he kept her a virgin
The Virgin Mary made me nervous. When I was a child growing up in a predominantly Roman Catholic town in Massachusetts, my friends informed me that Jesus would return the same way he had come before — that is, a Jewish virgin would be his mother. Being the only Jewish virgin in the neighborhood, I might therefore become the messiah’s mother. Consequently, during much of second grade I was absolutely petrified that an angel would appear in my bedroom, say ‘Hail, Amy-Jill’, and tell me I was going to be pregnant.
— Amy-Jill Levine, opener to the “Introduction” of A Feminist Companion to Mariology
Unlike Luke’s nativity account, which emphasizes women’s active roles, Matthew’s depicts Mary as entirely passive. This presentation is consistent with Matthew’s insistence that familial connections are to be restructured in the new community that Jesus creates. Mary’s passivity serves to undercut the privileged position she acquires by being Jesus’ mother. Here, Joseph is the model of higher righteousness.
— Amy-Jill Levine, “Matthew” in the Women’s Bible Commentary
According to the Gospel, Mary maintained her virginity “until she had borne a son” (1:25)
— Amy-Jill Levine, a note a little later in her entry, “Matthew,” in the Women’s Bible Commentary
This post is a second on the Greek language of the nativity of the gospel of Matthew. I think Amy-Jill Levine makes a critically important point about the passivity (and the lesser agency) of Matthew’s virgin mother Miriam.
Take a look at what she (Levine) says in that third epigraphical quotation above here. “Mary maintained her virginity.” This is Levine’s saying what is gospel, what is according to the Gospel, what is part of verse 25 of the first chapter. I like how she (Levine) can give her (Miriam/Mary, the virgin) her own agency right in the middle of talking about how her voice and her actions are so passively portrayed in relation to men and to angels and to God Himself. Is this a slip by a woman on behalf of another woman? Or is it one person in this century giving credibility and credence to another some twenty one centuries earlier?
Well, let’s look at the Greek of 1:25 again. But first here’s how English Bible translators (mostly men translating) have rendered one phrase of that verse:
but [Joseph] kept her a virgin – NASB
But he did not consummate their marriage – NIV 2011, The Voice, The Message
But he did not have sexual relations with her – NLT, David H. Stern, New Century Version, NIV Reader’s Version, Easy-to-Read Version, N. T. Wright’s The Kingdom New Testament
knew her not – KJV, ESV, Darby, Douay-Rheims
but did not know her intimately – Holman
did not have marital relations with her – NET, GOD’S WORD®, NRSVish, William D. Mounce (2011)
didn’t know her sexually – World English Bible
—— UPDATE (to add a few more translations) —
and did not have sex with her – Ann Nyland
and did not know her as a wife – Richmond Lattimore
But he had no union with her – William D. Mounce (2006), Today’s NIV (aka TNIV), NIV 1984
but had no intercourse with her – J. B. Phillips
But he did not make love to her – NIV Reader’s Version
but they did not sleep together – Contemporary English Version, Hal Taussig’s New New Testament, V. Gilbert Beers’s One Year Bible for Children
He did not sleep with her – Funk’s, Hoover’s and The Jesus Seminar’s The Five Gospels
The first one just sounds a little creepy. Now here’s how it goes in Matthew’s gospel in some texts:
καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως οὗ ἔτεκεν υἱόν· καὶ ἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦν.
One point of my post here is that there really is some latitude for women, for Mary/Miriam, for readers male and female. For the politics in the man’s world, nonetheless, Matthew’s gospel seems to have its project.