When Were Joseph and Mary Married?

September 20, 2013 | 43 comments

When the Archangel Gabriel visited Mary and declared unto her that she was called to be the Mother of God, as we see recorded in Luke 1, her response would become the cause of the spilling of a whole lot of ink over the centuries: “How shall this happen, since I know not man?” (v. 34, Douay Rheims, Confraternity Edition).

For Catholics this is an indication of Mary’s vow of perpetual virginity. It’s really quite simple. If Mary and Joseph were just an ordinary couple embarking on a normal married life together, there would be no reason to ask the question. Mary would have known very well how it could be that the angel was saying she would have a baby. As St. Augustine said it:

Had she intended to know man, she would not have been amazed. Her amazement is a sign of the vow (Sermon 225, 2).

But Protestants do not see it as quite so simple. Reformed Apologist James White gives us an example of the most common objection to our “Catholic” view of this text:

Nothing about a vow is mentioned in Scripture. Mary’s response to the angel was based upon the fact that it was obvious that the angel was speaking about an immediate conception, and since Mary was at that time only engaged to Joseph, but not married, at that time she could not possibly conceive in a natural manner, since she did not “know a man” (Mary—Another Redeemer? p. 31.).

Among the errors in just these two sentences (I counted four), there are two that stand out for our purpose here.

Error #1: Mr. White claims Mary was engaged to St. Joseph.

There was no such thing as engagement (as it is understood in modern Western culture) in ancient Israel. The text says Mary was “betrothed” or “espoused” (Gr.—emnesteumene), not engaged. Betrothal, in ancient Israel, would be akin to the ratification of a marriage (when a couple exchanges vows in the presence of an official witness of the Church) in Catholic theology. That ratified marriage is then consummated—in the normal course—on the couple’s wedding night. So when Luke 1:27 says Mary was betrothed, it means they were already married at the time of the annunciation. If this were an ordinary marriage, St. Joseph would then have had a husband’s right to the marriage bed—the consummation.

This simple truth proves devastating to Mr. White’s (and the Protestant's) argument. If Joseph and Mary were married—and they were—and they were planning the normal course, Mary would have known full and well how she could and would have a baby. As St. Augustine said, the question reveals the fact that this was not just your average, ordinary marriage. They were not planning to consummate their union.

Betrothed = Married?

For those who are not convinced “betrothed” equals “married” for Mary and Joseph; fortunately, the Bible makes this quite clear. If we move forward in time from the “annunciation” of Luke 1 to Matthew 1 and St. Joseph’s discovery of Mary’s pregnancy, we find Matthew 1:18 clearly stating Mary and Joseph were still “betrothed.” Yet, when Joseph found out Mary was “with child,” he determined he would “send her away privately” (vs. 19). The Greek verb translated in the RSVCE to send away is apolusai, which means divorce. Why would Joseph have to divorce Mary if they were only engaged?   

Further, the angel then tells Joseph:

Do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit . . . When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife (vss. 20-24).

Notice, Joseph took Mary “his wife,” indicating both St. Matthew and an archangel considered this couple married even though they were said to be “betrothed.” “Betrothed” is obviously much more than “engaged.”

Moreover, months later we find Joseph and Mary travelling together to Bethlehem to be enrolled as a family according to the decree of Caesar Augustus, just before Jesus would be born. They were obviously married; yet, even then, they were still said to be “betrothed” (see Luke 2:5).

So let's recap what have we have uncovered. First, Joseph had already taken his espoused “wife” into his home and was caring for her. Second, Scripture reveals him to be her legal husband and to have travelled with Mary to be enrolled with her as a lawfully wedded couple and family. Third, she was called St. Joseph’s “wife” by the angel of the Lord… and yet, they were still referred to as betrothed.

Referring to Mary and Joseph as “engaged” in the face of all of this evidence would be like calling a modern couple at their wedding reception “engaged” because they have yet to consummate their marriage.

Once the fact that Mary and Joseph were already married at the time of the annunciation is understood, Mary’s “How shall this happen…” comes more into focus. Think about it: If you were a woman who had just been married (your marriage was “ratified,” but not consummated) and someone at your reception said—or “prophesied”—that you were going to have a baby—that would not really be all that much of a surprise. That is the normal course of events. You marry, consummate the union, and babies come along. You certainly would not ask the question, “Gee, how is this going to happen?”  It is in this context of Mary having been betrothed, then, that her question does not make sense… unless, of course, you understand she had a vow of virginity. Then, it makes perfect sense.

Error #2: Mr. White claimed, “…it was obvious that the angel was speaking about an immediate conception.” And, closely related to this, Mr. White then claimed Mary asked the question, "How shall this happen...?" because she knew "at that time she could not conceive in a natural manner?"

Really? It was obvious?

There is not a single word in this text or anywhere else in Scripture that indicates Mary knew her conception was going to be immediate and via supernatural means. That’s why she asked the question, "How shall this happen...?" It appears she did not know the answer. How could she? Why would it ever enter into her mind? There would be no way apart from a revelation from God that she could have known. And most importantly, according to the text, the angel did not reveal the fact that Mary would conceive immediately and supernaturally until after Mary asked the question.

