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Do you believe in Mary’s perpetual virginity? 4

posted by xscot mcknight

Tomorrow I’ll post my own view of Mary’s perpetual virginity. But today we need to look at Jerome, who is perhaps the first major theologian to deal with our question — was Mary perpetually virgin? He does so in polemics with Helvidius, both of whom were in Rome at about the same time, c. 383 AD. Most of the whole debate today unfolds from his arguments with Helvidius. After today’s post, I’d be interested if this discussion has any impact on you.
First, Jerome’s style is overly accusatory and polemical. I’ll give a few examples (all from Against Helvidius), in part because of the fun of watching him bare his teeth.
He says he’s been asked to “refute an ignorant boor” but is “afraid my reply might make him appear worth defeating.” Yikes!
“The axe of the Gospel must therefore be now laid to the root of the barren tree.” Ouch!
“Helvidius who has never learnt to speak, may at length learn to hold his tongue.”
He “waves his sword like a blind-folded gladiator, rattles his noisy tongue, and ends with wounding no one but himself.”
On his need to read the Bible, Jerome says “it was here he stuck in the mud.”
Now he gets more serious: Helvidius, he speaks to him directly, you “employed your madness in outraging the Virgin…. You have set on fire the temple of the Lord’s body, you have defiled the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit from which you are determined to make a team of four brethren and a heap of sisters come forth.”
He asks, “Pray tell me, who, before you appeared, was acquainted with this blasphemy? who thought the theory worth two-pence?”
Second, Jerome begins with four issues Helvidius uses to demonstrate that Mary had children as a result of sexual relations with Joseph:
1. The “until” of Matthew 1:25: he did not know her until… Jerome contends that there are all kinds of biblical examples of the time of something “until” something does not imply a change of behavior after the “until.” Thus, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto [until] the end of the earth.” Does this, he asks, mean the Lord is not with us “after” the end?
2. Joseph knew her not… Jerome’s argument here has already been mentioned on this blog. How, he asks, could Joseph, who could not touch her before she gave birth, touch her after she gave birth to the All-holy Son of God?
3. On “firstborn,” Jerome proves that “firstborn” need not mean there were other births, for a firstborn could be an only begotten. His argument, that if “firstborn” was only known when more were born means priests would have to wait until there were more born is rather empty in my logical bank, but still, his overall point is irrefutable.
4. Then he goes to “brothers” and mounts his famous case. This word is used in four ways: by nature (James and John), by race (all Jews are brothers), by kindred (Abram and Lot), and by affection/love (spiritual Christians).
Which leads to this: are the “brothers” of Jesus by nature (Helvidius), by race (obviously), by kindred/nephews/relatives (Jerome), or by love (only later). He argues the Jesus son of Joseph, say in G John, does not mean “blood father” so there is precedent in the family of Jesus for some “relative” family members.
He asks who believed this before Helvidius: only two, Tertullian and Victorinus. Tertullian is dismissed as a heretic and not in the Church and therefore emptied of any authority, and Victorinus actually taught the brothers were relatives. On his side are Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and many other “apostolic and eloquent men.”
Finally, Jerome speaks of virginity and marriage, arguing the former is a holy state for some who are so called. (This was big for Jerome, and he was not without problems in these matters. He ended up in Bethlehem running a monastery for monks and nuns.)
He says Mary was not married after she gave birth (21), and he also argues that Joseph was also perpetually virgin. He denies the Epiphanian view that Joseph was married previously.
Jerome makes some very strong statements about the spirituality (don’t know quite what term to use) of the married in comparison with that of virgins. They need not be detailed here for fear of some kind of uprising.
At any rate, we have here the strongest case in the early church for Mary being perpetually virgin and for the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus being relatives.



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Kent

posted June 15, 2006 at 7:42 am


Having read all the posts concerning this issue at least twice, I still come away with the question of why does it matter? How does this impact what we believe about the faith? It is interesting to a certain degree, but it does not alter what I believe or follow. So the impact has been okay, what’s next? No disrespect meant.



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pilgrimscrybe

posted June 15, 2006 at 7:45 am


Scot, This series is an example of one of the reasons I return to your blog over and over! Heh, sometimes I feel the way I used to when I snuck into the back of the cream-of-the-crop seminars and panels during my husband’s poly sci grad school days — a feast of years of reading or dozens of books I’d probably never get around to reading myself. From reading through your blog’s comments over the last few months, I realize most of those who comment are much more learned than I (I learned most of my theology and church history on the fly), but there’s at least one of us “arm-chair theologians” (ack, I’m probably still sitting on the floor beside that chair) out here soaking it all up. Blessings.



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John Frye

posted June 15, 2006 at 7:55 am


Scot,
You wrote, “After today’s post, I’d be interested if this discussion has any impact on you.” Then Kent above wrote, “Having read all the posts concerning this issue at least twice, I still come away with the question of why does it matter? How does this impact what we believe about the faith?”
Apparently the vitriolic way Jerome responded to Helvidius and major voices of the Early Fathers on both sides meant something BIG was at stake in the debate. Can we really conclude today that the debate is irrelevant to faith/doctrine/practice?
Could it be that the non-perpetual virginity of Mary is to her character what “Left Behind” is to eschatology?



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RJS

posted June 15, 2006 at 8:01 am


Jerome was of the same era as Augustine, whose Confessions were written just before 400 AD. I only bring this up because one of the things that strikes me in the Confessions is the attitude that Augustine had toward the incompatibility of family commitments and true commitment to a life lived for God.
So – do the intense opinions of Jerome reflect the attitudes of the church of his day, particularly the leadership in the church, and a reaction to the over all culture of the Roman world (as perhaps reflected in Augustin’s life befor his conversion)? Or does Jerome truly reflect early belief and knowledge? Jerome is writing, after all, some 350 years after the death and resurrection.



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preacherman

posted June 15, 2006 at 8:24 am


Mary did have sex with Joseph. She had other sons as we read in scripture. As Christians we need to understand she is just a women who was the mother of Jesus. As Christians we don’t worship her or hold her in any higher esteem. It is Jesus who reedems. It is Jesus that we worship. Mary just a woman. Nothing more nothing less.
Let us not be guilty of what the Catholics are guilty of worshiping Mary more than Jesus. I thank God every day not for Mary but for sending His son Jesus and the grace I have through Him and Him alone.



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Anonymous

posted June 15, 2006 at 8:39 am


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Mike Swalm

posted June 15, 2006 at 8:40 am


John Frye –
can we really say something big was at stake? I’m prepared to do that should it be necessary, but i wonder if vitriolic language on both sides necessitates the “big issue” conclusion. vehemence and ad hominem seem pretty standard fare for many of the church fathers (and contemporary writers as well :))…i’m not sure we can base the seriousness and import of an argument merely on ire.
That said, Scot, enjoying these posts immensely. Thanks for taking the time to explain to us “chronologically arrogant” Protestants (just speaking for myself here…the royal we!) that our history extends back a long way, and we must come to terms with it.
mike



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Scott Lyons

posted June 15, 2006 at 8:55 am


Catholics do not worship Mary, not even less than Jesus (let alone more). We give great honor and respect to her – more to her than any other human because she is the mother of our Lord.
The perpetual virginity of Mary is important, if for no other reason, because it has been the continuous teaching of the Church. That historical consistency makes it compelling – a teaching that obligates those who do not believe in PV to at least consider it rather than dismiss it out of hand. By no means do I think it requires your belief in PV, but if you’re a thinking Christian it requires something more than “That’s what those Catholics believe.”
There are many “unbelievable” doctrines we all believe in, such as the Virgin Birth. Why is belief in Mary’s PV – a choice made by many throughout history such a stumbling block? Simply because it is not taught in the Scriptures? Remember, much to Dan Brown’s delight, that the Scriptures nowhere teach that Jesus remained unmarried.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:04 am


