Archive for the ‘Perpetual Virginity’ Category

Mark Shea and the Revelation 12 Woman

August 12, 2009

Over at his own blog, Mr. Shea has provided comments on what he calls: “For My Money, One of the Weakest Arguments Against the Immaculate Conception” (link). One of the reasons its such a weak argument against the immaculate conception is that it’s not actually an argument against the immaculate conception. Someone with average reading skills will quickly spot this fact when reading the argument:

I have always understood that the woman of Revelation to be the Blessed Mother. I was discussing the Immaculate Conception with a Baptist co-worker, specifically how she had no pain during child birth; he replied that if that was the case that she couldn’t be the woman of Revelation as “she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered.”

Yes, this is an argument that came up during a discussion of the immaculate conception, but it is not actually against the immaculate conception, at least not in any direct way.

Instead, the argument is an argument against Rome’s attempt to connect their conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus, with the woman of Revelation 12. They want to connect her with the woman of Revelation 12 because of this:

Revelation 12:1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:

Doesn’t that sound grand? And Mary, in Roman Catholic theology, has a very grand place. In fact, they use as an excuse for crowning Mary (compare this discussion of the impropriety of crowning Mary) the idea that Mary is the woman of Revelation 12. But is that so?

One approach we could take is to see whether anyone in the early church believed that Mary was the woman of Revelation 12. However, when we do so, we discover that the unanimous opinion of the early church was not that this was about Mary, but that the woman in Revelation 12 signified the church (as demonstrated here).

Another approach is to make an internal critique of modern Roman Catholic theology. That critique accepts, for the sake of the argument, Rome’s teachings about Mary and then asks whether they are contradictory:

1) On the one hand, Rome teaches that Mary did not suffer birth pangs with Jesus; and
2) On the other hand, Rome teaches that Mary was the woman of Revelation 12, but
3) The woman of Revelation 12 did suffer birth pangs, and consequently
4) Rome’s theology is self-contradictory.

What is Mr. Shea’s response to this internal critique? It is very flowery but flawed. Wherein lie the flaws?

First, Mr. Shea changes the argument a bit. Mr. Shea presents the argument as though the person criticizing Rome’s doctrine is saying that because the birth pangs are part of the curse for sin, Mary couldn’t have had them.

Mr. Shea then responds to this argument by stating: “By the logic of this argument, it would also be possible to indict Jesus as a sinner since he suffered, toiled, sweated, and died, just like Adam (cf. Gen. 3:17-19).” Two things must be distinguished here, however. Jesus suffered, toiled, sweated, and died, just like Adam because Jesus was bearing the sins of his people. Jesus is our mediator. Mary is not. No one’s sins are imputed to Mary: the sins of the elect were imputed to Jesus. Thus, there is a reason consistent with divine justice for Jesus to labor under the curse: there is not a reason consistent with divine justice for Mary likewise to do so, unless Mary was a sinner. And that, of course, is the real reason why she suffered and died.

As Augustine put it:

For to speak more briefly, Mary who was of Adam died for sin, Adam died for sin, and the Flesh of the Lord which was of Mary died to put away sin.

– Augustine, on Psalm 34:13

Mr. Shea’s argument, though, makes it sound as though he is unaware of the Roman view that Mary did not suffer pain in giving birth to Christ. This view does not come from the view of the immaculate conception, but from the view of the perpetual virginity (in its most extreme form). Aquinas (who did not accept the immaculate conception) affirmed the perpetual virginity and argued that Mary must not have suffered for several reasons, among which:

But the mother’s pains in childbirth did not concern Christ, who came to atone for our sins. And therefore there was no need for His Mother to suffer in giving birth.

– Aquinas, Summa Theologia, Third Part, Question 35, Article 8, Response to Objection 2

But most of all, for Aquinas, it was the idea that Jesus came out some other way than through the birth canal that proved that Mary did not suffer at Christ’s birth. It wasn’t based on her being sinless, or not suffering the corruptions and curses brought on by the fall. Instead, it was based on her remaining a virgin (as I discuss at greater length here).

Mr. Shea doesn’t seem to get it, though. At one point in his discussion he seems to recognize the fact that this is an internal critique, but then he uses the argument:

It’s like saying, “Okay! I grant that Mary is the Cosmic Queen of the Universe, crowned with twelve stars, clothed with the majesty of the sun, and treading the moon under her feet with the awesome glory that God has bestowed upon her! But what’s this? Is that a thread I spy hanging loose on her garments that outshine the sun?”

