Category Archives: virgin birth

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

So I was reading Matthew chapter 1 in Greek and I stumbled upon this little gem:

1.25 καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως [οὗ] ἔτεκεν υἱόν: καὶ ἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν

That reads, in my own translation “And he did not know her (Mary) until she gave birth to a son: and called him Jesus”

So it looks like the straightforward meaning of this is that Joseph had sex with (i.e. “knew”) Mary after she had given birth to Jesus. Of course, there is a ready made apologetic for the plain meaning of this sentence, since Catholics have had over a thousand years to debate and prepare it:

Till she brought forth her firstborn son… From these words Helvidius and other heretics most impiously inferred that the blessed Virgin Mary had other children besides Christ; but St. Jerome shows, by divers[e] examples, that this expression of the Evangelist was a manner of speaking usual among the Hebrews, to denote by the word until, only what is done, without any regard to the future. Thus it is said, Genesis 8:6 and 8:7, that Noe sent forth a raven, which went forth, and did not return till the waters were dried up on the earth. That is, did not return any more. Also Isaias 46:4, God says: I am till you grow old. Who dare infer that God should then cease to be: Also in the 1 Maccabees 5:54, And they went up to mount Sion with joy and gladness, and offered holocausts, because not one of them was slain till they had returned in peace. That is, not one was slain before or after they had returned. God saith to his divine Son: Sit on my right hand till I make thy enemies thy footstool. Shall he sit no longer after his enemies are subdued? Yea and for all eternity. St. Jerome also proves by Scripture examples, that an only begotten son, was also called firstborn, or first begotten: because according to the law, the firstborn males were to be consecrated to God; Sanctify unto me, saith the Lord, every firstborn that opens the womb among the children of Israel, etc. Exodus 13:2.

The problem is that this makes sense if you assume the Perpetual Virginity of Mary from the start. But was that what Matthew intended? Matthew wasn’t a Catholic, so we have no idea whether he subscribed to the perpetual virginity of Mary, thinking of her as though she were some sort of vestal virgin. Maybe he put that in there to cement the idea that Jesus was born before Joseph had sexual relations with her.

Catholics, having syncretized a lot of their dogmas/traditions with the mores of the (pagan) Roman Empire, would be more likely to argue for that tradition based on being Romans. They would also have had traditions of aceticism since this undercurrent was around from at least the 2nd century; the idea of flesh and sexual relations being “sinful” inherited from the Gnostics and Marcion. They did get the basic layout of their NT from Marcion anyway.

There’s also no reason why Joseph would keep Mary around, being wed with her, and break the traditional Jewish requirement to be fruitful and multiply with his young nubile wife; Mary was probably around 13 or 14 when she gave birth to Jesus (assuming a modicum of the story is true). Joseph being a celibate, also, implies proto-Orthodoxy traditions of acetisim and not any legitimate (that we know of) early 1st century CE / late 1st century BCE Judaism.

Anyway, we should take Matt’s own writing in and of itself into account to determine what he meant. Earlier in the same chapter, a couple of verses before 25, he writes:

17 Πᾶσαι οὖν αἱ γενεαὶ ἀπὸ Ἀβραὰμ ἕως Δαυὶδ γενεαὶ δεκατέσσαρες, καὶ ἀπὸ Δαυὶδ ἕως τῆς μετοικεσίας Βαβυλῶνος γενεαὶ δεκατέσσαρες, καὶ ἀπὸ τῆς μετοικεσίας Βαβυλῶνος ἕως τοῦ Χριστοῦ γενεαὶ δεκατέσσαρες.

That is, “All of the generations from Abraham until David were fourteen generations, and from David until the Babylonian Exile fourteen generations, and from the Babylonian Exile until Christ fourteen generations.”

So what is the evidence we have? For one, we don’t know whether Matt was a Catholic, so apologetics from Catholic Jerome two centuries later might not represent what Matt himself was thinking. Second, Matt doesn’t seem to use ἕως in other contexts to signify “never”. Third, the phrasing of the sentence seems to have been written to emphasize that Joseph didn’t have sex with Mary until after Jesus was born because Matt’s emphasis was on the virgin birth of Jesus, not the perpetual virginity of Mary. Mary all but disappears from Matt’s special material after this introduction, meaning that her role as the immaculate conduit for Jesus’ birth was over in Matt’s mind. If Matt had intended for Mary to be depicted as a virgin for the rest of her life, he might have mentioned it elsewhere.

Of course, none of this is intended to dialogue with Catholics. Just my own lucubration.

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Posted by on October 5, 2012 in apologetics, greek, virgin birth


γεννηθη του παρθενου

(Virgin Born)

Romulus and Remus (traditionally c. 771 BCΕ–c. 717 BCΕ and c. 771 BCΕ–c. 753 BCΕ respectively) are the traditional founders of Rome, appearing in Roman mythology as the twin sons of the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia, fathered by the god of war, Mars. According to the tradition recorded as history by Plutarch and Livy, Romulus served as the first King of Rome.

Romulus slew Remus with a shovel over a dispute about which one of the two brothers had the support of the local deities to rule the new city and give it his name. The name they gave the city was Rome. Supposedly, Romulus had stood on one hill and Remus another, and a circle of birds flew over Romulus, signifying that he should be king. After founding Rome, Romulus not only created the Roman Legions and the Roman Senate, but also added citizens to his new city by abducting the women of the neighboring Sabine tribes, which resulted in the mixture of the Sabines and Romans into one people. Romulus would become one of ancient Rome’s greatest conquerors, adding large amounts of territory and people to the dominion of Rome.

