Our Blessed Mother & The Saints

The Fall of the New Helvidius

by John Pacheco

“I must call upon the Holy Spirit to express His meaning by my mouth and defend the virginity of the Blessed Mary. I must call upon the Lord Jesus to guard the sacred lodging of the womb in which He abode for ten months from all suspicion of sexual intercourse. And I must also entreat God the Father to show that the mother of His Son, who was a mother before she was a bride, continued a Virgin after her son was born. We have no desire to career over the fields of eloquence, we do not resort to the snares of the logicians or the thickets of Aristotle. We shall adduce the actual words of Scripture. Let him be refuted by the same proofs which he employed against us, so that he may see that it was possible for him to read what is written, and yet to be unable to discern the established conclusion of a sound faith.”

- St. Jerome, Against Helvidius, 2 [383 A.D.

This selection was taken from St. Jerome’s masterful piece ‘Adversus Helvidium’ where he brilliantly disassembles his opponent’s objections to Mary’s perpetual virginity.  His refutation serves as a reminder to all Catholic Apologists that the bible is a Catholic work and, as with all Catholic beliefs, the bible constantly serves as a fundamental source in refuting the error of Protestantism.  Despite the beliefs of Luther, Calvin, and Zwinglii who all believed that Mary died a virgin, Helvidius’ error found a warm reception with the descendants of the original Deformers.  What the original inventors of the Reformation found completely biblical, their sorry twentieth century brethren find too ‘Romanist’.   Of course, the Catholic side has been able to completely vindicate and defend its belief from the start of the controversy.  In recent days, however,  Helvidius seems to have been resurrected in cyberspace as the next wave of Protestant scholars and internet jocks alike continue their assault on Mary’s perpetual virginity.  Recently, the Helvidian cause has been taken up by Dr. Eric Svendsen, director of New Testament Restoration Ministries (www.ntrmin.org),  who is completing his doctoral dissertation on the subject.  In 1999, Dr. Svensdsen debated Catholic Apologist Gerry Matatics on the question of Mary’s perpetual virginity which can be heard here www.straitgate.com/rcc/svendsen.htm.

In his debate with Matatics, Svendsen presented  four standard Protestant objections in his opening remarks which formed the nucleus of his arguments against Mary’s perpetual virginity.  It is my intention in this paper to rebut these arguments while expounding on the Catholic belief in Mary’s eternal virginity.  The time interval of the citations are given in square brackets [hour-min-sec].  All biblical passages are from the RSV.

Argument 1 - “Come Together”

Dr. Svendsen’s first argument centers on Matthew 1:18:  “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit…”

Svensden remarks:

“Indeed Matthew’s purpose for this phrase [‘before they came together’] is very polemic.  He mentions that Mary conceived before she and Joseph came together to convince his readers that this was a virginal birth and not an ordinary one.” [00:08:04-00:08:23]

Having therefore established a polemical background to Matthew’s writing, he presents his argument: “Why would Matthew mention this phrase at all if he knew sexual relations had never occurred?  If we take this simply as a reference to Joseph and Mary taking up residence together without thought of ensuing sexual relations, Matthew’s point regarding the Virgin Birth [seems] quite lost.  If he is attempting to show, as he surely is in this passage, that the birth of Christ was a virginal birth, then the phrase ‘before they came together’ must mean ‘before they engaged in sexual relations’, and cannot mean ‘before they came together in a platonic living arrangement.’  For if the latter was true, then it would be no more remarkable, nor significant for that matter, if Mary was pregnant before they came together than it would be if she had become pregnant after they came together.” [00:08:56-00:09:51]

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Dr. Svendsen’s polemical construction was adopted by Matthew when he wrote “before they came together” (BTCT).  Now, Dr. Svendsen’s argument certainly sounds convincing.  Indeed, it appears  to be rather superflous for Matthew to use the ‘BTCT’ phrase if, in fact, there was only a platonic relationship.  According to Dr. Svendsen, the phrase loses its significance in trying to convey the virgin birth if BTCT is to be understood in a platonic relationship.

The implication of Dr. Svendsen’s argument in pushing this ‘redundancy card’ is rather apparent.  If Premise 1 below is true, then Premise 2a) is irrelevant or obsolete in arguing for the virgin birth.  But Premise 2 cannot be obsolete since the Word of God is not obsolete in polemic argument.  Therefore, Premise 1 is not likely to be true.  The natural corrolary to this, therefore, is that Premise 2 cannot be understood in the platonic sense (Premise 2a) but in the sexual sense (Premise 2b)

Mary took a vow of virginity so therefore the virgin birth is true.

Mary was pregnant before they came to live together which means

i)  before they began to live together or
ii) before they had sexual relations

But is Svendsen’s construction founded on sound reasoning principles or exegesis?

Rebuttal 1

The platonic understanding (Premise 2a) of BTCT is just as effective in communicating the Virgin Birth as if BTCT is understood in the conjugal sense.  If, in fact, Mary was perpetually virgin, BTCT understood in the palatonic sense accomplishes its goal quite effectively.  Jesus’ birth could still be regarded by the Jews (the audience of St. Matthew’s gospel) as simply a NATURAL birth.  Hence, St. Matthew wants to eliminate even the possibility of this argument by stating that Mary was pregnant even before co-habitating with Joseph, and therefore even before an opportunity would arise for her to lose her virginity.

By using BTCT in the platonic sense, Matthew is rejecting a natural conception of Jesus EVEN AS A POSSIBILITY rather than pointing to Mary’s subsequent loss of virginity.  The passage is about protecting the divinity of Jesus.  It is used to dispel any possibility or suspicion that Jesus’ conception could be merely a natural one.  The natural conception of Jesus is not only a physical impossibility (2b), it is a chronological one as well (2a).  Hence, Premise 1 may be true, but Premise 2a) still can be stated without making itself obsolete in light of Premise 1.

In fact, the Catholic understanding of the passage offers further proof (and chronological detail) of the Virgin Birth.  Matthew’s intent is to pin down exactly when Mary conceived.  Notice that Mary did not conceive before her betrothal, or during the time she lived with Joseph.  She conceived before living with Joseph since that is what a betrothal clearly implies.  Dr. Svendsen, therefore, essentially presents a false alternative since he fails to recognize, as indicated above, that there are other equally tenable reasons why ‘BTCT’ is inserted in the passage.

Rebuttal 2

In the culture of the time, “Jewish maidens were considered marriageable at the age of twelve years and six months, though the actual age of the bride varied with circumstances. The marriage was preceded by the betrothal, after which the bride legally belonged to the bridegroom, though she did not live with him till about a year later, when the marriage was to be celebrated. All this agrees well with the language of the Evangelists. St. Luke (1:27) calls Mary "a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph"; St. Matthew (1:18) says, ‘when as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child, of the Holy Ghost’.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1917).

Hence, the notable point here is simply to confirm that “…when his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together…”(v.18) is a historical confirmation of the Jewish tradition and law concerning the duration of betrothal.   The Evangelist is confirming that the betrothal period had not yet ended  when Jesus was conceived.   In fact, using Dr. Svendsen’s  own ‘redundancy argument’ posited in his argument, one must speculate as to why Matthew felt it necessary to inform his readers that Jesus had been conceived during the betrothal period if he was merely trying to restrict BTCT to the conjugal act only. What would be the point of introducing this information regarding the betrothal period at all if Matthew intended BTCT to mean a conjugal act?  He could have easily omitted the clause completely without affecting the Helvidian position one jot.  On the other hand, BTCT is rather necessary for the verse to remain a defense of Jesus’ divinity under the platonic and Catholic understanding; for, if BTCT was omitted, the verse would read:  “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, [omission of BTCT] she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit…”

What is more, the symmetry is superior under the Catholic side.  Compare:

 “…when his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they started living together, she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit…”

“…when his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they had sex, she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit…”

It is clear that the Helvidian position is inferior with respect to the omission of those acts which precede having sexual intercourse i.e. either getting married or starting to live together after marriage.  It would be extremely strange for Matthew to say, “when Mary and Joseph were engaged, before they had sex…” (which is the Helvidian position) since that would at least imply that they might have had intercourse in the betrothal period.  This implication, of course, would not be in line with the gospel account of Joseph or Mary’s righteous characters.

Rebuttal 3

The second error that Svendsen commits is to define what St. Matthew intended by BTCT by virtue of a presupposition about Mary’s vow of virginity.   On the presupposition that Matthew either assumed his audience knew that Mary took a vow of viriginity or that Matthew even intended to use this vow of virginity as a direct and foundational belief of BTCT, Svendsen then goes on to state his case.  Yet is this legitimate?  Is it legitimate to say, as Svendsen essentially does,

 “Well, since Luke and everyone else knew that Mary took a vow of virginity, then BTCT is a redundant clause, and therefore it would be no more remarkable, nor significant for that matter, if Mary was pregnant before they came together than it would be if she had become pregnant after they came together.”

Dr. Svendsen does not tell us what rationale there is for accepting the presupposition to his argument; that is, where is the evidence which assumes that Matthew’s readers were knowledgeable of Mary’s vow of virginity?  Indeed, if we are to follow the polemical theme which Svendsen proposes for St. Matthew’s account, it is a good chance that Matthew is not addressing people who are necessarily well acquainted with Mary’s vow of virginity, or maybe even very receptive to the Gospel in the first place.  Indeed during the time of St. Luke’s Gospel, which is within a negligible period of time of the writing of Matthew, St. Luke is trying to check the spurious Gospels that are being circulated:  “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which ave been accomplished among us…” (Luke 1:1)  This does not seem to suggest that his audience would necessarily be well acquainted with the personal details of Jesus’ mother, who is after all, a secondary figure to the Gospel message behind her Son.

Even if it was assumed that the readers of Matthew knew of Mary’s vow and still rejected the claim of the virgin birth, Matthew could have known this; that is, he could have known that his detractors had rejected the claim of Mary’s vow.  Having anticipated their disbelief in her vow, St. Matthew then proposed FURTHER information regarding the virgin birth; namely, that Mary conceived even before she and Joseph began living together.  One can certainly believe both that Mary took a vow of virginity and that Matthew sought to convince his readers with this further proof.  Hence, the two claims are not mutually exclusive at all - as Svendsen wants us to believe, but rather complementary.

If Matthew’s argument was indeed polemical, and he was trying to convince unbelievers in Jesus’ virginal birth, then a platonic understanding is even more compelling; for, if the unbelievers did not even believe that Mary was a virgin, then it is just as compelling to say that she conceived before even co-habitating with Joseph than it is to say that she conceived before having intercourse.  In fact, it would be superflous to say Jesus had a virginal birth because Mary was found with child before sexual intercourse - which is rather obvious - than it would be to say that Jesus had a virginal birth because Mary had conceived even before co-habitating with Joseph.  Since the latter evidence is clearly more pronounced and conspicous, it is not an obsolete point at all.

Rebuttal 4

There should also be due consideration paid to the Jewish tradition regarding Jewish women and Jewish marriage.  To omit the wider cultural forces and traditions in examining Mary’s perpetual virginity would be tantamount to gross negligence of the highest order in scholarship.   According to Jewish oral and written tradition, a husband who caught his wife (or betrothed) in adultery was legally bound to stone her (Cf. Deut. 22:22).  “From the earliest biblical days adultery carried with it a sense of defilement, so that a woman who had known contact with another man, even if by force, was considered no longer fit to be visited by her husband (Genesis 49:4; 2 Samuel 20:3, re ibid. 16:21-22; Book of Jubilees 33:6-9; Epstein, Marriage Laws in the Biblical Talmud, p.51).  Furthermore, not only did intimate male contact by the wife with Jew or gentile, potent or impotent, natural or unnatural make divorce compulsory (Sotha 26b; Yebamoth 55a, b, 87b; Kethuboth 9a, Babylonian Talmud; Kethuboth 25a; Sotah 27a, Yad, Sotah 2,2, Jerusalem Talmud),  the Oral Law of Kiddushin (Marriages and Engagements) states; "The husband prohibits his wife to the whole world like an object which is dedicated to the Sanctuary" (Kiddushin 2b, Babylonian Talmud). (1)

Hence, when Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, he was bound to follow this Jewish law and tradition which required him, at the very least, to divorce her.  Although he had every right to have her stoned (Cf. Deut  22:22-29), Joseph, being a kind and gentle man, only chose to ‘put Mary away quietly’.  Having made his decision to divorce Mary in private, he is prevented from doing so by the Holy Spirit:

“But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
(Matthew 1:20-21)

However, a Protestant might object: “If Joseph remained the spouse of Mary, then what would be the point of remaining so if there were no ensuing sexual relations?”

St. Jerome offers these reasons:

“But if anyone feels a doubt as to why the Virgin conceived after she was betrothed rather than when she had no one betrothed to her, or, to use the Scripture phrase, no husband, let me explain that there were three reasons. First, that by the genealogy of Joseph, whose kinswoman Mary was, Mary's origin might also be shown. Secondly, that she might not in accordance with the law of Moses be stoned as an adulteress. Thirdly, that in her flight to Egypt she might have some solace, though it was that of a guardian rather than a husband. For who at that time would have believed the Virgin's word that she had conceived of the Holy Ghost, and that the angel Gabriel had come and announced the purpose of God? and would not all have given their opinion against her as an adulteress, like Susanna?” (St. Jerome, Against Helvidius, 4)

St. Jerome’s second point is particularly relevant to this discussion.  Notice in the gospel account of Matthew that Joseph was intending to divorce Mary.  Yet, a divorce presupposes a legal marriage, which betrothal (qiddusin) apparently was.  The fact that betrothal implied a legal marriage is supported by a number of biblical passages including this one from Deuteronomy.

“If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones…” (Deuteronomy 22:23-24)

Since Joseph did not divorce Mary, he remained married to her.  The union between Mary and Joseph was still properly called a marriage since they shared all things that married couples do - except the sexual relationship.   Joseph cared for Mary, loved her, provided for her, and protected her.   The objection that is sometimes raised by Protestants poses more questions than it answers, however, since Joseph and Mary’s relationship was as unique and singular as the conception of the Word of God Himself, who after all, had no human father but was no less human than anyone else.   The marriage of Mary and Joseph was no more unique or remarkable, for that matter, than God becoming man through an incarnation in a Virgin’s womb.

