jewish priest: Are you saying your mother was that virgin?

Jesus: Yes

Jewish priest: But you have brothers and sisters, are you telling me they were born of the virgin too?

Jesus: Oh, no, only me.

Jewish priest: Uh, ya right. (walks away shaking his head)

Jesus: No wait, you have to believe me, my mom was a virgin when I was born…really!

No one would have believed him if Mary had indeed had other children. Period. Mary, remaining a perpetual virgin preserves the doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Jesus, and hence, indirectly, the Incarnation. If Mary had other children with Joseph, then everyone would know that she had conceived children by natural means, and the potential would exist to deny that Jesus’ birth was indeed supernatural. Her perpetual virginity underscores the extraordinary miracle of Jesus’ conception.

Joseph1 was an important part of God’s plan in that he was to maintain her protection, for had Mary conceived as a consecrated virgin and not had been in an arrangement to be married to Joseph, chances are that she would have been outcast by society and seen as a woman having a child out of wedlock. It makes complete sense for her to be a consecrated virgin, married to a man who had made a vow to protect her virginity to be the family for the son of God. Also, It’s important to remember that consecrated means to be set aside for God, and once something is set aside and consecrated, it cannot be used for other purposes. (Hint: The site of the Temple in Jerusalem was and is still considered Holy ground, even long after it’s destruction.)

Mary Already Had a Spouse

Mary is properly to be considered the spouse of the Holy Spirit since the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” her and was the formal cause of her virginal conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35). This is why her offspring, Jesus, “will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35), and this is also why Mary is properly called the Mother of God according to the decree of The Council of Ephesus in 431. (See my post last week: A Weekly Defense of the Faith: Holy Mary, Mother of God) Mary’s unique and “supernatural maternity” through the power of the Holy Spirit necessarily precludes her from intimate union with a man. Mary is a virgin because of her “undivided gift of herself” to God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 506).

A really interesting thing here to call to mind is, that the word translated “overshadow” in Luke 1:35 is used nowhere else in the New Testament. In fact, it occurs only one other place in Scripture, if we refer to the Greek translation of the Old Testament that Luke was familiar with.

The book of Exodus tells us how Moses had the Ark of the Covenant placed in the Dwelling, the holy place in a great tent that was to serve as the dwelling-place of God among His people. (The word translated “Dwelling” is often translated “Tabernacle.”)

“Then the cloud covered the meeting tent, and the glory of the LORD filled the Dwelling. Moses could not enter the meeting tent, because the cloud settled down upon it and the glory of the LORD filled the Dwelling” (see Exodus 40:34-35).

In the Greek version of the Old Testament, the word translated “settled down upon” (“the cloud settled down upon it”) is the same as Luke’s word “overshadow” (“the power of the Most High will overshadow you”).

Luke is telling us that the power of God will overshadow Mary just as the power of God overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant in the tent. Oh, and we all know what happened to anyone who touched the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, so why would we expect that Joseph would not treat Mary, the Ark of the Covenant in the New Testament with the exact same reverence. He was her protector, not her lover.

Why was Joseph going to Divorce Mary

Before the Angel of the Lord appeared to Mary, she had already been betrothed to Joseph. Most folks will mistakenly think in modern terms, that betrothal meant that Mary was engaged to Joseph. But in ancient Jewish culture, this was not the case. In fact, by the time the Angel had appeared to Mary, Joesph was already considered to be her “husband” in Matthew 19. By Jewish law and custom, being that they were already married by betrothal, all that was left to accomplish was the actual wedding feast itself.  Joseph and Mary could have already had sexual relations and would not be in sin or violation of Jewish law. Yet, it is very evident that this is not the case. By the statement that Mary makes when the Angel appears to her, it is evident that Joseph and Mary had not had sexual relations, nor did they intend to. Why? Because she was a consecrated virgin.

By the very fact that Joseph was going to “quietly divorce” Mary when he knew that she was with child says volumes. Most will assume, that the reason that Joseph was going to divorce Mary was because he thought she committed adultery. In reality, it’s because Joseph knew that Mary was a consecrated virgin and that the child in her womb was a miraculous thing. Being a righteous Jew he would have known the prophecy that the Savior would come about by being born of a virgin. It can be argued that Joseph was going to divorce her NOT because he was accusing her of adultery, but because he saw himself “unworthy” to be married to the spouse of the Holy Spirit. But again, God knew, it made complete sense for Joseph to marry her and protect her dignity and virginity. (1. see above)

Here is a better explanation from the Ignatius Study Bible.

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary and the Righteous Man

Matthew 1:19
Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Two interpretations attempt to explain why Joseph decided to separate from Mary. They give opposite answers to the question: Who did Joseph think was the unworthy partner in the betrothal?

