Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


This has been a stimulating

posted by xscot mcknight

This has been a stimulating week for me in looking at this age-old question: Was Mary perpetually virginal? Today I want to look at three pieces of biblical evidence on this question, sorting out what can be known from what can’t be known, and then drawing a conclusion.
As I mentioned Monday, even the magisterial Reformers seemed to believe that Mary was perpetually virgin. Calvin and Luther both called Helvidius a fool, and they learned their polemical barbs from a cast of characters like Jerome, and many, many of their followers continued this line of thinking. Francis Pieper, in his Christian Dogmatics(HT: John Glover), the standard Lutheran theology, offers what I’ll take to be a warning for each one of us — Helvidians, Epiphanians, and Hieronymians. Here it is: “But we must emphatically object when those who assume that Jesus had natural brothers pride themselves on their more delicate ‘exegetical conscience’ and disparage those who hold the opposite view. They certainly cannot prove their view from Scripture… . Decisive proof cannot be supplied even from the passages that mention ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ of Christ.” (308-309).
So, where do we go?
First, I suggest we go to the most significant piece of evidence: that the NT says Jesus had brothers and sisters. Now this language is used at:
1. Mark 3:31-35: “His mother and his brothers.”
2. Mark 6:1-6: “Is this not the ‘son of Mary’ and his brothers Yakov, Yosef, Yehudah, and Shimeon? Are not his sisters here with us?”
3. John 2:12: “he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples”. (Sisters stay back in Nazareth?)
4. John 7:3: “His brothers said to him…” 7:5: “For even his own brothers did not believe in him.”
5. Galatians 1:19: “save only James, the Lord’s brother.”
6. Acts 1:14: Mary “and with his brothers.”
On balance, if one is dealing with probabilities, the terms “brother” and “sister” would mean “blood-brother” or “blood-sister” unless there is evidence to the contrary. But, and this is frequently unnoticed by some interpreters of words, when dealing with individual words we can’t take the sweep of evidence (probability) and apply it to an individual case. What probability statistics would tell us that is that, if we had 100 pieces of evidence, the vast majority would mean “brother.” It does not mean that a singular case will mean “blood-brother” because most of the instances mean “blood-brother.” I hope you see this and know this fundamental principle of interpretation, and one that is regularly (oh-so regularly) violated.
Now yet one more consideration: others proceed in a manner that says “since brother does not have to mean blood-brother, then it may not in this case, and so must not in this case.” In other words, some demand certainty or necessity for “blood-brother” but do not demand certainty or necessity for “step-brother” or “relative.” Not fair. We do not do exegesis by demanding necessity. We have to weigh the evidence, sort out the problems, and render judgment as best as possible — indeed, in full conversation with the Church with (here I speak as a Protestant) emphasis on what the Bible says.
So, here’s my conclusion on “brothers and sisters”: I would say this term probably means blood-brother or blood-sister, but I can’t say for sure in these particular instances. There is, however, not a shred of evidence that it means “relatives”, unless one believes that one of the Marys of John 19 is Joseph’s sister who has kids named Yakov and Yosef, and those kids are the same as Mark 6:3′s Yakov and Yosef. I, for one, do not think this view impossible; but I think it very difficult to demonstrate that these two sets of names are the same kids and that we’ve got one Mary in 6:3 and that the mother of those two boys is a different Mary. I don’t say “impossible,” I say it is stretching it for me.
General procedural question: we can’t judge any piece of evidence, like “brothers and sisters,” until we’ve looked at all the considerations, and then we can combine our observations and suggestions into a more workable solution.
Second, I do think “firstborn” in Luke 2:7 is a little more serious than some have given it. It is true that “firstborn,” as Jerome spewed forth, need not require more siblings to make “firstborn” really mean “firstborn”. But, and I think we need to think about this fairly, is the “firstborn” of Luke 2:7 “Joseph’s” firstborn? If not, and some would say this because Luke 2:7 says “her firstborn,” making it possible that it was her firstborn but not Joseph’s firstborn (Epiphanius) ……. if Jesus is not Joseph’s firstborn, then we have a major problem in the geneaology of Matthew’s Gospel for there Joseph is the descendant of David and his Davidic connection renders Jesus a Davidic ancestor. If Joseph already had a firstborn from a previous marriage (Epiphanius), then that first son would have to be given the throne of David. Now, Jerome gets out of this one: in his view, brothers are cousins and Jesus is both Mary’s and Joseph’s firstborn. I’ve not heard many speak about this “firstborn” element, so I put this out for consideration, too.
So, where are we here: we have eliminated Epiphanius. So it seems to me. Helvidius and Jerome are possible, with the latter less probable than the former (as I see the evidence).
Third, what about “he had no union with her until she gave birth” in Matthew 1:25. This expression in Greek, heos hou, often implies a changed condition when the condition is met. (That is, “he did not know before birth but did after the birth.”) There are times when that condition is changed, but there are some instances when the condition does not change (thus, he would not have then known her). It is possible, then, from grammar, to argue that Joseph did not know her before the birth but did after the birth, and it is possible from grammar to argue that Joseph did not know her before birth and neither did he after the birth. It is not air-tight; Roman Catholics and Protestants simply need to admit this.
Some observations:
The OL and OS (Latin and Syriac manuscripts) omit this line. Why? Did they find it difficult for their theology and therefore omit it (harder reading)? Or did they not know it? Fr. R.E. Brown sees these two mss traditions as intentionally dropping it because it did not support perpetual virginity which those traditon believed in. In which case, we have early evidence of how this text was understood: as supporting sexual relations after Jesus’ birth. We should not give too much weight to these textual variants.
Some scholars contend that this expression (“until”), in a Jewish world, would not necessarily imply a changed condition after the conditions were met (in other words, it could support perpetual virginity). But, the text is in Greek and we should be looking to Greek precedent.
Before leaving this, I will add that I do think some early theologians, in their zeal for sexual celibacy and finding precedent and anchors, no doubt were led to exaggerate and pontificate. I see some of this in Jerome; I’ve seen it in others. I do not mean by this to suggest that celibacy was always a weird thing; it is clearly a vocation for some according to Jesus in Matthew 19:10-12. But, the zeal for celibacy and the theology that celibacy was more pure than marriage, which Jerome believed, influenced some of the exegesis and some of the theology. (HT: RJS for regularly putting this on the table this week; but HT: Dennis Martin for his warning that we need to be careful what we say about sexuality)
So, where are we? The NT evidence is not air-tight; anyone who thinks it is overstates the evidence. I think “brother” and “firstborn,” when combined, lean in the direction of marital relations of Mary and Joseph. I don’t think “until,” on its own, helps much. If combined with “brother” meaning “blood-brothers” and “firstborn” of Joseph being an issue, then “until” certainly would mean what Helvidius said it meant.
The only reason this debate arose is because this evidence is not air-tight.
However, Tertullian and Victorinus, whom I’ve not seen in this regard (and Jerome denies Helvidius’ claim to use Victorinus), and Helvidius each show that there were those in the early churches who did think Mary and Joseph had relations and that the “brothers and sisters” of Jesus were indeed blood-brothers and blood-sisters. It did not become the view of the Church, and I have respect for that and it influences my reading of the NT (but is not determinative, else I’d not be a Protestant).
Protestants should not be bothered if Mary and Joseph chose to remain virginal. Their decision would not be an attack on marriage or on sexuality. It would be a sacred vow of celibacy on their part, not because of their sainthood but because (and here we are guessing) they sensed an overwhelming awe at the majesty of what God chose Mary to do. Her body, in other words, became a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit for both of them. That’s how I’d see it from that perspective. I don’t think that view, however, is what we find in the NT.



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Rob Van Engen

posted June 16, 2006 at 5:32 am


The thought that has stuck in my mind the whole conversation is that Mary was the first believer (follower) in Jesus. I don’t remember what discussion Scot stated that in, but it made me aware as a Protestant that Mary could be called BLESSED for that as well as being the mother of Jesus.
Good discussion and wrap up. Thanks!



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Jim

posted June 16, 2006 at 6:42 am


No degree in theology here. Over 30 years in teaching Sunday school and 34 in a Pentecostal background while studying the Book help, but the language still gets a little over my head at times. Even so, the journey through this discussion has added knowledge that wasn’t there before. Some, it seems to me, got a little over-heated at the dinner table. Nonetheless, I appreciate the meal, your own manner, and the Spirit of Christ. Thanks, my friend……….



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John Frye

posted June 16, 2006 at 7:11 am


Scot,
You’re the only scholar I know who could turn the perpetual-virginity-of-Mary-issue into an intriguing mystery to solve and invite all of us as apprentice detectives to consider the clues and make possible solutions. Then in the end of the story, like Sherlock to Watson, you masterfully bring the clues together for a possible, but not bomb-proof certainty conclusion. I enjoyed this series immensely. Thanks!



