Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Matthew 1:18; 25, Mary and "Until"

I was searching the blog, and came across an old post from 2009. It's a humorous response on the Roman Catholic exegesis of Matthew 1:18-25 and their curious interpretation of the word "until." Unfortunately, the link to the the author of the counter-argument below no longer works. Apparently, I found it on the Envoy Forum. It may perhaps originate from this banned person on the Catholic Answers forum.

Matthew 1:18-25
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. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “ Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “ Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “ God with us.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

Catholic Answers:
Scripture’s statement that Joseph "knew [Mary] not until she brought forth her firstborn" would not necessarily mean they did "know" each other after she brought forth Jesus. Until is often used in Scripture as part of an idiomatic expression similar to our own usage in English. I may say to you, "Until we meet again, God bless you." Does that necessarily mean after we meet again, God curse you? By no means. A phrase like this is used to emphasize what is being described before the until is fulfilled. It is not intended to say anything about the future beyond that point. [source]

Counter-Argument
Are you married? If so, try telling your father-in-law this: "I did not have relations with your daughter until we got engaged." See what he thinks of that. After all, if your father-in-law is as perceptive as you are, there's no way he'll make a spurious assumption about pre-marital relations between the two of you based on such a statement.

It's fun to imagine these kinds of things....This is what it would look like, just for review: In casual conversation with your wife's dad, you mention that you didn't have (relations) with his daughter until you were engaged. After telling him not to read so much into an idiomatic statement and that he should stop being so historically ignorant, tell him your statement had nothing to do with what you guys did after the engagement. See how that flies.

49 comments:

natamllc said...

With that kind of argument they would have to exclude James and Jude, right?

Hadassah said...

They have absolutely no idea of what "idiomatic expression" means. An idiomatic expression is a fixed phrase that has fixed words & a fixed meaning, which you can place in context "A", & it means the same as if you put it in context "B", because the meaning is fixed.It's created for a fixed purpose. "Until we meet again, God bless you", IS an idiomatic expression."knew [Mary] not until she brought forth her firstborn" is NOT an idiomatic expression. And as James Swan was saying, you can say the same in an informal context, and it would mean that the couple had sex. But of course, you can say that about Joe and Suzzie, but don't you DARE touch the idol, you evil heretic!

Lvka said...

If that were true, Mary's normal and natural response of amazement to the Angel's good news should've been "are you saying that mine and Joseph's future son will be the Messiah?" -- Her actual answer, on the other hand, is odd coming from the lips of an engaged and soon to be married young woman...

I also doubt that -at any time in your life- you actually had to explain to anyone else that your child was not actually yours, but begotten of the Holy Spirit: context matters, and that one is unique in human history.

Lvka said...

To further expand on your post:

If I were to say to you in normal every-day speech: "I'll be with you UNTIL this whole thing ENDS", it would NOT be UN-natural of you to interpret it as meaning that I'll *probably* leave you after-wards... But when Christ said to His disciples that He will be with them UNTIL the END of the world, NO Protestant would interpret it as meaning that He will abandon them after the eschaton. Yet, you seem *bent* on attributing such an odd meaning to St. Matthew's words.

PuritanCalvinist said...

Lvka,

If that were true, Mary's normal and natural response of amazement to the Angel's good news should've been "are you saying that mine and Joseph's future son will be the Messiah?" -- Her actual answer, on the other hand, is odd coming from the lips of an engaged and soon to be married young woman...

I also doubt that -at any time in your life- you actually had to explain to anyone else that your child was not actually yours, but begotten of the Holy Spirit: context matters, and that one is unique in human history.


Lvka, go back and reread the context. After the discussion with the angel, she runs off to visit Elizabeth. Elizabeth says:

Luke 1:41-42 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 And she cried out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

The problem is that, according to Elizabeth, Mary is pregnant right then and there. That plays heavily upon the statement of the angel:

Luke 1:31 "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus.

Read in the light of what follows, it would be like a mother saying to her son, "you will eat supper with us" when it is 6:00PM as she is setting the plates out. No one would, in such a context, assume that he would eat with them some other night at some other time. Because of the context, we assume that the mother means that son will eat supper with them in a very short period of time [that night]. In this case, then, the future in Luke 1:31 stresses the immanent nature of the action. That is why Mary could ask the question that she did. She was not sexually active, and yet, this angel is speaking as if she is going to conceive right then and there, as the context indicates that this is exactly what happened.

If I were to say to you in normal every-day speech: "I'll be with you UNTIL this whole thing ENDS", it would NOT be UN-natural of you to interpret it as meaning that I'll *probably* leave you after-wards... But when Christ said to His disciples that He will be with them UNTIL the END of the world, NO Protestant would interpret it as meaning that He will abandon them after the eschaton. Yet, you seem *bent* on attributing such an odd meaning to St. Matthew's words.

Lvka, the problem is that, while you have chosen a text that may be semantically parallel [although, I think Eric Svendsen has cast serious doubt on that with his doctoral dissertation on this subject], there is almost no question that Matthew 28:20 is not *pragmatically* parallel to Matthew 1:25. Pragmatics deals with a different level of meaning than semantics, meaning that speakers clearly intend to be there, although it is not explicitly stated.

This is somewhat complicated, so I hope people will bear with me. I am simply tired of seeing Matthew 1:25 abused by saying that "until" does not terminate the action of Joseph not knowing Mary.

PuritanCalvinist said...

[continued]

First of all, words like "until" are temporal conjunctions which divide up a time line at a point. Another example would be the temporal conjunction "since." So, for until, we could take this model sentence:

x happened until y

x=Joseph did not know Mary.
y=She gave birth to a son.
z=the time after she gave birth to a son.

and diagram it thus:


----------------|-----------------
x point y z

Y now becomes a point until which action x occurs. The question is whether this action ceases at point y as this diagram would indicate:

----------------|-----------------
x point y z

Or whether it continues into z [the time after point y] as this diagram would indicate:

----------------|-----------------
x point y z

It would seem that the issue is whether or not the author is giving us sufficient information by saying that x did not happen until y. In the case of the person making the argument in this post, the meaning of "until" is very clearly sufficiently telling us that *only* until they were engaged did they not have sexual relations. Yet, in the example of Matthew 28:20, such an implication is not there.

