Tuesday, May 17, 2022

How Much The Conclusion Of Luke 2 Contradicts Roman Catholic Mariology

Protestants typically overlook or underestimate the closing verses of Luke 2 when addressing Catholic Mariology. There are several problems for the Catholic view of Mary in those verses, and the cumulative effect is highly significant.

I've discussed these issues in Luke 2 many times, but my comments are scattered across various posts over the years. I want to gather some of those comments in one place and supplement them with some other points:

- On the likely negative implications that Luke 2:35 has for Mary, see here. A reference to being pierced by a sword just after a reference to people rising or falling probably implies that Mary will be among those who fall. Being pierced by a sword isn't something we'd normally associate with rising. It's reminiscent of what we see elsewhere in Luke, in the reference to falling by the sword in 21:24. The individuals in Luke 21 are guilty and are being judged accordingly, and the same is likely true of Mary in Luke 2. The episode that occurred when Jesus was twelve years old follows shortly after 2:35, and it's the first example we're given of the fulfillment of Simeon's comment. What Simeon said is better fulfilled by Mary's conflicts with Jesus later in Luke 2 and elsewhere than by any alternative I'm aware of. For example, if the sword of 2:35 was meant to refer to Mary's suffering in the context of the cross, why doesn't Luke even mention Mary's presence at the crucifixion (as John does)? Luke 2:48-50 probably illustrates the sword of division within families that Jesus refers to elsewhere (Matthew 10:34-36). Mary isn't adversely affected by the sword to the extent that an unbeliever would be, but she is adversely affected by it to some extent.

- There are a few problems with how Mary addresses Jesus in Luke 2:48. Whatever alternative interpretation a Catholic or somebody else may propose for one or more of those problems, we need to keep the cumulative effect in view and ask how likely it is that Mary isn't being portrayed as sinful in any of the contexts involved. Keep in mind that Luke and Mary could have used different language if she was sinless and Luke wanted her to be perceived that way.

- First of all, as James Edwards notes, "She addresses him not as pais (v. 43, 'boy, young man'), but with a more juvenile and subservient term, teknon (v. 48; 'child,' NIV 'Son')." (The Gospel According To Luke [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2015], 95) I don't know Greek and don't know much about the accuracy of Edwards' distinction between the terms. I don't recall having seen anybody else differentiate between the terms the way Edwards does, which makes me doubt that he's right. But the fact that two different terms are used is significant, even if Edwards is wrong about what each term suggests. Given Luke's high regard for Jesus and Mary's more inconsistent interactions with him and her negative reaction to him in Luke 2:48-50 in particular, the difference between her terminology and Luke's within the same account is noteworthy. The different terminology may imply a negative reaction to Jesus on Mary's part, whether because of the term itself, because of the larger context, or because of both.

- Secondly, the question Mary goes on to ask is problematic. A group of Catholic and Lutheran scholars commented that "Mary's complaining question in v. 48 seems to be a reproach to Jesus" (Raymond Brown, et al., edd., Mary In The New Testament [Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1978], 160). Darrell Bock writes:

"Mary, speaking for both parents, wants to know why he [Jesus] has done such a seemingly insensitive thing. Jesus' reply in the next verse addresses both of them as well. The form of Mary's question may have OT roots (Gen. 20:9; 12:18; 26:10; Exod. 14:11; Num. 23:11; Judg. 15:11). This is the language of complaint....Bovon 1989: 159 notes that the idiom suggests the questioner's [Mary's] belief that an error has been made." (Luke, Volume 1, 1:1-9:50 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994], 268 and n. 18 on 268)

- The comment Mary makes after her question is likewise inappropriate. She refers to how she and Joseph have been looking for Jesus "anxiously" (RSV, NASB), "in great distress" (ESV), "in great anxiety" (NRSV), etc. If you ask somebody why he treated you in a particular way, then follow the question by a comment about how worried you've been, that typically implies that you think he wronged you in some manner.

- Jesus' response in verse 49 questions Mary and Joseph's behavior in two contexts, their looking for him and their not knowing what he would be doing. That sort of questioning of people's behavior would normally imply that you think they're wrong. Any appeal to some kind of non-sinful ignorance or something similar on Jesus' part in verse 49, so that he was just asking his parents for information or doing some other such thing without intending to rebuke them, is unlikely in consideration of how Jesus is portrayed elsewhere in the gospel, the mention of "his understanding and his answers" in verse 47, and the reference to Mary and Joseph's ignorance in verse 50 (in contrast to Jesus' knowledge in verse 47). The high view of Jesus put forward in this passage and in Luke's writings and early Christianity more broadly makes it more likely that Jesus' questions in verse 49 are meant to rebuke Mary and Joseph rather than to get information Jesus lacked.