Rebuttal 5

In Jewish law, any sanctified object (known as hekdesh in Hebrew) may not be used for personal purposes; it may only be used for the purpose for which it was sanctified.  Throughout the bible, there are a number of physical objects that would certainly fall under this tradition.  The Ark of the Covenant is probably the most prominent example.  In fact, the solemnity of this tradition is witnessed to when Uzzah accidentally touched the Ark of the Covenant.  He was struck dead by God.

“And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God.” (2 Samuel 6:6-7)

If it is inconceivable to even suggest that the Ark would be used for something other than carrying God’s covenant, then why does not the same logic not also apply to Mary who is the Mother of the New Covenant?  Why do Protestants reject such a clear biblical analogy?  Is it to be held that St. Paul’s healing handkerchief (Cf. Acts 19:12) would be returned to its natural purpose once its miraculous powers have apparently left, or that the actual cross of Christ would be good firewood after it had accomplished its intended function?  These are the absurd conclusions that the Helvidian position forces Svendsen and other Protestants to accept.

In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle was a tent established by Moses in which the Ark was conveyed (Exodus 25-31, 35-40). It was held to represent the presence of God. The ark is described in Exodus 25 as a chest of acacia wood. It was known also as the Ark of the Law, the Ark of the Testimony, or the Ark of God. The ark lay in the Holy of Holies, the sacrosanct enclosure of the tabernacle and of the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was the second or interior part of the Tabernacle.  The chest contained, according to various sources, Aaron's rod, a pot of manna, and the stone tablets of the Decalogue. The Ark was housed behind a thick veil (Exodus 26:33) in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle (Cf. Exodus 25:10-16).  No one was permitted to enter it except the high priest to offer sacrifices for the people - and even then only once a year on the day of atonement.  On that day, the high priest entered into the Holy of Holies with a blood sacrifice.   The following passages recount some of the prescriptions which the high priest was to follow:

“The LORD said to Moses, "You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base of bronze, for washing. And you shall put it between the tent of meeting and the altar, and you shall put water in it, with which Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet. When they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering by fire to the LORD, they shall wash with water, lest they die. They shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die: it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and to his descendants throughout their generations.” (Exodus 30:17-21)

“Make pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them. The gold bells and the pomegranates are to alternate around the hem of the robe.  Aaron must wear it when he ministers. The sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the LORD and when he comes out, so that he will not die. "Make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it as on a seal: HOLY TO THE LORD. Fasten a blue cord to it to attach it to the turban; it is to be on the front of the turban.  It will be on Aaron's forehead, and he will bear the guilt involved in the sacred gifts the Israelites consecrate, whatever their gifts may be. It will be on Aaron's forehead continually so that they will be acceptable to the LORD. "Weave the tunic of fine linen and make the turban of fine linen. The sash is to be the work of an embroiderer. Make tunics, sashes and headbands for Aaron's sons, to give them dignity and honor. After you put these clothes on your brother Aaron and his sons, anoint and ordain them. Consecrate them so they may serve me as priests. "Make linen undergarments as a covering for the body, reaching from the waist to the thigh. Aaron and his sons must wear them whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting or approach the altar to minister in the Holy Place, so that they will not incur guilt and die. "This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants.”  (Exodus 28:33-43)

The above passages recount the severe punishment which is dished out when the priest did not satisfy the ceremonial prescriptions that God commanded.  Since (the contents of) the Ark represented God, the prescriptions of God related to ceremonial rituals only - washing with water, the sounding of bells, and the wearing of linen undergarments.   The Old Testament provided a foreshadowing, a precursor to the real thing in the New Testament.  Under the new covenant, the mere symbols are replaced with real living beings; namely, the new Ark, Mary, and the New Covenant, Jesus Christ - the Word of God Himself.  Why is this significant?  If God required the Temple to be preserved from defilement and used only for His glory in the Old Testament, it is absurd to believe that Mary’s womb would gain any less reverence when God Himself inhabited her most holy womb in the New Testament!!!

“The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers at their business. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade.”  (John 2:13-16)

Pay special attention to what is transpiring in this scene.  In this passage, Jesus Christ was not a forerunner of Karl Marx.  Christ was not condemning trade or commerce by any stretch of the imagination.  However, Jesus was trying to show that the Temple, and by extension any holy place, are to be treated with the reverence and respect that they deserve.   What seemed acceptable to the Sanhedrin was clearly not acceptable to the Lord.  A Holy Place is not to be abused by using it for purely human pursuits when its purpose is to glorify God in a special and unique way.  His objective was to keep the Temple for the supernatural, and not allow it to be relegated to some nominal commerce court.  The implications of this fact become apparent when one considers the Holy Place in which He resided for nine months.  If the Lord of the Universe abided in his mother’s womb for so long, then what is the probability that He would allow that sanctuary to be reduced to a mere natural usage - turning it into a common trader’s market?

Rebuttal 6

Early Christian literature attests to the existence of Mary’s consecrated virginity (Protoevagelium of James, 120 A.D.)  Living a celibate life within marriage was not unknown in Jewish tradition either.   It was told that Moses, who was married, remained continent the rest of his life after the command to abstain from sexual intercourse (Ex 19:15) given in preparation the seventy elders abstained thereafter from their wives after their call, and so did Eldad and Medad when the spirit of prophecy came upon them; indeed it was said that the prophets became celibate after the Word of the Lord communicated with them (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 19; 46.3; Sifre to Numbers 99 sect. 11; Sifre Zutta 81-82, 203-204; Aboth Rabbi Nathan 9, 39; Tanchuman 111, 46; Tanchumah Zaw 13; 3 Petirot Moshe 72; Shabbath 87a; Pesachim 87b, Babylonian Talmud). (1)

Rebuttal 7

Another compelling Catholic response in favour of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity involves Mary’s query to the Archangel’s annunciation:

“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end." And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”  (Luke 1:32-35, RSV)

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34) NIV

“Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34) KJV

“And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?” (Luke 1:34) DR

The angel’s statement is a statement concerning a FUTURE EVENT.  There is no mention of a divine conception before Mary’s response.  Under the Protestant understanding, as far as Mary was concerned, it was going to be a natural birth with the ensuing sexual relations with St. Joseph after their marriage.  Mary’s response, however, is rather conspicuous.  She says: “How can this be since I know not man”.  This is in the present tense.  Under the Protestant understanding, Mary’s question would make no sense since she surely knew how to conceive a child.  Since the angel had not yet indicated a divine conception, Mary would have assumed a natural birth so there would have been no point to her question.  If you were Mary you would not say,  “I have not had sex yet” if the angel originally told you that you would conceive in the future.  You would say “Oh, I see, so I am going to conceive naturally with Joseph.”  Once that happened the Angel would then inform you of the divine nature of the conception.

But that is not what happened.  Mary says:  “I know not man”  or “I am a virgin”; meaning, “how can I naturally conceive a child if I am a virgin?”  It is then, and only then, does the angel indicate the plan of divine conception.  This text is simply too overwhelming and forceful.  The Catholic Position could stand nicely on this passage alone.

Rebuttal 8


Before leaving Svendsen’s objection to the Catholic understanding of the passage, however, it is necessary to address his rather casual and passing treatment of the Greek word in this passage.  Before turning to the contextual argument he gives above, Svendsen tries to convince his audience that the Greek word sunerchomai means sexual relations.  Dr. Svendsen states:

“Now the phrase ‘before they came together’ is ‘sunerchomai’ in Greek, and it means to simply “come together” but it is often used in context to mean sexual relations.  Scholars point to Wisdom 7:2 as an example of this usage as well as a variant reading of 1 Corinthians 7:5.  Dr. Svendsen then goes on to cite a few lexiconical sources which allow for ‘sunerchomai’ to mean sexual relations. [00:07:18-00:07:58]

The first thing to be pointed out here is that 1 Cor. 7:5  is used in the context of marriage. Matthew uses ‘sunerchomai’ in the context of betrothal and therefore given the one year period of betrothal, one cannot conclusively say that BTCT necessarily means sexual intercourse.

Second, Svendsen cites ONE New Testament reference supporting his view - 1 Corinthians 7:5.   The word ‘sunerchomai’ (pronounced {soon-er'-khom-ahee}) occurs 33 times in the New Testament, and only ONCE (1 Cor. 7:5) is a sexual interpretation even possible.  Strong’s Concordance lists these possible meanings for the word (#4905):

1) to come together
1a) to assemble
1b) of conjugal cohabitation
2) to go (depart) or come with one, to accompany one

For those who are interested, these are the passages in question:

Matthew 1:18, Mark 3:20, Mark 6:33, Mark 14:53, Luke 5:15, Luke 23:55, John 11:33, John 18:20, Acts 1:6, Acts 1:21, Acts 2:6, Acts 5:16, Acts 9:39, Acts 10:23, Acts 10:27, Acts 10:45, Acts 11:12, Acts 13:38, Acts 16:13, Acts 19:32, Acts 21:16, Acts 21:22, Acts 25:17, Acts 28:17, 1 Cor.7:5, 1 Cor. 11:17, 1 Cor.11:20, 1 Cor.11:33, 1 Cor.11:34(2), 1 Cor. 14:23, 1 Cor.14:26.

This fact alone assigns the burden of proof to the Helvidian side.  Gerry Matatics pounded this point home in the debate by reminding Dr. Svendsen of his outrageous attempt to annex ‘come together’ to his meaning:

“The first thing we can say is that even Protestant commentators and Protestant lexicons; that is, dictionaries of the Greek language, point out that every single one, and I will ask Dr. Svendsen to produce one single instance tonight in your hearing of any Greek lexicon - Protestant or Catholic - it doesn’t matter - which says that the phrase ‘come together’ has as its primary purpose sexual relationship so that there would need to be a clear statement in the context precluding this to allow you to interpret it in a different way.  You will see that, if you look at the Greek dictionaries, that the term can be used and is frequently used to mean simply to come into the marriage from a period of betrothal.”  [00:40:00-00:41:07]

Just like Strong’s indicates above ‘sunerchomai’ does not have ‘sexual relations’ as its primary meaning. Grammar, therefore, does not suffice.  In fact, the Protestant interpretation is greatly outnumbered (31:1) if we were to simply poll the New Testament Scriptures on the use of the word.  Obviously, this is not a legitimate method of determining the meaning of the passage, but it does explain why Svendsen is not at all satisfied with arguing from this perspective alone.  That is why he goes on to address the passage from its context, but as shown in the first part of this rebuttal, even in this field his propositions and deductions are ineffective.


Even if it was conceded that ‘came together’ is to be understood as sexual relations, the Protestant position is by no means proven. The other issue to consider here is the preposition ‘before’ in the phrase ‘before they came together’.   The fact that St. Matthew uses this preposition in this phrase does not prove that Mary and Joseph did, in fact, have sexual relations.  St. Jerome explains the point rather well:

“If I choose to say, "the apostle Paul before he went to Spain was put in fetters at Rome," or (as I certainly might) "Helvidius, before he repented, was cut off by death," must Paul on being released at once go to Spain, or must Helvidius repent after death, although the Scripture says, "In sheol who shall give thee thanks?" (Deuteronomy. 22:24-25).  Must we not rather understand that the preposition before, although it frequently denotes order in time, yet sometimes refers only to order in thought?  So that there is no necessity, if sufficient cause intervened to prevent it, for our thoughts to be realized. When, then, the Evangelist says before they came together, he indicates the time immediately preceding marriage, and shows that matters were so far advanced that she who had been betrothed was on the point of becoming a wife. As though he said, before they kissed and embraced, before the consummation of marriage, she was found to be with child. And she was found to be so by none other than Joseph, who watched the swelling womb of his betrothed with the anxious glances, and, at this time, almost the privilege, of a husband. Yet it does not follow, as the previous examples showed, that he had intercourse with Mary after her delivery, when his desires had been quenched by the fact that she had already conceived.”  (St. Jerome, Against Helvidius, 4)

Hence, as St. Jerome demonstrates, one may understand “before they came together” as an intended, supposed, or hypothetical meaning without necessarily conceding that the phrase, by itself, has fulfilled its intended action.

Argument 2 - “First Born”

“Those who deny her virginity after the birth thought they had found a convincing argument in the term ‘firstborn’, attributed to Jesus in the Gospel (Lk 2:7), almost as though this word implied that Mary had borne other children after Jesus. But the word ‘firstborn" literally means "a child not preceded by another’ and, in itself, makes no reference to the existence of other children. Moreover, the Evangelist stresses this characteristic of the Child since certain obligations proper to Jewish law were linked to the birth of the firstborn son, independently of whether the mother might have given birth to other children. Thus every only son was subject to these prescriptions because he was "begotten first" (cf. Lk 2:23).” (Pope John Paul II, General Audience, Aug. 28, 1996).

The second argument which Dr. Svendsen uses involves the phrase ‘first born’ or ‘prototokos ’ in Greek, and centers around Luke 2:7:

“And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

The standard Protestant argument is to use this passage to suggest that Jesus was Mary’s first born child, implying, of course, that she had other children afterwards.

Svendsen goes on to offer these comments on the question:

“If Luke had known of any decision by Mary postpartem, it seems certain that he would not have used a phrase that would lead to such misunderstanding.  Such a phrase would make sense if Luke had known of other children born of Mary or at the very least that Mary still had child bearing potential.” [00:10:21-00:10:47]

This argument, while initially plausible, really starts to fall apart once a little historical and biblical research is undertaken.  Before doing so, however, it should be pointed out that a ‘first born son’ is still a first born son regardless if there are subsequent sons or not.  When God smote every first born in Egypt, did He exclude the Egyptian house that only had one son at the time because the title ‘first born’ would be redundant?  Obviously not.  And, as we shall soon discover, the phrase ‘first born’ does not always involve being born first.

