Virgin Mary

A Response to Paul Talbot

In response to my article,  The Ever-Virgin Mary:  My Bull’s-Eye Theory,  I received this response from Paul Talbot.  I have never met him.  I am a bit suspicious if this is a friend of mine trying to pick my brain (what little I have), or if this is someone who frequently post opinions against those who do not hold to his interpretation of Christianity.

Mary was a virgin through-out her life. Not true and this article offers NO evidence for that statement at all, it only attacks and attempts to discredit the substantial evidence against the statement.

This belief was central in early church doctrine, Not true. The early church knew Jesus brothers. One of them, James, led the church in Jerusalem and wrote the book of James in the bible, another wrote the book of Jude in the bible.

continued (though somewhat skewed) in Roman Catholicism, True.

and was unchallenged by the first wave of church reformers. True, because they had been indoctrinated all their lives by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

I confess that I am not the best at apologetics.  But, here is my attempt.  I recommend  the Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy Blog as a far better resource for defending Orthodox Christian doctrine.  

Dear Sir,

I mean you no personal insult.  I am afraid that your criticism of my article shows you have not considered basic Biblical language translation, ancient and eastern culture, and that you overlooked the main point of the article and (thus) failed to put up a legitimate argument against it.

In at least nine other verses of scripture, it is written that Jesus has brothers.  However, the language of the New Testament was not English.  It was Greek.  In the oldest Greek translations of the Bible, the word generally translated “brother” is adelphos.  Adelphos literally means “kinsman” which can be taken as “brother, cousin, fellow countryman” or even “fellow believer.”  This word is used some 80 times in the New Testament as Paul used it frequently to describe his relationship to other Christians.  Thus, the “brothers” of Jesus may have just as well been his first cousins, or close childhood friends.

A glimpse of ancient culture will give some clarity to this term “Brother.”  Jesus was brought up in a culture that regarded general kinship.  Lot was the nephew of Abraham as stated in Genesis 11:27-31.  But, in Genesis 13:8 and 14:14, 16, the text clearly does not use the term “nephew.”  The term used is “brother,” which in Hebrew is ‘ach (fellow tribesman, or blood relative).  So, even when the Hebrew is translated into Greek (the Greek language Septuagint was the version of the Old Testament used by the Apostles as it was written some 200 years before the birth of Christ), the word adelphos was used indicating no specific relationship between the two men other than the fact that they were kinsmen.  By the way, in Strong’s Concise Concordance (I am using this and Vine’s Concise Dictionary of the Bible), the term “nephew appears only twice in the Old Testament with neither reference referring to the story of Abraham and Lot.

No, my article had no “proof” that Mary was ever-virgin.  That was not the main point.  But, since proof is what you wish to criticize me on, I ask you what is your proof that Mary had marital sex and bore these James, Jude, and the other “brothers.”  See that I have given you the argument of the languages and culture from a text that you can readily obtain and are probably familiar with.  But, I would also ask that you dive even deeper into the writings of the Early Church Fathers.  Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and others were of the same generation of and one or two generations removed from the Apostles.  Almost every time they mention her name, they call her the Virgin Mary.  Consider this, if she had other children, why would anyone have continued to call her a virgin?  And in every version of the Nicene Creed (the oldest accepted in 325 AD and revised in 381, both of which are older than the canonized Holy Scriptures of 398) she is the Virgin Mary.  So, if you have some proof that the earliest interpreters and translators of the Old and New Testaments are wrong, please set up a blog site and post what you have found.  Let me know when you posted this.

Again, the meat of my article had little to do with offering proof of Mary’s Virginity.  My point was that believing in Mary as ever-virgin (whether Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, or Orthodox Christian) can help us strive for sexual purity.  The aim for us is to flee adultery and fornication whether it is the act or even the thought of them.  Of course, we Christians aim to be Christ-like.  Second only to Him (both fully human and fully divine) is His mother who was the fully human “maidservant of the Lord.”  A maidservant dedicates her body, mind, and spirit to the service of her Master.  Likewise, our aim is to dedicate our whole selves to our Master, God the Holy Trinity.  An ever-virgin Mary (with her Son and our God) makes the perfect target for us to aim for; that we would seek to keep ourselves pure as she did so that Christ can be a part of us and born in us as she was.   If a person cannot maintain sexual control, then let him find a wife or her husband and keep their sexual activity for that spouse (as Paul advised the Corinthians in his first epistle 7:1-9).  It makes sense for us to aim for the highest level of purity (the bull’s-eye) and feel confident in attaining the second (the inner circle around the bull’s eye).