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DAWN HUSNICK

posted June 16, 2006 at 7:31 am


Thanks Scot! As an Evangelical raised in a Catholic home, this series was very helpful in sorting through some of those old questions.



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Dennis Martin

posted June 16, 2006 at 8:23 am


Scot, I think you mean “continence” rather than “celibacy” in most instances. Celibacy means “unmarried”; what we are talking about here is continence within marriage.
You have reached a conclusion regarding the Scriptural evidence, a conclusion that the Scriptural evidence is unclear. This sidesteps the question of tradition and its authority in interpreting unclear Scriptural evidence.
One can of course leave things unresolved, but that means leaving it unresolved both ways, pro and contra PV.
Which then kicks it all back to the larger question: does it matter whether Mary remained a virgin. Most contributers to these threads tend toward the conclusion that it does not matter all that much. The tradition, however, early on, believed that it did matter and some of the Christological reasons for that have been discussed on these threads. It seems to me that that is where your unresolved conclusion leaves things: is this Marian doctrine (and this applies to all the others) important for Christological reasons or not. Or perhaps, to put it a bit more moderately: how important are these Marian doctrines Christologically.
That the first major dogmatic declaration about Mary comes precisely in the debate over Nestorius (or Nestorians) is not an accident. Newman points out that the Church for centuries had proclaimed belief in Mary Theotokos (for Christological reasons) long before it was defined dogmatically in response to the Antiochene schizoid Jesus proposal. The question of the exact nature of unity of the two natures is of earthshaking importance for a variety of reasons, e.g., the question of whether an unchanging God suffers or not. (I recommend Thomas Weinandy’s two books, Does God Suffer? and Does God Change?; the former has a very fine concise summary of Cyril and Nestorius and what the stakes were in their debate).
I do very much appreciate your work on these threads, Scot, even if I think the “brothers” matter tilts grammatically/exegetically more to the “kinsmen” side of things. My concluding statement would be a plea to those for whom these Marian doctrines are strange and foreign not to approach them with pre-judgments but to keep in mind that fundamentally, all of them have to do with Christology: if Jesus of Nazareth is who we Christians say he is, God-Incarnate, then what in the world does that imply about the woman who carried him in her womb, gave birth and raised him and in what way is her very humanness a necessary theological component of the great mysteries of his human and divine natures united in one person?
But to conclude that way is to conclude theologically rather than merely exegetically. And, in the end, I do believe exegesis is in the service of theology, as I assume you do as well. So the questions continue even as you conclude the exegetical aspect from your perspective.
Once more, I salute you for raising the issue.



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D. P.

posted June 16, 2006 at 8:52 am


Thank you for this enlightening series. You have strengthened my reservations about the Epiphanian theory (although if the James Ossuary turns out to be authentic after all, that may have to change!). Back before Christmas I postulated my pet theory that the “brothers” of Jesus were actually “cousins” (Jerome), but that this says nothing about Mary’s perpetual virginity one way or another.
What if Joseph and Mary were naturally infertile (like Zechariah and Elizabeth) and had no children after the miraculous birth of Jesus? If Mary had no further children, it certainly would have contributed to the rise of belief in her perpetual virginity, even if that were a misreading of the facts.
Once again, thanks for this series, and for your sober evaluation of the biblical evidence!



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Scot McKnight

posted June 16, 2006 at 9:36 am


Dennis,
Thanks for your thoughtful comment, which I’ll read a few more times as I get times today.
I agree that “Mary” is important christologically, and that she was human preserves the utter humanity of Jesus. So, as I see those christological debates, they had to do with Mary’s virginity and the virginal conception and that he was born “of” and not just “through” her. As I understand it, her perpetual virginity has nothing whatsoever to do with those christological debates — that is, his humanity is preserved (one person issue included, a “communion of natures” as well) because Mary was utterly human; his sinlessness, if we can include Ambrose, is secured by the virginal conception.
But, I can’t see that the perpetual virginity is connected either to his sinlessness or his humanity.



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Paul D.

posted June 16, 2006 at 9:38 am


Scot, Thanks for a great and important discussion. You provide a wonderful model for serious Orthodox-Roman Catholic-Evangelical (and other Protestant) dialogue.
Four questions/comments remain for me:
1) The argument re: firstborn: Even if Joseph had an older child, there are ample OT examples of the blessing passing over to a younger child — e.g. Jacob/Israel, Joseph, Solomon.
2) From the Cross Jesus gave to “the disciple whom he loved” the responsibility to care for his mother, Mary. (John 19:26-27) What would have been the legal or moral obligations of a full blood-brother in this regard? Does this lend any weight to inferring that Mary remained a virgin?
3) What are the implcations of (or what inferences can we draw) the silence of the rest of the NT, esp. Paul, on Mary?
4) Even so, “sola scriptura” leaves the question open, a mystery. The doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity, then, hangs on one’s systematic theology. Yet here, again, Christians can and have differed from very early on, as you have shown. I would even contend that the differing theologies make equally valid points, but speak as “comparing apples and oranges”. In learning to listen to and appreciate other perspectives within orthodox faith, we are all enriched.
Praise God for the mystery! Ephesians 5:32; Romans 12:33-36



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Scot McKnight

posted June 16, 2006 at 10:02 am


Paul D.,
Thanks for your comment.
First, “blessing” is a little different than “inheritance,” but as I said I’m not absolutely convinced of this point but I do think it should be taken seriously.
Second, John 19 is not clear enough to make anything of. I can be explained in several ways, not the least of which is that the brothers of Jesus were not there or were not yet believers (John 7). They are present in Acts 1:14, and as believers at that point. Since I leave it open as a genuine possibility that the resurrection persuaded them who Jesus was, then I can’t make anything of John 19′s committal of Mary to John.
Third, nothing should be drawn from silence; it’s a hazardous way to think.
Fourth, sola scriptura, if understood properly, does leave us with some unknowns. We have to think, and we have to think theologically. We won’t come to unanimity, that’s for sure. Which means the magisterial decisions to make PV infallible troubles the Protestant mind.



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Dennis Martin

posted June 16, 2006 at 10:11 am


I was not clear, Scot (in an effort not to be tiresome). Mary is important Christologically both for the humanity and divintiy of Jesus, for both natures. Buried in one of my tiresome postings on one of the other threads is a discussion of whether Mary (and Joseph) understood that her Son was God Incarnate or not. If they did, then the PV (Joseph not touching her, Mary’s consecration totally to God) makes sense, fits. In other words, how much of her mission of Theotokos did Mary understand?
That Mary was Theotokos, not merely a regular old gal who was the mother of something less than God Incarnate, one person/two natures, was affirmed at Ephesus in response to Nestorius.
How much of this did Mary herself know? That’s the question. Mary could have had deeper insights early on, beginning with the Annunciation and all that followed, into Jesus’s two natures and one person than any other person had, insights that the Church “knew” very inchoately (as described in the infancy narratives: virgin birth, Elizabeth’s greeting acknowledging “Mother of my Lord”–Kyrios is a key to the earliest Christological kerygma), John the Baptist leaping in Elizabeth’s womb, the angel appearing to Joseph, the shepherds, angels at Bethlehem, Magi etc., all of which Lk sums up as things Mary “pondered.”
This points to a Mary who knew something stupendous was up. How could a mother not know? How could God not reveal to her the Plan in enough fullness so that her consent to the Plan would be truly free? If God came to her via the angel and said, Look, Lady, you are going to be pregnant with the Redeemer but didn’t clue her in as to the Incarnation as the means of redemption, he would be asking her to buy a pig in a poke. Everything I know theologically about free will, true informed consent as necessary to avoid dehumanizing a person (JPII’s hobbyhorse) would be violated if God used Mary as a vessel for the Incarnation without revealing at least enough of the Plan to make her “Fiat” consent an informed consent. God does not rape, God does not use people as unwitting tools.
And the Scriptural evidence that Mary (and Elizabeth, and Joseph) knew a good bit is there–tantalizing, not explicit, no smoking guns, but evidence which, when combined theologically with the principles of consent, free will, the Church’s tradition etc. point toward, not away from PV. Why?
Because if Mary was conscious of a mission to be the Mother of the very Transcendet Creator-God Incarnate, then the very ancient consensus about her virginal free consecration to God (ProtEvJames etc.) makes sense along with Joseph’s agreement in that continent vocation/mission.
None of this is explicit in Scripture, but rather than assuming (as some posts have and your concluding post seems to tend toward) that Mary and Joseph were relatively unaware of exactly who their Son was, I think the Scriptural evidence combined with theological reasoning and the very early tradition of the Church (Justin, Ignatius, Irenaeus etc.) points toward greater, not lesser knowledge on the part of Mary and Joseph.
And if they had a certain critical mass of knowledge about the Plan of Incarnation as the means of redemption, a lifelong vocation to continence, mutually agreed on by both of them, makes sense.
Is it proveable? No. But certainly plausible and Christologically highly significant. It took the Church 400 years before she dogmatically defined the matter, but that does not mean that the knowledge Mary and Joseph had early on was not communicated significantly to others, leading to the hints included in the infancy narratives of the Gospels, the liturgical affirmation of Mary Theotokos, and the theological statements by Ignatius, Justin, Irenaeus etc. about the general importance of Mary as the God-bearer.
Why was all this not made more explicit (apart from ProtEvJames)? Because Mary is not the focus–the Marian affirmations of the Gospel narratives, of the early Fathers, of the early liturgy (now lost but reflected in later liturgy) all are in service of Chistology, of faith in Christ as God-Incarnate. The exact terms and implications of “Jesus is Lord” required 300-400 years of argument and false-starts being repudiated by the Church as a whole before it got resolved at Nicea-Chalcedon; along the way, the doctrines about Mary were defined more and more clearly because of their bearing on the Christological debates, both his divinity and humanity.
But that Mary (and Joseph, and Elizabeth, and JtB and others who left no trace–James his “brother” at some point) may have understood at least the basics: that this apparent mere man was also God Incarnate is not only possible but, theologically, necessary if God is not to be guilty of using people unwitting as tools in this greatest drama of all history.
These are the things that we all need to reflect on. The early Christians may have understood a lot more about just what God had done in Christ than we do, because they were in personal interaction with those who were the primary personal agents in the drama. They didn’t know how to spell it out theologically and many of the theological issues didn’t even arise for decades and centuries. But that through it all these two persons, Mary and Joseph, and especially Mary, believed and knew that he was both divine and human, actually makes good sense.
And if they knew, even inchoately but surely, then their mutual choice of continence in marriage could be seen as a fitting vocational choice, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
And that may be what the very early tradition of Mary’s PV ultimately stems from.
Either way, it matters. If Mary knew the stupendousness of the Plan and did not choose a special vocation of continence but birthed and reared a passel of other children, that says something about the (un)importance of continent/virginal vocations. If she did not know the Plan at all, it says something about God’s modus operandi and reinforces the crypticness of Jesus’s earthly life not merely to unlookers but to the one person who knows intuitively and intimately better than anyone else, Mama.
One can of course leave it unresolved because the Scriptures do not provide an unambiguous resolution. But we don’t do that with a host of other doctrines (including aspects of the hypostatic union). But those of us who read the Scriptures, theological reasoning, and tradition of the Fathers as supporting PV find in it a stimulating and powerful source of astonishment at the drama of the Incarnation that helps us in our faith journey as we “ponder these things in our hearts” in imitation of His mother.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 16, 2006 at 10:35 am


