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The Virgin Mary - part 3   (an Orthodox perspective)
By Chris Banescu - November 23, 1999

There is however one passage in the New Testament, specifically in the Gospel of Matthew, that tells us that Joseph didn't know his wife until she gave birth to Christ: "and did not know her until she had brought forth her firstborn Son." (Matthew 1:25). This particular Bible verse has constantly been used and referred to by critics as proof positive that Mary and Joseph had marital relations after Christ's birth.

The first time I was confronted with such a seemingly rational argument I was taken aback and I couldn't think of any response. Here was a passage from the Bible that seemed to contradict Mary's ever-virginity. I didn't have to look too far. The answer came from reading Father Peter Gillquist's book "Becoming Orthodox."

Building on Father Gillquist's discussion of the subject and with help from similar passages in books written by other Orthodox priests I have since clarified that mystery. To put it briefly, this whole controversy hinges on the Bible's usage of the word "until."

A survey of Scriptures regarding the use of the word until shed some light on that mystery. In the Old Testament, in the book of Genesis, there is one example of its use: 6 At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made 7 and sent out a raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. (Genesis 8:6,7) Following the other presumed interpretation of until used in Matthew would imply that the raven never flew again once the waters dried up. Now that doesn't sound rational does it?

Again in Psalm 110:1 the Scripture describes God the Father addressing Jesus: The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool." Does that mean that Christ will stop sitting at the right hand of the Father once God makes Christ's enemies His footstool? If we follow Protestant logic in its treatment of the word until, then these verses are saying exactly that. That's not a believable explanation of this passage and no Christian would ever agree with that description of its meaning. Yet if there is to be overall consistency throughout the Bible then according to the Protestant definition of the word until in the Gospel of Matthew, there can't be any other possible interpretation.

There are many more passages in the Holy Scriptures that also support similar interpretations of "until." I have included belose Father Peter Gillquist's own magnificent analysis on this very topic.

From a Scriptural standpoint, the presence of the phrase "till she had brought forth her firstborn Son," does not automatically mean that Joseph must have had a sexual union with her afterward. In both Greek and Hebrew the word until (or till or to) can have several meanings. We find it in II Samuel 6:23: "Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to (until) the day of her death." It is used again in Matthew 28:20 where the risen Christ says, "Lo, I am with you always, even to (until) the end of the age." And in Deuteronomy 34:6 we read, "[Moses was buried] in a valley in the land of Moab. . . but no one knows his grave to (until) this day."

Obviously the use of the word in these passages does not imply that Michal has a child after her death, that Christ will no longer be with us at the end of the world, or that Moses' burial place was discovered the day Deuteronomy 34:6 was written. By the same token, the word until in Matthew 1:25 does not mean that Joseph and Mary began a sexual union after Christ was born. Such a teaching is found nowhere in Scripture and is contrary to the consistent voice of the entire early Church.

On one hand we have many instances in the Bible where the word until is used one way; as in the examples above. Then there is one instance and one instance alone, in the Gospel of Matthew, when all of a sudden the very same word until is being interpreted by western scholars completely different than before. Not only is the definition of this word diametrically opposed to all the other times it gets used in both the Old and New Testaments, but it would also be the only verse in the entire Bible that mentions that Joseph "knew" the Virgin Mary. Since the universal view of all Christians, Orthodox, Catholics and Protestant alike, is that the Scriptures represent the true word of God, it is irrational to believe that God could contradict Himself by giving the word until different interpretations.

The New Testament also makes reference several times to the "brothers and sisters" of Christ. Does that automatically mean that Joseph and Mary had other children? No. The Bible never talks about them as the children of Mary and Joseph. The term "brothers and sisters" is used throughout the Bible when referring to cousins or near relatives. Holy Tradition teaches us that those brothers of Christ were either children of Joseph from a previous marriage or cousins of Christ, but they were not the sons and daughters of Mary and Joseph.

The Holy Scriptures also shed some light on how the phrase "brothers and sisters of Christ" is to be interpreted. In Luke's Gospel Jesus teaches us a very valuable lesson when told of His mother and brothers wanting to see Him: 20 And it was told Him by some, who said, "Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You." 21 But He answered and said to them, "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it." (Luke 8:20,21) Christ makes it clear that in obeying God all of us become brothers and sisters in Christ, a spiritual relationship and union that is more important than natural ones.

That same event is related in the Gospel of Mark: 32 And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, "Look your mother and Your brothers [NU - and Your sisters] are outside seeking You." 33 But He answered them, saying, "Who is My mother, or My brothers?" 34 And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, "Here are My mother and My brothers!" 35 "For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother." (Mark 3:32,35) Jesus considered all who followed Him and did His will, brothers and sisters, regardless of the worldly relations between them. When the Bible talks about the "brothers and sisters" of Christ it is referring to disciples of God that were part of the spiritual family of Jesus Christ not his earthly family.

The Orthodox belief regarding Christ's brothers and sisters also finds support in one other passage in the Scriptures; specifically in the description of events surrounding the Crucifixion. While Jesus was crucified, Mary stood at the foot of the Cross. The apostle John was also standing nearby and he said in his account: 26 When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, "Woman, behold your son!" 27 Then He said to the disciple, "Behold your mother!" And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26,27) If Jesus had other brothers and sisters why didn't He entrust Mary to them rather than John? And why weren't those other siblings there at the foot of the Cross to comfort their mother and mourn Jesus? In ancient times and even today is it not customary to entrust the care of a family member to the next of kin? Why would Christ make Mary John's responsibility rather than his family's? Christ's actions make no sense unless there were no other children of Mary which could care for her. That's why Christ places Mary in John's care and not in anyone else's.

For almost twenty centuries the Orthodox Church and all of Christendom has maintained the ever-virginity of Mary based on Scriptures and the Holy Tradition. Only in the past two hundred years has this distorted view of Mary crept into western Christian theology. Unfortunately, for a majority of today's Christian denominations, Mary's sanctity and purity have been diminished. As result, her role has been relegated to a very small and insignificant part of their faith. But by doing so these Christians have anchored their so called evidence in one sole, inconsistent, and erroneous interpretation of a single word: "until." Tell me brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ aren't you taking a big chance on re-interpreting God's word based on such a shaky argument?