However, temporal conjunctions like "until" are not the only words that give rise to this problem. Compare these two statements:

1.Laura: How much money do you have in your bank account?

Billy: I have $210.00.

2. Laura: I would like to buy this computer monitor, but it costs $210.00 and I don't have $210.00.

Billy: I have $210.00.

In the first scenario, and the second scenario, Billy answers with the same statement: "I have $210.00." Yet, the meaning in each scenario is very different. In the second scenario, Billy is not meaning to rule out the possibility that he has $250.00. However, very clearly, in the first example, he *is* meaning to rule out the possibility that he has $250.00.

How do we distinguish? You can't do it semantically, because the words are exactly the same. However, this is not the only context in which this phenomenon occurs. Consider the following:

1. Billy: Some of the candy in the bag is purple.

2. Laura: I think some of the candy in this bag is purple.

Billy: Some of the candy in this bag is purple????? Indeed *all* of the candy in this bag is purple.

In 1, Billy very clearly means to rule out the possibility that all of the candy in the bag is purple. However, in 2, he is pointing out that Laura's statement is way too semantically weak. Yet, his statement is not contradictory, because, if all of the candy in the bag is purple, then some of the candy in the bag is purple.

The way to distinguish between the meanings of all of these scenarios is through pragmatics. As I mentioned, pragmatics deals with meaning that the author intends to be there, but is not explicitly stated. In all of these examples with "until," $210.00, and "some," you have what is called the Q-principle in Gricean and Neo-Gricean implicature [Q standing for "quantity"]. This is actually a subcategory of the famous cooperative principle, which assumes that speakers are cooperative with one another when they communicate. The Q principle states:

Quantity-Make sure you are as informative as is required, and not more informative than is required [Huang. Pragmatics p.25].

If we assume that speakers are going to be as informative as required, and not more informative than is required, then we can explain #1 in each of the above examples:

1.Laura: How much money do you have in your bank account?

Billy: I have $210.00.

+>I have only $210.00

["+>" means "conversationally implicates"]

1. Billy: Some of the candy in the bag is purple.

+>Only some, and not all of the candy in the bag is purple.

PuritanCalvinist said...

Now, returning to Matthew 1:25, I laid out to interpretations based upon the following diagrams:

----------------|-----------------
x point y z

Joseph did not know Mary at most until she gave birth to a son.

----------------|-----------------
x point y z

Joseph did not know Mary at least until she gave birth to a son.

The first diagram indicates the Protestant position, and the second diagram indicates the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox position. However, as can be readily seen, the Protestant position is assuming that Matthew is being as informative as required, and not more informative than is required. He is assuming that Matthew is saying that the time Joseph did not know Mary was at least until Mary gave birth to a son. Thus, the Protestant is assuming this:

but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son;

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

The problem for the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox is that this conclusion can only be avoided via the three examples I gave: context, semantic entailment, and background assumptions about reality. Hence, the example you gave in Matthew 28:20 is not parallel to Matthew 1:25 because of the background knowledge that we have from the rest of the scriptures that God is always with those whom he loves. Thus, the background knowledge that the scriptures give us that God is always with those who fear him cancels the Q-implicature that Christ will only be with his disciples until the end of the age:

and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

~+>I will only be with you until the end of the age.

We can also use this to explain the common counter argument that Roman Catholics bring up:

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.

Thus, the problem for the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox is that, in every other text they want to quote, you have either background assumptions about reality, semantic entailment, or context which will defeat the Q-Implicature. The other problem is that, when you examine the features of Matthew 1:25 such as its semantic entailments, its context, and the background assumptions of first century Judaism, it is fatal to the Roman Catholic position. The notion of marriage without sexual relations not only was unheard of in first century Judaism, but is explicitly a sin in the Christian scriptures [1 Corinthians 7:2-5]. Hence, one wonders how anyone can maintain the immaculate conception as well as the perpetual virginity. The first time we find claims of the perpetual virginity is in the gnostic writings, which are steeped in neoplatonic dualism, and entirely different worldview from which Matthew was writing.

One could mention the presupposition that Matthew 1:18 contains, namely, that Joseph and Mary did come together. This would mean that the affirmation that Mary and Joseph came together normally would form book ends around the entire passage of Matthew 1:18-25. The context of Matthew trying to make it perfectly clear that Joseph is not the father of Jesus would, as well, strengthen the Q-implicature in Matthew 1:25. The only thing that gives the Catholic a break at this point is that there is no semantic entailment. However, none of these three things conflict with the Q-implicature found in Matthew 1:25, and, in fact, two of the three actually work against the Catholic interpretation, the other being irrelevant.

[continued]

PuritanCalvinist said...

Hence, the burden of proof is on the Roman Catholic to show that, like the other examples of "until" they like to quote, this Q-implicature is defeated by any of the four ways in which Q-implicature can be defeated. Such is impossible, and thus, the perpetual virginity is thereby refuted.

Lest people think I am just some quack who is making things up, I would invite you to go and get any textbook on pragmatics, and you will see that these ideas of conversational implicature are standard. Also, Eric Svendsen, who I am sure many of you know, had some very kind things to say about these arguments when he first read them on my blog. You can read a more polished presentation of my arguments, and Eric's comments on my blog here:

http://otrmin.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/revisiting-matthew-125-in-the-light-of-gricean-and-neo-gricean-implicature/

Thus, Lvka, you have chosen a passage that you may be able to pass of as semantically parallel, but the problem is that all of these texts you want to quote clearly are not pragmatically parallel, as the other texts are in situations where the Q-implicature is defeated by one of the means mentioned above. The burden of proof is on you to show that such a pragmatic parallel exists for Matthew 1:25, and I simply don't believe that is possible.

