Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Marian typology

1. I've been watching some Brant Pitre videos. He's a Catholic apologist with an emphasis on the (alleged) biblical evidence for Catholicism. He's popular and prolific, with a number of books and video series. As I said in another post, he's probably the best Bible scholar among Catholic apologists. 

I imagine his explanations would be a "revelation" to untutored evangelicals. "Why hasn't anyone told me this before?" 

In this post I'm going to make some methodological observations about his typology. Admittedly, my exposure to his material is pretty limited. However, from what I've seen thus far, there's a stereotypical quality to his arguments, so this seems to be a representative sample of his methodology or hermeneutical grid. Because NT Mariology is so thin, Catholic apologists who wish to demonstrate Catholic Mariology from Scripture must resort to layers of typological padding. In this post I'll focus on his Marian typology, in the following videos:

2. Attempting to prove Catholicism from Scripture poses a dilemma for the Catholic apologist: if he succeeded in proving Catholicism from Scripture, he'd simultaneously disprove Catholicism inasmuch as Catholicism repudiates sola Scriptura. Catholic epistemology is a combination of Scripture, tradition, and the "living" interpreter of the magisterium. If, however, it's possible to prove Catholicism from Scripture alone, then tradition and the magisterium are superfluous. 

3. One of Pitre's fallacies is "rooting" Catholic theology and ethics in Scripture. He labors to document the "Jewish roots" of Catholicism in Scripture. However, drawing conceptual analogies between something in Catholicism and something in Scripture doesn't begin to show that Catholicism is a logical or divinely-intended outgrowth of the biblical ideas and practices. To take a comparison:

• An escort service prooftexts the Jewish roots of seduction (Deliah)

• An Aztec prooftexts the Jewish roots of human sacrifice (the binding of Isaac)

• A dating service prooftexts the Jewish roots of involuntary circumcision (1 Sam 18) 

Satire aside, there are Mormons who prooftext the Jewish roots of Mormonism by drawing conceptual analogies between Mormonism and the OT or Second Temple literature. A problem with the "Jewish roots" strategy is that a sect or cult can usurp or co-opt biblical ideas and practices. But that's not properly grounded in Scripture. Rather, that's just imitative. 

4. In addition, many biblical ideas and practices have built-in chronological or geographical limits. Take the Catholic or Mormon priesthood. That has OT parallels, but the priesthood was indexed to the Mosaic covenant. That doesn't extend into the new covenant. 

5. Pitre has a flawed understanding of typology. Typology is a kind of forward-leaning symbolism, and symbolism is somewhat arbitrary. Symbolic things aren't intrinsically symbolic. Rather, the symbolism must be assigned. In the case of biblical typology, God must intend for A to prefigure B. Most things aren't symbolic. They only become symbolic by design. A stipulative relation between the thing and what it stands for. 

There's a reason why you find dominical typology in the NT but you don't find Marian typology in the NT. The omission is intentional. NT writers don't make the connections that Catholic apologists do. Catholic apologists act as if you can just fill in Marian typology from OT motifs, to create parallels between dominical typology and Marian typology. But OT symbolism isn't welded together, so that one piece can't be typological unless every piece is typological. 

6. Apropos (5), Pitre fails to appreciate the plasticity of biblical symbolism. He has a mechanical concept of symbolism, as if all the parts of an OT symbol are transferred to the NT. But the elements of a symbolic construct can be taken apart and creatively recombined in different ways. The parts aren't logical or causal necessities that must be fulfilled as an ironclad unit. 

For instance, Pitre says: if Jesus in the new manna, where is the new ark? When manna came down they put it in a golden jar and then they put it in the ark of the covenant. 

But that supposes the entire framework must carry over into the NT. Yet that's a very robotic notion of symbolism. In symbolism, certain elements can be detached from other elements, left out, or reattached in different, imaginative ways. 

Pitre himself is conspicuously inconsistent in his appeal. He doesn't apply the same reasoning to other furnishings in the tabernacle. (At least, not in the video.) If Jesus is the new manna, where is the new basin, Menorah, altar of incense, inner veil, outer veil, mercy seat, table of showbread, inner sanctum, or Aaron's staff?

And even if Pitre does that in one of his books, it's fallacious to assume that there must be one-to-one correspondence between each constituent of the tabernacle and NT counterparts. For one thing, symbolism may be holistic rather than atomistic. Individual emblems don't necessarily have independent significance, but are different ways of picturing the same idea. Meaning lies in the totality. 