Since you chose to disregard the main point of my article, I am curious to know how your perception of Mary can help lead someone to sexual purity.  By believing Mary to be either unwilling or unable to set aside her sexual desires (even within a legitimate marriage) to be the Lord’s handmaiden, where then is your example for people to set aside his (or hers) for the greater purpose of God?  If you deny the dart thrower the ability to hit the bull’s-eye (celibacy for God’s glory), how then can he best focus on the inner circle (faithful, heterosexual marriage)?  If your doctrine of rejecting Mary’s ever virginity, in fact or theory as my article was a theory, gives someone a high point to aim for in the struggle for control of sensual desires, I would like to read your blog article.  As I mentioned earlier, I would be glad to read your work on your site.

Also, you failed to answer the question I posted in the first paragraph of my article you challenged:  Also, if Jesus did have blood siblings as we define them by our western standard, why is it that he left the care of His mother to a disciple rather than one of the children she supposedly gave birth to?  James and Jude were alive.  Why were they not chosen for the task?  Do you have any proof that they were somehow less worthy to care for their own blood mother than a disciple?  I would like for you to provide proof with your answer.

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The Ever Virgin Mary: My Bull’s- Eye Theory

“Failure is not the problem.  The problem is low aim.” — Dr. Benjamin Mays

Yes, I believe that Mary was a virgin through-out her life.  This belief was central in early church doctrine, continued (though somewhat skewed) in Roman Catholicism, and was unchallenged by the first wave of church reformers.  It wasn’t until the more radical reformed churches came into being that the perpetual virginity of Mary was questioned and rejected.  Many make this error based on the scripture that Jesus had brothers and sisters with His mother waiting to speak to Him even though in that culture one’s cousins were also counted as siblings.  Others are misled by the text where Joseph did not know (as in carnal knowledge) Mary until she bore her son and named him Jesus.  This is a translation problem for in the same Gospel, Jesus declares He will be with us until the end of the age.  By that logic, after the end of the age, Jesus will no longer be with us.  Also, if Jesus did have blood siblings as we define them by our western standard, why is it that he left the care of His mother to a disciple rather than one of the children she supposedly gave birth to?

O Virgin Pure

Perhaps the most disturbing and failed excuse for rejecting Mary as ever virgin is that “she was still human.”  Yes, I believe and the Church teaches that Mary was fully human.  But, is it wise to believe that the natural state of humanity is to wallow in desires of the flesh, or to pursue purity and unity with God? If we aim for the best standard of physical pleasure, sex in heterosexual marriage, we aim for what God has ordained under the Old Covenant, which is good.  As humans, we have a chronic tendency to fall short of our goals.  Pursuing pleasure often distracts us from our goals.  In fact, we tend to excuse personal fulfillment of pleasure as a greater good (“all is fair in love and war”).  Combine aiming for the lesser goal with our tendency to fall short of our goals and the distraction of pleasure and you have a recipe for a society doomed for sexual failure.  It is like a darts thrower who never aims for the bull’s eye.  If there is no central point that he seeks, he will barely reach the inner circle where there is great value.  Instead, his darts will land on various parts of the board (at best) and may even stray far away from the board and hit by-standers causing injury.

But, let a society pursue the purity of an ever virgin Mary.  There is an unusual purity to aim for; to be human and offer one’s sexuality as a sacrifice as a celibate.  It was through the Virgin that the Savior was born and He was also celibate as he was fully human as well.  Mary becomes the bull’s-eye the dart thrower aims for.  With a central target, the thrower will still not make his goal all of the time.  But, he can hit the safe and valuable inner circle of holy matrimony.  A darts-man who hits this circle with regularity is as admired as the one who hits the bull’s-eye.  Novices at darts that constantly strive for the bull’s-eye will improve from hitting the wall, to hitting the outer areas of the board, to hitting either the highest targets of monasticism or matrimony. And this may be the root of why our modern society is engulfed in sexual immorality; rejecting the ever virginity of the fully human Mother of God has taken away the spiritual bull’s-eye that we should strive for in our sexuality.  We don’t see that supreme holiness can be born in us and in one another.  If we cannot see this possibility, then it is difficult to see ourselves and one another as much beyond potential sex partners.  We dehumanize each other in the worst ways.  Men are seen as lovable but brutal.  Women, especially in modern pornography, are treated in ways that if they really were dogs, the PETA would break every law in the world to protect them.  Even outside of porn, our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters are too frequently thought of,  referred to, and treated as less than the icon made by  God that they are as we men are.