Dennis,
Let me boil your comment down to this:
Mary and Joseph, because they realized the utter significance that her son was God Incarnate, chose to leave that sacred womb as it was. And the reason they did so is for christological reasons. That is, since Mary was the “Theotokos” (I’m less happy with the term than its normal translation — I like “God-bearer” more than “Mother of God”), any “re-use” (admittedly crass term) of that womb would violate the sanctity of its previous use.
Now, I can grant the felicity of this logic. It makes sense; if PV is true, I grant this to be a marvelous explanation. I commend Joseph and Mary for their continence (thanks for the correction from using “celibacy”).
What I’m having trouble with is the necessity of the logic. Why, if I’m being permitted to ask the question, would not God have permitted Mary to let her womb be used for yet more normally-conceived children? I don’t see the problem for it does not disturb the sacredness of the former “use” of that womb. Dennis, understand that I’m not getting close in my mind to the mistaken notion that Jesus was born “through” her but not “of” her.
I can see a christological deduction leading to PV, but I can’t see any christological doctrine flowing from the PV.



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Scott Lyons

posted June 16, 2006 at 12:11 pm


From the Greek Orthodox article on Mary’s ever-virginity linked to in an earlier thread: “Mary became the vessel for the Lord of Glory Himself, and bore in the flesh Him whom heaven and earth cannot contain. Would this not have been grounds to consider her life, including her body, as consecrated to God and God alone? Or [is] it more plausible that she would shrug it all off and get on with keeping house in the usual fashion? Consider that the poetically parallel incident of the Lord’s entry through the east gate of the Temple (in Ezekiel 43-44) prompts the call: ‘This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it, for the Lord God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut’ (44:2).”
I find this example of a typological hermeneutic particularly beautiful. I’m not saying it’s conclusive, but it does lend support to PV.
If the holiness of God consecrates what it touches, then we might think of PV in the following way: Mary was the Theotokos and, therefore, had borne the Lord God, therefore her continued continence would be an enduring testimony to the fact. PV would therefore not only simply be deduced from a high Christology, but it would also continue to proclaim a high Christology throughout history.
(Btw, this has been an enlightening series, Scot. I’m thankful for your willingness to discuss PV. As always, I appreciate your intellectual and theological integrity.)



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Dan McGowan

posted June 16, 2006 at 1:01 pm


Well, I guess I come at the whole thing somewhat simplicity… if the Bible actually says Mary was a vigin when she gave birth to Jesus, then she was. Done deal. If the Bible says Jesus had brothers and sisters AFTER that, then, it does follow logic that she was NOT a perpetual virgin…
But more importantly, does she NEED to REMAIN a perpetual version in order for Christ to be Who He is? What’s the big deal with this? The Bible says He would be born of a virgin – not a “Perpectual Virgin” – right??? I mean, she could have given birth to Jesus and the very next day began having relations with Joseph – and we are still within the realm of what Scripture teaches, right???
Okay, enough excitement for one day – I’m off to the movies…



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Scot McKnight

posted June 16, 2006 at 1:38 pm


Scott Lyons,
Here’s a question that occasionally pops up in my mind: Was Mary Theotokos or is Mary Theotokos. Does this describe something she was for nine months or something she always was and always will be?



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Broken Messenger

posted June 16, 2006 at 1:43 pm


Scot,
Nice thoughts here and clearly much thought was put into this work. What bothers me the most about all of this is the omission of Mary’s presumed virginity in the Scriptures themselves. This is to say, that I think the omission speaks volumes in light of the culture, expectations of marriage and even traditions built on Mosaic law.
To assume that Mary and/or Joseph had a seperate revelation about not consumating their marriage is something that needs to be assumed outside of Scripture. In fact, I can’t recall a single biblical example where a married couple were joined together (let alone stayed together) in a non-sexual relationship. According to Scripture, sex is very much apart of two “becoming one flesh” and to have one between Mary and Joseph here, without Scriptural explanation as to its significance (which many do expound on doctrinally concerning Christ), just seems off.
Brad



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Scot McKnight

posted June 16, 2006 at 1:45 pm


Brad,
I think you’ve got something here. It would be inappropriate, at least from the Protestant viewpoint, for something infallible and important to theology to be unmentioned in the text.
However, there is warrant for such a thing from two angles, neither of which (for me) finally gets us there: 1 Cor 7 and the sense that Mary’s womb was a special vessel. That’s about it, as far as I can see.



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RJS

posted June 16, 2006 at 2:42 pm


Ultimately, I think that the brothers and sisters were ordinary brothers and sisters. Therefore Mary was not perpetually virgin. But, the evidence isn’t unassailable and I could be wrong. Certainly the point of view in the last paragraph of your (Scot’s) post, in agreement with Greek Orthodox article, offers a reasonable explanation and rationalization for a PV position. (Much more reasonable than Jerome’s arguments.)
However, as Brad says – if it is true, it can’t be of significant theological importance. It cannot influence Christology for instance. If it were of such importance it would figure prominently in the NT and very early church fathers. More to the point – God brought Jesus into the world through Mary. What Mary did or did not do after that did not and could not change or negate God’s work.



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Georges Boujakly

posted June 16, 2006 at 3:08 pm


Scot,
Several questions run through my mind and puzzle me.
Would the marriage vows (do we know if such were pronounced in the wedding ceremony-were there one in this case?)not have included the social mandate of “be fruitful and multiply?”
Would a group of people under conquest not want to proliferate their race for the stronger possibility of casting off the shackles of oppression?
Were Joseph and Mary not of the kind of people (sadiqim and anawim) who would have considered it their godly duty to bring forth children?
Admittedly, the incarnation (enfleshment of God)is unique.
Does it demand that all else be perpetually unique (i.e. perpetual viginity)?
The incarnation gave Mary’s virginity a sacredness above the average sacredness of virginity. The purpose of God was to be born of human flesh not to promote perpetual virginity. If perpetual virginity was Christologically perpetually necessary, it is hard to believe it is not commanded.
What lesson is there for us from perpetual virginity? Get married but remain a virgin in order to serve and honor God? (All Scripture is given for instruction…)



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JACK

posted June 16, 2006 at 3:13 pm


There have been plenty of explanations offered over the years that the marriage between St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother was a true marriage notwithstanding that they never had sexual intercourse. I don’t have the links off hand, but I’m sure a search of the Vatican website could find them relatively easily.
As for your question, Scot, on whether Mary was or is the Theotokis, isn’t the answer easier than you make it? The woman who gave birth to you, was she your mother or is she your mother?



