Our Blessed Mother & The Saints


Another Scholar's Opinion on Hes Hou

Please note that Dr. Owen's comments concur with Pacheco's observations regarding Acts 25:21, the J&A text, the Apocalypse of Moses example, Svendsen's arbitrary range of research (i.e. 100 B.C to 100 A.D.), and Svendsen's irrelevant appeals to "semantic obsolescence". Despite the division between our respective confessions, we are very grateful for Dr. Owen's unsolicited comments, and we appreciate his candor and honesty.


I am a Protestant (Reformed Presbyterian), not a Roman Catholic. However, I am currently rethinking the whole issue of Mariology, primarily because modern evangelical views of Mary often conflict with the beliefs of the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bullinger, etc.).

With regard to Eric Svendsen and James White's claims regarding hes hou, I noticed that they both feel confident that you cannot find any examples of hes hou in the NT, where the meaning is “until,” and the action of the main clause continues after the action of the temporal subordinate clause. Well, my opinion regarding Matt. 1:25 is that it says nothing about whether the action of the main clause continues after the “until” or not. The nine month period of pregnancy is all that is relevant to the context. The point is simply that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary from the time that Joseph took her as his wife until the day Jesus was born—hence making it impossible for Joseph to be the father of Jesus. The time period after Jesus’ birth is simply irrelevant and beyond the scope of Matthew’s interest.

Svendsen and White appear to be wrong to claim that the action of a main verb cannot continue beyond the time frame of a hes hou clause in NT literature. There are two clear examples of this in the NT. The first is Luke 24:49: “But stay in the city until [hes hou] you have been clothed with power from on high.” As v. 24 makes clear, Jesus is directly addressing the eleven remaining apostles (cf. Acts 1:2-4). Yet we know that the apostles remained in Jerusalem after the day of Pentecost for quite some time (cf. Acts 8:1). Presumably the other disciples (Lk. 24:33) among the 120 who were empowered by the Spirit stayed in Jerusalem after the day of Pentecost as well (Acts 2:46). There certainly is no indication that the disciples understood Jesus’ instructions in Luke 24:49 to mean that once the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, they had to leave Jerusalem. It was persecution which finally drove out many Christians from Jerusalem, not some perceived obedience to Jesus’ instructions in Luke 24:49. Nor does Luke 24:47 imply that the disciples had to leave Jerusalem after Pentecost; it merely points to the spread of the gospel that would go out from Jerusalem. The taking of the gospel to all nations would be accomplished through Christian converts and missionaries. It was hardly the responsibility of the twelve alone, or even the 120 disciples alone, to fulfill the great commission themselves! Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, was not even converted yet when Jesus spoke the words of Luke 24:49. In any case, Jesus’ disciples plainly stayed in Jerusalem for some time after the day of Pentecost, showing that they did not understand Jesus' utterance in the sense that "Svendsen's rule" would require. So Luke 24:49 disproves Svendsen’s thesis.

Acts 25:21 also disproves Svendsen’s thesis: “But when Paul appealed to be kept in [Roman] custody [terethenai] for the decision of his majesty the emperor, I ordered him to be kept in [Roman] custody [tereisthai] until [hes hou] I could send him to Caesar.” But Paul was kept in Roman custody for some time after he was sent to Caesar by Agrippa. Nor can one argue that tereisthai should be understood in a strictly geographical sense (kept in Caesarea), since the parallel usage of the cognate infinitive terethenai establishes the meaning of “kept under guard” or “kept in custody.” The focus is not on where Paul would be kept, but the manner of the custody. Paul wanted to remain in Roman custody (and protection), rather than be released to face a Jewish trial. If tereo means “kept under guard” in the first half of the verse, then it surely retains that meaning in the second half of the verse. We know that tereo means “keep under Roman custody” in the first half of the verse, and not “keep in Caesarea,” because Paul is to be kept “for the decision of his majesty the emperor.” But Paul would have to leave Caesarea to stand trial before Caesar, and travel to Rome. So the geographical meaning is impossible in the first half of the verse. Only special pleading then would argue for a shift in meaning to “kept in Caesarea” in the latter half of the verse. The point is that Paul is to remain in Roman custody until Agrippa sends him away. And since Paul in fact remained in Roman custody even after Agrippa sent him away, this again disproves the thesis of Svendsen and White.

Although I have not read Dr. Svendsen's thesis, it should be obvious that a "rule" of Greek grammar cannot be established based upon a narrow selection of usages from 100 BC to 100 AD. The Greek language did not undergo any radical shifts in 101 BC or 101 AD. In any case, as others have pointed out, Joseph and Aseneth 10:1 and Apocalypse of Moses 31:3 also contradict "Svendsen's Rule." (Svendsen's silly obfuscation regarding the date of Joseph & Aseneth was sad to watch. It plainly falls under the relevant time period.) It is also completely illegitimate to leave LXX usages of hes hou out of consideration. Svendsen's appeal to Don Carson's warnings about "semantic obsolescence" is entirely misguided, since Carson was speaking of hasty generalizations regarding NT Greek based upon examples drawn from Classical usage. The profound influence of the LXX upon the vocabulary of the NT writers is widely acknowledged, and there is no way to neatly distinguish between "theological" and "non-theological" terms in religious texts. Many so-called "theological" terms were also used in secular contexts in any case, which makes the attempted distinction rather meaningless.

It seems to me that Protestants should keep an open mind on the issue of the perpetual virginity of Mary. We certainly should not abuse Greek grammar in the service of questionable theological agendas.

Paul L. Owen, Ph.D. (University of Edinburgh)
Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies and Languages
Montreat College

January 12, 2004



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