Our Blessed Mother & The Saints


Hes Hou and the Protestant Polemic

2003 John Pacheco, The Catholic Legate. All Rights Reserved.

by John Pacheco


Foreword

I am honoured that John Pacheco has asked me to contribute a foreword to his significant new study on the meaning of the Greek phrase hes hou in Matt 1:25 as it relates to perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The study is written in response to the claim, first floated in the 1990s by Eric Svendsen and others, that within the period of 100 B. C. to A. D. 100 the use of the Greek phrase hes hou (“until”) always denotes the cessation of the action of the main clause of the sentence in which it occurs. The phrase occurs in Matt 1:24 25, which says that, “Joseph . . . kept her a virgin until [hes hou] she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” Thus, Svendsen argues that his newly found linguistic nuance proves that the Blessed Virgin did not remain perpetually a virgin, since hes hou always denotes a cessation of the action of the main clause during this period. In discussions over the perpetual virginity of Mary, this argument is seen by certain Protestant apologists as a sort of exegetical “atomic bomb”, an unanswerable argument based on scientifically controlled facts.

And yet this argument certainly has not gone unchallenged over the years. Early on, I and several other Catholic apologists pointed to the evidence of the Septuagint (LXX) which clearly evinces uses of the phrase hes hou in which the action of the main clause does not cease in the subordinate. Svendsen has acknowledged that these exist, but contends that they are not pertinent, because, he claims, this meaning dropped out of the Greek language after the composition of the LXX but before the composition of the New Testament (NT).

To answer this contention Catholic apologists have pointed to several NT passages in which the meaning of hes hou, denoting no cessation of the action of the main clause, is at least plausible, if not probable. These texts are significant, since Svendsen claims that this meaning was no longer part of Greek parlance by the time the New Testament was penned. But in answering these challenges he has resorted to an illegitimate attempt to shift the burden of proof. For example, in reply to one Catholic apologist’s citation of NT counter-examples he stated:

As for the NT, there are no instances in which hes hou, when it means “until,” denotes the action of the main clause continuing after the action of the subordinate clause, in spite of Sungenis’ three proposed examples above. If he thinks the usage in those passages supports his understanding of the usage in Matt 1:25, then let him prove it.71

This is illegitimate. Svendsen is the one making the absolute claim that hes hou, between the years 100 B. C. and A. D. 100, always denotes the cessation of the action of the main clause. In order to sustain his absolute claim, Svendsen must demonstrate that each occurrence in the period cannot have any other meaning. The burden of proof is fully his. Therefore, in the following article, John Pacheco has quite rightly brought the NT passages back up for consideration, showing that even Protestant commentators are not unanimous in seeing a cessation of action of the main clause in each of these passages.

Thus the issue of the New Testament counter-examples is by no means closed. And while Svendsen frequently revels in the supposed precision with which modern exegetes are alleged to be able to explicate the correct interpretation of a given text, the true state of New Testament scholarship since the advent of the historico-critical method recommends a considerably more humble stance. As NT scholar E. Earle Ellis has noted in a remarkable moment of candor:

The meaning of ancient texts no less than other aspects of historical knowledge is never free from the subjective factors with which the interpreter comes to and pursues his task. What appears probable to one interpreter will be improbable to another. The failure of the historical-critical method, after two hundred years, to achieve an agreed meaning for any substantial biblical passage underscores that fact and makes a more modest attitude incumbent upon all biblical scholars.72

For this reason, among many others, I think it will be difficult indeed for Svendsen to meet his burden of proof with regard to the NT texts proposed as counter-examples by Catholic apologists. Make no mistake. If Pacheco proposes possible exceptions anywhere in the period under study, it is Svendsen who must prove that they cannot be exceptions, otherwise his thesis is rendered dubious. If Pacheco proposes probable exceptions which Svendsen cannot definitely refute, then Svendsen’s thesis is rendered unlikely. And if Pacheco cites even one certain exception of the use of hes hou in the timeframe examined by Svendsen, then Svendsen’s thesis is entirely untenable. I believe that the reader will discover that Pacheco has done all three. I urge readers of this essay to hold Svendsen strictly to his burden of proof, especially in light of his past attempts illegitimately to shift this burden.

But Svendsen’s thesis has difficulties on other fronts. Other essays on the hes hou controversy-most notably that of Fr. Ronald Tacelli73 -have demonstrated that this particular meaning of hes hou, which Svendsen claims fell out of the Greek language by 100 B. C., shows up in Greek texts in the years following the New Testament. This strikes at the heart of Svendsen’s claim that he has discovered an example of “semantic obsolescence”, that is, a linguistic usage that falls out of normal parlance with the passage of time.

In pointing out this discrepancy, Catholic apologists point out that Svendsen’s thesis can only be sustained by ignoring certain evidence that runs contrary to it. Responding to the charge that he has engaged in an appeal to selective evidence (a charge which John Pacheco advances here with even greater cogency), Svendsen insists that, “I have examined every single occurrence of hes hou in all the literature of the era in which Matthew wrote his gospel. Combined with Carson’s warning regarding semantic obsolescence, my treatment is a balanced work.”74

Now it would be one thing if Svendsen could argue that this meaning fell out of the language never to be seen again; that would be a true example of semantic obsolescence. But trying to argue that this meaning disappears just prior to the writing of the New Testament, then “reappears” in texts immediately after, well, that strikes me as just a little too convenient for one so bent on disproving Catholic claims. At the very least, the post-New Testament evidence should have waved him away from claiming that this is an example of semantic obsolescence. Indeed, I continue to find it perplexing that bona fide scholars in New Testament studies could have supported the methodology employed in this thesis.

But, as if this was not enough, John Pacheco has found even more serious deficiencies in Svendsen’s thesis. For even in the artificially-selected period which Svendsen examines, evidence can be found that undermines his case. Suffice it to say that, in the following article, Pacheco has served up a full-orbed refutation of the hes hou canard. With that said, it’s time to get on to the meat of this essay. Svendsen has been wondering where all the Catholic apologists have gone in the hes hou discussion.75

Here’s your answer, Mr. Svendsen. Bon apetit!

David Palm
November 12 2003,
Feast of St. Martin I, Pope and martyr

"By thy most holy word thou didst openly give force to all the sacred dogma, and put to rout the whole troop of heresies. The wicked one is shattered at thy sacred feet, the unbridled tongues of wicked men are stopped, and the Divine dogma is shown forth, shining more brightly than the sun. In thee we recognise the foundation of bishops, the pillar of the orthodox faith, and teacher of religion. Thou hast adorned the Divine throne of Peter, and since then hast preserved the Church immovable on his Divine rock" (Greek Office of the Feast of Pope St. Martin I)

____________________________________________________

Introduction

In recent years, certain Protestant polemicists have advanced a new reason why Mary was not ever-virgin. These new Helvidians are focusing around the word until in the Gospel of Matthew:

"And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus." (Matthew 1:24-25)

The traditional Protestant view has been to appeal to the conjunction until in the above passage, and to suggest that this word denotes a cessation of the action in the clause immediately preceding it. Hence, since the word until (hes in the Greek) is used to describe Joseph’s unconsummated conjugal relationship with Mary before Christ’s birth, then the implication of its usage signifies that he later consummated the marriage with her. In other words, Mary was virgin only until she gave birth to Jesus, but then engaged in sexual relations with Joseph some time after Our Lord's birth, thereby losing her virginity.

