Virgin Mary “Until”? (Matthew 1:25) (vs. Lucas Banzoli)

Virgin Mary “Until”? (Matthew 1:25) (vs. Lucas Banzoli) September 5, 2022

Lucas Banzoli is a very active Brazilian theological writer, who denies that Jesus is immutable in His Divine Nature (i.e., judging by the standard of trinitarian classical theism, he denies that Jesus is God; hence cannot be classified as either a trinitarian or a Christian). He has a Master’s degree in theology, a degree and postgraduate work in history, a license in letters, and is a history teacher, author of 25 books, as well as blogmaster (but now inactive) for six blogs. He’s active on YouTube.

The words of Lucas Banzoli will be in blue. I use RSV for the Bible passages unless otherwise indicated.

This is my 17th refutation of articles written by Lucas Banzoli. As of yet, I haven’t received a single word in reply to any of them (or if Banzoli has replied to anything, anywhere, he certainly hasn’t informed me of it). Readers may decide for themselves why that is the case.

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I’m replying to Lucas’ article, “E não a conheceu até que…” [“And knew her not until…” ] (8-16-12)

Matthew 1:24-25 (NRSV) . . . Joseph . . . took her as his wife, [25] but had no marital relations with her [RSV: “knew her not”] until she had borne a son . . .

The Catholic Church traditionally teaches the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity, according to which Jesus was an only child and Mary never had any other children besides him, and Jesus’ brothers were merely cousins. As it will be too extensive to deal with all the points that involve this dogma and to refute one by one each of the aberrations that are preached by the Roman Church, I will restrict myself to dealing with a single biblical passage, which for me is enough to decide the subject [Matthew 1:25].

It’s not “enough” in and of itself at all, as I will prove.

If Matthew had meant to imply that Joseph never “knew” Mary, he would have simply written that “he never knew her,” not that he just didn’t know her “until” Jesus was born.

He would have this option ready, at hand, which could be perfectly utilized if he wanted to defend the dogma of the “perpetual virginity of Mary”, and he would end this question once and for all.

There is a place for speculation about “what should have been written if specific view x is to be regarded as true” or what I call humorously  “coulda woulda shoulda theology [or exegesis]”. I’ve done it myself on occasion (even in the last few days), and it’s fun. But of course, it’s always an argument from silence (argumentum ex silentio), which doesn’t carry all that much weight in argumentation and logic.

Hence, Sven Bernecker and Duncan Pritchard, in The Routledge Companion to Epistemology (Routledge, 2010) state that “arguments from silence are, as a rule, quite weak; there are many examples where reasoning from silence would lead us astray” (pp. 64–65). In the final analysis, we can only deal with what the biblical text actually asserts and the possible meaning and its interpretation of any given passage.

But, on the contrary, he makes a point of emphasizing that the time they reserved was the one determined until the birth of Jesus, as he would have to be born of a virgin, to fulfill the prophetic Scriptures (Mt.1:23; Is. 7:14).

Yes, He had to be born of a virgin (all Christians agree about that). But what isn’t often considered is the question: why did Joseph abstain from marital relations for the entire pregnancy if in fact he had marital relations with the Blessed Virgin Mary after Jesus’ birth? This wouldn’t affect the virgin birth because it would have occurred after Jesus was conceived. Nor would anyone know whether it had happened or not.

Rabbinic Judaism did not forbid sexual relations during the whole of pregnancy (especially not the final three months). I think we can safely assume that something of that sort was the custom of the Jews of Jesus’ time. So why did Joseph do this? There is no plausible reason to do so, other than the fact that he intended to never have relations with her (she being the Mother of God). Sometimes the most effective and elegant arguments are the small ones like this (that one could almost not notice at all).

Writing against Helvidius, St. Jerome provocatively asked (making precisely the present argument):

Why then did Joseph abstain at all up to the day of birth? He will surely answer, Because of the Angel’s words, “That which is born in her, &c.” He then who gave so much heed to a vision as not to dare to touch his wife, would he, after he had heard the shepherds, seen the Magi, and known so many miracles, dare to approach the temple of God, the seat of the Holy Ghost, the Mother of his Lord?

Perhaps Lucas (if he ever answers any of my critiques of his work) can offer a plausible explanation to me and our readers, as to why Joseph did that.

He could also have written the same as was said regarding Michal, who “had no children until the day she died” (2 Sam.6:23). With that, he would be making it clear that she had not generated children during her entire existential period (“until her death”).

