Friday, September 23, 2011

Response to Jerome's Response to Helvidius - Part 2

Jerome wrote a response to Helvidius regarding the virginity of Mary.  This post is the second in a series of responses to what Jerome wrote.

Jerome wrote:
2. I must call upon the Holy Spirit to express His meaning by my mouth and defend the virginity of the Blessed Mary. I must call upon the Lord Jesus to guard the sacred lodging of the womb in which He abode for ten months from all suspicion of sexual intercourse. And I must also entreat God the Father to show that the mother of His Son, who was a mother before she was a bride, continued a Virgin after her son was born. We have no desire to career over the fields of eloquence, we do not resort to the snares of the logicians or the thickets of Aristotle. We shall adduce the actual words of Scripture. Let him be refuted by the same proofs which he employed against us, so that he may see that it was possible for him to read what is written, and yet to be unable to discern the established conclusion of a sound faith.
While we agree with Jerome that the standard should be the actual words of Scripture and not attempts at Aristotelean philosophy, we have to note that Jerome is still not actually setting forth a valid argument for his position.

Notice that Jerome seems to think that "sexual intercourse" is something bad.  Thus, he describes suggestions to the contrary of his position as "suspicion of sexual intercourse" like one might speak of "suspicion of fornication" or the like.

Here is an opportunity, however, to help define the difference between us.  We agree that Mary was a virgin before the conception of Christ, and that until Jesus was born she remained a virgin.  This is important, not because virginity itself is somehow sacred, but because it was necessary that it be clear that Jesus was the Son of God.

Upon Jesus' birth, the need for Mary to remain a virgin ceased.

Likewise, Mary was already betrothed when she was found with child.  She was Joseph's bride-to-be, though they had not yet come together.  Under the Jewish regime, it would have been adultery for her to have been sexually joined to anyone but Joseph ("If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour's wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you." Deuteronomy 22:23-24), and when Joseph discovered her pregnancy, he was planning to divorce her ("Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily." Matthew 1:19).

That stood in contrast to the situation of a virgin that was not betrothed (Exodus 22:16  And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.). In that situation, neither death nor merciful divorce (as Joseph thought he would do) was appropriate.  Instead, in that case, the seduced girl would (with her father's permission) become the spouse of the seducer.

Joseph was not minded to track down her seducer and make him marry Mary, he was minded to "put away" (i.e. divorce) Mary.  This demonstrates that Mary was to be Joseph's wife.

Moreover, when Joseph considered this option of putting away Mary, God intervened. 

Matthew 1:20  But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

Look at that! God specifically tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary unto him.  In context, that means Joseph is not to be afraid to take Mary to be his wife, which will involve the very thing that so troubled our ancient brother Jerome.  After all, that's what distinguishes husband and wife from merely "betrothed" and is what is involved in "taking" her (compare "And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her." Deuteronomy 20:7).

In fact, it is such an integral part of taking her, that the Scriptures make sure to explain an exception:

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

Notice that Joseph took Mary to be his wife, but did not know her until Jesus was born.  The implication, of course, is that this exceptional case ended with the identified terminus, namely Jesus' birth.



Natamllc said...


I am not sure if this was in your considerations when writing this part 2 but it occurs to me to point out that the Law establishes the importance of the purity of the marriage bed and the consummation?

The man could not protest the virgin's virginity because her family kept the bed sheets as proof of her virginity!

Here we have Joseph "living by Faith" in the Word of God when he consented and then afterward coming together with Mary to consummate the marriage knowing what was revealed to him about her pregnancy. Joseph, if any of these two had reason to contest the purity of their marriage, would have had a very good reason to protest it and he doesn't. To lessen that reality and not make this something to consider along with Mary and the extraordinary nature of what she was chosen to bear, is a mistake. This battle is one that will be lost, too, as all of Satan's battles against the Truth will be!

Deu 22:13 "If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her
Deu 22:14 and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, 'I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,'
Deu 22:15 then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate.
Deu 22:16 And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, 'I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her;
Deu 22:17 and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, "I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity." And yet this is the evidence of my daughter's virginity.' And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city.
Deu 22:18 Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip him,
Deu 22:19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days.
Deu 22:20 But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman,
Deu 22:21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father's house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

Nick said...