God Bless,
Adam

Lvka said...

Puritan,

you're reverting the text's order.

The Angel's words, taken at face value, weren't implying any sort of "urgency", and to say that Mary responded the way she did because of some FUTURE action is absurd.

Lvka said...

Marriage without sexual relations was indeed heard of in antiquity, in instances where protection was sought: as tradition informs us that was the case with Mary.

But if you're refering to cases of celibacy within a normal, romantic marriage, such instances indeed did not occur until the arrival of Christianity, in cases where the two spouses mutually agreed [after a while] to spend their time in chastity [usually after having a number of children together, for practical or pragmatic purposes].

Lvka said...

That women do not bear children after their death is obvious; but the end of the world is NOT a synonym for eternity, since the world WILL end (and be replaced by another).

PuritanCalvinist said...

Lvka,

Marriage without sexual relations was indeed heard of in antiquity, in instances where protection was sought: as tradition informs us that was the case with Mary.

But if you're refering to cases of celibacy within a normal, romantic marriage, such instances indeed did not occur until the arrival of Christianity, in cases where the two spouses mutually agreed [after a while] to spend their time in chastity [usually after having a number of children together, for practical or pragmatic purposes].


Notice the presupposition in your statement with the word "informs." This tradition certain did exist; however, it is historically indefensible. First of all, most everyone in Jewish cultures married when they were in their early to mid teens. The notion of protectorate marriage simply did not exist in first century Israel. If you say that it did, please give some documentation. Give us some examples of this very thing happening in first century Israel.

Secondly, tradition is of no help, since tradition can develop over time. The problem is that the earliest tradition we have of a belief in the perpetual virginity comes, not from orthodox Christian sources, but from Pagan Gnostic sources. Of course, the notion of the perpetual virginity of Mary would fit well with Gnostic thought, since the Gnostics believed that sexual relations were evil. Thus, for Mary to be holy, according to them, should could never have engaged in sexual relations. While I am not pinning this belief on you, when you find this belief for the first time in gnostic sources, and it fits well with their worldview, you might want to consider that gnosticism is where the belief came from.

Finally, such an arrangement would not be allowed given what 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 says. It would be sin for someone to marry merely for protectorate reasons, since the apostle Paul commands couples to be engaging in regular sexual relations. You quote the passage that they may refrain for a time, but Paul says that is only for one purpose [to devote yourself to prayer], and that the couple must come together again. There is no room for refraining from sexual relations permanently or for any other reason.

Hence, the notion of marriage for security was unknown and unheard of in first century Israel, the idea comes from a heretical group [the gnostics], and, worse than that, is contradictory to the text of scripture itself.

That women do not bear children after their death is obvious; but the end of the world is NOT a synonym for eternity, since the world WILL end (and be replaced by another).

And, of course, the thing that defeats the Q-implicature in Matthew 28:20 is the background information given to us in scripture that the Lord is always with those who fear him. If the Bible teaches that he will *never* leave us nor forsake us, don't you think that would include the time period of the transformation from this age to the age to come. It is that background assumption that defeats the Q-implicature. However, no such background assumptions exist for Matthew 1:25. The notion that women who get married must have sexual relations is all over the culture of first century Israel, and it is commanded in the Christian scriptures. Given that background knowledge, it would be utterly irresponsible for Matthew to use the word "until" in Matthew 1:25, every bit as irresponsible as the husband's statement to his father in law would be in this passage, since there is nothing in their background knowledge, context, or semantic entailments that would defeat the Q-implicature.

God Bless,
Adam

Lvka said...

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough the first time: Saint Paul merely says that a spouse may not force either sex or celibacy on the other... Not that they can't live together as brother and sister if they BOTH so desire. (For a Protestant you sure seem to have a significant problem with understanding the plain text of Scripture).
___________________________________

In the Old Testament polygamy was not forbidden, so -even if Joseph were to have been a young man, as you probably imagine- marrying someone for purely non-romantic reasons would NOT have stood in the way of HIS happiness or fulfilment. It surely would NOT have meant forced celibacy for HIM.

Lvka said...

And you still haven't offered even a single plausible reason for why Mary must've supposedly understood the Angel's words with a sense of urgency, instead of a more normal and natural one: especially since she WAS already engaged at the time...

Lvka said...

I know that you're accustomed to a Catholic perspective, wherein celibacy is exalted to the detriment of matrimony.. but this has NEVER been a problem for OTHER historical Churches.. So, the fact that those other 'family-friendly' Churches say the SAME thing as Catholics with regards to the nature of the relationship between Mary and St Joseph should perhaps give you a reason to pause and reflect deeper about this topic.

PuritanCalvinist said...

Lvka,

Perhaps I wasn't clear enough the first time: Saint Paul merely says that a spouse may not force either sex or celibacy on the other... Not that they can't live together as brother and sister if they BOTH so desire. (For a Protestant you sure seem to have a significant problem with understanding the plain text of Scripture).

Wow, talk about the pot calling the kettle black! All I can simply do is post the text:

1 Corinthians 7:2-5 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Yes, they can refrain for a time, but Paul commands them to come together again. This after Paul saying that each man his to have relations with his own wife, and each wife her own husband [v.2]. The text flat out contradicts the very notion of marital perpetual virginity word for word. Couples are to have sexual relations [v.2], and the only time they can refrain is by agreement for a time, but they must come together again!

In the Old Testament polygamy was not forbidden, so -even if Joseph were to have been a young man, as you probably imagine- marrying someone for purely non-romantic reasons would NOT have stood in the way of HIS happiness or fulfilment. It surely would NOT have meant forced celibacy for HIM.