He “could” have done a lot of things, but that’s neither here nor there, since it is the weak fallacy of an argument from silence. 2 Samuel 6:23 actually supports the Catholic interpretation of “until” in Matthew 1:25 because it perfectly illustrates that “until” can and does (in some instances in the Bible) refer to events up to certain point referred to, but not after. In this case, it couldn’t refer to events after, since Michal died and could no longer possibly have children.

That the “until” is conclusive proof that Mary had other children besides Jesus, plus the fact that the evangelist Matthew could well have written differently that was intended to defend the dogma and not put it in doubt, comes from the fact that on several other occasions this same term appears in the New Testament, and the text leaves no doubt that “until” marks the end of one event to give way to another. [he provides Rev 2:25, 1 Cor 11:26, Acts 4:3, Mt 17:9 as examples of this dynamic] . . . Again, the “until” marks the end of an event, designating its limit. 

With so much overwhelming biblical evidence that “until” sets a boundary that is passed with the end of the restriction, why should we think that it is only different in the case of Matthew 1:25? What occurs in the text of Matthew 1:25 is strictly the same structure that occurs in the texts that we have just passed.

We do because there are other examples (conveniently ignored by Lucas) where this pattern is not present. Such variation for until and the Greek it translates either exists in Scripture or it does not. I will shortly show that it does. Once that is established, then Lucas can no longer deny that it ever happens; nor can he deny the possibility that it happened similarly in Matthew 1:25.

That changes everything in the debate. Perhaps that’s why he chose to totally ignore any counter-examples: in order to keep his readers in the dark, and ignorant. I’m not impressed, and I dare say many other people won’t be, either, when they read this critique of such a pitiable, cynical “research” methodology.

The fact that Matthew also adds that Mary gave birth to her “firstborn” (v.25) also indicates that she had other children.

It does not at all. It simply means He was her first son to be born. Hence, God Himself defines the term in Numbers 8:16: “all that open the womb, the first-born . . .” (cf. Ex 13:1-2).  These children “open the womb” whether they later have siblings or not. The two concepts are distinct. When our oldest son Paul was born, he was our “firstborn.” And he would remain the firstborn, whether we had any other children or not, just as our first grandchild (a girl) remains the first and the oldest, whether or not our two married sons and their wives have any more.

Our third grandchild and first grandson (due around Halloween in a little less than two months from this writing) will remain our “firstborn [and oldest] grandson” whether or not any more are born. Additional children don’t change those facts.

Otherwise, he would simply have written that Jesus was his “only son”, as the Bible often states in other cases, where in fact there were no other brothers in the family (Lk.7:12; Lk.9:38). , as in the case of the widow of Nain, whose “only son” (Lk.7:12) had died, and of the man who wanted to cast out the devil from his son, because he was her “only son” (Lk.9:38). ).

More arguments from silence . . . No need to dwell on them, as they have no force.

In short, Matthew neither writes that Joseph never had relations with her,

Nor did he write that he did, as we shall shortly see, in four analogous instances of “until” that carry the same meaning that Catholics maintain is the case at Matthew 1:25.

nor that Jesus was her only son.

That’s true, in terms of that phrase, but on the other hand, it’s also true that Jesus’ “brethren” in Scripture are never called the children of Mary, and Mary is never called their mother, as in the case of Jesus (e.g., Jn 2:1; 19:25). In at least two instances, these “brothers” were mentioned but Mary wasn’t called their mother; only Jesus‘ mother (Mk 6:3; Acts 1:14). Moreover, Luke 2:41-42 states:

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. [42] And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom;

We don’t see a word about any other children, who certainly would have gone with Joseph and Mary to observe the Passover in Jerusalem. This means that if Mary had other children, there was at least a twelve-year gap, which is hardly likely, feasible, or plausible in those days, with a young married woman of approximately 16-28 years of age. Generally (as it continued to be the case up to very recent times), wives had children one after another.

Then afterwards, the text states that “he went down with them and came to Nazareth” (2:51). If the other supposed siblings had also been there, the text would have presumably read something like, “he went down with his brothers and sisters and parents and came to Nazareth”. But it didn’t, and we submit that it didn’t because those siblings didn’t exist.

Finally, we have the strong evidence that there were no siblings of Jesus at the time He was crucified, since He committed the care of His mother to John: “the disciple whom he loved” (Jn 19:26-27). This would certainly not have happened (particularly in Jewish culture at that time), had any supposed siblings been alive. Lucas argues elsewhere that this person was actually James, and a literal sibling, but the exegetical arguments for his being John are very strong.

These are all arguments from silence, too — I hasten to add –, but if someone skeptical of Mary’s perpetual virginity insists on making them, we can also return the favor. Goose and gander . . . And these things are harder to explain than the “until” Mary and Joseph scenario, where we have perfectly analogous biblical counter-examples of “until” that cast into serious doubt the Protestant skeptical position. In other words, Catholic arguments from silence in this respect (if they must be made) are much better than Protestant ones.

Just as Jesus was the “firstborn among many brethren” (Rom.8:29) in the spiritual realm, he was also the firstborn of many brethren in the natural realm (Mk.6:3). As such, Catholic claims against the validity of Matthew 1:25 are baseless, as are their attempts to defend a dogma that has no biblical framework to back it up.

It’s not just “Catholic claims.” Here are two pretty famous non-Catholics who think Lucas’ (and later — not early — Protestantism’s) theory about Matthew 1:25 and “until” is bunk, too:

When Matthew says that Joseph did not know Mary carnally until she had brought forth her son, it does not follow that he knew her subsequently; on the contrary, it means that he never did know her . . . This babble . . . is without justification . . . he has neither noticed nor paid any attention to either Scripture or the common idiom. (Martin Luther, Luther’s Worksvol. 45:206, 212-213 / That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew [1523] )

The inference he [Helvidius] drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband . . . No just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words . . . as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called ‘first-born’; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin . . . What took place afterwards the historian does not inform us . . . No man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation. (John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, translated by William Pringle, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1949, vol. I, 107)

And now, to conclude, and as promised, here are four examples of the use of “until” in Scripture that are analogous to the Catholic interpretation of Matthew 1:25:

Acts 8:40 But Philip was found at Azo’tus, and passing on he preached the gospel to all the towns till he came to Caesare’a. 

Did Philip never preach again after he arrived in Caesarea? No. In Acts 21:8 he’s called “Philip the evangelist.” So he was still doing the same stuff. But hey, Lucas contended that there is “overwhelming biblical evidence” that ” ‘until’ marks the end of an event, designating its limit.” Therefore, employing his “analysis”, Philip should have retired and set up a lemonade stand by the sea. “Till” in this verse translates the same Greek word as the “until” of Matthew 1:25: ἕως (heós): Strong’s word #2193.

Acts 25:21 But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I commanded him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.”

Was Paul, therefore, not held in jail after he met Caesar, because “until” is in this passage? No. He was to be held in custody while traveling (Acts 27:1) and also when he arrived in Rome (Acts 29:16). But Lucas has informed us that there is “overwhelming biblical evidence” that “‘until’ marks the end of an event, designating its limit.” So according to him, Paul must have been set free. Not! “Until” in this verse is, again, the same Greek word as the “until” of Matthew 1:25: heós.

1 Corinthians 15:25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

Will Christ’s reign therefore come to an end? Nope. Luke 1:33 informs us: “he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end” (cf. Rev 11:15). This verse (so Lucas thinks, if he is consistent) would entail His reign ending at some point. 

1 Timothy 4:13 Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching.

Does this mean that Timothy would or should stop preaching after Paul arrives? After all, Lucas says that there is “overwhelming biblical evidence” that ” ‘until’ marks the end of an event, designating its limit.” Therefore, employing his “reasoning”, Timothy ought to have ceased preaching and teaching when Paul showed up. But of course he didn’t, and Paul later commissioned him to do precisely those things (see 2 Tim 4:2, 5). “Till” translates the same Greek word as Matthew 1:25 again (heós).

My friend and fellow apologist John Martignoni provided a good summary, in writing about the same topic:

[T]he word “until” does not always and everywhere mean a change of circumstance.  Yes, that is the most common usage – Condition A is true until this point of time then it is no longer true – but it is not the only usage.  As I have clearly shown, from the Bible, “until” can also just be referring to what happens up to a certain point in time, without implying what happens after that point in time.  It does not automatically mean that the condition changed after that point in time.  So, the fact that Joseph did not know Mary “until” Jesus was born, does not necessarily infer anything about what happened between Joseph and Mary after Jesus was born.

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Photo credit: Saint Joseph and the Christ Child (1640), by Guido Reni (1575-1642) [public domain / Wikipedia]

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Summary: Brazilian Protestant apologist Lucas Banzoli vainly makes a failed linguistic argument that the “until” in Matthew 1:25 means that Mary was not a perpetual virgin.

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