The Broad and Truncated Canons of the Old Testament

The Books called Apocrypha

The Books called Apocrypha

The Christian Church accepted the broader canon of the Old Testament (including the Apocrypha) until the time of the Reformation. The Anglican Henry Wace, in his commentary on the King James Version, admits as much when he writes:

When the Reformers denied the inspired authority of the books of the Apocrypha, it was by no means their intention to exclude them from use either in public or in private reading. The Articles of the Church of England quote with approbation the ruling of St. Jerome, that though the Church does not use these books for establishment of doctrine, it reads them for example of life and instruction of manners.[1]

Having already truncated their canon, some Protestants look back to the ancient church for support, citing this or that authority who seemingly support their position. There were individuals who devised lists of books approved for use in the church, such as the listing called the “ruling of St. Jerome.” These lists are occasionally similar to the canon used by Protestants today, but these individual lists were not authoritative in the wider church. Even where the lists of Old Testament books matched those of the Protestant canon, these lists wouldn’t match the New Testament books — and vice versa. (We will provide more detail on this later). St. Jerome was not a bishop, and the ‘ruling of St. Jerome’ was not authoritative anywhere. St. Jerome ultimately accepted the ruling of his bishop, something noted by Martin Hengel: “Jerome himself, who was not only a great and combative scholar but also a smooth diplomat, largely abandoned any effort to defend the Hebrew original in the Apocrypha question.”[2]

St. Athanasius (c. 296-373) is widely cited as having provided the first complete listing of the 27 books of the New Testament. Matt Slick, the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM), cites Festal Letter 39 (c. 367 A.D.) as proof that Athanasius condemns the Apocrypha.[3] This is only partially correct. First of all, St. Athanasius was speaking for his own diocese, not the entire Church. Second, there were many different lists being advanced for centuries afterwards.

While St. Athanasius did not approve of all the so-called Apocrypha, his festal letter approved several of them. For example, his list contains “the first and second of the Chronicles are reckoned as one book”; “Jeremiah with Baruch”; “Lamentations, and the epistle, one book”; Esther; and Daniel. Baruch is one of the so-called Apocrypha, as is the Epistle of Jeremiah. The versions of 2 Chronicles, Esther, and Daniel judged by St. Athanasius as genuine contain material Protestants judge to be Apocryphal.[4] In the unabridged King James Version, these are called “The Prayer of Manassas” (placed at the end of 2 Chronicles); “The rest of Esther” (material found throughout Esther in the Septuagint); “The History of Susanna” (comes before Daniel chapter 1); “The Song of the Three Holy Children” (comes in the middle of Daniel chap. 3); and “Bel and the Dragon” (comes after Daniel chap. 12). To be honest, if Protestants want to claim Festal Letter 39 of St. Athanasius as sealing the canon of the New Testament, they should also be prepared to accept all the Old Testament Apocrypha cited by Athanasius.

In his book The Divine Names, the author known today as Pseudo-Dionysius (late 5th to early 6th century) quotes from the Wisdom of Solomon, describing it as “introductory Scriptures.”[5] We might be tempted towards thinking this supports the general Protestant view. Paul Rorem and John Lamoreaux say the term “introductory Scripture” merely means that the Old Testament was an introduction to the New; in other words, the entire Old Testament could be termed “introductory Scripture.”[6] The question, then, is how extensive that introduction is.

Among early Protestants, there was substantial disagreement and confusion as to the extent of the Old Testament. For example, John Wycliffe’s Bible translation, first hand-printed in 1382 A.D., contains 48 Old Testament books, as opposed to the 39 contained in the Protestant Old Testament.[7]  We should note the Bibles printed following the Protestant Reformation also include what Protestants call the Apocrypha.[8] For example, Martin Luther’s German translation of 1522 contained the Apocrypha. The English Language Matthew-Tyndale Bible, published by John Rogers in 1537, contained the Apocrypha.[9] Both the Geneva Bible of 1560 and the original King James Version (KJV) of 1611 contained the Apocrypha. Unabridged editions of the KJV with the Apocrypha are still available today, although printed versions are rare in the United States.[10]

Abridged Bibles without the Apocrypha are an American invention. The Continental Congress approved and funded the printing of Bibles without the Apocrypha. Rev. Dr. Will Gafney writes:

Many are unaware that the shorter Protestant bible was created in the new America, during the revolutionary war when a printer took it upon himself without the authority of a church council to print a bible whose contents he chose. That bible, The Aitken Bible[11] is also significant for having been printed with the authority of the Continental Congress.[12]

Modern Protestants use a truncated canon whose origins and history they are unaware of. Moreover, they misread the canonical history of the Old Testament. This does not mean Protestants cannot be saved, of course. What it does mean is that Protestants lack the fullness of the faith.

