Saturday, September 20, 2008

Response to Kelly Wilson regarding the Mother of Christ

Kelly Wilson at Kakistocrat has provided a post entitled, "Mary, Ever-Virgin (I)." (link to post)

Mr. Wilson provides some rebuttal with respect to typical arguments against the theory of Mary's perpetual virginity (arguments presented by his opponent, Mr. Schroeder), which I will address in turn.

(1) Opponent's argument "Matthew 1:18’s “before they [Joseph and Mary] came together,” is evidence of Mary and Joseph’s eventual consummation."

(a) Mr. Wilson's rebuttal:
In fact, all the tense of this phrase means is that after they were betrothed, but before they were allowed to be sexually active, Mary was found to be pregnant. Recognizing this, the Jerusalem Bible translates the passage in the following way: ”His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they came to live together she was found to be with child…” Check a commentary.


(b) I respond:

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

The primary issue here is whether the word for "come together" (συνέρχομαι) refers to sexual union. Here we need to be cautious. The word does encompass a range of meanings, some of which are clearly not sexual union but rather the assembling of a mob or the like. The context, however, in this case is determinative, for we are not speaking of a crowd but of an espoused (betrothed) couple.

Parallel usage in Scripture does indicate that this term is a euphemism for the sexual act:

1 Corinthians 7:5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

There is, however, also a secondary issue. Strictly as a matter of grammar and logic, the fact that the verse says "before they came together," may not imply that they eventually came together. Instead, it could point simply to the expected course. (More on this, below.)

(2) Opponent's argument "Matthew 1:24’s “Joseph knew her not until” foreshadows a time whe Joseph will “know” Mary."

(a) Mr. Wilson's response:
-In fact, any good commentary will tell you that all that what is being said here is that Joseph and Mary did not engage in sexual intercourse during the period which preceded the birth of Jesus. Nothing is said about after, simply during. To quote the Eerdmans Biblical Commentary (not a Catholic source) we read that “it neither affirmed nor denied that she remained a virgin for her life.” Matthew has no interest in Mary’s perpetual virginity, and he is not commenting on it here. You can also consult Bloomberg or Gundry (Protestant commentators) if you like, both of whom agree.

To quote Jerusalem again: “He [Joseph] took his wife home and, though he had not had intercourse with her, she gave birth to a son…”


(b) I respond:

Matthew 1:24-25
24Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

The Jerusalem Bible's translation is obfuscatory. The above literal translation is much better. That's not the primary point, however.

The primary point is that our (Reformed and even most other Protestants') rule of faith is not commentators but Scripture. Thus, Eerdmans' has spoken and the case is closed, is not our watchword.

A secondary point is that the phrase "knew her not until," as a matter of strict logic conveys only information about what happened before Jesus' birth. Thus, some commentators have felt justified in the kind of comments that Mr. Wilson has identified.

On the other hand, the words are not part of a syllogism in a logic textbook. They are part of a sentence in which it is mentioned that Joseph "took unto him his wife," referring to Mary. In such a sentence, the most natural reading of the text is to view it as explaining the extent of Joseph's deviation from ordinary marital relations, particularly in view of the larger context, and the comment in verse 18 (already discussed above) regarding the expectation (at a minimum) of future sexual union.

(3) Opponent's argument "Matthew 1:25’s statement that Mary brought forth her firstborn suggests that later children were to follow."

(a) Mr. Wilson's response:
-Not so. Consider the following: Fitzmyer speaks of an ancient funerary, dated 5 B.C. recalling the death of a Jewish woman. It reads: ‘In the pangs of giving birth to a firstborn child, Fate brought me to the end of my life.’

Protestant commentators (Morris, Green, Nolland) all with their knowledge of the Biblical languages (do you envy them Mr. Schroeder?) confirm that the passage makes no statement about later children.


(b) I respond:

I think Mr. Wilson's comment here is essentially correct. That is to say, "firstborn" (πρωτοτόκος) doesn't in itself indicate that Mary had other children. Furthermore, the emphasis in the text is on Mary's virginity prior to Christ's birth, and consequently "firstborn" serves to emphasize that there were no children of Mary's before Jesus, rather than to emphasize the existence Jesus' brethren.

On the other hand, given our knowledge that Jesus had brethren, we may view the use of the term "firstborn" to emphasize that from among the sons of Mary, Jesus was the first (since those living at the time might have recalled the fact that Jesus was not an only child). In other words, while "firstborn" is not compelling evidence against perpetual virginity, it fits slightly better into the non-perpetual-virginity theory than the perpetual-virginity thoery.

(4) Other arguments

Mr. Wilson does not address the other arguments that are normally presented against the assertions of Mary's perpetual virginity, such as the arguments related to the fact that Jesus had "brethren" and the suspicious point of entry of legends of perpetual virginity into "tradition."

Ultimately, however, the matter reduces to this: Scripture is more easily reconciled with the non-perpetual theory than with the perpetual theory. The non-perpetual theory is not only harmonious with a natural reading of Matthew 1 and with the accounts of Jesus' brethren, but also with Paul's teaching regarding proper marital relations. In contrast, the perpetual virginity hypothesis has no reasonable exegetical Scriptural basis, and very limited and suspicious traditional basis in the early church era.