The employment of the Greek word hes, however, does not necessarily mean that the action (or non-action in this particular case) in the main clause ceases or discontinues itself in the subordinate clause. It does not necessarily convey a cessation or change in Mary’s virginity after the birth of Christ. There are many references in the bible which attest to this fact.1 One of the more prominent examples of the action of the main clause being continued into the subordinate clause occurs in 2 Samuel 6:23: "Michal the daughter of Saul had no child until [hes] the day of her death." Obviously, Michal will remain childless after her death - just as Mary could remain virgin after Christ’s birth. The New Testament also provides ample evidence against the Helvidian proposal. "For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But He answered them, 'My Father is working until [hes ] now, and I Myself am working.'" (John 5:16-17). The Father has obviously kept working since Jesus spoke those words.

Recent Protestant research in this area has provided a counter-rebuttal to the observation made above. Modern Protestant apologists, most notably Eric Svendsen2 and James White, have advanced another Greek grammatical argument involving hes, which, they claim, offers convincing evidence that the action in the main clause is ceased in the subordinate clause - meaning, in the case of Mary, that her virginity was lost after the birth of Jesus.

Proponents of this new argument maintain that, while conceding that hes alone is not sufficient to prove Mary lost her virginity, the text of Matthew 1:25 has hes accompanied by the particle hou. When these particular combination of words, hes hou, is used, then it does signify a discontinuation (cessation) of the main clause every time it is used in the New Testament.69

In his 1999 debate with Catholic Apologist Gerry Matatics on Mary’s Perpetual Virginity, Svendsen makes his case thus:

"…rarely is it mentioned by these [Catholic] apologists that this is not the Greek phrase [hes alone] used in Matthew 1:25. In all of these passages cited by Catholic Apologists, the word 'hes' alone is used, but in Matthew 1:25, the Greek construction 'hes hou' is used. The phrase 'hes hou' with its variant form 'hes 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, Matt. 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]

The Greek Particle Hou

Before addressing Svendsen’s methodology and other relevant matters on this question, it would be beneficial first to provide a brief overview of the grammatical significance of hes. Insofar as the parts of speech are concerned, hes is generally a relative adverb while hou is a particle. In the construction of the phrase in question, however, until takes the character of a subordinate conjunction.

"Joseph kept her a virgin--until--she gave birth to a Son."
|Main Clause|----|conjuction|----|Subordinate Clause|


As this piece will endeavor to demonstrate, the pronoun hou really has no effect on the meaning of the couplet under discussion. (In fact, as we will soon discover, not only does hou not affect the meaning of hes, it does not even affect the meaning of synonyms for hes either.) English equivalents of hes hou might be translated as "until which", "until which time", or "until such time as". In fact, hes hou is simply a shorthand for the phrase hes hou chronou en hoi - literally: "until the time when".

Lexical Evidence

As Sophocles in his Greek Lexicon of the Roman Byzantine Periods3 and Stephanus in his Thesaurus Graecae Linguae4 clearly attest, from a grammatical point of view, there is no relevant difference between hes alone and hes hou. Both of these monumental works make no distinction between hes alone and hes hou, treating them as if they were equivalent in meaning. In addition to these older sources, we can turn to more contemporary references which also maintain there is no difference in meaning by adding the particle hou to hes . According to Burton's Grammar (a popular Greek Grammar used by Protestants), it states the following regarding hes hou:

"In the New Testament hes is sometimes followed by hou or otou. Hes is then a preposition governing the genitive of the relative pronoun, but the phrase hes hou or hes otou is in effect a compound conjunction having the same force as the simple hes. The construction following it is also the same, except that [the Greek word] an never occurs after hes hou or hes otou."6 (emphasis added)

No distinction or restriction in meaning is made between hes alone and hes hou in a number of other Biblical lexicons - all of which explicitly include hes hou in their explication of hes . None of the following lexicons state or even suggest such a distinction: Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon7, Robinson’s Greek-English Lexicon8, Zorrell’s Lexicon Graecum9, Arndt & Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon10, Liddell & Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon11, and Luow & Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon12. Neither is a distinction made in Muraoka’s Greek-English Lexicon13 or Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon.14 The outstanding work of Zerwick and Grosvenor also concur with this opinion: "[Hes hou], until (the time when) but not excluding continuation of action beyond the time indicated; author only concerned here to indicate virginal conception."15

As each of the aforementioned works attest, no cessation of the action in the main clause is demanded after hes hou is employed. There is no distinction between hes and hes hou. They both signify the same meaning: "expressing the point in time up to which an action goes" (Liddell & Scott); "to denote the end of a period of time" (Arndt & Bauer); "marking the continuance of an action up to the time of another action" (Robinson’s). In fact, Louw & Nida also make this observation as a footnote: "hes, axpi, and uexpi frequently occur with a postposed marker of indefinite temporal reference: hou, occurring with all three markers, and hotou with hes"16 (emphasis added). In other words, hes hou is as likely to refer to Mary retaining her virginity, through an indefinite temporal reference, as hes alone does.5

Scholarly Commentary

One of the most widely respected commentaries on Matthew’s gospel is written by W.D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr. in the very respectable ICC (International Critical Commentary) series. In this work, the contributors say this regarding Matthew 1:25:

"This retrospective observation does not necessarily imply that there were marital relations later on, for hes (until) following a negative need not contain the idea of a limit which terminates the preceding action or state (cf. Gen. 49.10 Septuagint; Mt 10.23; Mk 9.1)." 17

While it is true that Davies and Allison go on to question the awkward construction of the verse if indeed Mary was perpetually virgin, the fact that they mention solely hes instead of hes hou is indicative of the opinion of many that, grammatically, there is no such special exception for the latter as opposed to the former as regards to the continuation of the action in the main clause.

This view is further supported by a work which is frequently cited in Svendsen’s book: The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In this work, Raymond Brown essentially concurs with the evidence adduced from all scholarly sources thus far:

"Leaving aside post-Reformation quarrels, we must seek to reconstruct Matthew’s intention, first from the immediate context and then from the whole Gospel. How does "not know her until" fit into the immediate context? In English when something is negated until a particular time, occurrence after that time is usually assumed. However, in discussing the Greek hes hou after a negative...K. Beyer, Semitishce Syntax im Neuen Testament (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck, 1962), I, 132(1), points out that in Greek and Semitic such a negation often has no implication at all about what happened after the limit of the "until" was reached...The immediate context favors a lack of future implication here, for Matthew is concerned only with stressing Mary’s virginity before the child’s birth, so that the Isaian prophecy will be fulfilled: it is as a virgin that Mary will give birth to her son. As for the marital situation after the birth of the child, in itself this verse gives us no information whatsoever. In my judgment the question of Mary’s remaining a virgin for the rest of her life belongs to post-biblical theology, […] Besides the question of fact, one has to ask whether Matthew was in a position to know the facts. Did he think that the brothers were children of Mary born after Jesus; and if so, was this simply an assumption on his part?"18 (emphasis added)

In Mary In the New Testament, Brown et. al. further concede that it is only on the basis of other passages that one would be inclined to accept that Mary did not remain a virgin. They write: "It is only when this verse is combined with Matthew's reference to Mary and the brothers of Jesus (12:46), along with the sisters (13:55-56), that a likelihood arises that (according to Matthew's understanding) Joseph did come to know Mary after Jesus' birth and that they begot children."19 And, of course, these other references are by no means conclusive either. The adelphoi of Jesus are not necessarily uterine brothers and sisters, but might refer to close relatives who grew up with Jesus under the same roof.