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Scot McKnight

posted June 16, 2006 at 3:33 pm


Georges,
If you were a student in my class, I’d not have to prepare. I’d say one thing, let you ask and ask, and then we could explore your questions.
There is so much to think through here. The entire issue hangs on the incarnation observation. Grant its uniqueness, utter uniqueness, and marriage rules could change. Need not but could. There is cleary nothing in the NT to say it must. It is theological inference.
I have no desire to draw anything about marital sexuality from Mary’s sexuality, whether PV or not.
Jack,
Theotokos doesn’t mean “birth” but “carrier.” It describes emwombment of Jesus not the birth of Jesus. She always was the one who “carried” Jesus but the point is if that left her in a special condition. That is the question I’m asking.



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Dennis Martin

posted June 16, 2006 at 3:35 pm


Scot, the interpretation I gave argues that Mary chose voluntarily as part of her mission to be Theotokos to be continent in her marriage with Joseph, not that God required her to (you put it in terms of God permitting or not permitting her womb to be used for other children–do you not see how your language makes God a non-respecter of her fee will?). So I think the logic was there in my brief explication of the importance of God respecting Mary’s free will. If she and Joseph had a continent marriage it was by their mutual free vocational choice, not by God’s requirement, just as God did not require Mary to bear God Incarnate but asked her consent to become Theotokos.
If you wish, I would extend it as far as saying that God fully agreed with Mary and Joseph’s choice to live continently because God recognized the congruity or fittingness of that free choice by them as part of their mission in the Incarnation.
The language of necessity is not part of my theological vocabulary. When we Orthodox and Catholics speak theologically of the importance of this or that Marian doctrine we are in many cases not saying it is necessary absolutely but is most fitting, given the way the Incarnation had to take place if Jesus was to be fully human: by gestation, birth and rearing by a woman. That much is “necessity” but the rest: her fullness of grace which leads to the doctrine of her sinlessness (which leads to the Immaculate Conception), being the first Christian believer and hence mother of the Church when she said yes to her freely invited participation, perpetual virginity afterward–all of these are fittingly “necessary” or congruent with the vocation/mission of Theotokos.
If, however, Mary was not aware of who her Son was (God Incarnate), then all the “fittingness” of a vocation to continence in marriage or sinlessness etc. falls away.
We are not talking straight logic here. We are talking theological reasoning, starting from historical givens about the mystery of the Incarnation. Scripture records some of the information for the historical facts but explicitly rejects the notion (end of the Gospel of John) that all facts are recorded in Scripture and also begins the theological interpretation, e.g., in Rev. 12. But as with the mystery of the Trinity, for instance, much of the development of the theology about the mystery occurs after Scripture was closed, as people asked, if X, well then, what about Y (if Jesus rose from the dead, well he must be the transcendent Creator, Life itself, but then, how human was he? Gnostics/Docetists said not at all, after 2 centuries, his full humanity was established theologically–his divinity was not challenged by the Docestists or Gnostics). So too in Marian matters: if this truly human woman was the mother of the fully God, fully man non-schizoid single person, then what must it have been like for her? How did she act, being aware of her mission? They took what they knew about her, from her (John the apostle to whom she was entrusted; James, her Son’s kinsman etc.), inserted some hints of it into Lk and Mt and Jn, but on the whole left most of it outside the canon but not for that matter necessarily false (ProtoEvJames). As the Christological controversies heated up and hit red-hot (Nestorius-Cyril) the issues about just what Mary did and did not do became even more significant and precipitate into the record. That doesn’t mean they were known or at least pondered (in imitation of Mary) before that time. It does mean they were not recorded except in the ProtoEvJames (together with a lot of non-credible stuff), hints in Justin, Irenaeus etc.
This is how I do theology, thinking with the Church. One cannot simply leave things with “well the outcome of a careful study of Scripture leaves us with this partial, ambiguous conclusion” because no one and I mean no one operates that way, no one on any side of the Church’s divisions. Those who do not think through these things with the Church Fathers, with the Orthodox/Catholic tradition will end up reading into and out of the Scriptures a theology that does take positions, in this case, the position that no one knows whether Mary was a perpetual virgin.
I know she was. I know it as a result of my theological thinking with the Church. You know, on the basis of your exegesis, that it can’t be known. No one can live and act in total indecision. The decision to leave his question “unknown” is to take one of several sides on this issue. You do it because of your hermeneutic and theological and ecclesial commitments, which I respect but disagree with. I take a different side because of my hermeneutical and theological and ecclesial commitments, which I hope others will respect. But I do insist that the form of theological reasoning I outlined as explaining why I know that Mary was a perpetual virgin are legitimate, not incoherent, not half-baked, just based on a different set of ecclesial and theological principles and methods.



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Dennis Martin

posted June 16, 2006 at 3:43 pm


Brad,
You wrote:
“To assume that Mary and/or Joseph had a seperate revelation about not consumating their marriage is something that needs to be assumed outside of Scripture. In fact, I can’t recall a single biblical example where a married couple were joined together (let alone stayed together) in a non-sexual relationship.”
But Brad, the whole starting point of those of us who believe in PV is that Mary and Joseph were absolutely unique in their mission. ‘In fact, I can’t recall a single biblical example where a woman was asked to become the mother of the Creator God incarnate’ except Mary. And for Joseph to become her husband under these circumstances sets him apart from every other husband mentioned in the Bible. The Incarnation is an absolutely unique happening, fact. If Mary and Joseph out of reverence for the mission chose marital continence, they would, as you note, be unique in all Biblical record.
But that’s the point, Brad. That’s the point. They were unique. There is biblical precedent for temporary continence in marriage and Paul endorses it. I pointed all this out on earlier threads.
I hope it is by now clear that the Orthodox and Catholic beliefs about Mary, including her perpetual virginity, arise from a deep and awesome respect and pondering of the Mystery of the Incarnation. We invite those who with us love Jesus Christ with all their hearts and love the God who redeemed us by Incarnation but who have up to now have not pondered this in their hearts in this particular way to consider whether it just might not have happened this way.
I am not saying the PV is necessary to the Incarnation, merely that it is a quite reasonable consequence of the Incarnation, as I tried to point out in my just posted response to Scot.



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saint

posted June 16, 2006 at 3:53 pm


“This points to a Mary who knew something stupendous was up. How could a mother not know? How could God not reveal to her the Plan in enough fullness so that her consent to the Plan would be truly free?”
Luke tells us that the angel told er she will be with child, have a son, she is to give him the name Jesus, he will be great, be callsd the Son of the Most High, the Lord God wil give him the throne of his father David, he wil reign over the house of Jacob forever, his kindgom will never end”
Sounds like a plan to me.
Did Mary fully comprehend the implications? That the son she was to bear was God Incarnate? Based on what I know of first century Jewish expectations on Messiah and Kingdom, probably not.
Theologically, could she have been given that sort of revelation with Christ not yet born, living, suffering, dying, rising and ascending to heaven so that the Spirit can come? Did she have to have a full Trinitarian understanding to give consent to bearing a son who would as was told Joseph, save his people from their sins? Could she prior to Christ’s ascension and the advent of the Spirit?
I really cannot see much evidence of that sort of understanding by anyone on the other side of Pentecost. And as I said in another thread, no one then turned to Mary and said, why didn’t you tell us?



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Scot McKnight

posted June 16, 2006 at 3:53 pm


Dennis,
You know I think your theological reasoning is sound. I’m not questioning that at all. I just wondered what to make of christology in light of PV.
I like this notion of “fittingness” but it does get to necessity when it is taught as infallible. But perhaps that confuses the issue at this point.
On what Mary knew… I’m absolutely in awe of Luke’s comments that Mary was “pondering” and “treasuring.” Now I’m going to make a lot of this in my book on Mary, and I don’t want to spill the beans now, but it leads me to think she knew a lot about Jesus and enough to jump to the view you espouse. I might not jump, but there’s surely enough there for anyone to draw all sorts of conclusions about how to live after the birth of Jesus.



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Dennis Martin

posted June 16, 2006 at 3:57 pm


Scot,
You wrote in response to Brad,
“It would be inappropriate, at least from the Protestant viewpoint, for something infallible and important to theology to be unmentioned in the text.”
But “mentioned” can vary. Is the Trinity mentioned in the text of Scripture? All three components are mentioned but that they relate as Three in One, coequal and distinct only in personhood, that’s not in Scripture. Is the hypostatic union of fully divine and fully human natures mentioned in the text of Scripture?
There are clues and hints about PV in Scripture–in other words “implicit” mentioning. The clues about PV are very, very, very implicit. But so too is the Trinity. (Apart from later interpolations.) If something so important as the Trinity was not explicitly mentioned in Scripture but required centuries of church argument to develop in fullness, do you really want to stick with the rule you just outlined?
You’ve looked at the hints and clues on PV in Scripture and come down on the side of blood-brothers and the anti-PV reading of heos, but other exegetes on grammatical/historical grounds come down in favor of pro-PV readings of the same data.
I do not want to be misunderstood. I am not saying PV doctrine is as important as the Trinity. I am saying that much doctrine that you believe unhesitatingly is the result of post-Scripture development in the Church, development I believe that Christ authorized when he entrusted his unwritten kergyma to the apostles. That’s clearly what happened with PV.



