The Grave of the Wicked Witch is Sealed Forever

In the last few days, my colleagues and I have unearthed devastating evidence against Eric Svendsen’s assertion that the Greek phrase heos hou ceases the action of the main clause of Matthew 1:25.

For those of you who are reading these debates for the first time, the issue at stake is Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. It is Svendsen’s claim that, since heos hou, by all accounting of the use of the phrase in the time period between 100BC and 100AD, does not serve to continue the celibate relationship of Joseph and Mary, then, ipso facto, Mary gave birth to other children besides Jesus.

Courtesy of John Pacheco, my illustrious colleagues were given evidence to countermand Svendsen’s claims. Pacheco discovered a usage of heos hou in Svendsen's arbitray time period that did indeed show the meaning of heos hou which would allow for the continuation of the celibate state of Joseph and Mary, at least by the reckoning of most twentieth century scholars, with only one or two dissenting voices. Of course, Svendsen was not satisfied with this evidence, because of the one or two dissenting voices.

In further study of this matter, Jacob Michael and I began to examine more closely the deuterocanonical books written closest to the first century. The books of the Maccabees are very important in this regard, since most of them were written in the crucial period Svendsen has posed for his thesis (i.e., 100BC to 100AD).

Our research discovered the only usage of heos hou in the Maccabeean literature, namely, 4 Maccabees 7:3, which is included in most versions of the LXX, even the critical editions. It is a non-canonical book both by Catholic and Protestant standards, but this makes little difference, since Svendsen’s research includes non-canonical usages of heos hou. Again, it is Svendsen’s claim that the meaning of heos hou that continues the action of the main clause of a Greek sentence does not exist in Koine Greek between the years 100BC to 100AD.

Lo and behold, when we examined 4 Maccabees 7:3, we saw immediately that the use of heos hou does indeed continue the action of the main clause.

Starting from verse 1, the passage reads:

For like a most skillful pilot, the reason of our father Eleazar steered the ship of religion over the sea of the emotions, and though buffeted by the storms of the tyrant and overwhelmed by the mighty waves of tortures, in no way did he turn the rudder of religion UNTIL [heos hou] he sailed into the haven of immortal victory.

As you can see, the main clause and its subordinate clause of verse 3 are: “in no way did he turn the rudder of religion UNTIL [heos hou] he sailed into the haven of immortal victory.” It can be clearly seen that the use of heos hou continues the action of the main clause (“in no way did he turn the rudder of religion”) for we could not say that once Eleazar reached the “haven of immortal victory” he decided to “turn the rudder of religion” away from its appointed direction.

In fact, this is the same way heos hou continues the action of a number of instances in the LXX. For example, in Genesis 8:5 it states:

The water decreased steadily UNTIL [heos hou] the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains became visible.

Obviously, heos hou does not intend to cease the action of the main clause (“the water decreased steadily”), rather it allows that the water continued to decrease even after the tenth month. Otherwise, the earth would still be flooded.

Another example is 2 Samuel 6:23:

Michal the daughter of Saul had no child UNTIL [heos hou] the day of her death.

Obviously, heos hou does not intend to say that Michal had children after her death, and thus we describe such cases as heos hou continuing the action of the main clause (“Michal...had no child”).

We also have heos hou appearing in more poetical types of passages, such as the Psalms and Song of Solomon. For examples, Psalm 72:7 (LXX is 71:7):

In his days may the righteous flourish, And abundance of peace UNTIL [heos hou] the moon is no more.

Certainly, peace will not end when the moon is no more, rather, it will continue just as tranquil after the moon ceases its existence. In fact, this passage is quite useful in understanding the meaning of heos hou in 4 Maccabees 7:3, since both passages are speaking of the lasting quality of peace and contentment up to and beyond the end of time.

Or Psalm 94:13 (LXX 93:13):

That You may grant him relief from the days of adversity, UNTIL [heos hou] a pit is dug for the wicked.

Obviously, the man’s relief from adversity is not going to stop when a pit is dug for the wicked, rather, his relief will continue long after the pit is dug.

Another poetic passage which uses heos hou to signify continuation of action is found in the Song of Solomon 3:4:

“Scarcely had I passed them, when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until [heos hou] I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.”

Here we have another instance of heos hou and continuation of the verb, in this case, "held." The Beloved clearly intends to say here that she held on to her Lover, never to let him go. The verses preceding this instance (vv 1-3) show how the Beloved searches long and hard into the night to find her Lover, restless until she finds him. In that context, it is clear that vs. 4 is not speaking of the Beloved as some kind of taxi service, taking her Lover to "my mother's house" in order to leave him there alone. In the romantic and very sexual context of this book, it is certain that, once the couple arrives "into the chamber of her that conceived me," they will continue to hold each other for an indefinite period of time.

