Wednesday, September 22, 2010

95 Theses: The Issue of Mary's perpetual virginity

So I am going to start something new to the mustard sphere today. I have a really good friend named Mike who has a blog as well. Mike is in his final year studying to be a Catholic Priest. Prior to meeting him and his roommate I had a conviction that Catholics were heretical heathens. I hadn't met anyone in my short time as a Christian who was anything more than Catholic by name association only. However, Mike and Josh showed me that there is indeed a love for Christ in the Catholic Church and their devotion to Jesus has convinced me that they are not heretical least not the heathen part. (I kid)

So Mike or I will from time to time bring up issues or discrepancies in beliefs between Protestants and Catholics and suggest why I am troubled by a Catholic belief and then Mike will post his reponse on his blog as a sort of bridging dialogue (or vise versa). We are not being malicious or intolerant. We are trying to create discussion and hopefully by the end either we are able to agree to disagree and have a better appreciation for why each side believes what they believe...or Mike and all his Catholic blog followers will be persuaded to Protestantism. (I kid)

Here is a doctrine that bewilders me. Catholics contend that Mary's virginity was and is perpetual. I believe they contend that Jesus was birthed in such a miraculous way as to not exit the birth canal. Then, after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph never had sex.

Here is my take. This is simply not biblical. Here is just a glimpse to help me make my case below.

John 2:12 "After this Jesus went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days."

John 7:3-5 "So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wantsc to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” (For not even his brothers believed in him.)"

There are a few explanations that Catholics have used to try to refute the passages that mention Jesus' brothers. One is that, 'brothers' is another term for disciple. But John would be not only unique to the New Testament in using this term, but also unique to 1st century Greek and rabbinical traditions...rabbis have disciples...not brothers. Further, if John was referring to disciples as brothers, then why in 2:12 would the two be listed side by side as if two separate entities?

Another explanation I have heard is that John is using brothers to refer to Jesus' cousins as a term that means 'close familial bonds'. I think the owner of this theory came from West Virginia (I kid). There is a common word in the Greek that literally means cousin and John's writing style in his gospel suggests that he is not simply working with a limited Greek vocabulary. So the cousin argument holds no water.

A third argument is that Joseph was much older than Mary and had kids prior to their union. While this makes sense in a 21st century context when marriage and remarriage is almost the norm...I am not sure that its as feasible in a 1st century context (though I'd have to look into it more). The Bible doesn't lend any insight into this theory so we can't bank too much on it either.

Another component to this argument is that Jesus must have been an only child because when he was on the cross in John 19:25 and following, Jesus says to Mary and John, the beloved disciple, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own house." This is a decent argument, just reading this passage...but when we read it next to the rest of the gospel of John, we see that Jesus' brothers did not believe in him (7:5-above). If they rejected him but Mary didn't, I think it is safe to say that there'd be a wedge placed in that family. Jesus knows that his mom's family has rejected him and her and so he entrusts her care to his right hand man, John.

My last contention with this theory of perpetual virginity is that it would seem to blatantly disregard the sacred bond of marriage that is so central to the Judeo-Christian belief system. It is a mystery and a miracle that 2 flesh can become one. And the theme of that union can be traced from Creation accounts in Genesis, all throughout the Hebrew Bible and then culminating with that union embodied between Jesus and his Bride in the New Testament. To say that Joseph and Mary never participated in that union is troubling to me and leaves things a bit inadequate.

So that is my take on the issue of Mary's perpetual virginity. Check in with Deacon Mike periodically this week to see his response.


deacon michael said...

I've wanted to do this for a while - about our disagreements in general. It's a great idea. And it's on.

Amy said...

I look forward to reading your thoughts and Deacon Mike's responses. I have not studied any of the original texts of the Bible myself, so I won't claim to have personal insight into how the term "brother" is intended, but I did find a related article on the Catholic Answers website. Here is the link:

deacon michael said...