Indeed, 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. This usage is illustrated by a funerary inscription discovered in Egypt. The inscription refers to a woman who died during the birth of her "first-born."  According to the late Father Mateo, “it was found near the site of an ancient Jewish colony in Upper Egypt. It is a Jewish epitaph or gravestone inscription, dated the 2nd day of the month Mechir (January 25th), A.D. 5 and discovered at Tell el Jehudijeh (the Mound of the Jews), the ancient city of Leontopolis. Leontopolis was a Jewish settlement near the southern border of Egypt, the site of a Jewish temple built in 130 B.C. The inscription was published and analyzed by Lietzmann in the "Zeitschrift fuer die neuetestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der aelteren Kirche", 22, 1923, p. 283. The language is Hellenistic Greek. The deceased woman's name was Arsinoe (a charming Greek name meaning "woman with uplifted mind"). She had a hard life, says the inscription, and died giving birth to her firstborn child (PROTOTOKOU TEKNOU). Theologically, the inscription is interesting because it reflects the Jewish belief of that time and place in an afterlife of happiness and in the immortality of the soul .” (http://www.cin.org/mateo.html)

Svendsen anticipates this counter argument, providing this response:  “In every case that this is used, there is always an intent to have more children, but with Mary there is no intent, is there?!?”  [1:00:07-1:00:58]

This response is a non sequitur.  The intent of the mother is irrelevant to the issue at hand.  What is the point of inscribing ‘firstborn’ if the mother is dead in the first place, and is incapable of giving birth again?  Is it to simply show her intent of giving birth in the future if she had lived?  Would the inscriber say “Oh, we should describe the child as ‘first born’ because the mother intended to have more”?  No.  That would be ridiculous and the phrase becomes meaningless and bizarre.  The only possible explanation is that ‘first born’ means something more than a physical begetting.  Or, perhaps, one can turn one of Dr. Svendsen’s favourite arguments back on him:  Why did not the inscription read as ‘monogenes’ (only child) instead?

Furthermore, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica (Volume 6, Column 1309), the phrase “first born” referred to the first male child irrespective of subsequent siblings - it was a legal term under the Mosaic Law determining for him certain duties and privileges within the family and the community. The ceremony which so situated the firstborn was to take place on the 31st day after his birth. He was at that point legally and ritually the "firstborn" even if he turned out to be the only child.   Among non-Catholic scholars, Michaelis and Herrick assert that  the term firstborn (‘prwtovtoko, ‘prootokos’) does not occur before the Septuagint (undertaken ca. 3rd century B.C.). But in the instances where it does occur after this time, the idea of birth or origin is less prominent and privilege (rather than birthright) is [the intended meaning]. (Wilhelm Michaelis, TDNT, s.v. prwtotovko", 6: 871).

First Born in the Old Testament

The usage of the phrase ‘first born’ is legion in the Old Testament, and most of the time, it does indeed refer to the first born male among his other brothers.  However, the Catholic view is still vindicated since it suffices to show that there are at least a handful of instances where this phrase is not categorically used in regards to the presence of other sons.   Consider these examples:

Esau and Jacob:

Genesis recounts the geneology of the sons of Isaac, Esau and Jacob:

“The first came forth red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they called his name Esau.  Afterward his brother came forth, and his hand had taken hold of Esau's heel; so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.  (Genesis 25:25-26)

“His father Isaac said to him, "Who are you?" He answered, "I am your son, your first-born, Esau."”  (Genesis 27:32)

The historical account of Genesis, therefore, teaches that Esau was first born and Jacob was second born.   Later when Jacob has matured and God is leading him to be the patriarch of a nation, the Lord changes Jacob’s name to ‘Israel’.

Now then, let us turn to the showdown between Moses in Pharaoh in Exodus where God is instructing Moses:

“And you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, Israel is my first-born son, and I say to you, "Let my son go that he may serve me"; if you refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay your first-born son.'” (Exodus 4:22-23).

The reference to Israel has a dual meaning here, both of which vindicate the Catholic claim.  First, principally speaking, ‘Israel’ is the nation of Israel, comprised of the twelve tribes of Jacob.  Reflecting for a moment then, we ask ourselves, if there are OTHER ‘nation sons’ of God, who are they?  The Canaanites?  The Egyptians?  The Assyrians?  The Phillistines?  The Persians?  The Moabites?  Obviously not.   Israel has no ‘sibling nation’ since it was God Himself who calls them to be set APART from these nations in the plan of redemption.  Israel is ONE and there is no other, and she is beloved and preserved by almighty God.  The reference to Israel as God’s first born does not involve being born first, therefore.  It refers, rather, to the special relationship between God and his chosen people, Israel.  Moreover, this unique filial relationship that Israel enjoyed is demonstrated in the Old Testament Pseudepigraphical works (cf. Jubilees 2:20; 18:2; 19:28) as well as into rabbinic Judaism (Ex 4:22 Rabba) cited above.

Indirectly, of course, the nation of Israel is born of its patriarchal ancestor, Jacob.  Hence, one cannot separate the sons of Israel from Israel (Jacob) himself.  When God speaks of ‘Israel’, he means everyone of Israel’s sons, INCLUDING Israel (Jacob) himself.  Now, therefore, when God says, “Israel is my first-born son”, he is also referring to Jacob, the first Israel.  But how can this be under the Helvidian (Protestant) view of ‘first born’ since Jacob was SECOND born after Esau?  The answer is simple: the Helvidian view of ‘first born’ does not fit into this passage.

b) Reuben & Judah:

In the case of Jacob, therefore, the conception of ‘first born’ as being an election rather than always being a matter of progeny is more than apparent.  Even in the case of the direct lineage of Jacob; that is, the twelve tribes of Israel, this theme is repeated.

“But the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, and gave them a charge to the people of Israel and to Pharaoh king of Egypt to bring the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt. These are the heads of their fathers' houses: the sons of Reuben, the first-born of Israel: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi; these are the families of Reuben. The sons of Simeon: Jemu'el, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul, the son of a Canaanite woman; these are the families of Simeon. These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon, Kohath, and Merar'i, the years of the life of Levi being a hundred and thirty-seven years….”  (Exodus 6:13-16)

In this account from Exodus, we learn that Reuben was the first born of Jacob.  However, although Reuben was first-born, he did not gain the favour of God because he defiled his ‘father’s couch’, and the birthright is instead given to the sons of Joseph.

“Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob, and hearken to Israel your father. Reuben, you are my first-born, my might, and the first fruits of my strength, pre-eminent in pride and pre-eminent in power. Unstable as water, you shall not have pre-eminence because you went up to your father's bed; then you defiled it--you went up to my couch!” (Genesis 49:2-4)

“The sons of Reuben the first-born of Israel (for he was the first-born; but because he polluted his father's couch, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel, so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright; though Judah became strong among his brothers and a prince was from him, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph), the sons of Reuben, the first-born of Israel: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.”  (1 Chronicles 5:1-3)

Reuben has lost his birthright to Joseph while a ‘prince’ (being an obvious reference to the Messiah) will come from the house of Judah.  Other messianic allusions are made about the house of Judah as well.  His father’s sons shall bow down before his descendants and the scepter (which Christ holds) will not depart from the house of Judah until the coming of the Messiah:

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you.   Judah is a lion's whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as a lioness; who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”  (Genesis 49:8-10)

“But of the Son he says, "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, the righteous scepter is the scepter of thy kingdom.”  (Hebrews 1:8)

“Then one of the elders said to me, "Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:5)

“Gilead is mine; Manas'seh is mine; E'phraim is my helmet; Judah my scepter.”  (Psalm 108:8)

And Solmon says,

“Yet the LORD God of Israel chose me from all my father's house to be king over Israel for ever; for he chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father's house, and among my father's sons he took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel.” (1 Chronicles 28:4)

It seems that Reuben has become a nominal figure in the remainder of the Old Testament since he is rarely mentioned, while the house of Judah is very prominent indeed.  Other New Testament passages appears to echo this testimony:

“Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…”(Matthew 1:2).  (Notice that each of the first born sons is not mentioned in any of this series.).

“…For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah…  (Hebrews 7:14)

c) Mannaseh & Eliakim:

The idea of this phrase being used for something more than just posterity is demonstrated very clearly when one examines the relationship between Mannaseh and Ephraim.  Genesis 41:51-52 says, "And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Mannasseh:...and the name of the second called he Ephraim..." Yet in contrast to this, speaking in Jeremiah God says,

“For thus says the LORD: "Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, 'The LORD has saved his people, the remnant of…With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and E'phraim is my first-born.”  (Jeremiah 31:7-9)

The Scriptures, therefore, are clear:  there are two kinds of first-born -  the ‘carnal first born’ (Mannaseh) and the ‘spiritual first born’ (Ephraim).

Eliab & David:

“The LORD said to Samuel, "How long will you grieve over Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons." And Samuel said, "How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me." And the LORD said, "Take a heifer with you, and say, 'I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.' And invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me him whom I name to you." Samuel did what the LORD commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, "Do you come peaceably?" And he said, "Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD; consecrate yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice." And he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eli'ab and thought, "Surely the LORD'S anointed is before him." But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." Then Jesse called Abin'adab, and made him pass before Samuel. And he said, "Neither has the LORD chosen this one." Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the LORD chosen this one." And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, "The LORD has not chosen these." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Are all your sons here?" And he said, "There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he comes here." And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. And the LORD said, "Arise, anoint him; for this is he." Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.” (1 Samuel 16:1-13)

In this account from the first book of Samuel, the seven sons of Jesse pass before Samuel.  The Scriptures indicate that David was the youngest, and that it was he who was eventually chosen by God and subsequently anointed by the Prophet Samuel.  This is significant because regardless of which of the other six sons was the eldest - perhaps Eliab because he was listed first - it was obviously not David. Why is this significant?  Well, as demonstrated with Jacob and Eliakim earlier, it is the election of God that makes someone ‘first-born’.  We see this truth confirmed in the Psalms where God confirms David’s election by calling him ‘first-born’:

“Of old thou didst speak in a vision to thy faithful one, and say: "I have set the crown upon one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him; so that my hand shall ever abide with him, my arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted. I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. He shall cry to me, 'Thou art my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.' And I will make him the first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth. My steadfast love I will keep for him for ever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. I will establish his line for ever and his throne as the days of the heavens.” (Psalm 89:19-29)

e)  Other Examples:

There are, of course, many other instances in the Old Testament which show that the naturally first born son is frequently passed over and rejected by God in favour of another sibling.  This should be no immediate shock since it started to become the rule rather than the exception even as early as the book of Genesis with Cain and Abel (Genesis 4) and Ishmael & Isaac (Genesis 16:11ff & 21:1ff).

First Born Usage in the NT

The Old Testament has provided some interesting insights into the usage of ‘first-born’.  It is apparent that the natural usage of the term becomes less conspicuous and less relevant as the history of Israel progresses.  In fact, as shown above, the phrase begins to assume the adoptive orientation.   Michaelis summarizes the evidence from the Septuagint:  “The idea of even a figurative birth or begetting is no longer a clear element in ‘prototokos’”. And Herricks adds:  “It is nowhere set forth and in Ps 88:28 it is fact ruled out by ‘qhvsomai’, which rather suggests adoption, cf. also Ps. 2:7. The idea of priority in time over other sons is remote. The orientation of the word is no longer to the presence of other sons. It expresses the fact that the people, the individual, or the king is especially dear to God.” (Michaelis, TDNT, 6:872; BDB, 114a.)

Another striking fact is that when ‘prototokos’ is used in the New Testament, it invariably means something other than a progenical view.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.”  (Romans 8:29).

Who are these brethren?  Are they Jesus’ younger brothers?  Or, rather, are they the ‘brethren’ who are born again in the Spirit (Cf. John 3:3) and who do the will of God (Cf. Mark 3:35)?  The passage in Romans above is an obvious allusion to those who will follow Jesus into the resurrected new life, Jesus is the first born from the dead - none preceding him, as St. Paul will teach in his letter to the Colosians, and this is the context that ‘first born’ must be understood.

“He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.”  (Colosians 1:18)

Again, this passage situates ‘first-born’ in the context of the resurrection AND in the context of pre-eminence.  The Old Testament passages cited above emphasized that the ‘first-born’ was primarily an election or pre-eminence of God OVER a whole nation.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation…” (Colosians 1:15)

“And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says, ‘Let all God's angels worship him…’” (Hebrews 1:6)

“…and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…” (Revelation 1:5)

Who was the naturally first-born human?  Adam.  So why is the New Testament using the phrase ‘first-born’ to refer to Jesus?   Obviously it is because the word is being used, once again, to denote pre-eminence among his followers.

“…and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect… (Hebrews 12:23)

Protestant Scholar Prof. Herrick offers these comments on this passage:  “It is best to identify ‘the church of the firstborn’ with all the saints, both those on earth and those who have died and are now referred to as the ‘spirits of righteous men made perfect’.  It includes the company of the redeemed from all ages.  But the sense conveyed by firstborn should be derived from the use of the same term in 1:6. There it is singular and is used in reference to Jesus. It connotes special status as the firstborn and regal heir of the Davidic promises. The fact that the company of all redeemed people are so referred in Hebrews 12:23 indicates their connection to Christ and the fact that they too now enjoy special status as heirs of God.”  There is simply no room for a natural interpretation of this passage, unless Dr. Svendsen wants to suggest that only the first-born of each family go to eternal bliss.

Luke 2:7

“And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”  (Luke 2:7)

In light of the preceding passages, therefore, any merely natural interpretation of any passage of ‘first-born’ must be examined very carefully.  Of course, the phrase in question could indeed mean that Jesus was the first born among other natural brothers, but the key here is to look at the passage in the context in which it is situated.  Simply insisting on a categorical interpretation of the word, as Protestants invariably do, is not a sustainable objection to Mary’s perpetual virginity as the evidence from the Old and New Testament clearly demonstrates.

