Mary Worshippers Need Not Apply
Ever have one of those days when you’re feeling full of energy and vigor? I mean, you’re feeling just obnoxiously happy? Well, this is one of those days.
Driving home from work, you switch on the radio to see what’s happening, and you tune in to a local Protestant radio station just in time to hear a preacher speaking against various Catholic doctrines concerning Mary. The show is called Pastor Bob’s Bible Hour. Pastor Bob proclaims: “Jesus knew Catholics would come along and begin to worship His mother and call her perpetual virgin and absurd things like that. But the Bible says: ‘Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And are not His brethren James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all of His sisters with us?’ (Matt. 13:55-56a). And isn’t it sad, my brothers and sisters?”
Pastor Bob goes on to say: “Jesus dealt with these Mary worshippers in His day. In Luke 11:27-28, the Bible says, ‘A woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts that You sucked!” But He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”’”
On a normal day you would probably just listen, take a few mental notes and drive on. But not this time. You’re feeling a little bit too saucy. You take the first exit you see and head for a phone. This is just one more reason why you need to buy that cell phone you’ve been talking about getting.
You don’t have to wait long. Because you identified yourself as a Catholic to the station’s “call screener,” your call is put through and you’re on the air in no time. You begin by correcting Pastor Bob’s assertion that Catholics “worship Mary.” The Church honors Mary as the Mother of God and our mother (see Luke 1:43, Rev. 12:17, Eph. 6:1-3), but worshipping her would be a mortal sin according to the Catholic Church.
You then point out that Jesus wasn’t denying the fact that His Mother was blessed in Luke 11:27-28.
“If there’s one thing we agree on, it’s that Scripture doesn’t contradict itself,” you suggest carefully but in a friendly tone. You smile as you hear a hearty “amen on that!” boom over the phone line from Pastor Bob. “Well, Luke 1:48 says, ‘Henceforth all generations will call me blessed.’ Jesus would never contradict His own Word and say we are not to call His mother blessed.
“Far from saying Mary is not blessed and to be honored as such, Jesus was heaping a double blessing upon His Mother while teaching us a very important lesson. What’s most important about the life of the Mother of God was not her calling per se; rather, it was her cooperation with the grace of God she was given to fulfill her calling. She’s the ultimate example of one who ‘hears the word of God and keeps it.’
“In Luke 1:38, it was Mary who declared to the angel, ‘Let it be to me according to your word.’ And the result was the incarnation of our Lord. Because of Mary’s yes, we have the possibility of salvation if we will but follow her example and say yes to the calling of God in our lives.”
Pastor Bob then reminds you how the Catholic Church contradicts the Scriptures in claiming Mary is a perpetual virgin. “Scripture clearly says Jesus has brothers and sisters. How do you answer that?”
You begin with Galatians 1:18-19: “Then after three years I [St. Paul] went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.”
“Notice two very important points,” you explain. “First, the ‘James’ St. Paul is talking about was a ‘brother of the Lord.’ Sound familiar? And second, he was an apostle. There are only two apostles named James. The first was the ‘son of Zebedee.’ He would not be the ‘James’ St. Paul was talking about because he was martyred very early according to Acts 12:1-2. And even if it were him, his father was named Zebedee, not Joseph. If he were the uterine brother of the Lord, his father would have been Joseph.
“There is only one James left who was an apostle according to Scripture. And according to Luke 6:15-16, his father’s name was Alphaeus, not Joseph. That would mean James the apostle and Jesus were not uterine brothers.
“We also know that Jude was the ‘brother’ of James according to Jude 1:1. So here we have two of the four ‘brothers’ of the Lord in Scripture as relatives of our Lord, but not his uterine brothers.”
You go on to explain to Pastor Bob that it was common in Hebrew culture (as it is in ours) to call one another brothers when, in fact, you were either extended family members or brothers in the Faith. References to Abraham and Lot in Genesis 13:8 and 14:14 are classic examples of this practice. Though they were uncle and nephew respectively, they called one another “brother.” (Some Bible versions, like the Revised Standard, translate the Hebrew word for “brother” here as “kinsman,” which of course only confirms this point.) In the New Testament, Jesus told us to call one another “brothers” in Matthew 23:8 (see also Acts 9:17 and 1 Cor. 2:1). This doesn’t mean we all come from the same physical uterus!