Not only do Brown et. al. also refer to the K. Beyer's opinion in Mary in the New Testament which refutes Svendsen's thesis, but Svendsen himself even concedes the scholarship arrayed against him:

"Protestants scholars who take this view include Robert Gundry, Matthew,: A Commentary from His Handbook on a Mixed Church Under Persecution, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 25, who says, "By itself hes hou, which belongs to Matthew's preferred diction (4,2) does not necessarily imply that Joseph and Mary entered into normal sexual relations after Jesus' birth"; Richard B. Gardner, Matthew (Believers Church Bible Commentary; Scottsdale, P.A.: Herald Press, 1991), 41,...states that "the language of the text leaves open the question of how Joseph and Mary related to each other after Jesus' birth..."70

In addition to these eminent scholars, both John Meier20 and Daniel Harrington21 also corroborate the judgment that indeed the text neither affirms nor denies Mary’s perpetual virginity.

Scholar Survey

In addition to the findings of the standard lexicons and commentaries presented above, a random survey was conducted among both Catholic and (mostly) Protestant academics and scholars in order to ascertain if there were any other considerations which may lend credence to the advanced hes hou argument. Not surprisingly, while some scholars maintained that the context or other biblical passages contribute to the belief that Mary did not remain a virgin, of the dozens of scholars contacted, not one scholar concurred with a necessary restriction on hes hou on a grammatical basis. In fact, not a few scholars wondered whether the study being advanced was, in the words of one non-Catholic, "shoddy, ideologically driven scholarship which is to be discouraged whenever possible." A sample of the comments collected is provided in Appendix 2.

Grammatical Conclusion

In addition to hes, we would expect that the particle hou would have the same inconsequential effect on other prepositions or conjunctions. Indeed, this is exactly what happens when we consider the Greek preposition/conjuction achri which has the same common meaning in English as hes does. The evidence presented in Appendix 1 demonstrates that the addition of hou to achri does not change or restrict the fundamental meaning of achri at all, and therefore does not demand that the text imply a cessation from a grammatical basis alone.

Indeed, not only does Burton’s Grammar confirm the above results, it even increases the scope to include hes hou and mechri hou: "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 hes, hes hou, and hes hotou [examples]: Mark 10:30;...Acts 7:18;...Rev. 7:3;..."23 This is further supported by the distinguished work by Blass, Debrunner, and Funk who maintain that hes hou began to be utilized in place of hes alone "on the pattern of mechri hou and achri hou".24

One surveyed commentator also questioned whether those advancing this new hes hou argument considered the relevance of mechri hou and achri hou. "Do these persons", he writes, "confine their research to hes and hes hou/hotou? Or do they also consider the comparable achri and achri hou/hotou (Luke 21:24, Acts 7:18, Acts 27:33, Romans 11:25, 1 Corinthians 11:26, 1 Corinthians 15:25, Galatians 3:19, Hebrews 3:13, Revelations 2:25) and mechri and mechri hou/hotou (Mark 13:30, Galatians 4:19). These are synonymous expressions with precisely comparable usage, so far as I can tell. And for what it’s worth I'll cite below Louw & Nida's lexicon of the Greek NT by semantic domains." The commentator went on to cite the relevant texts in Louw & Nida’s lexicon which confirm his assessment.59

The evidence amply demonstrates that there is no intrinsic quality to the particle hou which would cause a material shift in meaning to the preposition (or conjunction) immediately preceding it.25 It is clear, therefore, that the grammatical addition of the particle hou to hes (including the other combinations like hes otou and hes an22) have absolutely no bearing or impact in determining the temporal result of the action in the main clause. In other words, adding hou to hes does not make Mary any more likely (or less likely, for that matter) to have lost her virginity after the birth of her Son than if hes alone or another grammatical construction of hes were employed.

Svendsen’s Methodology

Textual Issue

Before addressing the methodology employed by Svendsen on this issue, it is worth while to quickly review the significance of textual issue of this question. The textual witness to hes hou is by no means a unanimous one. Hes hou is not present in manuscript k, the most important witness to the African Old Latin (4th/5th century).27 As a result, among important modern editions, (i.e. Westcott-Hort [Westcott, Brooke Foss and Hort, Fenton John Anthony], The New Testament in the Original Greek, New York: Macmillan, 1935) places hou in brackets, as does Nestle-Aland (1963). Bruce Metzger, the prominent and renowned Evangelical scholar, calls the former work the "most noteworthy critical edition of the Greek New Testament ever produced by British Scholarship."43

Furthermore, the textual variants of hes hou found in the New Testament, namely, Matthew 18:30, Matthew 18:34, and Luke 12:50 are also suggestive. Matthew 18:30 has a textual variant with Codices Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, et al. having hes, while Codices Beza and Freer, and the Majority Text have hes hou. Matthew 18:34 also has a textual variant. Only codex Vaticanus has hes hou. All the rest have hes. With respect to Luke 12:50, Codices Alexandrinus, Beza, Freer, and the Majority text have hes hou while Codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus only have hes.

While it is always precarious to mix literary and textual criticisms, the above evidence suggests that both the New Testament writers and their copyists did not have perceived a tangible difference between hes and hes hou. In the case of the copyists, the above evidence is insinuative while for the New Testament writers, we see, in the case of Matthew 18, that hes hou is used interchangeably with hes (Cf. Matthew 18:30, 34). 28

Statistical Analysis

The issue surrounding hes hou can be better appreciated after a survey of its usage in the bible. Hes hou is used 19 times in the New Testament (Mt 1:25; 13:33; 14:22; 17:9; 18:30, 18:34, 26:36; Lk 12:50, 13:21; 15:8; 22:18; 24:49; Jn 13:38; Ac 21:26; 23:12; 23:14; 23:21; 25:21; 2 Pt 1:19). There are textual variants in Matthew 18:30, Matthew 18:34, and Luke 12:50.65 Svendsen tabulates the following further statistics. Hes hou is used 85 times in the Septuagint while hes hotou is used 4 times in the NT (Mt 5:25; Lk 13:8; 22:16; Jn 9:18 with Luke 12:50 being a textual variant) and 14 times in the Septuagint. Hes an is used 20 times in the NT including Mt 2:13; 5:18; 5:26; 10:11, 23; 12:20; 16:28; 22:44; 23:39; 24:34 and 105 times in the Septuagint. Of the above references, according to Svendsen himself, hes "in all its forms occurs only 1,710 times in the LXX and the NT; 1,564 times in the LXX and 146 times in the NT." Although the preponderance of these instances are clearly designed to terminate the action of the main verb, in a significant number of cases, hes and its associated conjunctions is clearly designed to continue the action of the main verb.

In his book, Svendsen tabulates fifty-eight occurrences of hes hou in the Septuagint which carry a temporal meaning,29 six of these clearly denoting the contemporaneous while30 and fifty-two denoting either a continuation or cessation of the action in the main clause.31 Of these occurrences, Svendsen identifies only five occurrences which he identifies as clear examples of a continuation of the action in the main clause.32 With these statistics, a few apparent observations can made.

First, in submitting our survey to various scholars, not one of them excluded the Septuagint from consideration in determining the meaning of hes hou. In fact, all of them who offered a comment on the Septuagint affirmed that there are no grounds for dismissing it in assessing the grammatical range of hes hou. The Septuagint must be included for consideration because of two important facts: first of all, over two-thirds of the Old Testament citations are from the Septuagint, and second of all, Matthew read the Septuagint and reflected its style. In short, although Svendsen discusses the usage of the phrase in the Septuagint, he dismisses its usage as being "semantically obsolete" for consideration in the New Testament. The Greek Old Testament, however, is germane for consideration in how the phrase is used in the New Testament. A further critique of Svendsen’s gratuitous methodology in this regard will be discussed later.