Lvka, that is absolute nonsense. Polygamy was forbidden in the Hebrew Bible, because the Hebrew Bible defines marriage as one man and one woman [Genesis 2:24]. The act of definition, by necessity, excludes anything not found in that definition, such as a man and more than one woman. While there were many even kings in Israel who were polygamists, the Bible never sanctions such behavior, and, in fact, speaks of the horrible consequences of such behavior [Lamech, Leah and Rachel, David, Solomon, etc].

And you still haven't offered even a single plausible reason for why Mary must've supposedly understood the Angel's words with a sense of urgency, instead of a more normal and natural one: especially since she WAS already engaged at the time...

Well, obviously, making the claim is one thing, but substantiating it is another. I already pointed out that the text tells us that Mary conceived immediately. You get upset that this is something that comes after the declaration to Mary, as if following context plays no role in how you interpret these kinds of declarations. It is like Gabriel saying that Zachariah will be silent and unable to speak until the birth of their child, and then arguing that the angel meant that the silence would start a month after the angel spoke to him! No, the fact that he becomes immediately silent tells us that the angel intended the statement to mean that he would become silent immediately, just as the context of the declaration to Mary indicates that Mary would become pregnant immediately. Context is the key in understanding the angel's declaration, just as it is key in understanding the angel's punishment upon Zachariah.

PuritanCalvinist said...

I know that you're accustomed to a Catholic perspective, wherein celibacy is exalted to the detriment of matrimony.. but this has NEVER been a problem for OTHER historical Churches.. So, the fact that those other 'family-friendly' Churches say the SAME thing as Catholics with regards to the nature of the relationship between Mary and St Joseph should perhaps give you a reason to pause and reflect deeper about this topic

Actually, my point was that this notion of a woman being a perpetual virgin though married is completely foreign to first century Jewish thought, and foreign to early Christian thought. The fact that a gnostic tradition made its way into other traditions of Christianity is not surprising. Still, the fact remains that it is inconsistent with the worldview of first century Judaism, and first century Christianity. Hence, because it is foreign to the world of the author, and because of the fact that language functions on the basis of the cooperative principle, to say that Mary was a perpetual virgin is to utterly shatter human language. If we view Matthew 1:25 from the perspective of the author, his background, his context, his semantic entaliments, together with the cooperative principle, it is the end of the perpetual virginity. All those churches, no matter how family friendly they may be, have to destroy human language in order to make this teaching work. That is what concerns me.

God Bless,
Adam

Lvka said...

Paul commands them to come together again

1 Corinthians 7:6  But I speak this by permission, and NOT of commandment.
___________________________________

Zacharias didn't have a doctor's appointment in the near future to have his tongue removed.. Mary, on the other hand, was engaged to be married.. There's a tiny little difference there.. wouldn't you agree?
___________________________________

I'm not saying God "encouraged" polygamy, I'm merely drawing your attention to the fact that it WAS indeed permitted.. Many of the righteous -including Abraham, Jacob/Israel, and Samuel's father- practiced it..

Lvka said...

Marriage was simply a social-legal contract. And -although not very common, perhaps- becoming engaged for custody/protection purposes was not unheard of.

[Your statement about the supposed non-existence of celibacy within marriage in the time of the early Christians is also untrue, as history shows us. -- But that's besides the point, since Mary wasn't a Christian at that time].

PuritanCalvinist said...

Lvka,

1 Corinthians 7:6 But I speak this by permission, and NOT of commandment.

Wow, quote the next verse please:

1 Corinthians 7:7 Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.

What he is saying is not a command is the notion that each person should be single. The this goes with what follows. Paul goes on to discuss single life, and says that, although he wishes all men were single [like him], he is not going to bind it as a command to everyone, but only to concede that some people have the gift of serving God as married rather than single.

PuritanCalvinist said...

Zacharias didn't have a doctor's appointment in the near future to have his tongue removed.. Mary, on the other hand, was engaged to be married.. There's a tiny little difference there.. wouldn't you agree?

No, because the text goes on to tell us that she conceived immediately. It is this that provides us the context parallel to Zacharias not having a doctor's appointment to have his tongue removed.

I'm not saying God "encouraged" polygamy, I'm merely drawing your attention to the fact that it WAS indeed permitted.. Many of the righteous -including Abraham, Jacob/Israel, and Samuel's father- practiced it..

And so, because men, even those who were heroes of the faith practiced polygamy, therefore the Bible approves of it? Where are you getting that? Are there no such things as cultural sins, and do not cultural sins affect even the righteous?

Furthermore, it was forbidden in the Hebrew scriptures, because God had already defined marriage as *one* man and *one* woman. Such rules out polygamy.

PuritanCalvinist said...

Marriage was simply a social-legal contract. And -although not very common, perhaps- becoming engaged for custody/protection purposes was not unheard of.

False dilemma. It was a social/legal contract, and also a sexual institution. In fact, Paul calls sexual relations a marital "debt" in 1 Corinthians 7:3.

Secondly, please demonstrate that this kind of marriage existed amongst the first century Jews. We simply have no evidence of it.

[Your statement about the supposed non-existence of celibacy within marriage in the time of the early Christians is also untrue, as history shows us. -- But that's besides the point, since Mary wasn't a Christian at that time].

Then, demonstrate it. Show us an example of this from the apostolic time period. Secondly, it is relevant to the *reader* of the gospel of Matthew, since Matthew was writing to Jewish Christians. Having both the background of Jewish and early Christian societies totally against the notion of celibacy within marriage, the notion that Joseph did not know Mary *until* she gave birth to a son would support the Q-implicature that he did, indeed, know Mary after Jesus was born, as anyone reading the author in a first century Judeo-Christian context would understand.

God Bless,
Adam

PuritanCalvinist said...