Now, looking at the passage as it is written above certainly lends one to lean in the direction of a natural interpretation.  There is not a particular spiritual dimension to how the phrase is used in Luke 2:7 - at least, not initially.   Indeed, the fact that Mary who ‘gives birth to her first-born son’ certainly does suggest that Mary did have other children.

Yet, is this what the context really says?   Just a few verses later, Luke reminds his readers about the Mosaic Law: “And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’)”  (Luke 2:22-23)

Hence, St. Luke has situated the phrase ‘first born’ in the context of the Mosaic law in the very same chapter.  This is particularly significant when one considers that, unlike other Scriptural passages where siblings are listed along with the naturally first born (Cf. Exodus 6:13-16; 1 Chronicles 3:15), neither Luke nor any of the Gospel writers ever do so with Jesus.  Why is it, for instance, that you do not see the list of Mary’s sons like “Jesus, Mary’s first born, James the younger, Joses, Simon, and Judas…?

In light of this Mosaic setting which Luke has introduced in verse 22, St. Jerome explains the Catholic position very well:

“Our position is this: Every only begotten son is a first-born son, but not every first-born is an only begotten. By first-born we understand not only one who is succeeded by others, but one who has had no predecessor.  "Everything," says the Lord to Aaron, "that openeth the womb of all flesh which they offer unto the Lord, both of man and beast, shall be thine: nevertheless the first born of man shalt thou surely redeem, and the firstling of unclean beasts shalt thou redeem." [Numb. xviii. 15]  The word of God defines first-born as everything that openeth the womb.  Otherwise, if the title belongs to such only as have younger brothers, the priests cannot claim the firstlings until their successors have been begotten, lest, perchance, in case there were no subsequent delivery it should prove to be the first-born but not merely the only begotten. [ "And those that are to be redeemed of them from a month old shalt thou redeem, according to thine estimation for the money of five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary (the same is twenty gerahs). But the firstling of an ox, or the firstling of a sheep, or the firstling of a goat, thou shalt not redeem; they are holy." [Numb. xviii. 16]  The word of God compels me to dedicate to God everything that openeth the womb if it be the firstling of clean beasts: if of unclean beasts, I must redeem it, and give the value to the priest. I might reply and say, Why do you tie me down to the short space of a month? Why do you speak of the first-born, when I cannot tell whether there are brothers to follow? Wait until the second is born. I owe nothing to the priest, unless the birth of a second should make the one I previously had the first-born. Will not the very points of the letters cry out against me and convict me of my folly, and declare that first-born is a title of him who opens the womb, and is not to be restricted to him who has brothers?

And, then, to take the case of John: we are agreed that he was an only begotten son: I want to know if he was not also a first-born son, and whether he was not absolutely amenable to the law. There can be no doubt in the matter. At all events Scripture thus speaks of the Saviour. "And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord) and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons." [S. Luke ii. 22 sq.] If this law relates only to the first-born, and there can be no first-born unless there are successors, no one ought to be bound by the law of the first-born who cannot tell whether there will be successors. But inasmuch as he who has no younger brothers is bound by the law of the first-born, we gather that he is called the first-born who opens the womb and who has been preceded by none, not he whose birth is followed by that of a younger brother.  (St. Jerome, Against Helvidius, 12)

Dr. Svendsen also goes on to argue from sufficiency.  He claims that if Jesus was the only son of Mary, Luke would have used ‘monogenes’ (only born)  instead of ‘prototokos’ (first born).  He cites three other passages which Luke uses to refer to an only child:

Luke 7:12: “As he drew near to the gate of the city, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large crowd from the city was with her.”

Luke 8:41-42: “And there came a man named Ja'irus, who was a ruler of the synagogue; and falling at Jesus' feet he besought him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.”

Luke 9:38 - “And behold, a man from the crowd cried, "Teacher, I beg you to look upon my son, for he is my only child.”

Citing these passages, however, proves nothing conclusively or even partially.  As noted above, they are arguments from silence.  The fact that all of these people are referred to as ‘the only son’ does not mean they were not also first born.  In fact, if they are ‘monogenes’ then they must be necessarily first born.  And as alluded to many times in this piece, according to Jewish Law, the first male opening the womb is ‘first born’ regardless of the existence of any future siblings.  In the instances that Svendsen cites, Luke is simply stating a fact: each of the children were the only children to their parents.  There is no context of the Mosaic tradition as there was in Luke 2.  The presupposition on Dr. Svendsen’s part is to insist that the Gospel writer wanted to communicate a natural rather than a legal meaning to ‘prototokos’ in Luke 2:7 like the ones he cites above.  The problem for Svendsen, of course, is that he ignores the fact that the Mosaic allusion in Luke 2:7 is fulfilled in Luke 2:22-23.

In any case, St. Jerome adeptly disposes of this type of argument:

“Moses writes in Exodus, "And it came to pass at midnight, that the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the first-born of the captive that was in the dungeon: And all the first-born of cattle." [Exod. xii. 29]. Tell me, were they who then perished by the destroyer, only your first-born, or, something more, did they include the only begotten? If only they who have brothers are called first-born, the only begotten were saved from death. And if it be the fact that the only begotten were slain, it was contrary to the sentence pronounced, for the only begotten to die as well as the first-born. You must either release the only begotten from the penalty, and in that case you become ridiculous: or, if you allow that they were slain, we gain our point, though we have not to thank you for it, that only begotten sons also are called first-born.” (St. Jerome, Against Helvidius, 12)

Argument 3 - Brothers and Sisters  of the Lord

“Helvidius has shown himself too ignorant, in saying that Mary had several sons, because mention is made in some passages to the brothers of Christ…” (St. Jerome, quoted by Bernard Leeming, Protestants and Our Lady, 9).

“Christ...was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him..."brothers" really means "cousins" here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins ‘brothers’.” (Martin Luther, Sermons on John, chapters 1-4, 1537-39).

Rebuttal 1

There are about ten instances in the New Testament where "brothers" and "sisters" of the Lord are mentioned, including Matt. 13:55; Mark 3:31-34; Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12; 7:1, 5; 7:10; Acts 1:14.
The Greek word for ‘brother’ in Greek, ‘adelphos’,  has a very broad meaning in the Bible, and it is not restricted to the literal meaning of a blood brother.  The word has a very wide semantic range of meaning and could refer to any male relative, including a cousin or uncle, and even friends or allies (Cf. 1 Sam. 9:13; 20:32; 2 Sam. 1:26; Amos 1:9). Lot is described as Abraham's "brother" (Gen. 14:14), even though he was, in fact, Abraham’s nephew.   Similar parallels are found in Gen. 29:15 and 1 Chron. 23:21-22.  The word is also used to describe kinsman in Deut. 23:7, Neh. 5:7, Jer. 34:9, and 2 Kings 10:13-14.   Strong’s concordance lists brother or ‘adelphos’ as word #80.  The variant meanings of the word are produce below:

1) a brother, whether born of the same two parents or only of the same father or mother
2) having the same national ancestor, belonging to the same people, or countryman
3) any fellow or man
4) a fellow believer, united to another by the bond of affection
5) an associate in employment or office
6) brethren in Christ
6a) his brothers by blood
6b) all men
6c) apostles
6d) Christians, as those who are exalted to the same heavenly place

As the concordance amply testifies, ‘adelphos’  has a wide range of meaning in the New Testament, and it (or its derivatives) occurs a total of 80 times in the New Testament.  In fact, in the book of Matthew alone, there are plenty of references which refer to a relationship other than any blood lineage at all.  Below is a sample from the Gospel of Matthew; the Greek is directly below each passage:

Matthew 5:22-23:  But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,

egw de legw umin oti paV o orgizomenoV tw adelfw autou eikh enocoV estai th krisei oV d an eiph tw adelfw autou raka enocoV estai tw sunedriw oV d an eiph mwre enocoV estai eiV thn geennan tou puroV ean oun prosferhV to dwron sou epi to qusiasthrion kai ekei mnhsqhV oti o adelfoV sou ecei ti kata sou

Matthew 5:47: And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

kai ean aspashsqe touV filouV umwn monon ti perisson poieite ouci kai oi telwnai outwV poiousin
Matthew 7:3-4:   Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?

h pwV ereiV tw adelfw sou afeV ekbalw to karfoV apo tou ofqalmou sou kai idou h dokoV en tw ofqalmw sou

Matthew 12:47-49:  But he replied to the man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers!

eipen de tiV autw idou h mhthr sou kai oi adelfoi sou exw esthkasin zhtounteV soi lalhsai o de apokriqeiV eipen tw eiponti autw tiV estin h mhthr mou kai tineV eisin oi adelfoi mou kai ekteinaV thn ceira autou epi touV maqhtaV autou eipen idou h mhthr mou kai oi adelfoi mou

Matthew 18:15:  "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

ean de amarthsh eiV se o adelfoV sou upage kai elegxon auton metaxu sou kai autou monou ean sou akoush ekerdhsaV ton adelfon sou

Matthew 18:21: Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"

tote proselqwn autw o petroV eipen kurie posakiV amarthsei eiV eme o adelfoV mou kai afhsw autw ewV eptakiV

Matthew 18:35:  So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."

outwV kai o pathr mou o epouranioV poihsei umin ean mh afhte ekastoV tw adelfw autou apo twn kardiwn umwn ta paraptwmata autwn

Matthew 23:8:  But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren.

umeiV de mh klhqhte rabbi eiV gar estin umwn o kaqhghthV o cristoV panteV de umeiV adelfoi este

Matthew 25:40: And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.'

kai apokriqeiV o basileuV erei autoiV amhn legw umin ef oson epoihsate eni toutwn twn adelfwn mou twn elacistwn emoi epoihsate

Matthew 28:10: Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."

tote legei autaiV o ihsouV mh fobeisqe upagete apaggeilate toiV adelfoiV mou ina apelqwsin eiV thn galilaian kai ekei me oyontai


Rebuttal 2

Whenever the issue of Our Lady’s Perpetual Virginity comes up, Catholic Apologists constantly remind their opponents that nowhere in the bible does it say that Mary had other sons.  There is not one place in the New Testament where Jesus’ ‘brothers and sisters’ are also referred to as Mary’s sons or daughters.  Of course, the Protestant rebuttal is that this is not completely valid argument since it is, for the most part, an argument from silence.  The Catholic is begging the question, the Protestant argues, by insisting that the Bible must say that Mary had other sons or daughters in order to conclusively prove that Mary did have other children.

Let us take this line of argument to its consumation, therefore, to see if the Protestant objection holds any merit.  Let us suppose, for the sake of our Protestant antagonist, that Mary and Joseph did, in fact, have other ‘sons’ (and daughters).  The question then becomes:  Does that mean that they were necessarily her biological sons?  No, not at all.

Saul had two daughters named Merab and Michal (1 Sam. 14:49).   The older daughter, Merab, was promised to David as a wife, but she was given to Adriel the Meholathite instead (1 Sam. 18:17-19). David married Michal, the younger daughter of Saul (1 Sam. 18:20-30), but  she was given to Phalti after David had fled from Saul (1 Sam. 25:44).  When David returned to recapture the kingdom, however, he claimed Michal back as his wife (2 Sam. 3:13-16) .  After capturing the kingdom, David brought the Ark to Jerusalem and danced in jubilation before the Lord.  Here is how Scripture recounts the event and the mockery of Michal, his wife:

“And it was told King David, "The LORD has blessed the household of O'bed-e'dom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God." So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of O'bed-e'dom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the horn. As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart…Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, "How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants' maids, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!" And David said to Michal, "It was before the LORD, who chose me above your father, and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the LORD--and I will make merry before the LORD. I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor." And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.”  (2 Samuel 6:12-23)

Scripture therefore says that Michal died childless.  She had bore no children to David as a consequence of her mockery.  Yet later in 2 Samuel 21:8, Michal is reported to have five sons:

“But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal* the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite…” (NIV)

* Most Hebrew and Septuagint MSS use ‘Michal’; two Hebrew manuscripts and some Septuagint manuscripts and Syriac MSS use ‘Merab’.

In other words, then, there appears to be an apparent contradiction.  In searching to resolve this inconsistency, the Jewish Talmud, which consists of the Gemara and Mishnah, provides a very interesting answer.  “Now as to R. Joshua b. Korha, surely it is written, And the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul whom she bore to Adriel. - R. Joshua [b. Korha] answers thee: Was it then Michal who bore them? Surely it was rather Merab who bore them! But Merab bore and Michal brought them up; therefore they were called by her name. This teaches thee that whoever brings up an orphan in his home, Scripture ascribes it to him as though he had begotten him.” (Talmud Mas. Sanhedrin 19b) A similar passage occurs in the midrash, where the question arises about what Hebrew name to use for a woman raised by a foster father. The decision is to use the foster father's name, because "he who brings up a child is to be called its father, not he who gave birth.” (Exodus Rabbah 46:5)

Incidentally, the second part of the Talmud, the Mishnah, was the oral law, an augmentation of the written law.  It was passed down orally by the scholars and scribes  in each successive generation. Orthodox Jewish scholars believe that on Mt. Sinai, an oral law was given by God in addition to the written law (so much for sola scriptura even under the Old Covenant).  Both parts of the Talmud are sacred; both comprise what is referred to as the Torah. The Talmud is therefore universally accepted as an authentic account of Jewish religion and culture.  The Talmud resolutely confirms that there is no difference between an adopted child and a natural one.   Furthermore, the genealogical tables in the Bible do not attempt to distinguish between an adopted child and a natural one.   There is no such thing as an adopted child.  Consider this further proof from 1 Chronicles:

“And the sons of Ezrah were, Jether, and Mered, and Epher, and Jalon ... And his [Mered's] wife Jehudijah bare Jered the father of Gedor, and Heber the father of Socho, and Jekuthiel the father of Zanoah. And these are the sons of Bithiah the daughter of Pharaoh, which Mered took.”. (1 Chr. 4:17-18)

According to the Talmud, Jehudijah and Bithiah were one and the same person [(Talmud Mas. Megilah 13a, (Talmud Mas. Sanhedrin 19b). She was the daughter of Pharaoh and a Jewish proselyte who took Moses out of the bulrushes and looked after him.  In the above passage, Jered is considered to be the mother of Moses, and it says she [Jehudijah/Bithiah] "bare" him, even though she only looked after him.