Second, as the results above indicate, the temporal-continuation meaning of hes hou is relatively rare, equaling a mere 9.6% (5/52) of the relevant temporal population in the Septuagint or 8.6% (5/58) of the entire temporal population in the Septuagint (including the 6 instances of "while" identified by Svendsen). The significance of this is somewhat damaging to those who wish to propose a necessary grammatical restriction to hes hou. The low percentage found in the Septuagint already suggests a certain difficulty in terms of finding many, if any, instances of hes hou in the New Testament even before an examination is conducted. Statistically speaking, the higher the population of hes hou found in the New Testament; the more likely we would expect to see occurrences of a temporal-continuation meaning of it. Conversely, the lower the population of hes hou; the less likely we are to expect a temporal continuation meaning of the phrase.

If we were to extrapolate the percentage of occurrence from the Septuagint (calculated above to be 9.6%) to the fifteen occurrences 33 of the relevant hes hou population in the New Testament, we would expect to find 1.44 instances (9.6% * 15) of hes hou where the action in the main clause continues. From a statistical point of view, even if no such instances were found in the New Testament, this would not be significant enough to draw a conclusion on Matthew 1:25. In fact, the only thing that one may conclude - as Svendsen’s own statistics testify to - is that the usage is rare but not impossible. And in relation to over relying on the mere use of such statistics, Svendsen's own mentor, D.A. Carson, in his book Exegetical Fallacies, cautions against exegetical judgements based on an statistically insufficient populations.36 Indeed, if we were to insist on such a deficient approach proposed by Svendsen, we would be allowed to conclude that the one instance (1.44 to be exact) projected to occur in the New Testament is Matthew 1:25!

Fourth, there are three possible temporal meanings to hes hou (cessation, continuation, and contemporaneous). Ignoring for the moment some of the passages above which suggest continuation of the main clause, two of the three meanings are still used in the New Testament. Of the paltry seventeen instances of hes hou which occur in the New Testament (being split amongst three possible meanings), how can one say, with any sort of certitude, that hes hou cannot imply a continuation, especially considering the Septuagint usage? The fact that there is one possible meaning allegedly absent among a slim population and split among three possible meanings does not give Svendsen license to claim that hes hou cannot imply a continuation. The population base used to draw such a conclusion is simply too small and too saturated to be statistically or grammatically valid.

New Testament Exegesis

As mentioned previously, there are fifteen occurrences of hes hou in the New Testament relevant to this discussion.34 Because this phrase is used only rarely to indicate a continuation of the main clause in the Septuagint, it is not surprising to discover that most of these occurrences in the New Testament do not have such meaning. Svendsen maintains that none of the fifteen pertinent occurrences of hes hou in the New Testament imply a continuation of the main clause. Instead, he insists that all of them have the meaning "until a specified time (but not after)".

Since there is no point in exploring those passages which do clearly indicate a cessation of the action in the main clause, the following discussion will focus only on those passages which may not support Svendsen’s thesis.35

Matthew 18:22-34 [Luke 12:58-59]

Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him." (Matthew 18:22-34)

In the ancient Greco-Roman world, the punishment exacted on those who broke a law was often draconian and merciless. This is no less true for a creditor who was seeking to recover amounts owing from his debtor. A creditor could, for instance, demand slave labor from both the debtor and the members of the debtor’s family. In fact, the law was so ruthless and exacting that the whole family could be sold into slavery to discharge debt. This was also true in the time of Christ when Israel was under the rule of the Roman empire. Roman law, it was well known, provided for swift and severe punishment by imprisonment and torture against debtors who fell into default. The reason for the imprisonment was to coerce the victim to pay the debt anyway he could through hidden wealth, family assistance, or other unknown sources.

This is the context of Jesus teaching in Matthew 18. He wishes to draw on this harsh imagery to describe the utter foolishness of someone who, on the one hand, expects almost infinite mercy from his creditor but, on the other hand, he himself is unwilling to forgive one of his debtors 1/100th of the amount he himself was forgiven. Jesus’ teaching therefore is a stern admonition to all who wish to follow Him: in order not to be judged and thrown into prison, His followers are to forgive unconditionally and totally. Since everyone is under the debt of sin, no one can possibly repay back the debt owed to God for sin. So in this passage, as in others, Jesus places a condition on being forgiven by the Father: should one wish to be forgiven of sin, one must forgive one’s brother from the heart. No forgiveness? No eternal inheritance. "So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:12-13)

For the Reformers, the context of this passage is speaking of judgment and eternal punishment. Since it is speaking in such a context for them, then the prison and torturers being referred to in verses 30 and 34 can only refer to hell. But if that is the case then there is a significant problem for Svendsen’s thesis regarding hes hou. The action in the main clause of being thrown into prison and handing him over to the torturers cannot therefore cease since the punishment in the debtor’s prison and the punishment that Our Lord cautions about is an eternal one.

A number of commentators have confirmed this view. John Calvin, for instance, says this about Matthew 18:34: "Delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that he owed." The Papists are very ridiculous in endeavoring to light the fire of purgatory by the word 'till' 48; for it is certain that Christ here points out not temporal death, by which the judgment of God may be satisfied, but eternal death."44

A popular early eighteenth century Protestant commentary concurs with this view:

"He delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.Though the wickedness was very great, his lord laid upon him no other punishment than the payment of his own debt. Those that will not come up to the terms of the gospel need be no more miserable than to be left open to the law, and to let that have its course against them. See how the punishment answers the sin; he that would not forgive shall not be forgiven; He delivered him to the tormentors; the utmost he could do to his fellow servant was but to cast him into prison, but he was himself delivered to the tormentors. Note, The power of God's wrath to ruin us, goes far beyond the utmost extent of any creature's strength and wrath. The reproaches and terrors of his own conscience would be his tormentors, for that is a worm that dies not; devils, the executioners of God's wrath, that are sinners' tempters now, will be their tormentors for ever."45

John Wesley also came to the same conclusion:

"His lord delivered him to the tormentors - Imprisonment is a much severer punishment in the eastern countries than in ours. State criminals, especially when condemned to it, are not only confined to a very mean and scanty allowance, but are frequently loaded with clogs or heavy yokes, so that they can neither lie nor sit at ease: and by frequent scourgings and sometimes rackings are brought to an untimely end. Till he should pay all that was due to him - That is, without all hope of release, for this he could never do. How observable is this whole account; as well as the great inference our Lord draws from it: The debtor was freely and fully forgiven; He wilfully and grievously offended; His pardon was retracted, the whole debt required, and the offender delivered to the tormentors for ever."46

The People's New Testament, a nineteenth century, commentary concurs:

"His lord . . . delivered him to the tormenters. This language is to be interpreted by customs that still prevail in the East, where torture is still used to compel debtors to confess where they have hidden treasures that they are suspected of having concealed. In both Greece and Rome torture was used on prisoners to compel confession, and until within a century or two it was still employed in Great Britain and Europe. Till he should pay all. As, however, he never could pay, he was condemned to perpetual imprisonment."47

Matthew 18:34 is indeed a curious passage for a number of reasons. First, it is probable that most Protestant theologians and commentaries even up to this day would view this passage as dealing with eternal torment. To entertain other possibilities is to consider the possibility that the punishment was not eternal but rather only temporal. Yet if it is a temporal prison where the prisoner can be released, then this would point too much to the Catholic view of purgatory - a place of temporal punishment.

Second, for the Reformer, the context of Matthew 18:22-34 is undoubtedly directed toward an eternal and not temporal setting. In this passage, the unforgiving servant neither displays nor is given room for repentance. This makes the wicked servant’s consequent punishment one of eternal damnation; since those who go to Purgatory are only those who must suffer the residual punishment remaining from already confessed sin. Hence, the whole context of Matthew 18 is one of portraying the unforgiving servant as a wicked man who never had a thought to doing what was right or forgiving his debtor.

