Mary’s Most Chaste Spouse

The Blessed Virgin was indeed married at the Annunciation


The following is a letter written by Mr. Likoudis to the editor of the "Catholic Faith" magazine, in response to an article containing faulty and misleading translations regarding the betrothal of the Blessed Virgin Mary and published by that magazine in its Jan./Feb. 2001 issue.

To the Editor,

In the otherwise excellent article by Stephen N. Filippo on "The Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of God" (The Catholic Faith, January/February 2001), we read that the Blessed Virgin "was not married." The Gospel of Luke is quoted with the Blessed Virgin declaring to the angel Gabriel "How can this be since I have no husband?" (Lk. 1:34).

Surely, this questionable and uncritically accepted translation of Luke (one often and scandalously heard from pulpits) represents a falsification of the Word of God. Older translations avoided an error which has led not a few into believing that the Blessed Mother was only "engaged" to St. Joseph, and at the time of the Annunciation was "not married."

My copy of an older (1941) Confraternity of Christian Doctrine' Translation was faithful to the meaning of the original Greek:

"The angel Gabriel was sent... to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph.... But Mary said to the angel, ‘How shall this happen, since I do not know man?’"

The word "betrothed" among the Jews referred to a true marriage being celebrated with the woman fully entitled to be called "spouse." To translate the Greek "epiandra ou ginosco" as "I have no husband" is bizarre and only furthers the misconception of poorly catechized Catholics that the Theotokos was a 14-year-old pregnant unwed mother!

In his beautiful Apostolic Exhortation on St. Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer (nos. 2, 18), Pope John Paul II has repeatedly reaffirmed (in conformity to Catholic Tradition) that it was "after her marriage to Joseph that Mary is found to be with child of the Holy Spirit."

It is disturbing that even the highly recommended Navarre Bible on the Gospel of Luke based on the New Vulgate dares to translate "quoniam virum non cognosco" as "since I have no husband"!

False translations of Holy Scripture and bizarre interpretations of Scripture passages have played a role in diminishing the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the economy of salvation. Recently, various parish bulletins in the Diocese of Rochester, New York, reprinted without a blush and with no correction a recent "Androgogy" column by Chicago’s Fr. George Dwyer, S.T.D., which shamelessly asserted:

"Mark, the earliest Gospel gives an unflattering portrait of Mary. He tells us that Jesus’ relatives (including Mary) believed that Jesus was ‘out of his mind’ (3:20-25)."

Chicago' dissenter George Dwyer is in good company. Dissenter Richard P. McBrien urged the same blasphemy in his Encyclopedia of Catholicism (3rd edition, pages 1079-1080).

Sincerely yours in Christ,
—  James Likoudis
Montour Falls, N.Y.

The Editor responds:
Mr. Likoudis is correct that the RSV mistranslates Luke 1:34. That is one reason the note on this text in the Ignatius Study Bible states: "The Greek text literally reads ‘I do not know man’, which refers to Mary’s virginal status rather than her marital status. Her concern is not that she is unmarried, but that she is a virgin at present and that she intends to remain one in the future. The announcement of a miraculous conception (1:31) thus causes Mary to wonder aloud how God will bless her with a son and yet preserve her virginal purity. Her words are inexplicable otherwise. For nothing about the angel’s announcement should have perplexed Mary – whose betrothal to Joseph was already a legally binding marriage – unless she intended to forego ordinary sexual relations even as a married woman."

It may be that when the New Testament of the RSV was first published in 1946, "I have no husband" was thought an appropriate idiomatic expression to avoid referring explicitly to sexual relations. Be that as it may, the translation mistakenly emphasizes the Blessed Virgin’s marital status, rather than what she really addresses, her virginal state. Interestingly enough, though, the RSV also clearly indicates that Mary was "a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph" (Lk 1:27), not merely "engaged" to him, in the contemporary sense.

As for the "Navarre Bible", it also renders Luke 1:34 as "How can this be, since I have no husband" because the English text used in the "Navarre Bible" is the RSV. Even so, the "Navarre Bible"’s note for Luke 1:34 makes clear that Mary’s question pertains to her virginal status; it is not an assertion that she is unmarried. – M.B.

Reprinted from "Catholic Faith", issue of September/October 2001
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