Posted by Gary on January 2, 2007
1 Corinthians 4:6 “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written…”
In preparation for messages I would bring during Christmas week a passage of Scripture caught my attention, I found it especially interesting in light of my Roman Catholic upbringing:
Matthew 1:24-25 “And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.”
What especially interested me in this verse was the word, “until”. When I read this verse taking words at their face value I am told that Joseph did not have marital relations with Mary “until” she gave birth to her Son, Jesus. The meaning of this statement should not cause difficulty, while Mary was carrying Jesus in her womb, Joseph did not have intercourse with her and what is more than implied is that after she gave birth to Jesus, he did.
Those of you who are familiar with Roman Catholic doctrine know that the perpetual virginity of Mary is a pillar of Catholicism. The all-important question of course is can this doctrine bear the scrutiny of Scripture. The verse from Matthew listed above gives us great reason to believe that Mary did not remain a virgin after the birth of Jesus. Interestingly, Catholic teaching is that Mary’s virginity remained intact even through delivery:
“The deepening of faith in virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Profession of Faith, section 2, #499)
If the Bible would have us believe that Mary was a virgin perpetually, why does it not read, “But kept her a virgin perpetually” or even, “But kept her a virgin”?
While reading apologists for Mary’s perpetual virginity I find some saying that the word “until” can mean “not anymore” or “forever”. They quote Genesis 8:7: “And he (Noah) sent out a raven, and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the earth.” (Until meaning here that the raven did not return anymore Catholic apologists point out). Another passage mentioned by perpetual virginity apologists is Psalm 110:1: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” (Argument: Are protestants saying that God will only allow Christ to sit at His right hand until His enemies are defeated and not after?)
How are we to respond to these defenses? Well, we admit that “until” can mean “not anymore” or “forever”, but what is “until’s” common usage? It is a marker of shift in action, someting was not happening, now it is. To summon Psalm 110 is to refuse to think about the passage at hand. “Until” in Psalm 110 is communicating that God the Father has taken up the work of retribution on behalf of His Son against His enemies which will culminate at a certain point when they are defeated forever. The emphasis in this passage is not how long Christ will sit, it is the defeat of His enemies. However, in Matthew 1:25 the emphasis is on how long Mary was a virgin.
Mary’s perpetual virginity is just one of many examples where our Catholic friends have established doctrine not on the Bible but on the teachings of men in the course of Church history, (what Roman Catholics call “Tradition”). Bundled with Mary’s perpetual virginity are many other unBiblical doctrines concerning her including: The Immaculate Conception (the belief that Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin at her conception); The Assumption (the belief that Mary was taken to heaven physically, her body and soul intact). These doctrines which have no basis in Scripture, have led to even more concerning assertions about Mary, some even going as far as to see her as co-redemptrix (co-redeemer with Christ) and co-mediatrix (co-mediator with Christ).
Having left Catholicism (1987) and committing myself to an understanding of truth based upon Scripture alone I am left to wonder why the Catholic Church has insisted that Mary’s virginity is perpetual. Does the Bible give them justification for their position? The Catholic Church’s position is based mostly on apocryphal books and the writings of some of the early church fathers (Jerome and Augustine most significantly). Protestants have it pointed out to them by apologists that some reformers including Luther, Calvin and Zwingli held that Mary’s virginity was perpetual, see quotes here. I am willing as I ask others to take these men at the simple meaning of their words and if these quotes accurately reflect their position on Mary’s perpetual virginity than I am brought back to my basic premise which is that our commitment must be to Scripture, not to men, not even men as Godly as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.
As I have considered this issue I have wondered where perpetual virginity would have left Joseph and Mary in regard to God’s command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:22)? Where would it have left them in regard to the Bible’s command for husband and wife not to deprive one another of conjugal rights for more than a short season because of temptation (1 Corinthians 7:5)? Is it possible that God could have made Joseph and Mary an exception to the “be fruitful and multiply command”? Yes, it is possible. Is it possible that God could have granted them both a supernatural ability to live above the sexual desires common to all and granted to married couples? Yes, it is possible. But does the Bible tell me these things? Does it give me any reason whatsoever to believe this is the case? No it doesn’t. How then can such doctrines be created and supported? When we factor in the passages that tell us that Jesus had brothers and sisters (Matthew 12:46; 13:54-56; Galatians 1:19) the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity is felled another fatal blow. Yes, I am aware of the Catholic response to these verses but again I am asked to believe that not one of these references means actual siblings, I am to deny the Bible’s simple language for the sake of tradition.
My concern in these matters extends far beyond Mary and her virginity; it has much more to do with determining the truth. There are many people I know and love whose understanding of the truth flows from Catholicism and its willingness to view tradition as equal with the Bible. This is a most serious error. It has led most concerningly, to a false understanding of justification and salvation.
If what I have written seems unloving or harsh, I do not intend it to be so. How do we know what the truth is? Two things that contradict each other cannot both be true, no matter how sincere one may be. Jesus told us how to find the truth in the prayer He prayed on the night He was betrayed:
John 17:17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”
The Roman Catholic view of Mary is only symptomatic of the greater problem, which is, going beyond what the Bible says. What the Bible tells us, nothing more or less is the only truth we can rest our souls on and dare present to the souls of others as truth.
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