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RJS

posted June 16, 2006 at 4:06 pm


Blogging as part of reseach for a book and preparation for a class. And this is work?



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Scot McKnight

posted June 16, 2006 at 4:10 pm


RJS,
Who ever said the academic life was “work” anyway?



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Dennis Martin

posted June 16, 2006 at 4:28 pm


Scot, “infallible” is a stumbling block here. Yes, PV doctrine is part of the Catholic dogmatic teaching but not because of logical necessity but because its roots, as you have seen yourself, go back so far and so deep. It is to be believed and is “infallible” simply because it is so ancient, so universal, and so consistent with the rest of the mystery of the Incarnation. Its factuality arises from the Church’s ancient information not from logical necessity; its credibility stems from (1) faith in the Church and (2) its non-contradiction of any other major doctrine or of Scripture
It is not inconsistent with any of the other Christological doctrines. If it were, then we’d have a real problem. To the contrary, it is utterly consistent. For you that alone does not bring you to accept it
but perhaps only
because you do not accept the teaching authority of the Church.
I understand that you do not accept the teaching authority of the Church. You cannot because it does not exist, practicably, for Protestants.
My concerns in these posts have been (1) first of all to point out how PV cannot be refuted on Scripture basis alone. You agree on that.
(2) to point out that Catholic and Orthodox belief in PV is not the result of arbitrary extra-scriptural additions but that it grows out of deep roots in the mystery of the Incarnation. You see the way that it fits within that Mystery but you are not compelled to go the next step and say, well, I guess it happened.
I would not take that step either if I had not taken the prior step of recognizing that, 2000 years later, there’s no way I can figure out which side of ten dozen doctrines to take if all I have is Scripture and reason or logic. Scripture, you and I both now, by itself cannot resolve a lot of issues. But if no other aid to resolving them exists, then one has to end up where you end up–saying, I just don’t know about PV.
I’d be glad to leave it there except that you seem to be moving over into the Catholic arena and asking, well, then, why, if it’s not resolvable for me (Scot), do you Catholics insist that it is part of the defined dogmas of the Church and require Catholics to assent to it?
This is an epistemological problem. Given your commitments, your episteme has to stop with this question unresolved. But given mine, there’s no reason why I should stop and even some good reasons why I dare not stop with it unresolved.
For me the debates in the first few centuries over all these major doctrines were part and parcel of a Holy-Spirit guided process of revelation. Revelation is a person, Jesus Christ, and he remains active in the Church revealing himself more and more fully over time as his chosen apostles and their successors “ponder these things” (the mysteries of the Incarnation and all that follows from them) “in their hearts.”
If you have been thinking that I’m trying to persuade you to convert to belief in the PV doctrine, I’ve been unclear and I apologize. I’ve tried to give the reasons why we who do believe in it believe in it and to show that we do so not arbitrarily or as prisoners of an arbitrary, manipulative Church but because within the context of the Incarnation, it makes perfect sense and the knowledge of it has been handed down by the Church over the centuries, stemming ultimately from the mother of the Church, the woman at the heart of all of this.
We really do believe that stuff about Mary being the first believer and the mother of the Church. We really do. We see all the apostles as recognizing that, sitting at her feet (in the person of John, authorized by Christ to do so: “Behold your mother, Apostle John my friend.”) We see Christ himself honoring her and telling us to honor her as the one who hears and keeps his word (Lk 11:28). We do not find it difficult to believe that the clues and hints in Scripture and the facts in the infancy narratives stem from her–some of it no one else could have known. That the Christ-authorized authors of the NT only chose to include hints and clues about PV and were not as explicit on a whole host of other things that we (and you) consider very important doctrines should not surprise anyone–John concludes his gospel explicitly saying that.
But doesn’t that lead things wide open to take “implicit” Scripture teachings and introduce all sorts of false teachings based on “development of doctrine”?
No, because I say woe to anyone who teaches as infallible doctrine something that directly contradicts Scripture. The Orthodox and Catholic claim is that the Marian doctrines and a host of other later doctrinal developments are consistent with implicit Scripture teachings. That’s why I have tried to show just how consistent PV is with what Scripture does say abou the Incarnation.
If it could be proven that the “brothers” are blood siblings or that Mary did have intercourse with Joseph after Jesus’ birth, then PV would be contrary to explicit Scripture.
But that’s my point. None of the supposed Scripture proofs against PV are open and shut, explicit proofs, as you yourself note. Far too often Protestant opposition to Marian doctrines has rested on the assumption (usually unexamined assumption) that these doctrines contradict explicit Scripture. Yet as we have seen in the PV case, it does not contradict.
Why must one believe in it? I recognize that for you nothing compels you to believe it because you simply do not recognize the authoritative teaching role of the bishops in apostolic succession. On that matter, again, I think there’s plenty of Scriptural support but those of you who do not believe in it read the same passages I read as supporting it differently. Scripture itself cannot resolve these matters–that I believe in Christ-authorized bishops teaching in apostolic succession and you do not rests on a host of other assumptions and beliefs about what Scripture and tradition (in your case including the Reformation tradition) assert about how Christ intended his Church to be governed and guided.
It’s interesting that you began these threads with a very open-ended approach: let’s see what the record, Scriptural and otherwise, has to say about this doctrine. We conclude firmly ensconced in our underlying confessional commitments. You cannot open the matter up fully for an examination free of your Protestant presuppositions about relative authority of Scripture and Church and neither can I. We make those commitments prior to examining specific cases and we end up at different places on specific cases as a result of those prior commitments.
Which means that truly opening things up for examination would require a willingness to rexamine why we made our confessional commitments in the first place–obviously we each have what we believe to be solid reasons.
But once more, I salute you for being willing to entertain the possibility that the perpetual virginity doctrine is true and to leave the matter at least partly unresolved because Scripture is inconclusive.
Believe me, I am not trying to change your mind. My goal was to explicate more clearly my own and the Catholic and Orthodox mind because I do believe they are often prejudicially understood on Marian doctrines.



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Dennis Martin

posted June 16, 2006 at 4:38 pm


Correction to # 21:
As the Christological controversies heated up and hit red-hot (Nestorius-Cyril) the issues about just what Mary did and did not do became even more significant and precipitate into the record. That doesn’t mean they were known or at least pondered (in imitation of Mary) before that time.
“This doesn’t mean they were NOT known or at least pondered . . . before that time” is what I intended. My apologies.



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Dana Ames

posted June 16, 2006 at 4:45 pm


Dennis, and one or two others,
I have noticed in a couple of places that it is assumed that simply because a woman bears a child it is a given that there is a kind of communion, a knowing, a connection a Mother has with that child that is a positive thing and continues after the child is born.
To which I say, Balderdash- I think that’s an overly spiritualized (culturally driven?) view of women/motherhood. There are biological mothers who abuse their children. Some women abort a child growing within them as a means of birth control, without a second thought. On the other side, there are women who would make great mothers who are infertile, or unmarried and committed to celibacy. And there are women who have been great mothers to adopted children not of their own womb and blood – my mother was such a one to me.
Women can indeed show extraordinary kindness, as can men. Women are every bit as selfish, sinful and power-grabbing as men. We’re all in the same boat and need redemption. Part of the immense mystery and beauty of the incarnation for me is that God chose Miriam of Nazareth, a human being, and she responded, as a (less-than-perfect) human being who desired God and consented to be part of God’s purposes, continuing to follow even when the path led around some very unexpected turns, no matter how much she knew. I find great hope in that. Miriam is one of my heroes of the faith.
Dana



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JACK

posted June 16, 2006 at 5:12 pm


Scot said:
“Jack,
Theotokos doesn’t mean “birth” but “carrier.” It describes emwombment of Jesus not the birth of Jesus. She always was the one who “carried” Jesus but the point is if that left her in a special condition. That is the question I’m asking.”
First, I think it is important to acknowledge that we may be reacting to two different things. You seem to be focused on whether Mary being perpetually a virgin might be theologically necessary from her being Theotokos.
I simply don’t know if that’s the case and, frankly, react to the question of Mary’s perpetual virginity first and foremost on the level of whether it was a fact, not its theological meaning or necessity.
Now, I was reacting to the way you raised the question, suggesting in some way (unclear to me) that there was a question in your mind as to whether the title Theotokos describes Mary as she was in one moment and not some others versus an appropriate title for Mary always.
You are the theologian and I’m not, but I always understood it to mean “God-bearer” (God plus carrier or bearer in the womb).
And I have further always understood the usage of the term Theotokos and its ultimate affirmation by the Council was related to Christ being one person of two natures, that the hypostatic union of those natures was present from conception and not something that began after birth. And that that human flesh came from Mary. So I have a difficult time seeing the title as being about a period of enwombment than being about on some level Mary and Jesus’ connection in the flesh. And that was what I was getting at, rather cryptically, I admit with my question about your mother. Not to mention, through the ages, the phrase is often loosely translated “Mother of God”, suggesting to me that most do not understand the Title as merely relating to “carrying” Jesus in the womb but to motherhood.