In consideration of this ‘adoption option’ which the bible and Jewish tradition clearly affirm, it is more than evident that the Helvidian position - even conceding for the moment that Mary and Joseph had other ‘sons and daughters’ - is far from conclusive.  Indeed, it is quickly becoming apparent that a ‘son’ in the bible has many meanings - biological, relational, adoption-al, and spiritual.

Rebuttal 3

Despite the fact that no where in the bible does it say that James, Joses, Judas, and Simon are the sons of Mary or that Mary is their mother, Protestants allege that passages like Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55 prove that Jesus had uterine brothers and sisters.  In addressing these passages, all that has to be demonstrated is that one of these named brothers is not a uterine brother.  The best candidate for this question is undoubtedly James.  The New Testament specifically identifies 38 instances of the name ‘James’:

James, son of Zebedee [James the elder or greater] (Cf. Matthew 10:2)
James, son of Alphaeus [James the younger or less] (Cf. Matthew 10:3)
James, the brother of the Lord (Cf. Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55, Galatians 1:19)
James, non relevant to this discussion (Cf. Act 1:13)

The Protestant view must reconcile the view of Jesus having a uterine brother named James in light of these Scriptural passages.  Now, for the Protestant, it is clear that the James listed in Mark 6:3 or Matthew 13:55 cannot be either James the elder who was the son of Zebedee or James the younger who was the son of Alphaeus.  The only other possibility is to suggest that there exists a third ‘James’ (alternative iii above) which is alluded to in Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55 and Galatians 1:19 as Our Lord’s ‘brother’.  Let us examine  these verses to see, if in fact, there is a third James, the alleged natural brother of Jesus.

1) “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3)

“Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?” (Matthew 13:55)

The first thing to notice is that James is listed with Joseph in both passages above.  Yet, in other passages in these gospels, it is clear that the James in the ‘James and Joses’ verses is likely referring to James the younger as the verses below demonstrate:

“There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salo'me…” (Mark 15:40)

“…among whom were Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zeb'edee.”  (Matthew 27:56)

The notable point here is that both passages are describing the same event:  the crucifixion.  The gospel of Mark explicitly mentions ‘James the younger’ while Matthew contrasts the mother of James the younger with the mother of James the elder (the wife of Zebedee).  This is particularly significant when one considers passages such as Mark 15:40, 15:47, 16:1, where the ‘other Mary’ is either the mother of James the younger, or ‘James’ alone or ‘Joses’ alone.  This suggests that this woman is the common mother in these verses. Moreover, the ‘brothers’ noted in both Mark 6:3 and Mark 15:40 mention both James and Joses.   Since Joses is the common denominator in both passages, this heavily suggests that both ‘James’ are likely the same person as well.  If this is the case, the James in Mark 6:3 is indeed James the younger which would disqualify him from being Our Lord’s natural brother.

This mother of James, perhaps the wife of Alphaeus, also seems to be mentioned in these passages which recount the burial and resurrection of Jesus:

“Mary Mag'dalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.” (Mark 15:47)

“And when the sabbath was past, Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salo'me, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.”  (Mark 16:1)

“Now it was Mary Mag'dalene and Jo-an'na and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles…”  (Luke 24:10)

Another notable point to acknowledge in these passages is the fact that in all three instances in Mark (15:40, 15:47, 16:1) and once in Luke 24:10, she is in the company of Mary Magdalene.  Is it plausible to believe, for instance, that Magdalene had so many acquaintances named Mary with sons named Joses and James?

In support of their assertion that the James in Mark 6:3 was not James the younger, opponents argue that if James the younger were intended in the passage, then Matthew would have also been added to the list of brothers since he too was a son of Alphaeus (Cf. Mark 2:14, Matt. 9:9).  Yet, this argument is quickly refuted by simply appealing to a passage like Mark 15:40:  “…Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses…”  If the argument were to hold, then why is not Matthew mentioned here since he was the brother of James?

2)  The other passage to examine is found in Galatians:
“But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother.” (Galatians 1:19)

Now immediately one will notice that ‘James the Lord’s brother’ is identified as an Apostle in this verse.   That would, of course, sink the Protestant view since only the sons of Alphaeus and Zebedee were named Apostles - thereby contradicting the claim that Mary was the mother of one of these Apostles named James.

The only way to reconcile this passage with the other Scriptures is to either concede that ‘James the Lord’s brother’ is, in fact, one of the Apostle’s named ‘James’ as suggested above (thereby conceding the argument to the Catholic view), or, to propose that ‘apostle’ does not necessarily mean the 12 Apostles. If it can be shown that ‘apostle’ is also used in a generic sense, then ‘James the Lord’s brother’ does not necessarily have to be ‘James the elder’ or ‘James the younger’, thereby salvaging the Protestant view.  [Incidentally, the fact that there are two James’ - one referred to as ‘younger’ and the other as ‘older’ suggests a comparative arrangement between two people only.  Having a third James introduced would severely draw into question why they were referred to in such a way.]

While it is true that such passages exist; namely, Acts 14:14 and Romans 16:7, the context of the passage is all important in determining the intended meaning.  Not only are the numerical probabilities in favour of a non-generic interpretation of ‘apostle’,  but the context also leads one conclusively to believe that St. Paul was referring to the actual 12 Apostles.  Nothing in the chapter would lead the reader to believe that a generic understanding of Apostle is even possible.  Consider the verses before the passage in question:

“…nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days.”  (Galatians 1:17-18)

Here the context is clearly in the favour of the 12 Apostles, with Peter being mentioned.

Opponents of this interpreation also point to the use of ‘except’ in the verse, suggesting that it does not necessarily imply James was an Apostle.  “He could simply be saying he didn’t see any of the apostles except Peter - but that he did see James, the Lord’s brother” (“Did Mary Have Other Children’, Ralph and Arlene Woodrow, June, 1998).  Yet, the passage in question does NOT say ‘except Peter’ as Woodrow suggests.  The verse in question (Galatians 1:19) says ‘except James, the Lord’s brother’.

“Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother.” (Galatians 1:18-19)

The subject of the ‘exception’ is the Apostles.  There is no alternative rendering even possible.

“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me…and when they perceived the grace that was given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised…” (Galatians 2:1,9)

At the time Paul had recounted the encounter, James the elder (the brother of John) had already been dead (Cf. Acts 12:12).  The James spoken of here, therefore, is ‘James the younger’.  Another indication of this is found with the ordering of the Apostles names.  Whenever the sons of Zebedee are mentioned, they are invariably always mentioned together; that is, side by side.  In fact, whenever James the elder is mentioned in the New Testament, he is always mentioned with his brother John - 19 times to be exact.  Yet, in the case of Galatians 2:9, James and John are split by Peter which breaks the previous biblical pattern.  This suggests that the James mentioned here is the other Apostle, James the younger, who is, quite uncoincidentally, put on par with the undisputed Apostles in the passage i.e. Peter and John.

Indeed, it would be quite remarkable and unique for a leader of the Church to be named first before the Apostles, Peter and John - let alone being called, with Peter and John, ‘pillars’. There is no biblical precedence for this in the Scriptures.  As in Acts 15:13ff, this particular James is again speaking with authority after two Apostles have spoken.  Furthermore, since Acts 12:17 and the historical witness suggest that James was the bishop of Jerusalem, it begs the question:  what is the probability that an actual Apostle would not be the bishop of such an important See as Jerusalem?  Other than Rome, what See could even rival it?  These observations, along with the fact that the majority of the Fathers of the Western Church identify the writer with James the Apostle, the son of Alphaeus, suggest that the ‘Lord’s brother’ in Galatians 1:19 must have been an Apostle, and therefore not Mary’s son.

Hence, the overall conclusion concerning a third James, therefore, is simply to admit that there is significant evidence against ‘the Lord’s brother’ being another James, other than James the younger.

Rebuttal 4

Mark 6:3 names ‘Joses’ as a brother of Jesus.  ‘Joses’ is a form of ‘Joseph’ just like ‘Judas’ is a form ‘Jude’. The New International Version uses ‘Joseph’ instead of ‘Joses’.  It notes that ‘Joses’ is a variant of ‘Joseph’.

The verses in question have textual variants on this word. ‘Joses’ is found in Codices K, L, W, Delta, 0119, family 13 manuscripts, minuscule 565, and some Syriac and Bohiric manuscripts.  ‘Joses’ is found in Codex 700, minuscule 1010, and a Bohiric manuscript. ‘Joannes’ is found in a corrected version of codex Aleph, codices D and Gamma, 28 minuscules 1424, and a Vulgate manuscript.  And ‘Joseph’ is found in an alternate version of codex Aleph, codices Vaticanus, D, Theta, 33, 700, minuscule 892, a Syriac and Bohiric manuscript.

If these two names are equivalent, which is suggested by some of the evidence presented above, then another factor is brought into play.  It is rare that a father names a son after himself in Jewish culture.  In searching for such a combination (i.e. father and son with the same name) in the bible, I found no evidence of such an instance.  In fact, according to Rabbi Henry Bamberger:

“Naming a child after oneself, or after any living relative, is very rare in the Ashkanazic tradition. That would cover Jew in or from Eastern or Central Europe, and some parts of France. Sephardic Jews, those from the Iberian Peninsula, the Mediterranean, and the Arab world, frequently named after living relatives, though not often for the father.”

The implication of both Joseph and his son being mentioned represents, therefore, more evidence that Joses was not the natural brother of Jesus.

Rebuttal 5

In listing the brothers of Jesus, Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3 like this:   “James and Joses and Judas and Simon” while later on the gospel of Mark states:  “and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses” (Mark 15:40).

This is significant for two reasons.  First off, the fact that James and Joses are listed together suggests that these particular brothers are the sons of Mary, wife of Alphaeus.  The second point concerning the verses in Matthew and Mark relates to the conjuction ‘and’ which separates the four brothers.  According to Father Mateo, “the repetition (called polysyndeton) of the word ‘and’ (kai) between the names of the other four suggests that Mark [and Matthew] is presenting them, not as a cohesive group, but as four disparate individuals.”  (This Rock, February, 1990, p.16)

Rebuttal 6

Another grammatical flag is raised with the passage in Mark:

“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3)

There is no definite article in front of ‘brother’ as there is with ‘son’.  This is significant because it implies that the relationship between Jesus and Mary is more precise than the relationship between Jesus and his brothers.  Father Mateo explains:

“Following the greater number of manuscripts and translating literally so as to show the articles where they appear in Greek, we read:  ‘the son of the Mary and (a) relative [adelphos, no article] of James and Joses and Judas and Simon [no articles for these names].’  The articles with ‘son’ and ‘Mary’ give a slight emphasis to these two nouns and suggest that the connection between them is special.

The case is different with the rest of the nouns here [i.e. James, Joses, Judas, and Simon], which do not have the article.  Jesus is said to be ‘adelphos’ of the others.  In another grammar rule, Smyth says:  ‘Names of relationship omit the article; but the article is needed when a definite individual is spoken of.’ (H.W. Smyth, Greek Grammar, Harvard University Press, 1956, p.1140).  There is no precision here.  If Jesus were the uterine brother of the other four (the brother to the exclusion of any other), then Mark would write ‘ho adelphos’ without the article is non-specific and non-exclusive:  Jesus is a relative, one of many, of the other four.” (This Rock, February, 1990, p.16)

Rebuttal 7

If, in fact, this Mary was indeed the Mother of Jesus, then it would have been an extremely strange and bizarre method of identifying Jesus’ mother.  If one is known by the more prominent son of a family, it would be very unusual to switch that focus to the lesser known siblings.   Notice, for instance, in many of the passages, the “other Mary” is referred to as the Mother of Joses  (Cf. Mark 15:40) or James (Cf. Mark 16:1) or all of the brothers, James, Joses, Judas, and Simon (Cf. Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55). Now if the gospels writers meant Jesus’ mother  in these passages, why then would they not say “the Lord’s Mother” or “the mother of Jesus” or “His mother”.  In fact, there are many cases where obviously the Gospel writers DID do this (Cf. Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:43, Luke 8:19).  Why then would they shift the focus away from the singular and unique reference and source of identification of the Gospel itself  (Jesus Christ) to nominal and insignificant referents (his alledged natural siblings)?  It would be unusual and disjointed method of identification to say the least.  [Incidentally,  the historical record according to sources such as Hegesippus (2nd century A.D.) and Josephus (1st century A.D.) both indicate that James, the so-called ‘brother’ of Jesus, was also called “James, the Just”.  This particular James was the bishop of Jerusalem and was also the high priest in the Temple before the final break with Judaism occurred.  In order to be the high priest, of course, he had to have come from the tribe of Levi according to Mosaic Law.  Since Joseph was from the tribe of Judah, and since tribal recognition is bestowed from the father’s tribe, St. Joseph could not have been the natural father of this James.  Therefore, James was not the step-brother of Jesus, and the Lord’s mother could not have been James’ mother.]

Moreover,  it is well known, of course, that whenever the list of the Apostles is mentioned, Peter is, with the exception of one instance in Galatians 2:9, always mentioned first. Unless one is so consumed by Protestant bias, it is more than apparent that this fact indeed suggests a certain pre-eminence that was given to Peter over the other Apostles.   Now, using the same technique, the bible yields comparable results for Our Lady.  When she is mentioned with the other female followers of Jesus, she is mentioned either first or more prominently than the others.  Of course, this only makes logical sense since she is, after all, the Mother of Jesus Christ.  Here are two passages which highlight this fact:

“So the soldiers did this. But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Mag'dalene.” (John 19:25)

“All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”  (Acts 1:14)

However, when the passages purported to support the Protestant position on Jesus’ brothers are examined carefully, we do NOT see this order maintained immediately above.  In fact, if one examines the list of passages presented at the beginning of this section, one will quickly discover that Mary Magdalene is mentioned BEFORE the “other Mary”.  In light of this, how likely is it that where the passage is speaking of Jesus’ mother (Cf. John 19:25), she is mentioned first in the passage, yet in those passages where the ‘other Mary’ is mentioned, she would be placed after  Magdalene?