But let's suppose Mary was "engaged" as Mr. White claims. There would be even less reason to believe the conception would be immediate and somehow supernatural then there would be if Mary had a vow of virginity (though there’s really no reason to think this in either scenario). An "engaged" woman would have naturally assumed that when she and St. Joseph would later consummate their marriage, they could expect a very special surprise from God. They were going to conceive the Messiah. There would be no reason to think anything else. And there would be no reason to ask the question.

One final thought: When Mary asked the question, "How shall this happen, since I do not know man," the verb to be (Gr.-estai) is in the future tense. There is nothing here that would indicate she was thinking of the immediate. The future tense here most likely refers to… the future. The question was not how she could conceive immediately. The question was how she could conceive ever. The angel answered that question for her. 


Tim Staples is Director of Apologetics and Evangelization here at Catholic Answers, but he was not always Catholic. Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian...

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Ojebor Dominic - Agbor, Delta

This is very realistic. This is quite similar to what happened in judges 13, when the angel of the Lord appeared to sampson's mom. she did not ask the angel how she was going to conceive. I have been greatly enlightened.
May God continue to inspire and bless you as you use your gifts in service for his Church,

September 21, 2013 at 11:46 am PST
#2  Nick Boggs - Newark, Delaware

I'm very confused...why would the Blessed Mother take a vow of virginity AFTER she's married but BEFORE the Annunciation? I always thought her perpetual virginity was something that was known from tradition; something that came about from her having bore the Son of God, and thus choosing to have no more children, or a vow of virginity if you will; but not something made even before the angel ever visited her...?

September 23, 2013 at 11:00 am PST
#3  Deborah Crater - La Crosse, Wisconsin

Thank you Mr Staples!!! This has been a never ending problem, especially with publishers who insist on portraying Our Blessed Mother as an unwed mother to make young girls who become pregnant out of wedlock, comfortable and in "good company". Most guilty, mostly in children's books, are Catholic Book Publishing and Ignatius Press. In fact the new DVD coming out from Ignatius Press, is so bad showing Our Blessed Mother dancing with Joseph at their Jewish wedding, very much with child.

"Mary of Nazareth" (http://www.maryfilm.com/).
I have listed the events below assuming the clips are in the order of appearance in the movie.

Angel Gabriel appears to Mary

Mary travels to the house of Joseph

When Joseph sees her his joyful smile turns to a look of disbelief as he realizes she is very much with child and backs away from her.

Mary goes to Elizabeth's home

Joseph goes to Elizabeth's home to tell Mary that the Angel told him "Don't be afraid to take Mary as your wife".

Joseph and Mary (Mary, very much with child) are shown dancing in their wedding clothes, celebrating her “pregnant” wedding.

The Ignatius Bible also gets, Luke 1:34 wrong too! Very bad translation!

September 23, 2013 at 12:22 pm PST
#4  James Luke - Grand Rapids, Michigan

This is very informative and should be told or passed to all your Protestant friends

September 23, 2013 at 2:29 pm PST
#5  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Thanks for the comment, Nick. As I said in my blog post, "the question" in Luke 1:34 implies Mary already had a vow of virginity at the time of the annunciation. There is nothing in the text, or in my post, that says Mary made the vow "after she was married" (or espoused). We know from tradition she had the vow from the time of her childhood, so she made the vow long before her espousal, but Scripture only indicates she already had the vow at the time of Gabriel's visit and that she had already been "espoused" or married to St. Joseph.

September 23, 2013 at 7:53 pm PST
#6  Alonso Sanchez - Tres Cantos, Madrid

I am a devout Catholic and I also believe that Mary was a perpetual virgin but just because she was a perpetual virgin doesn't mean she took a vow of virginity before she married Joseph. If that were slightly true she wouldn't have married Joseph to begin with. After all even the Catholic Church wants married couples who have no problem with their fertility or with their financial issues to have kids. As Jimmy Akin says in one of his videos there are two theories about why Mary chose to remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus and one of them is consists in that Mary was going to be a normal wife to Joseph and have kids as any Jewish couple would do in that time. But seeing as suddenly the Son of God would become a big part in their lives they decided that it was best to focus their attention on Jesus and they changed their plans choosing to not have any kids except of course Jesus. This is what probably happened to the Holy Family and the most likely explanation to this.

September 24, 2013 at 12:50 am PST
#7  Nick Boggs - Newark, Delaware

My thinking is like that of Alonso above, why would take a vow of virginity as a child, knowing she would marry some day and still want to remain a virgin? I've never heard of this before. Her entering into marriage with the intent to not bare children as the fruit of the marriage would totally fly in the face of what our Church teaches today...those are grounds for an annulment correct? Prior to Gabriel visiting her, she had no reason to believe she was any different than any other Jewish girl in her town. Still confused....

September 24, 2013 at 3:44 am PST
#8  Nick Boggs - Newark, Delaware

Mr. Staples, can you please try to explain further? ...why did she take a life long vow of virginity prior to the Annunciation? Was this a common practice for Jewish girls in that area? Thank you. : )

September 24, 2013 at 8:08 am PST
#9  Joseph Gabriel - georgetown, Texas

Tim STaples does it again!

September 24, 2013 at 8:25 am PST
#10  Nick Boggs - Newark, Delaware

Mr. Staples, anyone...hello?

