Revisiting Matthew 1:25 in the light of Gricean and Neo-Gricean Implicature

One of the first things that got me interested in studying language was a doctoral dissertation by Dr. Eric Svendsen on the topic of Mary in the New Testament and Roman Catholicism. In this dissertation, Svendsen discusses the discusses the traditional Roman Catholic interpretation of Matthew 1:25 and the brothers of Jesus which goes back to the discussion on the perpetual virginity between Jerome and Helvidius. The debate on Matthew 1:25 centered on the word “until:”

Matthew 1:25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Helvidius stressed that the word “until” here indicates the notion that Joseph and Mary engaged in normal sexual relations after Jesus was born. Jerome [whose arguments are still followed by Roman Catholic apologists] argued that the word “until” does not necessarily indicate that Mary had normal sexual relations with Joseph. There are several passages that could be used in this regard, but, just for example, take the following in the LXX:

2 Samuel 6:23 And Melchol the daughter of Saul had no child till the day of her death.

Clearly, in this instance, no one is going to suggest that Melchol started having children after she was dead.

Svendsen’s contribution was to distinguish between different phrases that are translated “until” in Greek. The Greek term heos alone can be used, as can the phrases heos an, heos hou, etc. What Svendsen pointed out is that the Greek here is heos hou, and in the New Testament as well as in the literature 200 years surrounding the birth of Christ, the phrase heos hou means “until a specified time [but not after].”

Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists reacted to this thesis in various ways. Some people absolutely did not know what they were talking about, and ignored the fact that Svendsen’s thesis is based upon Saussure’s distinction between diachronic and synchronic study of language. Hence, they couldn’t understand why Svendsen rejected the uses in the LXX as being relevant. In fact, many people misrepresented his views as saying that Svendsen did not view the examination of the usage of the term in the LXX as relevant to the meaning in the NT, and even misrepresented his view to scholars garnering alleged rebukes of him by famous protestant scholars. Of course, the reason why the usages in the LXX did not affect his thesis is because he demonstrated a disconnect between the way the phrase was used in the LXX and the way it was used in the time period of the NT thus indicating diachronic semantic variance. It is this diachronic variance that allowed him to conclude that the LXX uses did not affect his argument.

Others took a more reasonable tactic, and pointed out that there is other literature that is of questionable dating that may date from the 200 years surrounding the birth of Christ which contain uses of heos hou where the action of the main clause is not terminated. Svendsen pointed out that even if such dating is correct, one still has to take into account archaizing tendencies on the part of some authors, and, indeed, if what he is saying is correct, then the usage of heos hou in this way may indicate that the date of these works are not to be placed in the 200 years surrounding the time of Christ.

I still largely agree with what Svendsen wrote. Even if one could come up with instances of heos hou in the two centuries surrounding the birth of Christ, it would still make Jerome’s interpretation highly unlikely. As Svendsen points out, even in the LXX, the meaning of heos hou as “until [and continuing]” is quite rare. Thus, although Svendsen’s thesis does not settle the issue absolutely, it most certainly does make the Roman Catholic interpretation very highly unlikely.

However, as I have been studying pragmatics, I have wondered if Svendsen’s argument is incomplete. The reality is, Svendsen, in order for his thesis to even be written, had to assume that there was a way in which we can tell whether the action of the main clause is terminated by the action of the subordinate clause. It is this very methodology that he used to categorize all of these uses of heos, heos hou, etc. Likewise, Roman Catholics, when they were looking for counterexamples, had to have a way of telling whether something is a counterexample or not. This suggests that there is a way in which this issue can be settled by simply relying upon normal rules of communication. It is here that I believe that Gricean and Neo-Gricean implicature can help us.

A little background is in order here. Grice’s theories of implicature developed out of a desire to understand what goes on in conversation. He started with certain things that speakers and listeners assume when they are interacting. The main principle of Gricean and Neo-Gricean theories is what is called the “Co-operative principle.” This is summarized by Huang as

Make your conversational contribution such as is required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk exchange in which you are engaged[1].

Grice then lists four maxims which help us accomplish this:

1. Quality-Make sure that your contribution is something you believe to be true, and not something you believe is false or which you are unsure of.

