Archive for November, 2009

Protestants and BMEV

For years I have read little posts by fresh new Papal converts that assert that Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, etc., believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. So did Turretin. Setting aside the question of whether these men believed that this notion was important or not — and Calvin, at least, is clear that it is not important one way or another — we might ask just what is the point? Evidently this information is offered to score points, or as a way of beginning to proselytize. 

I imagine that some unlearned or unthinking persons might be impressed by this argument, but nobody who knows much about the Reformation would be. Let us consider what else these men believed, and ask our youthful Papists if they go along with them.

1. Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Tertullian, etc., all believed that the Man of Sin in 2 Thessalonians 2 is the Pope and that the Whore Babylon in Revelation 17 is the Papal Church. Not only did the Protestants of the first couple of centuries after the Reformation believe these things, but they wrote them into their confessions. BMEV (Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin) did not make it into the Protestant confessions, evidently not considered very important or necessary. But the Pope as Antichrist did make it into the confessions. This was considered very important and necessary. 

2. All these men also denied the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, to children. This error made it into the Westminster Larger Catechism. 

So, now we can ask if our young Romanists want to defend these two ideas, especially #1. 

In fact, these Reformers were wrong on all three counts. The Man of Sin and the Harlot Babylon are clearly stated in the text to be phenomena of the Apostolic Age. There is no Antichrist in the Bible, only antichrists (plural). The Reformers and their followers were wrong about this, and their confessions are in error.

There is absolutely no hint in the Bible that baptized children are to be denied the Lord’s Supper. The Reformers were dead wrong on this matter.

Finally, the Bible is clear that Joseph and Mary had sexual relations and children. The men listed above were quite wrong about this, though none evidently thought it important enough to put into their confessions. 

In conclusion, the answer to young Papal bloggers is simple: So what? The Reformers erred in a number of areas. We have long since moved past these errors.


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The previous discussion led to several points that I’d like to take up in like to take up in more detail. For the sake of discussion, I’ll number them for ease of consideration.

1. Typological “evidences” for Mary as perpetual virgin, queen of heaven, etc. etc. I assert here that these have never been the reasons for Marian doctrines, but that they have been brought into consideration by those who are already completely convinced of those doctrines because of their traditions. As the previous discussion demonstrated, I believe, there is no Biblical warrant for the notion that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus Christ. The Bible explicitly states that Joseph did not routinely have sex with her until after her purification.


When I was in grammar school in the 1950s, I attended a Roman Catholic school. The sisters taught the Catholic kids that Jesus’ brothers were really cousins. One sister told us that they were Jesus’ half-brothers, because Joseph had had an earlier marriage. She, at least, seemed to know that if they had been cousins, the word for cousin would have been used. So, they had to be real brothers and sisters of Jesus, but not children of Mary. That, of course, was impossible. All this was taught with full and total assurance. 

When one reads discussions of Marian doctrine, one never sees any discussion of the Biblical evidence, except to try and discount it by twisting the grammar. No, the doctrines are assumed, and then the Bible is plundered to find allegorical evidence for it. I have read enough Eastern and Roman theology to feel quite confident about this. The actual Biblical data is pretty clear. Nowhere is Mary venerated. She does not appear in the Bible after Pentecost, which means her entire historical role is located in the Old Covenant as the last Eve who bore the last Abel, as the last ‘Adamah who bore the last Adam.

She surely was dead by the time the latest epistles were written, but nothing in them indicates any veneration of her or anything about her dormition or assumption. Forcing Mary into Revelation 12 or into the book of Esther, or whatever, is just that: forcing. The assumption is made, based on tradition and upbringing, that X, Y, and Z are true about Mary. Only then do parts of the Bible “reveal” those truths. And these “revelations” obscure the actual meaning of the text. The woman in Revelation 12 is the Old Covenant church. Esther is a type of Christ.

Of course, if one accepts the Roman doctrine of Tradition (capital tee), as a separate course of revelation next to the Bible, then things change. It still is an issue how to understand Esther and Revelation 12, of course, but the Marian notions can be preserved. But, here at BT, we are not among those who accept that notion of Tradition.

2. This leads me to my second consideration, which is the influence of timeless and gnostic thinking on theology. Heaven knows, there is plenty of that influence in Lutheran and Calvinistic thought. (I have spent most of my career attacking such things in Calvinistic thinking.) Here, however, we are considered with the Marian notions.