September 26, 2013 at 7:24 am PST
#11  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

We must begin with the understanding we find in the Fathers that Mary's question makes no sense without the vow. Thus, we can reasonably conclude Mary already had the vow before she knew of her calling to be the Mother of God. As far as the "why" with regard to St. Joseph marrying Mary, one ancient tradition says St. Joseph had a private revelation that he was to be the protector of this young consecrated virgin (Protoevangelium of James, 9). That certainly fits with what we see revealed in Scripture. Was this "common practice" in ancient Israel? By no means! But neither was a virginal conception, or a married virgin. Joseph and Mary had a unique relationship due to the unique event of the Incarnation.

September 26, 2013 at 9:19 am PST
#12  Nick Boggs - Newark, Delaware

Thank you Mr. Staples; just some brief follow ups if you don't mind:
Do we know 'why' Mary took the vow? ...does it have anything to do with her being free of sin? And, is this 'vow' of hers part of official Church teaching/dogma on the Blessed Mother? Thank you for being patient : )

September 26, 2013 at 10:09 am PST
#13  Nick Boggs - Newark, Delaware

Mr. Staples, I think I have a better understanding after having read about this topic over on the New Theological Movement blog ( you can read it here http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2011/12/biblical-proof-that-mary-and-joseph.html ), but I think the issue of 'why' is still on my mind. Some people in the comment section have suggested that she might have been "consecrated tot he temple" which was in practice around that time. Your thoughts?

September 28, 2013 at 4:41 am PST
#14  Alonso Sanchez - Tres Cantos, Madrid

Nick, the Most Holy Catholic Church requires us to believe that Mary remained a virgin throughout all of her life before, during and after the birth of Christ. However, this does not mean the Church requires us to believe she took a vow of virginity or that she was a consecrated virgin to the temple. Some Catholics believe she did take a vow others don't but the Church is neutral about this. Take the Assumption of Mary for example some Catholics believe Mary died before she was assumed body and soul into Heaven and others believe she didn't die at all before that event and the Church again remains silent about this. The Catholic Church affirms she was perpetually a virgin but how this happened the Church is silent.

September 28, 2013 at 7:52 am PST
#15  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

The Church is not silent on Mary having a vow before the annunciation. In his Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, 20, Pope John Paul II declared Mary to have been "... the first person in whom this new awareness [of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven] is manifested, for she asks the Angel: 'How can this be, since I have no husband?' (Lk 1:34). Even though she is 'betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph' (cf. Lk 1:27), she is firm in her resolve to remain a virgin."
Similarly, the Church is not silent on Mary having died either. In Munificentissimus Deus, for example, Pope Pius XII refers to Mary's death repeatedly. Neither of these points have been defined infallibly, but they have been taught by the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church.

October 3, 2013 at 12:27 pm PST
#16  Alonso Sanchez - Tres Cantos, Madrid

But there's a problem. If Mary truly was a consecrated virgin to the temple and never had any initial intentions of having children with Joseph then their marriage would be invalid. And this is something which even the Church is against because the Church wants married couples to have children if they have no problem with their fertility or if they are financially stable. A couple who enter marriage must have the intentions of having children if they can otherwise its an invalid marriage and it even forms grounds for an annulment. Surely you must admit the Most Blessed Virgin and St Joseph were truly married to one another.

October 5, 2013 at 1:33 am PST
#17  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

First of all, St. Joseph and Mary would not have been bound by the Code of Canon Law because it did not exist yet. In fact, the New Covenant did not exist yet. So to say Mary and Joseph were bound by "Catholic" teaching would be incorrect.
Also, "Josephite" marriages are real possibilities even in modern times. Raissa and Jacque Maritain are recent examples of this. They entered into a valid marriage that included the right to copulate and procreate, but they mutually agreed to practice celibacy with each other. The same could be assumed with St. Joseph and Mary. Their espousals were real and would have included the same right to copulate and procreate, but they mutually agreed to celibacy because of a particular and unique calling in their lives.
It should not be a surprise that a unique event, i.e., the Incarnation, would be surrounded by unique events. A virgin birth, for example, had never happened before and presumably will never happen again. If you can believe that, Mary and Joseph vowing celibacy is a piece of cake.

October 7, 2013 at 11:25 am PST
#18  Alonso Sanchez - Tres Cantos, Madrid

I can see what you are saying thank you for your clarification Mr Staples.

October 8, 2013 at 6:20 am PST
#19  feloneous cat - Elgin, Texas

"The Greek verb translated in the RSVCE to send away is apolusai, which means divorce."

Ah, it must be nice to fool people who don't understand another language.

Let us break this down. The word you are talking about is ???????? - which can mean "send away". Unfortunately, language is not 1:1 and the author INTENTIONALLY deceives his audience. The true gloss is: to release (forgive, grant clemency); divorce, send away.

Attempts to put a 1:1 translation on everything inevitably fails as William Countryman wrote in his book "Dirt, Greed & Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today".

I would argue that Staples merely made a simple error, had he not included the phrase "to send away" - which means he is aware of the gloss.

Taking advantage of people's ignorance is not nice.

The reason Staples line of reasoning fails is because it is wrong. I have no doubt that he truly believes the fabrication that he is spinning, but it is just that - a fabrication.