2. Quantity-Make sure you are as informative as is required, and not more informative than is required.

3. Relation-Make sure your contribution is relevant.

4. Manner-Be clear by avoiding ambiguity, prolixity, and disorder[2].

In Neo-Gricean theories, some of these principles were collapsed into one. For example, in Horn’s version, all of these maxims are divided into Quantity [Q] and relation [R] maxims, while in Levinson’s Neo-Gricean theory, they were divided into Quantity [Q], Informativeness [I], and Manner [M].

These principles help us to avoid a major problem in language. Consider the following example given by Huang[3]:

John has had nine girlfriends.
a. John has had at least nine girlfriends.
b. John has had exactly nine girlfriends.

The sentence “John has had nine girlfriends” is subject to the interpretation found in both a and b. We could treat this sentence as semantically ambiguous, but the problem is that such an interpretation runs the risk of falling prey to Occam’s razor[4]. The difficulty also is that there are other words that are likewise subject to this kind of interpretation such as “all” or “some.” If someone says, “Some of the candy in the bag is purple,” in terms of strict semantics, this does not rule out the possibility that *all* the candy in the bag is purple. If all the candy in the bag is purple, then some of the candy in the bag is purple. This is a major problem since, as Huang suggests, it would turn a dictionary into an exercise in proliferation[5]. The same analysis can be give to our text:

Joseph kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a son.
a. Joseph kept her a virgin at least until she gave birth to a son.
b. Joseph kept her a virgin only until she gave birth to a son.

Huang, in discussing this problem, suggests that this problem can be solved by a division of labor between semantics and pragmatics. He suggests that, semantically, we can assign the meaning “at least” while getting to “only” or “exactly” through the use of pragmatics, and, imparticular, conversational implicature[6]. The reason has to do with Grice’s Quantity maxim, namely, that a speaker must not be more informative than is required. Thus, one can say that, both in the case of the number 9, and the word “until,” the reason the speaker doesn’t say “exactly nine” or “only until” is that, to do so, would be superfluous. We assume that speakers mean “only” or “exactly” precisely because we assume that they are giving us sufficient information. The same thing goes for the word “some.” If someone says, “Some of the candy in the bag is purple,” we assume that they are giving us sufficient information, and we likewise conclude that only some and not all the candy in the bag is purple.

I had this experience at work recently. A customer and I were looking to see if a particular camera came with a SD card, and we found the word “contents” and then a list [camera, charger, instruction manual, etc.] but we did not find “SD card” on the list. Hence, she went over, and started looking at the SD cards. Why? Because she assumed that the list contained *only* the things written under the “contents.” She assumed this based upon the fact that the person who wrote the list was being sufficient in his communication.

Hence, we would have, by Q-Implicature:

He kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a son.
+>He kept her a virgin only until she gave birth to a son.

So, we have accounted for how protestants read this passage. Now, why is it that Roman Catholics can point to examples of “until” where it clearly does not mean “only until?” The answer is very simply that conversational implicatures can be defeated. For example, Huang calls our attention to this sentence[7]:

His wife is often complaining.
+>His wife is not always complaining.

However, consider what would happen add another sentence:

His wife is often complaining. In fact, she complains all of the time.
~+>His wife is not always complaining.

Normally, we assume that when a person uses the term “often” that they are giving us sufficient information, and thus, they do not mean to suggest that his wife is always complaining. In this case, the semantic entailment of the second sentences [she complains all the time] defeats the implicature. Implicature can also be defeated by background assumptions and context. Consider the example we looked at earlier:

And Melchol the daughter of Saul had no child till the day of her death.
~+>Melchol, the daughter of Saul, had no child only until the day of her death.

The reason why this implicature is defeated is because of our background knowledge of the way in which childbearing works. Childbearing only occurs when a person is alive, not when they are dead.

The point is that we assume that the author is giving sufficient information [only until] unless we have semantic entailment, background assumptions, or something in the context that contradict the implicature. This is why I believe Svendsen was able to categorize all of the examples of the various phrases.

Also, this will work regardless of the Greek phrase used. Consider the Greek phrase heos an which is notorious for being used when there is no termination in the action of the main verb:

Matthew 2:13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Remain there until I tell you.
+>Remain there only until I tell you.

This interpretation is born out by the fact that, after Herod dies, the angel tells them to return.

Mark 6:10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there.

Stay there until you depart from there.
+>Stay there only until you depart from there.

This interpretation is born out by the fact that it would be foolish to assert that, once they depart from that place, they are going to be staying in the same place. However, consider instances in which heos an very clearly cannot mean “only until.”

Matthew 22:44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’?

Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet
~+>sit at my right hand only until I put your enemies under your feet.

Why does this implicature not follow? It does not follow because of the context of the Psalm [110:4] which says that he is a priest forever, but also because of our background knowledge that both the New Testament present the kingdom of Christ as something which endures forever. Hence, it cannot be that the honor which Christ receives lasts only until his enemies are put under his feet.

Let us now return to the implicature I proposed earlier:

He kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a son.
+>He kept her a virgin only until she gave birth to a son.

In order for the Q-implicature to be defeated, the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox apologist must show that there is something that the passage entails, that we assume as background, or that is in the context that would defeat this implicature. If they cannot do that, then, by the normal assumption that speakers are giving us sufficient information, we can assume that Matthew is contradicting the Roman Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity.

However, what is worse is that I believe the context actually confirms the Q-implicature I have noted earlier. Consider the beginning of this pericope:

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.

The crucial phrase is “before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.” Words like “before” trigger what is called a “presupposition.” To see this, simply use the word “before” in another sentence:

Before I went to the store, I mowed the lawn.
>>I went to the store.

Before we saw the eclipse, we saw a spectacular meteor shower.
>>We saw the eclipse.

Before we saw the aurora borialis, we looked at the newspaper to see if the conditions were right for it to occur.
>>We saw the aurora borialis.

Before I caught the ball, I slipped and fell.
>>I caught the ball.

I could continue, but I think you get the point. Hence, going back to Matthew 1:18, we would have:

before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
>>They came together.

Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists have not so much rejected this conclusion as they have the meaning of the term “come together” as having any relevance to sexual relations. They suggest that it is not meant to be taken in a sexual fashion. The problem is that, if you take the phrase “they came together” in a sexual fashion, it provides a nice inclusio between verses 18 and 25 as both would be clear statements of the virgin birth. Also, if we take this to simply be referring coming together in a living arrangement, then it would have virtually no relation to Mary being found to be with child. That would be a problem both before they came into the living arrangement, as well as after they came into the living arrangement. Not only that, but the point seems to be that Joseph knows that he is not the father of the child, and that is why he wants to put her away. That would fit nicely with “before they had sexual relations, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.”

Hence, the real problem with the argument of those who hold to the perpetual virginity is, instead of arguing contextually, they have run off to other instances of “until,” which are not pragmatically parallel to Matthew 1:25. However, if the Q-implicature in Matthew 1:25 is to be defeated as it is in the texts they like to point to, they must show that some parallel exists, when it very clearly does not.

[1]Huang, Yan. Pragmatics. Oxford Textbooks in Linguistics. Oxford University Press. New York, NY. 2007. p.25
[2] ibid.
[3] ibid, p.7
[4] ibid.
[5] ibid.
[6] ibid, pgs. 7-8
[7] ibid, p.32

+> Conversationally Implicates
~+> Does Not Conversationally Implicate
>> Presupposes

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17 Responses to “Revisiting Matthew 1:25 in the light of Gricean and Neo-Gricean Implicature”

  1. Eric Svendsen Says:

    Hi Adam — I’m glad to see others are building on my seminal work on heos hou, and I’m humbled to learn that it offered some inspiration for your language studies. I’d be the first to agree that a run-down on the use of the phrase is, in itself, “incomplete,” I would note, however, that while the chapters on heos hou have gotten the most press, there are other chapters in that work (based on different points) that offer a more complete picture of Mary’s post-natal non-virginity (the use of aelphos/adelphe for one, which has never been addressed by my opponents so far as I can tell); and (more importantly) the status and role of Mary in the New Testament–which is after all the main thesis of the work, and which the chapters on the question of Mary’s perpetual virginity are mere supporting pillars.

    I can’t say why the chapters on the PV of Mary struck such a nerve in the RC e-pologetic community–maybe they decided to read the first section and stop there–when the main (and largely ignored) thesis of the work is her status in the NT, which I have always considered more significantly devastating to RC theology than something like the PVM.

    ~ES

  2. otrmin Says:

    Dr. Svendsen,

    I am humbled by the fact that you took the time to comment on my little piece of land here on the internet! Thank you. And, yes, I agree with what you wrote. The point of your thesis was to show that there is a major distinction between the way Mary is portrayed in the New Testament, and the way she is portrayed in Roman Catholicism, the PV and εως ου being only supporting arguments. I also agree that the argument from αδελφος and αδελφη is a very strong one, because there are so many instances of these terms in the time period you were studying, and thus, the sampling is exceptional. You are right that I have never heard a good answer to that argument.