Two points here:

(1) Regarding Matthew 1:19 - Joseph "being a just man" and didn't want to put Mary to public shame, wanted to divorce her "quietly" - one pious tradition of thought suggests that Joseph acting in this manner was not because he suspected adultery, but rather that he felt unworthy to be the foster-father of the Messiah. This 'detail' makes little sense if it was in the Jewish law the whole point (and duty) to expose adulterers to be stoned. The downside of in this interpretation is that the text could naturally be read the 'other' way, particularly the way the chronology of 20f is presented.

(2) The (in)famous "until" is by no means an open and shut case. John Calvin's own words when exegeting this was that "Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance" in assuming "until" automatically entailed a terminating of the verb and rather simply was used to indicate no actions had occurred up to that time (without regard for what happened after). As many are aware, pressing this very issue is what brought the otherwise decent apologist Eric Svendsen's career crashing down.

Dan Steinke said...

"As many are aware, pressing this very issue is what brought the otherwise decent apologist Eric Svendsen's career crashing down. "

Dr. Svendsen left the apologetic realm for much different reasons than you impugn to him. His heos hou thesis was a great demonstration on not only how to do great biblical research, but show how shallow and weak the arguments for Mary's perpetual virginity actually are. The fact that RC apologist were desperately trying to find "one" example to try to rebut his argument, amongst a myriad of examples supporting it, revealed the true nature of much of RC apologetics. All the evidence that points to Mary's natural relations with her husband, after Christ's birth, are abundant and clear. RC's simply believe it, not on any positive biblical evidence, but purely on a prior commitment to adherence to RC teaching. Curiuos, exactly what benefit is it to anyone in the history of the world, whether Mary had normal marital relations with Joseph after giving birth to Jesus. If she does, it matters not, if she doesn't - just as irrelevant.

Francis Turretin said...

As to (1), that tradition of thought, pious or not, does not fit the text. The angel's response to Joseph was to inform him of the divine nature of Mary's pregnancy. Thus, it was not because he knew the situation, but because he did not, that he was minded to divorce Mary.

As to (2), I echo Dan's words below. Moreover, Svendsen's excellent analysis isn't rebutted by a glib line from Calvin adopting Jerome's position.

Nicholas42 said...

Hello Dan,

Svendsen's doctoral thesis was built upon some very dubious grounds and it seems he left his apologetics ministry shortly after that fiasco. I'm not aware of other reasons why he left, maybe to focus on his family more or something, but the fact he left so suddenly and so permanently suggests to me the story was more about his credibility. Here is an article from a Reformed Professor from the University of Edinburgh that says Svendsen's thesis was not credible:

Nick said...

Hi TF,

After reading some Catholic articles on the subject, I actually am convinced myself that the reading of Joseph feeling unworthy to be the Messiah is the best *exegetical* reading. It turns out even St Thomas Aquinas adopted this "Humility reading" view as well, following some Church Fathers, though other Church Fathers interpret it as Joseph suspecting adultery (the "Suspicion reading" view).

The response by the angel can be taken either way. For example, the angel says "do not be afraid to take Mary," implying Joseph was worried/confused rather than angry. In verse 18 it says "she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit," implying Joseph "found out" about this but was struck with a fearful awe and the angel was there to reaffirm his duty. And, as I first pointed out, the Humility reading fits better than the Suspicion reading when considering the part about Joseph being "righteous" didn't want to embarrass Mary and thus divorce "quietly".

Francis Turretin said...

It really can't be taken either way, as I've already explained.

To address your further point, notice that I didn't say that Joseph was angry. In fact, he was going to quietly divorce her. That's not a particularly angry move.

On the other hand, it is not especially "humble" to divorce a poor, innocent virgin. So, on that additional ground, the "humility" thesis looks more and more incredible.

Francis Turretin said...

To add to my previous point, I understand (I think) that you are saying it could be parsed "don't be afraid [reason not to be afraid]" or "don't be afraid [reason he was afraid]." Leaving aside some lesser grammatical points, there would be no stated reason not to be afraid, which leaves the sentence hanging. Especially, it connects poorly with the next clause about the child being born and named, whereas under the first interpretation, it flows smoothly out of the reason not to be afraid, i.e. don't be afraid because [x happened and y is going to happen].

Francis Turretin said...

a) I'm not sure what credibility Paul Owen (your unnamed professor) has with anyone in the Reformed world.
b) I haven't seen the slightest evidence from anyone with knowledge of the situation that someone disagreeing with Svendsen's conclusions in either of the two books he published in '07 (Who is My Mother and Upon This Slippery Rock) had anything to do with his current limited on-line presence. He debated Pacwa on the issue of Authority in 2008, as I recall, but likewise I don't have any reason to think that his performance in that debate had anything to do with his limited on-line presence now.
c) I leave it to him to clarify. I really like his "Who Is My Mother," notwithstanding Paul Owen's comments.

