Monday, March 09, 2020

Marian prooftexts

Over the years I've commented on Marian prooftexts, but it's helfpu to collect and analyze the stock examples in one place. Some of this repeats what I've said elsewhere while some of this is new. 

A. The Annunciation (Lk 1).

1. “Hail, full of grace” 

That's the standard Catholic rendering. But it's based on the Vulgate (Ave, gratia plena), popularized by the Rosary, rather than the original Greek.

2. Because the Greek word (κεχαριτωμένη) is nearly a hapax legomenon, the precise meaning is hard to ascertain. However, exegesis is based on more than the meaning of isolated words. In context, Mary is the object or recipient of divine favor rather than the source of grace. She is honored to be messiah's mother. 

3. Ark of the covenant 

i) Based on Lk 1:35, Catholic apologists contend that Mary is the ark of the covenant, on analogy with the Shekinah in the tabernacle/temple. 

ii) Shadow imagery doesn't necessarily allude to the Shekinah (Acts 5:15)

iii) That said, I grant that the imagery in the context of the Annunciation likely evokes Shekinah/tabernacle imagery. That, however, doesn't make Mary the new ark of the covenant. For one thing, the OT never says the Shekinah is inside the ark of the covenant. The Shekinah takes different positions. Outside the tabernacle or inside, but never specifically filling the ark of the covenant (e.g. Exod 33:9; 40:34-45; Num 9:5; 12:5; 1 Kgs 8:10-11; cf. 2 Chron 5:14). 

iv) 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. 

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

4. Mary's "fiat"

i) According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

973 By pronouncing her "fiat" at the Annunciation and giving her consent to the Incarnation, Mary was already collaborating with the whole work her Son was to accomplish. She is mother wherever he is Savior and head of the Mystical Body.

The "fiat" alludes to the Vulgate rendering of Lk 1:38:

fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum

“let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). 

ii) Catholic theologians act like this means God was putting the plan of redemption up for a vote by giving Mary a veto. Of course, the Annunciation is an announcement of what God will bring to pass. Gabriel doesn't ask Mary for permission. 

iii) I've read Catholic apologists claim that if the virgin birth was nonconsensual, then it was rape. That overlooks the elementary fact that rape requires sex: penetration of sexual intercourse. But of course, the virginal conception is nonsexual. Sexless rape?  

iv) Be that was it may, let's play along with the Catholic argument for its own sake by drawing a comparison. In Mt 2, Joseph receives some revelatory dreams. These are premonitions of danger. The dreams implicitly raise the specter of alternate futures. If Joseph stays, his young son will be murdered by Herod's henchmen. But he can avert that hypothetical outcome if he gets out of Dodge in time. If things continue as is, along their current trajectory, Jesus will die a premature death. 

iv) This raises a question for Christian libertarians. Was failure to heed the angelic warning a live option for Joseph? Pause to consider what that would entail. We're not just talking about the fate of a lone individual. The fate of the whole human race would hang in the balance. The Incarnation would be in vain. Centuries of providential preparation would go up in smoke. God would have to start from scratch. So by parity of argument, why does Catholicism single out Mary's "fiat" but ignore Joseph's "fiat"? For that matter, the logic of the Catholic argument extends to so many other players in the history of redemption. Take the call of Abraham.

B. The New Eve (John 2:1-12)

1. Because Mary is addressed as "woman" by Jesus (Jn 2:4; 19:26), Catholic apologists treat that as an allusion to Eve ("the woman"), and therefore a title for Mary as the New Eve.  However, Jesus uses the same form of address for the Samaritan at the well (Jn 4:21), in addition to Mary Magdalene (Jn 20:15). So does that make it a New Eve title for Mary Magdalene and the Samaritan at the well, too?

2. Pitre says Jn 2 casts Mary in the role of "Intercessor and Advocate". But that's inflated terminology.

3. Pitre says if Jesus is the new Adam, then who is the new Eve? But typology doesn't march in lockstep. He might as well as who is the Cain, Able, and Seth?

4. Jesus rebukes Mary at the wedding.

C. Mother of the Church (Acts 2)

1. Catholic apologists claim that Mary is the mother of the church based on her presence in the Upper Room, with the disciples and brothers of Jesus. But that doesn't imply that she's the mother of the church. It makes her a follower.  

2. Jn 19:26-27 is a major prooftext for the same identification. 

i) In one sense there's nothing for a Protestant to refute since the text doesn't say or imply that Mary is the Mother of the Church. The setting is topical. After the Ascension, Jesus won't be around to care for his mother, so he commends her to his most trusted disciple. 

ii) The Catholic interpretation makes no sense even on its own grounds. If you're going to turn that command into an example or analogy for Christians in general, it means Christians have a duty to protect and provide for Mary. But that's the opposite of the Catholic doctrine, according to which Christians should entrust themselves to the care of Mary, who will protect and provide for them. So the comparison is backwards.

iii) Pitre says Jesus’ entrustment of Mary to John the Apostle, the son of Zebedee, is totally inconceivable if he were survived by other children of Mary, especially if they were sons of hers. But it's easily conceivable. Jesus was estranged from his family. They didn't grasp his true identity They didn't understand his vocation. They didn't approve of his ministry (Jn 7:3-5). 