    It is likewise hard for me to say why your work on the PV has received so much attention, to the ignoring of the rest of the work. From where I am sitting, I guess it seems so natural to deny the perpetual virginity when you read the text of the New Testament. Hence, the Roman Church and those who have held to this teaching in church history have had to confuse linguistic issues in an effort to try to hold the PV together. However, as we learn more about linguistics, and the language of the NT in general, we are finding that many of these ideas are falling apart. I was following a discussion on this very topic the other day, and someone quoted from a NT scholar [whose name escapes me right now] who said that modern scholarship has completely refuted Jerome’s arguments for the PV. It may just be that Rome sees itself as most vulnerable in this area. It may also be that people’s view of language today tends to be very atomistic, and hence, recognizing the disconnect between the Biblical conception of Mary and the Roman Catholic conception of Mary might just be something they are missing because they are not looking at the larger picture, but, instead, seeing your arguments as small isolated studies of various passages. It is unfortunate, but I have ran into that a whole lot, not just from Catholics, but from Protestants as well.

  3. gntlmnr Says:

    Wow!!! Talk about giving more information than it is necessary. If there is any such a thing, this article would definitely be it. You went round and round and round to prove something, but unfortunately you did not prove anything at all.

    Would you please tell me what do you use in Greek for the word “until” in the following example:

    “Dr. Svendsen had a terrible argument with his wife, and he never spoke with her again UNTIL he divorced her.”

    What does this say? Did he speak with her after the divorce? Did he not speak with her after the divorce? What would be the case here and why?

    We cannot read in this statement what followed the divorce, why? Because the aim of statement is to tell us what happened between the argument and the divorce, and this statement does not concern itself with what happened after the divorce.

    If Saint Matthew was strictly interested in relating to us the time interval between Jesus’ conception and Jesus’ birth, because his Gospel was strictly handling the subject of Jesus and not the subject of Mary, how would he compose the statement to reflect that?

  4. otrmin Says:

    gntlmnr,

    You missed the whole point of my post! The point is that such conversational implicatures such as are found in Matthew 1:25 can be cancelled due to things like background assumptions, semantic entailments, context, and metalinguistic negation. In terms of your possible implicature:

    Dr. Svendsen had a terrible argument with his wife, and he never spoke with her again UNTIL he divorced her.
    +>Dr. Svendsen spoke to his wife after he divorced her.

    such an Q-implicature does not follow because of our background assumptions about divorce, and because of the context. Because the divorce was caused by anger, and when people get a divorce due to anger, they generally remain angry, it will defeat the Q-implicature that Dr. Svendsen only didn’t speak to his wife until the divorce:

    Dr. Svendsen had a terrible argument with his wife, and he never spoke with her again UNTIL he divorced her.
    ~+>Dr. Svendsen spoke to his wife after he divorced her.

    The problem is, we know the circumstances under which such Q-implicatures can be defeated, like in the example you just gave: context, background assumptions, metalinguistic negation, and semantic entailments. Not only do none of those things defeat the Q-implicature in Matthew 1:25, all of those things [except for semantic entailments and metalinguistic negation which are irrelevant] only *strengthen* the Q-implicature in Matthew 1:25! Not only the presupposition of “they came together” back up in 1:18, the context, of the proving of the virgin birth of Jesus, but also our background knowledge of the time that marital celebacy did not exist amongst the Jews of the first century, and that it was considered wrong in early Christianity [1 Corinthians 7:1-5] all strengthen the Q-implicature that Joseph did not know Mary only until she gave birth to a son. Hence, your example is not pragmatically parallel to Matthew 1:25.

    Worse than that, if you add the semantic study that Dr. Svendsen did to the pragmatics of the text, it becomes utterly impossible that this text should mean anything other than that Joseph had normal sexual relations with Mary. There is simply too much linguistic weight wait that must be overcome.

  5. gntlmnr Says:

    “Dr. Svendsen had a terrible argument with his wife, and he never spoke with her again UNTIL he divorced her.”

    I agree with you that in this example “common sense” tells us that Dr. Svendsen would not speak with her after the divorce, but unfortunately, reality does not always follow common sense, and while “common sense” tells us that they never spoke with each other after the divorce, that does not eliminate the possibility that they spoke with each other after the divorce. So my point is the “purpose” of the statement here is strictly to tell us what happened in the time period between the argument and the divorce, and the “purpose” of the statement is NOT to shed the light at what happened after the divorce.