Endnotes

[1] (Wace 1811, xxxvi) The ruling of St. Jerome was his private theological opinion, was contrary to the practice of the wider Christian Church, and was not accepted as dogma anywhere.

[2] (Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture 2002, 49-50)

[3] (Slick 2014)

[4] The Masoretic text favored by many conservative Protestant scholars did not exist at this time. The favored text in the Church was the Septuagint (see chap. 4.)

[5] (Pseudo-Dionysius, the Areopagite 1987, 81)

[6] (Rorem and Lamoreaux 1998, 48)

[7] The various eBooks and online sources like Bible Gateway only reproduce the part of Wycliffe’s translation that are acceptable to the Protestants. Wycliffe’s complete Old Testament contained the following books considered unacceptable after the Reformation: 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, 3 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon), Syrach (Sirach, a.k.a. Ecclesiasticus), Preier of Jeremiah (Epistle of Jeremiah), Baruk (Baruch), along with 1 Machabeis & 2 Machabeis (1st and 2nd Maccabees). John Wycliffe’s New Testament also contains Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans, a contested document found in no generally accepted version or translation. (Wycliffe 2008)

[8] When asked if The Online Bible (www.onlinebible.net) would be providing a copy of the original King James Version with the Apocrypha,   Larry Pierce, (the founder) responded: “We have no intention of mixing Jewish fables with the infallible Word of God.” (Pierce 2014) Pierce is quoting Titus 1:14 here, equating Paul’s reference to ‘Jewish fables’ with the Apocrypha, an interpretation that cannot be found in the text. Pierce chooses to use an abridged version of the King James Version rather than provide it as it was originally printed. In an email to Pastor EJ Hill, Larry Pierce admitted to redacting and editing other people’s work when they do not agree with his theology (such as Thayer’s 1889 Greek-English Lexicon.) (Hill 2012)

[9] The Matthew-Tyndale Bible, generally known as the Matthew Bible, contains the following books not found in the Protestant Bible: 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Rest of Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, 3 Holy Children, Suzanna, Bel & the Dragon, Prayer of Mannesah, 1 Maccabees, and 2 Maccabees. (Rogers and Coverdale 1537)

[10] An excellent resource is the Official King James version online which contains the American truncation of the King James Version, the Apocrypha, and the original 1611 version with the apocrypha. http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Apocrypha-Books/

[11] http://www.theworldsgreatbooks.com/Aitken Bible.htm

[12] (Gafney 2013)

Bibliography

Gafney, W. C. (2013, March 17). Jesus’ Bible and the History Channel’s Bible. Retrieved December 7, 2014, from The Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D.: http://www.wilgafney.com/2013/03/17/jesus-bible-and-the-history-channels-bible/

Hengel, M. (2002). The Septuagint as Christian Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Hill, E. (2012). Did Larry Pierce abridge Thayer’s Lexicon? The Online Bible Forum. Winterbourne: Online Bible.

Pierce, L. (2014, May 5). “email conversation”. Online Bible Tech Support. Winterbourne: Online Bible.

Pseudo-Dionysius, the Areopagite. (1987). Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works. (C. Luibheid, Trans.) New York: Paulist Press.

Rogers, J., & Coverdale, M. (1537). 1537 Matthew’s Bible. Retrieved September 1, 2014, from Bibles-Online.net: http://www.bibles-online.net/1537/

Rorem, P., & Lamoreaux, J. C. (1998). John of Scythopolis and the Dionysian Corpus: Annotating the Areopagite. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Slick, M. (2014, November 1). Apocrypha. Retrieved June 23, 2016, from CARM: http://carm.org/early-church-fathers-apocrypha

Wace, H. (1811). Holy Bible According to the Authorized Version (A.D. 1611). (Vol. 1). (H. Wace, Ed.) London: John Murray.

 

This is My Body: Hermeneutics and the Eucharist

The Eucharist - Priest communing a young child.