???????? has the following gloss: (pass.) to be pledged to marriage, betrothed, become engaged. It doesn't mean "married". This is more fabrication. The remainder of his argument is pointless - it means betrothed. Period. Married is (???????? or ?????) as found in the Bible. So, no, ???????? does not mean married.

Unless he can find evidence beyond speculation that PROVES that this word meant more than that, he is again wrong.

"There is nothing here that would indicate she was thinking of the immediate."

I have serious issues with this given that Luke 12:55 uses the following: "And when the south wind blows, you say, 'It's going to be hot,' and it is." This sentience uses ????? (estai) - he is indicating a future tense that is immediate.

Therein lies the problem with future tense - unless the language has differing forms of future tense (some do), you can not assume it is immediate future vs. a future 20 years from now. Staples makes an assumption based NOT what is written, but what is going on in his own head.

Or an attempt to fool an audience in believing a tall tale.

Staples entire blog post relies on people's ignorance of other languages. It pretends there are 1:1 translations when there are not and, conversely, attempts to argue there isn't a 1:1 translation when there is.

This is based more on fairy dust and dependence on other's lack of knowledge than it does on facts.

November 26, 2013 at 10:28 am PST
#20  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

I think saying I am trying to "fool" people is unwarranted. I'm actually just exegeting the text as we must with all biblical texts. I never said "apolusai" (to divorce) can only mean divorce. I said that is what it means here in Matt. 1:19. The context is clear. First, Joseph is called Mary's "husband" twice in the immediate context of Matt. 1:19 (verses 16 and 19, and BTW, the context makes clear that "aner" here means husband).
This is so because in Jewish law "betrothal" (Heb.-"qiddusin") conferred the status of husband and wife, even before the consummation. II Samuel 3:14, for example, presents David as referring to Michal as his "wife" even though they were merely betrothed.
This is why you should not translate "apolusai" here as something less than "divorce," because that is what would be required in the case of a husband and wife separating permanently in the Old Testament (Deut. 24:1ff).
As far as the immediate future is concerned, you make a valid point. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ..." in Romans 8:35 means both present and into the future.
Once again, it is context that gives us the answer. As I said in my post, there is no way Mary could have assumed an "immediate" conception because it had not been revealed to her at that point that the conception was going to be miraculous and of the Holy Spirit. If she were betrothed according to the normal course, she would have reasonably assumed she was going to conceive through consummating her union with Joseph. Once again, as St. Augustine famously said, "The question betrays the vow." There would have been no reason for her to ask the question if she did not have a vow to remain celibate. She asked a valid question, which said, in effect, "How are you doing to accomplish this, because I am not planning on conjugal relations?"

November 29, 2013 at 4:26 pm PST
#21  Carmen Reyes - Sterling, Virginia

It is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church that Jesus' mother Mary remained a virgin for her entire life. Is this concept biblical? Before we look at specific Scriptures, it is important to understand why the Roman Catholic Church believes in the perpetual virginity of Mary. The Roman Catholic Church views Mary as "the Mother of God" and "Queen of Heaven." Catholics believe Mary to have an exalted place in Heaven, with the closest access to Jesus and God the Father. Such a concept is nowhere taught in Scripture. Further, even if Mary did occupy such an exalted position, her having sexual intercourse would not have prevented her from gaining such a position. Sex in marriage is not sinful. Mary would have in no way defiled herself by having sexual relations with Joseph her husband. The entire concept of the perpetual virginity of Mary is based on an unbiblical teaching, Mary as Queen of Heaven, and on an unbiblical understanding of sex.

So, what does the Bible say about the perpetual virginity of Mary? Using the New American Bible, which is a Catholic translation, we can see that the perpetual virginity of Mary is not taught in the Bible. Matthew 1:25 NAB tells us, "He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus." He, Joseph, did not have sexual relations with her, Mary, UNTIL after she bore a son, Jesus." The meaning of this Scripture is abundantly clear. Joseph and Mary did not have sexual relations until after Jesus was born. Matthew 13:55-56 NAB declares, "Is He not the carpenter's son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not His sisters all with us?" Catholics claim, correctly, that the Greek terms for "brothers" and "sisters" in these verses could also refer to male and female relatives, not necessarily literal brothers and sisters. However, the intended meaning is clear, they thought Jesus to be Joseph's son, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, and the brother of the unnamed and unnumbered sisters. Father, mother, brother, sister. It is straining the meaning of the text to interpret “brothers” and “sisters” as "cousins" or "relatives" with the mentioning of Jesus' mother and father.

Matthew 12:46 NAB tells us, "While He was still speaking to the crowds, His mother and His brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with Him." See also Mark 3:31-34; Luke 8:19-21; John 2:12; and Acts 1:14. All mention Jesus' mother with His brothers. If they were His cousins, or the sons of Joseph from a previous marriage, why were they mentioned with Mary so often? The idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary cannot be drawn from Scripture. It must be forced on Scripture, in contradiction to what the Scriptures clearly state.

January 14, 2014 at 3:05 pm PST
#22  Carmen Reyes - Sterling, Virginia

There are three passages of Scripture that pertain specifically to the time of Joseph and Mary’s betrothal, the consummation of their marriage, and the birth of Jesus: Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-56; Luke 2:1-7. Each passage reveals something about their relationship as well as the cultural mores of that time.