Lvka,

If I understand you correctly, what you are asking is how Mary could have correctly understood the angel as saying she would conceive immediately if she knew she was going to marry Joseph. One simply could give the answer of "I don't know," and that would be sufficient since she did properly understand what the angel had said, as is evidenced by the fact that she did conceive in the near future to when the angel had spoken those words.

However, in reviewing Eric Svendsen's doctoral dissertation on this topic, he brings up an excellent point that there were many people at this time period who had sexual relations in the betrothal period in order to keep their women from the Romans. Because virginity was prized in this culture, if a couple had sexual relations during the betrothal period, it would make the Romans less likely to steal women from the Jews.

If this is the case, then Mary's statement "How can this be since I am not knowing a man" can be easily understood. If several people are having sexual relations in Mary's situation, then Mary would naturally assume that the angel thinks she is one of those women who were already having sexual relations. Mary's response "How can this be, since I am not knowing a man" then would be akin to her saying, "You misunderstand completely. We, unlike other couples in our position, are not having sexual relations."

Hence, the reason why Mary would have understood the angel as intending to say that she would conceive in the immediate future is because so many other couples in her situation were already having sexual relations, and she thinks that the angel is assuming that she and her husband are having sexual relations as well.

PuritanCalvinist said...

Also, aside from the pragmatics of Matthew 1:25, there is also a semantic issue which Svendsen brings out nicely. In the 200 years surrounding the time of Christ, other than instances in which it means "while" [an absurd reading of Matthew 1:25], we cannot document a single usage of εως ου, the Greek phrase translated "until" in Matthew 1:25, which does not terminate the action of the main verb. While there are some texts whose date is disputed which use this phrase in a context where the action of the main clause is not terminated, in every unambiguous example of this phrase we have, it always involves a termination of the action of the main clause.

Hence, aside from the Pragmatics of the passage, which argue strongly for the termination on the basis of the Q-principle of Gricean and Neo-Gricean implicature, you also have to reckon with the notion that εως ου appears to be only used for these kinds of situations during the 200 years surrounding the birth of Christ.

However, it is even worse with the terms αδελφος and αδελφη [the terms translated "brother" and "sister" in the phrases referring to Jesus' brothers and sisters]. While these terms can mean spiritual brother in the 200 years surrounding the birth of Christ, they *never* mean half brother, and they *never* mean close relative. They either mean full brother or spiritual brother. The problem is, this is in a sampling of thousands of instances of this term being used. Hence, even if the terms were used in the sense of "half brother" or "close relative," it certainly would not be the normal usage of this time period, and certainly not the first thing that would pop to mind when someone mentions the brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Again, what this demonstrates is that the tradition of Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox tradition is simply not consistent with the backgrounds of the first century. They are later traditions, developing probably from gnosticism, that are from a completely different worldview to the NT. If the text is allowed to speak on its own, and the authors intentions are allowed to show through, you don't get the perpetual virginity. It is only when you impose a foreign context coming from different worldview that you would ever consider the notion that Mary was a perpetual virgin. While all these "historical" churches, you claim, should make me "reason to pause and reflect deeper about this topic" do, indeed, teach the perpetual virginity, the problem is they also replace the intent of the author with the traditions of the church. Such is an unethical maneuver. I want to understand the meaning of the text in the same way I study the Gilgamesh Epic or the Book of the Dead, or the Shipwrecked Sailor, or even, your own writings. I engage in the same procedure that I am doing in looking at the perpetual virginity, because it shows respect for the author. However, these churches cannot do that, because they have replaced the author's intent with the tradition of the church, and thus, have broken the ninth commandment against God himself.

When I start seeing some attempt on the part of these churches to test their traditions against the intent of the author, then maybe I will reconsider. However, that is not something they are going to be doing any time soon, and their argumentation proves that.

Lvka said...

I agree with you that Saint Paul did (obviously) not force celibacy down the throats of married people (!) But he didn't force them to be intimate with each other either, IF BOTH of them were willing AND able to abstain (as he himself ALSO was).
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It was a social/legal contract, and also a sexual institution.

In most cases, yes: but not always.
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Thank you for (finally) answering my question!
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A constantly-repeating sin against which God never says anything, although He does say a lot of things against hundreds of others, most of which rarely happened? A 'sin' without which the divinely-commanded levirate marriage can not exist? A 'sin' which Moses himself commited, and God never even as much as whispered a single word to him about it? (And they had PLENTY of talks...) A sin that God never forbade in the entire Law of Moses, most of which is quite repetitive in nature? (I think you get the grip).

Lvka said...

The "author's intent", as you call it, was merely to show us that Christ was the literal son of God, and not the [biological] son of Joseph: That's all.

Furthermore, the verb you mention is by its own nature continuous ('durable imperfect').

Lvka said...

And -no offense- but aren't you giving just a bit TOO much credence to a SINGLE author? :-|

Given the fact that the Septuagint was translated into Greek just 300 years before Christ, and there are plenty of instances in it where relatives [Abraham and Lot] or even friends [David and Jonathan] call each other "brother", AND the average hellenized Jew [to which the Greek NT (just like the LXX) is addressed] would be famliar with these instances, wouldn't you say that Mr. Svendsen's analysis of this word's usage is lacking, to say the least? That it presents only a [convenient] part of the [bigger] truth [which includes LXX usage], and then rushes off to jump to conclusions, as opposed to presenting the whole truth, and presenting a much fuller picture?

Lvka said...

in the 200 years surrounding the birth of Christ, they [adelphos, -oi] *never* mean half brother

...except for this verse in the NT:

Acts 7:13  And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph's kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.

...unless, of course, if you think that the book of Acts was written after 100 AD... and I sincerely doubt that you do...

PuritanCalvinist said...

Lvka,

I agree with you that Saint Paul did (obviously) not force celibacy down the throats of married people (!) But he didn't force them to be intimate with each other either, IF BOTH of them were willing AND able to abstain (as he himself ALSO was).