What the Bible shows is the importance of Mary as mother of the Chief Heir of the Old Covenant. Her firstborn son was born under the Law. Her greatness is in her willing acceptance of this role, even though it meant virtually everyone she knew would regard her as a loose woman. And indeed, a sword would pierce her heart. But in all of this she is NOT a symbol of being a mother of the New Covenant church. Actually, the Mary who met Jesus in the garden immediately after His glorification was Mary Magdalene, so if there is a NEW Eve, it is she. Much more importantly, the Spirit who paracletically came from Jesus’ side is the new Eve, and Mother of the Church.

Mary had a role in covenant history, and her role ended when Jesus gave her into the house of His disciple John. It was a great role, but that was the end of it.

3. I’d like to suggest how some of these doctrines come about. This is somewhat speculative, of course, and at age 60 (Korean years) I’m not about to write a dissertation and spend five years looking into all this. But just consider.

3a. Theotokos. A friendly interlocutor referred to Mary as theotokos in the present, but then when challenged realized that this is not quite accorate. Theo-tokos means “God-bearer.” It means that the baby on Mary’s womb was God incarnate, the second person of the Trinity. (Note: It does not mean “mother of God,” and that phrase is much more problematic because of its slippery ambiguity.) But of course, Mary stopped being theotokos the moment Jesus was born. He was no longer in her womb, and she was no longer carrying Him. She WAS theotokos, but she IS no longer theotokos.

If, however, theologians and uneducated monks (especially the latter in late antiquity) go around calling Mary “theotokos,” then it gets into the air that she still IS theotokos. Icons are made with the baby Jesus blessing the world from Mary’s lap. She is his environment, always.

Now, a better construction on such ikons can be that the woman is the Church, which carries Jesus with her into the world. Yes, that’s true, but it’s also true that Jesus is in heaven and not living “inside” the Church. It’s much more important that the Church is inside of Him!

3b. More important is the phrase, “the virgin Mary.” The ecclesiastical Creed nicely says, “came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made man.” Here it is clear that Jesus’ conception and birth were of the virgin Mary. The so-called Apostles’ Creed, often used but unofficial in the early church, simply says, “born of the virgin Mary.” This might suggest (in context it does not) that “the virgin Mary” was some kind of name, like “Pontius Pilate.” One might begin to think that “the virgin Mary” was always a virgin. 

Now, the Apostle’s Creed does not SAY that Mary was always a virgin, but again, consider ignorant and illiterate monks whose theology is little more than the list of things in the creeds, and who are given to all kinds of superstitions anyway (and for that matter are happy to form gangs and murder people like Hypatia). Is it hard to understand that “the virgin Mary” becomes an idea, a slogan, something timeless? — especially in the gnostic and philosophized context of the ancient world, where all truths are timeless. 

Again, does your Protestant hymnal say “virgin Mary” or “Virgin Mary”? If the latter, why the capital vee? (If so, get rid of it. And for that matter, let the Latin guide you and say, “born of a virgin, Mary”.)

To return, once “the virgin Mary” becomes an idea divorced from history, then it becomes an important theological datum. It fits in nicely with several factors in the early Church:

a. the context of timeless philosophical thinking, regarded by too many theologians and apologists as important. 

b. the influence of ignorant monks and Buddhist-like “holy men” like Anthony.

c. the increasing celibacy of much of the clergy, cut off from real life. Along these lines consider the crackpot opinions of Jerome, which you can read about in the wikipedia article on him. It is no surprise that Jerome condemned Helvidius, Tertullian, and Victorinus for believing that Mary had a real marriage with Joseph. We admire Jerome for some things, but we cannot admire  his vicious asceticism any more than the people of his own day did. 

d. and, perhaps most importantly, the growing fear of music (too emotional), food (too tempting), and sex (way too tempting) in the later early church. The rejection of music, wine, and woman is characteristic of Islam, and Islam just brings to perfection these three trends emerging from late antiquity. Augustine hold that sex within marriage is always sinful, partakes of “concupiscence,” and is justified only to make children. Basil says that sex is a result of the fall, and that if Adam had not sinned, we would reproduce by division. 

Given this context, it is hardly a surprise that after a couple of centuries “the virgin Mary” became an important theological matter.

4. Once these completely unBiblical notions gain currency, they begin to play havoc with orthodox teachings. For instance, in order for Mary to be a virgin always, her hymen must not have been broken when Jesus was born. He just passed through it, as He passed through doors after His resurrection. Now, notice two things:

4a. This confuses the pre-resurrection Adamic body of Jesus and the post-resurrection body of Jesus. Here again we see an example of timeless gnostic thinking.