In Bible times, Jewish marriage customs regarding a couple’s engagement were far different and much more stringent than those we are familiar with today, especially in the West. Marriages were arranged by the parents of the bride and groom and often without even consulting the couple to be married. A contract was prepared in which the groom’s parents paid a bride price. Such a contract was immediately deemed binding, with the couple considered married even though the actual ceremony and consummation of the marriage would not occur for as long as a year afterwards. The time between was a sort of testing of fidelity with the couple having little, if any, contact with each other.

It was during this betrothal period that the angel Gabriel visited Mary and told her of her impending pregnancy. It’s no small wonder that Mary was so inquisitive of the angel; she was still a virgin and would know no man sexually for several months, maybe as long as a year or more (Matthew 1:18; Luke 1:34).

Joseph soon became aware of Mary’s pregnancy, and this no doubt was cause for consternation on his part: “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19). Jewish custom allowed that they be considered as husband and wife, though the marriage had not yet been consummated. The point is being made that Joseph and Mary had experienced no sexual contact with each other, as verse 18 “before they came together” points out. So, Joseph was in a quandary. Jewish law provided that his betrothed, because of her unfaithfulness, could be placed before the elders for judgment and stoned to death. But he was thinking to just put her away quietly without public knowledge. Betrothals or marriage engagements in those ancient times were binding and could only be terminated by an official divorce decree.

It was then that the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream (Matthew 1:20-25) and explained to him that all this was bringing about the fulfillment of prophecy that a virgin would bear a child who was to be the Savior (Isaiah 7:14), and “he [Joseph] did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

Luke 2:1-7 also confirms the idea that Joseph and Mary, though betrothed, were considered as husband and wife by Jewish customs even though the actual marriage ceremony had not been fully effectuated. So, Joseph and Mary were actually legally married before the birth of Jesus though their marriage was not consummated physically until after His birth.

January 14, 2014 at 3:07 pm PST
#23  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Carmen, "[Joseph] knew [Mary] not until she had borne a son" (Matt. 1:25) says nothing of whether or not they had sexual relations after she gave birth to Jesus. The "until" in both Hebrew and Greek (as well as English) is often used to emphasize the immediate rather than speak at all to the future. I may say to you, "Until we meet again, God bless you." Does that mean "after we meet again, God curse you?" Of course not!
II Sam. 6:23 is an example of this in the Old Testament, among others: "And Michal had no child until the day of her death." Does that mean she had children after she died?
I Cor. 15:25 is a New Testament example: "[Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet." Does this mean Christ will not reign after all enemies are under his feet? Luke 1:33 says "his kingdom will have no end."
You make a good point about Matt. 13:55 that I did not bring up. It is possible that the Jews who "were offended at him" simply had it wrong. If interviewed, they would have probably thought Joseph was Jesus' birth father as well. They may well have thought the "brothers of the Lord" would have been uterine as well. They would have been wrong on both counts. But most likely they were using "brothers" in the extended sense that was common in Jewish culture. But either way, this text says nothing of Jesus having uterine brothers and sisters. I think your reading of the text is colored by a twenty-first century Protestant mindset and not by the text and context of St. Matthew's Gospel.
As far as Matt. 12 goes, once again your reading is colored by a modern Protestant mindset. It may be odd to the modern mind to place "mother" and "relatives" together in a cold twenty-first century culture where so often we see our relatives once per year if that. Ancient Jewish culture enjoyed much closer familial ties where it was not uncommon to have extended families living under the same roof or in close proximity. This would not be at all odd in the first century. For more on Mary's perpetual virginity, I recommend my CD set called "The Gospel Truth About Mary," Vol. 2, available right here at www.catholic.com.

January 18, 2014 at 8:12 am PST
#24  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Carmen, When Matt. 1:18 says "When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph before they came together..." this does not mean they later had conjugal relations. That is not the point. The emphasis here is on the virgin birth. This is similar to the usage of "before" (Gr.--prin) in John 4:49 when "an official" at Capernaum asked Jesus to come and heal his son. He said, "Sir, come down before my child dies." No one would believe he would have later been angry when Jesus healed his son, saying words to the effect, "Why did you heal him? Didn't you hear me say 'before my child dies.' I wanted him to die!"
I think the real issue here is there is a lack of understanding of the Old Testament and Jewish law. According to Jewish law, because Mary conceived of someone other than Joseph, Joseph would have been bound to divorce Mary and he could never have conjugal relations with her (see Deut. 24:1-4; Jer. 3:1-2).
However, when the angel informed him that the child conceived was conceived of the Holy Spirit, he would have immediately known (being the just man that he was) that he would have responsibility to care for her and protect her though he could not have conjugal relations with her because she belonged to someone else (see II Samuel 16:20-22; 20:3 for an analogous case in the Old Testament). The Holy Spirit would not be able to sign legal documents or protect Mary from a mob who may have wanted to execute "street justice" on her for appearing to be an adulterer.
This is not to mention the fact that Mary also became the New Testament "ark of the Covenant" (see II Samuel 6:9-11 - Luke 1:43; 56 and II Sam. 6:14 - Luke 1:41) and "spouse of the Holy Spirit" (Luke 1:35 - Ruth 3:9). The thought of Mary and Joseph having other children would not even be a consideration to the ancient Jewish people. It would contradict Scripture.