There's ample precedent in Scripture where God demotes or passes over the natural or customary candidates while promoting an outsider or someone lower on the pecking order. Jesus is rebuking his unbelieving brothers. Having the Beloved Disciple look after he illustrates and implements the principle in Mt 12:46-50. 

D. Queen of Heaven

1. Pitre appeals to the Psalm 45, with its references to the queen of the royal messianic bridegroom (vv6-9). But that's deeply confused.

i) In context, that refers to the bride of the king, not the mother of the king. The psalm is an epithalamium. Not about a mother and son but bride and bridegroom. The queen is the newlywed wife. 

ii) And in typological terms, the regal bride isn't Mary as queen mother but the church.

iii) In addition, it equivocates over what it means to be queen. Customs very. For instance, if no male heir assumes the throne, and a king's daughter assumes the throne in their absence, then she has direct intrinsic royal/regal authority.

If, however, a woman is queen by marriage, that she has no official royal authority. She just has whatever influence the king permits. Same thing with the Queen Mother. 

2. Catholic apologists sometimes prooftext Mary's regal/intercessory role from the relationship between Solomon and Bathsheba (1 Kgs 2:19-20)

i) To begin with, that's just a custom. 

ii) As her Creator, Redeemer, and Judge, Jesus has a very different relationship to Mary than Solomon had to Bathsheba. 

iii) Catholic apologists are very selective about which part of the story they quote. 

19 So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. And the king rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king's mother, and she sat on his right. 20 Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother, for I will not refuse you.” 

Out of filial piety, Solomon's default reaction was deference. He assumed she wouldn't abuse her position. But as soon as he found out that he was being taking advantage of to his own detriment, he not only refused her request but executed the individual for whom she interceded:

21 She said, “Let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijah your brother as his wife.” 22 King Solomon answered his mother, “And why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom also, for he is my older brother, and on his side are Abiathar[f] the priest and Joab the son of Zeruiah.” 23 Then King Solomon swore by the Lord, saying, “God do so to me and more also if this word does not cost Adonijah his life! 24 Now therefore as the Lord lives, who has established me and placed me on the throne of David my father, and who has made me a house, as he promised, Adonijah shall be put to death today.” 25 So King Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and he struck him down, and he died.

So if that's precedent for Marian intercession, that's very hazardous. You take your life in your hand when you pray to Mary. 

3. The major prooftext for Mary's heavenly queenship is Rev 12. But that appeal suffers from many problems:

i) In terms of Catholic Mariology, the chronology is backwards. Mary is assumed into heaven at the end of her life. But in Rev 12, the woman is up there at the outset, then comes down to earth. In Catholic theology, Mary is not a celestial being who originates in heaven. Rather, she's an earthling who ascends to heaven. But the imagery and sequence of Rev 12 are just the opposite.

ii) Although "sky" and "heaven" are sometimes synonymous, at other times they represent two essentially different domains. The sky contains the sun, moon, stars, and clouds–whereas heaven contains God, saints, and angels. 

That's not the same place, but two different places. "Heaven", in the sense of God's abode, doesn't have day and night, sunshine or lunar phases. Heaven doesn't have rainclouds, hailstorms, blizzards, or meteor showers. The saints and angels don't need umbrellas. Heaven isn't outer space. It's not a vacuum at near absolute zero. 

Rev 12 doesn't depict a woman in heaven, but a woman in the sky. A stellar setting. So using Rev 12 to prooftext Mary's role as Queen of Heaven is vitiated by fatal equivocation. 

4. Apropos (3), Catholic apologists argue that if two of the three figures in Rev 12 are individuals, then it creates the presumption that the women is an individual, too:

• The Serpent = The Devil                            Individual (Satan) 

• The Child = The Messiah                            Individual (Christ) 

• The Woman = Mother of the Messiah          Individual (Mary)

But there are major problems with that argument:

i) Jews thought not merely in terms of parentage but ancestry. Family trees. Indeed, the NT contains two genealogies of Jesus (Matthew, Luke). So while the mother of Jesus is an individual (Mary), the symbolic maternal figure in Rev 12 can easily be a corporate emblem. In this passage, Mary doesn't personify the church. Rather, the church/Israel is personified by a woman. In the OT, Israel is personified as a mother in labor. The text also evokes Exodus motifs. Cf. C Koester, Revelation (Yale 2014), 542.

ii) While the Devil is an individual, it doesn't follow that the Satanic figure in Rev 12 only represents the Devil. After all, Revelation also depicts demons. So the Satanic figure in Rev 12 can function as a synecdoche, not only standing for the Devil but his entourage of fallen angels. It's not just Satan who is defeated in Revelation, but the dark side generally. 

2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended (Rev 20:2-3).