    Again, please tell me what would (Matthew 1:25) have to say to reflect strictly what happened between Jesus’ conception and Jesus’ birth without having the purpose of addressing what happened after Jesus’ birth?

  6. gntlmnr Says:

    I really would like you to answer my question about how to change (Matthew 1:25) to reflect strictly the time period between Jesus’ conception and Jesus’ birth without giving any information about what happened after his birth.

    I just went to [1 Corinthians 7:1-5] to understand what you meant by it, and my response to that is Saint Paul was addressing “normal” marital relationships for sure, and I assure you that Saint Paul did not mean to apply that on the case of Mary and Joseph, because there is absolutely nothing “normal” about Mary, Joseph, and their marital relationship.

  7. otrmin Says:

    gntlmnr,

    Again, you are totally missing my point. I didn’t say anything about “common sense.” I was talking about background assumptions about reality. If not talking is caused by anger, and the anger causes the divorce, our background assumptions about reality tell us that there is nothing in the divorce itself that quenches anger. Therefore the divorce is not the *point in time* in which the action of “not speaking” is terminated. The action of “not speaking” might be terminated later, but the point is that the action of the main clause is not terminated by the action of the subordinate clause due to our background assumptions about reality, not “common sense.”

    The point is that Joseph wanted to keep Mary a virgin until the birth of Christ so that this would be a virgin birth. After the birth of Christ, Joseph’s sexual relations with Mary would be irrelevant to the virgin birth, and hence, the birth of Christ would provide that pivot point in time in which the action of the main clause is terminated.

    I just went to [1 Corinthians 7:1-5] to understand what you meant by it, and my response to that is Saint Paul was addressing “normal” marital relationships for sure, and I assure you that Saint Paul did not mean to apply that on the case of Mary and Joseph, because there is absolutely nothing “normal” about Mary, Joseph, and their marital relationship.

    Really? It wasn’t between a man and a woman? It wasn’t for life? It didn’t involve Mary being a helper to Joseph? It didn’t involve Joseph leaving his mother and father, and cleaving to Mary? There is absolutely *nothing* normal about their relationship????????

    No, clearly there is, and I know that you know that there is. The point of me saying this is that there are certain things that were unique about Joseph and Mary’s relationship, and certain things that are the same. The problem is that the Jews of that time as well as early Christians believed that it was immoral for a woman and a man to not have sexual relations within marriage, and thus, they would have viewed Mary and Joseph having sexual relations as part of the “sameness.” That was the point of citing 1 Corinthians 7:1-5. This was how they viewed every marriage.

    Now, if you want to say that this was a way in which Mary and Joseph’s marriage was unique, then, again, why does the author not tell us? Not telling us and using a temporal conjunction like “until” which elicits the Q-implicature we have been talking about would simply be irresponsible, if the perpetual virginity were true.

    Maybe another example would help point this out. Let’s say that we are reading a recipe, and it says the following:

    Beat ingredients together until they form a chunky mixture.

    Now, you go through the rest of your instructions, and you bake the ingredients, and it comes out of the oven looking and tasting terrible. Hence, you contact the author to complain and he says, “The word ‘until’ doesn’t always mean ‘only until.’ [insert examples Roman Catholics give here]. In my recipes, you always beat everything into a smooth batter.” You say, “But you didn’t tell me that!” Then he says, “I didn’t need to. You should have known that ‘until’ doesn’t always mean ‘only until.'”

    The point is that we use the Q-principle all of the time when we speak to each other each day, when we read, etc. That is what my argument relies upon. If such implicatures are to be defeated, there must be something in the context, background assumptions, semantic entailments, or some form of metalinguistic negation in order to cancel such implicatures. However, if none of these things are present, it is grossly irresponsible for a speaker to use a temporal conjunction like “until” eliciting such an implicature, when he knows that such an implicature is untrue.

    Again, please tell me what would (Matthew 1:25) have to say to reflect strictly what happened between Jesus’ conception and Jesus’ birth without having the purpose of addressing what happened after Jesus’ birth?