The Eucharist

The first written account of The Last Supper is found in 1 Cor 11: 20-34. The Synoptic Gospels also contain an accounting (Mt 26:26-28; Mk 14:22-24; Lk 22:19-20). In all these accounts we find the words “This is my body.” The meaning of this phrase was settled for more than 1500 years — Jesus was referring to his actual flesh and blood. Then came the Reformation; its hostility towards the Roman Catholic Church formed the basis for scriptural interpretation.

In general, Protestants claim a certain scientific basis for their individual interpretations of scripture. They claim to have principles of interpretation which, when applied correctly, provide the correct interpretation.[1] Even the Lutherans, who accept the literal interpretation of Christ’s words, adopted explanatory wording which is problematic. In rejecting the ideas of Impanation (that Christ is imparted to the bread and wine), Consubstantiation (that Christ is next to the elements), and Transubstantiation (that the bread and wine are changed into the substance of Christ’s body and blood, while maintaining the appearance of bread and wine), the Lutherans adopted the position that Christ was present “in, with and under” the bread and wine.[2] In attempting to reject rationalistic explanations for Christ’s Real Presence, Lutherans nonetheless created a dogmatic formulation that suffices for an explanation — the very thing they were trying to avoid.

At the Marburg Colloquy (1529), Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli attempted to resolve their theological differences. They came to an agreement on 14 of 15 articles, but the one point that divided them was the phrase hoc est corpus meum (this is my body). Luther accepted Christ’s words as written, while Zwingli could not accept that Christ could be locally present at the right hand of God the Father, and also be present at the Eucharist. Vincent Medina notes this argument is fundamentally about a difference in Christology.[3] The problem is what happened at the Incarnation: did the Son divest Himself of certain attributes in order to be contained within a human body, or did the Son take humanity into Himself? How can the Son be always present and filling all things if He is circumscribed by human form?[4]

Modern Protestants take their cue from Zwingli in rejecting the idea that the phrase “This is my body is anything other than a symbol. They apply their supposedly scientific methods of interpretation to the text, trying to determine exactly what type of figure of speech Jesus was using, and which word is the symbolic portion of the statement. In this they cannot agree.

Hal Schee and E.W. Bullinger are two people who agree that the phrase “This is my body” is symbolic and that the important word is “is”. Yet they give very different explanations for why this is so. Hal Schee writes: “In Aramaic (as in Hebrew), the verb ‘to be’ in the present tense is implied, not explicitly stated; as such, when Jesus says ‘this is my body’ or ‘this is my blood’, his meaning should be taken as symbolic.”[5] E. W. Bullinger’s explanation is more detailed, and seemingly more scientific. Bullinger acknowledges that Hebrew “has no verb substantive or copula answering to the Greek and English verb “to be”. …In the Greek, as we shall see below, whenever a Metaphor is intended, the verb substantive must be used; otherwise it is often omitted according to the Hebrew usage.”[6] The preceding passage comes in the middle of the first four pages about the use of Metaphor in the bible. But when Bullinger gets to a discussion of the phrase “This is my body” his discussion takes on an entirely different and hostile tone.

“Few passages have been more perverted than these simple words. Rome has insisted on the literal or the figurative sense of words just as it suits her own purpose, and not at all according the laws of philology and the true science of language. …So the Metaphor, ‘This is my body,’ has been forced to teach false doctrine by being translated literally. …Luther himself was misled, through his ignorance of this simple law of figurative language. In his controversy with Zwingle, he obstinately persisted in maintaining the literal sense of the figure, and thus forced it to have a meaning which it never has. He thus led the whole of Germany into his error!”[7]

It is only after this verbal onslaught that Bullinger adds to his description of Metaphor. “The whole figure, in a metaphor, lies, as we have said, in the verb substantive ‘IS’; and not in either of the two nouns;[8] and it is a remarkable fact that, when a pronoun is used instead of one of the nouns (as it is here), and the two nouns are of different genders, the pronoun is always made to agree in gender with that noun to which the meaning is carried across, and not with the noun from which it is carried, and to which it properly belongs. This at once shows us that a figure is being employed; when a pronoun, which ought, according to the laws of language, to agree in gender with its own noun, is changed, and made to agree with the noun which, by metaphor, represents it. Here, for example, the pronoun, ‘this’ (τοϋτο, touto), is neuter, and is thus made to agree with ‘body’ (σώμά, soma), which is neuter, and not with bread (άρτος, artos), which is feminine.”[9] Bullinger goes on for six pages building his case that the phrase “This is my body” is a Metaphor or Representation — “A Declaration that one Thing is (or represents) another; or, Comparison by Representation.”[10]