Rebuttal 8

Jewish males who had attained the age of thirteen became ‘sons of the Law’, and had to make a triple annual observance at the temple:

“Three times a year you shall celebrate a feast to Me.  You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread…Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest…also the Feast of the Ingathering…”  (Exodus 23:14-16)

In Luke 2:41, there is an allusion made to the first feast or the “Feast of the Passover”.  As a Jewish woman, Mary was not required to make this trip (Cf. Exodus 23:17, Deuteronomy 16:16).  Neither her nor any of her other alleged children had to go since they would have been all under 13.

The passage in question is presented here:

“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the company they went a day's journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions…” (Luke 2:41-46)

The notable thing here is that Mary’s trip to Jerusalem was a mere custom on her part.  While Joseph was obliged to make the journey, it was not something Mary herself was obliged or even expected to do.  In light of this, then, how likely is it for her to travel such a long distance (approximately 65 miles or 115 kms) with two, three, four, five, or six children all under the age of thirteen?  Moreover, Scripture says that Joseph and Mary traveled to Jerusalem from Nazareth every year (v.41).  This would include the years that she was pregnant or had recently given birth.  Another factor to consider is the sheer length of the trip on this occasion.  As the following chart clearly indicates, such a trip with many children would have been a monumental task:

Total No. of Days for trip to Jerusalem
Trip to Jerusalem from Nazareth (via caravan): 4 (assuming 17 miles per day)
Feast: 7 (Exodus 23:15, Luke 2:43)
Return trip back to Nazareth: 1 (Luke 2:44)
Trip Back to Jerusalem: 1 (Luke 2:44)
Looking for Jesus: 3 (Luke 2:46) (an obvious allusion to Jesus’ absence of 3 days before the resurrection)
Trip back to Nazareth: 4 (assuming 17 miles per day)

Total Number of Days: 20

The second concession that the Protestant must make involves the marked absence of any mention of Jesus’ alleged brothers or sisters in the early years of Jesus’ life.  Whenever the Holy Family is mentioned, it is only three persons: Jesus, Mary and Joseph.   From their exile to Egypt (Cf. Matthew 2:13-14); to their return a while later (Cf. Matthew 2:20-21); to the trip to the Temple recounted in Luke above (Cf. Luke 2:41-43); only Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are mentioned; and only Mary and Joseph sought Jesus out (Cf. Luke 2:48), and only these three alone are mentioned after that event (Luke 2:51-52).

Thirdly, the whole event’s account does not lend itself to other siblings being present.  Jesus would have been responsible for the supervision of his supposed younger siblings, and therefore would have been negligent in his duties as an older brother if he had stayed behind.  His absence would have also drawn the notice of his other siblings as they would all have probably traveled together in the caravan.

Finally, if the Protestant stands on the bible alone for his revelation of the facts of the Gospel,  then there is no biblical evidence whatsoever that Mary had children before Jesus reached the age of 12.  In fact, the bible’s silence is very suggestive that she did not.  And lest the Protestant object to this argument from silence, he should be reminded that this is the same rationale - the bible’s silence  - which the Protestant uses to reject a host of Catholic doctrines - infant baptism, praying to the saints, the veneration of Mary, etc.  which are purportedly also ‘absent from the bible’.   So the Protestant can’t have his cake and eat it too.  If he wants to stick strictly to the bible, then he must say that since the bible does not mention Mary’s alleged children before Jesus’ twelfth birthday (when, for one, it speaks of the Holy Family in many passages, and two,  it had ample opportunity to do so [Cf. Matthew 2:13-14, Matthew 2:20-21, Luke 2:41-52, etc.]), they must have been born after the trip to Jerusalem.

The facts, therefore,  imply that, at the very least, any hypothetical half-brothers would have to have been born after the trip to Temple in Luke 2.   Yet if this fact were true, then the gap between  Jesus and his youngest brother would have been at least thirteen years.  The following chart provides a possible schema of Jesus’ alleged brothers and sisters:

Mary - Age 15 @  Jesus’ Birth (Estimate only)

Mary - Age 27 @ Trip to Temple in Jerusalem when Jesus was 12.

Mary’s Age when she bore the remainder of her children - 28,30,31,33,35,36 (Estimate only)
(Mary would have at least 4 other sons and two daughters according to Mark 6:3)

When Jesus began His Ministry, He was approximately 30 years of age, that would make his younger siblings 17, 15, 14, 12, 10, 9 according to the estimate given above.   James, presumably the oldest of them, would have been at least thirteen years younger than Jesus, and only seventeen when Jesus began his ministry.  Considering these simple facts then, what is the probability that Our Lord’s TEENAGE and ADOLESCENT brothers and sisters were:

1) so much younger than Jesus considering the comments of the Jews about these supposed brothers and sisters: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3)

2)   so disrespectful of an older brother in Jewish culture: “So his brothers said to him, "Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing. For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world." For even his brothers did not believe in him.”  (John 7:3-5)

Rebuttal 9

Another point Svendsen made in the debate on this question was this one:

“The word ‘relative’, ‘sungenis’, here denotes a different class of people than brothers, ‘adelphos’, friends and neighbours.  Similarly, with Luke 21:16, it says:  “you will be betrayed by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends.”  Here again the word ‘relative’ ‘sungenis’ denotes a different class than brothers ‘adelphos’, and the two are no more interchangeable than are parents and brothers…Luke favours the word ‘sungenis’, and he uses it again in Luke 1:36 to refer to Elizabeth, the relative of Mary.  It is significant that Luke recognizes the distinction between ‘sungenis’ and ‘adelphos’ because Luke is one of the writers who makes mention of the ‘adelphoi’, the brothers  of Jesus, once in his gospel and once in Acts.  A second word ‘anepsios’ occurs in Colosians 4:10 to refer to Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.  Since obviously Paul knew of this word, he could have used it in such texts as Galatians 1:19 and 1 Corinthians 9:5 both of which mention the Lord’s brothers if his intent was to refer to the cousins of Jesus. [00:25:02-00:26:10]

Dr. Svendsen’s argument, therefore, revolves around setting up a distinction between ‘adelphos’ on the one hand and ‘sungenis’/ ’anepsios’ on the other.  According to him, ‘adelphos’ is used to describe either a friend, a fellow Jew, or a sibling, but never a near relation like a cousin or uncle which is reserved for ‘sungenis’ or ‘anepsios.’

There are a couple of points to make here.

First,  the renowned lexicon of Walter Bauer, revised by Arndt and Gingrich, says: "...So in Luke 21:16 there is no doubt that adelphoi = brothers and sisters. There is more room for uncertainty in the case of the adelphoi in Mat 12:46f;  Mk 3:31; Jn 2:12; 7:3,5; Ac 1:14." (A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1958) p. 16.

Second, Svendsen’s rule, deduced from his argument above, posits that because ‘sungenis/anepsios’ inarguably means a near relation (i.e. Luke 1:36, 21:16, Colosians 4:10) and because all references of ‘adelphos’, other than the question at hand; namely, Lord’s brothers, refer to either friends, neighbours, countrymen, or natural siblings but NEVER near relations, then that means there is a distinction between the two words.  To form this conclusion, Dr. Svendsen used the New Testament as his reference.  But let us see if the Old Testament follows Dr. Svendsen’s rule, for, presumably, the rule should be able to sustain itself in the Old Testament Scriptures as well - unless Dr. Svendsen wants to explain why his rule is applicable to the New Testament only.


“When Abram heard that his kinsman [adelphos] had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, three hundred and eighteen of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.”  (Genesis 14:14)

[Lot was the nephew of Abram (Cf. Genesis 11:27)]

“Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred [sungeneias] and your father's house to the land that I will show you.”   (Genesis 12:1)


And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Mid'ianite woman to his family [adelphon], in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping at the door of the tent of meeting. (Numbers 25:6)

“The daughters of Zeloph'ehad did as the LORD commanded Moses; for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, the daughters of Zeloph'ehad, were married to sons of their father's brothers [anepsiois].” (Numbers 36:10-11).

2 Samuel

“I am distressed for you, my brother [adelphos] Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” (2 Samuel 1:26)

“When King David came to Bahu'rim, there came out a man of the family [sungeneias] of the house of Saul…” (2 Samuel 16:5)

The point here, therefore, is simply to point out that the authors of these Old Testament books did not necessarily force a narrow interpretation of ‘adelphos’ when another word that does place such a restriction also exists - even within the same book!.  This is particularly significant when one considers that there exists five centuries between Numbers and 2 Samuel.  This means, of course, that such a pluralism of meaning of ‘adelphos’  is sustained across centuries even when more precise words exist.  As the above examples show, therefore, the simple existence of a word (i.e. ‘anepsios’) which restricts a relationship to something specific and particular (i.e. cousin) does not restrict that relationship from being expressed by another word as well.  In other words, the fact that Lot is Abram’s nephew, whose relationship might have been better referred to as ‘sungenis’, was instead described as ‘adelphos’.  Therefore, Dr. Svendsen’s wish to state a categorical rule where a more precise word (i.e. sungenis/anepsios)  is always used over a more general one (adelphos) collapses at his feet.
Thirdly, as Catholic Apologist Robert Sungenis points out:  “if we understand "anepsios," as used in the three references in the LXX, as a specific term referring to the son or daughter of one's uncle or aunt, respectively, then it can only refer to a FIRST cousin. But in Israel, and in many other places, there are second, third and possible fourth cousins. First cousins have the same grandparents. Second cousins have the same great grandparents. Also, children of first cousins are called second cousins. That is, the child of your cousin is your second cousin. Thus, if any of the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus were second cousins, then "anepsios" would not have been used to describe them. The gospel writers would need a more general word for "relative," and they had "sungenis" and "adelphos" as their choices. "Sungenis" is even more general than "adelphos," and less endearing, so it is natural that they settled on "adelphos" when describing Jesus's next of kin.  If, on the other hand, Eric tries to say that "anepsios" refers to more than a first cousin, then he will paint himself into a corner, since then, "anepsios" will become as general as "adelphos" or "sungenis," and he lacks even further evidence against the Catholic position.”

Fourthly, as discussed previously, the Talmud resolutely confirms that there is no difference between an adopted child and a natural one, and , the genealogical tables in the Bible do not attempt to distinguish between an adopted child and a natural one.  Furthermore, in the case of the death of one brother, normally a surviving brother would care for his orphaned nieces and nephews, and as Robert Sungenis points out:  “the death of this hypothetical brother or sister of Joseph would have occurred after Jesus was born, which would explain why the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus are not on the scene in the Matthean and Lucan infancy narratives. Or, the "brothers and sisters" could be Mary's neices and nephews from a sister or brother of hers. If that sister or brother died, Mary would get custody of the children.  The frequency of death in those days is probably another reason why the Jews would have no problem in calling relatives "brothers," since it was not unusual for the father of one family to take the children of his relatives family, since the latter may have died. There were no orphanges in those days. The tribe was one big family. This had not changed much when Jesus came into Judaism.”

Argument 4 -  ewV ou

“When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.”  (Matthew 1:24-25)

“There have been certain folk who have wished to suggest that from this passage (Matt 1:25) that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is! For the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply wished to make clear Joseph's obedience and to show also that Joseph had been well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His angel to Mary. He had therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company....And besides this Our Lord Jesus Christ is called the first-born. This is not because there was a second or a third, but because the gospel writer is paying regard to the precedence. Scripture speaks thus of naming the first-born whether or not there was any question of the second.”  (John Calvin, Sermon on Matthew 1:22-25, published 1562)

“It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin....Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact.” (Weimer, The Works of Luther, English Transl. by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v.11,pp. 319-320; v. 6 p. 510.)

“He, Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb...This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that.” (Ibid.)

"I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin." (2) … I esteem immensely the Mother of God, the ever chaste, immaculate Virgin Mary ...; Christ... was born of a most undefiled Virgin.” (3)

Rebuttal 1

Unlike their Fathers, Protestants, like so many other doctrines, simply chooses to ‘move on’ from these antiquated Roman beliefs.   The modern Protestant argument goes something like this.  The word ‘until’ denotes a reversal of the action in the clause immediately preceding it.  Hence, since the word ‘until’ (or ‘heos’ in the Greek) is used to describe Joseph’s unconsummated conjugal relationship with Mary, then that signifies that he later consummated the marriage with her.

The Greek ‘heos’ (‘until’), however, does not necessarily mean that the state before the event does not continue after the event.  In other words, these words do not necessarily convey a reversal or change of the situation before the use of those prepositions.  Hence, Mary’s virginity was not necessarily lost after the birth of Jesus.  There are many references which vindicate the truth of this.  The list presented here is a sample: Genesis 8:7, 26:13, Numbers 20:17, Deuteronomy 2:15, 34:6, 2 Kings 6:25, 1 Chronicles 6:32, 2 Chronicles 21:15, 2 Chronicles 26:15, Judith 14:8, Judith 15:5, Tobit 2:4,  Psalm 57:1, Psalm 72:7, Psalm 110:1, Psalm 123:2, Psalm 141:10, Psalm 142:7, Ecclesiastes 2:3, Song of Solomon 1:12, 2 Samuel 6:23, Isaiah 14:2, 33:23, Ezekiel 24:13, 1 Maccabees 5:54, Matthew 16:28, Matthew 28:20, Romans 8:22, 1 Corinthians 4:5, 1 Corinthians 15:25, Ephesians 4:13, 1 Timothy 4:13, 1 Timothy 6:14. All of these references show that the word ‘until’ does not necessarily indicate a reversal in the main clause.

But wait - that’s not the end of the story.   While it is true that ‘heos’ is used in Matthew 1:25, the Protestant argues, it is accompanied by the pronoun ‘hou’.  When these particular combination of words, ‘heos hou’ (ewV ou), is used, then it does signify a reversal of the main clause - everytime.