This is not to say that those of us who hold Mary to be Ever Virgin are perfect in obtaining sexual purity.  We are probably as bad as, and in some cases worse than anyone else.  But, holding her as one who abstained from sex even after giving birth gives us an example to aim for.  And if one constantly aims for the bulls-eye, the result will be to the better.

On To Pentecost: Accepting Mary the Theotokos

As a teenager, I once raised my voice in disrespect to my mother.  My Father was in the house.  My parents were (are, as they are still alive) old school when it came to corporal punishment.  In my childhood, I knew that when I did wrong, I would get a spanking.  An hour or two afterwards, all was forgiven.  I never thought that they hated me or were going to kill me, no matter how much I angered them.  That time, as I look back at it, I praise God that daddy only fussed at me.  If he would have laid one finger on me, he would have killed me.  That is the angriest I had ever seen my father until this very day.

So, I can’t help but to wonder how we anger God the Son when we Protestants vocalize similar disdain and disrespect toward the woman who brought Him into the world.  “MARY DOES NOT SAVE YOU!  ONLY JESUS SAVES YOU!  YOU NEED TO READ YOUR BIBLE!”  Of course, ultimate salvation comes from believing in Jesus Christ.  He and He alone came down from heaven, was crucified, and rose from the grave.  The Holy Trinity that we worship is the three persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Mary was a human being and cannot be included in the divine Godhead.  Anyone who proclaims anything different is a heretic that needs to be corrected.  Yet by her very character, role in our salvation, and the meaning of her presence; Mary should be honored and respected by all Christians.

 

The late Patriarch Paulos  of Ethiopia.  This man has studied the Bible in Geez, Amharic, Greek, Slavonic, and English.

The late Patriarch Paulos of Ethiopia. This man has studied the Bible in Geez, Amharic, Greek, Slavonic, and English.

 

First of all, that Mary was a virgin.  She was pure and untouched through any lawful or unlawful sexual contact.  We are taught by the Apostle Paul to think of things that are pure and praiseworthy.  In our over sexed society where even our ministers are engaging in illicit activities, it only makes sense that we would uphold someone who has kept herself from human intercourse.  In our society, women are frequently refered to in rather unflattering terms (need I give you examples?).  Here is one woman who cannot be regarded with such vulgar labels.  Which is more that God the Father confirmed her character by sending Gabriel to her with these words;

Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!  (Luke 1:28)

If God the Father favors and was with this pure woman, why then shouldn’t Mary be a part of our Christian living?  And what has been the result of not making her and her virgin character a part of our Protestant pursuit of holy living?  It is no wonder that Satan has had an easy time convincing us to disregard sexual purity.  When the blessing and favor of celibacy is ignored, we readily succumb to fornication as a way of life.  Without the iconic example of being clean, we frequently turn to the mild filth of sexually suggestive comedy and drama, horrific crimes of child molestation and rape, and everything in between the extremes.  This is not to say that venerating an icon of the Theotokos will instantly cure lust (oh, how I wish it would).  But, reflecting on the story of her purity and devotion to the One she gave birth to is a way to refocus our minds on the right way to look at our selves sexually. 

Old Time Religion

As I preached at Trinity Baptist Church yesterday, Mary was a virgin not only with her body.  She was virginal in her close associations as well.  She was betrothed to Joseph of the house of David and  spent three months with her cousin, Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias the priest.  Perhaps she had one or two shady acquaintances.  But, her loving ties were with people who knew how to walk with God.  Furthermore, Mary had to have a pure relationship with God.  When Isaiah was in God’s presence, he fell on his face and cried out “woe to me.”  Eve tried to hide herself from God because of her sin.  In the company of Gabriel (who had previously appeared only to a prophet and priest), Mary was troubled about the greeting and wondered what he meant.  Isn’t this what we want of our kids, spouses, and ourselves?  Don’t we want pure bodies, close friendships with God-fearing people, and a secure walk of faith?  And if so, what is wrong with giving honor (not worship) to the woman who embodies these blessings and gave birth to our Savior?

As a Baptist pastor, I cannot and will not just walk in the church with an icon of the Theotokos and tell everyone to venerate and make prostrations.  But, in my private prayer life, I see the beauty, theology, and value in giving her proper honor as taught in the Orthodox Church.