Consistent with Svendsen’s own denominational leanings (Reformed Protestantism) and its founder (John Calvin), therefore, Matthew 18:34 is at least one instance in the New Testament where Protestant commentators have consistently maintained that the action before hes hou continues49 - if only to distance themselves sufficiently from the purgatorial flames.

Acts 25:20-21

Being at a loss how to investigate such matters, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there stand trial on these matters. But when Paul appealed to be held in custody for the Emperor's decision, I ordered him to be kept in custody until I [might] send him to Caesar.' (Acts 25:20-21)

This passage can suggest a cessation of the action in the main clause since the 'custody’ that is being spoken of is Festus’ direct "keeping" of Paul. Once Festus releases Paul to Caesar, Paul can no longer be said to be kept by Festus. However, this is not the only interpretation. The continuation of the main clause in this passage (being kept in custody) is terminated by the aorist subjunctive [I might send]. Since the infinitive threisqai (to be kept) is in the present tense, it is not unlike Matthew 1:25 in that the text does not demand that Paul be released from custody once he is sent to Rome. On the contrary, it refers only to Festus’ command to restrain Paul while under Festus’ jurisdiction. We would expect that Paul would remain "kept", that is, "in custody", for an indefinite period of time even after arriving in Rome. After all, the Emperor can hardly be expected to hear Paul’s case immediately!

This interpretation becomes even more persuasive when one considers that it was Paul who himself requested to be held for the Emperor’s decision. Earlier in the passage, St. Paul asserts: "I am now standing before Caesar's court, where I ought to be tried" (Acts 25:10). By this statement, Paul reminds Festus that he is a Roman citizen who is now standing before Caesar’s court and consequently has a right to appeal to Caesar for adjudication of his case. The fact that he is now being kept in Caesar’s court (Cf. Acts 25:10) and awaiting the Emperor’s decision (Cf. Acts 25:21) implies that his corresponding custody is predicated on his appeal to the Emperor. As such, he is to be held in custody until his case is eventually tried and settled by the Emperor, after which he will be either acquitted or convicted. Hence, the custody which is spoken of in Acts 25:21 could conceivably continue after hes hou. Such an interpretation cannot be ruled out.

2 Peter 1:19

So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.

Commenting on this passage, Svendsen proposes that this passage is a "reference to the parousia [the Second Coming], after which it will no longer be necessary to turn to the words of the prophets as a guide which navigates us through a dark place; Christ himself will supercede such need."37 While this is certainly a very possible interpretation of the passage, it is by no means the only one. In fact, there are cogent explanations which vindicate a continuance of the main clause. One commentator offered this view: "in 2 Peter 1:19, oil lamps do not automatically go out at dawn, and some 'darkened’ places need lamps even in the daytime. Of course this is being used as a simile for needing illumination (receiving knowledge) at night (during the present age) by a lamp (the prophetic word = the bible) until the sun rises (the Messianic age) when we will be much more greatly illuminated. But that does not mean that the bible as we have it will become utterly superfluous! I am sure it will remain an important historical document to point back to for how we were dealt with."38

The issue here hinges on the references 'day' and 'morning star'. If these references do indeed point to the second coming of Christ, then Svendsen’s argument stands. On the other hand, if, as the above commentator suggests, the 'day' and 'star’ refer to the inauguration of the Messianic age, then it is difficult to understand how a Protestant can maintain the view which Svendsen does. The coming of the Messianic age does not, in fact, exempt us from studying the bible, the prophetic word of God. Hence, it is more likely that the action in the main clause does not cease but continues well into the Messianic age.

John Calvin, who, although agreeing on the ultimate meaning of hes hou in this passage with Svendsen, does not share the same view in his understanding of the 'day'. In his Commentary on 2 Peter, he writes: "In short, Peter reminds us that as long as we sojourn in this world, we have need of the doctrine of the prophets as a guiding light; which being extinguished, we can do nothing else but wander in darkness; for he does not disjoin the prophecies from the gospel, when he teaches us that they shine to shew us the way" 39 (emphasis mine). In other words, the doctrine of the prophets continues past the day dawning. In fact, Calvin explicitly denies Svendsen’s view regarding Mary’s perpetual virginity in Matthew 1:25.40

We digress, however, to the point at hand which is simply this: there are varying interpretations to this passage which may cause one to view 'attending to the prophetic word' beyond hes hou. Even in Calvin’s day, he met with various interpretations of the passage:

"This passage is, indeed, attended with some more difficulty; for it may be asked, what is the day which Peter mentions? To some it seems to be the clear knowledge of Christ, when men fully acquiesce in the gospel; and the darkness they explain as existing, when they, as yet, hesitate in suspense, and the doctrine of the gospel is not received as indubitable; as though Peter praised those Jews who were searching for Christ in the Law and the Prophets, and were advancing, as by this preceding light towards Christ, the Sun of righteousness, as they were praised by Luke, who, having heard Paul preaching, searched the Scripture to know whether what he said was true."41 (emphasis mine)

Here, Calvin recognizes the difficulty in the passage as he addresses yet another possible interpretation where the 'day' and 'star' refer to a 'clear knowledge of Christ'. Set in this particular context, hes hou happens to support the continuation of the action in the main clause. In other words, we are to still attend to the prophetic word even after having attained a clear knowledge of Christ.

One editor and translator of Calvin’s works says this:

"The Apostle does not speak of the perfect day, but of the dawn of it, and the day-star is that which ushers in the perfect day. The gospel is the dawn and the day-star, compared with the glimmering light of prophecy, and compared too with the perfect day of the heavenly kingdom. Prophecy is useful still; for its fulfillment, found in the gospel, greatly strengthens faith."42

The translator of Calvin’s work provides us with yet another view of the dawn of the 'day-star' which he interprets as the Gospel itself, but more importantly, the view that is being advance here once again supports the action in the main clause (attending to the prophetic word) continuing through hes hou.

Hes hou used between 100 B.C.-100 A.D.

In his book, Svendsen examines the construction hes hou [and hes hotou] in the literature outside of the New Testament between 100 B.C and 100 A.D.50 Before addressing some of the evidence within or just outside of this period, there exist innumerable difficulties with Svendsen’s methodology which should be addressed first.

Firstly, as already intimated, the Septuagint refutes an absolute and unequivocal understanding which excludes the possibility of continuance of the action in the main clause. As Svendsen himself points out, hes hou is used a number of times, albeit relatively few, to indicate a temporal occurrence where the action of the main clause is continued through the subordinate clause (Cf. 2 Chron. 29:28, Psalm 71:7[72:7], Psalm 93:15 [94:15], Psalm 112:8 [111:8], Psalm 141:8[142:7]).55 For instance, Psalm 112:8 reads: "His heart is upheld, he will not fear, until he looks with satisfaction on his adversaries." Obviously his heart will be upheld and will continue not to fear after he looks with satisfaction on his adversaries.