I find Bullinger’s hubris astounding. He claims to have finally discovered the truth in 1898, a truth that had been hidden for nearly 1,900 years. All biblical scholarship throughout history was dismissed out of hand, to be replaced by Bullinger’s ideology. I also find it interesting that instead of defining the undergirding philology at the beginning of his nine page article on metaphors, he buries this until he comes to the passage “This is my body”. Now it is true the preceding three pages mostly covered Old Testament metaphors, and only now are we dealing with Greek texts.[11] However, the proper place for this discussion would have been immediately upon beginning with the New Testament, not waiting until a specific passage was in view. Moreover, once Bullinger begins dealing with the phrase “This is my body”, he abandons all pretense of working his way through the New Testament metaphors, but devotes the rest of his article to proving that “This is my body” is a metaphor.

Bullinger, like many Protestants, abandons the principles of Protestant Hermeneutics when it comes to this passage. There are many different formulations[12] of these, but here are a few.

  • Interpret scripture in harmony with other scripture. (Protestants usually fail to deal with John’s gospel, which does not contain an account of the Lord’s Supper, but instead provides its theological rationale. For example: “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.” (Jo 6:53-56.)
  • Interpret the unclear in light of the clear. (Once again, Jesus’s meaning is clear when taken in context with His other discourses.)
  • Derive normative theological doctrine from didactic passages that deal with a particular doctrine explicitly. (This expands upon the previous two principles. It is not enough that a passage be clear, but that it be didactic. The discourses of Jesus are exceedingly clear, while the parables are intentionally obscure.)

Using the Protestant’s own principles of biblical interpretation, it should be clear that Jesus’ meaning was not symbolic — that Jesus was not using figurative language. The Jesus repeated references to himself as the bread of life, and to the eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood make this abundantly clear. Instead, Protestants impose their own prejudices and preconceived notions upon this passage, rejecting its literal interpretation in harmony with other passages of scripture. In the case of Bullinger, his hostility towards Roman Catholicism colors not only his treatment of the passage, but his treatment of those Reformers with whom he disagrees.

  1. Why then are there so many different denominations, each claiming to rightly interpret scripture?
  2. Luther’s Small Catechism uses the phrase “in and under” the bread and wine. Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s friend and theological confidant, preferred “in and with” the bread and wine. The Formula of Concord, written after both Luther and Melanchthon died, uses the phrase “in, with and under”.
  3. Note that Zwingli’s position assumes that God the Father exists in a locality; that the Father is in a place, that place has a throne, and that God is has a spatial presence in such a manner as to have a right and a left, a front and a back, a top and a bottom.
  4. The problem is that the New Testament texts are in Greek, not Hebrew, so his argument does not apply.
  5. J. Edwin Hartill defines Metaphor as follows: “Words are taken from their literal meaning and given a new and striking use. The figure is a distinct affirmation that one thing is another which it resembles. The two nouns must always be mentioned. The figure lies in the verb. ‘IS’ is equivalent to ‘REPRESENTS’.” Hartill’s examples are from the Old Testament: “flesh is grass” (Isa 40:6) and “sheep of his pasture” (Ps100:3b). J. Edwin Hartill says the metaphor must have two proper nouns, and does not allow for the use of pronouns.
  6. E. W. Bullinger does not use the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
  7. A simple Google Search for “Principles of Hermeneutics” returns almost 500,000 results. I looked at a number of them, and while they often have something in common, there are significant differences. Thus the supposed rationality of their systems is exposed as nothing more than personal preference.

Sola Scriptura and the Church

The Branch Theory of the Church

The Branch Theory of the Church

In his blog post entitled Questions about Sola Scriptura, Robin Phillips raises some very good questions about the relationship between Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) and the Church. If the primary or only source of spiritual authority is the Bible, how do we determine which Church Body or tradition properly interprets the Bible? Which set of doctrines are authoritative in the life of the Church? Of the individual Christian (if there is any such thing as a Christian apart from the Church?)