Sorry, Mr. Shea, but it’s not like that. No one is criticizing Mary – they’re pointing out the inconsistencies of your doctrine. It’s rather more like saying, “Okay! I grant (for the sake of the argument) that Mary is the Cosmic Queen of the Universe, crowned with twelve stars, clothed with the majesty of the sun, and treading the moon under her feet with the awesome glory that God has bestowed upon her! But what’s this? This Mary is not the Mary that your church worships, because this one had birthpangs, while yours did not.” See the difference?

Mr. Shea wraps things up with what he seems to think is a bolstering argument:

It’s a very silly argument, particularly since the language used by Revelation is so close to the imagery of the “birth pangs of the kingdom” (Matt. 24:8) used by her Son and can easily be taken to refer to the “sword” that pierced her soul at the Passion, not to physical labor pains.

Here’s the problem, though. Practically the only reason anyone would link the Revelation 12 woman to Mary in the first place is that she gives birth to a man child. But if the birth pangs are to be allegorized into something else, why wouldn’t we allegorize the birth into something else? This attempt is transparently the sort of selective allegorization that Mr. Camping is so fond of. It lets a desired outcome dictate what gets taken literally and what gets taken figuratively. Never mind that the birth pangs in the text happen before the child’s birth – since that doesn’t fit the outcome that Mr. Shea wants, he just ignores it.

The weakest argument against the immaculate conception? Hardly. Yet it was a very weak rebuttal to an argument that demonstrates the internal inconsistencies of the Roman Catholic religion.


Joseph and Mary’s Marriage

February 19, 2009

On a recent Dividing Line there was a clip played taken from, if I recall correctly, the “Catholic Answers” show, regarding Joseph and Mary’s “marriage.” The caller asked (and I may be slightly paraphrasing) two questions:

1) Where in the Bible does it say that marriage is only valid when it is consummated?

2) Did Mary and Joseph have a valid marriage?

The host (well, the person providing the “Catholic Answers”) answered the first question by appealing to Genesis, where it says that the “two shall be one flesh.”

The host then went on to say that Joseph and Mary never became one flesh, but (and again I’m paraphrasing) that was ok because NT sacramental marriage hadn’t come to be, yet. But if Genesis is the institution of the definition of marriage as valid depending on physical union, then the fact that sacramental marriage hadn’t come to exist yet is irrelevant – since the question wasn’t whether the marriage was sacramental, but whether it was valid.

They did have marriage before the apostles, and physical union was a normative aspect of Old Testament marriage. That’s one reason that the New Testament places such great emphasis on the fact that Mary and Joseph didn’t “know” each other from before Jesus was conceived until Jesus was born.

Matthew describes it as being that Mary was found to be with child of the Holy Ghost “before they [i.e. Mary and Joseph] came together” (Matthew 1:18). Of course, Catholicism today claims that Mary and Joseph never came together, but the natural sense of the text is that they did come together, just later. This is especially so when coupled with the statement, only a few verses later that Joseph “knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son,” rather than saying that Joseph “never knew” her.


Response to Kelly Wilson regarding the Mother of Christ

September 20, 2008

Kelly Wilson at Kakistocrat has provided a post entitled, “Mary, Ever-Virgin (I).” (link to post)

Mr. Wilson provides some rebuttal with respect to typical arguments against the theory of Mary’s perpetual virginity (arguments presented by his opponent, Mr. Schroeder), which I will address in turn.

(1) Opponent’s argument “Matthew 1:18’s “before they [Joseph and Mary] came together,” is evidence of Mary and Joseph’s eventual consummation.”

(a) Mr. Wilson’s rebuttal:

In fact, all the tense of this phrase means is that after they were betrothed, but before they were allowed to be sexually active, Mary was found to be pregnant. Recognizing this, the Jerusalem Bible translates the passage in the following way: ”His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they came to live together she was found to be with child…” Check a commentary.

(b) I respond:

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

The primary issue here is whether the word for “come together” (συνέρχομαι) refers to sexual union. Here we need to be cautious. The word does encompass a range of meanings, some of which are clearly not sexual union but rather the assembling of a mob or the like. The context, however, in this case is determinative, for we are not speaking of a crowd but of an espoused (betrothed) couple.