Another such instance is found earlier in Song of Solomon 2:17:

UNTIL [heos hou] the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle, or a young stag upon rugged mountains.

While briefly passing over the sexual nature of this verse, and without getting into too much detail, heos hou intends to continue the action of the clause for an indefinite period of time. Colloquially, the passage is saying "love me all night long." We could not say that the Beloved intends to mean, "when the day DOES break and the shadows DO flee, then be like an old stag, crippled and weak." Rather, she wishes her Lover to remain like a gazelle, like a young stag, strong and energetic. Another way we might rephrase this, in our own jargon, would be to say, "I'm going to love you until the cows come home." When we use this phrase, we do not mean that WHEN the cows come home, we intend to stop loving. It's a metaphorical way of saying that we intend to continue the action of the verb for a long, indefinite period of time.

In each case, whether in prose or poetry, “UNTIL” is used to signify the long period of time the action of the main clause continues, and, in fact, it is so long that the action of the main clause never really stops at all. Thus we say that heos hou, in these instances “continues the action of the main clause.”

It just so happens that, unlike his oversight of not including the use of heos hou in the story of Joseph and Aseneth, Eric Svendsen was careful to include 4 Maccabees 7:3 in his dissertation. But although he included it, he did his best to dissuade the reader from concluding that heos hou continues the action of the main clause.

Before I show you how Svendsen does so, let’s first ask why it would be so important for him to dissuade the reader. The reason is that Svendsen, if he has done his research into the dating of 4 Maccabees, realizes that of all the sources he uncovered, 4 Maccabees not only falls within his arbitrary range of 100BC to 100AD, but it is about as close to the writing of the gospel of Matthew that we can find in intertestamental literature.

Here are what the authorities say concerning the dating of 4 Maccabees (research courtesy of John Pacheco and Jacob Michael):

(1) “For IV Maccabees, the date is between B.C.E. 5 and C.E. 70, probably about C.E. 37.” Source:

(2) “...The first century after Christ is generally accepted as the date of composition, chiefly because the book must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem. Though the latter cannot be proved, this view must be pretty nearly correct, since a more recent book would no longer have been accepted by the Christian Church.” (Emil Schurer. The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, p. 246) []

(3) “The Fourth Book of Maccabees was included in many Greek Bible manuscripts. It is not considered canonical by the Roman Catholic Church, nor is it part of the "Apocrypha" in the Anglican tradition. In Greek Orthodox Bibles it is included as a an appendix. At one time, but no longer it was assigned to Josephus and called On the Supremacy of Reason. For the most part it consists of an account of Judaism in terms of Stoicism. It dates from some time between 63BCE and 70CE.” [see New RSV/Oxford Anotated Bible, AP 341.]

(4) Scholarly consensus suggests that this piece was delivered orally, though the circumstances under which it was delivered remain disputed. The work most likely derives from Antioch, a Hellenized city with a large Jewish population, sometime between 63 BCE and 38 CE, and its message appears to be directed to a Diaspora Jewish population confronting Greco-Roman influences.

(5) Probable place(s) and date(s) of composition: Though Alexandria has been put forward as the place of composition by some scholars, it is more generally accepted to have been originally written in Antioch of Syria in the first century C.E. However the text has come through the uncial manuscripts of the Septuagint, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, and later in the Codex Venetus.

(6) IV Maccabees has scanty historical information and belongs to the Maccabees series only because it deals with the beginning of the persecution of Jews by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. It possibly was written during the reign of the emperor Caligula (AD 37-41). Throughout the early Christian period, IV Maccabees was wrongly attributed to the 1st-century-AD Jewish historian Josephus.

(7) 4 Maccabees: First Century A.D.

So here we have seven (7) separate authoritative sources that, although they dispute the exact date, say 4 Maccabees falls within the 100BC to 100AD parameters that Svendsen imposed upon this discussion. Thus, we have accommodated Svendsen as no one else has done. We have found a reference to heos hou within his own crucial time period, but which shows a continuation of the main clause of a Greek sentence.

Knowing that if he were to admit such a possibility his whole thesis on Matthew 1:25 would have to be rejected, Svendsen did his best to eliminate 4 Maccabees 7:3 from the running.

Here is what he says on page 64 and into page 65.

The writer of 4 Maccabees may also have intended this meaning when he writes: “[The reason of Eleazar] in no way turned the rudder of godliness until it sailed into the harbor of victory over death (7:3). The metaphorical nature of this passage makes it exceedingly difficult to make a firm decision as to the continuation/discontinuation of the action of the main clause. Do we assume Eleazar's reasoning did or did not “turn the rudder of godliness” after it “sailed into the harbor of victory over death”? Or do we assume that the question itself is moot since no reference to cessation or continuation is in mind? Even the meaning of the phrases themselves (“turn the rudder of godliness”; “sailed into the harbor of victory over death”) remains uncertain. It would therefore be unwise to uphold this isolated passage as an example of one meaning or the other.