    The question itself shows a gross misunderstanding of what I am saying. Pragmatics does not deal with what is said, although it can affect what is said. Although there is certainly a relationship between what is said and the pragmatic level of language, and any discussion of pragmatics will lead you back to what is said and vice versa, we are not speaking about what is said. Hence, for the meaning of Matthew 1:25 to change, other factors would have to change. One would have to have higher order implicatures [which would be impossible at this point, since Q-scalar implicatures are the highest order implicatures], one could insert something into the context, and one could simply put it in a different background and context.

    For example, one could reword Matthew 1:18 this way:

    Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, although they would never come together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.

    That would completely change the meaning of Matthew 1:25, as there would be something in the context which would defeat the Q-implicature. One might also put the notion that they would never come together into the words of the angel Gabriel, or anyone else who happened to come across Mary and Joseph, or speak of them. One could have them say that they are unique specifically in the fact that they never had sexual relations. In this way, we would then have background assumptions about reality that would fly in the face of the Q-implicature.

    Or, if you wanted to, you could change the wording of Matthew 1:25 by giving a simple semantic entailment:

    Matthew 1:25 But kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son and afterwards; and he called His name Jesus.

    Or, one could change the context from first century Judaism to some other setting which would have favored martial celibacy. Doing these things, and any combination of these things would defeat the Q-implicature that Joseph didn’t know Mary *only* until she gave birth to Jesus.

    Now, if one wanted to make it uncertain as to what happened afterwards, one could add this:

    Matthew 1:25 But kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus, and they debated whether they should come together afterwards

    In this case, it would make it uncertain whether they came together, but it would, indeed, mean that Joseph did not know her up until the point in time she gave birth to a Son.

  8. gntlmnr Says:

    You keep accusing me of missing your point, and I sincerely think that you are completely missing my point.

    No matter how much analysis we put to try to simplify the relationship between Mary and Joseph, and no matter how much effort we try to make that relationship look just like any other relationship between any other man and any other woman, we are not going to succeed; because how many women do we know in history that had God for a son? If this is not a unique situation for us, then I don’t think that we are willing to reason, but we are trying to dictate our opinion. In that case discussion would be truly fruitless.

  9. TurretinFan Says:

    “I really would like you to answer my question about how to change (Matthew 1:25) to reflect strictly the time period between Jesus’ conception and Jesus’ birth without giving any information about what happened after his birth.”

    If she remained a perpetual virgin and this is important, why would a strict time period be important?

    But even assuming the strict time period was important and yet not because of the implied initiation of marital relations thereafter (the natural reading of the text), and so one wanted to avoid the implications of the use of the phrase, “until [event],” it would be easy to say “and she, never having known a man, brought for forth her first born son, and he called his name Jesus” or if it is important to emphasize Joseph “and she, never having known a man – no not even Joseph, brought for forth her first born son, and he called his name Jesus.”

    And God is a lot wiser than we are. There are numerous other ways to convey that Mary remained a virgin up to point X without suggesting that she wasn’t one after — most easily by just saying that she was perpetually a virgin.

    I would actually point out that the author is not just emphasizing that Jesus was conceived of a virgin, but also harmonizing that with her married state (which began after Jesus’ birth) and the presence of other children (Jesus’ brothers and sisters) in the marriage.

    Really, the primary reason that one would think it didn’t mean that Joseph took Mary to be his wife after Jesus’ birth is because one is familiar with extrascriptural tradition that denies this.

    -TurretinFan

    • gntlmnr Says:

      “If she remained a perpetual virgin and this is important, why would a strict time period be important? ”

      They say hindsight is 20/20. We have to remember that the perpetual virginity of Mary was not a debated issue at the time when Matthew wrote his Gospel; therefore, the issue was not stressed. But some argue that in:

      (Luke 1:34) But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

      Notice that she was asking the question after she had been betrothed to Joseph. If Mary was supposed to have normal marital relationship with Joseph, that question would be completely out of place, since angel Gabriel did not specify exactly at what point in time she would conceive and bear a son, and she did ask the question before angel Gabriel specified that this was going to be by the Holy Spirit.

  10. otrmin Says:

    gntlmnr,

    I would also say that I *do* believe that Mary and Joseph were unique. However, it is a *huge* leap in logic to go from “their relationship was unique” to “they never engaged in sexual relations.” Should we likewise conclude that Mary and Joseph were polygamists because their relationship was unique? Should we likewise conclude that Mary was a man or Joseph was a woman because their relationship was unique?