Romulus finally “disappears” one day during a storm and his followers assume he ascended to heaven

Others think that it was neither in the temple of Vulcan nor when the senators alone were present that he disappeared, but that he was holding an assembly of the people outside the city near the so called Goat’s Marsh, when suddenly strange and unaccountable disorders with incredible changes filled the air; the light of the sun failed, and night came down upon them, not with peace and quiet, but with awful peals of thunder and furious blasts driving rain from every quarter, during which the multitude dispersed and fled, but the nobles gathered closely together; and when the storm had ceased, and the sun shone out, and the multitude, now gathered together again in the same place as before, anxiously sought for their king, the nobles would not suffer them to inquire into his disappearance nor busy themselves about it, but exhorted them all to honour and revere Romulus, since he had been caught up into heaven, and was to be a benevolent god for them instead of a good king. The multitude, accordingly, believing this and rejoicing in it, went away to worship him with good hopes of his favour; but there were some, it is said, who tested the matter in a bitter and hostile spirit, and confounded the patricians with the accusation of imposing a silly tale upon the people, and of being themselves the murderers of the king.

– Plutarch, The Life of Romulus

If we still lived in the Roman empire and all spoke Latin, there would be no doubts about the historicity of Romulus and Remus; born between the union of a god (Mars) and a lifelong virgin, with Romulus ascending to heaven after his work on Earth had been completed.

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Posted by on November 30, 2009 in remus, rome, romulus, virgin birth



From Wikipedia:

The Second Book of Enoch (also called “Slavonic Enoch”) is apparently a Jewish sectarian work of the 1st century CE. The last section of the work, the Exaltation of Melchizedek, tells how Melchizedek was born of a virgin, Sofonim (or Sopanima), the wife of Nir, a brother of Noah. The child came out from his mother after she had died and sat on the bed beside her corpse, already physically developed, clothed, speaking and blessing the Lord, and marked with the badge of priesthood. Forty days later, Melchizedek was taken by the archangel Gabriel (Michael in some manuscripts) to the Garden of Eden and was thus preserved from the Deluge without having to be in Noah’s Ark.

The crucial arguments for the early dating of the text have very largely been linked to the themes of the Temple in Jerusalem and its ongoing practices and customs. Scholarly efforts have been in this respect mostly directed toward finding hints that the Sanctuary was still standing when the original text was composed. Scholars noted that the text gives no indication that the destruction of the Temple had already occurred at the time of the book’s composition. Critical readers of the pseudepigraphic would have some difficulties finding any explicit expression of feelings of sadness or mourning about the loss of the sanctuary.

Affirmations of the value of animal sacrifice and Enoch’s halakhic instructions found in 2 Enoch 59 also appear to be fashioned not in the “preservationist,” mishnaic-like mode but rather as if they reflected sacrificial practices that still existed when the author was writing his book. The author tries legitimize the central place of worship, which through the reference to the place Ahuzan, which is a cryptic name for a Jewish Temple.

Scholars have also previously noted in the text some indications of the ongoing practice of pilgrimage to the central place of worship. These indications could be expected in a text written in the Alexandrian Diaspora. Thus in his instructions to the children, Enoch repeatedly encourages them to bring the gifts before the face of God for the remission of sins, a practice which appears to recall well-known sacrificial customs widespread in the Second Temple period. Further, the Slavonic apocalypse also contains a direct command to visit the Temple three times a day, an inconsistency if the sanctuary had been already destroyed.

So it seems as though the three themes (son of Joseph, being raised after three days, virgin birth) that were originally thought to be Christian inventions seem to have precursors in heterodox Jewish literature before the Christian era.

Justin Martyr, of course, evidences that virgin births were common in pagan religions:

First Apology Ch. 21

And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter.

First Apology Ch. 22

And if we assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation, let this, as said above, be no extraordinary thing to you, who say that Mercury is the angelic word of God. But if any one objects that He was crucified, in this also He is on a par with those reputed sons of Jupiter of yours, who suffered as we have now enumerated.

And if we even affirm that He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you accept of Perseus. And in that we say that He made whole the lame, the paralytic, and those born blind, we seem to say what is very similar to the deeds said to have been done by Aesculapius.

Dialogue with Trypho Ch. 67

And Trypho answered, “The Scripture has not, ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son,’ but, ‘Behold, the young woman shall conceive, and bear a son,’ and so on, as you quoted.

But the whole prophecy refers to Hezekiah, and it is proved that it was fulfilled in him, according to the terms of this prophecy.

Moreover, in the fables of those who are called Greeks, it is written that Perseus was begotten of Danae, who was a virgin; he who was called among them Zeus having descended on her in the form of a golden shower.

What’s interesting is that neither Mark nor Paul mention anything about a virgin birth. Meaning that the virin birth of Jesus wasn’t any fundamental Christian dogma prior to the writing of Matthew and Luke. Ignatius writes about Jesus’ miraculous birth, but according to tradition he was writing around 96 CE, almost in the 2nd century… and his letters have been heavily interpolated. Cerinthus, a contemporary of Ignatius, said that Jesus was born from normal means by Mary and Joseph. It seems that Justin Martyr is the first unambiguous Christian witness to the virgin birth dogma.

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Posted by on November 5, 2009 in melchizedek, virgin birth

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