Tuesday, May 16, 2017
The Virgin Mary: Roman Catholicism vs. the Bible
This post is a short study I did in 2006. I just found it in my files and I decided it would make a good post.
The Roman Catholic stance on Mary’s virginity can be found in my personal library in two solidly-approved Roman Catholic books:
Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, by Dr. Ludwig Ott
Catechism of the Catholic Church.
I will first cite Dr. Ott’s explanation of the Dogma and then the Catechism itself. The following is from pages 206-207 under the heading, “Virginity After the Birth of Jesus”. For brevity I will not include his citations of works other than the Bible and will not ellipse them. Where he cites Greek I will transliterate to English alphabet since I don’t have the capability of writing the Greek.
Mary’s virginity after the birth of Jesus was denied in the Early Church by Tertullian, Eunomius, Helvidius, Bonosus of Sardica and the Antidicomarianites. At the present day it is contested by the majority of Protestants, as well as by both the Liberal and the Conservative schools of thought.
Pope St. Siricius (392) rejected the teaching of Bonosus. The Fifth General Council (553) gives Mary the title of honour “perpetual virgin (aeiparthnos). Cf. the declarations of the Lateran Synod 649 and Pope Paul IV (1555). The Liturgy also honors Mary as the “perpetual virgin.” …[cites liturgical prayers]. Holy Writ only indirectly attests the continuance of Mary’s virginity after the birth. From the question which Mary puts to the Angel, Luke 1:34: “How shall this be done, because I know not man?” it is inferred that she had taken the resolve of constant virginity on the ground of a special Divine enlightenment. In the light of this text St. Augustine and many Fathers and theologians believed that Mary made a formal vow of virginity. However, the subsequent espousals can hardly be reconciled with this. We note that the fact that the dying Redeemer entrusted His Mother to the protection of the Disciple John (John 19:26: “Woman, behold thy Son”), presupposes that Mary had no other children but Jesus.
By the “brethren of Jesus,” often named in the Holy Scriptures, and who are characteristically never called “Sons of Mary” are to be understood near relatives of Jesus. Compare Mt. 13:55 with Mt. 27:56, John 19:25 and Gal. 1:19. From the passage Luke 2:7: “and she brought forth her first-born son” (cf. Mt. 1:25 according to the Vulgate) it cannot be inferred that Mary had more children after Jesus, as among the Jews an only son was also known as “first-born son” since the “first-born” had special privileges and duties. The passages Mt. 1:18: “Before they came together,” and Mt. 1:25: “he knew her not till she brought forth her first-born son,” assert that up to a definite point in time the marriage was not consummated, but not by any means that it was consummated after this. Cf. Gn. 8:7; 2 Sm. 6:23; Mt. 28:20.
Among the Fathers many upheld the teaching of Mary’s virginity after the birth of Jesus: Origen, St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Epiphanius, St. Basil …
From the fourth century onwards the Fathers, for example Zeno of Verona, St. Augustine, St. Peter Chrysologus affirm the virginity of Mary in formulas….
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we have the following:
499 The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin.”
500 Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, “brothers of Jesus,” are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls “the other Mary.” They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.
506 Mary is a virgin because her virginity is the sign of her faith “unadulterated by any doubt,” and of her undivided gift of herself to God’s will. It is her faith that enables her to become the mother of the Savior: “Mary is more blessed because she embraces faith in Christ than because she conceives the flesh of Christ.”
Now let’ look at what the Bible says, using the New International Version:
Matt. 1:18-25: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.” When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
This passage says a lot. Mary was still a virgin, betrothed to, but not yet married to, Joseph, and was with child conceived through the Holy Spirit. Joseph discovers Mary’s condition and is thinking about divorcing her but an angel tells him the situation. With this we are all agreed. So then Joseph takes Mary home as his wife, but does not have sexual relations with her until after the baby is born. Notice the importance of that word, “until.” That unambiguously implies that they had sexual relations after Jesus was born, as would any husband and wife. Any time one uses the phrase “did not until,” it always, always means that whatever it was one didn’t do “until” a specified event certainly took place after the event. This passage in no uncertain terms means that Joseph had sexual relations with his wife after the birth of Christ, refuting the Roman Catholic claim.