January 18, 2014 at 8:39 am PST
#25  Lewelyn Fidler - Lehi, Utah

Problem with looking "Back" we tend to apply the ideology of the 21st Century to that of the First.

Just becouse the Bible did or did not specifically state/say/illustrate does not mean that I can tale the culture thought process of the time period and "fill in the Blanks"

21st Century the ideology of having one child very common, may do thus they can state "devotion" to the one child. !st Century children would be a "expected" product of Marriage.

Because Mary was set apart as to be the Mother of Jesus and becouse of his Divinity, thus the mechanizes place upon the couple for the occasion. One Christ was born and the family more or less settled, Christ has to have the growing up for the next 30 yrs so his "time is not yet" does not preclude that life as any normal Jewish family of the Time period thus Joseph and Mary would live Jewish normal Lifetimes

Since God has laid out commandant to us his Children, He also would himself following of them also ie Marriage/powers of procreation and honoring and obeying the Law. I have fond no place during Jesus Life of Him even violating the Local Law, but he "Knew" them perfectly

To understand the scripture I need also understand the "Time" they come from. So to fill in the missing pieces I research and study Ancient History. I know that God wants me to "learn and to understand" all of it. Just as I want that of my own children of learning and of growing themselves, I see the Same from my Father who is In Heaven!

February 11, 2014 at 4:38 am PST
#26  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger


I agree with you that the problem a lot of folks have in reading Scripture, is that they read it with a 21st century mindset. A Jewish person who understands the Old Testament would know immediately that there would be no way Mary and Joseph could have had other children because Mary was already consecrated to God as "spouse of the Holy Spirit," and "Ark of the Covenant." St. Joseph was called to be her earthly guardian and protector just as David was called to guard and protect his wives who were taken by Absolam and then returned to him after Absolam's death (see II Samuel 16:20-22, and II Samuel 20:3).

February 11, 2014 at 5:57 pm PST

#8 Nick Boggs - Newark, Delaware
Mr. Staples, can you please try to explain further? ...why did she take a life long vow of virginity prior to the Annunciation? Was this a common practice for Jewish girls in that area? Thank you. : )

MR Staples, I read with interest the comments above, and also your answers. I am a Catholic like most of the readers in this column. What I believe - correct me if I'm wrong - is that in those times when a couple got married, they used to leave a week or more before they used to go and share the matrimonial bed. This thing used to be a practice even in some European countries in the 1930's. When a married couple after their wedding feast, they used to go back to their parents house, till the appointed time to sleep together. In case of St. Joseph his wife; as I understand it, was living in the same house of his parents, until the time comes to sleep together. That is why (my belief) Mary took the vow of perpetual virginity after She was pregnant with Jesus.

March 18, 2014 at 11:53 pm PST
#28  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Hello Nick,

No, this was not a common practice. Neither was the Incarnation. It was a unique event that was surrounded by unique events as a result. There will only be one Immaculate Conception, one Incarnation, one Ark of the Covenant, New Eve, Perpetual Virgin who gives birth, and more.

I tend to go with Pope John Paul II on this one: In his Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, 20, Pope John Paul II declared Mary to have been "... the first person in whom this new awareness [of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven] is manifested, for she asks the Angel: 'How can this be, since I have no husband?' (Lk 1:34). Even though she is 'betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph' (cf. Lk 1:27), she is firm in her resolve to remain a virgin."

Her promise of virginity had to be before the Incarnation; otherwise, her statement in Luke 1:34 makes no sense.

March 19, 2014 at 5:37 pm PST
#29  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

One addendum: I have not heard of the tradition of which you speak about the groom living with his parents. The tradition I have read about was the newly espoused groom was required to go away and build a home for his new bride. He would then come in the evening and receive his bride into his home in great ceremony along with a wedding feast, which would be followed by the couple consummating their union. This tradition seems to fit with Jesus' understanding in both John 14:1-5, and Matt. 25:1-10.

March 20, 2014 at 4:52 am PST
#30  Samantha Iannotta - Aviano, Pordenone

There is a chance that I may have understood this article wrongly and I do not know exactly what the bible says (I only pay attention to Catholic versions of course).

However, I don't think it is correct due to a cultural misunderstanding. About 25 years ago I heard of families in a small hamlet of Italy (where my grandparents were) that still tried to prearrange marriages. In some cases the pre arrangements were successful because they were arrangements shared with the protagonists themselves and the reasons tended to be economic. It was standard practice though, in earlier times for the prearrangement s to have been fully decided and managed without the children's approval. Indeed to this day married couples who are friends and who are each parents of a boy and girl of similar age jokingly say their kids are "betrothed", which simply means "promised" by parental arrangement(in Italy).

In the past, the two young people whose families determined they were promised to each other, didn't necessarily socialize or even see each other--in fact, they often didn't even know about the arrangement!