Matthew 1:25 ( Greek NT - Byz./Maj. )

“kai ouk eginwsken authn ewV ou eteken ton uion authV ton prwtotokon kai ekalesen to onoma autou ihsoun.”

“but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”

Rebuttal 2

Referring to ‘heos’ alone, Svendsen argues:

“…rarely is it mentioned by these [Catholic] Apologists that this is not the Greek phrase used in Matthew 1:25.  In all of these passages cited by Catholic Apologists, the word ‘heos’ alone is used, but in  Matthew 1:25, the Greek construction ‘heos hou’ is used.  The phrase ‘heos hou’ with its variant form ‘heos hotou’ which grammarians treat as the same, occurs a total of 22 times in the New Testament.  Four of these have the meaning ‘while’ noting contemporaneous (Matt 5:25, Mat 14:22, Matt 26:36, Luke 13:8) whereas the other 18 instances have the meaning ‘until’ and these are all instances where the action of the main clause is changed by the action of the subordinate clause, and requires the meaning up to a specified time but not after.” [00:12:54-00:13:44]

But how valid and substantive is this argument?  Well, it is rather weak and desperate, actually.

Firstly, the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, completely refutes this understanding as the phrase ‘heos hou’ is used many times in it, and many of those instances show no reversal in the main clause at all.  Here are a number of references: Genesis 26:13, Deuteronomy 2:15, 2 Kings 6:25, 1 Chronicles 6:32, 2 Chronicles 21:15, 2 Chronicles 26:15, Judith 14:8, Judith 15:5, Tobit 2:4, Tobit 2:5, Psalm 57:1, Psalm 72:7, Psalm 123:2, Psalm 141:10, Psalm 142:7, Ecclesiastes 2:3, Song of Solomon 1:12, Isaiah 33:23, Ezekiel 24:13.

In reply to this objection, Eric Svendsen suggests that understanding ‘heos hou’ in the broad meaning results in, as in the case above involving ‘adelphos’, ‘semantic obsolence’.  He claims that, since there is no evidence in the literature of 200 years surrounding the birth of Christ (50B.C.-150A.D.) which suggests the main clause is not reversed, then that means that the NT writers understood that ‘heos hou’ also had the same restriction; namely, that it could never be used for a continuation of the main clause.

Putting aside, for the moment, whether ‘heos hou’ can in fact continue the action  (or non-action) in the main clause, the $1 Million question is simply this:  on what basis does Dr. Svendsen arbitrarily set his period of search?  What is the rationale for using the period 50 B.C. to 150 A.D.  Why not from 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. which would include the Septuagint and therefore completely debunk his argument?  Well, I think the answer is obvious.  He did his research, found evidence of “heos hou - continuation” outside of that period (i.e. most likely the Septuagint period), and therefore he had to shrink his period of ‘search’ in order to substantiate his ‘discovery’.

Outside of the Septuagint, here is the kind of thing that Dr. Svendsen likely ran into when trying to widen his range of applicability to the other side of the coin:

St. Clement of Alexandria (202 A.D), wrote:  “Thus thirty years were completed until [heos hou] He [Jesus] suffered. (Stromateis, 1:1; Patrologia Graeca, 8.885a).  Clearly then, in this instance, there is no reversal of the main clause.   But it does not stop there.  St. John Chrysostom (c. 380 A.D.), a giant in knowledge of the Greek language, also confirms the Catholic view:  “In discussing Matthew 1:25, St. John Chrysostom (cf. Patrologia Graeca, 7.58), quotes the verse correctly using ‘heos hou’, “but in asking the question [of why the Scripture uses the phrase], the word he uses for ‘until’ is heos all by itself - as if he were unaware of a difference in the meaning between these two expressions.” (Fr. Tacelli, S.J.,Envoy Magazine, May/June, 1997).  Other Fathers which confirm the Catholic understanding include St. Jerome, de perpetua virgin. B.M., 6, P.L., XXIII, 183-206; St. Ambrose, de institut. virgin., 38, 43, P.L., XVI, 315, 317; St. Thomas, Summa theol., III, q. 28, a. 3; Petav., de incarn., XIC, iii, 11; etc.

So what Dr. Svendsen is asking his hearers to accept is that ‘heos hou’ was not restricted before 150 B.C., but was then restricted for the next two centuries, and then unrestricted again!

There is another thing to consider here, and that is the usage of this phrase in the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testatment which was written anywhere from 250 B.C. to 130 B.C.  As mentioned above, ‘heos hou’ in the Greek Old Testament carries the broad view; namely, it does not exclude the possibility of the continuation of the main clause.  “The Apostles and Evangelists utilized it also and borrowed Old Testament citations from it, especially in regard to the prophecies. The Fathers and the other ecclesiastical writers of the early Church drew upon it, either directly, as in the case of the Greek Fathers, or indirectly, like the Latin Fathers and writers and others who employed Latin, Syriac, Ethiopian, Arabic and Gothic versions.”  (The Catholic Encyclopedia).  Since the Apostles and New Testament writers used the Septuagint as their “working bible”, and, of all of the Old Testament citations in the New Testament, over 70% come from the Septuagint.  The significance of this cannot be overlooked since, when using such words as ‘heos hou’, the New Testament writers *must* have respected the grammatical ranges that the Septuagint did.  What evidence does Dr. Svendsen have that proves that the New Testament writers did not respect the Septuagint usage of the word when inscribing the New Testament?  The burden of proof lies with him since he must show how, when, and why the New Testament writers overturned the broad range of meaning contained in inspired writ.

Furthermore, Dr. Svendsen’s objection places a burden on him that he is incapable of meeting.  First, the bible must be taken as a whole and approached as the collective, complete, and authoritative (in the case of the Septuagint) Word of God.  Where is the basis for splitting the meaning of a word between the Old and New Testament, especially when one cannot have the categorical assurance that it has changed?  And for that matter, where is the basis in making the artificial break between the “Old” and the “New” Testament that Dr. Svendsen makes.   This is the inherent flaw in the approach.  Svendsen rides this artificial distinction between the Old and New Testament so it can give his rebuttal more weight, but there is no justification for treating the bible as two separate sets of grammatical texts and using this as a basis for advancing a grammatical argument when there is no substantive evidence to support the claim.

Rebuttal 3

‘Heos hou’ is not restricted only to a continuation or reversal of the main only since it also includes the possibility of concurrence and cessation.  Besides Matthew 1:25, there are 14 instances of ‘heos hou’  or ‘heos hos’ that are translated ‘until’; there are 2 instances of ‘heos hou’ that are translated ‘while’; there are 2 instances of ‘heos otou’ (equivalent in meaning to ‘heos hou’) translated as ‘until’ and 2 instances of ‘heos otou’ being translated ‘while’.  They are listed here in chronological order along with a commentary as to the likely interpretation of the four possible meanings (continuation, reversal, concurrence, or cessation).

“Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison…” (Matthew 5:25)

This passage indicates concurrence.

“He told them another parable. "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened." (Matthew 13:33)

This passage indicates a reversal since the he flour will no longer be hidden once it is leavened.

“Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away.”  (Matthew 14:22)

Although the RSV translates ‘heos hou’ as ‘while’ in this verse, that is not the only rendering and it may not be the most accurate.  In fact, the main clause in the passage involving the disciples is a termination or cessation of an action followed by another action.  Jesus first sends his disciples out into the sea before he sends the crowd away.  In this case, ‘heos hou’ is better translated  as ‘before’ instead of ‘while’.  There is not concurrence between Jesus’ dismissal of his disciples and his dismissal of the crowds. The verb  “dismiss” or  apolush in the Greek is in the subjunctive mood; that is, it is preceded by the subjunctive ‘should’.  Translating it ‘while he should dismiss’ is not correct.  The contingency of the subjunctive suggests "until" or ‘before’ is meant in this passage, not "while."  Strong’s concordance confirms this rendering:

| kai <2532> {AND} euqewV <2112> {IMMEDIATELY} hnagkasen <315> (5656) o <3588> {COMPELLED} ihsouV <2424> touV <3588> {JESUS} maqhtaV <3101> autou <846> {HIS DISCIPLES} embhnai <1684> (5629) {TO ENTER} eiV <1519> {INTO} to <3588> {THE} ploion <4143> {SHIP} kai <2532> {AND} proagein <4254> (5721) {TO GO BEFORE} auton <846> {HIM} eiV <1519> {TO} to <3588> {THE} peran <4008> {OTHER SIDE,} ewV <2193> ou <3739> {UNTIL HE} apolush <630> (5661) {SHOULD HAVE DISMISSED} touV <3588> {THE} oclouV <3793> {CROWDS.}

Although many translations insert ‘while’, some do not.  Here is a sample of translations:

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. (NIV).

And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. (KJV)

Immediately He made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side, while He sent the crowds away. (NASB)

Then he made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. (NAB)

“And immediately he compelled the disciples to go on board ship, and to go on before him to the other side, until he should have dismissed the crowds.”  (Darby Translation)

And immediately Jesus constrained his disciples to go into the boat, and to go before him to the other side, till he might let away the multitudes..” (Young’s Literal Translation)

And forthwith Jesus obliged his disciples to go up into the boat, and to go before him over the water, till he dismissed the people. (Douay Rheims)

“And straightway he constrained the disciples to enter into the boat, and to go before him unto the other side, till he should send the multitudes away. (ASV)

“And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, "Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead.”  (Matthew 17:9)

This verse suggests a reversal of the main clause since the Apostles would likely tell people of the vision after the Resurrection.


Both of these passages suggest reversal since the jailer will likely release the prisoner once his debt has been paid - presumably by the time he spends in prison.

5)  “Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsem'ane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go yonder and pray."” (Matthew 26:36)

This passage suggests a concurrent action.  Jesus prays at the same time his disciples are instructed to sit.

6) “And he answered him, 'Let it alone, sir, this year also, till dig about it and put on manure.” (Luke 13:8)

Although Svendsen indicated this as a concurrent meaning, the RSV translation does not use ‘while’ but rather ‘until’ which seems to indicate either reversal or even continuation.

7)  “He said therefore, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches." And again he said, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened."” (Luke 13:18-21)

This passage indicates cessation or reversal since the woman cannot take out the leaven out of the flour after it was leavened.

8)  "Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?” (Luke 15:8)

This passage suggests a cessation of sweeping the house once the coin is found.

9)  “As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison.  I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper."  (Luke 12:59)

This passage seems to indicate a reversal in the main clause since you will get out once you have paid the last copper.

10) “And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."” (Luke 22:15-16)

11) “…for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." (Luke 22:18)
These passages suggest a reversal of the main clause - Our Lord will eat the passover when it is fulfulled in the kingdom of God, and He will drink of the vine when the kingdom of God comes.

12)  “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

This particular example can be taken either as a reversal or even a continuation of the main clause.  It is not clear whether Jesus meant that the Apostles were to leave Jerusalem after they were clothed with His power or remain there indefinitely.  In fact, the Scripture is clear that the Apostles did stay in Jerusalem after Pentecost (Cf. Acts 1:12ff).  In any case,  Jesus did not mean for the Apostles to leave Jerusalem altogether.

13) “The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight…” (John 9:18)

After the blind man’s parents were questioned, the Pharisees did believe that the blind man did receive his sight.  Therefore, a reversal is suggested here as well..

14) “Jesus answered, "Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times.”  (John 13:38)

As the Gospel later testifies, this passage represents a reversal of the main clause.

15) “Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.” (Acts 21:26)  KJV
Again, this likely indicates a reversal of the main clause.

16/17/18)  “When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. And they went to the chief priests and elders, and said, "We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul…But do not yield to them; for more than forty of their men lie in ambush for him, having bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you.”  (Acts 23:12-14,21)
This is clearly a reversal of the main clause.  The Jews would eat after they had accomplished their goal of murdering Paul.

19) “But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I commanded him to be held until I could send him to Caesar.” (Acts 25:21)

A continuation of the main passage is insuated here since Paul is still to be kept in custody ever after he is sent to Caesar.  On the other hand, it may also suggest a reversal since the ‘custody’ that is being spoken of is Festus’ direct custody of Paul.  Once Festus releases Paul to Caesar, Paul can no longer be said to be in Festus’ direct custody - although he is still under Roman custody.

20)  “And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (2 Peter 1:19)

Commenting on this passage, Svendsen says, “that was a reference to the second coming of Christ, after which it will no longer be necessary to turn to the word of the prophets…since the presence of Christ himself is superseding such need. [00:14:50].   This is essentially a correct assessment of this passage.  This usage of ‘heos’ in this passage, therefore, indicates cessation.

[Note: Textual Variants Matthew 18:30, Matthew 18:34, and Luke 12:59 were excluded from the above discussion.  Mathew 18:30 has a textual variant. Codices Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, et al have ‘heos’, while Codices Beza and Freer, and the Majority Text have ‘heos hou’.  Matthew 18:34 also has a textual variant. Only codex Vaticanus has ‘heos hou’. All the rest have heos.  With respect to Luke 12:59, Codices Alexandrinus, Beza, Freer, and the Majority text have ‘heos hou’ while. Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus only have ‘heos’.]

The ultimate conclusion that is drawn from these instances of ‘heos hou’ is that this phrase does not necessarily and with absolute certainty imply a limit of duration much less a reversal of the main clause.  As clearly shown above, some times it is a reversal or continuation; other times a concurrence or cessation; still other times it is unclear.  The context of the passage is all important in deciphering what is meant, but even then the context may not be a conclusive mechanism.

There are four possible meanings to ‘heos hou’ (reversal, cessation, concurrence, continuance) .  Ignoring for the moment, the contentions of some of the passages above which suggest continuation of the main clause, three of the four meanings are still used in the New Testament.  Now, of the paltry 21 instances of ‘heos hou’ which occur in the New Testament (being split amongst four possible meanings), how can one say, with any sort of certitude, that ‘heos hou’ cannot imply a continuation?  Just because there is one possible meaning absent among a slim population of 21 examples and split among 4 possible meanings, it does not give Dr. Svendsen, or any other Protestant Apologist for that matter, the licence to claim that ‘heos hou’ cannot imply a continuation. The population base used to draw such a conclusion is simply too small and too saturated.