If Scripture is your primary authority, it becomes difficult to determine exactly which secondary authority may be used to interpret the Sacred Scriptures. Indeed, Protestantism — following the lead of Martin Luther — asserts the primacy of reason and the individual conscience as a means of interpreting Scripture. It must therefore be acknowledged that any number of people have approached the scriptures prayerfully, with great care, and in all sincerity, and have devised all manner of doctrinal systems from the pages of Sacred Scripture. Which dogmatic system is correct, and how do we know? There are many different contradictory positions within Protestantism, and differences on doctrine seem invariably to give rise to new denominations.

If you are a Protestant, you will likely point to your church or denomination as the true and visible church because it best understands the Bible. If you are Lutheran, you will point the the Lutheran Confessions as your guide to the understanding of Scriptures, and claim your Church as the true and visible Church, (although which branch of Lutheran, and on what basis do you decide?) If you belong to some other Church communion (Rome, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic, etc.), you will point to the traditions of the fathers as a guide to understanding the Scriptures; the question then becomes which tradition, and which set of church fathers?

The problem is that if the Scriptures are self-authenticating, which is to say they attest to their own inspiration apart from the Church, then it becomes extremely difficult to determine which is the true and visible Church. The answer, according to some, is to differentiate between the visible and the invisible church. The invisible church, comprised of all the saints of God past, present, and future, is the true church; the visible church is the local manifestation of the invisible church — indeed, is a branch of the one, true Church. Thus, the branch theory of the Church, first postulated by the Church of England.

The problem with the branch theory is that it separates church and doctrine, in that a church may be doctrinally in error, and even heretical, and yet be a branch of the one, true church. Sola Scriptura and the Branch Theory provides no objective way to determine truth from error, making the choice of visible church a subjective affair. Moreover, it is almost impossible to draw any objective criteria by which a particular group claiming the name of Christian may be understood as apart from the invisible church. Indeed, that is the point, in that the saints are known to God alone. Thus, does it even matter which visible Church we belong to as long as we are part of the invisible Church?

As Robin Phillips points out, there is an element of circular reasoning at work here. We say the Scriptures are inspired by God, but so do other religions. How do we know our Scriptures are inspired, apart from some testimony external to the Scriptures themselves? And if we accept an external source that attests to the inspiration of Scripture, how then may we hold to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (especially as interpreted by the modern Fundamentalists and Evangelicals as Solo Scriptura, also known as Nuda Scriptura, the naked Scriptures?)

It is possible to accept a subsidiary authority attesting to a superior authority. Indeed, this is the general position of Lutherans, who accept the Lutheran Confessions and the testimony of the Church Fathers as secondary and tertiary authorities. Yet this does not resolve the question of which doctrinal system, derived from Scripture Alone, is correct.

The idea of Scripture Alone creates more problems than it solves. The sole reason for the assertion of the Scripture Alone was to separate Scripture from the Church of Rome. If that is the rationale, then the foundation for Scripture Alone is weak indeed.

Mariology and Prayer to the Saints

Theotokos Praying for the People, Vladimir Church (Vologda)

Theotokos Praying for the People, Vladimir Church (Vologda)

Prayer to the saints is one of the areas where most Protestants  differ with the Catholic Church. Actually, this is not fully accurate; as it turns out, non-Protestant Christians — whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Rite Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Coptic Christians — all have no problem praying to the saints, of whom the blessed Virgin Mary is the paradigmatic example, being the greatest of all the saints.

Perhaps the most clear argument against prayer to Mary, to the saints, and to angels is found in the Smalcald Articles, part of the Lutheran’s Book of Concord. Here Martin Luther draws from and expands upon Philip Melanchthon’s arguments from the Augsburg Confession, and from the Apology to the Augsburg Confession.