    That is why I said that to say that their relationship was unique does not tell us the *way* in which it was unique. You assume it was in terms of the perpetual virginity. I simply ask for proof, especially since the author of scripture never says that.

  11. otrmin Says:

    Really, the primary reason that one would think it didn’t mean that Joseph took Mary to be his wife after Jesus’ birth is because one is familiar with extrascriptural tradition that denies this.

    And this is really crucial. The background assumptions traditionalist Roman Catholics bring to the discussion do not come from the background of the culture of the time, or from the context itself. They read a foreign context into the text on the basis of Tradition. It is in this context that they are reading passages like Matthew 1:25. That is why this issue goes back, as all issues seem to, to the issue of Sola Scriptura.

  12. gntlmnr Says:

    Well the issue of Mary’s perpetual virginity and the issue of the “brothers” of Jesus are NOT issues that only the Roman Catholic Church believes in. The Eastern Orthodox Church also believes in those issues; even better for you, the forefathers of Protestantism, who are Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli (not to mention the Anglicans), also believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary, which means that Jesus never had any brothers nor sisters.

    So I would say it is a pretty hard case to argue against all these giants; and by the way this is NOT the only reason why I believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary. I am the type that if I don’t put my finger on it, I don’t believe it. I read enough about the subject to believe in this issue.

  13. otrmin Says:

    gntlmnr,

    I don’t know how TurretinFan would respond to what you said, but, of the people on your list, the only people I can think of who believe in Sola Scriptura would be the magisterial reformers. The problem is that the field of pragmatics was not even in existence at the time of the magisterial reformers, nor was any of the research on the Greek language available upon which I am basing my conclusion. Grice hadn’t done his work yet; Austin hadn’t done his work yet; databases such as Thesaurus Linguae Greacae had not come into existence yet so Eric Svendsen could do his work. We didn’t have software like Bibleworks or Logos to search the New Testament more accurately. There is a lot of data that we have about linguistics and the Greek language imparticular that Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli did not have. While I might respect the work these men did, that does not mean that I don’t have to deal with it critically, because I know that much has come to light about linguistics and, more specifically, the Biblical languages, that the magisterial reformers could not have known.

  14. gntlmnr Says:

    I apologize then my dear friend, because I am at a loss here. I am fluent in three languages, and I am fluent in several programming languages, but unfortunately I don’t even know how to say hello in Greek; so I am sorry I am not fit to argue Greek with you; however, your concept of Q-Implicature doesn’t jive with me, because you are using far too many “assumptions” to arrive to your conclusions.

    So I think I better leave this discussion, because I cannot defend myself in Greek.

    Thank you for your time and effort.

  15. TurretinFan Says:

    I asked: “If she remained a perpetual virgin and this is important, why would a strict time period be important? ”

    You replied: “They say hindsight is 20/20. We have to remember that the perpetual virginity of Mary was not a debated issue at the time when Matthew wrote his Gospel; therefore, the issue was not stressed.”

    a) It can’t really be a debated issue before someone asserts the view. So, I agree it wasn’t a debated issue, but I don’t see why you think that’s helpful to your position.

    b) God has foresight, not just hindsight.

    c) Why should this be stressed at all? Why is it important for people to hold to perpetual virginity today, when it clearly wasn’t important enough to mention in the Bible?

    “But some argue that in: (Luke 1:34) … Notice that she was asking the question after she had been betrothed to Joseph. If Mary was supposed to have normal marital relationship with Joseph, that question would be completely out of place, since angel Gabriel did not specify exactly at what point in time she would conceive and bear a son, and she did ask the question before angel Gabriel specified that this was going to be by the Holy Spirit.”

    The question would still make sense, given that she had just been told that her child would be the “Son of the Highest,” which could not possibly be Joseph, the (relatively) poor carpenter.

    -TurretinFan

    • gntlmnr Says:

      “b) God has foresight, not just hindsight.”

      God is everything, but it was not God that wrote the Gospel of Matthew. It was a fallible human being named “Matthew” who does not necessarily have to have the foresight that you are requiring of him; besides, again, I have to remind you that we did not have something called the “New Testament” until around 400 years after Christ,

      “The question would still make sense, given that she had just been told that her child would be the “Son of the Highest,” which could not possibly be Joseph, the (relatively) poor carpenter. ”

      Again she said [since I have no relations with a MAN?”], and she did NOT say “Since I have no relations with an IMPORTANT AND WEALTHY man?”

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