Now, let’s analyze what Svendsen is trying to do with this passage:

First, he is trying to confuse the issue by appealing to the metaphorical language of the passage, suggesting that, because of the metaphors, we are not exactly sure what the passage really means. Ladies and gentlemen, the metaphors have no bearing whatsoever on the meaning of heos hou in this passage. Heos hou is a prepositional phrase. It’s meaning is not affected by metaphors, but only by the syntax of the sentence. It would make no difference if the writer of 4 Maccabees 7:3 said: (#1) “Eleazar did not turn the rudder of godliness until he sailed into the haven of immortal victory” or (#2) “Eleazar did not turn aside from God until he went to the afterlife.” Both sentences mean the same thing. The word “until” functions the same in each sentence, since it serves to connect the main clause with the subordinate clause, and in this instance, it shows that the action of the main clause continues into the realm of the subordinate clause, not cease when it reaches the subordinate clause. The only difference between the above sentences is that sentence #1 is just a poetical way of saying what sentence #2 says more literally, that is, that Eleazar did not turn aside from God and thus entered into a glorious afterlife.

We have already shown by our citing of various Psalms and the Song of Solomon that metaphors do not change or disrupt the meaning of heos hou when such language is used.

To solidify this point, let's look at a poetic passage where heos hou clearly does terminate the action of the verb, Song of Solomon 2:7:

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, By the gazelles or by the hinds of the field, That you do not arouse or awaken my love UNTIL [heos hou] she pleases.

In this instance, heos hou does indeed intend the action to be terminated, for when love desires, the implication is that it should be awakened and stirred up.

As such, no appeal can be made to the metaphors in order to alter the force of heos hou. Grammar is grammar. Whether the subject and verb are metaphors or not, makes no difference. A prepositional phrase will do its duty and connect the surrounding clauses, either ceasing the action or continuing the action – whether it ceases or continues metaphors, or ceases or continues non-metaphors.

I think it is also worth mentioning that in his attempt to neutralize 4 Maccabees 7:3 Svendsen tries to evade the issue by creating additional categories of doubt. For example, regarding Eleazar’s mind set, Svendsen states:

“Do we assume Eleazar’s reasoning did or did not “turn the rudder of godliness” after it “sailed into the harbor of victory over death”?

This question is a feeble attempt to confuse or dissuade the reader. Obviously, if Eleazar turned the "rudder of godliness" once he entered the haven of victory, he would be rejecting godliness, the very thing that allowed him to enter the haven of victory. Who in their right mind would say that once Eleazer reached the haven of victory he then decided to chuck it all and reject godliness? Svendsen cannot escape this logic by the mere fact that since he posed the above question about what Eleazar decided once he reached the haven of victory, he admits that the haven of victory is where Eleazar can either cease or continue the action of the main clause. If he ceases it, then he has turned the rudder of godliness. But if he turns the rudder of godliness, he is no longer fit for the haven of victory, by the mere fact that NOT turning the rudder put him in the haven of victory in the first place.

Svendsen also asks another question:

"Or do we assume that the question itself is moot since no reference to cessation or continuation is in mind?"

This is a rather convenient way of trying to escape the issue, but it can be settled by turning the tables on Svendsen. For if Svendsen thinks this way about the use of heos hou in 4 Maccabees 7:3, why doesn't he think the same way about the use of heos hou in Matthew 1:25? Other scholars have suggested the same thing, that is, that Matthew 1:25 is concerned neither with cessation nor continuation, but only with indicating that Joseph and Mary were celibate during the process of Jesus' conception, and makes no commentary, either way, of what happened after Jesus' conception.

But here's the rub: if Matthew 1:25 is not speaking about cessation or continuation of the main clause, then Svendsen cannot demand that Catholics, in order to prove the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, are required to find a usage of heos hou in intertestamental literature which continues the action of the main clause! It's that simple.

Moreover, the fact that 4 Maccabees was written around the same time as the gospel of Matthew means that the concept of using heos hou in places where the author had no intention of indicating cessation or continuation of action was a practice in common usage during this time! Thus it would be no coincidence to see this in Matthew 1:25.

Hence, by Svendsen's opening up the possibility that heos hou may neither cease or continue the main clause, he has just made the Catholic position on Matthew 1:25 that much more impregnable.

Once again, Svendsen’s thesis is soundly defeated. Let it be known to all that we will continue to hold and advance the real meaning of heos hou UNTIL Eric Svendsen has admitted his mistake.

Robert Sungenis
Jacob Michael

PS: Note the use of “UNTIL” in the last sentence that continues the action of the main verb :)