The invocation of saints is also one of the abuses of Antichrist conflicting with the chief article, and destroys the knowledge of Christ. Neither is it commanded nor counseled, nor has it any example [or testimony] in Scripture, and even though it were a precious thing, as it is not [while, on the contrary, it is a most harmful thing], in Christ we have everything a thousandfold better [and surer, so that we are not in need of calling upon the saints]. And although the angels in heaven pray for us (as Christ Himself also does), as also do the saints on earth, and perhaps also in heaven, yet it does not follow thence that we should invoke and adore the angels and saints, and fast, hold festivals, celebrate Mass in their honor, make offerings, and establish churches, altars, divine worship, and in still other ways serve them, and regard them as helpers in need [as patrons and intercessors], and divide among them all kinds of help, and ascribe to each one a particular form of assistance, as the Papists teach and do. For this is idolatry, and such honor belongs alone to God. For as a Christian and saint upon earth you can pray for me, not only in one, but in many necessities. But for this reason I am not obliged to adore and invoke you, and celebrate festivals, fast, make oblations, hold masses for your honor [and worship], and put my faith in you for my salvation. I can in other ways indeed honor, love, and thank you in Christ. If now such idolatrous honor were withdrawn from angels and departed saints, the remaining honor would be without harm and would quickly be forgotten. For when advantage and assistance, both bodily and spiritual, are no more to be expected, the saints will not be troubled [the worship of the saints will soon vanish], neither in their graves nor in heaven. For without a reward or out of pure love no one will much remember, or esteem, or honor them [bestow on them divine honor]. (Dau and Bente 1921, SA II, 26-28)

In the passage, Martin Luther argues not from scripture. Instead, his argument is that prayer to the saints is against the chief article of faith — Justification, as defined by Lutheran dogma. This is a highly curious stance, as it can be argued that prayer to the saints and to angels is supported in scripture, even in the Protestant’s truncated canon.

The Scriptural Witness

The book of Zechariah is important for a number of reasons, but for our purposes we will focus on the importance of Zechariah for its development in the theology of angels. In particular, God communicates to Zechariah through angels, and Zechariah questions them as to the meaning of the visions he has been seeing. In the first chapter of Zechariah receives a series of visions, after which is recorded an extensive conversation with an angel, beginning as follows:

Then said I, O my lord, what are these? And the angel that talked with me said unto me, I will shew thee what these be. … And the LORD answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words.  So the angel that communed with me said unto me, Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; I am jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great jealousy. … Then lifted I up mine eyes, and saw, and behold four horns. And I said unto the angel that talked with me, What be these? And he answered me, These are the horns which have scattered Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem (Zec 1:9, 13-14, 18-19).

The careful reader will notice that Zechariah inquired of the angel what these things meant; the angel asked the Lord, the Lord replied to the angel, and the angel told Zechariah. For our purposes, this demonstrates that prayer (which may be described as a conversation) may be made to angels. In Zechariah there seems to be little difference between asking an angel for an interpretation, and asking the Lord himself. Moreover, Zechariah treats the  answer from the angel as though it came directly from the Lord. This same back and forth between the Zechariah and the angel continues throughout the book. This idea is also found in the book of Daniel, where Daniel prays to God for the interpretation of his vision, and then discusses the interpretation with an angel. And of course Mary herself had a conversation with an angel, a non-corporeal, spiritual being, a conversation we know of as the Annunciation, and which is discussed more fully in Part V: Mariology in Sacred Scripture (from my book, “Why Mary Matters”). Not only did Mary converse with the angel, but treated the angel’s words as being those of God Himself.

Another Old Testament passage from 2nd Maccabees clearly indicates that prayer to the saints is not only heard, but answered.

And this was his vision: That Onias, who had been high priest, a virtuous and a good man, reverend in conversation, gentle in condition, well spoken also, and exercised from a child in all points of virtue, holding up his hands prayed for the whole body of the Jews. This done, in like manner there appeared a man with gray hairs, and exceeding glorious, who was of a wonderful and excellent majesty. Then Onias answered, saying, This is a lover of the brethren, who prayeth much for the people, and for the holy city, to wit, Jeremias the prophet of God. Whereupon Jeremias holding forth his right hand gave to Judas a sword of gold, and in giving it spake thus, Take this holy sword, a gift from God, with the which thou shalt wound the adversaries (2 Mac 15:12-15).

You may argue that 2 Maccabees is not in the Protestant canon of Scripture, and you would be correct. It is, however, in the scriptural canon used by every other Christian body (not just the Roman Catholics). Moreover, 2 Maccabees was in Martin Luther’s German translation of the Holy Bible, and in the original 1611 King James Bible (although in both were separated from those books that make up the current canon of the Hebrew Scriptures.) This is not the place to discuss canonical issues, other than to state that there are good and valid arguments to make for its being part of the Christian canon. But what we can say is that it is clear that the Jews of the diaspora 1) believed the saints were alive, 2) believed the saints were able to hear their prayers, and 3) believed the saints were able to respond. Therefore, it is not much of a stretch to understand how the early Christian church, being comprised mainly of Jews, did not have a problem with intercessory prayer to the saints.

