Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Matthew 1:25 - What Does "Until" Mean?

Matt 1:25 καὶ [I οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν I] αὐτὴν ἕως οὗ ἔτεκεν υἱόν· καὶ ἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν. (GNT:SBL)

Matt 1:25: but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. (NRSV)

(Note: [I   I] in the GNT:SBL text encloses a word or phrase that's rendered idiomatically in the accompanying interlinear translation.)

Does this verse mean that after Mary had borne Jesus, Joseph then began having marital relations with her?

Or does this verse mean that after Mary had borne Jesus, Joseph continued to abstain from having marital relations with her?

Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians argue, in support of the perpetual virginity of Mary, that "until" in this verse does not mean that after Mary had borne Jesus, Joseph and she had marital relations. I.e., they assert that "until" (ἕως οὗ in the Greek) does not automatically or always imply that there is a change of condition after the "until" event occurs.

They are correct in this. The context of the "until" phrase, the nature and setting of the action or activity - i.e., what's being done or not being done "until" - has to be considered in order to determine if the "until" event marks or causes a change in the prior action or non-action.

So having agreed with their point, how is ἕως οὗ in Matthew 1:25 most likely supposed to be understood by the reader?

A search for all occurrences of ἕως οὗ in the New Testament yields the following results:



Greek New Testament: SBL Edition


The New Revised Standard Version



καὶ [I οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν I] αὐτὴν ἕως οὗ ἔτεκεν υἱόν· καὶ ἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν.

but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.


Ἄλλην παραβολὴν ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς· Ὁμοία ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ζύμῃ, ἣν λαβοῦσα γυνὴ ἐνέκρυψεν εἰς ἀλεύρου σάτα τρία ἕως οὗ ἐζυμώθη ὅλον.

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”


Καὶ εὐθέως ἠνάγκασεν τοὺς μαθητὰς ἐμβῆναι εἰς πλοῖον καὶ προάγειν αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ πέραν, ἕως οὗ ἀπολύσῃ τοὺς ὄχλους.

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.


Καὶ καταβαινόντων αὐτῶν ἐκ τοῦ ὄρους ἐνετείλατο αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων· Μηδενὶ εἴπητε τὸ ὅραμα ἕως οὗ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγερθῇ.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”


ὁ δὲ οὐκ ἤθελεν, ἀλλὰ ἀπελθὼν ἔβαλεν αὐτὸν εἰς φυλακὴν ἕως οὗ ἀποδῷ τὸ ὀφειλόμενον.

But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.


καὶ ὀργισθεὶς ὁ κύριος αὐτοῦ παρέδωκεν αὐτὸν τοῖς βασανισταῖς ἕως οὗ ἀποδῷ πᾶν τὸ ὀφειλόμενον.

And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.


Τότε ἔρχεται μετʼ αὐτῶν ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἰς χωρίον λεγόμενον Γεθσημανὶ, καὶ λέγει τοῖς μαθηταῖς· Καθίσατε αὐτοῦ ἕως οὗ ἀπελθὼν ἐκεῖ προσεύξωμαι.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”


ὁμοία ἐστὶν ζύμῃ, ἣν λαβοῦσα γυνὴ ἔκρυψεν εἰς ἀλεύρου σάτα τρία ἕως οὗ ἐζυμώθη ὅλον.

It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”


Ἢ τίς γυνὴ δραχμὰς ἔχουσα δέκα, ἐὰν ἀπολέσῃ δραχμὴν μίαν, οὐχὶ ἅπτει λύχνον καὶ σαροῖ τὴν οἰκίαν καὶ ζητεῖ ἐπιμελῶς ἕως οὗ εὕρῃ;

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?


λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν, οὐ μὴ πίω ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν ἀπὸ τοῦ γενήματος τῆς ἀμπέλου ἕως οὗ ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἔλθῃ.

for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”


καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἐξαποστέλλω τὴν ἐπαγγελίαν τοῦ πατρός μου ἐφʼ ὑμᾶς· ὑμεῖς δὲ καθίσατε ἐν τῇ πόλει ἕως οὗ ἐνδύσησθε ἐξ ὕψους δύναμιν.

And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”


ἀποκρίνεται Ἰησοῦς· Τὴν ψυχήν σου ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ θήσεις; ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, οὐ μὴ ἀλέκτωρ φωνήσῃ ἕως οὗ ἀρνήσῃ με τρίς.

Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times. (more literally: a cock will certainly not crow until)


Γενομένης δὲ ἡμέρας ποιήσαντες συστροφὴν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἀνεθεμάτισαν ἑαυτοὺς λέγοντες μήτε φαγεῖν μήτε πιεῖν ἕως οὗ ἀποκτείνωσιν τὸν Παῦλον.

In the morning the Jews joined in a conspiracy and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they had killed Paul.


οἵτινες προσελθόντες τοῖς ἀρχιερεῦσιν καὶ τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις εἶπαν· Ἀναθέματι ἀνεθεματίσαμεν ἑαυτοὺς μηδενὸς γεύσασθαι ἕως οὗ ἀποκτείνωμεν τὸν Παῦλον.

They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food until we have killed Paul.


σὺ οὖν μὴ πεισθῇς αὐτοῖς, ἐνεδρεύουσιν γὰρ αὐτὸν ἐξ [I αὐτῶν I] ἄνδρες πλείους τεσσεράκοντα, οἵτινες ἀνεθεμάτισαν ἑαυτοὺς μήτε φαγεῖν μήτε πιεῖν ἕως οὗ ἀνέλωσιν αὐτόν, καὶ νῦν εἰσιν ἕτοιμοι προσδεχόμενοι [I τὴν ἀπὸ σοῦ ἐπαγγελίαν I].

