Matthew 1:25 explanation?

Matthew 1:25 states the following:

“But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.”

Now initially I was led to believe that catholics have a different view of “until” however when on another thread a poster stated he was a Virgin until he met his girlfriend, a catholic poster automatically assumed that he was no longer a virgin.

Since I had always thought “until” expressed a change in condition, circumstance or bringing an end to what was stated before it, I would have agreed but then as stated above Matthew 1:25 also states the same about Mary so Mary could not have been a virgin AFTER the birth of Jesus.

What this shows is that “until” is understood by catholics to mean an end of a circumstance but then is changed when reading the Bible.

The word ‘until’, in the English language, tends to commonly be used in the way you say. So, I’m not surprised that, in the context of a contemporary English-language conversation, that meaning was in play.

However, the Gospel of Matthew was neither a 21st-century composition, nor was it written in American English. And, of course, prepositions are among the most difficult feature to translate, as subtleties of meaning do not always directly translate from one language to another. There are instances of the use of the Greek word ‘heos’ in Scripture in which a subsequent, changed state is not the focus of that word.

Therefore, your original assumption, while somewhat flawed, was closer to the mark. No, Catholics do not have a wholesale different understanding of the word ‘until’ in contemporary English as do other speakers of English. Yes, Catholics understand Matthew 1:25 as attempting only to answer the question, “could Joseph have been Jesus’ natural father?”.

Mary had a child by the Holy Spirit. For her to then have relations with another makes her an adulterer.

There is no way that Jesus is both the Son of God and the son of an adulterer. It cannot be possible.


This argument is part of a recent trend of marginalizing, or of outright attacking the Catholic Church’s teaching, as well as even Mary herself. We see it very often here at CAF. Consider the Knox Translation, which places Matthew 1:25 in more easily understood historical and cultural context. Matthew’s intent was to show the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in Christ’s conception and birth (Isaiah 7:14), and not to provide any other information about their marriage.

Mt 1:25 and he had not known her when she bore a son, her first-born, to whom he gave the name Jesus.[3]*

The footnote explains:

  • [3] The text here is more literally rendered ‘he knew her not till she bore a son’; but the Hebrew word represented by ‘till’ does not imply that the event which might have been expected did take place afterwards. (Cf. Gen. 8.7, Ps. 109.2, Dan. 6.24, I Mac. 5.54.) So that this phrase does not impugn the perpetual virginity of our Lady. Nor is any such inference to be drawn when our Lord is called her ‘first-born’ Son, which refers to his position as redeemable under the old law (Lk. 2.23).

Remember the Book of Tobit? Virtually all protestant bibles lack this book. A read of it will enlighten as to the ancient language use. In that book, anyone from one’s own tribe (i.e. Naphtali) was a brother or sister. A man’s wife was referred to as his “sister” inasmuch as she was from the same tribe. So, “brother” and “sister” had distinctly different meanings in that language and in that culture than they do today.

Tobit 8:9 9 Thou, Lord, art my witness that I wed this sister of mine not from love of dalliance; only in the dear hope of leaving a race behind me, a race in whose destiny, Lord, may thy name be ever blessed!

Tobit spoke of a relative from another family of his same tribe as “sister.” So, once the entirety of the scriptures is consulted, as the ancient Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches do, the perpetual virginity of Mary is much clearer and more easily understood.

What does “till” mean according to the Bible? Check this out (loosly translated) –

Gen 8:7 – the raven “did not return TILL the waters were dried up…” Question: Did the raven return? NO!

Deut 34:6 – Moses died “and no one knows his grave TILL this day.” Question: Have we found Moses’ grave? NO!

2 Sam 6:23 – Michal “had no children TILL the day of her death.” Question: Did she have children after she died? NO!

1 Macc 5:54 – “…not one of them was slain TILL they had returned in peace.” Was Judas M and his troops killed when they returned? NO!

Luke 1:80 – John the B “was in the deserts TILL the day of his manifestation to Israel.” Did John the B stay in the desert? YES! (cf. Matt 3:1; Mark 1:3-4; Luke 3:2-4)

John 4:49 – “Sir, come down BEFORE my child dies!” Did he die? NO!

Rom 8:22 – “…the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together UNTIL now.” Is it still groaning? YES! :slight_smile:

Definitive. :thumbsup:

You took my response. Good job on the lay out work.

In modern language that’s generally the case. However, as another poster pointed out, the Bible wasn’t written in modern day.

The point of the passage was that she was a virgin at the time of Christ’s birth. After then her chastity is a matter of purity, but wasn’t necessary any longer to prove Christ’s parentage, or anyone else’s. We didn’t have two members of the Holy Trinity born of Mary.

If you’re going to focus on the word “until” why not follow the logic through to its end and look at comments regarding other people: “He was a taxi-driver until he died” or “she was a mother until she died”? Did he change his profession after death? Did she cease being a mother after death? Of course not. The whole idea is absurd.

The word “until” speaks to past and present. It make no inference about future, even though some would like to project otherwise.

Fundamentalists insist that “brethren of the Lord” must be interpreted in the strict sense. They most commonly make two arguments based on Matthew 1:25: “[A]nd he did not know her until (Greek:* heos*, also translated into English as “till”) she brought forth her firstborn son.” They first argue that the natural inference from “till” is that Joseph and Mary afterward lived together as husband and wife, in the usual sense, and had several children. Otherwise, why would Jesus be called “first-born”? Doesn’t that mean there must have been at least a “second-born,” perhaps a “third-born,” and so on? But they are using a narrow, modern meaning of “until,” instead of the meaning it had when the Bible was written. In the Bible, it means only that some action did not happen up to a certain point; it does not imply that the action did happen later, which is the modern sense of the term. In fact, if the modern sense is forced on the Bible, some ridiculous meanings result.