Historical Witness

A belief in prayer to the Virgin Mary appears to be a quite early development. The John Rylands Papyrus 470 is a fragment dated to around 250 A.D., and containing the following prayer to the Theotokos:

Under your
mercy
we take refuge,
Mother of God! Our
prayers, do not despise
in necessities,
but from the danger
deliver us,
only pure,
only blessed. (Tribe and Villiers 2011)

Notice, if you will, the dating of this fragment — well before the time of the edict of Milan in 313 A.D.; this papyrus dates to the time of Emperor Decius, under whose reign there was a persecution of Christian laity across the empire. This prayer, dating from a time of great persecution, is still contained in the Greek Orthodox “Book of Hours”, where it is one of the concluding prayers of the evening services; also, the Orthodox sing this hymn as the last dismissal hymn of daily Vespers during Great Lent. (Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia 2011) The prayer is also used in the Roman Catholic Church, where it is known as the Sub tuum praesidium. (Mathewes-Green 2007, 85-86)

Shawn Tribe and Henri de Villiers provide us with the following theological analysis of this prayer.

Three fundamental theological truths are admirably synthesized:

  1. The special election of Mary by God (“only blessed”).
  2. The perpetual Virginity of Mary (“only pure”).
  3. The Divine Motherhood (“Mother of God”; “Mother” may be considered as a poor translation of Genitrix). (Tribe and Villiers 2011)

We should also add the idea that Mary hears our prayers and, in some sense, answers them. Thus prayer to the Theotokos, along with a belief in her remaining ever-virgin, is an expression of ante-Nicene Christianity, rather than (as some suggest) a syncretic grafting of paganism onto Christianity by a post-Constantine, apostate church.

Witness of the Fathers (and others)

St. John of Kronstadt waxes lyrical on this topic.

Pray, my brethren, to the Mother of God when the storm of enmity and malice bursts forth in your house. She, Who is all-merciful and all-powerful, can easily pacify the hearts of men. Peace and love proceed from the one God, as from their Source, and Our Lady–in God, as the Mother of Christ the Peace, is zealous, and prays for the peace of the whole world, and above all–of all Christians. She has the all-merciful power of driving away from us at Her sign the sub-celestial spirits of evil — those ever-vigilant and ardent sowers of enmity and malice amongst men, whilst to all who have recourse with faith and love to Her powerful protection, She soon speedily gives both peace and love. Be zealous yourselves also in preserving faith and love in your hearts; for if you do not care for this, then you will be unworthy of the intercession for you–of the Mother of God; be also most fervent and most reverent worshippers[i] of the Mother of the Almighty Lord; for it is truly meet to bless Her–the ever-blessed; the entirely spotless Mother of our God, the highest of all creatures, the Mediatrix for the whole race of mankind. Strive to train yourself in the spirit of humility, for She Herself was more humble than any mortal, and only looks lovingly upon the humble.” He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden” (said She to Elisabeth), of “God, Her Saviour.” (St John of Kronstadt 2010, Kindle Locations 3050-3059)

I must admit that this troubled me for some time. Even as I write this, after being chrismated into the Orthodox Church, I am still not entirely comfortable with prayer to the saints. Yet I consider this more a matter of my sloppy prayer habits rather than conviction, for I have become convinced that prayer to the saints is the most natural thing in the world.

One of the best places to start is with the words of Jesus: “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Mat 22:32). The context of this passage has to do with the Sadducees and their disbelief in the resurrection from the dead. Jesus responded not with a defense of resurrection per se, but instead with the statement that the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob was the God of the living. In other words, the mortal bodies of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob may have died, but they were still very much alive. Jesus made much the same claim in his story of Lazarus and the rich man. This is likely not a parable, because Lazarus is named in the story; therefore he is a real person, despite his having suffered bodily death. Even after death, the rich man recognizes both Abraham and Lazarus, and actually converses with father Abraham (Luke 16:19-31).