So, Paul was married at this point in time? Can you please explain this text:

1 Corinthians 7:8-9 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

No, Paul places where he is in contrast to marriage. What he is saying is he is not going to force those who are unmarried to get married. He says that he wishes that all men were single like him, but that he is only saying that by way of concession not command, as if he is commanding someone to be single.

A constantly-repeating sin against which God never says anything, although He does say a lot of things against hundreds of others, most of which rarely happened? A 'sin' without which the divinely-commanded levirate marriage can not exist? A 'sin' which Moses himself commited, and God never even as much as whispered a single word to him about it? (And they had PLENTY of talks...) A sin that God never forbade in the entire Law of Moses, most of which is quite repetitive in nature? (I think you get the grip).

Really, and you have exhaustive knowledge of what God said to Moses? And even if God did not say anything to him about it, could it be that God had particular purposes in speaking to Moses, such as helping him deal with the problems he was facing as the leader of Israel? BTW, if you think that the only way to forbid things is by "thou shall not," you are wrong. When Paul says that the sexually immoral cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, he doesn't use the "thou shall not" formula, and yet, it is clearly what he means to say. When you give a definition of something, you are clearly ruling out all things that are opposite of that definition, whether you use the "thou shall not" formula or not. It means that polygamy is an oxymoron like pentacircle.

If you are making the assertion that you have to forbid something by a "thou shall not," then please give me one linguist who agrees with you. Again, there is an entire field in Pragmatics, namely, speech act theory, and things like "indirect speech acts" which utterly disproves this crazy interpretation.

Also, you completely misunderstand the laverite marriage. It was not a matter of polygamy at all. The assumption here is that there are several brothers [אחים] [Deuteronomy 25:5]. More than that, even if we were to assume that this practice applied to someone who was already married, the law provided a way for the man to avoid taking this woman as his wife [Deuteronomy 25:7-10]. It is exactly what happened in the story of Ruth. Furthermore, even if the one man is already married, the number of kinsmen redeemers in any given tribe was numerous enough to ensure that she would be taken care of in the event that all of the other brothers were married [which, nevertheless, was a rare occurrence given that people married so young].

PuritanCalvinist said...

The "author's intent", as you call it, was merely to show us that Christ was the literal son of God, and not the [biological] son of Joseph: That's all.

Furthermore, the verb you mention is by its own nature continuous ('durable imperfect').


There is no question about that, but I think that, again, we have some reductionism in language. Can a text tell us that Joseph had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus, but also tell us that normal marriage ensued after the birth of Jesus? If not, why not? Again, it would make a perfect inclusio with Matthew 1:18, which presupposes that Mary and Joseph came together:

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.

before they came together
>>they came together.

The reason Matthew mentions that they had not come together is to stress the fact that Joseph had nothing to do with Mary getting pregnant, and yet, as any linguist will tell you, this lends itself to the presupposition that they did, indeed, come together. Again, presuppositions can be defeated, but they are along the same lines as Gricean implicatures [with the added notion that implicature can defeat presupposition]. Hence, all of my arguments to this point would apply. Also, it would mean that the author said both that Joseph had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus, and that normal marital relations occurred after the birth of Jesus, both at the beginning of the pericope, and at the end of the pericope. Such is too incredible to have happened by accident.

And -no offense- but aren't you giving just a bit TOO much credence to a SINGLE author? :-|


No, this was a doctoral dissertation, where he actually goes through and cites the passages that use these Greek words and phrases. Not only that, there are men who believe in the perpetual virginity, such as Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmayer, who agree with Eric. They just ended up denying inerrancy, because they are honest enough to say that the NT doesn't teach the perpetual virginity. Not only that, his work was endorsed by scholars such as Craig Blomberg, whose main expertise is in the book of Matthew.

PuritanCalvinist said...

Given the fact that the Septuagint was translated into Greek just 300 years before Christ, and there are plenty of instances in it where relatives [Abraham and Lot] or even friends [David and Jonathan] call each other "brother", AND the average hellenized Jew [to which the Greek NT (just like the LXX) is addressed] would be famliar with these instances, wouldn't you say that Mr. Svendsen's analysis of this word's usage is lacking, to say the least? That it presents only a [convenient] part of the [bigger] truth [which includes LXX usage], and then rushes off to jump to conclusions, as opposed to presenting the whole truth, and presenting a much fuller picture?

The problem is that this is a grave error in semantics. Since the time these arguments were formulated, there has been the development of certain distinctions in semantic analysis. The most classic being the distinction between the langue and the parole, first formulated by Ferdinand de Sassure. Sassure demonstrated that languages change over time, and that, in understanding what an author means, one must consider the synchronic evidence as primary, and only go to the diachronic evidence if synchronic evidence is lacking.

We can see this by looking at our own language. Anyone who has done a study of the language of the King James Version of the Bible can confirm that several words have changed in their meaning. For example, the word "study" in King James English meant "to read up on something," but it also meant "to be diligent" in a more general sense. The word "let" originally meant "to allow," and "to bind," but it lost the latter meaning, so that, in today's English, all you have is the former meaning.

270 years is a long time for language to change. In fact, compared to today, that would put us before the 1769 Blayney revision of the King James. The reason this is significant is that this revision still used the word "study" to mean "to be diligent," and "let" to mean "to bind." The introduction to the RSV documents many such changes from the 1769 Blayney revision of the King James. What it shows is that, from the time period in which the LXX was translated until the time of the NT, a language severely changes.

Hence, if one can show that there is a time period in which the term "brother" and "sister" always meant either "full brother" or "spiritual brother," then one can demonstrate that this variance has taken place. In other words, even though people use the King James version of the Bible today, if someone were to write up a document using the words "study" and "let," no one is going to interpret them in the way the King James uses them, because the language has changed. The same thing is true of the readers of the NT. Although they may have used the LXX, the language had changed, and when they communicated with one another, they used the language of their day.

Lvka said...