You then continue: “If I may just toss in another thought, Pastor Bob. If you examine the scene at the foot of the cross, you discover something very interesting. We know from John 19:25 that there were at least three people named Mary present: Jesus’ mother; Mary, the wife of Clopas; and Mary Magdalene. There may have been more because Matthew 27:55 tells us many of the women who ministered to him (see Luke 8:1-2) were following as well. But John also said ‘Mary’s sister’ was present. Who was she?
“Isn’t it interesting that St. Matthew referred to one of the Marys at the foot of the cross as ‘the other Mary’ in both Matthew 27:61 and Matthew 28:1? Could it be that she was the sister of Mary that St. John mentioned in John 19:25? Why do I say that? Simple: If you had a famous cousin like Mary and you were named Mary as well, it wouldn’t be surprising if you were referred to as ‘the other Mary,’ even though there were four or five Marys present. Everyone would know who was being referred to.
“Notice as well that St. Matthew identified two of her sons as James and Joseph. Here we see number three in the list of the ‘brothers of the Lord.’
“The bottom line: We have here at least two, perhaps three, of the ‘brothers of the Lord’ shown to be relatives, but not uterine brothers of Jesus. It’s certainly not a stretch to say that the Simon among the list of four ‘brothers’ was also a relative of Jesus. This is the clear context.”
Pastor Bob responds: “I think you’re twisting the Scriptures to fit your dogmas. Matthew 1:24-25 tells us plainly that Mary and Joseph had normal, marital relations like everyone else.”
“Let’s take a look at Matthew 1:24-25, Pastor Bob, and see what it actually says: ‘When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called His name Jesus.’
“The text does not say Mary and Joseph ever had sexual relations. It merely says they didn’t have relations before Jesus was born. You’re adding your traditional interpretation to the text.”
That one gets Pastor Bob’s ire up a little, and he responds immediately: “The text clearly implies they had sexual relations after Jesus was born because it uses the word until.”
You respond: “This is an idiomatic expression we find all over Scripture. We use it in English as well. I may say to you, ‘Until we meet again, God bless you.’ That doesn’t mean after we meet again, God curse you! The opposite is not necessarily the case after the “until” is fulfilled. Here are some biblical examples.
“First, consider 2 Samuel 6:23: ‘And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to (until) the day of her death.’ Does this mean she had children after she died?
“Second, read 1 Timothy 4:13: ‘Till I come, attend to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, to teaching.’ Does this mean St. Timothy should stop teaching after St. Paulcomes?
“Third, look at 1 Corinthians 15:25: ‘For He [Christ] must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.’ Does this mean Christ’s reign will end? No! Luke 1:33 says, ‘He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.’”
Pastor Bob responds by pointing out that the text in Matthew 1:25 uses the Greek wordsheos hou for “until,” whereas the texts you alluded to use heos alone. “The words heos hou together indicate the opposite is true after the ‘until’ is fulfilled,” Pastor Bob declares.
Having heard that one before you quickly quote 2 Peter 1:19: “And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
“This text uses heos hou for ‘until,’” you say. “Now, I ask you, what is the prophetic word referring to in this text?” you ask rhetorically. “Prophecy doesn’t refer only to future events foretold. It simply means ‘the mind of God spoken forth.’ Does this text mean there will come a time when we won’t have to pay attention to the Word of God? Obviously not!”
Just as you finish this statement, Pastor Bob indicates he must take a commercial break, but he asks you to hold until after the commercial. You’re surprised he’s keeping you on the air so long.
After the break, Pastor Bob challenges you to give some positive reasons for believing in the perpetual virginity of Mary. “You’ve only manipulated the Bible,” he insists, “in trying to dispel the reasons I believe Mary was not a perpetual Virgin.”
You respond: “If I could, I’d like to give you five quick reasons, though I could give you more.
“The first reason: According to many parallel texts in Scripture, Mary is depicted as the true Ark of the Covenant. One example is Luke 1:43. Notice Elizabeth’s exclamation when Mary enters her home shortly after she had conceived our Lord: ‘And why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’ This refers back to 2 Samuel 6:9, when the Old Testament type of Mary — the old Ark of the Covenant — was carried into the presence of King David. He said, ‘How can the ark of the Lord come to me?’ Notice the text then says, ‘And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obededom the Gittite three months’ (v. 11). Luke 1:56 says, ‘And Mary remained with her about three months.’
“According to Exodus chapter 25, the Ark of the Covenant contained three sacred objects. All of these were types of our Lord. One was the manna. According to John 6:31-33, Jesus is the true manna. Another was the rod of Aaron, the high priest. According to Hebrews 3:1, Jesus is our true high priest. The third is the Ten Commandments. In Hebrew they’re called the ten ‘words.’ Jesus is the ‘Word’ made flesh, according to John 1:14.