Matt. 12:46-50: While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”…
Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21 are parallel passages. Jesus’ mother arrives with his brothers. The passage is quite clear that they are Jesus’ brothers, which means they were Mary’s children, meaning she had normal marital relations with Joseph after Jesus was born. If they were not Mary’s children, the Scripture would certainly not call them Jesus’ brothers. If they were Joseph’s children from a previous marriage, as some Catholic apologists claim, would the Bible call them Jesus brothers? And would they be with Mary? And would not the Scripture have told us that Joseph was previously married with children? One cannot make doctrinal claims as the Catholics do by arguing from silence. The Catholic claim that these were “close relatives” is fallacious on the face of the claim because there are Greek words that would have been used if the writer meant other than brothers. Dr. Ott makes an issue of the fact that the Bible doesn’t call these brothers “sons of Mary,” but why would that be necessary if the point was to demonstrate that they were Jesus’ brothers? Do not the two terms mean the same unless a second spouse has been introduced? And since the Bible makes no mention of Joseph being previously married, the contextual assumption must be that the brothers mentioned are indeed children of Mary. Otherwise we are arguing from silence and putting our own ideas into the text.
Matt. 13:55-56: “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?”
Mark 6:3 is a parallel passage. In this passage we learn that not only does Jesus have at least four brothers, but that he has unnumbered and unnamed sisters. So Mary has at least six other children besides Jesus. If the children were only Joseph’s from a previous marriage, would they have been mentioned as Jesus’ brothers by way of identity? Again, the claim by the Roman Church that these are near relatives is refuted by the writer’s use of specific Greek verbiage.
John 2:11-12: This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him. After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.
This takes place immediately after the wedding, and it tells us that Mary went with Jesus and his brothers down to Capernaum for at least a few days. It does not say these men were “close relatives” of Jesus.
John 7:1-10: After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him. Therefore Jesus told them, “The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come.” Having said this, he stayed in Galilee. However, after his brothers had left for the Feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.
This is another passage that demonstrates that Jesus has brothers, and these brothers were unbelieving at this time.
There is a brief mention of Mary in Acts 1:14: They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
This passage says Mary was among those who were in the upper room, with Jesus’ brothers. If they were not Jesus’ brothers and children of Mary, why would they have been with Mary?
1 Cor. 9:5: Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?
Paul is discussing his rights as an apostle, and he mentions Jesus’ brothers as having wives. He doesn’t say Jesus’ “near relatives.”
Gal. 1:18-19: Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.
Here Paul talks about his travels, and at Jerusalem he saw Jesus’ brother James. The Catechism’s claim that Jesus’ brothers Joseph and James were really the sons of “another Mary” has absolutely no Biblical warrant. The Bible says they are brothers of Jesus, not sons of another Mary.
One passage not yet dealt with is Luke 1:34 where Mary inquires how she could conceive since she was still a virgin. Many Romanists, as mentioned by Dr. Ott, take this to mean that Mary took a vow of virginity. This is certainly reading one’s belief into the passage. If Mary had taken a vow of virginity, she would never have become engaged to be married. That is common sense.
Now let’s take a closer look at a couple of the specific claims from the cited works of the Roman church that have not already been touched on.
“We note that the fact that the dying Redeemer entrusted His Mother to the protection of the Disciple John (John 19:26: “Woman, behold thy Son”), presupposes that Mary had no other children but Jesus. “
Since the Bible up to this point had continuously demonstrated that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him as the Messiah and Savior, it would be natural for Jesus to entrust her to a disciple who was a believer. The fact that Jesus points to John only demonstrates that His brothers were unbelievers, not that they weren’t children of Mary. That is the more logical presupposition.
“Mary is a virgin because her virginity is the sign of her faith “unadulterated by any doubt,” and of her undivided gift of herself to God’s will.”
Mary’s virginity was never, in Scripture, called, or even implied, a “sign of her faith.” The “sign of her faith” was her acceptance of what she was told would happen, the willingness to be a servant of God.