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scott williams

posted June 16, 2006 at 5:25 pm


if mary remained a virgin all her life than it’s joseph they should have sainted…



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Dennis Martin

posted June 16, 2006 at 5:28 pm


Dana,
You confuse practices that are unnatural and sinful with natural conditions. Of course some mothers abuse their children, some abort. But these things are wrong and are inversions of the natural maternal bond. Is it possible that a woman feels no affection for her child? Possible yes, but we would say that something has gone wrong, is disordered in such a case. Scripture itself asserts a natural maternal loving bond with a child when God compares himself to a mother and asks, rhetorically, can a woman forget or ignore or not love her own child–the implied answer is, of course not–unless there’s something wrong with her. God loves us like that and more, is the point of the passage. Or recall the famous Solomonic decision between two mothers–he relied on the existence of a natural bond of love between mother and child to detect the true mother. I could go on.
Unless you wish to postulate that Mary was a disordered and sinful woman, it seems to me quite proper to assume a natural intimate maternal bond between mother and Child.
You have slipped into the fallacy of abusus non tollit usum–just because something can be misused or distorted or destroyed doesn’t mean it does not exist.



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Dana Ames

posted June 16, 2006 at 5:35 pm


Dennis,
I understand what you’re saying. I’m not sure you heard me. I am adopted. The “natural maternal bond” does not depend on physical union or blood relation.
Dana



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JACK

posted June 16, 2006 at 5:42 pm


I keep re-reading my post and am dissatisfied with two aspects of it, but am at a loss to clarify. I guess, I just want to be clear that while I react to the question of PV first and foremost on the level of fact, it does not escape my attention that PV could in fact have theological depth to it. (It’s just not where I start. I would start with did X happen or was true and then go to what is the meaning/significance of X, versus saying can I identify a meaning/significance of X in some effort to determine whether X in fact was true.)
The other is my phrase “Mary and Jesus’ connection in the flesh”. I think I was better off with just my statement above it “whether the title Theotokos describes Mary as she was in one moment and not some others versus an appropriate title for Mary always”. For what I was reacting to was a sense of expiration to the validity of the title that I saw in Scot’s question, which could I suppose just as easily be said as being a limiting of the title to describing a time-bounded period in the relationship of Jesus and Mary and not the relationship more broadly.



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Dennis Martin

posted June 16, 2006 at 6:08 pm


Dana,
I am sorry for misunderstanding you. But I do insist that physical gestation and birth creates a natural bond. It can be ignored, destroyed, distorted but that situation is unnatural. Asserting a natural bond created by physical bearing of children does not deny that powerful maternal bond exists between adopted children and their adoptive mothers. It’s not a zero sum game in which assertion of one makes the other impossible.
When I claim that Mary had natural intimate knowledge of her Son that no other human could have had I intended to include both types of bonding. She did carry and give physical birth to Jesus and she also, since the Church from early on insisted she was sinless, would have been filled with agapic love for him. The latter is the resevoir from which an adoptive mother operates. It is indeed very powerful. Teachers, mentors, priests and so forth are all supposed to deal with those under their care out of agapic love. Many of us do so imperfectly. Mary, being by God’s grace sinless, would have had it perfectly. You may not agree that Mary was sinless and I don’t want to argue that point. Those of us who believe she was draw conclusions from it about her spiritual or personal maternal love (as distinct but not inimical to her natural maternal love).
I do not wish to denigrate in any way the agapic love an adoptive mother has for her child. I just wish to assert that the phenomenon of natural maternal instinct arising from physical gestation and birth is real and normal; where it is not found, something has gone wrong.



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Broken Messenger

posted June 16, 2006 at 6:09 pm


The Incarnation is an absolutely unique happening, fact.
We don’t disagree. But it’s uniqueness does not mandate that PV must be so. Mary was the human vessel that God used for which Christ could then call himself the Son of Man. Mary’s consumation of marriage following Jesus’ birth does not detract from his divinity in anyway, as much as her PV would not add to it in any way.
If Mary and Joseph out of reverence for the mission chose marital continence, they would, as you note, be unique in all Biblical record.
Dennis, that’s the problem… If Mary and Joseph out of reverence…. “If” is the whole problem, it is assumed without any real biblical precedent. I would also disagree with you in the sense that Mary and Joseph are unique regardless. They are the earthly mother and father of the Son of God.
Again, you have to ask: if this issue is critical, why didn’t the Scriptures bother to mention it particularly when the Prophetess Anna’s (Luke 2) marital circumstances are described? There is a lack of balance here, even negligence one might argue, should PV be true. Luke, particularly of all the authors, was very concerned over very small details that lend to greater truths. You need to ask yourself why the omissions in light of the incredible concern the inspired authors took in their writings over very small details.
There is biblical precedent for temporary continence in marriage and Paul endorses it.
Dennis, yes, “temporary” not perpetual. There is no precedent for perpetual continence so this is like comparing apples to oranges.
Brad



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JACK

posted June 16, 2006 at 6:24 pm


In all the threads (and maybe I missed it), I don’t recall anyone discussing the age of the “brothers” of Jesus. I’ve heard over the years arguments suggesting that the references in Scripture to “brothers” often suggest that they are older than Jesus, and that being then an indication that the term wasn’t being used to mean “blood-brother”.
Was this discussed previously?



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Dennis Martin

posted June 16, 2006 at 6:26 pm


Brad, you still miss the point. There is no precedent for the Incarnation either. Even if it is true that there is no precedent for a totally continent marriage elsewhere in the Bible (there certainly was in the early Church but for now I will leave your claim as a stipulation) it has no bearing on the issue because the Incarnation ups the ante, has no precedent, cannot be compared to anything that had happened before.
All I am saying is that, faced with the unique circumstances Mary and Joseph confronted, precedent could not by itself govern their choices. For you to argue that it should have trivializes the Incarnation.
I don’t know how to make it any clearer: with the Plan of salvation by Incarnation revealed, all bets are off, all precedents are susceptible to revision because that’s exactly what the Incarnation was: a total, breathtaking revision and transformation of all precedents (God-breathed-upon prophets and Theophanies in which God himself appears clothed in visible form are the two main OT precedents for the Incarnation), but the Incarnation is of a totally different quality than either of these precedents.
That temporary continence could, in the light of the immenseness of the Incarnation be elevated to total continence throughout the marriage is not inconsistent or impossible. It does not prove that this is what happened but the sheer uniqueness of the Incarnation does rule out any probative force to your argument.



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Dennis Martin

posted June 16, 2006 at 6:29 pm


Let me put it even more simply, Brad, the Incarnation is an Orange compared to all the OT Apple precedents (prophets, Theophanies). Indeed, apples and oranges are far too similar to each other. The Incarnation is the entire universe of all kinds of foods, not just fruits but everything when compared to OT precedents (prophets, Theophanies).
I was comparing apples and oranges, comparing two very different things–far more different than apples and oranges. That was the point.



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Broken Messenger

posted June 16, 2006 at 6:50 pm


All I am saying is that, faced with the unique circumstances Mary and Joseph confronted, precedent could not by itself govern their choices. For you to argue that it should have trivializes the Incarnation.
Not all. What I am arguing is that we are not forced to believe anything concerning Christ that was not revealed by Christ through his Gospel and the whole of Scripture. I am not saying that precedence is “governing their choices” at all, I am saying that precedence does not even allow you to take the Scriptures to where they clearly do not go. For not only are the Gospel’s authors silent on Mary and PV. So is Paul, James, the author of Hebrews, and Peter. The entire NT is filled with small details that speak of big truths and yet we have this assumed “big truth” that the Scriptures are totally silent upon…that’s not being trivial, that’s being reasonable.
I don’t know how to make it any clearer
I understand you perfectly, Dennis, but you want me to follow you down a path that I’m not going down unless you can prove your case from Scripture, rather than traditional assumptions.
Let me put it even more simply, Brad, the Incarnation is an Orange compared to all the OT Apple precedents
So? The lack of precedence here is not a nullification of truth and I never claimed that it was… Given the Scriptures silence on the issue, I am saying that you cannot even use precedence to aid your claims, including your wish to use Paul’s writings on temporary
continence as some sort of proof that the Scriptures do speak (indirectly) about Mary and Joseph never having sexual relations.
That temporary continence could, in the light of the immenseness of the Incarnation be elevated to total continence throughout the marriage is not inconsistent or impossible.
I didn’t say impossible, but I do say that is is unreasonable. But again Dennis, that is an assumption that is not revealed in Scripture, that’s the whole point.
Brad