Kent and you not alone in this query, for it has appeared about ten times this week on this blog,
Now you’ve got my dander up since you’ve poked a professor about the value of just simply knowing something and its value. So, I’ll give us some food for thought about why this perpetual virginity might just matter. Please take this as conversational. I’m thinking about this almost every day right now as I do some work on Mary. Sometimes I’m with you — it’s all off base, and other times I think there is a lot more here than I realize.
I might begin that not everything has immediate, drag-down personal spirituality value. I don’t mean to suggest any of you is saying this, but we need to realize that theory sometimes matters — not because it matters right now but because theoretical foundations come into play all the time, whether we are aware of them or not.
Well, let’s begin with two very simple things that are on the big screen right now. First, it is important for the Church to be more in tune with its own history, and this Mary stuff clearly raises about fifty church history issues when it comes up. Second, the yen for the sacred feminine that we find bandied about on the DaVinci Code movie and in the current rise of some kinds of feminist literature is not unrelated to Mary. Not only do some find her to be an object of feminine devotion, but there is something here that is beyond what I know but I know it is there.
Theologically, too, it is not without some significance. Let us take the RC view for the moment (and I, in the end, can’t go all the way here). What does it say? That Joseph regarded his wife, Mary, so high that he expressed his love for her and for what God had done through her by not engaging in sexual intercourse. That sexual drives can be restrained in the right place and right time for those to whom it has been given.
That God chose this woman, Mary, above all other women and that she deserves some respect, especially by post-Reformation protestants, and believe me what we say and think about Mary is a long way from the sort of thing that Luther thought. Not all our developments are good ones.
Biblically, that many of us assume interpretations and conclusions that, if we are pressed to defend, can’t offer a shred of solid evidence or argumentation. How many of us can prove that heos in Matthew 1:25 implies a change of condition and action after the birth? How many of us have sorted out the meaning of “brother” in Judaism and earliest Christianity to see if we can so easily assume/conclude that when it says Jesus had “brothers” that it means he had blood-brothers through Mary?
Now here’s the kicker: How many of us have a biblical view of Mary? Let alone one that is in touch with the history of the Church?
Now there’s another kicker: this issue shoves on the table how it is that we go about doing theology and making decisions. We explore and learn by sorting out questions like this.



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John Frye

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:13 am


Mike,
I’m not basing “the seriousness and import of an argument merely on ire,” but pointing out that the early church fathers did not “have a conversation in a cavalier way” about Mary’s virginity. They debated. Something was a stake. What?
Preacherman,
I am very glad that you are convinced of your view. Are you open to considering the reasons that other godly people have who do not agree with you?



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preacherman

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:13 am


It dosen’t matter what Jerome says, The Pope says, Any of the “church fathers” (Barton Stone,Cambell even)says, what matters is what Matthew,Mark,Luke, John, Paul, Peter, Hebrew Writter, James, and Jude says about Mary. That all we need to know and go by. I don’t understand why people don’t get it. If people would only read the Bible and live by it. It would clear up a lot of mess among Christians including the issue of the virgin Mary and Mary worship. As well as praying to “Mary, saints, the dead, images, statues.” Kind of reminds me of Israelites worship that was detestable to God: snakes, asherah poles, gold calves, other images. We listen to God’s word, read it, study it, and live by it. Let us base our doctrines on what its writters say not what Jerome or anyone else my say. As your site says lets let our Creed be Jesus.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:21 am


Preacherman,
I’m with you on the need to be committed to the Bible, but I’m not sure we need to wipe away those who also read the Bible before us, whom God used to speak to his Church.
On top of this, we learn pretty quickly that we think is “just the Bible” sometimes isn’t “just Bible” but is “Bible plus my favorite Christian thinkers”. The reason for sola scriptura was because of the difficulty of learning to read the Bible on its own.



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preacherman

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:28 am


The Bible is the orginal source. We must not deviate from the orginal source. If some of those “Christian thinkers” deviate from the original source they are invalid. What matters is the word of God. The original source is what matters in the end.



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preacherman

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:29 am


The Bible is the orginal source. We must not deviate from the orginal source. If some of those “Christian thinkers” deviate from the original source they are invalid. What matters is the word of God. The original source is what matters in the end.
Thanks for responding



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Scott Lyons

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:39 am


Preacherman, I agree that the Scriptures are the original source that we must hold fast to. But who decides what is deviation? Do I get to decide that? Does Billy Graham? Do you? If I hold to a slightly different interpretation of the atonement, does my faith fail to justify me?
The question remains, more generally, does someone such as Ignatius of Antioch, who was a disciple of John, have a better understanding of how John understood the Scriptures than someone 1500 or 2000 years removed? Should we not, then, pay attention when he speaks? (Certainly his writings are not inspired, and none claim they are. His writings mustn’t be ignored, however, when trying to understand the apostles. Don’t you think it would be important to know how the disciples of the apostles understood them within their very own cultural-historical context?)



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makeesha

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:39 am


RJS – I think your point is important to keep in mind and one I personally go back to when reading these things



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Aaron J. Smith

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:47 am


Scot,
I would add that the view about mary has alot to do (theologicaly) with how we view God’s blessing.
No one can deny that the angel said Mary is “blessed abouve all women”. But does that mean we esteem her in a special light? What about Jesus’ own words about John the Baptist, “I tell you the truth, among those born of women no one is greate than John…” (Lk 7.28) Do we now need to esteem John the Baptist in some special way?
This issue is not jsut about Mary having sex with joseph or not, because that in and of it’s self does not matter. Understanding our catholic (little “c”) tradition does matter. The theoligical implications (especaly tied with blessing) matter, and our place as humans in God’s act of salvation matters (the question here is can we as humans be intricaly part of the salvation blessing becoming real, or do we need to take some “super” human nature on to be truly part of the line of blessing).
Thanks for posting about this issue.



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preacherman

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:53 am


You look at the original source and look at the other and if it is not the same as the original source then go back to the original.
People have to search for themsleves to see what is true and and what is not.
You can use others to help you look at the scripture but you still hold up the original source to it. Is their view of scripture different than what the word actually says.
We must remember we our human, we aren’t perfect, our oppions aren’t perfect, but God’s word, the orginal source is perfect. In the end it is what His word says that matters. God said it that settles it.



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Phil

posted June 15, 2006 at 10:00 am


The four issues that you mentioned:
1. Although the word “until” does not necessarily mean “Joseph had union with her afterwards”, it does suggest this. If this implication had concerned Matthew, he could have added a parenthetical note such as “(in fact, Joseph never had union with her).” The verse does not prove anything either way.
2. The question assumes too much. First, it assumes that Joseph had a high Christology. Second, it assumes that first-century Jewish sensibilities were the same as fourth-century Gentile sensibilities. We should not read our feelings back into the Bible. (It also assumes that God’s sensibilities are the same as ours. For example, might someone suggest that Jesus never defecated? After all, it would not befit the Son of God! Given that, might sex within marriage be “holier” than excretion?)
3. The reference is Luke 2:7. It is true that “firstborn” need not mean there were other births. Likewise, it does not mean that there weren’t other births.
4. Yes, “brothers” can mean a few different things. One possible meaning is brothers! (Many people don’t seem to realize that proving that the word can mean other things is not enough to prove that the most natural meaning is not the intended meaning.)
Scot, you asked us in the poll: “Do you accept [the] perpetual virginity of Mary?” What if we put this question to the New Testament writers? Based on their extant writings, what can we say would be their answers? Consider Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, the author of Hebrews, James, and Peter. In each case, the answer must be either “no” or “doesn’t matter.” (Either they did not write about Mary’s perpetual virginity because they did not believe in it or because they viewed it as inconsequential.)
Let’s compare belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary to belief in the assumption of Mary (with approximate dates):
Assumption:
450: no Christian believed in it
500: some Christians believed in it
550: earliest extant written accounts
650: most Christians believed in it
750: all Christians must believe in it
Just subtract 400 years from the above to get:
Perpetual Virginity:
50: no Christian believed in it
100: some Christians believed in it
150: earliest extant written accounts
250: most Christians believed in it
350: all Christians must believe in it
Is this a believable timeline?



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eric

posted June 15, 2006 at 10:54 am


I guess I don’t see a “case” being made as much as support for why Jerome believes as he does; his vitriolic language aside. What I mean by this is that Jerome simply offers explantion. His points are not definitive proof. In fact, as Phil pointed out, his points do not exclude the other possibilities.
All of this does not, however, mean we should disregard the importance of Mary. She offers the post-Reformation church much that we have not availed ourselves of “using.” One purpose of the honoring of saints was to give Christians “heroes” to look up to; and we depserately need heroes of the faith nowadays. We do a great disservice to our faith we disregard something because it is “Catholic” (read that word with all the anger and repulsion with which it is usually said.) We (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) are all part of the catholic church; like it or not.



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Scott Lyons

posted June 15, 2006 at 10:57 am


Phil, are you saying that because the Scriptures are silent on an issue than the writers did not believe in it? (No Xian believed in PV in AD 50? What is your proof? Silence?)
Only Jesus is the full revelation of the Father – and the writers themselves admit that the Scriptures do not contain all that Jesus taught and did – does that make His other deeds and teachings irrelevant or meaningless? Of course not. Could some of those teachings have been carried on through godly tradition? Could the apostles themselves had teachings for the Church that they did not record? I choose to believe so on the basis of the Scriptures themselves (1 Cor 11.2; 2 Thess 2.15; 3.6). If those traditions do not disagree with or offend the Scriptures, then where is the difficulty?
If the Church (both Catholic and Orthodox teach PV) has taught one thing throughout her history, I believe that we should read ambiguous texts, such as the ones you mentioned, in light of the teaching of the Church. It just seems reasonable to me.



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Kent

posted June 15, 2006 at 11:18 am


Scott, good dander. I will wait to see your post for tomorrow, and then ponder anew the question of whether or not I have a biblical view of Mary and of how I do theology with the larger body.



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Phil

posted June 15, 2006 at 11:55 am


Scott Lyons:
“Phil, are you saying that because the Scriptures are silent on an issue than the writers did not believe in it?” No, I am saying that because the Scriptures are silent about PV, we have no reason to believe that the writers believed in it.
“(No Xian believed in PV in AD 50? What is your proof? Silence?)” I only meant this as a plausible timeline. There is no “proof,” only evidence. As I said, “Either they did not write about Mary’s perpetual virginity because they did not believe in it or because they viewed it as inconsequential.” Take your pick.
“If the Church (both Catholic and Orthodox teach PV) has taught one thing throughout her history, I believe that we should read ambiguous texts, such as the ones you mentioned, in light of the teaching of the Church.” Both Catholic and Orthodox teach the Assumption. That does not prevent it from being pious fiction. Ditto for PV. If you don’t believe that false teachings could arise in the Church so shortly after the time of the Apostles, please consult the NT Epistles. They are full of corrections of false doctrines that arose even in the first century.



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Rick

posted June 15, 2006 at 12:24 pm


If one accepts that God has both the power and the desire to communicate essential matters clearly, it is difficult (for me anyway) to escape the conclusion that because PV is not clearly and inescapably taught, and since faithful christ-followers have come to sincere differences on the matter, it is not essential in any way.



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Scott Lyons

posted June 15, 2006 at 12:34 pm


Thanks for the response, Phil.
1. But we have no reason to believe they did not either. That is why, with the ambiguity of the passages, I believe it is appropriate to consult the Church.
2. “Either they did not write about Mary’s perpetual virginity because they did not believe in it or because they viewed it as inconsequential.” I think there are more options: Is Jesus’ being married inconsequential? Is trine immersion something the first-century Christians believed in even though they didn’t write specifically about it in the Scriptures? Did they think it inconsequential? Is the canon of the Scriptures themselves inconsequential? If it were so important (and it is), why didn’t John, the last surviving apostle, make a list for us?
3. “Both Catholic and Orthodox teach the Assumption. That does not prevent it from being pious fiction. Ditto for PV.” Granted. However: “If you don’t believe that false teachings could arise in the Church so shortly after the time of the Apostles, please consult the NT Epistles. They are full of corrections of false doctrines that arose even in the first century.” Interesting, isn’t it, that the false doctrines were summarily dealt with and dismissed by the Church. (PV was not.) Even Protestants recognize the teachings of the first four ecumenical councils (Up through fifth century).



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saint

posted June 15, 2006 at 12:43 pm


I actually find the title of this post interesting. Do I “believe in” the PV. No. I don’t place any trust or faith in Mary’s PV. Do I believe Mary was ever virgin? No – but then because I am not convinced either of its factuality or its importance. The best I could say is we don’t know.
I haven’t got time to lay out thoughts on this -maybe after the next post – but just one comment here.
It seems to me (happy to be corrected) that much of the argument for PV in my view, rests on Mary’s and Joseph’s understanding of the son of God and the implications/importance to us is on the church’s relationship to Christ.
Now I can accept that they certainly knew something was up (and during Jesus’ public ministry, lots knew of his “blasphemous” claims to be able to forgive sin etc) BUT I have to look at Jesus, who’s preferred form of self-reference was the rather enigmatic “son of man” – it was others who called him Son of David etc. I have to concede that I think he did that deliberately so he could invest the meaning he wanted into it – into who He is, what He came to do, and how it is that we relate to Him.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 15, 2006 at 1:03 pm


RJS,
You are right, and I have at times pushed this argument myself. There is a growing valorization of asceticism in the early churches, and that no doubt had an influence. The PV, however, arose pretty early, and so far as I can see it has as much to do with purity and holiness of Mary as it does with anything else.
Having said that, I’m not sure that a profound commitment to sexual purity, even celibacy, is inconsistent with the NT itself. It is not just Mary, after all, that we could speak of: Paul, 1 Cor 7, etc.. In other words, a theology of sexuality shapes this, but it was shaped as much by a biblical theory of holiness.



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Dennis Martin

posted June 15, 2006 at 1:04 pm


Phil, you employ the argument from silence falsely when you assert that no Christian believed in the Assumption in 450 or no Christian believed in the perpetual virginity in AD 50. Even if the silence were total (and those who agree with PV do find some evidence even in the NT) all it tells you is that no evidence has survived. But why no evidence has survived we do not and cannot possibly know.
1. the evidence could have once existed, was written down, but has since been lost
2. the evidence may never have existed (your assumption)
3. the evidence may have existed but was not written down at the time, only later or even never (but was passed on by unwritten means)
If the surviving documentary record for the period in question were very full and complete, silence on topic X has a lot more probative force than if the surviving record is known to be incomplete and fragmentary. The surviving record for much of the first six or seven centuries, if not the first 10 centuries, of Christianity is very fragmentary, though more complete than for some other cultures or religions. The surviving record for the first three centuries is the most incomplete of all.
It is true that hard, fast documentary evidence for a number of Marian beliefs comes only from the fourth and following centuries. But so too does surviving evidence for a developed doctrine of Jesus being true God and true man, for the deity of the Holy Spirit and a whole host of other topics that I assume you believe in wholeheartedly. If one believes in these doctrines, one readily then finds clues to them in the NT–but the NT alone can be read also to oppose these doctrines because, in the 4thc, a lot of people did read the NT as opposing the full humanity and divinity of Jesus and the deity of the Holy Spirit.
The Marian doctrines are strongly set forth in controversies in the 4th and following centuries. Controversies can emerge either (1) because someone begins teaching a new doctrine that others challenge or because an ancient, from-the-beginning taught doctrine, hitherto unchallenged, is for the first time challenged. The absence of controversy over doctrine X or Y until the 3rdc or 4thc or 7thc or 9thc does not mean the doctrine was newly introduced at that time. It may have been so widely believed as to be largely taken for granted and the documentary evidence that might have showed that it was believed has been lost. Then, in the 4thc or 9thc or whenever, someone arises to challenge the long-held belief and we get a controversy, a thorough study of the NT evidence pro and con, a decision and a dogma.
That’s what happened with the belief in Mary as Theotokos. No one challenged the title being used in liturgy until the late 4th or early 5thc and then it was challenged because of belief about how much Jesus Christ was single unified person or not. Because it was challenged, we get a formal dogma about it at Ephesus in 431. The same thing happened with a whole host of other doctrines. Early Christians knew what they believed, preached and evangelized on that basis before they wrote anything down. We get a glimpse of that primitive kerygma in Acts 2 and similar places but that was written down years after Peter (and Paul) preached these basic principles. And note that in at least some of these early kerygmatic sermons the fact that Jesus was born of a woman is included as fundamental to the Christian faith. Of course the reason for including it was Christological: to demonstrate that this Jesus of Nazareth was a man, not a docetic/gnostic demigod. But it contains in germ the heart of all the later Marian doctrines. The Marian narratives of the Gospels flesh this out–I happen to believe they were written down very early, in the 40s and 50s, but it hardly matters–these basic stories about Jesus’s conception and birth, though not part of Peter’s kerygmatic sermons for evangelization do seem to have been told and retold within Christian worship services from the very beginning, if the Synoptics fundamentally reflect early Christian lectionary/recitatory pericopes.
I know that Brown and others say these infancy narratives are later additions. But quite frankly the whole guild of historical-critical scholarship operates on a handful of premises that, when examined closely, collapse like a house of cards (John A. T. Robinson and others), so I don’t put much stock in Brown on the infancy narratives.



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RJS

posted June 15, 2006 at 1:44 pm


I went and read through Jerome’s “The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary.” (Isn’t the internet wonderful?) He is on such a diatribe here, it is amazing – as you have illustrated in your post.
Virginity for him is a key issue though – virginity = purity, married = tied to the cares of the world. From my reading this is one of the key postulates in his “worldview” – therefore he has an emotional stake in defending the perpetual virginity of Mary. If PV of Mary isn’t true it uproots his entire worldview in particular his view of what it means to be truly committed to God.
He defends true virginity (mind and body) as a better state, he derides married women, he disputes the necessity of child-bearing. (“The world is already full, and the population is too large for the soil. Every day we are being cut down by war, snatched away by disease, swallowed up by shipwreck…”) In some ways it does sound a lot like Augustine in the Confessions. Jerome says: “I do not deny that holy women are found both among widows and those who have husbands; but they are such as have ceased to be wives, or such as, even in the close bond of marriage, imitate virgin chastity.” This is like Augustine’s friend who was unfortunately married and with commitments so couldn’t follow the best path of true holy commtiment to God.
If this is the strongest case, I don’t think much of it.
Jerome alludes to views of Ignatius, Polycarp,Irenaeus and Justin Martyr. Is there anything in there writings that support Jerome’s appeal? I don’t remember anything – but certainly could have missed it.



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JACK

posted June 15, 2006 at 3:19 pm


“The Bible is the orginal source.”
Seriously? I realize that some go far in their efforts to reject the notion of tradition as being something that communicates truth, but no Christian can truly believe this, right? Incarnation? The Way, the Truth and the Life being a Person? And that Person called people to himself? Take scripture seriously, by all means, but let’s not lose sight of the fact of Jesus’ birth and ministry as if instead Mary was overcome by the Holy Spirit and then wrote a book (or gave birth to Jesus, he went and wrote a book and then ascended).



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Denny Burk

posted June 15, 2006 at 5:07 pm


Scot,
What do you think about the New Jerusalem Bible’s translation of Matthew 1:25?
Matthew 1:25 “He had not had intercourse with her when she gave birth to a son.”
It seems to me that this is an ideologically driven translation.
Thanks,
Denny



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Khandi Jones

posted June 15, 2006 at 7:13 pm


Luke 1:27 KJV To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
That scripture says it all for me. I believe. It’s God’s word and His word is His bond.



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R.Chandrasekaran.

posted June 15, 2006 at 7:33 pm


Did Old Testament prophecy, specifically Isaiah 7, require Mary to be a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus?



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Phil

posted June 15, 2006 at 8:07 pm


Scott Lyons:
You need to keep in mind that I’m approaching this topic from a historical perspective. I must begin with the texts (both NT and early Church). You are approaching the topic from the opposite end. Your approach seems to be: (1) The Church eventually came to believe in PV. (2) The Church is infallible. Therefore, (3) PV is true.
My approach is more like this: (1) The first-century writings (the NT) do not lend support to PV; in fact, the writings seem to suggest that Jesus had siblings. (2) The Church is fallible; false teachings can arise. Therefore, (3) PV is probably false. [Note: I can neither say that Jesus definitely had siblings nor that PV is definitely false. Please do not claim that I said otherwise.]
1. “But we have no reason to believe they did not either. That is why, with the ambiguity of the passages, I believe it is appropriate to consult the Church.” Again, let’s compare PV to the Assumption. The NT is silent about the end of Mary’s life. But over 500 years later, Gregory of Tours tells us that Mary was assumed into heaven. Eventually, there was a time when seemingly every Christian believed in the Assumption. So, I would modify your statement to read, “it is appropriate to consult the Church, but not uncritically.”
In fact, we do have reason to suspect that Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul did not believe in PV. (1) They all mention that Jesus had “brothers.” No indication is given that they meant something other than actual brothers. They did not show any concern that their readers might think that the “brothers” were actual brothers. (2) None of them mention that Mary was perpetually a virgin.
2. “Is Jesus’ being married inconsequential?” Again, remember my perspective: history. (1) Does the NT (or any early text) give us any reason to think that Jesus was married? No. (2) Does the NT give us any reason to think that Jesus was not married? Yes: if Jesus had been married, Paul most definitely would have mentioned it in 1 Corinthians 9:5. (It would have strengthened Paul’s argument.) Not even the apocryphal gospels mention that Jesus was married. From the historical perspective, what more could we hope for? A verse that reads, “FYI: Jesus was not married”?
“Is trine immersion something the first-century Christians believed in even though they didn’t write specifically about it in the Scriptures?” Isn’t Matthew 28:19 in Scripture?
“Is the canon of the Scriptures themselves inconsequential? If it were so important (and it is), why didn’t John, the last surviving apostle, make a list for us?” These questions are a bit silly. You’re really stretching it here. We can’t even know that John was aware of all of the other NT writings. Remember: I don’t reject history. Please stop assuming that I do.
3. “Interesting, isn’t it, that the false doctrines were summarily dealt with and dismissed by the Church. (PV was not.)” We have no reason to believe that anyone had yet espoused the doctrine of PV during NT times. Who would confront a nonexistent doctrine?
“Even Protestants recognize the teachings of the first four ecumenical councils (Up through fifth century).” How is this point relevant? As I said, I’m for history, not against it.
Dennis:
You certainly ramble on and on in tangents. And this isn’t even your blog.
Most of what you said can be summed up in this sentence: “It may have been so widely believed as to be largely taken for granted and the documentary evidence that might have showed that it was believed has been lost.” That’s pretty convenient. You have set it up so that your position is, in principle, unfalsifiable. Where’s the evidence for this event? Oh, it’s just missing. But I believe in it, and you should too.
Academic historical studies must begin with the evidence that we have. You can fill the gaps with pixies or whatever you like. But I don’t have to believe you.
This is the end of the dialogue for me. I guess you win. But I am at a distinct disadvantage. After all, you have received your infallible doctrines from an infallible church. Historical enquiry is futile.



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John Lunt

posted June 15, 2006 at 8:50 pm


I have resisted posting anything more on this. But self control is still an issue I’m having to work through – so here goes.
“1. The “until” of Matthew 1:25: he did not know her until… Jerome contends that there are all kinds of biblical examples of the time of something “until” something does not imply a change of behavior after the “until.” Thus, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto [until] the end of the earth.” Does this, he asks, mean the Lord is not with us “after” the end?”
[20] Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:20 (KJV)
Jerome knew very well that this didn’t mean the Lord was not with us “after” the end. Jesus was going away physically. He was about to ascend. He was assuring them he would be with them – in this Earth. He had already made it very clear that where he was going -they would eventually follow – so he was addressing a specific period of time – his ascension until the end of the age.
[24] Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: [25] And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:24-25 (KJV)
While one could argue that the writer was writing only about a specific time to prove the virgin birth, then if PV were important, In other words in the Matthew 28 portion of scripture Jesus had already made clear what happened after the end of the world.( See Matthew 24:29-31.) but they had that in between period to deal with. Assuming that the writer in Matthew 1 believe that Mary was a perpetual virgin and that was important – I think it’s safe to say he would have made it clear that this state would have continued. Matthew obviously believed that the only period of the virginity that was important was until the birth of Jesus. He writes not information in his Gospel about her virginity after that.
“2. Joseph knew her not… Jerome’s argument here has already been mentioned on this blog. How, he asks, could Joseph, who could not touch her before she gave birth, touch her after she gave birth to the All-holy Son of God?”
This argument is really weak. Jerome’s argument was that Joseph wouldn’t touch Mary before she gave birth, so how could he touch her after she gave birth to the all Holy Son of God. Gee, I don’t know – maybe it was that she was already with child and didn’t want the child’s parentage to be confused. Maybe it was because she was carrying the Son of God, – God himself in human flesh. After she gave birth, she was no longer carrying that which is Holy. So normal relations could take place because she was not carrying Jesus any more. Jerome’s argument seems to be that Mary is somehow just as untouchable without Jesus as she is with him. That’s really weak. It was his presence and his alone that made the difference.
“3. On “firstborn,” Jerome proves that “firstborn” need not mean there were other births, for a firstborn could be an only begotten. His argument, that if “firstborn” was only known when more were born means priests would have to wait until there were more born is rather empty in my logical bank, but still, his overall point is irrefutable.”
The point that this could be “only begotten” is true. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that. It can also mean “first born” or many brethren.
“4. Then he goes to “brothers” and mounts his famous case. This word is used in four ways: by nature (James and John), by race (all Jews are brothers), by kindred (Abram and Lot), and by affection/love (spiritual Christians).”
While brother can be use generically, it appears the use of brother in relation to another person such as James and John suggest a very close relationship. It appears that such a relationship were present in the following passages. Note it speaks of his father (the carpenter’s son), his mother, Mary, and his brothers.. by name as though that were the next level of family relationship which generally would be brothers and sisters. While it oculd be cousins, the context doesn’t appear to be the case, because it doesn’t mention aunt’s, uncles etc.
[55] Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? [56] And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? Matthew 13:55-56 (KJV)
[3] Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him. Mark 6:3 (KJV)
[55] And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him: [56] Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children. Matthew 27:55-56 (KJV)
Looks to me that Mary, the mother of Jesus is also called Mary the mother of James and Joses. That would suggest they were her sons.
[19] But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. Galatians 1:19 (KJV)
The term brother appears to be used to describe a specific relationship as opposed to a more distant relationship or a more generic definition. In addition, the relationship of Mary, mother of Jesus seems to be described similarly to Jesus mother of James and Joses.
Scott says that Jerome states that “Mary was not married after she gave birth (21), and he also argues that Joseph was also perpetually virgin. He denies the Epiphanian view that Joseph was married previously.” Interesting, didn’t the angel tell Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary his wife
[20] But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. Matthew 1:20 (KJV)
This suggests 1. There was to be a husband wife relationship. 2. There was no indication of any instruction from the Lord to suggest a continually chaste existance. Often the Lord specifically gave instruction on how someone with a “special” calling was to live – It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but to make a doctrine out of something the Lord doesn’t seem to concerned about turning into a doctrine seems a little presumptuous.
The amount of scripture provided by the PV advocates is limited. Dennis Martin pointed out that they did provide scripture in a previous comment on the first post of this topic
“Advocates of PV do (and on this thread have) pointed to Scripture evidence for perpetual virginity. Why did Jesus not entrust his mother to one of his blood brothers on the Cross?”
First to answer the question – there is no evidence they were there to trust the care of his mother to them. Second, even if somehow this proved that Mary had no children, which I believe is very unlikely for reasons outlined above, then all the proves is that she had no children, not that she was perpetually a virgin. I’m sure everyone will agree it is quite possible for someone to have a sexual union with no resulting children. She could have been barren, or Joseph could have been sterile. It doesn’t follow that this is evidence for perpetual virginity.
I’ve said before, I have problems with putting much stock in tradition -because tradition often isn’t reliable. I of course am shaped by traditions, in my case protestant and pentecostal traditions, but the Lord has bee chipping many of those away in my life as well. Again, I don’t find tradition trustworthy. Dennis pointed out that this is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Is it? Or is it more like throwing out a doll, that at a distance may look like a baby, but isn’t the real thing at all.
I suspect, we will never know the truth this side of heaven. Since scripture is at least interpreted differently if not silent on the issue. I see no “scriptural”,”logical,” “or “theological” reason to accept perpetual virginity. As a result I reject it.
For those who think tradition is fine, I would only ask what tradition is fine. How do you know what are valuable traditions of the faith or which are traditions that could lead people away from the faith? I find scripture as sure. I may mess up my interpretation, but at least the source material is sure and as long as that’s the case, God can work on the way I interpret it. Scripture is a plum line. Where is the plum line in tradition?
I’m not at all impressed that people may have believed this for 1800 years as Dennis pointed out to me. How many of those years were people literate? How many of them had access to scripture? The Roman Catholic church even did their masses in Latin for centuries which many people wouldn’t understand. I wonder if perpetual virginity would have been so widely believed. It seems people were believed what they were told, because many had very little choice in the matter.
If I’m wrong about this, and I get to heaven and the Lord rebukes me for my unbelief in PV, then I’ll repent and I’m sure he’ll reward my PV advocate brothers for trying to correct their wayward brother. If however, it turns out that I’m right, I’ll try not to s-n-i-c-k-e-r to loudly :-)



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Scot McKnight

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:25 pm


Denny,
Actually, this is not too bad. I wouldn’t call it ideological, for Matt surely isn’t concerned about what happened after the birth but only the integrity of the virginal conception and its integrity by Joseph preserving its sanctity. I really don’t think Matthew is trying to say anything beyond that.
But, the translation goes beyond what the text says and turns essential ambiguity and incertitude into clarity and certitude.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:30 pm


Phil,
Your comments have gone over the edge for me, in that you have resorted to sarcasm and innuendo. No need for that. There is no reason to get personal and accusatory; let Jerome do that. If I thought Dennis was rambling, I’d tell him and edit.



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shari brown

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:40 pm


While completing some menial tasks around the house tonight my mind constantly drifted to this discussion. I realized a couple of very important things for me. Being a woman I would have never had the opportunity to sit in the synagogue and debate spiritual truths with the elders. I love this opportunity to share ideas and thoughts. This also creates the the opportunity for grace, how do I treat those I disagree with? Hopefully, with a soft answer that will turn away wrath. Another truth, in light of eternity this conversation may not matter much, but it sure is fun. Debate on.
Shari



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Scot McKnight

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:50 pm


Shari,
And we’re glad you’re with us.



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Rob Van Engen

posted June 15, 2006 at 10:15 pm


Theologically, too, it is not without some significance. Let us take the RC view for the moment (and I, in the end, can’t go all the way here). What does it say? That Joseph regarded his wife, Mary, so high that he expressed his love for her and for what God had done through her by not engaging in sexual intercourse. That sexual drives can be restrained in the right place and right time for those to whom it has been given.
What a great lesson to teach young people? That image (Eikons) can make healthy choices about their bodies pre-marriage and during marriage.



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Vynette

posted June 15, 2006 at 11:30 pm


Much as it may astound and/or upset readers, the Christian Church doctrine of the ‘Miraculous Incarnation’ or ‘Virgin Birth’ is NOT BASED ON THE BIBLE and is demonstrably false! Which makes this whole debate a little irrelevant.



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Baggas

posted June 16, 2006 at 12:32 am


Vynette – this debate is not even about the ‘Virgin Birth’ rather it is on the question of whether Mary remained a virgin for the remainder of her life. Contrary to the comments of some like preacherman, this doctrine is neither clearly demonstrably true or false from reading scripture alone (although I think Scot is perhaps building up to a conclusion that the early evidence most probably balances up against the doctrine?) – so I don’t think that we can condemn the debate as being irrelevant, neither can we condemn those who come to a different conclusion to us.
Although I’m not a Catholic it bugs me when people come up with statements conveying a pre-decided rejection of anything the Catholic church believes. I was disgusted the other day to come across a discussion on another blog regarding whether or not the late Pope John Paul II is in hell, many claiming confidently that he was.
If you truly meant to refer to the Virgin Birth in your comment Vynette then you are way off line. Not only is that not the topic of this discussion but it is something I’d say the great majority of posters here would believe in. It is not ‘demonstrably false’ as you claim, although I acknowledge we have no definite ‘proof’ of it.
Scot, Thanks for this interesting discussion of a topic I previously hadn’t given much consideration to.



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Phil

posted June 16, 2006 at 12:40 am


Vynette:
Please read Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38.



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Scott Lyons

posted June 16, 2006 at 12:53 am


Phil:
I’m sorry my approach seems to be what it isn’t. I don’t go at these topics from a Catholic perspective, quite honestly, since I’ve only been Catholic for a little over two months. So I guess each of us is making false assumptions about the other’s perspective.
My perspective: (1) I find the Scriptures to be ambiguous enough about PV to allow the “perhaps” of our discussion, (2) the early Church probably knows more than me about Mary’s PV, and, therefore, (3) PV is probably true. Maybe it isn’t. But I choose to believe it is.
And the fact that both Catholic and Orthodox traditions teach PV is, to me, a very compelling argument in favor of PV.
1. I have no problem accepting to my “it is appropriate to consult the Church” your addition of “but not uncritically.”
2. Agreed that I’m stretching it – only trying to point out that we owe much to the teaching of the Church, especially with the last example. And I did not mean to assume that you reject history. What I meant to assume is that you reject that it has any bearing on how we interpret the Scriptures. (I just couldn’t resist that one, Phil.)
Btw, Mt 28.19 does not demand a trine-immersion baptism, only a trinitarian one – it is the Didache and the Church Fathers that demand the trine-immersion interpretation.
3. My point here is that false doctrines were summarily dealt with and dismissed by the Church throughout the first five centuries of Church history (not during the NT exclusively) – a theological history that most Protestants that I know accept. Since the teaching about PV surfaced in the writings of the Fathers before the fifth century, I would assume that PV would have been dismissed had it been seen as error.
Phil, I appreciate the dialogue. Peace be with you, brother.



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Phil

posted June 16, 2006 at 11:23 am


(I couldn’t resist.)
Scott Lyons:
“And the fact that both Catholic and Orthodox traditions teach PV is, to me, a very compelling argument in favor of PV.” Again, this is not compelling to me. Both Catholic and Orthodox traditions teach the Assumption. It’s still pious fiction.
“And I did not mean to assume that you reject history. What I meant to assume is that you reject that it has any bearing on how we interpret the Scriptures.” Why would you assume this? Certainly, previous interpreters deserve a hearing. (And social studies of Biblical times can also help with interpretation.) Do you also assume that Luther and Calvin were unfamiliar with Augustine, Chrysostom, and Aquinas?
“Is trine immersion something the first-century Christians believed in even though they didn’t write specifically about it in the Scriptures?” [From an earlier post.] I had misunderstood your question. I thought that you were referring to immersion in the name of the Trinity. Now that I know what you meant, my answer is: We can’t know whether or not the Apostles believed in trine immersion. I certainly don’t consider it essential.
“My point here is that false doctrines were summarily dealt with and dismissed by the Church throughout the first five centuries of Church history (not during the NT exclusively) – a theological history that most Protestants that I know accept.” Not all of the false doctrines were dismissed. Although the first four Ecumenical Councils are valuable, they are not infallible.



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Scott Lyons

posted June 16, 2006 at 12:17 pm


Thank you, Phil. That helps me better understand your position.



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Scott Lyons

posted June 16, 2006 at 12:53 pm


Also, Phil, I apologize for the jab about your not accepting historical interpretation as having any bearing on Scriptural interpretation. It was an inappropriate comment.
I still do not accept some of your assumptions, but I do appreciate your thinking through this with me.
– “Both Catholic and Orthodox traditions teach the Assumption. It’s still pious fiction.” I do not believe that the assumption is pious fiction, though it may be. Certainly there is no Scriptural proof of it. The assumption is something I would accept on the basis of the teaching of the Church rather than on any biblical evidence.
– “Do you also assume that Luther and Calvin were unfamiliar with Augustine, Chrysostom, and Aquinas?” I do think Luther and Calvin were familiar with the teaching of the Church – but then again, they also believed in PV.
– “We can’t know whether or not the Apostles believed in trine immersion. I certainly don’t consider it essential.” I was regretting my inclusion of this one as soon as I placed it – I have come through a biblical tradition that holds trine immersion as very important and, not thinking, just assumed.
– “Not all of the false doctrines were dismissed. Although the first four Ecumenical Councils are valuable, they are not infallible.” Which false doctrines, based on Scriptural evidence, are you thinking of that were not dismissed?



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Vynette

posted June 16, 2006 at 6:52 pm


Baggas
How can the doctrine of the Virgin Birth not be ‘on topic’? The ‘Perpetual Virginity’ debate surely rests on the foundation of ‘Virgin Birth!
Also, you say we have no proof of the doctrine. But isn’t it a duty to ‘prove all things’? Therefore, it is my duty to ‘prove’ that this doctrine is not based on the Bible but on the early church fathers’ ignorance of Hebrew modes of thinking and expression.
Phil,
The passages you mention from Matthew and Luke do not justify the doctrine. Both of these ‘infancy’ narratives were given to the end of proving that Jesus of Nazareth was the man entitled to sit upon the throne of David and to rule over the earthly Hebrew ‘Kingdom of God’.



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Vynette Holliday

posted June 16, 2006 at 6:56 pm


Baggas
How can the doctrine of the Virgin Birth not be ‘on topic’? The ‘Perpetual Virginity’ debate surely rests on the foundation of ‘Virgin Birth!
Also, you say we have no proof of the doctrine. But isn’t it a duty to ‘prove all things’? Therefore, it is my duty to ‘prove’ that this doctrine is not based on the Bible but on the early church fathers’ ignorance of Hebrew modes of thinking and expression.
Phil,
The passages you mention from Matthew and Luke do not justify the doctrine. Both of these ‘infancy’ narratives were given to the end of proving that Jesus of Nazareth was the man entitled to sit upon the throne of David and to rule over the earthly Hebrew ‘Kingdom of God’.



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Phil

posted June 16, 2006 at 8:40 pm


Scott Lyons:
“I do not believe that the assumption is pious fiction, though it may be. Certainly there is no Scriptural proof of it. The assumption is something I would accept on the basis of the teaching of the Church rather than on any biblical evidence.”
Please stop talking about “Scriptural proof” and “biblical evidence.” (You’re making me ill.) I was referring to the historical plausibility of the Assumption. (Which, of course, can include reference to Scripture. But not exclusively!)
See: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02006b.htm and http://www.udayton.edu/mary/resources/theassumption.html
Knowledge of Mary’s Assumption (as far as we know):
First, second, and third centuries: nothing.
Fourth century: Epiphanius (315-403) did not know anything definite about the end of Mary’s life. If he had known of a tradition that Mary was assumed into heaven, he certainly would have mentioned it.
Fifth century: “The earliest forms of these legends cannot be easily dated, although the Syriac fragments preserved in the British Library are considered the oldest extant and are thought to have been composed in the second half of the fifth century.” (Dayton website)
Sixth century: The first person in the West to mention the Assumption was St. Gregory of Tours (539-594). The earliest non-pseudonymous references from the East also come from the mid to late sixth century.
Seventh and eighth centuries: Some people [e.g., St. Adamnan of lona (d. 704) and St. Bede (d. 735] were still expressing doubts about the Assumption.
Ninth century: “Pashasius Radbert (d. ca. 865) composed a work, Cogitis me, which was supposed to have been written by Jerome in response to the question of his friends, Paula and Eustochium on the question of the Assumption. Thus this is known as Pseudo-Jerome.” (Dayton website)
Later: “An early twelfth century work, possibly by a disciple of St. Anselm, gave credence to the doctrine, especially because it was attributed to St. Augustine. The unknown author of this work, the Liber de Assumptione, is referred to as Pseudo-Augustine.” (Dayton website)
“The influence of Pseudo-Augustine can be seen in the Summa Theologiae, where St. Thomas uses the Assumption to illustrate that not all doctrines can be found in Scripture: “But as Augustine, in his tractate on the Assumption of the Virgin, argues with reason, since her body was assumed into heaven, and yet Scripture does not relate this …”” (Dayton website)
Shoemaker writes: “… there is no evidence of any tradition concerning Mary’s Dormition and Assumption from before the fifth century. … The fifth century itself also has very little to offer, until the very end, when the first fragments of a Dormition narrative appear, as well as limited indications from a few independent sources that confirm a sudden interest at this time in the end of Mary’s life.” He also writes: “… the early liturgical and archaeological evidence confirms, among other things, that the late fifth and sixth centuries were the time in which these traditions about the end of Mary’s life first entered into orthodox Christian thought and practice.” (Stephen J. Shoemaker, Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption (Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 26, 77.)
My perception of the Roman Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) position:
(1) From the historical evidence, we can see that the idea that Mary was assumed into heaven first arose in the late fifth century. Acceptance of the Assumption was largely assisted by apocryphal writings.
(2) But the Church is infallible. And Mary is way cool.
Therefore, (3) the Assumption is a historical event.



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Dennis Martin

posted June 17, 2006 at 4:46 pm


No Phil, you can’t assume from historical evidence that the doctrine of the Assumption first arose in the late fifth century. You abuse the argument from silence again. You can, from historical evidence, state that no historical evidence for belief in a doctrine of Mary’s assumption into heaven survives from before the late 5th century. But then the hypostatic union of divine and human natures was only defined clearly in the mid-fifth century. No one even raised the question of how the two natures were united until the late 4thc. Does that mean that no one believed Jesus united two natures before then? Of course not. They were concerned with first, whether he was human (Gnostics, Docetists), while assuming he was divine; then after the 3rdc, more with the nature of his divinity. Only after full divinity and full humanity were settled in the early 4thc, did the question of the unity of the two natures arise.
Is the belief in the unity without confusion of the divine and human natures in Christ a pious fiction because it enters the documentary record only in the late 4thc? Did the belief first arise then?
And one more thing, Phil. I was trained as a historian. I have a PhD in history, not in theology. I consider the Church’s tradition “historical evidence.” Indeed, I recall clearly the day, 20 years ago, while working through the various interpretations of early church history (Walter Bauer–everything started with what we no call heresy–Gnosticism–and only after mean old powerhungry Catholic bishops imposed anti-Gnostic beliefs on everyone did what we now call “orthodox Christianity” emerge; 19thc German biblical scholarship: NT written late 1st, early 2nd c; John A. T. Robinson: it was all written by AD 70 and so forth). I looked at the welter of interpretations about an early charism, with structure and institution always being considered a sign of late development and realized that that works if one is a Weberian sociologist but if Christianity arose out of a structured, liturgical Judaism, one would actually as a historian, expect to find structure, formalized liturgy very early on.
I began to see how easily historians read their own ideas and presuppositions into their interpretation of history. And all modern historians considered Catholic and Orthodox tradition to be non-historical, to be outside the category of “historical evidence”–yet I could see how obviously biased, even ludicrously biased, modern historians were as the confidently proclaimed,
“this is the way it was.”
At that point I said to myself, “but what if Tradition is in fact a more trustworthy source of historical knowledge than modern historians?” It would be if the institution that handed down (tradited) the information was trustworthy. Modern historians don’t trust, don’t find credible, the Church’s tradition because they don’t trust the Church. Protestants don’t trust Catholic and Orthodox tradition for slightly different reasons but it ends up at largely the same place.
But if the Church’s tradition is not trustworthy, it occurred to me, we are in a real pickle. Because if I can’t employ tradition as I interpret biblical evidence and extra-biblical historical records, then all I have are my own presuppositions and prejudices, some of which I probably have simply borrowed from some other modern or Protestant set of presuppositions.
I was too good a historian to really trust modern historians, with their so obvious prejudices and presuppositions. I was a good enough historian to be self-critical of my own presuppositions and prejudices. If I can’t trust any of those, how can I know for sure anything that happened 2000 years ago? How can I trust even the historical narratives of the NT, since they were written and distinguished from heretical-false historical narratives by the same Church (the Christ-chosen apostles) that modern historians reject as a power-driven institution and Bible Protestants are doubtful about because they believe it became corrupted by “human inventions” and institutional rigidity very early on.
So, when you pit “historical evidence” against “tradition” you are aligning yourself with modern-Protestant historical method. But how one know that it has “got the story right”? If the Church’s tradition also has not got the story right and, as I think has to be clear, modern historians are no more trustworthy, then we have to be agnostic about everything. We can’t trust the Gospel narrative that says Jesus claimed to forgive sins, died, rose from the dead and so forth.
I chose to trust the Church’s tradition as, all things considered, the most trustworthy source of historical evidence. I read it alongside and interacting with all the modern historical scholarship. I find it holds up well when it is studied without prejudice.
But in the end, it would not be enough to stake my life on if I did not by faith also believe it to be Sacred Tradition, that is, the handing on of historical fact and interpreting of historical facts (most authoritatively in the NT but also in the rest of Sacred Tradition, of which the NT is a part and with which the NT seamlessly integrates) by the Chuch’s Sacred Tradition has been guided by God so as to be a trustworthy record. My faith in the Church in apostolic succession as a Christ-authorized institution to whom he entrusted his entire mission and message (he wrote nothing down himself) in the end permits me, as a historian, to trust the tradition, including the NT.
I certainly don’t trust the “historical evidence” if it is defined as being historical information outside of, excluding, the Church’s tradition, because I don’t trust the historians who gather and interpret that “historical evidence,” since I know those historians all too well, beginning with myself.
So, Phil, when you confidently assert as a historical fact that belief in the Assumption first arose in the late 5thc, I say that’s poor historical reasoning.



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Phil

posted June 17, 2006 at 8:26 pm


Dennis:
Your staunch anti-intellectualism is a bit too much for me.
“No Phil, you can’t assume from historical evidence that the doctrine of the Assumption first arose in the late fifth century. You abuse the argument from silence again.” No, you have only falsely accused me again.
“But then the hypostatic union of divine and human natures was only defined clearly in the mid-fifth century. … Is the belief in the unity without confusion of the divine and human natures in Christ a pious fiction because it enters the documentary record only in the late 4thc? Did the belief first arise then?” Irrelevant. I’m talking about history: things that can be seen or heard (or, less frequently, touched or smelled or tasted). You’re talking about theological reflection.
Consider mathematics or the laws of nature. Is the Pythagorean theorem untrue? After all, there was a time (before Pythagoras) when the theorem was unknown. Are Newton’s laws untrue? After all, there was a time (before Newton) when the laws were unknown (or underdeveloped).
The same is true of theological reflection. By reflection, we can understand the person of Jesus more fully. We can even use terms that are not found in the Bible.
However, by reflection, we cannot invent historical events. No amount of pondering can tell us what Jesus did on his 27th birthday. We cannot deduce how many tables (or whatever) Jesus made or how tall he was. What you consider most fitting is irrelevant to these issues.
By this point, you must understand that your analogy was terrible, unless you meant the following: Although no one knew of the Assumption for more than 400 years after it “happened,” Gregory of Tours and others were able to discern that it “happened.” God bless those heretics for those apocryphal accounts! The orthodox may have never been able to come up with this one on their own!
“So, Phil, when you confidently assert as a historical fact that belief in the Assumption first arose in the late 5thc, I say that’s poor historical reasoning.” Then you really need to work on your reasoning skills.
As I’ve said before, feel free to insert pixies wherever you like. Again, your infallible doctrines and infallible Church have put me at a distinct disadvantage. Historical enquiry is futile.



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Dennis Martin

posted June 18, 2006 at 6:56 am


Phil, your reply fails to address the issue. Ad hominems don’t help. You say I “insert pixies” and know what Jesus did on his 27th birthday by “pondering.”
You still presume a sharp dichotomy between (1) facts known by historical evidence and (2) facts known by the Church’s tradition. For you it’s axiomatic that (2) latter is “invented” (and untrue) and (1) “really knowable.” It was that axiomatic assumption about (2) that I challenged, giving reasons why (1) is a form of historical evidence.
Your reply simply continues to presume that belief in the Assumption was invented de novo in the 5thc. My claim was not that it was invented then but is nonetheless credible because the Church right invents things by pondering. No, my claim was that it was known and believed long before the 5thc but that the evidence of it being known and believed has not survived. I was expanding the range of “historical evidence” which for you excludes tradition but for me includes tradition.
To none of this did you respond.
I was not anti-intellectual. I made an argument on historical grounds for the credibility of tradition as a source of historical knowledge. I also noted that no matter which sources of historical knowledge one trusts, one is trusting them, that is, faith is involved. At the end I added that I place trust, faith in the Church’s tradition. Modern historians and Protestants do not. But they place their trust and faith elsewhere. You clearly do not have faith in the Church’s tradition but what you don’t realize is that your faith in “historical evidence” (by which you mean all non-tradition-derived knowledge about the period of the past in question, i.e., modern historian’s conclusions about surviving evidence) is just as much a matter of trust and faith as mine is.
But you place your faith in “historical evidence” outside Tradition without even realizing it–your faith-choice is uncritical, reflexive, common to most modern folk, including most Protestants. I was asking that you become a critical thinker about historical knowledge and historical evidence and include the possiblity that Sacred Tradition belongs within the category of “historical evidence.” Clearly I failed to persuade you to reconsider your uncritical views on “historical evidence.”



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Phil

posted June 18, 2006 at 2:55 pm


Dennis:
“You still presume a sharp dichotomy between (1) facts known by historical evidence and (2) facts known by the Church’s tradition. For you it’s axiomatic that (2) latter is “invented” (and untrue) and (1) “really knowable.” It was that axiomatic assumption about (2) that I challenged, giving reasons why (1) is a form of historical evidence. … I was expanding the range of “historical evidence” which for you excludes tradition but for me includes tradition. … To none of this did you respond.”
You have misrepresented my position (again). For me, it’s NOT axiomatic that the Church’s tradition is “invented (and untrue).” But, unlike you, I do believe that Church traditions should NOT be immune from historical enquiry. I am well aware that the Church’s tradition is part of historical evidence. You, however, seem to be unaware of this. I have responded to these claims many times already.
Should we evaluate traditions, or merely accept traditions? (What about the history of traditions? Are we allowed to study this topic?)
My position: Evaluate traditions. If they are true, then accept them. If they are false, then reject them. Regarding the Assumption, the evidence (that we have) screams “FALSE!”
Your position: Accept traditions. They are true, regardless of the evidence. If there’s no evidence for it, that’s okay. Whatever the Church believes right now is true.
My question: What is the history of the tradition, according to the evidence (especially looking at the early Church)?
Belief in the Assumption probably began among heretical sects during the mid to late fifth century. The belief was probably absorbed into the Church during the sixth century. Acceptance of the tradition was probably greatly assisted by fanatical devotion to Mary among the laity and a lack of any alternative tradition regarding the end of Mary’s life.
Your question: What is the history of the tradition, according to what the Church currently teaches (especially ignoring the early Church)?
Belief in the Assumption began in the mid-first century among the Apostles, who were eyewitnesses of the event. This tradition was passed down orally for 500 years (until the time of Gregory of Tours) or all of the written records (about the Assumption) from this period were lost. This is definitely true, because the Church says so.
(If this is not your view of the history of the tradition, please let me know.)
“I was not anti-intellectual. I made an argument on historical grounds for the credibility of tradition as a source of historical knowledge. … I was asking that you become a critical thinker about historical knowledge and historical evidence and include the possiblity that Sacred Tradition belongs within the category of “historical evidence.” Clearly I failed to persuade you to reconsider your uncritical views on “historical evidence.””
I’m already a critical thinker about historical knowledge and historical evidence (apparently, you are not). I already consider “Sacred Tradition” a part of “historical evidence” (apparently, you do not).
Did you offer an argument? Did it go something like this?
Let’s imagine a Roman Catholic “historian” teaching a class on the Assumption of Mary:
(1) Church tradition (both Catholic and Orthodox) teaches us that Mary was assumed into heaven. (By “Church tradition,” I mean “whatever the Church teaches today.”)
(2) The Church (i.e., our Church) is infallible.
(3) And the Orthodox Churches are … okay. [Not really a necessary premise, but it sounds nice. Take that Protestants!]
Therefore, (4) Mary was assumed into heaven.
Now that we’ve proven that the Assumption is historical, let’s take a look at the evidence. … Uh oh! … Ummm … Well, it has already been proven. So … let’s just assume that there was evidence for it, but it was misplaced or destroyed (perhaps by Protestants?).
Class dismissed!
After class:
Student: “Professor, why is there no evidence for the Assumption from the first 500 years of the Church?”
Professor: “I already told you, those documents were lost or destroyed.”
Student: “But don’t we have thousands of pages of writings from hundreds of works by scores of authors from this period? Does it just happen that the writings about the Assumption were the ones that didn’t survive?”
Professor: “Yes and yes. … Or maybe the Protestants selectively destroyed the evidence.”
Student: “Okay. But what about Epiphanius (in the late fourth century)? He makes it sound like he did some research on the topic of the end of Mary’s life. Why wasn’t he familiar with the tradition of the Assumption?”
Professor: “Epiphanius was simply ignorant. … Or maybe the Protestants tampered with his writings.”
Student: “Oh, okay. Why is it that the oldest surviving accounts of the Assumption appear in the writings of heretical groups in the late fifth century?”
Professor: “The heretical groups actually copied this tradition from the Catholic Church. Then the originals were lost or destroyed, as I’ve explained.”
Student: “Oh. I guess you’ve already explained why it appears that these teachings first entered the Catholic Church in the sixth century.”
Professor: “That’s right.”
Student: “Why were people like St. Adamnan of Iona and St. Bede still doubting the Assumption in the seventh and eighth centuries?”
Professor: “They were doubters. God hates doubters. You’re not like them are you? Do you know what kind of grade I would have to give you?”
Student: “No, sir. I understand, sir. Thank you for your time.”
Student walks away, satisfied.



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Dennis Martin

posted June 19, 2006 at 9:02 am


Phil,
Talk about misrepresenting one’s interlocutor’s position! What you do with my position in your boldface summary and in your classroom is a sheer caricature, not merely a misrepresentation. There’s little point in continuing this business of two trains passing in the night.



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piercedear

posted July 17, 2006 at 2:05 am


TO preacherman and all you other “Slap us upside the head with the Bible” folk. You say that all you need is the Bible . It’s the Original source. Where in the world do you think the Bible comes from. Saint Paul in 1st Corintians makes an appeal to Holy Traditions of the Church. Also Saint Paul tells Saint Timothy I believe in 1Timothy 3:15 to “Hold fast to the traditions you were taught by word of mouth or by our epistle. Notice Word of mouth is listed first. All of that to say is that the Bible is not some book that God wrote in and dropped it out of the sky for someone to discover it. Scripture historically is known to be inspired by God and written by holy men of God. Your bible comes from the church through canonization of the Ecumenical Church Councils. and all of those blessed church fathers that you feel should be discarded are some of the men that gave you the Holy Bible. If I were you I would be very careful of negating these Holy fathers and mothers of the true Church of Jesus Christ. I would hate to see you as Saint Ireneas say “Appeal to the Theology of Demons believing that it is the Theology of God.” Also the Theotokos is not just some ordinary woman. The Bible itself makes this very clear. In the first chapter of Luke the Archangel Gabriel exclaims that she is HIGHLY favored among women and has found favor with God. NO other woman of the Bible has been given such favor as to be chosen to bring forth the Messiah. Also you Bible- Toting Protestants say that all you need is the Bible, then if all you need is the Bible why do so many of you write and sell so many books through their ministries. After all you said all you need is the Bible. You shouldn’t need any other books to help you with your spiritual walk with God.
Christ is Risen
piercedear



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Doug Pierce

posted July 18, 2006 at 4:53 pm


I apologize for the misquotes. 1Timothy 3:15 is a statement of the church’s authority. It is the “pilar and ground of truth.” “Hold fast to the traditions you were taught by word of mouth or by epistle is 1Thessalonians 2:15. But the rest of the argument is as goes. Again notice the primacy of Oral traditions in this part of Saint Paul’s Epistle. Also Preacherman when these epistles were written you didn’t even have the Scriptures in completed form yet. You only had the Old Testament. So Orthodox Christians belive very much in the infallibility of the Bible, but also we believe in the infallibility and authority of the Church which cdoes come first my friend.
Christ is Risen
piercedear



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James Hernon

posted July 21, 2006 at 1:23 am


This is for those people who believe that Luther,Zwingli and Calvin didnt believe in the Perpetual Virginity of Holy Mary.
It is an article of faith that Mary is Mother of the Lord and still a virgin… Christ, we believe, came forth from a womb left perfectly intact. – Martin Luther (1483-1546),
(Weimer’s The Works of Luther, English translation by Pelikan, Concordia, St. Louis, v. 11, pp. 319-320; v. 6. p. 510.)
I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin. – Swiss reformer Huldreich Zwingli (1484-1531)
(Zwingli Opera, Corpus Reformatorum, Berlin, 1905, v. 1, p. 424.)
Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ’s ‘brothers’ are sometimes mentioned. – John Calvin (1509-1564)
(Harmony of Matthew, Mark & Luke, sec. 39 (Geneva, 1562), vol. 2 / From Calvin’s Commentaries.)
Now why are Catholics singled out for wrong doctrine on a matter that is quite open to interpretation? Modern day evangelicals and Protestants would do well because they are damming Catholics and their own Church reformers by saying this thing because in the manner in which you judge so shall you be judged.
Protestants didnt always believe that Mary had other Kids so watch out, because your only learning your Bible Book. The Church has been teaching that Book for centuries before the Modern day Protestants/Evangelicals ever got their hands on it.



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piercedear

posted July 22, 2006 at 1:17 pm


Absolutely James. It’s very interesting that Martin Luther himself had a profound respect and veneration for the Theotokos as well as John Calvin. Thanks for the added info on Zwingli and the source readings.
Christ is Risen



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