- Luke goes on in verse 50 to refer to Mary and Joseph's ignorance of what Jesus meant. That sort of comment usually has a negative implication about the ignorant person (Luke 8:10, 9:45, 18:34, Acts 7:25, 28:26), and it's especially likely to imply something negative when it comes so soon after a context like we see in verses 35 and 48-49.

- Notice, also, that verse 50 makes it unlikely that verse 49 involves a scenario like we see in Matthew 16:15-17 (Jesus setting somebody up to give a good answer that Jesus anticipated). Unlike Peter in Matthew 16, Mary doesn't give a good answer to Jesus' questions, and we're even told that she didn't understand what Jesus said. The situation in Luke 2 clearly isn't analogous to the one in Matthew 16.

- Mary's silence after verse 49 is further evidence that she and Joseph were being rebuked by Jesus. His first question to them ("Why is it that you were looking for me?") is something Mary had to have known the answer to, and Jesus goes on to ask a second question, yet Luke doesn't refer to any response on her part. He mentions that Mary and Joseph didn't understand what Jesus said, but no response is mentioned. If Mary was sinless and had the other characteristics Catholicism attributes to her, and Jesus was asking her questions without rebuking her, why wouldn't she answer? And if she did answer, why did Luke mention her ignorance of what Jesus' second question meant, but not mention her response? Luke leaves the reader with the impression that there was no response, and that's best explained if no response was given. The lack of response makes the most sense if she was being rebuked and knew it.

- The fact that Luke keeps referring to Mary and Joseph together - "his parents", "they", "them", and "your father and I" several times in 2:43-51 - undermines any appeal to Mary's (real or imagined) uniqueness as a counterargument. Catholics make many claims about Mary that they don't make about Joseph. But the two are largely placed in the same category in this passage. Any appeal to her alleged sinlessness in Luke 1:28, her unique relationship with Jesus, how well we allegedly should expect a mother to understand her son, etc. has to address the grouping of her with Joseph in this context. The sort of unusual interpretation a Catholic would have to appeal to in order to reconcile the material in Luke's gospel under consideration in this post with a Catholic view of Mary becomes even more problematic when it has to be applied to two individuals (Mary and Joseph), not just one.

- Francois Bovon makes a good point about a contrast within the passage. "Jesus' parents (2:48) do not share the wonderment of the crowd [in verse 47]. They are indignant that Jesus has left them, and are not at all impressed by their son's wisdom. The logic of the story prevents one from taking their side." (Luke 1 [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2002], n. 41 on 113) As Edwards mentions in his commentary cited above, "Her reproach [in verse 48] expresses less concern for Jesus than for what he has done to them." (95) She is later referred to as treasuring "all these things" in her heart (verse 51), after Jesus has rebuked her, but there's an initial contrast between the positive nature of what Jesus was doing and how others reacted to him in verse 47, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, how Mary and Joseph reacted in verses 48-50. We repeatedly see this kind of scenario with Mary. She's initially in conflict with Jesus, but is eventually reconciled to him. She's a believer, but a faltering one, much like other believers discussed in the gospels and elsewhere.

- It's sometimes suggested that even if Mary erred in this passage, the errors aren't of much significance, maybe just errors of a non-sinful nature. But even the smallest sin is still a sin. Christian standards are high (you must love God with all your being, you must love your neighbor as yourself, you must be perfect as God is perfect, etc.). And there's more involved in this episode in Luke 2 than people often suggest. As discussed above, Luke 2:35 probably is anticipating a series of conflicts between Mary and Jesus, with the incident when Jesus was twelve years old being the first one mentioned. The language of 2:35 suggests that something significant is going on. So does Mary's strong language in 2:48 ("great distress" in the ESV, "great anxiety" in the NRSV, etc.). The contrast between other people's reactions to Jesus leading up to verse 48 and the parents' reaction, the contrast mentioned by Bovon, is significant. And rebuking Jesus and doing it before other people, as Mary does in verse 48, can't be dismissed as insignificant. And so on. Mary's sins here (and Joseph's) aren't sins of the worst sort, but they don't have to be maximally significant in order to have some significance.

- The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, "Mary's role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it. 'This union of the mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ's virginal conception up to his death'…By her complete adherence to the Father's will, to his Son's redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church's model of faith and charity….'This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect.'" (964, 967, 969) When you read Luke 2, do you get the impression that Mary was in "complete adherence to the Father's will, to his Son's redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit"? Would you put forward her behavior in Luke 2:48-50 as "the Church's model of faith and charity"?

No comments:

Post a Comment