Parallel usage in Scripture does indicate that this term is a euphemism for the sexual act:

1 Corinthians 7:5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

There is, however, also a secondary issue. Strictly as a matter of grammar and logic, the fact that the verse says “before they came together,” may not imply that they eventually came together. Instead, it could point simply to the expected course. (More on this, below.)

(2) Opponent’s argument “Matthew 1:24’s “Joseph knew her not until” foreshadows a time whe Joseph will “know” Mary.”

(a) Mr. Wilson’s response:

-In fact, any good commentary will tell you that all that what is being said here is that Joseph and Mary did not engage in sexual intercourse during the period which preceded the birth of Jesus. Nothing is said about after, simply during. To quote the Eerdmans Biblical Commentary (not a Catholic source) we read that “it neither affirmed nor denied that she remained a virgin for her life.” Matthew has no interest in Mary’s perpetual virginity, and he is not commenting on it here. You can also consult Bloomberg or Gundry (Protestant commentators) if you like, both of whom agree.

To quote Jerusalem again: “He [Joseph] took his wife home and, though he had not had intercourse with her, she gave birth to a son…”

(b) I respond:

Matthew 1:24-25
24Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

The Jerusalem Bible’s translation is obfuscatory. The above literal translation is much better. That’s not the primary point, however.

The primary point is that our (Reformed and even most other Protestants’) rule of faith is not commentators but Scripture. Thus, Eerdmans’ has spoken and the case is closed, is not our watchword.

A secondary point is that the phrase “knew her not until,” as a matter of strict logic conveys only information about what happened before Jesus’ birth. Thus, some commentators have felt justified in the kind of comments that Mr. Wilson has identified.

On the other hand, the words are not part of a syllogism in a logic textbook. They are part of a sentence in which it is mentioned that Joseph “took unto him his wife,” referring to Mary. In such a sentence, the most natural reading of the text is to view it as explaining the extent of Joseph’s deviation from ordinary marital relations, particularly in view of the larger context, and the comment in verse 18 (already discussed above) regarding the expectation (at a minimum) of future sexual union.

(3) Opponent’s argument “Matthew 1:25’s statement that Mary brought forth her firstborn suggests that later children were to follow.”

(a) Mr. Wilson’s response:

-Not so. Consider the following: Fitzmyer speaks of an ancient funerary, dated 5 B.C. recalling the death of a Jewish woman. It reads: ‘In the pangs of giving birth to a firstborn child, Fate brought me to the end of my life.’

Protestant commentators (Morris, Green, Nolland) all with their knowledge of the Biblical languages (do you envy them Mr. Schroeder?) confirm that the passage makes no statement about later children.

(b) I respond:

I think Mr. Wilson’s comment here is essentially correct. That is to say, “firstborn” (πρωτοτόκος) doesn’t in itself indicate that Mary had other children. Furthermore, the emphasis in the text is on Mary’s virginity prior to Christ’s birth, and consequently “firstborn” serves to emphasize that there were no children of Mary’s before Jesus, rather than to emphasize the existence Jesus’ brethren.

On the other hand, given our knowledge that Jesus had brethren, we may view the use of the term “firstborn” to emphasize that from among the sons of Mary, Jesus was the first (since those living at the time might have recalled the fact that Jesus was not an only child). In other words, while “firstborn” is not compelling evidence against perpetual virginity, it fits slightly better into the non-perpetual-virginity theory than the perpetual-virginity thoery.

(4) Other arguments

Mr. Wilson does not address the other arguments that are normally presented against the assertions of Mary’s perpetual virginity, such as the arguments related to the fact that Jesus had “brethren” and the suspicious point of entry of legends of perpetual virginity into “tradition.”

Ultimately, however, the matter reduces to this: Scripture is more easily reconciled with the non-perpetual theory than with the perpetual theory. The non-perpetual theory is not only harmonious with a natural reading of Matthew 1 and with the accounts of Jesus’ brethren, but also with Paul’s teaching regarding proper marital relations. In contrast, the perpetual virginity hypothesis has no reasonable exegetical Scriptural basis, and very limited and suspicious traditional basis in the early church era.

I’m not sure if Mr. Wilson plans to provide a part II, but if so, I will be looking forward to it.


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