Consider this line: “Michal the daughter of Saul had no children till the day of her death” (2 Sam. 6:23). Are we to assume she had children after her death?

There is also the burial of Moses. The book of Deuteronomy says that no one knew the location of his grave “until this present day” (Deut. 34:6, Knox). But we know that no one has known since that day either.

The examples could be multiplied, but you get the idea—nothing can be proved from the use of the word “till” in Matthew 1:25. Recent translations give a better sense of the verse: “He had no relations with her at any time before she bore a son” (New American Bible); “He had not known her when she bore a son” (Knox).

Fundamentalists claim Jesus could not be Mary’s “first-born” unless there were other children that followed him. But this shows ignorance of the way the ancient Jews used the term. For them it meant the child that opened the womb (Ex. 13:2; Num. 3:12). Under the Mosaic Law, it was the “first-born” son that was to be sanctified (Ex. 34:20). Did this mean the parents had to wait until a second son was born before they could call their first the “first-born”? Hardly. The first male child of a marriage was termed the “first-born” even if he turned out to be the only child of the marriage.

You have most interesting way of presenting a really unfounded old argument.

First Catholics do not hold a “different view” of the word until

The dictionary( which is the standard for definitions) defines until meaning up to. It indicates nothing else. It is our interpretation that adds meaning.

Since I had always thought “until” expressed a change in condition, circumstance or bringing an end to what was stated before it

This is an incorrect definition. I have not been able to find any dictionary that defined it as such.

however when on another thread a poster stated he was a Virgin until he met his girlfriend, a catholic poster automatically assumed that he was no longer a virgin.

But because someone assumed a meaning doesn’t change the meaning of the word. In your example he was a virgin until… the word until still only means up to the point of when he met his girlfriend.

but then as stated above Matthew 1:25 also states the same about Mary so Mary could not have been a virgin AFTER the birth of Jesus.

To be consistent you would then have to say the same about every time it is used in the bible. That makes a very awkward interpretation.
2 Samuel 6:23 And Saul’s daughter Michal bore no children from that day on until the day she died.
So according to you she had a baby after she died?

Scripture actually demonstrated that Jesus was an only child of Mary.
She asked the Angel How could she conceive since she knew not man.
Understand that when she asked this question she was betrothed, this was not the same as engaged but the first part of marriage. Look at what the angel said to Joseph take Your WIFE into your home. Notice that the question is a general one of man not Joseph her husband.

At the foot of the Cross, Jesus entrusts Mary to John to be her son and she her mother. Something that was necessary only if there was no other son to care for her.
Until isn’t the smoking gun you would like it to be.
Until by definition means only up to it does not mean a change took place this is not knowing a definition but assuming one that is not there.

That’s interesting…I have never thought about it that way before!

Thanks for all of your responses. You guys are very helpful. I will definitely read the book of Tobit when I get a moment. :slight_smile:

I’ll probably have more questions as I keep digging & looking, some stuff I go back to :o

Would you be so kind as to pardon me when or if I seem a bit strident in my responses? A few of us here at CAF can be battle-weary and may become rather defensive regarding our mother. OK, it may only be me then, but nevertheless… :wink:

It’s ok, I understand, I’m not catholic (although I am increasingly more interested) and know you guys get a lot of stick from anti catholic Protestants especially over Mary.

Since your posts are so informative, I’ll let you off :wink: :smiley:

Until has two meanings…

  1. the point at which something occurs later in time,
  2. a terminal point that is reached, but which make action impossible


  1. John was a chain smoker from age 13 to age 40, when he stopped smoking. He did not smoke again until his 60th birthday, when he smoked again.

  2. John was a chain smoker from age 13 to 40, when he stopped smoking. He did not smoke again until the day he died.

Notice in both cases “until” was used. In Example 1, John did smoke again…but, in Example 2, he clearly did not, unless by some miracle he died and immediately lit up a cigarette.

So, “until” depends on the context, and therefore the contention that the Blessed Mother remained the Blessed Virgin is quite defendable.

Ducked another bullet there! But, since I have a target on my back, it often then only strikes me in the head. :smiley:

What dictionary did you get this definition from according to Webster it means
: up to (a particular time)

—used to indicate the time when something will happen, become true, etc. Neither definition

  1. point at which something occurs later in time
  2. a terminal point that is reached, but which make action impossible.

Oh…didn’t use a dictionary…used the examples.

Are you concluding that if we used my 2nd example “…he did not smoke again until the day he died”, that he lit up a cigarette as some point after his death? It doesn’t take a dictionary to tell me that doesn’t work!:shrug:

It is no surprise to me that you didn’t use a dictionary. Examples are used to illustrate a definition.
Your second example illustrated that up to the time of his death he did not smoke. Until only refers to the time up to an event.

In order to know what happens after that event you need more information as you did in your first example.

With your second example you gave the information needed - he died.

It does take a dictionary to have us all using the same meanings. Until is a great example of people making up their own definition and causing confusion.

The literal quote in the Douay - Rheims version is, “And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:25). The use of knew or know is used in scripture to refer to sex. But, the Jewish people had very strict rules on knowing. Chapter 18 of Leviticus gives a listing of people whose nakedness you are not to uncover. Such as, “No man shall approach to her that is near of kin to him, to uncover her nakedness. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 18:6) St. Joseph did not know her till she brought forth the Savior. But, then he certainly observed her nursing the child, so he could be said to have known her in this limited way.:yup:

Right. This was an idiom. To “uncover (someone’s) nakedness” was an idiom meaning “to have intercourse with” or “to defile”. So, if one were to have sex with another’s wife, then he would have been said to have uncovered that man’s nakedness. It’s a particular usage that goes beyond a simple literal notion of ‘nudity’ or even sex in general.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit