Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Do you believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary? 1

posted by xscot mcknight

Now before you click to the next blog, give this question some thought. The traditional viewpoint of the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox is that Mary was a virgin when she conceived (called the virginal conception) and, after her marriage with Joseph, remained a virgin. Who says so? Have you ever considered this roll call of those who thought Mary remained a virgin?
2d Century text Protevangelium James
Origen, Commentary on Matthew 10:17
Athanasius, Virginity, can’t locate reference in my NPNF text. [Added: Discourses Against the Arians 2.70.]
Augustine, Nature and Grace, 36.42.
Martin Luther, Works, 22.23.
John Calvin, NT Commentary on Synoptics, at Matthew 12:46-50.
John Wesley, in A.C. Coulter, John Wesley, 495
In text-critical terms, belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity is early, widespread, and found in every major tradition of the Church. One might say it was the universal faith of the Church, apart from rare exceptions, until the post-Reformation era.
Mary’s perpetual virginity was opposed by Tertullian and Helvidius. Tomorrow I’ll begin to look at the major biblical texts that are at the center of this discussion. Most evangelical commentators snarl at the suggestion that Mary was perpetually virgin.
Where are you on this one?



Advertisement
Comments read comments(59)
post a comment
shari brown

posted June 12, 2006 at 6:09 am


I have never considered otherwise. Many of the lessons I was taught at a young age seem unquestionable, especially if it came from a nun. I do not know how I feel, except uneducated. Looking forward to studying this more.



report abuse
 

Duane Young

posted June 12, 2006 at 6:14 am


With Jesus having brothers and sisters for whom there is no similar claim of virginal conception one is left with a screaming conclusion that perpetual virginity is an impossibility–unless non of those brothers and sisters were biological brothers or sisters, at least through Mary. Would Joseph have sired such children with another woman? Surely doubtful.
I wait your explanation of the claim of these other persons and institutions. And why is it compelling to make such a claim? Is there a claim for an intrinsic value for Mary to retain such “purity?” Or were such claims just hung on old sensibilities?



report abuse
 

Jamie Arpin-Ricci

posted June 12, 2006 at 6:27 am


It seems to me that, given the culture, it would have been indelicate to ask, so I would be amused to consider how these writers came to this conclusion. However, that isn’t the point.
With Joseph out of the Biblical narrative so early, one might assume that he was an older man, thus not unlikely that he was widowed, having children by a first wife. It was common enough that it would not have merited a mention.
Further, from my understanding, in Jewish tradition, it was not uncommon for first cousins to refer to each other as brother or sister. This might also lend an explanation.
However, in the end, it seems to me that the use of the idea in (some of the) early writings seemed too intentionally a device. I would still hold to the belief that Mary did not maintain her virginity, though it is certainly not a hill I’d die on.
Peace,
Jamie



report abuse
 

Jim D.

posted June 12, 2006 at 7:02 am


My feet are squarely planted in the Protestant tradition of the non-perpetual virginity of Mary. It has been a view that I have never questioned, until I read Anne Rice’s work, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt. Rice develops the story of Mary’s perpetual virginity from Joseph’s standpoint rather than from some view that Mary was “holier than thou.” If I can recall correctly, Joseph asks in essence, “How can I ‘touch’ someone who has given birth to the Son of God?” From that standpoint, I guess perpetual virginity takes on a more “human” explanation. Given that Joseph could have very well fathered Jesus ‘brothers and sisters’ in a previous marriage, I don’t have too much of a problem with the idea. Either way, my faith does not stand or fall on the concept.



report abuse
 

brainwaves

posted June 12, 2006 at 7:03 am


My own thoughts are as to why it makes a difference one way or another? I’m in agreement with Jamie’s last sentence above….



report abuse
 

Kent

posted June 12, 2006 at 7:32 am


Jesus had brothers – so the answer is she did not maintain her virginity.



report abuse
 

pilgrimscrybe

posted June 12, 2006 at 7:34 am


Like Jim D. I too held pretty much to the idea on nonperpetual virginity (though, from Scot’s list above, it sounds like that’s probably a recent Protestant idea, at least in popularity?), and reading Rice’s book opened me to entertain various possibilities. In addition to Joseph’s reaction, Rice suggests (I’m assuming from traditions or ideas she discovered during her research as she’s an incredible researcher no matter what you think of her writing) that Jesus’ brothers and sisters are the result of 1) a child by a previous marriage (James) and 2) taking relatives’ children into their family after the death of a parent(s). For me, that opened up a probable reason for perpetual virginity, especially in that culture (if Rice is correct in her research). As you can see, however, my thoughts are swayed more by pop culture than scholarly reading, so I’m looking forward to your discussion, Scot. Blessings.



report abuse
 

D. P.

posted June 12, 2006 at 7:41 am


I find myself leaning more toward affirming Mary’s perpetual virginity than I ever thought I would. It doesn’t affect my theology one way or another (that I can tell), but it is hard to argue against Luther, Calvin, AND Wesley.



report abuse
 

John Frye

posted June 12, 2006 at 7:49 am


Scot,
This is new to me…to contemplate the reasons for the perpetual virginity of Mary. My theological background was strongly biased against RC theology so I accepted the conventional evangelical view that Jesus’ brothers and sisters were Mary’s offspring. Apparently the politics of theology I was formed in never allowed for the “list” of proponents you mentioned in the post–including Augustine?!, Luther?!, Calvin?!, Wesley?! Yikes!



report abuse
 

T

posted June 12, 2006 at 8:18 am


I like what Jim D. had to say. And I am impressed and surprised by the role call. (They don’t teach you that in Lutheran or Baptist sunday school!) But I think I’m even more indifferent than ignorant on this one. I’m fine with someone showing me that it’s true and/or believing it themselves, but I’d be even more interested in why it matters, theologically and/or practically speaking, especially given the thin biblical attention.



report abuse
 

John Lunt

posted June 12, 2006 at 8:33 am


I believed strongly that Mary was not a life long virgin. I decided to check out the text – yes I am a bible literalist.
Matthew 1: 24-25
24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.[e] And he called His name JESUS.
As I understand it – it was only until the birth of Jesus that Mary was a virgin.



report abuse
 

makeesha

posted June 12, 2006 at 8:36 am


I’ve studied this issue and had many conversations with my non protestant friends. I personally still stand firmly in my protestant beliefs but I will acknowledge, due to historical beliefs of the Church which I do take seriously and hold dear, that I very well could be wrong. Frankly, I don’t find it an important issue in my faith or Christianity in general but it’s always an interesting topic of discussion.



report abuse
 

RJS

posted June 12, 2006 at 9:13 am


I don’t think that Mary remained a virgin, but it is not a make or break issue.
However, in light of the discussions arising from the DaVinci Code and the gnostic texts etc. it seems to me that preoccupation with the perpetual virginity of Mary is a real problem. This may be one place where the historical church has succumbed to temptation to deny the worth of being truly human.



report abuse
 

Aaron J. Smith

posted June 12, 2006 at 9:24 am


What about James the brother of Jesus (traditionaly the author of the Letter of James) and the brothers emntioned in Matthew 12:46-50? These seem to point to the fact that Mary and Joseph did indeed consumate there union, and that they did in fact have other children.
I have thought alot about the perpetual virginity of Maary, and I know that alot of Chirch tradition has embraced this view, but it just doesn’t make sence to me. I am looking forward to looking at this topic in a bit more depth.



report abuse
 

aly hawkins

posted June 12, 2006 at 10:18 am


I’ll echo RJS’s concern about the historical church using the doctrine of perpetual virginity to deny the worth of being truly human, though I’m not firmly in one camp or the other when it comes to Mary’s perpetual virginity. As a woman who grieves the historical church’s track record when it comes to the treatment and value of women (on one extreme, women are “easily deceived” and intellectually and spiritually inferior; on the other extreme, women are valued and even revered for all the wrong reasons, i.e., Marianism in Latin America), I’m nervous about the implication of Mary’s perpetual virginity: sex defiles that which is holy, especially if you’re a chick. I think we can see the outworkings of that implication even in our Protestant North American culture: if you’re a guy and you like sex, you’re normal, virile and powerful; if you’re a woman and you like sex, you’re an atypical slut and nymphomaniac. I suggest that the idea of Mary’s perpetual virginity has contributed to this double standard.



report abuse
 

Phil

posted June 12, 2006 at 10:36 am


Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul mention Jesus’ brothers in two passages each [Matt. 12:46-50 (par. Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21); Matt. 13:55-56 (par. Mark 6:3); John 2:12; John 7:3-5; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19].
None of these NT authors mention that what they mean by “brothers” is “cousins” or “stepbrothers.” In other words, none of them are interested in lending support to a doctrine of the “Perpetual Virginity of Mary.”
The New Testament writers could hardly have been clearer about the meaning they intended. If they had believed in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, at least one of the authors could have offered a parenthetical note such as “(by ‘brothers’, I really mean ‘cousins’).”
BTW: The reference for Athanasius is Discourses Against the Arians 2.70.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted June 12, 2006 at 11:13 am


Phil,
We’ll get there.



report abuse
 

Ted Gossard

posted June 12, 2006 at 11:22 am


Interesting.
This brings me to the question: In interpreting Scripture, must we always (or generally?) be in sync with the Church, in its general interpretation of a subject that may not be exegetically demonstrable. This question is with reference to subjects like this one, which evidently cannot be exegetically proven, one way or another (related to a recent posting of mine: “rest” on which you commented, Scot- so that, though there- a Sabbath day of rest and worship is not exegetically mandated in the NT on Christians, yet because the Church believed in and practiced such a day, we should follow).
As for me, I don’t buy into the perpetual virginity of Mary. But I’m open to change on such a subject like this one (or sabbath).



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted June 12, 2006 at 11:41 am


Ted,
Your question is the big one we can’t address right here right now. I think my general view is that we are obliged, as catholic Christians, to give significant respect to the historic interpretations of the Church, but as Protestants always testing our beliefs by Scripture. This doesn’t provide an airtight procedure, but that’s what makes us Protestants. (As you and I are.)



report abuse
 

seth

posted June 12, 2006 at 11:55 am


Historically the Eastern church has believed that Joseph was much older than the Theotokos when he married her. he had children from his previous marriage and was a widower .



report abuse
 

Mike

posted June 12, 2006 at 11:59 am


I don’t hold the belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity, but it’s not one I’d get worked up about.



report abuse
 

Rob Van Engen

posted June 12, 2006 at 1:58 pm


Mat 1:25 He did not have marital relations with her until she had given birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.
I am wondering if this verse can explain away perpetual virginity or how it might be interpreted to endorse it?
Interesting topic.



report abuse
 

chad

posted June 12, 2006 at 3:04 pm


i’ve never considered this in great detail. it seems highly illogical to me, but i suppose i could be proven wrong. this is one of those claims that makes for an easy stereotype of “Mary worship”. i’m interested in the biblical texts you’re planning on looking at…



report abuse
 

Nick

posted June 12, 2006 at 4:24 pm


Any chance you’ll put out for us the quotes by Luther and Calvin on this issue? I would love to see those!



report abuse
 

Joel Richardson

posted June 12, 2006 at 4:29 pm


As a former Catholic, I always sneered when the idea of perpetual virginity was raised. Another goofy Catholic dogma I thought. But over the past few years, as my ecclesiology has changed, my pride has also given way to a certain measure of submission to the Church and her historical faith. As such, after hearing the best arguments for both sides, I have no reason to argue against Mary’s perpetual virginity, other than my own residual protestant pride.
Viva la Perpetual Virgin!



report abuse
 

J-Marie

posted June 12, 2006 at 5:11 pm


If the fact that Mary was a perpetual virgin was important, wouldn’t it have been part of the Nicene Creed? Or is it listed in some other less-known creed? Looking forward to this series.



report abuse
 

jvpastor

posted June 12, 2006 at 5:21 pm


I don’t usually comment here, but some of the comments seem to forget that the new testament rarely distinguishes between step-brothers, half-brothers, and full brothers.
The blanket statement that Jesus had brothers and sisters so Mary was not virgin is naive, and ignores tradition. The same tradition by the way that gives us the New Testament. Where is it in the NT that Jesus is referred to as the oldest of these siblings? If it is logical and obvious that Mary had other Children then why does Jesus give John the responsibility of watching out for her from the cross (John 19:26-27)? Should we turn to the Psalms and say obviously the Sun revolves around the earth the Psalmist clearly states that it rises in the East? Surely we are above a surface reading of the text.



report abuse
 

Doug Chaplin

posted June 12, 2006 at 5:46 pm


On the whole, I’m agnostic on the question, but note, contra the perpetual virginity of the BVM, the catholic John P Meier’s discussion in Vol 1 of A Marginal Jew (Ch 10) where he comes down on the side (speaking as an historian) that “the most probable opinion is that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were true siblings” (p331) and finds evidence that this view was “kept alive by at least some Church wrietrs up until the late 4th century” (p332). He sees near universal agreement on Mary’s perpetual virginity as a post-Nicene development.
I don’t think the NT itself rules any view in or out, but I would have to say that the growing suspicion of the body which is present at the same time the view emerges as universal doctrine, together with the shift in emphasis from “ante partum” to “post partum” to “in partu” does make me want to q



report abuse
 

Doug Chaplin

posted June 12, 2006 at 5:47 pm


On the whole, I’m agnostic on the question, but note, contra the perpetual virginity of the BVM, the catholic John P Meier’s discussion in Vol 1 of A Marginal Jew (Ch 10) where he comes down on the side (speaking as an historian) that “the most probable opinion is that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were true siblings” (p331) and finds evidence that this view was “kept alive by at least some Church wrietrs up until the late 4th century” (p332). He sees near universal agreement on Mary’s perpetual virginity as a post-Nicene development.
I don’t think the NT itself rules any view in or out, but I would have to say that the growing suspicion of the body which is present at the same time the view emerges as universal doctrine, together with the shift in emphasis from “ante partum” to “post partum” to “in partu” does make me suspicious of the motivational force behind the doctrine.



report abuse
 

+ Alan

posted June 12, 2006 at 6:39 pm


I must admit, Scot, you write so much it’s hard for me to keep up with, so I’m not always over here. Anyway, interesting topic for you to choose. Thanks for linking to me by the way.
I’d like to pick on one thing – a quote of yours in which you say, “but as Protestants always testing our beliefs by Scripture.” One might logically infer that a Catholic would not do this. I don’t think that’s very accurate. I’m not really sure that’s a fair description of what makes one Protestant. Just wanted to point that out. It might be relevant to the discussion.
On Mary’s perpetual virginity – I tend to lean toward the tradition you mentioned. Several people mentioned the Bible talking about Jesus’ siblings – someone has already said something about how this isn’t really helpful, as the word used and the culture in which it is used, is not clearly referring to siblings. So those passages, for one who is looking only at the Scriptures themselves, are not definitive.
Some others have mentioned certain “protestant pride” and issues of “prejudice” against the Roman Catholic Church and it’s doctrinal stances. This is admirable. Probably more common now than even a few years ago. In reality we’re not merely talking about one Church named after Rome who has held and taught this – it was, the whole Church for most of it’s history. There are a few other things in this arena that you might think about bringing up too.
This issue, well, the question you bring up here will probably bring to light some underlying issues which are definitely greater than the answer to this one doctrinal point – issues about how we develop our doctrine, how we do theology, where our definitions come from, etc. Pax vobiscum.



report abuse
 

Dennis Martin

posted June 12, 2006 at 7:30 pm


1. There is no smoking gun one way or another scripturally. This means that whether one endorses Our Lady’s perpetual virginity or not one is doing so on the basis of extra-scriptural interpretation.
2. Those who claim to work primarily from scripture ought first to do their basic word-study exegesis. Scot will undoubtedly address this, but it is my understanding (I do not have Greek and thus am dependent on those who have done the basic historical-grammatical exegesis) that the Greek in both the case of the “until” (until she brought forth her first-born son) and the “brothers” not only can support the perpetual virginity reading (even in English “he did not do this until X point in time” does not have to mean that after point X in time he did do it) but at least in the case of the “brothers” the majority of usages in Scripture supports cousins/kinsmen/half-brothers rather than sons of the same mother. Correct me if I am wrong.
But the point is that those who, by their own admission have not given much thought to the issue, nonetheless readily assume that the simple and obvious meaning of these passages is that Mary had marital relations with Joseph after Jesus was born and gave birth to other children. The passages do not explicitly say that. This is a very good example of how both sides read a meaning out of scripture. We all do this all the time and we cannot do otherwise. Scripture often is not explicit about doctrine X or teaching Y.
Orthodox and Catholics by their own theology have always insisted that Scripture has to be interpreted. They do this because they go way back to the beginning and already in the early 2nd (if not the late 1st) century, Docetists and Gnostics were arguing their own case on the basis of Scripture–each side in these divisions quoted Scripture. Arius quoted all sorts of proof texts against Athanasius. The Orthodox and Catholics have this deeply embedded in their historical memory and that’s what their bishops are there for (they believe, of course, that Jesus set up this apostle-bishop system precisely because Scripture would need to be authoritatively interpreted if some degree of unity was to be maintained).
So, when the topic of Our Lady’s perpetual virginity is announced, my initial response is, well, there’s this Scripture and that Scripture interpreted in this network of other Scriptures combined with ancient traditions about Our Lady but also with common sense (the Anne Rice argument is an ancient, ancient one–what devout man who knows by angelic word that the woman he’s married to has become pregnant and born a child by the Holy Spirit would even think to “touch her”). It would never occur to me to approach the topic otherwise.
But most of those who responded expressing doubts (usually quite tentative, though some of them were expressed rather definitely, though often with the comment, “but it’s not a major issue for me”) or opposition to the belief that Mary remained a virgin did so by citing proof-text Scriptures, in nearly all cases assuming that the meaning of these Scripture passages was explicit and clear.
It’s that reflexive assumption that lies at the heart of a lot of Protestant-Catholic-Orthodox differences and, IMHO, it’s a reflexive thought that I would think precisely those who love the Bible and elevate it to highest authority might want to try to unlearn.



report abuse
 

Dennis Martin

posted June 12, 2006 at 7:44 pm


I should add that for the ancient Catholic and Orthodox pro-perpetual virginity exegesis one ought not go directly to Raymond Brown but ought to read him and other modern exegetes as well as classic Catholic exegesis like John McHugh, The Mother of Jesus in the New Testament. The old Catholic Encyclopedia (www.newadvent.org) is also a very good way to quickly get the classic Scripture exegesis on almost any topic.
Luigi Gambero has assembled two marvelous anthology volumes of the Fathers of the Church and medieval authors on the various topics relating to Mary. Both are in print from Ignatius Press and are must reading.
But the most important starting point now has to be John Paul II’s encyclical, Redemptoris Mater (available at the Vatican website, EWTN’s web site and a host of other places online). He comes at the issues from a deep Scriptural meditation, pointing out, for instance, that Mary’s faith was greater than that of Abraham, so, for those who live by sola fide, Mary is actually “their guy” (Our Lady, as we lik eto say). She is the first believer. Period. She simply is. She has to be because her consent was necessary (God won’t force himself on a woman; God made us with free will, to deny Mary her free will would make God a monster), so she had to be informed of the Plan and she believed it (after a query to the angel about how this could come about). So for those whose slogan is “The just shall live by faith,” Mary is the greatest human example. (Jesus, qua God, does not live by faith.) And that makes her the mother of the Church quite literally (if the Church is made up of all believers in Christ Incarnate, she’s the first of those).
And so on and so forth. I won’t try anyone’s patience any longer. I’m working up a course on Mary for the first time for me (we once had an internationally respected specialist in Marian theology in our department but since he retired, no one has taught anything on the topic so I volunteered to teach it even though it’s not my speciality).



report abuse
 

Dennis Martin

posted June 12, 2006 at 7:54 pm


Okay, I do have to address Doug Chaplin’s appeal to John P. Maier (who can stand in for Raymond Brown). Keep in mind that Maier’s book explicitly eschews any theological interpretation. He tries to use strictly historical-critical method. It cannot, simply cannot, resolve any issue in toto. And Maier knows that. So when he concludes “probably this” and “likely that” he is stating what the fragmentary historical record supports. But that cannot be adequate for any question in early church history and theology because the historical record is simply too fragmentary. Raymond Brown reached similar conclusions with regard to the perpetual virginity, following a similar method. Both men claimed to affirm the doctrine fully based on their theological adherence–they were doing a full bifurcation between theology and history. I don’t think that’s possible or wise, but that’s what they were doing. Therefore, any appeal to either of them on this topic needs to be asterisked and carefully qualified. Most readers of this blog won’t follow that same method, used, say, by Bultmann, when it reaches the conclusion that the belief that Jesus was God Incarnate was a 4th century development, now would the?
Roch Kereszty wrote a powerfully thought-out review of Maier’s book and method–even as historical method it is problematic–in the journal Communio (Kereszty, Roch, “Historical Research, Theological Inquiry, and the Reality of Jesus: Reflections on the Method of J. P. Meier,” Communio, 19, no. 4 [Winter, 1992], 576-600, that really ought to be considered in this regard.



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted June 12, 2006 at 8:27 pm


Dennis,
I assumed you’d weigh in on this one. Thanks.
Yes, I’ll get to the texts, and the two major ones really are only Mark 6 and Matt 1, though “firstborn” deserves some attention.
Brown and Meier are alike; I agree. And I agree with you that I’m not sure how they can say Mary had children in exegesis and affirm perpetual virginity (the papal encyclicals, etc) in their theology. This won’t work for most of us.
Gambero is good; everyone cites McHugh.
I’m reading Redemptoris Mater right now.
On Mary and faith, I’m happy to say she’s the first to believe in Jesus, but I think Paul would disagree with you on the place of Abraham. Faith, however, I’m not sure makes her the Mother of the Church.
I’m teaching a course on Mary next year, too. First time for me. Maybe we ought to switch classes for a day — it’d be pretty close for you!



report abuse
 

Len

posted June 12, 2006 at 10:43 pm


This should be fun to watch. At least you can’t say she was both. :-) Boring, traditional modern-day Protestant here who does not believe in Mary’s perpetual virginity.



report abuse
 

John Lunt

posted June 12, 2006 at 10:43 pm


Dennis, to your point
2. Those who claim to work primarily from scripture ought first to do their basic word-study exegesis. Scot will undoubtedly address this, but it is my understanding (I do not have Greek and thus am dependent on those who have done the basic historical-grammatical exegesis) that the Greek in both the case of the “until” (until she brought forth her first-born son) and the “brothers” not only can support the perpetual virginity reading (even in English “he did not do this until X point in time” does not have to mean that after point X in time he did do it)
You are right that just because the tex says he/she didn’t do something until x point in time does not have to mean that after point x he or she did it. I’ll agree to that. Then why put it in the text. Why not just say – he never knew her. It seems clear to me the writer intended it to say what it sounds like – he didn’t know her until that time. It seems particularly harsh that somehow she would withhold herself from her husband after that time. Would that have been the tradition of the day? Yes Jesus was unique and special. Mary was highly favored of the Lord, but she was still a girl – a human.
Scott, I assume in your work you will be discussing the concept of immaculate conception. I look forward to your thoughts on that as well.



report abuse
 

brett

posted June 13, 2006 at 3:58 am


The question has no importance, other than because a large section of the Christian Church believes that it is important. We are told that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born… whether this has any link to his sinlessness is shaky at best… miracles, by their very ‘nature’ are mysterious things… all we know is what we are told… there is no real harm in having our own theories, but this side of heaven, it’s unlikely we’re going to get to a satisfactory answer on this one!



report abuse
 

Dennis Martin

posted June 13, 2006 at 6:40 am


To John Lunt, “why put it in”? Because it is a statement about Jesus’s conception by a woman who was a virgin. That’s its clear referent. To use it as a proof-text against Mary’s perpetual virginity is exegetically wrong-headed on two counts: (1) its main referent is to the nature of the conception of Jesus and (2) the grammatical/word study evidence gives it no probative force regarding Mary’s perpetual virginity anyway.
This is a good example of how easy it is already lean toward a position and then read Scripture texts as more telling on the point than they, examined in and of themselves, are.
I assume that that is why Scot wrote that this text has only relatively minor bearing on the perpetual virginity issue; it’s huge in regard to Jesus being born of a virgin.
To Brett: the question has importance because of the larger question of “eunuchs for the kingdom” (the legitimacy of consecrated virginity and freely chosen celibacy), the nature of marriage and sex within marriage and so forth. From ancient times the “philosopher’s life” etc. the idea that some choose either not to marry or even within marriage, to abstain for shorter or longer periods–Tobit, for instance has been common. Only during the last five centuries have some Christians even challenged it and then, in Luther’s case, it had to do with whether one should make binding vows or now.
It therefore also has to do with the nature of Mary’s vocation, mission. Those who believe in her perpetual virginity are saying that she consecrated herself to God in a special way because she had a for-all-times unique vocation–Theotokos. This has nothing to do with antipathy toward physical sexual relations and everything to do with vocation, consecration to God as Paul notes with regard to himself in 1 Cor 7.
As Scot noted, Calvin and Luther and Wesley all affirmed the perpetual virginity. Recall that Wesley remained unmarried for the sake of his vocation for many years (and married unhappily when he did so), recall that Oxford dons of his day and even Newman’s day were expected to be unmarried, recall that women were permitted to teach school as long as they did not marry even into the 20thc in America–the ancient idea that some tasks in life are not compatible with the huge commmitment and dedication that marriage and child-rearing entails–in that context, the idea that the woman given the mission of brearing God Incarnate might have a special kind of consecration to God does not seem so far-fetched.
That the matter is so unreflected upon by most Protestants tells us more about the loss of this concept of consecrated singleness in the wake of the polemics over monasticism, priestly celibacy etc. at the time of the Reformation. Even the Reformers did not go so far as to deny the perpetual virginity of Mary. They still lived in a world that accepted celibacy (vocational unmarriedness) and continence (abstinence from sexual relations for a higher purpose, which went with celibacy but could also occasionally be part of marriage) as options. In subsequent centuries (for reasons I won’t try to trace here) the idea of vocational continence/celibacy has faded from the horizon for many.
For those who have grown up without this option present in their frame of reference, basic historical/critical exegetical method requires that one try to think one’s way back into the worldview of the people at the time of Christ, an attitude toward marriage, celibacy and continence that lasted until fairly recently.



report abuse
 

brett

posted June 13, 2006 at 6:49 am


Thanks for that Dennis… just as well there are some clever people on this list :-)



report abuse
 

Dennis Martin

posted June 13, 2006 at 7:03 am


To complete the thought with regard to John Lunt’s arguments:
(1) it only seems harsh for her to withhold herself if she truly “withheld herself.” But you’ve taken something for granted here that reflects your assumptions, not the assumptions of those who favor the PV doctrine. You think of it as her unilateral withholding of herself, a selfish act. But that’s a loaded way of putting it. What if (as the PV tradition asserts), this was a mutual decision made freely by Joseph and Mary? That is the way the tradition of continence in marrige by mutual consent (which was required of bishops in the early church) functioned. It would be a sin for one spouse unilaterally to decide to be continent, as the NT clearly says. But to assume that this is what had to have happened if Mary remained a virgin perpetually is to assume something those who believe in PV do not assume.
(2) You also assume that to be continent, not to engage in marital relations makes one less than fully human, since you argue that Mary was also a girl, a human. That tells against the perpetual virginity doctrine only if one has already assumed that voluntary continence within marriage is somehow less than human, less than normal, pathological. But is it? That’s the question. It may well be true that continence within marriage was not a common concept for Jews of Mary’s day (vocational non-marriage was a concept, including for apocalyptic Qumran types, unless I am mistaken) but it was not unknown–Tobit as well as the requirement that married Jewish priests abstain temporarily when their time in rotation for service in the Temple was at hand; allusions in the NT about abstaining from relations for sake of prayer, which is an endorsement of the Tobit and levitical continence approach. The perpetual virginity doctrine simply extends the limited continence for a higher purpose found in the Tobit-trajectory to Mary’s entire life. That’s a huge upping of the ante, but God becoming incarnate was a gargantuan upping of the ante for Jews who believed in a wholly transcendent Creator God. So in that sense, the PV doctrine “fits” well with the stupendousness of the Happening. It is then mirrored in early Church practice regarding married priests/bishops.
These are the sorts of historical facts about the Jewish world of Mary’s day that an exegete needs to take into account. They help make the extremely widespread and long-lasting support for the PV doctrine understandable and anything but odd.
And that long-lasting support, crossing Protestant-Catholic boundaries, ought really to cause those who have never really reflected on the topic pause, think, reflect rather than react spontaneously: well, it’s not important except for the fact that so many people in the Christian faith have for 1800 years believed in it. The “except” here speaks volumes. To react with “it doesn’t really matter except” is really quite illuminating with regard to the way in which evangelical Protestants have lost contact with vast swathes of Christian history and tradition.
I certainly can empathize with a spontaneous reaction, “well, it’s not that important.” But once it has been pointed out how long-lasting and widespread the belief in this doctrine was, I would think that a non-spontaneous, thoughtful response would be, “wow, maybe the doctrine is actually true and how wonderful it is that I can now learn this and reconnect with this huge, to me thus-far unknown, swathe of my heritage.”
To me these questions of fundamental attitude toward the Great Tradition of the Christian past and the exegetical matters I raised earlier (revealing how unreflective and pre-judging a lot of sola scriptura proof-texting spontaneous responses often are) constitute the really important matters raised by the PV doctrine, not the specifics about why those who believe in PV believe it.



report abuse
 

tm

posted June 13, 2006 at 8:57 am


Dennis, you cannot know how thoroughly your last paragraph clarified issues for me. Your long, frankly tiresome, responses attempting to meet every point of arguments are not really your point at all. It is Protestant bashing, especially around the issues of tradition and ecclesiology. I understand your desire to bash, I feel the same thing as a Protestant at times. But I do not appreciate it from you anymore (a little self-criticism every once in awhile demonstrates a bit of humility). This discussion is about the perpetual virginity of Mary its basis in Scripture and uses and abuses through history (and by the way whatever Luther and Calvin said about Mary their view of the Catholic understanding of celibacy was downright derisive). We appreciate the straight, uncritical Catholic line – now cut the self-righteousness and reflect a little on the problems this tradition has caused in the Church’s history. Or has it all been roses?



report abuse
 

Scot McKnight

posted June 13, 2006 at 9:03 am


tm,
This is a little harsh for this blog. Personally, I’m not sure which paragraph you are talking about. This one?
To me these questions of fundamental attitude toward the Great Tradition of the Christian past and the exegetical matters I raised earlier (revealing how unreflective and pre-judging a lot of sola scriptura proof-texting spontaneous responses often are) constitute the really important matters raised by the PV doctrine, not the specifics about why those who believe in PV believe it.
This was Dennis’ last paragraph. I don’t see what you are seeing here. Can you clarify a little more, and without some of the personal accusation? Dennis is a robust defender of the RCC, and a convert as well, but frankly I don’t see the “self-righteousness”. And the final comment is too sarcastic.



report abuse
 

tm

posted June 13, 2006 at 11:00 am


Scot & Dennis, I apologize for the tone. This may sound like sarcasm too, but now that I know Dennis is a convert I understand his posts and tone better. The last paragraph was remarkable to me in that he had moved from a narrow discussion of Mary’s perpetual virginity to an attack on sola-scriptura and the Protestant lack of understanding of Tradition. It makes sense from his elaborate argument and point of view, but hardly felt a central point of the discussion being had here (and this is a feeling I have gotten reading other of his posts as well – meaning many of his posts end on those same themes). So I generalized, not wishing to get into a point by point with Dennis, as I have not the time, patience, or expertise. What the sarcasm sought was reflection on the result of the doctrine in history (something previous posts have inquired about, especially regarding women) and not an elaborate defense of the doctrine that includes side attacks on Protestant ignorance (which is easy enough to prove in myriad ways).



report abuse
 

+ Alan

posted June 13, 2006 at 1:00 pm


I’ll sort of refer to myself as having “prophesied” that the discussion of this one issue, the perpetual virginity of Mary, would lead to other underlying issues. In a discussion like this, tm, There’s no real way to get around those things – the larger issues. If we really open it up, as Scot seems to have invited and Dennis and others seem to have jumped on, a discussion like this will necessarily lead to issues of Scripture and Tradition, ecclesiastical authority, etc.
The matter logically moves to how we go about getting our knowledge, our answers. So, unless we want to trim the participants down to only one sector of Christianity who all share the same methods and definitions, the wrestling with things underneath Mary’s virginity will have to be done.



report abuse
 

Aimee

posted June 13, 2006 at 2:49 pm


I think Roman Catholic teachings (and Orthodox, as I think they are very close to each other) about Mary are beautiful, and are ultimately about Christ. Mary’s perpetual virginity has to do with the fact that she is considered the new Ark of the Covenant, the new Covenant of Christ. The old ark was considered so holy, not because of what it was made of but because of what it held, that anyone who touched it was struck dead. It contained the tablets of the law.
The new Ark contained not tablets of stone, but the living God, whom Mary bore to us. In the Catholic view, that makes Mary infinitely more holy than the untouchable ark. Not divine – she’s revered, not worshiped – but very holy. If the old ark was untouchable, what does that make Mary?
There is also biblical evidence in the old Hebrew wording of Luke, in the view of some bible scholars, that at the time the angel appeared to Mary she had already taken a vow of celibacy. If so, then perhaps Joseph, an older, mature man, wanted to marry her (it would be a type of celibate Nazarite marriage) precisely to take care of someone who, though young, demonstrated such a commitment to God. And because of her total commitment, she said yes to the impossible, and Christ came to us through her. Which would explain even more why he would want to put her away when he found out she was pregnant – he would have thought she had broken her vow!
The point is not a judgment against sex or childbearing, but a demonstration of the power of total commitment to God, which Mary maintained her whole life and which, because she is one of our elders in the faith, we can imitate each in our own way (we don’t have to be perpetual virgins to imitate Mary’s faith). Mary was, after all, the first Christian, the first one to believe that Christ had come.
Speaking personally, I think that in today’s world a little more emphasis on the value of virginity would do a world of good.
The biblical scholarship on Mary is very rich and deep, both NT and also typology from the OT. I think Protestants would be very enriched by a study of teachings regarding Mary. They’re not a threat to faith in Christ. I think they enlighten and enrich it – and they are very biblical, as I was surprised to find when I first started looking into them. And think of it this way: Without Mary, we wouldn’t even know Christ! In sense, we owe her our salvation, because she was the first to say yes to Christ. So we should be paying attention to her, and very grateful for her. We pay attention to others in the Bible and don’t consider them a threat to faith in Christ. So why would Mary be one?
My favorite teaching from the Catholic world: since Mary is the mother of Christ, of his human nature and human body, she is therefore in a spiritual sense the mother of the mystical Body of Christ, our spiritual mother. The Body is structured and each member has a part to play. Mary’s part is to be our mother, the mother of the communion of saints with whom we will be fully united in heaven. Catholicism (and Orthodoxy, I believe) holds that when Christ said to John from the cross, “Behold your mother,” he was speaking not only individually but universally, to all Christians. This is true of almost everything else in the Bible – everything has multiple layers of meaning. So why not also with Mary? To me, that is an enhancement of my faith, not a contradiction.
Also: there is no Hebrew word for “cousin.” The same word was used for both siblings and cousins. And if Jesus was an only child, then legally, according to Hebrew custom, his cousins would have been considered siblings.



report abuse
 

shari brown

posted June 14, 2006 at 12:05 am


Very timely discussion for me as I have just returned from my uncle’s wake. In regard to Dennis’ comment
And that long-lasting support, crossing Protestant-Catholic boundaries, ought really to cause those who have never really reflected on the topic pause, think, reflect rather than react spontaneously: well, it’s not important except for the fact that so many people in the Christian faith have for 1800 years believed in it. The “except” here speaks volumes,
And to be the Jesus that the world needs we are challenged to be well educated, compassionate and loving in our living out the Gospel. My family does not really care about my stance on the perpetual virginity issue, but they do care about my stance about them. I found comfort and relationship in praying the rosary tonight.
shari



report abuse
 

John Lunt

posted June 14, 2006 at 12:11 am


Dennis,
Thanks for your response. I may respond to more of it later, but it’s late and there was one point I wanted to address now.
“And that long-lasting support, crossing Protestant-Catholic boundaries, ought really to cause those who have never really reflected on the topic pause, think, reflect rather than react spontaneously: well, it’s not important except for the fact that so many people in the Christian faith have for 1800 years believed in it. The “except” here speaks volumes. To react with “it doesn’t really matter except” is really quite illuminating with regard to the way in which evangelical Protestants have lost contact with vast swathes of Christian history and tradition.”
It’s fine to have people of faith believing something for 1800 years. It’s a nice tradition. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. I am more interested in what Christians, specifially the writers of the New Testament had to say about it 2000 years ago. It’s true, I am skeptical of tradition. I have seen too many people hurt by tradition. It seems to me Jesus had something to say about the traditions of the elders as well in Matthew 15 and Mark 7.



report abuse
 

John Lunt

posted June 14, 2006 at 6:04 am


I didn’t finish my thought on the previous comment. I said it was late.
I don’t hold to tradition as being particularly valuable. As I pointed out Jesus speaks of the traditions of men. To be fair we protestants are just as bad as anyone else when it comes to tradition – and I believe the Lord has trying to get past many of those traditions as well. As for the fact that Christians -even if a majority of Christians believed in PV for 1800 years – as Scott has pointed out, the view was definitely not universal. For me – it really isn’t that important. If someone can show me through the text that PV is true – I could be open to it. So far in the comments that hasn’t happened. Regardless, it is not a test of fellowship to me. It’s a non-essential. That’s why I treat it as essentially not very important. If it had been essential, I think the scriptures would have reflected that.



report abuse
 

Dennis Martin

posted June 14, 2006 at 8:19 am


To John Lunt: it was about as close to universal as any belief held by Christians ever has been. Half the Church took the Arian side in the mid-4th century, yet you have no trouble believing that Jesus was fully God, fully man. The exceptions Scot cited are Helvidius and Tertullian(both of whom were known for taking extreme positions contrary to the mainstream). That makes it just about as universal as it gets–the two main 16thc Protestant Reformers, the key figure in the rise of Evangelicalism (Wesley) plus Catholic andOrthodox agree. It just doesn’t get more universal than that.
The ease with which a person can dismiss this kind of consensus, without a clear Scriptural warrant is breathtaking. Much of my, in TM’s view “tiresome” postings were trying to show that what seemed instantly clear Scripturally to those who spontaneously reject the perpetual virginity is, when looked at carefully on a purely grammmatical-historical basis (the approach that I assume you and TM and others who reject the PV doctrine claim to follow) simply is not stated explicitly by the text.
You seem to have missed my point when you ask for clear text evidence in support of PV. As with so many other matters, the Bible is not explicit one way or the other. One has to make one’s decision, whether one favors PV or not, on extra-scriptural basis, which involves employing other Scriptures together with what we know of the times as well as the Church’s tradition to reach a conclusion.
Your conclusion: I won’t believe in the PV unless someone gives me pro-PV “smoking gun” text cuts both ways. Where is your anti-PV smoking gun text? The supposed prooftexts cited early on this thread simply do not prove what those who advanced them claimed they prove.
We have to decide this issue taking into account evidence other than explicit Scripture proof-texts. That’s where the 1800 years of across-the-board consensus comes in.
To TM: I bashed no Protestant. The point here is that three of the most important Protestant leaders of the last 500 years were pro-PV. What I criticized was the ostrich-like desire to ignore the fact that 3 such Protestant leaders agreed with Catholics and Orthodox on this point and the unreflected rejection of 1800 years of consensus based on very poor exegesis of two or three supposed prooftexts. The sloppy thinking that I pointed out was not Protestant thinking per se but the sloppyness of contemporary Evangelicals that Mark Noll, for instance, criticized in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
When TM dismisses me as a Protestant-basher rather than address the, to him “tiresome” evidence I offered, he indulged in what is called an ad hominem evasion of the issues.



report abuse
 

Dennis Martin

posted June 14, 2006 at 8:44 am


Scot (I guess this thread is still active, so I’ll reply here to your comments made on this thread, even though you’ve introduced two more recent ones):
You wrote in response to me: “On Mary and faith, I’m happy to say she’s the first to believe in Jesus, but I think Paul would disagree with you on the place of Abraham. Faith, however, I’m not sure makes her the Mother of the Church.”
Paul does not really have the final word here. In his riff on Abraham in Romans he’s not deciding once and for all between Mary and Abraham as champeen faith-doer. He’s employing Abraham as an OT type and making a point about faith. Jesus endorses Mary’s “faith-in-action” in Luke 11 and the Gospel writers make it very clear that she acted in faith.
By elevating Mary’s faith above Abraham’s I do not denigrate Abraham’s and thus do not oppose Paul. I make, instead, a larger theological point that the Church made later (after Nestorius’s challenge), one that was not on the horizon when Paul wrote Romans. (Notice how we are dumped immediately into the question of development of doctrine and the role of Scripture vis-a-vis later development.) But to say that Mary being the first believer in the Incarnation (Abraham was not a believer in the Incarnation and cannot have been one), which is a simple fact, makes here the mother of the Church. Had she been a man she would have been by the same token the father of the Church. Abraham is the father of the people of Israel, the father of the First Covenant people. Mary is the mother of the New Covenant people. She has to be. That there is no “father of the New Covenant” people stems from the stupendous factual reality of the way God chose to save us: Incarnation, which required a woman, not a man. But it could not take place without faith, just as the establishing of the First Covenant with Abraham could not have taken place without faith.
If the New Covenant is set in motion by Mary’s faith (faith responding to God’s utterly grace-sovereign initiative); and if the New Covenant is greater than the Old Covenant, fulfilling it; and if the New Covenant is the origin of the Church as the mystical Body of Christ; and if membership in the mystical Body of Christ, the Church, is by faith in Christ who is God Incarnate the Redeemer of the cosmos
then the initium of all that came when Mary said yes to Gabriel, acting as God’s agent offering her a proposal of espousal, asking her to become the Mother of the Word Incarnate.
Paul is addressing none of this in Romans 4 and 5 so there’s really little value in citing Paul as an authority for being hesitant to accept that Mary’s faith makes her mother of the Church.
Mary’s faith is active in works–she says yes, believes the incredible Plan God has just announced to her, and then acts, does–carries the Word under her heart for 9 months, births Him, feeds Him, diapers Him, raises Him and ponders all this in her heart. These are the actions of a faith-filled woman who surpasses Abraham because the stakes involved have been raised to a level Abraham could never even have imagined.
All of that is telling even apart from the question of Mary’s sinlessness. Abraham doubted at various points, even after the Covenant. Those of us who believe in Mary’s sinlessness (for which there was a consensus across Protestant-Catholic-Orthodox lines similar to that on the PV) believe that she never doubted, as attested by her standing at the foot of the cross–surely the point at which she would have doubted if she ever doubted that her Son was the Savior of her people. If she never doubted, then her faith is greater than Abraham’s on two counts: (1) the stakes were infinitely greater and (2) he doubted, she did not.
But (1) is based on simple Scripture facts–if Luke 1 is true, then Mary’s faith as greater than Abraham’s and her being the first believer and thus mother of the Church follows from Lk 1 theologically. (2) is not resolved, one way or another in Scripture (no smoking-gun passage of Scripture shows her sinning, whereas OT Scriptures do show Abraham doing so) and those who believe in her sinlessness as well as those who do not do so on the basis of interpretation of Scripture (those who believe in her sinlessness use the the “full of grace” passage in Lk, the theological fittingness argument of the New Eve etc.; those who do not do a logical argument based on “all have sinned” in Rom. 3–does it admit of a singular exception for a unique Event in history or not? plus, for Chrysostom, her visit to her Son while he was teaching–which exegetically I find very weak as an evidence that she doubted her Son–the passage says nothing about why she came to see him).
That Mary is mother of the Church seems to me to be very solidly founded on the facts of Lk 1, even apart frmo the sinlessness issue.
I just don’t know how one can get around the fact that the first believer in Christ as God Incarnate would be the mother/father of the Church of believers in Christ as God Incarnate. Since she was a mother rather than a father, it seems obvious that she deserves the title.
Now, exactly what follows from the fact that she is the mother of the Church, well, that’s a topic for another day and another thread.



report abuse
 

John Lunt

posted June 14, 2006 at 8:47 am


Dennis,
You’re right that the “smoking gun” text cuts both ways. You missed my point. As I said it’s not a test of fellowship with me. I am skeptical of tradition, which I have stated. Yes, I do tend to dismiss tradition out of hand – tradition has been abused. Jesus made that very clear when he told the pharisees that the traditions of men made the Word of God of none effect. If I have to choose the Word of God or tradition. I’ll go with the Word of God. Since there is nothing specifically that you or the other PV proponenets have pointed to in the Word of God which even suggest PV – then I will stand where I am. If you choose to believe otherwise – fine. But I’m not impressed by the fact that the Roman Catholic church or any of the “orthodox” churches believe it. They have a lot of other traditions I disagree with as well. You mention having no problem in believing Jesus was fully God and fully man. That’s a different point. My view on that was not formed by tradition, but by text. Scripture refers to him as “the man Christ Jesus” – John 1 make it clear that he is the word made flesh. We know that he is referred to as Emmanuel – God with Us. If there can be that kind of case made for PV – hey I’ll listen.



report abuse
 

Dennis Martin

posted June 14, 2006 at 9:52 am


John,
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?
You posit a sharp dichotomy between Scripture and tradition, dismiss tradition because of abuse of tradition–that’s the fallacy of abusus non tollit usum–throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s also remarkably poor exegesis of Jesus’s comments on the Pharisees. On purely scriptural grounds you are wrong because Jesus makes clear that the Pharisees are false-traditioners, abusers. To use that passage to say that all traditions are doubtful is, even on your grounds of sola scriptura, unwise.
I very much doubt that you limit yourself in the theology that undergirds your daily Christian life only to things that are explicitly taught like the Incarnation. I assume that you favor either infant baptism or adult baptism. Neither meets your scriptural smoking-gun criterion. You either believe in the Eucharist as the real, substantial, corporal Body of Christ or you believe it is merely symbolically the Body of Christ or you believe one of the other major options (spiritual body, Calvin). But no matter which of these you believe, you do so not on the basis of explicit Scripture (because each of those positions claims explicit Scripture on its side) but on an interpretation of the meaning of Scriptures.
Moreover there is the Timothy passage that explicitly tells us to live by the traditions that have been taught (by the apostles)–your own scriptura nuda position is explicitly, smoking-gun refuted by Scripture itself.
If you could recognize that no one really operates sola scriptura nuda, that everyone employs various Scriptures combined with reasoning and with tradition to arrive at whatever they believe Scripture teaches, we could have a conversation. But you have set things up in this last post in such a way that I could never provide you with what you insist on. And I’m quite sure that you often accept far less as sufficiently probative but in this instance you insist on what you probably do not insist on in other areas, but you don’t see that you are inconsistent.
So it is unlikely that we can get to first base in any exchange, given your premises in this last posting.
Yours in Christian charity



report abuse
 

tm

posted June 15, 2006 at 9:34 am


Dennis, one of my dictionary’s definitions describes ad hominem as marked by an attack on an opponent’s character rather by an answer to his contention. I guess I accept that charge, because my original post was not about the perpetual virginity of Mary, of which I have expressed no opinion by the way, but about the character of your arguments. You claim they are not anti-Protestant. I think we can safely say they are at least anti-evangelical by your admission above (#49). I have to say using Mark Noll’s book as part of your argument is the kind of piling on of detail that frustrated me in my original post – the book was written with other matters in mind, especially related to American history, science, politics, eschatology and the university, and is not a simple argument that evangelicals are sloppy, and by implication ignorant, all around.
The context of the Protestant dismissal of the perpetual virginity of Mary is more than “very poor exegesis” and sloppy thinking. It came as part of the polemics that followed the Reformation. The original reformers vehemently denied the mediatorial role of Mary and claimed her instead chiefly as an example of faith, a very different understanding of Mary than what went before. Subsequent Protestant thinkers diminished her role more completely amid the religious struggles in Europe. Protestant animosity only increased after the rise of Marian devotion in the 19th century, as part of the Catholic response to modernity, and amid more modern Catholic arguments for Mary as mediator and redeemer along with Christ. If there is context for Scriptural and traditional assertions about Mary, there is also context in Protestant-Catholic animosity for the Protestant dismissal of traditional claims about Mary. As a result of the more general conflict rejection of tradition has often been central to Protestant identity, much to its detriment I would add. But the Catholic development of doctrine has not been a simple carrying forward of a pure tradition as Mary’s centrality has risen and fallen and risen again, devotional practices have started and stopped, and the church has articulated as doctrine what in the past was less stridently asserted. But that strays away from the argument for context in understanding Protestant dismissal’s of Mary and tradition. Implying your opponents are (or at least the evangelicals among them are) sloppy thinking, proof-texters, hardly seems gracious and ignores (or perpetuates) almost five hundred years of traditional, mutual antagonism.



report abuse
 

Dennis Martin

posted June 15, 2006 at 12:42 pm


TM, you respond by citing the reasons for Protestant opposition to veneration of Mary. But that’s not relevant at all here because the starting point was Scot’s noting that this was an issue on which both the leading 16thc Protestant Reformers and one of the fathers of Evangelicalism agreed. You seem to be the one who cannot let go of general antipathy toward veneration of Mary and, even when informed by your fellow Evangelical, Scot McKnight, that this issue does not follow conventional Protestant-Catholic lines, you insisted in your first response to my posting that generalized from PV only to general issues of exegesis on putting the thread onto a Catholic/anti-Protestant footing. Is it not possible for you to stay with the PV question (which includes the matter of the initial proof-texting response by some opponents)?
I stand by my claim that on this issue, those who respond with unreflective proof-texting exegesis are guilty of sloppy intellectual work. And I’m sorry, but Mark Noll is concerned about that just as much as I am. Where Evangelicals claim the Bible alone solves things while being inattentive to the fact that most of the prooftexts can be legitimately read as supporting the opposite side, they are sloppy. Where Catholics do that, they are sloppy. But on this issue, it was the supporters of PV who were aware of multiple ways of reading texts and the opponents who thought they could resolve the issue by citing prooftexts.



report abuse
 

tm

posted June 15, 2006 at 4:33 pm


Dennis, you cannot go and accuse me of wandering off topic (well you can but it will make me pout). That same accusation of you was part of the whole point of my original post. My last post attempted to provide some context, a word you have relied on, for Protestant responses to Catholic thought on Mary. I have looked up the three references to Mary in Luther, Calvin, and Wesley and I would not put much weight on them. The reason Protestants have forgotten them is that they are obscure and unconnected to the bulk and direction of each man’s thought. Pelikan finds Luther and Calvin affirming the PV of Mary in an effort to retain some grip on claims to tradition, which was important in their arguments with Catholics. At the same time each man denied most of what the Catholic church affirmed about Mary more broadly (hence my rehearsal of Prot thought on Mary more generally). Their subsequent followers lost any need to affirm PV because it supported no other necessary Protestant beliefs and smacked too much of Catholicism, and so they cut it free like a vestigal limb. Wesley, who also sought a connection with traditional Christian thought, affirms it in half a sentence when discussing the apostles creed, but then moves on and it hardly figures into his own conception of celibacy and ministry. Luther, agrees Mary was PV and that brothers probably means cousins, but asserts about the discussions, “Be that as it may, it matters little. It neither adds to nor distracts from faith.” (Works 22:215) Calvin, at least in the passage Scot notes, does not affirm PV directly, but indirectly by calling the brothers cousins. His broader discussion attacks Catholic understanding of Mary and places Mary at the human level, in need of God’s grace, “for it was of vastly greater importance to be regenerated by the Spirit of God than to conceive Christ.” Mary is here solely a human figure of faith and so her PV, affirmed out of tradition or for polemical purposes, is easy to drop in subsequent generations.
I make no claims about whether Protestant actions were right in this matter, but they are easy to understand in the context of history and Protestant tradition. That is the argument I am making in response to your accusations of proof-texting. The early reformers kept PV as an appeal to tradition, those after jettisoned it as useless for their Protestant faith. Just reading the Matthew passage as its written, “brothers,” hardly requires any elaborate conspiracy or intellectual deceipt. You might not like the interpretation, but it is a direct one (and so appeals to traditional Protestant affirmations of the perspicuity of Scripture – when its useful) and stands against Catholic tradition (appealing to the historical polemics). As an aside – would you always privelege “multiple ways of reading texts” versus a straight appeal to particular Scripture?
Finally, Noll’s point in Scandal is not that evangelicals are proof-texters (though he deplores their use of Scripture in talking about creation and eschatology). The scandal is the lack of intellectual depth in addressing the wider world. Evangelicalism is a “culture where intense, detailed, and precise efforts have been made to understand the Bible. It is not a culture where the same effort has been expended to understand the world or, even more important, the processes by which wisdom from Scripture should be brought into relation with knowledge about the world.” (14-15) Scripture usage is not the central problem in his argument, and he concludes by affirming while “evangelical attachment to Scripture may often by more totemic than intellectual, but attachment to Scripture is the place to begin…. To move from a broad to a deep reading of the Bible might be a hard thing, but picking up the book was even harder.” (250-51) For Noll, evangelical attachment to Scripture is the source of much hope in his goal to think like a Christian about the surrounding world.



report abuse
 

Dennis Martin

posted June 15, 2006 at 7:25 pm


TM, Did I write that it was Noll’s central concern? You keep introducing straw men. Prooftexting, simply reading into a text one’s own assumptions is intellectually weak and it certainly fits into the “concerns” of Scandal because it is part of exactly what you describe as the book’s central concern: failure to engage the wider world of scholarship.
But we’ll go round and round and round endlessly unless (until?) one of us decides to get off the carousel. For you PV is a Marian doctrine; Marian doctrines are to be rejected in principle by Protestants, so even where Calvin, Luther and Wesley endorsed this particular Marian doctrine, their endorsement “carries little weight” for you. To reexamine your premises is not something you wish to do and I am prepared, with respect, to leave you happy in your choices.



report abuse
 

tm

posted June 16, 2006 at 9:16 am


Dennis, I wish you great happiness in your choices as well. I think Scot has articulated why from the Biblical Studies side Prot thought has not been prooftexting (in this particular instance). I have tried to be clear that I am not actually articulating my own views, but explaining why Prots have found reason to deny the PV in the cultural and intellectual context of the times (and why Luther, Calvin, and Wesley affirmations have been so easily ignored). Peace to you.



report abuse
 

Dennis Martin

posted June 17, 2006 at 4:55 pm


But TM, Scot did not say that from Biblical Studies one must deny PV. He said the question is unresolved and PV could be true even though he himself does not accept it, but neither does he entirely rule it out. Please don’t enlist Scot’s conclusions in support of your position. I have no problem with Scot’s position–I agree that the biblical evidence by itself cannot resolve it. My quarrel with you is that you insist that it must be denied on biblical evidence alone.



report abuse
 

Don Pendergraft

posted July 21, 2006 at 4:21 pm


Absolutely! To do otherwise is to ignore tradition. While Protestants have no problem doing that, it should give pause to any who consider themselves to be Orthodox.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.