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Dennis Martin

posted June 16, 2006 at 7:38 pm


And when will you prove your case from Scripture, Brad? Do you not get the point that both sides of this issue prove their case from Scripture but by means of interpreting Scripture. You say that the PV is unreasonable. That’s a pretty definite conclusion. It doesn’t even stop where Scot stops–saying that while Scripture does not by itself prove that PV is true, Scripture leaves the possibility entirely open. You come down negatively. Now just how do you prove a negative? I’m sorry, but it is NOT unreasonable to move from temporary continence precedent to Incarnation. I gave you the reason: the Incarnation dwarfs everything, so a move from temporary to permanent continence does not exceed the stretch from prophet to Incarnation.
You don’t like my reason, granted. But where do you get off calling it unreasonable? Unless you can offer positive evidence refuting PV from Scripture, our quarrel is not about proving from Scripture alone but about which extrapolations from explicit Scripture are legitimate extrapolations and which are illegitimate (unreasonable). You can’t just shout “unreasonable” at my extrapolation without giving an argument.
And you cannot employ the “brothers” Scriptures as positive proof refuting PV. Scot has demonstrated that. He leaves the door open for the PV doctrine. He does not believe Scripture alone proves it but equally he does not believe Scripture alone refutes it.
Those who read the “brothers” Scriptures as blood-siblings are doing so by applying assumptions that do not all arise directly from scripture; those who read the same passages as “kinsmen” employ a different set of reasons. When I reason from temporary continence, combined with the uniqueness of Incarnation to the fittingness of total continence, I AM proving my case from Scripture every bit as much as you are and at the same time I am not proving it solely from Scripture every bit as much as you are. In all of this we employ different reasonings, assumptions.
Frankly I get very tired of this “prove your case from Scripture” dismissal of one’s interlocutor’s arguments. I have never hidden the fact that I do not believe in PV solely on the basis of Scripture. But I insist that those who do not believe it also do not disbelieve it solely on the basis of Scripture. Please go back through all five of these threads and analyze the arguments pro and contra. Those who cite Scripture against PV do so assuming that particular readings of particular passages are the only possible, only correct, readings of those passages. But Scot has shown (as the Tradition has claimed) that they are not the only possible readings, which indicates that those who think they are the only possible readings are operating with extraneous assumptions, not from Scripture alone.
That’s the point.



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Dana Ames

posted June 16, 2006 at 7:57 pm


Dennis, I’m not saying it’s a zero sum game. I think for a woman for whom Love has Meaning, with physical gestation a bond is engendered because of Love and Meaning, not because of the bare biologic process of sperm uniting with egg. We may agree to disagree here; I just want to be clear, at least to myself, about what I think.
God bless you.
Dana



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Scot McKnight

posted June 16, 2006 at 7:58 pm


Jack,
Kris and I just got back from dinner and some errands, but you are exactly right: the God-bearer and the God-man were of one human nature, rendering Jesus fully human. That was the context for the term.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 16, 2006 at 8:00 pm


Jack,
Age of Jesus’ brothers. Epiphanian view means they are all older than Jesus; Hieronymian view it is immaterial and no one knows; Helvidian view they are all younger.



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Broken Messenger

posted June 16, 2006 at 8:26 pm


You say that the PV is unreasonable. That’s a pretty definite conclusion.
It is a firm conclusion and it’s based on what we know about history, the culture of Mary’s day and the commands that even the righteous Jews (like Mary) observed following the Word of God as given to them by the prophets. There is nothing to go on here but presumption, Dennis, and that is what I find disagreeable.
I AM proving my case from Scripture every bit as much as you are
No, I think you are reading something into the text that isn’t there and you are placing an unreasonable burden on me to prove that your argument from silence cannot possibly exist.
If you want to claim certain Marian doctrines based on extra-biblical sources then by all means please do so, but please don’t tell me your proving it based on Scripture when no verse plainly claims PV, let alone the significance that it is given to it by some.
Frankly I get very tired of this “prove your case from Scripture” dismissal of one’s interlocutor’s arguments.
I’m sorry about that Dennis, but I don’t embrace leaps and presumptions based on traditions that are not reasonably supported in Scripture, let alone plainly stated. What is required here is to take a route that Jerome (and others) went and I think that it is a route that goes to extreemly great lengths to use certain verses to say well beyond what they reasonably say.
Jesus wept. – John 11:35
To then say that this verse means that Jesus wept a river full of tears based also on Christ’s reference to springs of living of water flowing out him is an unreasonable use of the text.
But I insist that those who do not believe it also do not disbelieve it solely on the basis of Scripture.
I understand your assertions, Dennis. I just don’t find them reasonable to me concerning PV, and they are unreasonable because Scripture does not even lend the kindling to make this fire (i.e. the doctrine of the Trinity, though the word “trinity” is never used)without going to extraordinary lengths to prove that Mary was something that even the authors of Scripture didn’t feel worthy enough to expound upon.
That’s the point.
I get it, do you at least understand my point, though you disagree?
All that said, I can live with a disagreement here with you over PV, I hope that is true with you as well.
Best to you,
Brad



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Karen

posted June 16, 2006 at 9:10 pm


Not to be too white-trashy about it, but I can’t help but wonder if Mary claimed perpetual virginity, does that mean that Madonna would’ve had to resort to choosing Jezebel as a stage name?
Gosh, Scot, I need an “Above Your Raising Translation Dictionary” just to decipher some of the blog posts. We read the Bible in the trailer park but it was mostly so we could shout out the warning: “THE LOCUSTS ARE COMING!!!” with some authority.



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saint

posted June 16, 2006 at 10:50 pm


“When I claim that Mary had natural intimate knowledge of her Son that no other human could have had I intended to include both types of bonding. She did carry and give physical birth to Jesus and she also, since the Church from early on insisted she was sinless, would have been filled with agapic love for him. The latter is the resevoir from which an adoptive mother operates. It is indeed very powerful.”
Dennis, Mary was holy and blameless. Not sinless. Only Jesus is said without sin. If PV depends on her sinlessness (and I don’t think that was a unanimous view amongst church fathers, I think Chrysostom was one who did not subscribe to that) then sorry I depart from you there.



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Joel Richardson

posted June 16, 2006 at 11:33 pm


Scot,
Maybe you can co-write your book with Dennis. :)
Either way, I’m buying.
But this has been one of the best and most stimulating reads I’ve found in a long time. A lot to treasure and ponder.
Cheers to all.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 16, 2006 at 11:43 pm


Joel,
My book won’t be on the Marian doctrines, though I may have an appendix on them. I’m focusing more on the life and character of Mary, along with her christological development.



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JACK

posted June 16, 2006 at 11:43 pm


Scot,
Maybe I misread your response, but my point regarding the age of the “brothers” wasn’t that one view would render them having to be older than Jesus and others not, but that some actually argue that Scripture implicitly identifies them as being older giving (some) support to the PV view. I don’t have the references off-hand or I would present the content of the argument for folks to evaluate. So my question was whether those arguments had been evaluated, not the natural implications the various conclusions about PV would have. If that was already clear and your response remains the same, I’m sorry I misread it. I just sensed it might not have been clear what i meant.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 16, 2006 at 11:47 pm


Jack,
I think that argument can only be made by assuming either the Hieronymian view (and that they were older) or (what is more likely) the Epiphanian view. You can’t argue from names in Mark 15 back to Mark 6 and find ages.



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JACK

posted June 17, 2006 at 12:25 am


Scot,
I think the argument stems from John 7 and rests under a premise that younger brothers in the culture of the time wouldn’t be permitted to scold Jesus in the manner described here. I’m not saying it is a strong or weak argument, but wanted to see if it was evaluated.



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Dennis Martin

posted June 17, 2006 at 7:27 am


Saint, I presume you have in mind 1 Peter 2:22 and 1 Jn 3:5. But these verses do not say that only Jesus is without sin. You are a classic example of reading something into Scripture without realizing it. And before you come back with “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God”–if Jesus was sinless, then the “all” there cannot mean all absolutely–it has to include an exception for Jesus. Now, you may wish to read “All have sinned” as “All have sinned except Jesus and no other exceptions” but that’s not what Romans 3 says. Whether any exceptions and which ones are to be made is a matter for interpretation. You probably make an exception for Jesus to Rom 3 based on 1 Jn 3:5 and 1 Pet 2:22. I make an exception for Jesus based on those verses (and my basic believe that Jesus was God Incarnate) but also for Mary based on Lk 1, full of grace. We probably disagree but the point is that Scripture is not explicit on “only Jesus was sinless.” The way you interpret Scripture, it seems clear to you that Scripture says, “only Jesus was sinless” but Scripture in and of itself does not say that.
Because Scripture in and of itself does not say anything, period. Any written text always already requires interpretation and two readers of the same text can read different things in the text and each insists that his reading of the text is “obvious” and “clear” and “plain” and “reasonable.”
The idea that Scripture is self-interpreting, that its true meaning is obvious to everyone has been the source of more damage to Christianity over the centuries than any other single belief held by Christians. It has fractured Christians into tiny little groups who no longer can even hear what the other is saying, unless and until they set aside this terribly malign assumption.
If one starts with the assumption that Scripture is self-interpreting and its true meaning is obvious, then one necessarily implies that those who do not read the same meaning in Scripture as I do are not listening to the Holy Spirit, are not listening to Scripture, are wrong-headed, obtuse or whatever. All conversation stops at that point.
“Only” and “alone” are among the most easily read-into-Scripture claims. Take a look at 1 Jn 3:5 and 1 Pet 2:22. Do you find “only” there? Which of us is reading Scripture more precisely, we Catholics and Orthodox who claim that Mary by God’s grace was sinless or you Bible-only interpreters who say she could not have been sinless because only Christ was sinless?