Nevertheless, Svendsen suggests that relying on the Septuagint to allow hes hou to be understood as a continuance of the action after hes hou during the New Testament period is etymologically unsustainable, resulting in a kind of 'semantic obsolescence'.67 It is more cogent, Svendsen suggests, given the apparent wide gap of time between the writing of the Septuagint (i.e during the reign of Ptolemy II Philadephus 283-264 BC) and the Gospel of Matthew (50 A.D.), to instead restrict the population under study to the two hundred years surrounding the birth of Christ. This way we can truly understand Matthew’s meaning of hes hou in his gospel. Svendsen writes: "…if we can find corroborating evidence of this usage in the literature of the century just prior to the composition of Matthew’s Gospel, then the prospect becomes stronger that Matthew may have understood this phrase in his gospel in the same way. Thirdly, if this usage for the phrase can also be found in the literature contemporaneous to Matthew’s gospel (i.e. the first century A.D), then there can be little objection to seeing this same usage in the passage in question, and Mary’s perpetual virginity becomes a strong exegetical option. While we do find support for this usage in the LXX there are nevertheless no clear examples of this usage for at least a century and a half before Matthew wrote his Gospel; nor up to half a century afterwards.51

However, many scholars and academics do not share Svendsen’s concerns at all. A number of correspondents to our survey, for instance, objected to the fact that the Septuagint usage or the usage of the Greek fathers would be somehow subordinated in significance to the two hundred period surrounding the birth of Christ preferred by Svendsen.

A number of scholars take exception to this approach. One correspondent, for instance, doubted any uniformity of practice in speech or writing at all levels within the two hundred year range proposed by Svendsen. Moreover, Svendsen appears to have used only the The Thesaurus Linguae Graecae66 database on CD-ROM to conduct his research52, which, although housing virtually all ancient Greek texts from the 8th century B.C. to 600 A.D, does not take into account the epigraphic and papyrus data. One scholar put his reservations this way: "I am familiar with the TLG CD-ROM disk E; the only problem with it is that it includes only literary texts, and I think it likely (a) that literary texts after 100 A.D. might well show the impact of the Atticist archaizing tendencies of reversion to 'purist' grammar of an earlier era; but the epigraphic evidence and especially the papyri…are much more likely to show evidence of variation from some 'normal' usage taught by schoolmasters. This is a well-known fact, so I would be wary of an argument based solely upon the literary texts included in the TLG database. As for inscriptions, they too ought to be checked, although I think any official inscriptions are more likely to reflect official grammatical usage."53

Aside from the population of extant Greek texts, there is the question of equating New Testament Greek with non-New Testament Greek texts, otherwise known as 'Semitic interference.' "Comparing the Greek of biblical texts with other contemporary texts can be like comparing 'apples and oranges', if the biblical text is: 1) translating a Semitic original; 2) written by someone used to thinking in a Semitic language; 3) imitating the usage of the Septuagint, which often displays a Semitized Greek. In such cases it is necessary to look at the meaning of the underlying Hebrew or Aramaic preposition…Some have alleged that the Greek of the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, for various reasons, is more subject to 'Semitic interference' than the NT in general. If this is the case, even comparing the usage of Matthew in the infancy narrative with that of, say the epistles of Paul, would be an 'apples and oranges' problem."54

One commentator made this pithy comment regarding Svendsen’s downplay of the Septuagint’s influence on the New Testament: "It would be as if a modern writer echoed Shakespeare and some critic discounted the possibility of a Shakespearean connection because he [Shakespeare] was not 20th century. Matthew read the Septuagint and reflected its style." Another commentator not only echoed this observation, but introduced the Greek Fathers of the Church into the equation. He writes, "since this is their language, the same as the New Testament, with the same degree of comfort as we have with English and our various nuances of meaning for phrases, it would be negligent to skip over their interpretation of the virginity of Mary prior to the birth of Jesus and afterwards. The other factor with the New Testament Greek is the Semitic mind involved in most of its composition, and that colors much of the meaning implied in words."

Svendsen appears to minimize the significance of those writings which begin to encroach on his thesis. Based on what fundamental linguistic or historical criteria does Svendsen arbitrarily set his period of search? What is the rationale, for instance, in examining the Septuagint's evidence which was extant in the third century BC yet restricting his period of search for non-biblical literature to the period 100 B.C. to 100 A.D.?62 One has to wonder what the rational is for not allowing his ultimate conclusions to be affected by a wider period of search from, say, 300 B.C. to 300 A.D.? If this period were chosen, then not only would the Septuagint passages noted above completely debunk his conclusion, but non-biblical Greek sources from the second and third centuries A.D., supporting the non-restrictive sense, would also deflate his discovery.

And indeed the Septuagint is, by Svendsen's own sham standard, not exempt from the relevant population he is considering. He is counting on the Septuagint being written well before 100 B.C.,60 yet this is not at all established. There is much debate over when the different parts of the Septuagint were written spanning centuries i.e. 285-100 BC.61 And the closer the writing of the Septuagint is to the arbitrary year Svendsen has established for his search (i.e. 100 B.C.), the less he can dismiss the Septuagint's impact on his thesis.56

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (1917), "the Apostles and Evangelists utilized [the Septuagint] 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 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 two-thirds come from the Septuagint. The significance of this cannot be overlooked since, when using such words as hes hou, the New Testament writers must have been cognizant of the grammatical and lexical ranges which the Septuagint established. Indeed, all lexicons consulted in this work referred to the Septuagint in discussing this issue. It is almost inconceivable how the Septuagint’s influence cannot have a significant effect on the usage of Greek words and phrases in the New Testament.

Since there is no dispute regarding the fact that, as far as the Septuagint is concerned, hes hou can be understood as a continuation of the action in the main clause, we now turn our attention to the non-biblical texts to see if some other information can be introduced to challenge the proposition under discussion. Before doing so, however, it would be beneficial to recall a few facts collected thus far. First, let us recall that the meaning of hes hou as a continuation of the action in the main clause is relatively rare in the Septuagint.57 Our earlier extrapolation yielded 1.44 projected occurrences in the New Testament. Even without finding an instance of hes hou, this factor by itself would make Svendsen’s thesis itself statistically irrelevant. Yet, we discovered that there was one instance in the New Testament where the understanding of hes hou likely contradicts Svendsen’s thesis (Cf. Matthew 18:34) unless he is willing to concede the idea of purgatory, and two other passages where there is a strong possibility (Cf. Acts 25:20-21, 2 Peter 1:19).

As already discussed, Svendsen chose the period between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. which translates into 150 years before Matthew’s gospel (~50 A.D.) and 50 years afterwards. We have already discussed the inherent bias of such a proposal, but for the sake of argument, let us keep Svendsen’s model -- but instead calibrate the gap somewhat more equitably. Instead of the period of 150 years before Matthew’s gospel and 50 years after his Gospel, let us balance the equation and set the period as 100 years before and after Matthew’s gospel. This would set the period of search between 50 B.C. to 150 A.D.

If this range were selected as the range of significance to help form our conclusion, then Svendsen’s thesis could not be sustained at all. This is because there is one source in the period which betrays Svendsen's thesis:

"And Aseneth was left alone with the seven virgins, and she continued to be weighed down and weep [hes hou] until the sun set. And she ate no bread and drank no water. And the night fell, and all (people) in the house slept, and she alone was awake and continued to brood and to weep; and she often struck her breast with (her) hand and kept being filled with great fear and trembled (with) heavy trembling." 58

Clearly, this one example would prove Svendsen’s thesis false. Burchard says that:

"Every competent scholar has since affirmed that Joseph and Aseneth is Jewish, with perhaps some Christian interpolations; none has put the book much after a.d. 200, and some have placed it as early as the second century b.c. As to the place of origin, the majority of scholars look to Egypt. […] A book glorifying the mother of the proselytes ought to have been written before Greek-speaking Judaism ceased to make its impact on the ancient world and gave way to Christianity. On the other hand, Joseph and Aseneth presupposes at least some of the Septuagint, and probably all of it. It is hard to decode this into dates, but we are probably safe to say that the book was written between 100 b.c. and Hadrian’s edict against circumcision, which has to do with the Second Jewish War of a.d. 132-135. If Joseph and Aseneth comes from Egypt, the Jewish revolt under Trajan (c. a.d. 115-117) is the latest possible date. It does appear to have originated in Egypt, since Aseneth, and not another woman such as Ruth or Rahab (Josh 2), is the heroine of the story."58

And not only do we find the aforementioned evidence (i.e. the Joseph and Aseneth text) disregarded from Svendsen's research, but even in his own book, we find evidence that contradicts his thesis! Svendsen's writes:

"All five instances of hes hou in the pseudepigraphical book The Apocalypse of Moses have this meaning….

