Q. Why does the Catholic Church continue to teach the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially after the virgin birth of Jesus, in view of Mt 1:25 which says “But he (Joseph) had no sexual relations with her before she gave birth to her son.” (John M Chin)
(Text taken from The Good News Bible – Today’s English Version)
A. The Church has four defined doctrines of the Blessed Virgin Mary: 1) Divine Maternity (that she is the Mother of God); 2) Perpetual Virginity (that she remained a virgin throughout her entire life); 3) Bodily Assumption; 4) Immaculate Conception.
The common objection to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s perpetual virginity is that the Gospels refer to the ‘brothers and sisters’ of Jesus (Mt 12:46; 13:55). In the Hebrew language, the term ‘brother’ refers to any close male relatives. Likewise ‘sister’ refers to any close female relatives.
James and Joseph, Simon and Jude are the ‘brothers’ of Jesus mentioned in Mt 13:55. But according to Mt 27:56 and Mk 15:40, James and Joseph are said to be the sons of another Mary (possibly Mary, the wife of Clopas c.f. Jn 19:25).
In Mk 6:17, we are told that Herod had married Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife even though we know from history that Philip was the half brother of Herod.
The text referred to above is taken from the Good News Bible. It says Joseph has no sexual relations with her (Mary) before she gave birth to her son. The assumption is that Joseph had relations with Mary after she gave birth to her son. This may not be an accurate translation of the original Greek text.
Following the Greek text of Mt 1:25 strictly, a literal English translation is: “and he (Joseph) knew her not until she had borne a son.”
In English, when something is negated until a particular time, the occurrence after that time is usually assumed. However in Greek and in Semitic (Aramaic, Hebrew) this type of assumption does not apply.
In Greek, the term ‘until’ of itself does not direct our attention to what happened afterwards; it simply points out what has happened up to that moment, i.e. the virginal conception of Jesus Christ by a unique intervention of God.
We find the same word in Jn 9:18, where it says that the Pharisees did not believe in the miraculous cure of the man blind from birth ‘until’ they called his parents. However, neither did they believe afterwards. Consequently, the word ‘until’ does not refer to what happens later.
Coming back to Mt 1:18-25, the text in discussion, Matthew’s interest is in what preceded the birth of Jesus and not what happened after. His purpose is to stress that Mary was a virgin when she conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit and remained a virgin until Jesus was born.
In itself, Mt 1:25 does not tell us anything about what happened by way of marital relations after Jesus was born. It is only when this verse is combined with Matthew’s references to Mary and the ‘brothers’ (12:46) and the ‘sisters’ (13:55) of Jesus that some people began to speculate that Joseph and Mary could have other children beside Jesus.
In short, the text is not concerned with the period that followed and, taken by itself, does not tell us anything about Mary’s continued virginity. This is assumed by the remainder of the Gospel and by the tradition of the Church.
Fr Richard Ng