“According to the Old Testament, no one except the high priest could enter into the presence of the Ark (see Ex. chapters 28 and 29). If anyone else even looked inside or touched the Ark, they would die (see 1 Sam. 6:19 and 2 Sam. 6:7).
“If this was the case for the Old Testament type, which is no more than a shadow of the true New Testament fulfillment according to Hebrews 10:1, it would be unthinkable that a sinful man could intimately touch the true Ark of God!
“The second reason I’d give is this. In Ezekiel 44:1-2, the prophet was given a vision of the holiness of ‘the gate’ of the temple: ‘Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. And he said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut.”’
“Mary is ‘the gate’ through which not just the presence of God has passed, but God in the flesh. How much more would the New Testament ‘gate’ remain shut forever!
“My third reason is this: In Luke 1:34, when Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah, she asked the question, literally translated from the Greek, ‘How shall this be since I know not man?’ This question makes no sense unless Mary has a vow of virginity.”
Pastor Bob jumps in and says, “Once again you’re twisting the Scriptures. This says nothing of any vow of virginity. The fact is they were married. And married people have sexual relations!”
“Think about it, Pastor Bob,” you retort. “If you were a woman about to be married and someone said you were going to have a baby, that statement wouldn’t be much of a surprise. That’s the normal course of events — unless, of course, you had a vow of virginity; then it would sound strange.
“Notice: Mary said, ‘How shall (Greek estai) this be?’ That’s in the future. Mary is surprised and wants to know how this will be accomplished. This indicates she’s not planning on the normal course of events for her future.
“As far as the sexual part goes, one doesn’t have to have sex for a marriage to be ratified. A marriage is ratified when the couple exchanges vows.
“Here’s my fourth reason: In John 19:26, Jesus gave his Mother to the care of St. John, even though by law the next eldest brother and his brothers and sisters would have the responsibility to care for her. It’s unthinkable to believe that Jesus would take His mother away from His family in disobedience to the law.”
Pastor Bob responds: “He did so because His brothers and sisters weren’t there. They had left him. John was faithful, and Jesus had to care for His mother.”
“Come on, Bob,” is your reply. “Jesus ‘knew all men’ (see John 2:25). If St. James were his uterine brother, as you say, Jesus would have known he would be faithful along with his brother Jude. The fact is, Jesus had no brothers and sisters, so He had the responsibility, on a human level, to take care of His mother. And He did.
“Finally, Mary is depicted as the spouse of the Holy Spirit in Scripture. When Mary asked the angel how she was going to conceive a child, the angel responded: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Do you honestly think Joseph is going to cheat on the Holy Spirit? I think not!”
“What you just said makes no sense, because the Bible says Joseph took Mary as his wife,” Pastor Bob says, with a renewed sense of confidence. “Unfortunately, we’re almost out of time. We’ll take this topic up and respond to these remarks from our Catholic friend on our next broadcast.”
You put in a last word. “One last thought, if I may, Pastor. Don’t get hung up on St. Joseph’s being the earthly spouse of Mary. We know we only have one true teacher, and that’s Christ, according to Matthew 23:8 — yet we have many teachers (see 1 Cor. 4:14-15, Eph. 4:11) on this earth who teach us as members of His body. This isn’t a contradiction.
“So it is with Mary and Joseph. The Holy Spirit is Mary’s spouse, but St. Joseph is her spouse and protector on this earth for at least two obvious reasons. First, as St. Matthew points out in his genealogy (see Mt. chapter 1), St. Joseph was of the line of David. Jesus had to be of the line of David in order to fulfill prophecy. He was to be the true ‘son of David’ and king of Israel (see 2 Sam. 7:14; Heb. 1:5, Rev. 19:16, 22:16). As the only Son, even though adopted, He would have been in line for the throne. Remember: The Herodian family had usurped the throne. The sons of David were the rightful heirs.
“Second, Jesus needed an earthly father and Mary needed a spouse, especially in a culture that didn’t take too kindly to sex outside of marriage. No doubt, Mary would otherwise have been in danger.”
At this point, Pastor Bob says he has to say goodbye to the listening audience, but he promises to pick up on this topic again and spend some time refuting your arguments on the air. “Wow,” you think to yourself as you hang up the phone. “I’ve just made a new friend and discovered a new radio show to listen to. Now I’m going out to get that cell phone. I’m going to be using it a lot!”