Danalexander said...

I find it rather humorous that you cite a "Reformed Professor from the University of Edinburgh" that disagrees with the good Dr.'s thesis. Unfortunatley for you, I was an avid reader of Dr. Svendsen's Blog for a very very long time, and on more than one occasion your "Reformed Professor from the University of Edinburgh" showed up quite frequently for a time there. Eric repeatedly, and quite convincingly, corrected this Reformed Professor numerous times on his blog and displayed his academic and theological brilliance almost daily. Anyhow, Dr. Svendsen thorougly demolished and addressed all the naysayers objections at the time, just look up the exchanges in the archives of his website, although I get the sense you are really not interested in the substance of Dr. Svendsens arguments, but rather, you'll grasp on anything and anyone who promotes Mary's PV.
The fact that you have to slander Dr. Svendsen and speculate on his absence from internet exchanges, pretending as if some amatuer epologists ran him off the blog sphere is quite sad and inappropriate. Not only do you have zero idea why he no longer communicates via the internet, your portray him as some hack who was unable to defend himself from the aruments of Romanism. This is a quite lame and disingenous approach to quickly dismiss Dr. Svendsen and his arguments. Your method of apologetics is duly noted.

Pete Holter said...

Hey Nick and TurretinFan!

Let me offer some friendly interaction here…

“It seems to me that the ‘suspicion theory’ has more problems than the view taken by Origen and Aquinas, which we might call the ‘humility’ theory. The former fails to explain why Joseph as a just man would not keep the Law and give a suspected adulteress a pass. In addition, it has to ignore the flow of the text: Mary was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit” (Michael Barber, “Was Joseph Really Suspicious of Mary's Pregnancy?”)

I love Michael Barber. I am so grateful for him. But I am taking the liberty here to disagree with this assessment…

The reason “why Joseph as a just man would not keep the Law and give a suspected adulteress a pass” would be the same reason why Jesus let the woman caught in adultery pass. It is a demonstration of the mercy that triumphs over judgment, and of Joseph holding in his heart the desire of God to have mercy over sacrifice.

And the best explanation for why Matthew supplies the information that Mary “was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” is to simply inform his readers of the fact that this is indeed how she conceived. By the time we modern folk come to the text, we have already heard and know that she has conceived by the Holy Spirit. But if Matthew’s Gospel is being used in an evangelistic setting, an ancient reader who is reading it for the first time, and who may not have access to the other Gospels, had better be prepared in order to help remove suspicion from his mind. And so the fact that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit is introduced at the same time the fact of Mary’s pregnancy is introduced. It’s a case of “dramatic irony,” where the reader is made privy to information that the person in the narrative is not aware of.

If Joseph was afraid to take Mary to be his wife precisely because of her encounter with the Holy Spirit, then the angel’s rationale for why he should not be afraid would be terrible:

Joseph: I am afraid of snakes.
Angel: Do not fear, for what you have before you is a snake.

What will Joseph’s response be? 1 or 2?

1. Joseph: Oh, ok.
2. Joseph: This is no consolation! This is the very reason why I do have fear!!! :)

Response (1) is the “humility model” as the Scripture presents it, and it doesn’t make sense to me. Response (2) is what we would expect Joseph to say if the humility model were true, but is not how the Scripture presents the exchange. This is why the humility model fails for me.

I think it makes a lot more sense to think that Joseph is afraid that Mary has committed adultery and that the angel is simply letting Joseph in on what we the reader already knows. The two other dreams of Joseph that use the same construct of thought supply information otherwise unknown to Joseph after the “for” (cf. 2:13 & 2:20). That Joseph unhesitatingly believed what was told to him by God only through dreams demonstrates how great was his faith, and helps us the better to see why he is indeed “a just man.”

Of course, I think Augustine is best. :)

“Thus, when Joseph, to whom the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Lord, was espoused, discovered that she was with child and knew that it was not his child, he could only believe that she was an adulteress, yet he was unwilling to punish her, although he was not thereby accessory to the sin. This good intention was credited to him as virtue; therefore this is written of him: ‘And being a just man, and not willing publicly to expose her, he was minded to put her away privately. But while he thought on these things, the Angel appeared to him’ and revealed to him that what he had thought was the result of sin was the act of God” (Augustine, Letter 153).

With love in Christ,