[No, the KJV cannot be compared to the LXX, since there were no other Greek translations before Christ].
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Actually, here's an even better example, this time from the Gospel of Matthew itself:

Matthew 1:2  Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren.

Lvka said...

Although they may have used the LXX, the language had changed, and when they communicated with one another, they used the language of their day.


Well, apparently St Matthew and St Stephen didn't get that memo... :-|

Lvka said...

And do you know why? Because they weren't native speakers. In their language, there is only one word: `ach[im]`, meaning `brother[s]`. That's why they (almost) always translate it through `adelphos/i`. This, and the fact that they were exposed to the LXX on a weekly basis. The older Greek was still living for them [Jews] than for the rest of the Greeks. These are the facts which you continue to ignore.

PuritanCalvinist said...

...except for this verse in the NT:

Acts 7:13 And at the second time Joseph was made known to his brethren; and Joseph's kindred was made known unto Pharaoh.

...unless, of course, if you think that the book of Acts was written after 100 AD... and I sincerely doubt that you do...


Or, I could just allow that the NT can use the language of the LXX such as in quotations or citations. Consider:

Acts 7:13 ανεγνωρισθη τοις αδελφοις αυτου

Genesis 45:1 ανεγνωριζετο τοις αδελφοις αυτου

The only difference, of course, is the tense of the verb, and, given the context of Stephen recounting the history of the Jews in the context of his discourse, Stephen changing the verb tense can be easily explained. Hence, Stephen is drawing this phrase straight out of the LXX of the book of Genesis. What does this prove other than that the LXX uses the term brother in this way [I never doubted that], and that the NT authors can cite the LXX [I never doubted that either].

Again, Lvka, let me say this with all due respect: You do not understand the first thing about the sections of linguistics, which deal with meaning in language such as semantics and pragmatics, and being a member of a historical church does not give you that knowledge. The kinds of errors you have made, especially in making the LXX relevant to the meaning of a term in the NT, and acting as if a citation of the LXX is relevant, are the kind of errors that only a person without basic knowledge of semantics would make. I don't say that to be mean; I say that as someone who *has* devoted time to the study of these fields. It is simply a fact. The kinds of errors you are making presuppose that Sassure never made his discoveries, or that the entire modern field of Pragmatics has not made the discoveries it has made. The simple fact of the matter is that the traditions of the church are in error at this point. Whether you will do the right thing, and accept them as erroneous is completely up to you.

PuritanCalvinist said...

Actually, here's an even better example, this time from the Gospel of Matthew itself:

Matthew 1:2 Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren.


I don't see how that relates to Eric's thesis. Yes, Jacob and Leah had several children together. The reason why Judas and his brethren are mentioned is because they are of the elect line, from which Christ comes. That is Matthew's point.

[No, the KJV cannot be compared to the LXX, since there were no other Greek translations before Christ].

Exactly what relevance is that to what I said? In fact, *all* English translations since Tyndale translated the text in this way, because that is how the language was used at the time [see the Geneva Bible, Tyndale NT, Bishops Bible, etc. of 2 Timothy 2:15]. However, that language has changed. That is all I need.

PuritanCalvinist said...

Well, apparently St Matthew and St Stephen didn't get that memo... :-|

Or, maybe, in your own ignorance of how language works, you have ignored what Matthew is proving [that Jesus is of the line of Judah], and that that Stephen is citing the LXX?

And do you know why? Because they weren't native speakers. In their language, there is only one word: `ach[im]`, meaning `brother[s]`. That's why they (almost) always translate it through `adelphos/i`. This, and the fact that they were exposed to the LXX on a weekly basis. The older Greek was still living for them [Jews] than for the rest of the Greeks. These are the facts which you continue to ignore.

No, these are facts which any linguist will tell you are totally irrelevant to the discussion. Many people go to church, and hear the King James Version every week, and yet, their English is quite different from that of the King James Version. Furthermore, to say that they were not native Greek speakers is absurd, as it confuses language and ethnicity. Some cultures have more than one language as their native language, as several languages may exist around them at the same time. This is the case with first century Israel. Due to the conquest of Alexander the Great, Greek spread across the whole world. We have found papyri in the sands of Egypt that have the exact same kind of Greek as is found in the NT. Especially with the famous Roman roads, which kept trade between various parts of the empire opened, the Greek would remain rather the same throughout the empire, although there may have been some minor differences.

So, again, we have the background of the time period allowing the Q-implicature to come through in Matthew 1:25. All you can do is give a bare claim that celibate marriages existed in first century Israel and apostolic Christianity, but you refuse to give any evidence. We have the semantic context, to which you have had to use a citation from the LXX as evidence that Greek speakers of the first century would understand "brother" as "half brother," and you have had to go back to the LXX, thus committing a diachronic semantic fallacy in both instances. You have assumed that, but because the Jews spoke Aramaic, that Greek was not also their native language, thus confusing ethnicity which native language. That is a pretty weak case, linguistically. Again, being a member of a "historical" church does not automatically give you knowledge of semantics and pragmatics.

Lvka said...

There is no point in name-calling.

You continue to ignore the fact that languages vary geographically and dialectally, and NOT JUST historically.

A normal Greek would use ONE word. But a hellenized Jew, who had the LXX ringing in his ears each Saturday AND possessed only one word for that term in his own language would've used ANOTHER word, usually a brutal translation from his own mother-tongue [called barbarisms].
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For instance:

YOU would never-ever utter such a phrase as "X has nigger hair"... the very idea would never even cross your mind in the first place... but *I* would. Not being a Romanian, the tendency to use "nigger" instead of "black" ("negru" in Romanian) is something completely alien to YOU, yet something quite natural to me. Even if you'd use it as a noun, using it as an adjective would never even occur to YOU.