Rebuttal 4

Even if ‘heos hou’ always indicated a reversal in the NT, does that, all by itself, prove the Protestant case?  Not at all.  The following analysis shows the four possibilities with ‘achri’, Strong’s word #891:

achri {akh'-ree} or achris {akh'-rece}
akin to 206 (through the idea of a terminus);; prep/conj
AV - until 14, unto 13, till 3, till + 3739 + 302 3, until + 3739 2,
while + 3739 2, even to 2, misc 7; 49
1) until, unto, etc.

Below, I have summarized the results of using ‘achri’ with ‘hou’ and without ‘hou’.  The evidence suggests that adding ‘hou’ to ‘achri’ does not necessarily restrict its meaning since, as the evidence shows, no reversal is implied using either using or omitting ‘HOU’.

(The square brackets [ ] indicate Strong’s Greek Word Number while the circular brackets ( ) indicate the Greek tense of the verb immediately preceding.  The key numbers to look for are 891-achri, 3757-hou, and 3759-hos. The passages are cited from the KJV. )

No Reversal / ‘Hou’ Present
1Cr 15:25 For [1063] he [846] must [1163] (5748) reign [936] (5721), till [891] [3757] he hath put [302] [5087] (5632) all [3956] enemies [2190] under [5259] his [846] feet [4228].

Act 7:18 Till [891] [3757] another [2087] king [935] arose [450] (5627), which [3739] knew [1492] (5715) not [3756] Joseph [2501].

Rev 2:25 But [4133] that which [3739] ye have [2192] (5719) [already] hold fast [2902] (5657) till [891] [3757] I come [302] [2240] (5661).

No Reversal / ‘Hou’ Absent

Phl 1:5. For [1909] your [5216] fellowship [2842] in [1519] the gospel [2098] from [575] the first [4413] day [2250] until [891] now [3568];

Act 3:21 Whom [3739] the heaven [3772] [3303] must [1163] (5748) receive [1209] (5664) until [891] the times [5550] of restitution [605] of all things [3956], which [3739] God [2316] hath spoken [2980] (5656) by [1223] the mouth [4750] of all [3956] his [846] holy [40] prophets [4396] since [575] the world began [165].

Rom 5:13 (For [1063] until [891] the law [3551] sin [266] was [2258] (5713) in [1722] the world [2889]: but [1161] sin [266] is [1677] [0] not [3756] imputed [1677] (5743) when there is [5607] (5752) no [3361] law [3551].

Reversal / ‘Hou’ Absent

Gal 4:2 But [235] is [2076] (5748) under [5259] tutors [2012] and [2532] governors [3623] until [891] the time appointed [4287] of the father [3962].

Rev 20:3 And [2532] cast [906] (5627) him [846] into [1519] the bottomless pit [12], and [2532] shut [2808] [0] him [846] up [2808] (5656), and [2532] set a seal [4972] (5656) upon [1883] him [846], that [3363] [0] he should deceive [4105] (5661) the nations [1484] no [3363] more [2089], till [891] the thousand [5507] years [2094] should be fulfilled [5055] (5686): and [2532] after [3326] that [5023] he [846] must [1163] (5748) be loosed [3089] (5683) a little [3398] season [5550].

Luk 17:27 They did eat [2068] (5707), they drank [4095] (5707), they married wives [1060] (5707), they were given in marriage [1547] (5712), until [891] the day [2250] that [3739] Noe [3575] entered [1525] (5627) into [1519] the ark [2787], and [2532] the flood [2627] came [2064] (5627), and [2532] destroyed [622] (5656) them all [537].

Act 1:2 Until [891] the day [2250] in which [3739] he was taken up [353] (5681), after that he through [1223] the Holy [40] Ghost [4151] had given commandments [1781] (5674) unto the apostles [652] whom [3739] he had chosen [1586] (5668):

Reversal / ‘Hou’ (or ‘hos’) Present

Gal 3:19 Wherefore [5101] then [3767] [serveth] the law [3551]? It was added [4369] (5681) because of [5484] transgressions [3847], till [891] [3757] the seed [4690] should come [2064] (5632) to whom [3739] the promise was made [1861] (5766); [and it was] ordained [1299] (5651) by [1223] angels [32] in [1722] the hand [5495] of a mediator [3316].

Gal 4:19 My [3450] little children [5040], of whom [3739] I travail in birth [5605] (5719) again [3825]
until [891] [3757] Christ [5547] be formed [3445] (5686) in [1722] you [5213],

Rev 7:3 Saying [3004] (5723), Hurt [91] (5661) not [3361] the earth [1093], neither [3383] the sea [2281], nor [3383] the trees [1186], till [891] [3739] we have sealed [4972] (5725) (5625) [4972] (5661) the servants [1401] of our [2257] God [2316] in [1909] their [846] foreheads [3359].

Rom 11:25 For [1063] I would [2309] (5719) not [3756], brethren [80], that ye [5209] should be ignorant [50] (5721) of this [5124] mystery [3466], lest [3363] ye should be [5600] (5753) wise [5429] in [3844] your own conceits [1438]; that [3754] blindness [4457] in [575] part [3313] is happened [1096] (5754) to Israel [2474], until [891] [3739] the fulness [4138] of the Gentiles [1484] be come in [1525] (5632).

So the bottom line is:  ‘hou’ does not change the grammatical fundamental meaning or range of of the preceding word - whether it is ‘achri’ or ‘heos’. Context is all powerful whenever ‘heos’  or ‘heos hou’ is used to determine its meaning.

Incidentally, after discovering this problem for the Protestant position quite by accident, I listened to the rest of the debate and noticed that Dr. Svendsen actually addressed the use of ‘achri’ and ‘achri hou’.  This is what he said, citing another scholar:

“The phrase ‘achri hou’…has a different meaning than ‘achri’ by itself.  The addition of the particle ‘hou’ changes that meaning in the same way that the addition of the particle ‘hou’ changes the meaning of ‘heos’.” [58:20-58:39].

So, then, if ‘achri’ has a different meaning than ‘achri hou’, then why do the above selections refute this claim?  And why, we must ask, do such scholarly sources as Burton’s Grammar confirm this conclusion?

“Clauses introduced by achri, achri hou, achri es hemeras, mechri and mechris hou have in general the same construction and force as clauses introduced by heos, heos hou, and heos hotou [examples]: Mark 10:30;...Acts 7:18;...Rev. 7:3;...” (p.129-right after the paragraph about heos hou)

Another issue to be considered is that in Matthew 1:25 the imperfect tense is used in relation to Joseph’s conjugal status with Mary.   Catholic Apologist Mark Brumely provides this background into the imperfect and aorist tenses in the Greek:

“As for the "meaning of the tense", the imperfect tense is a past tense and is usually distinguished from the aorist, which is also a past tense, by the fact that the imperfect tense is a durative tense (continuous), while the aorist refers to an action completed in the past. The imperfect indicative represents an action as going on in the past -- something that was happening. With the negative, it would represent something that wasn't going on in the past or wasn't happening. The aorist indicative, on the other hand, is punctiliar (involving point-action) or momentary. It's like a snapshot. It usually refers to something that happened (or in the negative, that didn't happen), rather than something that wasn't happening (or in the negative, that wasn't happening), as in the imperfect tense.

The term aorist comes from the GK word "aoristos", meaning "indefinite". The aorist expresses a less definite kind of action. As for an example, here's one out of Greek 101: "elusa" = "I loosed", the first aorist indicative active of the verb "luo" (I loose). In contrast to this is the imperfect "eluov" = "I was loosing".

The implications of this for Mat 1:25 is that it seems as if Matt is saying that Joseph not only didn't have relations with Mary at a specific point but that he was not having relations with her, without specification (of uncertain affinity according to Strong’s concordance).  If "heos hou" doesn't specifically limit the time frame of the non-action, and the imperfect sense seems to mean it doesn't, then the text actually becomes an argument for the perpetual virginity of Mary rather than a problem or a merely neutral text.  But if "heos hou" does restrict the time frame to what happened before the birth of Jesus, then the imperfect tense isn't an argument for Mary's perpetual virginity.  Neither, however, does "heos hou" imply anything about what happened after the period in question.”

Besides Matthew 1:25, there are five other instances in the New Testament where the imperfect tense precedes ‘heos’ and none that precede ‘heos hou’.  Of the five passages that precede ‘heos’ (Matthew 2:9, Matthew 26:58, John 10:24, Acts 8:10, and Acts 26:11), only Matthew 2:9 is relevant or applicable to this discussion:

“When they had heard the king they went their way; and lo, the star which they had seen in the East went [was going] before them, till it came to rest over the place where the child was.” (Matthew 2:9)

The implied action here is one of cessation because the purpose of the star going before them is to approach and rest over the manger in Bethlehem as a guide to the wise men.. Once the goal is achieved the action (of going before them) ceases.  There is no implication of a subsequent action - either a continuation or reversal. Other than Matthew 1:25, Matthew 2:9 is the only other relevant instance where ‘heos’ is used with the imperfect tense, and it does not imply reversal but cessation.

In addition to the New Testament passages above, the following passages from the Septuagint include both the imperfect tense and ‘heos hou’:  Gen 26:13, 1 King 18:29, 2 King 6:25, 2 Chronicles 24:10, Judith 10:10.  All of these instances support the Catholic view; that is, where ‘heos hou’ occurs with the imperfect tense (as it does with Matthew 1:25), no reversal is implied in any of them.

The point here is that if the proponents of the Helvidian position are going to base their decision on the mere fact that ‘heos hou’ is no longer used in the New Testament to mean a continuation of the main clause, then the Catholic could take the same line and methodology and say that, since there are no instances of the imperfect tense used with ‘heos hou’ which would indicate a reversal of the main clause, then Catholics are allowed to believe there is no reversal in Matthew 1:25 either.  Obviously such reasoning is impotent and no Catholic or Protestant should use it.  ‘Heos hou’, conceding for the moment that it never indicates a continuation of the main clause based on NT usage, should not be judged on merely a serendipity of usage, which Eric Svendsen and James White feed on, but on an inherent characteristic of the language in question.

Finally, here are a few selections from an article by Father Ronald Tacelli, S.J. on the subject in question:

“I’m fluent in classical and koine Greek…I’ve taught high school and university Greek courses in Greek, and I regularly read Scripture in Greek.  But none of this qualifies me as anything close to being an expert in Greek.  So rather than trust my own judgment, I checked it out with the experts.  I printed out transcripts of the online ‘heos hou’ arguments made by these Protestant apologists and showed them to several Greek scholars. They laughed, treating them with scornful derision.  They confirmed what I already knew:  that ‘heos hou’ is just shorthand for ‘heos hou chronou en hoi’ (literally:  ‘until the time when’), and that both ‘heos’ and ‘heos hou’ have the same range of meaning.” (Envoy Magazine, May/June, 1997, p. 52-53)

“The whole ‘heos hou’ vs. ‘heos’ argument is a bunch of hooey.  And both Sophocles in his Greek lexicon of the Roman Byzantine Periods and Stephanus in his Thesaurus Graecae Linguae agree;  they state explicitly that ‘heos’ and ‘heos hou’ are equivalent in meaning.”  (Ibid, p.54)

[E.A. Sophocles: Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods (from B.C. 146 to A.D. 1100). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914, p. 552. Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. Graz: Akademische Druck- u.Verlagsanstalt, 1954, column 2643.]

Now, we have an apparent contradiction here because in the debate, Eric Svendsen said this:

“One point he kept hammering home is that you won’t find any distinction in any lexicon between ‘heos’ and ‘heos hou’. Well, ah, that’s not surprising since lexicons do not handle grammatical constructions.  They handle words.  You’ll find ‘heos’.  You’ll find ‘hou’.  You won’t find ‘heos hou’. [57:55-58:12]

But maybe Sophocles and Stephanus are not the cutting edge scholarship that Dr. Svendsen is looking for.  In that case, we can turn to a more contemporary source.   According to Burton's Grammar (a popular Greek Grammar used by Protestants), it states the following regarding ‘heos hou’:

"In the New Testament heos is sometimes followed by ‘hou’ or ‘otou’. Heos is then a preposition governing the genitive of the relative pronoun, but the phrase heos hou or heos otou is in effect a compound conjunction having the same force as the simple heos. The construction following it is also the same, except that ‘an’ never occurs after heos hou or heos otou." [Burton, Ernest De Witt. Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek (Grand Rapid, Michigan, Kregel Publications, second printing 1978), pp.128-129].

Whatever Dr. Svendsen’s scholarship faculties - which no doubt are much greater than this writer has under his command  - he has either been grossly negligent in communicating the Helvidian position on these points or he has tried to purposely mislead people.  Neither alternative, unfortunately, reflects very well on Dr. Svendsen.

Some Final Words

So in this corner, ladies and gentlemen, we have Sophocles, Stephanus, the Septuagint, St. John Chrysostom [the great master of the Greek language], and modern Greek scholars.  We have the great giants of Christianity’s heritage and tradition like Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Jerome.  In fact, we have ALL of the Fathers supporting the Catholic view.  None reject it.   And we even have the ‘great’ Protestant forebearers - even Calvin himself - who also side with the historic Christian view on Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.  In the other corner, we have the “tiny streams of opinion” belonging to those like Ebion, Theodotus, Valentinus, and Helvidius, and now…James White and Eric Svendsen with Logos bible software, of course.

So, dear reader, what will it be?  Indeed, whose side are you on?  Will you cast your lot with a rather rare reading of ‘sunerchomai’ or insist that ‘first born’ implies other children when the overabundance of Scripture clearly refutes your understanding?  Perhaps you will bind ‘adelphos’ to a narrow usage when the bible does not, or maybe hinge your position on a herculean pronoun which, it is alleged, has the inherent capacity to restrict the ‘heos’ meaning all by itself?

“For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her vindication goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name which the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My delight is in her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”  (Isaiah 62:1-5)

John Pacheco
The Catholic Legate
Febuary 10, 2001