The virginity of Mary before and during the birth of Christ has never been contested by any orthodox denomination of the Church, but the Roman Church decided that an intact hymen is what defined virginity rather than the lack of sexual relations, and they have sometimes gone through all sorts of convoluted extremes of twisting meanings of various scriptures to “prove” that Mary’s hymen remained intact throughout a “painless” miraculous birth which became “sanctified.” Since we all agree that Mary was a virgin until Christ was born, and I think we can all agree that Mary did not have sexual relations during the birth Christ, we will stipulate to the facts of Mary’s virginity during these two periods of her life without spending the time to refute the horrendous hermeneutics required by Rome. However, the plain teaching of the Bible is that Mary was married to Joseph and would therefore have been his sexual partner in the ordinary manner.
Some early Roman church fathers accepted gnostic ideas that virginity was superior to marriage. An example would be Jerome (ca. 347-ca.420), who we know as the one who translated the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures into Latin as the Vulgate. He believed and promoted asceticism, especially among wealthy women, and he also promoted the virginity of Mary. However, the Bible never says virginity is a superior position to be in, and in fact honors marriage. God’s teaching on marriage is plain:
Gen. 2:24 - For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
1 Cor. 7:3-5 - The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Heb. 13:4 - Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure…”
Peter de Rosa, a Roman Catholic historian, gives another reason why Mary must be a perpetual virgin: “[W]e noted that priests, especially popes, have developed a cult of the Virgin Mary. For celibates, the ideal woman is an asexual being who gave birth to a child. Mary had a baby without sexual intercourse; that is perfection.”
Catholic apologists, such as Karl Keating, say that the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in the Bible were really cousins (or as Ott and the Catechism say, “rear relatives”). But there is a Greek word for cousins (anepsios), while the Greek used in the Bible definitely means “brothers” and “sisters.” These brothers and sisters are usually mentioned as being with Mary, the implication being that they were indeed her children either in her care (if young) or traveling with her as part of her family.
Rome’s argument, as stated by Dave Hunt, is that “for Christ to be born of a womb that would later conceive and give birth to other children would somehow contaminate him.” This is unbiblical; nowhere does Scripture imply that giving birth is somehow a process that contaminates the woman. Sexual relations between a man and his wife were ordained by God and so cannot be impure or unholy. (Gen. 1:28; Gen 2:21-24; 1 Cor. 7:3-5; Heb. 13:4). Childbearing (within marriage) is exalted by God (Ps. 127:3-5).
From “The Cult of the Virgin” we have the following historical information:
“At the Second Council of Constantinople (A.D. 553), the church used the phrase ever virgin (Greek: aeiparthenos) with reference to Mary. Although by this time the formula ‘A virgin conceived, a virgin gave birth, a virgin remained’ was almost universally accepted, such had not always been the case. Several early church fathers (including Tertullian) had rejected this view, and it was a subject of intense debate as late as the fourth century….
“As almost all historians (including those of the Catholic church) recognize, the eventual doctrinal triumph of Mary’s perpetual virginity was directly related to the rise of asceticism and monasticism. These traditions, which greatly influenced the medieval church and its developing Mariology, revered celibacy as being more inherently spiritual than the married state. …
“…in the Platonically influenced philosophies that permeated the Roman Empire, the material world was often viewed as being intrinsically evil. Thus, those who were of a religious bent would often shun material pleasures - particularly sexual relations in or out of marriage - as being wholly opposed to spiritual growth….”
So, as we have seen, the Roman Catholic Church relies upon beliefs of early Church “fathers” rather than the clear teaching of Scriptures to hold to their doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity. They hold to it in spite of all the clear Biblical teaching because it is the foundation for their other doctrines of Mary: her “immaculate conception,” her “assumption” into heaven, and her sinless state. None of these doctrines are biblical.
The extremes to which Rome must go to maintain their doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary demonstrates the claim to be blatantly false. The Bible teaches that Mary married Joseph and had a normal marriage with sexual relations and child-bearing.