The tradition here as I once read it is that: Mary's parents, having seen how devout, pious, and intelligent she was, considered that she may in fact have been meant for the religious life--even though she was betrothed (promised for Joseph who was just a boy) so they indeed sent her to a sort of convent (the Jewish equivalent) where she demonstrated her merits well. It is here that she made a personal and intimate vow to consecrate herself to God in the religious life, which includes lifelong chastity. If I remember correctly she did not have a chance to announce this decision to anyone because then the angel came to her and announced her fate. In essence, God accepted her consecration and vow but wanted her to dedicate herself to the creation of a family for Jesus's sake and for his plans--rather than for the usual religious life. Mary then went to stay with Elizabeth for three months. They were both pregnant and word travelled of course (we're talking an area of very small hamlets here). Joseph worried but the angel came to him to explain that she became with child when the holy spirit came over her. Mary then returned home and Joseph and she were married. Joseph himself discovered his vocation as he grew up and probably struggled as a result but the angel came to him just in time (don't forget that this all happened by the time Mary was 15ish and Joseph must have been not much older). Both Joseph and Mary remained chaste throughout their marriage. Their mission was to create a perfect family for Jesus--it was not about them--itbwas about love, duty, parental sacrifice.

August 4, 2014 at 5:45 am PST


December 21, 2014 at 5:04 pm PST
#32  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

I am glad I could be of assistance to you! Merry Christmas!

December 24, 2014 at 10:22 am PST
#33  Charles Fiott - Jamestown, North Carolina

Matthew 1:18-19 is one of those passages that seem to give translators headaches. Some versions tell us that Mary was already married when the angel made the announcement and that Joseph started thinking about divorcing her. Others tell us she wasn’t married yet and Joseph’s intention was to break the marriage agreement. Whatever the case, she was far enough into her commitment to know that she would soon become pregnant, as was expected of any married woman. So her surprise at finding out she was going to get pregnant is, well, surprising!

Another little surprise is that, after the announcement, Mary travelled about eighty miles to spend three months with her cousin Elizabeth. She returned just before John the Baptist was born. I don’t think a newly married young woman, or one about to get married, would spend so much time away only to then abandon a beloved cousin just days before the birth of a very special child. Elizabeth was old in age and her husband was deaf and dumb, so she needed all the help she could get. But . . . stranger things have happened.

However, the theory that Mary had any vow to remain a virgin runs counter to Scripture. According to the Bible Mary and Joseph went on to have several children. One of these children even became an author of the canon. So I would like to ask Mr. Staples just where he got this crazy idea that Mary made such a vow. It certainly is NOT in the Bible.

December 28, 2014 at 9:07 pm PST
#34  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

The Bible never says "Mary and Joseph went on to have several children." And Luke 1:34 makes no sense unless you understand Mary had a vow.

I recommend you get a hold of my new book, "Behold Your Mother - A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines," where I give seven biblical reasons for the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.


December 29, 2014 at 6:00 am PST
#35  Charles Fiott - Jamestown, North Carolina

Mr. Staples, you are again running counter to Scripture. Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3 are among several verses that attest to the other children of Mary. Also Matthew 1:25 strongly indicates that Mary was a virgin only until Jesus was born. And, in Galatians 1:19, Paul identifies James as the brother of Jesus.


Luke 1:34 is not the only verse that people don't understand. There are many passages in the Bible that may not seem to "make sense", but that does not give you the authority to make assumptions or to re-interpret uncomfortable passages to suit your needs. If you believe in the Bible you have to accept it as it is written.

December 29, 2014 at 8:00 am PST
#36  Philip Limmex - Spring Green, Wisconsin

I was in a conversation with Catholics and Non Catholics. I did some searching for Greek for the Annunciation. What I came across made me think that the Perpetual Virginity of Mary is right before our eyes. But I would like someone far more knowledgeable than I to verify the text.
There are 2 places that some versions of the Bible suggest Joseph and Mary did not have relations/ sexual relations till after the birth of Jesus.
I looked, via the Internet, the verse in Mt1:25 in Greek. The Greek word for "knew" is ?????????.

24And Joseph rising up from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife. 25And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

Checking the 3 other times the word ????????? is used, they all mean knew/ as in understand.
So if I go back to Mt1:25 the verse reads "he did not "understand" her until she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus."
Which to me might mean that Joseph really didnt get it/understand until he completed what the angel had "COMMANDED HIM." Possibly that he was being FAITHLY, though not understanding. (Joseph may have been wondering the whole time, "Wow Lord, want to send some explanation some time soon???)
The other times the word ????????? are listed below. One example is when Jesus is brought before the chief priests. It said that Jesus "For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him up out of envy." Now if we use the same meaning that is sometimes used in Mt1:25, Mk15:10 gets a little awkward. Same in the other 2 examples.

Matthew 1:25 V-IIA-3S
GRK: ??? ??? ????????? ????? ???
KJV: And knew her not
INT: and not knew her until

Mark 15:10 V-IIA-3S
GRK: ????????? ??? ???
NAS: For he was aware that the chief priests
KJV: For he knew that the chief priests
INT: he knew indeed that

Luke 7:39 V-IIA-3S
GRK: ? ???????? ????????? ?? ???
NAS: were a prophet He would know who
KJV: a prophet, would have known who and
INT: a prophet would have known anyhow who

John 2:25 V-IIA-3S
GRK: ????? ??? ????????? ?? ??
NAS: for He Himself knew what
KJV: for he knew what was
INT: he indeed knew what was

Then in Lk 1:34 "And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?"
Know appears to be translated from ???????
Used 7 times in the Bible, it means "recognize" in 6 of those entries, and somehow becomes "sexual relations" in Lk1:34.
If, again, I read that verse with the term "recognize" instead of relations or sexual relations, it seems to really enforce the concept that Mary had a Vow of permanent Virginity, or as the some research for Handmaid, indicates that Mary had a Vow to God that was permanent.