I'm not sure if Mr. Wilson plans to provide a part II, but if so, I will be looking forward to it.

-TurretinFan

3 comments:

natamllc said...

TF, presuming you are the author of these words?:::>

[[Ultimately, however, the matter reduces to this: Scripture is more easily reconciled with the non-perpetual theory than with the perpetual theory. The non-perpetual theory is not only harmonious with a natural reading of Matthew 1 and with the accounts of Jesus' brethren, but also with Paul's teaching regarding proper marital relations. In contrast, the perpetual virginity hypothesis has no reasonable exegetical Scriptural basis, and very limited and suspicious traditional basis in the early church era.]]

I want to touch on the phrase in there, ["natural" reading].

It seems to me that when we do not approach Scripture from the "natural" reading and understanding of the laws of nature, as in, the right, clean, pure, normal passions between a man and his bethrothed as Joseph certainly had towards Mary and after the two becoming one flesh by the natural course of their marriage takes us and the following duties a man has to care for his family, we find ourselves in these sorts of debates. I suspect the nature of things being as they are, the enemies of God and man want to elevate this debate from a natural reading to some other worldly reading which leads us away from God and man in the right order of things.

My only warrant to console me in that is this here, [which, as an aside, you do quite well and it has been a discipline for me because of that to keep my senses focused and trained to discern between what is natural in the debate and what is other worldly, as in spooky, demonic]:::>

2Co 2:11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

and

Heb 5:1 For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
Heb 5:2 He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.

You can sense the gentleness with which God by dreams and the work of the Angel of the Lord in Joseph's life at that most grave and critical time in his walk up to the altar of marriage to treat this situation with the same as Christ, the Son of Mary's womb, did with us after all, as Hebrews points too.

We should naturally read these things and without God's Grace and Everpresent assistance, we will be drawn away into these ethereal mists of vapor in the air thinking such things as is pointed too, "Mary remained a virgin"! Huh?

Oh well, the work of bringing everything into the "Light" of His reason goes forth as a mandate and calling from God.

We can stand here in assurance of our calling and election with this same admonition from Paul to Timothy by Promise in His Faith:::>

2Ti 1:6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands,
2Ti 1:7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
2Ti 1:8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God,
2Ti 1:9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
2Ti 1:10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,
2Ti 1:11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher,
2Ti 1:12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.

orthodox said...

"In such a sentence, the most natural reading of the text is to view it as explaining the extent of Joseph's deviation from ordinary marital relations"

While it does explain a deviation from ordinary relations, you haven't explained why it must be aiming to show the extent or the full extent of possible deviation. Just because he has a purpose in explaining a particular deviation does not show he intends to list every and all deviation.

"particularly in view of the larger context"

The larger context merely seeks to show who the father of Jesus is.

"and the comment in verse 18 (already discussed above) regarding the expectation (at a minimum) of future sexual union."

It doesn't say there is an expectation that THEY will have future union. At best it implies that normal couples would have had union by this time, which this passage denies.

"On the other hand, given our knowledge that Jesus had brethren, we may view the use of the term "firstborn" to emphasize that from among the sons of Mary, Jesus was the first"

Or we might say it emphasises that among Jesus' bretheren this was MARY's first son. (the others being Joseph's).

"Scripture is more easily reconciled with the non-perpetual theory than with the perpetual theory."

Because I guess... most couples have relations. Most men don't rise from the dead. So I guess the "swoon theory" fits better with scripture than the "resurrection theory".

Turretinfan said...

O wrote: "While it does explain a deviation from ordinary relations, you haven't explained why it must be aiming to show the extent or the full extent of possible deviation. Just because he has a purpose in explaining a particular deviation does not show he intends to list every and all deviation."

I certainly agree that - as a matter of strict logic - mentioning one deviation doesn't necessarily imply that every deviation has been mentioned.

Nevertheless, as mentioned above, the verses is not part of a logical syllogism - it is written in common language. In common language, things are normally presumed to be as they usually are, unless a deviation is mentioned.

O wrote: "The larger context merely seeks to show who the father of Jesus is."

That "merely" is not necessarily the case. Certainly, Jesus paternity is the main point.

O wrote: "It doesn't say there is an expectation that THEY will have future union. At best it implies that normal couples would have had union by this time, which this passage denies."

Actually, here you are wrong. Although it doesn't say there is an expectation, it makes reference to the expectation - and it makes reference to the expectation not of present, but future union.

O wrote: "Or we might say it emphasises that among Jesus' bretheren this was MARY's first son. (the others being Joseph's)."

Again, I don't think is particularly creditable. The fact that Jesus' royal lineage is here traced through his adoptive father, Joseph, would tend to support the idea that he was also Joseph's first son - though only by adoption. Recall that Jewish law required the very first son (not just the son of the favored wife) be the heir.

The word "firstborn" here, however, does seem to be emphasizing that Jesus was the one who opened his mother's womb.

O wrote: "Because I guess... most couples have relations. Most men don't rise from the dead. So I guess the "swoon theory" fits better with scripture than the "resurrection theory"."

No. With the resurrection, we have explicit testimony that something abnormal occurred. If we did not, the situation would be different.

On other hand, there is nothing in Scripture that even hints that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus' birth (just as there is nothing that hints that she was sinless).

-TurretinFan