7. Apropos (6), Pitre says if Jesus is the king, then "by definition", Mary is the Queen Mother. 

i) But that's just a sociological custom. It doesn't follow that the entire social structure of a royal family must be replicated in order for Jesus to be king. Apply Pitre's logic to a different example: by definition, every father has a mother and father: therefore, God the Father has a divine mother and divine father! 

ii) Incidentally, he quotes 1 Kgs 2:19-20, where Solomon bows to Bathsheba. Does that mean he thinks Jesus bows to Mary? 

8. He quotes some wording in the Lucan Annunciation to prove that Mary is the ark of the covenant:

i) I agree with him that Gabriel uses language for the Incarnation/virginal conception that evokes Shekinah/tabernacle imagery. That, however, doesn't make Mary the new ark of the covenant. For one thing, in OT examples, the Shekinah descends upon or fills the tabernacle/temple in general. It's not confined to the ark. 

ii) In addition, it's hardly a fatal concession to Catholic Mariology to say that during her pregnancy, Mary was a figurative temple of God. In Pauline pneumatology, that holds true for Christians in general (cf. 1 Cor 3:9,16-17; 6:19-20; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:22). There's nothing special about Mary in that regard. So Pitre's argument either proves too much or too little. 

iii) Incidentally, he quotes a story from 2 Maccabees about Jeremiah hiding the ark of the covenant in a cave in Mt. Nebo. But why assume that's historically accurate rather than a pious legend? 

9. Apropos (8), Pitre tries to establish the perpetual virginity of Mary from the fact that Mary was a sacrosanct container of God. However:

i) By that logic, Christianity should be a celibacy cult inasmuch as Christians in general are "sacred containers" of the Holy Spirit. 

ii) Moreover, Mary was only a (figurative) tabernacle for the duration of her pregnancy. It doesn't make her a permanent tabernacle. 

10. He tries to prooftext the Assumption of Mary from Rev 12. But even if, for argument's sake, we identify the celestial woman as Mary, the timing is wrong. That passages is synchronized with the birth of Jesus, whereas the timeframe for the (alleged) Assumption and heavenly enthronement of Mary is completely different. 

11. In another effort to prooftexts the Assumption of Mary, Pitre says that if Jesus is new Moses, inaugurating new Exodus to heavenly promised land, then he takes the ark to heaven. 

But if there must be a new ark to match the new Moses and the new Exodus, where's the new Joshua? The new Caleb? The new Rahab? 

12. He presumes that Mary had the messianic banquet (Isa 25) in mind at the wedding at Cana. 

i) Aside from the fantasy of reading her mind, the reason she gives is prosaically practical. Jesus is hesitant because this isn't the most auspicious time and place to perform a public miracle at the outset of his ministry. It gets ahead of the story. But he decides to do a favor for the relatives who were hosting the event. 

ii) Pitre also ignores scenes in the Gospels where Jesus rebuffs or distances himself from Mary. Indeed, the wedding of Cana is a case in point. 


  1. Steve - great points. I've been listening to Pitre's talk on Luke 12 ostensibly proving purgatory. The exegesis doesn't support his view but he doesn't seem to care.

    Do you when the idea of purgatory was taught in church history?

  2. Thanks for this.

    I've been thinking about what makes Marian typology (or Mormon or whatever) bad and what makes NT typology good.

    Obviously, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. I guess the other thing would be that the book itself is a Messianic book. But it's not like that all they had was typology. They had regular prophecies.

    I think typology was used more to explain and show than to prove.

  3. Wait, if he says that Revelation 12 argues for the Assumption of Mary, then how is she a Perpetual Virgin who is having BIRTH PAINS after being assumpted?

    1. Especially if your theology is everything has to map. Or I believe Psalm 69 would pose a problem.

      Psalm 69:5 You, God, know my folly;
      my guilt is not hidden from you.

      Psalm 69:8 I am a foreigner to my own family,
      a stranger to my own mother’s children;

  4. Steve,

    I recently read Pitre’s ‘Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary.’ And although I don’t agree with much of what he says, I think chapter five on the perpetual virginity is his best chapter. He makes a compelling case that the “brothers” of Jesus are the sons of Mary the wife of Clopas. Have you had a chance to interact with that specific argument? What are your thoughts?

    1. No I haven't. There are, however, some additional issues:

      i) Catholic dogma makes a specific claim about Mary's virginity in partu. So even if we grant for argument's sake that Mary and Joseph never had sexual intercourse, that falls short of the much stronger claim regarding her virginity in partu.

      ii) In addition, even if we think that on balance, the evidence tips in favor of Mary's perpetual virginity, that's very different from elevating that to the status of dogma which obligates belief. Our belief shouldn't be stronger than the evidence.