It's the same for the use of the narrower adelphos/-oi to translate the broader ach/-im WITHIN the limits of the Greek-speaking Jewish Diaspora. Because it was something both native to their own language, as well as periodically repeated to them on a weekly basis in their synagogues.

Lvka said...

The point was that the brethren of Judah and Joseph were their half-brothers, not their full-brothers.

Lvka said...

Due to the conquest of Alexander the Great, Greek spread across the whole world. We have found papyri in the sands of Egypt that have the exact same kind of Greek as is found in the NT.


Due to the technological and scientifical developments of the Western world, English spread across the whole world. We have found books in the schools of Romania that have the exact same kind of English as is found in the US.

...and yet, English speakers don't really use double negations as systematically and obsessively as average Romanians usually do when speaking or writing in English...

PuritanCalvinist said...

Lvka,

I am not engaging in name calling. I am simply pointing out that you don't know what you are talking about when it comes to analyzing meaning in language. For example:

For instance:

YOU would never-ever utter such a phrase as "X has nigger hair"... the very idea would never even cross your mind in the first place... but *I* would. Not being a Romanian, the tendency to use "nigger" instead of "black" ("negru" in Romanian) is something completely alien to YOU, yet something quite natural to me. Even if you'd use it as a noun, using it as an adjective would never even occur to YOU.


The reason I would never use "nigger" is because of the connotations that it has in our culture. It is a racial slur. Hence, the reason has nothing to do with what words are available to me in my language. It has to do with what such a word would communicate in the culture in which I am. However, that has nothing to do with a situation where "brother" in neither culture is an insult.

Let me give you an example. Eskimo languages have I believe it is ten different words for "snow." Let us say that someone knows both Eskimo and English. We have only one word for snow. Does that necessarily mean that he will use only one word for snow when he speaks of the weather to someone in the Eskimo languages? Of course not. He will use the features of the language available to him. Examples of this could be multiplied indefinitely.

The fallacy you are committing assumes that thought is wrapped up in language, and, if a language allows for more fine distinctions, that a speaker of one language cannot apply those fine distinctions in another language, because he cannot break down his thoughts in that way. Such is absurd, and can be proven wrong simply by the fact that we can read these languages, and understand what is going on in, say, Eskimo languages. The only way for your argument to work is for you to say that the Jews had no way of understanding how the Greek language worked in this regard. Such is nonsense.

Also, where do you see Joseph in Matthew 1:2? The point is to refer to the children given birth by Leah, especially Judas, since this is the elect line through which the Messiah was to come.

So, no, I am not trying to be insulting. The things you are saying are simply bizarre to someone who has studied these fields. That isn't an insult; it is just the way it is.

Lvka said...

being a member of a "historical" church does not automatically give you knowledge of semantics and pragmatics.


No.

But understanding four foreign languages, two of which I actually master, and having been a very good pupil in Grammar and Literature all throughout Gymnasium and Highschool, plus conversing from time to time with a Romanian linguist through email, and having a great interest in etymological issues MIGHT tell you that I'm not exactly a virgin in the field.


That, and the fact that Greece itself is (obviously) a Greek-Orthodox country, might perhaps temper your youthful enthusiasm...

PuritanCalvinist said...

Due to the technological and scientifical developments of the Western world, English spread across the whole world. We have found books in the schools of Romania that have the exact same kind of English as is found in the US.

...and yet, English speakers don't really use double negations as systematically and obsessively as average Romanians usually do when speaking or writing in English...


That is simply untrue. If I had a dime for every time I heard a double negation, I could retire.

Furthermore, I should mention that, while it is true that a person's native language can affect the way they write another language, that is true only if they are incompetent in the language. If you are constantly having to use Greek to communicate in trade with other places in the empire, you are not going to make the kind of basic mistake of not being able to use the features of the language such as familial relations in this way.

Furthermore, I reject the notion that these Jews were not native Greek speakers. It had been hundreds of years since Alexander the Great's conquering of the known world. The Jews obviously learned to properly speak and use Greek by that time!

PuritanCalvinist said...

No.

But understanding four foreign languages, two of which I actually master, and having been a very good pupil in Grammar and Literature all throughout Gymnasium and Highschool, plus conversing from time to time with a Romanian linguist through email, and having a great interest in etymological issues MIGHT tell you that I'm not exactly a virgin in the field.


That, and the fact that Greece itself is (obviously) a Greek-Orthodox country, might perhaps temper your youthful enthusiasm...


Of course, etymology is not semantics nor is it pragmatics. They are entirely different fields. In fact, etymology is almost worthless when it comes to these fields, and really can only be grabbed hold of when one does not have any of the features actually found in semantics and pragmatics.

So, perhaps you should recognize that advances have been made since the traditions of your church have been formulated, and they are correcting errant traditions. If that is the case, then I can only ask that you correct your views according to the scriptures, and give up this notion of the perpetual virginity.

Lvka said...

The tendency is to use one word predominantly. Usually the literal translation as opposed to the more-nuanced-but-not-quite-literal one.

Lvka said...

Dear man,


German Jews were also native speakers of German... but Yidish isn't the same as German, is it?

And, to my knowledge, semantics is part of grammar.

Lvka said...

Etymology is ombilically related to how a living language is actually spoken by its users, and also to what shapes and influences that use...

You continue to flat out ignore matters of regional dialects and linguistic substratum, pretending they don't exist...

Lvka said...

It had been hundreds of years since Alexander the Great's conquering of the known world. The Jews obviously learned to properly speak and use Greek by that time!


It had been hundreds of years since Jews settled in Germany. The Jews obviously learned to properly speak and use German by that time!

Yidish does not exist. Nor do all other German dialects. They are all a matter of fiction.

steelikat said...

PuritanCalvinist:

"Many people go to church, and hear the King James Version every week, and yet, their English is quite different from that of the King James Version."

If you really think that being immersed in the KJV doesn't have an effect on how one speaks and writes you don't know many people who are so immersed. That or you aren't very observant.