Luke 1:34 V-PIA-1S
GRK: ????? ?? ???????
KJV: be, seeing I know not a man?
INT: a man not I know

John 10:14 V-PIA-1S
GRK: ????? ??? ??????? ?? ???
NAS: shepherd, and I know My own
KJV: shepherd, and know my [sheep], and
INT: good and I know those that [are] my

John 10:15 V-PIA-1S
GRK: ????? ???? ??????? ??? ??????
NAS: knows Me and I know the Father;
KJV: me, even so know I the Father:
INT: Father I also know the Father

John 10:27 V-PIA-1S
GRK: ????????? ???? ??????? ???? ???
NAS: My voice, and I know them, and they follow
KJV: voice, and I know them, and
INT: hear and I know them and

Acts 19:15 V-PIA-1S
GRK: ??? ?????? ??????? ??? ???
NAS: and said to them, I recognize Jesus,
KJV: and said, Jesus I know, and Paul
INT: even Jesus I know and

Romans 7:15 V-PIA-1S
GRK: ???????????? ?? ??????? ?? ???
NAS: I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing
KJV: that which I do I allow not: for
INT: I work out not I do own not indeed

1 Corinthians 13:12 V-PIA-1S
GRK: ???????? ???? ??????? ?? ??????
NAS: to face; now I know in part, but then
KJV: face: now I know in part;
INT: face presently I know in part

If I am in error please correct me.
But why are so many versions suggesting sexual relations as the meaning when it does not match the same Greek words elsewhere in the Bible?

January 2, 2015 at 12:22 am PST
#37  Philip Limmex - Spring Green, Wisconsin

Sorry, I guess Greek does not post very well. All ?????? were Greek words.

January 2, 2015 at 12:24 am PST
#38  Charles Fiott - Jamestown, North Carolina

Dear Mr. Limmex, you are correct in noting that the Greek word used in Matthew 1:25 (ginosko) does not always refer to carnal knowledge. Its primary meaning is “know”. But, when used in the context of men coming in contact with virgin women, the Bible authors used this expression to indicate carnal knowledge.

This is obvious when you look at the books which the Hebrews wrote in their own language. Their word is ‘yada’ and we see this used in its primary meaning (know) many times, for example in Proverbs 12:10 (The righteous know the needs of their animals) and in Jeremiah 22:16 (Isn’t that what it means to know me?) But when used in the context of men coming in contact with virgin women, it almost always means having carnal knowledge. Here are some examples:

Gen 4:17. And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch.

Gen 4:25. Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him.’

Gen. 19:8. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please…

Gen 24:16. And the damsel was very fair to look upon, a virgin, neither had any man known her.

Num 31:17-18. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

Why would Matthew 1:25 be any different?

January 2, 2015 at 7:18 am PST
#39  Philip Limmex - Spring Green, Wisconsin

(????????? (egin?sken))

January 3, 2015 at 6:08 pm PST
#40  Tim Staples - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

There is no doubt that Matt. 1:25 uses "knew" in the sense of conjugal relations. The key is to understand that "until" does not mean Joseph and Mary actually had conjugal relations after the "until" was fulfilled. We use the term that way when we say, "Until we meet again, God bless you!" That doesn't mean "after we meet again, God curse you!" See also II Sam. 6:23 and I Cor. 15:25 for both old and New Testament examples of this usage. In my new book, "Behold Your Mother - A Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian Doctrines," I give an entire Litany of examples.

January 7, 2015 at 10:08 am PST
#41  Charles Fiott - Jamestown, North Carolina

One other consideration is that several translations of Matt. 1:25 indicate that Jesus was only a 'firstborn': "And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus" (King James Version, American KJV, and King James 2000 Bible); "And he did not know her sexually until she delivered her firstborn son, and she called his name Yeshua" (Aramaic Bible in Plain English); "And knew her not until she had brought forth her firstborn son, and he called his name Jesus" (Jubilee Bible 2000); "And he knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS" (Douay-Rheims Bible); and several others. If Jesus was the 'firstborn", there were obviously other kids in the family.

This, combined with all the other references to Jesus' siblings in Mark, Luke, John, Acts, and Galatians leave absolutely no doubt that Mary had other children. The theory of Mary's perpetual virginity is a denial of God's word.

January 11, 2015 at 7:59 pm PST
#42  Matthew D - Butler, Pennsylvania

Even though it has been a while since anyone has posted I felt a need to comment on #42.

"If Jesus was the 'firstborn", there were obviously other kids in the family."

The old testament shows this to be an incorrect line of thinking.
Exodus 12:29
The Tenth Plague: Death of the Firstborn
29 At midnight the Lord smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the first-born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first-born of the cattle.

So if we were to apply this same line of reasoning to this verse, then any family that had only one child didn't have to worry themselves with the passover.

The next verse is the one that truly amazes me. It shows just how great our God is. He actually new someone would misinterpret the meaning of first born so he went ahead and gave us a Biblical definition of the term.
Exodus 13:1-2
13 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”
The first born is clearly seen as the first to open the womb regardless of a second opening the womb or not.

December 28, 2015 at 7:36 am PST

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