It's the same dragon we find in Rev 12. So who is the dragon in Rev 20? Suppose you say it's Satan/the Devil. After all, the text explicitly identifies the dragon/serpent as Satan/the Devil. And Satan is an individual. So that supports the Catholic argument, right?

Not really. Certainly the Satanic identification is true as far as that goes. But is that the only referent?

Consider this: would it make sense for God to bind Satan to prevent him from deceiving the nations while God allows billions of demons to continue deceiving the nations? (I don't know how many demons there are, but there doesn't seem to be a shortage.) 

Why would God bind just one fallen angel (Satan) but let all the other fallen angels have free rein to deceive the nations? So I understand "the dragon/serpent" in this vision to be a synecdoche for all the fallen angels, using the leader of the pack to illustrate the principle. The binding includes Satan, but he's being used as a representative figure for demonic and diabolical deceivers in general. 

If that's correct, then the same holds true for the dragon in Rev 12. The referent isn't restricted to one individual in particular, but functions as a synecdoche for angelic adversaries of God, Jesus, and the people of God (faithful Jews and Christians). 

iii) Although the passage alludes in part to Gen 3, the serpentine/dragonesque imagery also derives from passages in Isaiah and the Psalter regarding the Red Sea crossing (e.g. Ps 74:13-14Isa 27:1). So that's not just about Eve, but Israel and the Exodus.  

iv) If you identify Mary as the referent in Rev 12 because she's the biological mother of Jesus, then you can't suddenly drop that principle and say she's the metaphorical mother of Christians, or a symbol of the church. For if the depiction is metaphorical, then you can't infer that the referent is the mother of Jesus because Mary is his biological mother.

The interpretation needs to be consistently literal or consistently figurative on the same plane. The referents must operate on the same level of literality or figurality. If the woman is figuratively the Church, then the manchild can't literally be Jesus.  


  1. This is a good systematic list that you posted Steve thank you.

    I have a question. A couple months back or so, I called in to the Dividing Line and asked Dr. White about the term κεχαριτωμένη. He deferred me to his book "Mary-Another Redeemer?" for an in depth look at the term. I then asked him if he knew of any other extra-Biblical writings that used the term. He said that he didn't right off the top of his head. I knew it was a long shot, but I figured it was worth asking him.

    So I guess I'd like to ask you the question, but make it more specific. Do you know of any extra-Biblical writings from let's say the first century BC through to the third century AD or so that used κεχαριτωμένη and had nothing to do with Mary? It would be very valuable to see how other writers of that age utilized that word.

    1. There is actually another use of the same word in Ephesians, so I don't think it actually is hapax legomenon, unless that includes tense forms, in which case, Luke is the only occurrence of the perfect passive participle, (have been blessed). White probably appeals to this other occurrence in his book, which is in Ephesians 1:4 - 6 (Greek + my own translation):

      καθὼς ἐξελέξατο ἡμᾶς ἐν αὐτῷ πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, εἶναι ἡμᾶς ἁγίους καὶ ἀμώμους κατενώπιον αὐτοῦ ἐν ἀγάπῃ, προορίσας ἡμᾶς εἰς υἱοθεσίαν διὰ Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ εἰς αὐτόν, κατὰ τὴν εὐδοκίαν τοῦ θελήματος αὐτοῦ, εἰς ἔπαινον δόξης τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ, ἐν ᾗ ἐχαρίτωσεν ἡμᾶς ἐν τῷ ἠγαπημέν.

      "Just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, [for] us to be holy and blameless before him in love, having predestined us into adoption, through Jesus Christ, into him, according to the pleasure of his will, into [the] praise of the [glory] of his grace, in which he graced us in the Beloved One."

      Now, in all fairness, I’m using the Robinson-Pierpont GNT, which is based more on Byzantine manuscripts, unlike the far more popular critical editions most translations use today (chiefly UBS5 and NA28). In my opinion, this edition is superior. But for clarity’s sake, there does happen to be difference in the last clause in mainstream GNTs, and it goes:

      εἰς ἔπαινον δόξης τῆς χάριτος αὐτοῦ ἧς ἐχαρίτωσεν ἡμᾶς ἐν τῷ ἠγαπημένῳ.

      Into the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely gave us in the Beloved One.

      Whichever version you choose, the difference isn’t too great for this topic; we are being “graced” by God, whether in his grace, or by him giving us his grace; the difference is really finicky.

      Now, the fact that we, the Church, are the recipients of this charito action is very significant, because it immediately diffuses any Catholic claim that this is an evidence or proof of the immaculate conception. Were we immaculately conceived in God? The same word is used here, after all.

      I hope this helps; not an extrabiblical source like you ask, but I think this use from Paul gives a critical nuance of the word Catholic apologetics does not consider.


    2. EDIT: Forgot to point out the specific part: ἐχαρίτωσεν is the word, same word as used in Luke 1:28, and it refers to us, the Church, being graced.

  2. Yes, Thanks Steve.

    Most of the commentaries seem to identify the woman in revelation 12:5-6 as the gentile church.

    It seems completely clear to me that the woman is Israel. The 12 stars represent the 12 tribes of Israel.