Franciscan Focus

Just a simple blog of a Secular Franciscan trying to live with a Franciscan focus.
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14 December 2007

Josephology: On Joseph and Mary's Marriage, Part II 

I started typing up a really long honkin' reply to a comment left on my previous post, Josephology: On Joseph and Mary's Marriage, but 'cause it got s'darn long, I figured I might as well make another full post outta it. :-P

A frequently-made argument about Joseph and Mary's marital status is by citing Bible passages "proving" they weren't actually married at the time of the Annunciation. However, this is the result of poor translations that present a euphemism for sex as a literal, "I ain't married" statement, thus ignoring historical reality.

It is a poor translation when you read Mary say, "I'm not married". A more accurate translation is, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" (NAB) or "How shall this be done, because I know not man?" (Douay-Rheims); you also find this in many other translations. Also, the angel commands Joseph to take Mary into his home to complete the final stage of marriage; it is again a poor translation when you read versions that tell him to "not be afraid to marry" her.

The fact that Joseph and Mary were married, not betrothed, prior to the Annunciation has absolutely, positively nothing to do with opinions or religious differences. It is simply a case of the historical reality of Jewish marriage customs at the time, which is clearly documented by many authors; you can read just a few resources in my previous post.

But, what the heck, here are some more. :-)

Mistranslations of Luke and Matthew

"Current translations of Matthew 1:20 are based on the suspicion hypothesis and separate 'do not fear to take Mary your wife' from what follows by a comma, and by a conjunction such as 'for,' thus interpreting that the clause 'that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit' is new information for Joseph. Such news, however, would hardly be a reason to allay fear in the above biblical sense, but rather a cause for it. Grammatical analysis of the conjunctions gàr and in Matthew 1:20 shows that they may be interpreted in the sense of 'indeed ... but," rather than "for ... and.' The angel is telling Joseph that he should not hesitate to continue with the marriage, for though Mary is indeed pregnant by the Holy Spirit, he is nevertheless to have an important role in that work: to act as Mary's husband and to name the child. The translation could thus read: 'Joseph, Son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife even though that which is conceived in her is indeed of the Spirit and that is Holy. She will bear a son, whom you will give the name Jesus ...'


"Mary conceives as a virgin while betrothed to Joseph, who is of the house of David. 'Betrothed' is again understood to mean that all the formal contractual agreements for the marriage had been finalized, while Mary's statement to the angel indicates that Joseph had not yet made the final step of taking her into his home. Luke 1:34 should be translated 'since I have no marital relations with a man,' which is a common meaning of ginōskō (know) when applied to a man and a woman, used also in Matthew 1:25. It should not be translated 'since I have no husband,' as the Revised Standard Version does, since the betrothed could be called husband and wife even before the act of coming together in the same house, as seen in Matthew 1:16,19,20,24."
~ Larry M. Toschi, OSJ; Joseph in the New Testament

Marriage Customs of Joseph and Mary's Time

"Since the question [of Mary and Joseph's espousals] is of interest strictly to Catholics, it seems preferable to quote non-Catholic authorities. None of these can justly be accused of interpreting the gospel account in favor of any Catholic theory regarding Mary's vow of virginity and St. Joseph's fatherhood. We will present here four representative non-Catholic opinions.

"Montefiore, the eminent Jewish scholar, comments on Matthew 1:18 as follows: 'They had not yet lived together in one house as man and wife although they were legally married according to Jewish law.'

"The Jewish Encyclopedia repeats the same thought. 'The root, "to betroth," from which the Talmudic word "betrothal" is derived, must be taken in this sense, i.e., to contract an actual though incomplete sense of the rabbinical law declares that the betrothal is equivalent to an actual marriage, and only to be dissolved by a formal divorce.'

"According to Gorge Foot Moore, 'Betrothal was a formal act by which the woman became legally the man's wife; unfaithfulness on her part was adultery and punishable as such; if the relation was dissolved, a bill of divorce was required. Some time elapsed after the bridegroom claimed the fulfillment of the agreement before the bride was taken to her husband's house and the marriage consummated. The term employed for betrothal, kiddushin, has religious associations; it is an act by which the woman is, so to speak, consecrated to her husband, set apart for him exclusively.'

"Finally, we turn to Shailer Mathews, who appears to hold no brief for the virginal conception of Christ but who definitely considers Jesus the legitimate son of the marriage because of the betrothal. He writes, 'Betrothal among the Jews in the time of Jesus was in the process of transition. ... The status of the man and woman was ... practically the same as that of married persons, although now it was generally customary for the wedding ceremony proper to be celebrated at the expiration of a year. ... There seems to have been no reason why betrothed persons should not live together as man and wife without a subsequent marriage ceremony. The children of such a union would be legitimate.' He concludes that according to the narrative of Matthew and Luke, the contemporary Jewish customs were followed out by Mary and Joseph.

"... The summaries of many other studies can be adduced to uphold this view that the betrothal of Joseph and Mary linked them in a valid marriage, which was later solemnized by the wedding ceremony. This conclusion is further confirmed by a sort of aprioristic argument proposed by Macabiau and modeled on reasoning of Suarez: The gospels make it clear that Jesus was considered the legitimate son of Mary and Joseph. Therefore, one would be prone to conclude that Jesus had been conceived in Mary at a time when genuine marriage rights were considered by the public to belong to His virginal parents."
~ Francis L. Filas, SJ; Joseph: The Man Closest to Jesus

See also: Josephology: On Joseph and Mary's Marriage [Part I]

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Blogger CSS said...

Hi Lisa,
I appreciate you taking time to share more quotes on the issue. I have said my peace, however, and already feel that the debate is becoming ridiculuous. There is just so many times I can say that 'gamos' is not equal to 'mnesteuo'. I believe we are debating semantics at this point and that is just not that important to me.

14 December, 2007 22:20  
Blogger Lisa, ofs said...

This has nothing to do with semantics, it's about the Jewish marriage customs of the time, and I've shared plenty of resources here that detail the subject.

15 December, 2007 00:34  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is the nature of translation that words of one language do not map onto another with a one to one correspondence. For example, the Latin words "rufus" and "ruber" are distinct in that language yet are both translated into English as "red". Similarly, it is not all that significant that "gameo" is a distinct word from "mnesteuo". When we look for the English word that best corresponds to a relationship between a man and woman which refers to them as husband and wife, requires a divorce to end and confers legitimacy on any offspring, we choose "marriage."

There is not really any question that Sister correctly stated the Church teaching regarding the relationship of Mary and Joseph. The Catholic teaching itself is well-founded on knowledge of Jewish marriage customs. It seems likely that the reason that CSS does not wish to discuss this any more is that the only thing left for CSS to say is to admit to making a mistake. The attempt to correct Sister was incorrect itself.

17 December, 2007 21:20  
Blogger Iris said...

Hi Lisa,

Thank you for dropping a line in my blog account. It is inspiring to see your devotion to St. Joseph. Thanks for your blog as well.

03 January, 2008 00:51  

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