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Dennis Martin

posted June 17, 2006 at 7:36 am


Saint,
Chrysostom and Origen were exceptions to the consensus among Church Fathers. If you are going to permit any minority view among the Fathers to cancel out the majority view, then nothing can ever be concluded by appeal to the Fathers because there was always a minority view. On Mary’s sinlessness the consensus is very strong in favor of it. I find it really quite ironic that at this point you appeal to the Fathers, or rather, appeal to one Father.
No Scripture explicitly shows Mary sinning. Chrysostom based his belief on the passages where she came with Jesus “brothers” to him–claiming it showed she doubted his mission. That’s an interpretation of that passage. I find it a very odd interpretation because I see nothing in the passage that indicates doubt–I see nothing in the passage that gives her motive. Of course Chrysostom is free to interpret the passage that way, but his argument in the face of strong consensus to the contrary is not very overpowering. Are you actually endorsing it as the best way to read the “visit to Jesus while he was teaching” passages?
The point is, that on Mary’s sinlessness as on so many other points, Scripture alone cannot resolve the matter one way or the other. Whether one says she sinned or did not sin, one is interpreting implicit Scriptural statements with the aid of theological and other reasoning. If a particular passage of Scripture showed her deliberately sinning, all bets would be off. But none does, explicitly, only at best very, very, very implicitly. That’s a thin read to hang one’s anti-sinlessness position on, which is one reason why Chrysostom had so little company in his reading of that passage.



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Scot McKnight

posted June 17, 2006 at 7:53 am


Dennis,
This broaches a significant issue for Marian studies: the immaculate conception. I will look at this next week, but I don’t think many Protestants understand that their own theological logic for Jesus’ sinlessness leads to a similar logic for Mary. Now, for me, the question is whether or not that original logic, I think adumbrated most definitively by Ambrose but I can’t find the reference just now, was as “fitting” as it is thought.



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saint

posted June 17, 2006 at 3:44 pm


Hi Dennis,
When I say Jesus was without sin I don’t refer just to a couple of scriptures in the NT.
I look to what the OT also said about him – because He is also the fulfiller of OT prophecies. I don’t believe one can understand Christ without the OT and after all, the OT also the Bible of the first Christians (and yes even Jesus, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, explained to his first disciples what was said in all the Scripture concerning himself)
The coming of the King to judge and to save was variously presented as the coming of a Davidic king but in other passages as God Himself coming. While no one put it together as that foretelling the Incarnation (which even for us this side of the cross, stretches our human understanding) but we can clearly see how Jesus fulfilled those prophecies.
Similarly if I look at say, Job who is a type of Christ as the suffering servant of God, he is presented to us at the beginning as a man who is complete, perfect, the only human of whom God has said in Scripture “there is none like him”, something that is only ever said of God “there is none like him” and so on and son on.
I don’t have the theological sophistication to write treatises on this, but I even though I am broadly familiar with some of the Mary typology amongst Catholics, it seems there is one rule for interpreting Scripture vis a vis Mary and another for interpreting Christ.
BTW, I think you will find the Orthodox are not so dogmatic about Mary’s sinlessness. (I understand too that Chrysostom is one of the doctors of the church. Very revered amongst the Orthodox, and certainly the most prominent doctor in the Greek Orthodox church.)



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kerry doyal

posted June 17, 2006 at 3:58 pm


Scot, after Karen writes: “Gosh, Scot, I need an “Above Your Raising Translation Dictionary” just to decipher some of the blog posts.”
YOU have to follow that with: “I think adumbrated most definitively by Ambrose but I can’t find the reference just now…”
Look, if I want to be reminded of my ignorance, I can watch Jeapordy. … “What is nonpronouncable, hard to spell & unknown to most Cubs Fans and ALL Sox Fans?” . . . adumbrated . . .
Sign me,
Fighting the urge to be humble enough to get the dictionary.



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kerry doyal

posted June 17, 2006 at 4:03 pm


Okay, let’s break this word down – it helped me grasp its meaning:
adumbrated – a/dumb/rated – a dumb rated
thanks for that . . . its just like being back in your class at TIU :-)



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Dennis Martin

posted June 17, 2006 at 4:12 pm


Saint,
As I recall, Job was without sin. That’s the whole point of the book. Remember that instead of giving evidence that Mary sinned, you tried to resolve the issue by stating that only Jesus was without sin. It simply won’t work. We are back to no explicit NT statement one way or the other about Mary. Are you endorsing Chrysostom’s claim that she doubted? Then you have to exegete the passages to make a case. Just because Chrysostom is one of the three great Eastern doctors doesn’t mean he was right about everything–the Orthodox surely do not say that Chrysostom was always right in his exegesis. So much for your appeal to authority.
Instead of giving me a disquisition about Christ’s sinlessness (did I ever say that Jesus sinned?), you need either to show that only Christ can be sinless or show that NT evidence shows that Mary did sin.
So far you’ve done neither. I don’t claim explicit NT evidence in favor of her sinlessness but do interpret Lk 1, full of grace, combined with theological argument (congruence, fittingness, New Eve) to make the case, as did most of the Fathers.



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Dennis Martin

posted June 17, 2006 at 4:18 pm


Scot,
Just a suggestion, the crucial issue, as you know, is whether Mary was sinless. Immaculate conception is only an issue for the West because of Augustine’s understanding of original sin, which was not even entirely followed in the West. So I’d suggest taking it in two steps–first the question of Mary’s sinlessness, then how that applies to original sin (which since Anselm and Innocent III is qualified as “sin” in a different sense than actual sin. Even those who opposed the Immaculate Conception in the West believed that Mary was totally sanctified in a nanosecond after her conception, so she was totally holy long before birth. (JtB was sanctified sometime before birth too, otherwise he could not have recognized his Lord while still in the womb and tipped off Elizabeth to Christ’s presence.)
Since the East has never used the word sin to describe our condition upon conception, Immaculate Conception was not an issue.
So sinlessness is the crucial topic; Immaculate Conception follows from that if one describes the post-Fall condition as sin. It might be good to stick strictly to the sinlessness issue and resolve it before dealing with Immaculate Conception.



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saint

posted June 18, 2006 at 6:31 am


Thanks Dennis. I did not appeal to authority, I picked up on your point on sinlessness (different from the point you had been raising to date as Mary somehow knowing who Jesus really was to support PV) and pointed out how Tradition to which others appeal isn’t necessarily unanimous. And I also said I did not agree – with either PV or Mary’s sinlessness. And I think I pointed out in another thread that I am not scriptura nuda (I have Catholics and Orthodox in my family and find that a misconception Catholics in particular make about Protestants). All of us -except ardent literalists – rely on our forefathers in the faith to define boundaries of interpretation. We differ of course on the relative authority we give to Scripture and Tradition.
Judging by your reply too, I don’t think I explained myself well enough for you to understand my point (and you definitely missed the point about Job). But I don’t have the energy to explain further especially as World Cup broadcast is about to start. So thanks again for your reply. :-)



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Dennis Martin

posted June 18, 2006 at 6:42 am


Saint, you stated that only Jesus was without sin as your initial reply to my passing reference to Mary’s sinlessness. You then silently abandoned your initial, untenable reply. Your subsequent long post about Christ’s sinlessness was irrelevant to Mary’s sinlessness because you never re-addressed the issue of the “only” after I pointed out that the Scripture passages asserting Christ was sinless do not include the concept “only.” Was I supposed to interpret your OT typology response as somehow demonstrating that only Christ was sinless, therefore Mary was sinful? That Christ was sinless no one disputes, at least not on this thread. (Obviously some did in the first century, to whom John and Peter were replying.) You are right, I do not understand your long posting on OT types of Christ because I do not see how it addresses the claim that Mary was sinful rather than sinless.
So which is it? Are you sticking by your original claim that only Christ was sinless, therefore Mary cannot have been sinless? Or do you have other grounds for insisting Mary sinned? Chrysostom? Are you hanging it all on him?



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