"But when I die, leave me alone and let no one touch me until the angel of the Lord shall say something about me; for God will not forget me, but will seek his own vessel which he has formed. But rather rise to pray to God until I shall give back my spirit into the hands of the one who has given it (31:3-4)."

Here it seems reasonable to suppose that in both instances the action in the main clause would cease after the action in the subordinate clause, so that in both cases, the meaning is only 'until [but not after]’."26

In the first instance of until, it is quite debatable indeed whether the action in the main clause ceases once "until" is reached. On the contrary, as the evidence will show, the action (i.e. "not touching him") actually continues into the subordinate clause. There is no hint at all to suggest that after the angel "says something about him", that his audience would be allowed to touch him. In fact, the presumption should really be that no one should touch him ever again, because, in the next part of the sentence Adam says that God will "seek his own vessel" as if to suggest that his body is God's alone. Although he talks about his spirit in the next sentence, a vessel is normally associated with a body. If it is his body he is talking about, then the action in the main clause does continue.

And this is precisely the most cogent understanding if we were to keep reading for the next several chapters:

But after all this, the archangel asked concerning the laying out of the remains. And God commanded that all the angels should assemble in His presence, each in his order, and all the angels assembled, some having censers in their hands, and others trumpets. And lo ! the 'Lord of Hosts' came on and four winds drew Him and cherubim mounted on the winds and the angels from heaven escorting Him and they came on the earth, where was the body of Adam. And they came to paradise and all the leaves of paradise were stirred so that all men begotten of Adam slept from the fragrance save Seth alone, because he was born 'according to the appointment of God '. Then Adam's body lay there in paradise on the earth and Seth grieved exceedingly over him. (38:1-5)...Then God spake to the archangel(s) Michael, (Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael): 'Go away to Paradise in the third heaven, and strew linen clothes and cover the body of Adam and bring oil of the 'oil of fragrance' and pour it over him. And they acted thus did the three great angels and they prepared him for burial. And God said: 'Let the body of Abel also be brought.' And they brought other linen clothes and prepared his (body) also. For he was unburied since the day when Cain his brother slew him; for wicked Cain took great pains to conceal (him) but could not, for the earth would not receive him for the body sprang up from the earth and a voice went out of the earth saying: 'I will not receive a companion body, till the earth which was taken and fashioned in me cometh to me.' At that time, the angels took it and placed it on a rock, till Adam his father was buried. And both were buried, according to the commandment of God, in the spot where God found the dust, and He caused the place to be dug for two. And God sent seven angels to paradise and they brought many fragrant spices and placed them in the earth, and they took the two bodies and placed them in the spot which they had digged and builded. (38:1-40:7)

As the bolded text above clearly indicates, God sent his angels to recover Adam's body and to bury it. This means that, in the preceding chapter referred to by Svendsen, Adam did indeed expect his body to be retrieved by God, and instructed his followers therefore NOT to touch him - either before his death or after it. As such, the main action of "not touching" continues through hes hou.

These two instances alone prove, rather convincingly, that Svendsen’s thesis is not at all sustainable. And one of them was supplied by Svendsen himself! In fact, as we widen the search from 100 years from the referent point (whether the Birth of Christ or the writing Matthew’s Gospel), Svendsen’s thesis becomes more and more unsustainable as more instances of hes hou are found where the action in the main clause continues.

In his book, Svendsen states the following:

The time frame for the non-biblical literature purposefully has been confined to the two centuries surrounding the birth of Christ for a number of reasons...there is little need to search the literature of the second century BC once we have established this usage for the phrase in the LXX..."63

As we have already discussed, Svendsen's methodology is truly breathtaking. Svendsen would suggest to us that while the meanings of the phrase hes hou do indeed contradict his thesis from 200 B.C. to 100 B.C., negative occurrences against his thesis in this period somehow have no bearing in the next century, which, coincidentally is range of his thesis (i.e. 100 B.C. to 100 A.D.)! Svendsen conceded occurrences in the second century BC (100-200 B.C.) in order to manufacture "a range of relevancy" for his thesis from the period 100 B.C. to 100 A.D. So what is the implication for Svendsen's thesis? What Svendsen would therefore have us believe is that hes hou always implies a cessation within the range he has selected i.e. 100 B.C. to 100 A.D., but not outside of this range!

In his book, Svendsen's lists approximately 48 instances of hes hou (and hes houto) occurring in non-biblical literature from 100 B.C. to 100 A.D.66 Of these instance, approximately 39 of them are related to the temporal meanings of continuation or cessation of the main clause; the other 9 being the contemporaneous "while" or the telic "to the extent that". If one were to hold to Svendsen's own research in the Septuagint and apply its results to his period of search, a number of things become apparent. First of all, 39 instances is not a sufficient population to draw the conclusion which Svendsen does. Secondly, even if we were to overlook this slim population for the sake of argument, Svendsen own research on the Septuagint has shown that we would expect find 3.7 instances (9.6% * 39 instances) of hes hou76 whose action in the main clause continues. And as already pointed out, we have already found two instances which suffice for our expectations, namely, the Joseph and Aseneth text and the text about Adam's body cited in The Apocalypse of Moses above.

Not only do we have this indictment to levy against Svendsen, but there are also examples slightly past his arbitrary period of search which no true scholar would dare dismiss as irrelevant. Insofar as evidence outside of his test period goes, for instance, there are many such instances which detract from his thesis.

Let us pursue a sample of them one-by-one:

1) In the third century A.D. (and perhaps in the late second century), St. Clement of Alexandria (d. 215 A.D) wrote:

"Accordingly, in fifteen years of Tiberius and fifteen years of Augustus; so were completed the thirty years till the time He [Jesus] suffered" (Stromateis, 1.21).

Obviously the thirty years would remain completed after Jesus has died. The writer is not concerned with the temporal situation after the "until" has been reached. As such, the best expression in understanding this particular text is to substitute "till with "before": "so were completed the thirty years before Jesus suffered." St. Clement, like the Apostle in Matthew 1:25, is not concerned with the actions or non-actions of the main clause the once temporal point has been reached - in this case, Jesus' death; in Mary's case, her giving birth. The point in this example is that the 30 years will continue to remain completed after Jesus suffered.

Here are a few from the Acts of Thomas which was written between 200-225 A.D.:

2) "Now when the king heard these things from the bridegroom and the bride, he rent his clothes and said unto them that stood by him: Go forth quickly and go about the whole city, and take and bring me that man that is a sorcerer who by ill fortune came unto this city; for with mine own hands I brought him into this house, and I told him to pray over this mine ill-starred daughter; and whoso findeth and bringeth him to me, I will give him whatsoever he asketh of me. They went, therefore and went about seeking him, and found him not; for he had set sail. They went also unto the inn where he had lodged and found there the flute-girl weeping and afflicted because he had not taken her with him. And when they told her the matter that had befallen with the young people she was exceeding glad at hearing it, and put away her grief and said: Now have I also found rest here. And she rose up and went unto them, and was with them a long time, until [hes hou] they had instructed the king also. And many of the brethren also gathered there until they heard the report of the apostle, that he was come unto the cities of India and was teaching there: and they departed and joined themselves unto him." (The Acts of Thomas, 16)

In this instance, at the very least, there is no mention of the flute-girl departing from the men's presence once they had informed the king. It is more than likely that she stayed with them at least some time after the king was informed.