4b. And no matter how many times this may be denied, this foolish notion means that Jesus did not experience a birth. It is a denial of the virgin birth, because it was not a natural birth at all. Please note, that the Bible never says that Mary was a virgin while Jesus was being born. The doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus only means that no man had slept with her before Jesus was born. The “hymen intacta” notion is a docetic move that implies Jesus did not have a real human body. He was NOT like us in all ways, though without sin. He, unlike us, could pass through the birth canal and cause no ripping of any sort.

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BMEV, or “Blessed Mary Ever-Virgin,” should not be an issue for any Protestant today, but clamor from various quarters means that we need once again to “get real” with the Biblical data here. Herewith is a reworking of a recent essay on the subject originally published in Biblical Horizons.

Early on in the church it was decided that Joseph must have kept Mary a virgin all her life. Unquestionably this is because sex was considered dirty — we need only peruse the Church “Fathers” to see this over and over. The mother of Jesus could not possibly have engaged in such a disgusting, sweaty, stinky enterprise.

This abysmal notion is ferociously defended by those given over to this idea. It is clear from the Bible that the pleasures of marital intercourse are to be enjoyed, and it would have been sinful for Joseph to deny it to her. There is nothing dirty about sex in marriage. Theologian John Murray, once asked if Mary stayed a virgin, replied to the effect: “Of course not! She was a Godly woman.”
Jephthah’s daughter wept because she was consigned to perpetual virginity. Are we to believe that God rewarded Mary’s faithfulness with a curse!? — denying her the pleasures of a husband and the joys of more children?

Matthew 1:25 is quite clear: Joseph “was not knowing her until she gave birth to a son.” It does not say “never knew her.” The “imperfect” status verb here indicates routine continual activity.

And we may ask why Joseph would have felt any need to keep Mary a virgin. Neither he nor anyone else knew that Jesus was the incarnation of God. Often we hear from the ignorant in certain churches that “Well, if my wife had given birth to God Himself, I don’t think I could touch her sexually after that.” Well, in fact nobody knew Jesus was God incarnate. They knew that he was the promised Messiah, son of David, and savior of the world. They did not know and could not possibly have known that He was God on earth. How could Mary and Joseph ever have dealt with him growing up? How could the disciples possibly have had any kind of relationship with him if they had known He was God on earth?

When Jesus calmed the seas, the disciples wondered, saying, “Who is this that even the wind and waves obey him?” Clearly they did not think Jesus was God. He was a kind of super-Moses, who like Moses could command the sea. It is only after His resurrection that the disciples realized that He was God incarnate.

When Peter confessed, “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God,” he only meant that Jesus was the promised seed of David, the Messiah. In Psalm 2, the Davidic king is “son of God.” It is only after the resurrection that anyone said, “My Lord and my God!”

So, since all Mary and Joseph knew was that Jesus was a man destined for great things, there is no reason on earth they would have refrained from the joys of sex.

Now, even at the time of the Reformation the hold that this evil superstition had on people was so great that the Reformers did not touch it. I read on silly and uninformed blogs that Calvin believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary. That is not true. A glance at Calvin’s commentaries shows that he says, in Matthew 1:25, that it is impossible to know one way or another [he’s wrong about that — JBJ] and that it is best not to worry about it.

Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 8:19-21, and Mark 3:31-35 record that Jesus’ mother and His brothers arrived to see him. We are assured that “brothers” might mean “relatives,” and though a pointless assertion (since Jesus surely did have brothers), this is indeed lexically possible. In Mark 3:32, however, the multitude reports to Jesus, “your mother and your brothers and your sisters are outside looking for you.” Now, “and your sisters” is absent from some ancient manuscripts. It was the consensus of the United Bible Societies Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (3rd ed., 1971), that “and your sisters” is most likely original. If it had been added later, they argue, it would also have been added in verse 31, where it is only “his mother and his brothers arrived.” Now, “brothers” might mean “relatives,” but “sisters” cannot. “Sisters” means sisters.

Whatever the case may be in Mark 3, we can be absolutely certain that Mary and Joseph began to enjoy sex after her purification from childbirth, and that this pleasure was part of God’s gift to them for their faithfulness and obedience, and that they had other children together. Any other opinion is simply an impossibility from a Biblical and consistent Christian point of view.

It is my hope that the Roman Catholic Church, as it rethinks various issues today, will begin to think more clearly and Biblically about this. They rightly seek to honor Mary, but they do so in a very sadly wrong way.

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