The Suspicion Theory

This view holds that Joseph suspected Mary of adultery when he discovered that she was pregnant. The troubling news led him to seek a divorce in accordance with Deuteronomy 24:1-4, although he wished to do this secretly to avoid subjecting Mary to the rigorous law of Deuteronomy 22:23-24 which mandates capital punishment for adulterers. Joseph was a just man inasmuch as he resolved to act (to divorce) in accordance with the Mosaic law. This common interpretation suffers from a serious weakness: Joseph’s desire to follow the law for divorce does not square with his willingness to sidestep the law prescribed for adulterers. A truly righteous man would keep God’s law completely, not selectively.

The Reverence Theory

This view holds that Joseph, already informed of the divine miracle within Mary (Matthew 1:18), considered himself unworthy to be part of God’s work in this unusual situation (cf. Lk 5:8; 7:6). His resolve to separate quietly from Mary is thus seen as a reverent and discretionary measure to keep secret the mystery within her. Notably, the expression “to expose her to public disgrace” is weaker in Greek than in the translation: it means that Joseph did not wish to “exhibit” Mary in a public way. The angelic announcement in Matthew 1:20, then, directs Joseph to set aside pious fears that would lead him away from his vocation to be the legal father of the Davidic Messiah. This view more aptly aligns Joseph’s righteousness with his intentions. (Hahn, Scott and Curtis Mitch, The Gospel of Matthew, Ignatius Study Bible, 18).

In essence, we see similar behavior from Peter when he realizes that Jesus is indeed the messiah and decides he is unworthy to be a disciple of Jesus or to be even in His presence.

Luke 5:8
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”


Sidebar: Joe Heschmeyer just published (Jan 5, 2017) an awesome blog post on this very topic on his blog Shameless Popery, check it out for a very thorough discussion on this argument: “And Joseph Knew Her Not: A Case for the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary in the Early Church

Interestingly enough, there is an early writing called “The Protoevangelium of James” written around 120 AD that seems to confirm the theory that Mary was indeed a consecrated virgin and that Jospeh was her designated protector. While not canon, it is worth reading in that it shows what the early church believed. At one point in the writing, the scribe Annas came to Joesph accusing him of committing a grievous sin.

“And Annas the scribe came to him [Joseph] . . . and saw that Mary was with child. And he ran away to the priest and said to him, ‘Joseph, whom you did vouch for, has committed a grievous crime.’ And the priest said, ‘How so?’ And he said, ‘He has defiled the virgin whom he received out of the temple of the Lord and has married her by stealth’”(Protoevangelium of James 4, 7 [A.D. 120])

The priest even accused Mary of the same.

“And the priest said, ‘Mary, why have you done this? And why have you brought your soul low and forgotten the Lord your God?’ . . . And she wept bitterly saying, ‘As the Lord my God lives, I am pure before him, and know not man’” (ibid., 15).

The Early Church has much more to say about the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.


 Did the Early Church believe Mary to be a Perpetual Virgin? Read more here!

A Reflection on Mary the Mother of God

“If anyone does not, according to the Holy Fathers, confess truly and properly that holy Mary, ever virgin and immaculate, is Mother of God, since in this latter age she conceived in true reality without human seed from the Holy Spirit, God the Word Himself, who before the ages was born of God the Father, and gave birth to Him without corruption, her virginity remaining equally inviolate after the birth, let him be condemned. [Pope Martin I, Ecumenical Council, the Lateran Council of 649]

  • When was the Perpetual Virginity of the Virgin Mary officially proclaimed? (Council of the Lateran, 649)
  • Are you aware that the writings of the Early Church show that Mary’s perpetual virginity was important and believed from the very beginning?
  • Do you understand Perpetual Virginity to mean “virgin before, virgin then, virgin ever-after?”
  • Protestants claim that Mary had brothers and sisters. Where do they obtain this belief from?
  • Do you understand that had Mary had other children, then the potential would exist to deny that Jesus’ birth was indeed supernatural?
  • When Jesus was dying on the cross, He entrusted Mary to John. [Jn. 19:26] If He had brothers and sisters, why did He not entrust Mary to a sibling?
  • What do you think of this Bible passage: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” [Isaiah 7:14]
  • Are you aware that in the Old Testament, it was prophesied that Jesus would be born of a virgin?
  • “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” [Matthew 1:23]
  • Why does the Bible always refer to Mary as the mother of Jesus, but never the mother of anyone else?


And Joseph Knew Her Not: A Case for the Perpetual Virginity of Mary by Joe Heschmeyer
Mary’s Perpetual Virginity by Catholics United for the Faith (CUF)
Mother of God Defeats Early Church Heresy by Monica and George Bonina
Why Care About the Perpetual Virginity of Mary? by Joe Heschmeyer
Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant by Steve Ray
Lesson Three: The Ark of the New Covenant by St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology 


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