But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him. They have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they kill him. They are ready now and are waiting for your consent.”


τοῦ δὲ Παύλου ἐπικαλεσαμένου τηρηθῆναι αὐτὸν εἰς τὴν τοῦ Σεβαστοῦ διάγνωσιν, ἐκέλευσα τηρεῖσθαι αὐτὸν ἕως οὗ ἀναπέμψω αὐτὸν πρὸς Καίσαρα.

But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of his Imperial Majesty, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to the emperor.”


καὶ ἔχομεν βεβαιότερον τὸν προφητικὸν λόγον, ᾧ καλῶς ποιεῖτε προσέχοντες ὡς λύχνῳ φαίνοντι ἐν αὐχμηρῷ τόπῳ, ἕως οὗ ἡμέρα διαυγάσῃ καὶ φωσφόρος ἀνατείλῃ ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν·

So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

From examining the above, I would suggest that in almost all the occurrences of ἕως οὗ in the New Testament, the "until" event marked the time at which a change in the (non-)action or (non-)activity occurred or could occur. I'd categorize and annotate these New Testament verses as follows:

A CHANGE IN THE PRIOR ACTION:

Matt 13:33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
After it was leavened, she no longer needed to mix in any yeast.

Matt 17:9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
After the Son of Man has been raised from the dead, they can tell about the vision.

Matt 18:30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.
After he paid the debt, he would be released from prison.

Matt 18:34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.
After he paid the debt, his torture would end.

Matt 26:36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
After Jesus finished praying, they would no longer be under this request to sit there.

Luke 13:21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
After it was leavened, she no longer needed to mix in any yeast.

Luke 15:8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?
After she finds the coin, she no longer searches for it.

Luke 22:18 for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
After the kingdom of God comes, Jesus will not be under his restriction against drinking of the fruit of the vine.

Luke 24:49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
After they have been clothed with power, they would no longer be under this command to stay in the city.

John 13:38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.” (more literally: a cock will certainly not crow until)
After Peter has denied Jesus three times, a cock will (or can) crow.

Acts 23:12 In the morning the Jews joined in a conspiracy and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they had killed Paul.
After they had killed Paul, they could again eat or drink.

Acts 23:14 They went to the chief priests and elders and said, “We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food until we have killed Paul.
After they have killed Paul, they could again taste (eat) food.

Acts 23:21 But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him. They have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they kill him. They are ready now and are waiting for your consent.”
After they kill him, they can again eat or drink.

Acts 25:21 But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of his Imperial Majesty, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to the emperor.”
After he could send Paul to the emperor, Paul would no longer be held by him.

NOT NECESSARILY A CHANGE IN THE PRIOR ACTION:

2 Pet 1:19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
After the day dawns and the morning star rises in their hearts, they might still do well to be attentive to the prophetic word.

MEANS "WHILE" OR "DURING WHICH TIME":

Matt 14:22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.
The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition used above, as well as most other critical Greek texts, reads "go on ahead of him (αὐτὸν); the NRSV apparently prefers a reading that omits the "him." So this could perhaps fit under A CHANGE IN THE PRIOR ACTION, i.e., While he would stay behind for now, after he had dismissed the crowds he would join them on the other side. The Greek reads Καὶ εὐθέως ἠνάγκασεν (aorist indicative) τοὺς μαθητὰς ἐμβῆναι (aorist infinitive) εἰς πλοῖον καὶ προάγειν (present infinitive) αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ πέραν, ἕως οὗ ἀπολύσῃ (aorist subjunctive) τοὺς ὄχλους. Jesus could have been telling them to be preceding him to the other side, rather than saying that they would indeed get there before he'd join them. This, too, could fit under A CHANGE IN THE PRIOR ACTION, i.e., While they would be preceding him to the other side for now, after he had dismissed the crowds he would join them or go ahead of them.



So this brings us to the verse under discussion:

Matt 1:25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Does this mean that after Mary had borne Jesus, Joseph then began having marital relations with her?

Or does this mean that after Mary had borne Jesus, Joseph continued to abstain from having marital relations with her?

What do you think?

Something that's not apparent in the translation is that the verb in question in Matthew 1:25 - "had...marital relations with" (literally "was knowing") - is an imperfect active indicative verb, and rather than being translated as a simple past as the NRSV here does (which is a proper way of translating the imperfect tense), it could instead mean:
  • "and he was not having marital relations with her" (progressive)
  • "and he was not beginning to have marital relations with her" (inceptive)
  • "and he did not keep on having marital relations with her" (iterative)
  • "and he was not attempting to have marital relations with her" (conative)
If Matthew had simply wanted to say that they did not have marital relations before Jesus' birth, with no comment one way or the other re: their subsequent (in)activity, one might have expected him to have used the aorist tense (i.e., "he had no marital relations with her"). The use of the imperfect tense here might favor understanding the phrase as implying that after Jesus' birth, Joseph and Mary did begin having marital relations. However, since this is the only instance in the New Testament where γινώσκω is in the imperfect tense and means "to have marital relations," and none of the three instances in the Logos Septuagint (with Logos Greek Morphology) where it occurs in the imperfect tense (Psalm 34:11, 100:4; Jeremiah 9:15) means "to have marital relations," the Biblical data may not be of much use for determining the meaning of Matthew's use of the imperfect tense here.

Exported from Logos Bible Software 4, 6:35 PM April 26, 2011.

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