3) "And when they had journeyed a little way he dismissed the colts, saying: I say unto you the inhabiters of the desert, depart unto your pastures, for if I had had need of all, ye would all have gone with me; but now go unto your place wherein ye dwell. And they departed quietly until [hes hou] they were no more seen." (The Acts of Thomas, 70)

The colts will continue to depart even after they were no longer seen.

4) "And the king seeing the abundance of water said to Judas: Ask thy God that he deliver me from this death, that I perish not in the flood. And the apostle prayed and said: Thou that didst bind this element (nature) and gather it into one place and send it forth into divers lands; that didst bring disorder into order, that grantest mighty works and great wonders by the hands of Judas thy servant; that hast mercy on my soul, that I may alway receive thy brightness; that givest wages unto them that have laboured; thou saviour of my soul, restoring it unto its own nature that it may have no fellowship with hurtful things; that hast alway been the occasion of life: do thou restrain this element that it lift not up itself to destroy; for there are some of them that stand here who shall believe on thee and live. And when he had prayed, the water was swallowed up by little and little, and the place became dry. And when Misdaeus saw it he commanded him to be taken to the prison: Until [hes hou] I shall consider how he must be used." (The Acts of Thomas, 141)

Judas might very well remain in prison even after consideration is given to his plight. The use of hes hou] here does not imply any cessation of the action of the main clause.

5) "My mouth sufficeth not to praise thee, neither am I able to conceive the care and providence (carefulness) which hath been about me from thee which thou hast had for me). For I desired to gain riches, but thou by a vision didst show me that they are full of loss and injury to them that gain them and I believed thy showing, and continued in the poverty of the world until [hes hou] thou, the true riches wert revealed unto me, who didst fill both me and the rest that were worthy of thee with thine own riches and set free thine own from care and anxiety. I have therefore fulfilled thy commandments, O Lord, and accomplished thy will, and become poor and needy and a stranger and a bondman and set at nought and a prisoner and hungry and thirsty and nalied and unshod, and I have toiled for thy sake, that my confidence might not perish and my hope that is in thee might not be confounded and my much labour might not be in vain and my weariness not be counted for nought: let not my prayers and rmy continual fastings perish, and my great zeal toward thee; let not my seed of wheat be changed for tares out of thy land, Iet not the enemy carry it away and mingle his own tares therewith; for thy land verily receiveth not his tares, neither indeed can they be laid up in thine houses." (The Acts of Thomas, 145)

Did he not continue in the poverty of the world after the Lord, the true riches, was revealed to him? Yes, most certainly.

Another source which should be taken into consideration because of its author's supreme grasp of the language is St. John Chrysostom (c. 380 A.D.), a giant in knowledge of the Greek language, who also refutes the Helvidian view. Father Ronald Tacelli makes a very astute observation. In discussing Matthew 1:25 (cf. Patrologia Graeca, St. John Chrysostom 7.58), Chrysostom cites the verse correctly using hes hou, "but in asking the question [of why the Scripture uses the phrase], the word he uses for 'until' is hes all by itself - as if he were unaware of a difference in the meaning between these two expressions."64

Chrysostom goes on to explain:

6) "The expression 'until' need not lead you to believe that Joseph knew her subsequently; rather, it is used to inform you that the Virgin was untouched by man until the birth of Jesus. Scripture is accustomed to using the expression 'until' without intending thereby to establish a limited period of time…The evangelist uses this expression to establish what had happened before the birth of Jesus…He leaves it to you to draw the obvious and necessary conclusion, namely, that this righteous man (Joseph), even after Christ’s birth, refrained from approaching her who had become a mother in such a manner and had been found worthy of a new kind of childbearing" (St. John Chrysostom, d. 407, Homily on Matthew, 5:3; MFC, p.177).68

In summation, Svendsen's thesis is unsustainable within the period he himself has chosen (100 B.C. to 100 A.D.); thus it is dead in the water. But even if there were no clear example within his test period, Svendsen has to argue that the particular nuance he's excluding in the test period existed right up to his cut-off date, then disappeared without a trace within his target period, only to suddenly re-emerge immediately afterwards. One could view this sort of linguistic gymnastics as a remarkably convenient coincidence for Svendsen's thesis. Or one could apply common sense and conclude that the pre- and post-period evidence strongly suggests that Svendsen's thesis contains serious methodological flaws. We will leave the assessment of such scholarship to our readers. One cannot help but conclude that Svendsen's flagrant population control is more of an exercise in gratuity than it is authentic scholarship.

Conclusion

The evidence presented here on hes hou is decisively against the thesis proposed by Svendsen. We have examined the lexicons and we have conducted a survey of contemporary scholarly opinion on the matter. We have studied the usage of hou to determine if there was something intrinsic in the use of the word which would necessarily restrict the meaning of a phrase which used it. We have also examined the synonyms of hes when used with hou. The textual issue surrounding the question were also considered. We have also discussed the statistical significance of the number of instances of hes hou both in the Septuagint and in the New Testament. Finally, we have examined specific occurrences of hes hou in the Greek Old and New Testaments and the literature outside of the New Testament but contemporaneous with it, including non-biblical and Greek patristic evidence.

All of these sources strongly reinforce the conclusion that this phrase does not imply a limit of duration, much less a cessation of the main clause. Some times the usage of the phrase in question is a cessation or continuation of the main clause; other times it is contemporaneous; and many 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 at times.

Indeed, no determination of the meaning of hes, hes hou, hes hotou, or hes an can be made without the context of the passage being involved. As hes can be used either to terminate or to continue the action of the main verb (as its linguistic equivalent 'until' does in English and many other languages, including Hebrew), so does hes hou, hes hotou, or hes an. The decision on whether hes terminates or continues the action of the main verb depends on several factors, including whether one or the other makes logical sense; agrees with the context; agrees with the grammatical construction of the passage; does not contradict other known facts; etc. In conclusion, two things can be asserted regarding hes and hes hou:

(1) that hes and hes hou do not always terminate the action in the main clause;

and

(2) that hes and hes hou are not used differently in Greek grammar.

Therefore, Svendsen’s proposition regarding the necessary grammatical exclusion of hes hou as a continuation of the action in the main clause must be summarily rejected.

In short, Mary’s virginity is not compromised by the use of hes hou in Matthew 1:25.

Eric Svendsen must recant his position. It is wholly untenable and not worthy of authentic scholarship.

John Pacheco
The Catholic Legate
October 16, 2003
Feast of Mary's Virginity


Virgin then, Virgin now, Virgin forever




I would like to express my deep appreciation to David Palm who helped me with research into this question. His generous offer of help and consultation along with his enthusiastic encouragement were invaluable to this project. In fact, David was particularly instrumental in helping me secure the texts which contradicted Svendsen's thesis. This piece would not have been possible without David's critical input and support. I also want to extend my thanks to Fr. Rick Jaworski for his assistance and research, as well as to other individuals who contributed to this work. A special thanks also goes out to St. Paul's University for use of their facilities in researching this question, especially the use of The Thesaurus Linguae Graecae. Finally, I want to thank my selfless wife, Lara, who supported me and gave me the time to complete this production.



Back to
Hes Hou

Index Page