St. John of Krondstat writes:

The saints of God live even after their death. Thus, I often hear in church the Mother of God singing her wonderful, heart-penetrating song which she said in the house of her cousin Elizabeth, after the Annunciation of the Archangel. At times, I hear the song of Moses; the song of Zacharias–the father of the Forerunner; that of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel; that of the three children; and that of Miriam. And how many holy singers of the New Testament delight until now the ear of the whole Church of God! And the Divine service itself–the sacraments, the rites? Whose spirit is there, moving and touching our hearts? That of God and of His saints. Here is a proof for you of the immortality of men’s souls. How is it that all these men have died, and yet are governing our lives after their death–they are dead and they still speak, instruct and touch us? (St John of Kronstadt 2010, Location 63-68)

Thus the souls of those asleep in Jesus, while disembodied, are kept conscious and alive, awaiting the resurrection of their bodies (1 Thes 4:13-18). Jesus describes one conversation in particular, a conversation in which the rich man seems aware of the spiritual condition of his brothers. This would seem to allow for the possibility that those asleep in Jesus are aware of us. Moreover, at the Transfiguration, Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah, both of whom seemed aware of Jesus’ upcoming death (Mat 17:1-9).

Peter Gillquist writes:

If Saint Paul instructs us as a holy priesthood to pray “always …for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18), is it so outrageous to confess with the Church that holy Mary (along with all the saints who have passed from death to life and continually stand in the presence of Christ) intercedes before her Son on behalf of all men? For Mary is the prototype of what we are all called to be. (Gillquist 2009, 101)

It is with all this in mind that we read the roll call of faith in Hebrews chapter 11. Despite the Lutheran confessions arguing against intercessory prayer to the saints, Lutheran theologian Gustaf Aulén notes:

The koinonia of the church is not limited to the church as it exists now in the present. Death does not constitute a boundary. The fellowship of the church includes the witnesses to the faith in all ages. When the Letter to the Hebrews in the eleventh chapter has enumerated a long line of witnesses from the time of the old covenant, it continues in chapter twelve to stress the significance of the fact that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” and especially that we look “to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2). In these words the author of the letter has disclosed the true perspective of the relationship between the many and the one. Just as the old covenant has its heroes of faith, so the new has “so great a cloud of witnesses.” (Aulén 1960, 310)

Lutheran pastor Berthold Von Schenk writes in “The Presence” regarding the presence of our dear departed, worshiping with us around the altar:

As we seek and find our Risen Lord, we shall find our dear departed. They are with Him, and we find the reality of their continued life through Him. The saints are a part of the Church. We worship with them. They worship the Risen Christ face to face, while we worship the same Risen Christ under the veil of bread and wine at the Altar. At the Communion we are linked with heaven, with the Communion of Saints, with our loved ones. Here at the Altar, focused to a point, we find our communion with the dead; for the Altar is the closest meeting place between us and our Lord. That place must be the place of closest meeting with our dead who are in His keeping; The Altar is the trysting place where we meet our beloved Lord. It therefore, must also be the trysting place where we meet our loved ones, for they are with, the Lord. 

How pathetic it is to see ‘men and women going out to the cemetery, kneeling at the mound, placing little sprays’ of flowers and wiping their tears from their eyes, and knowing nothing else. How hopeless they look! Oh, that we could take them by the hand, away from the grave, out through the cemetery gate, in through the door of the church, and up the nave to the very Altar itself; and there put them in touch, not with the dead body of their loved one, but with the living soul who is with Christ at the Altar!

Oh, God the King of Saints, we praise and magnify Thy holy Name for all Thy servants, who have finished their course in Thy faith and fear, for the Blessed Virgin Mary, for the Holy Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs, for all Thy other righteous servants; and we beseech Thee that, encouraged by their example and strengthened by their fellowship, we may attain to everlasting life, through the merits of Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Von Schenk 1945)

The saints are living, are aware of us (as seen in the conversations between Moses, Elijah, and the transfigured Christ), fellowship with us, worship with us at the heavenly altar (of which the earthly altar is but a shadow), and are able to speak with Jesus. The author of Hebrews charges us to keep in mind the saints in heaven, the great cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1) — of whom constant mindfulness in some way helps us avoid sin and keep us on the path towards salvation.

Many Protestant churches are aware of the saint’s perpetual involvement in the life of the church, even if they do not fully comprehend it. Why is it that many Protestant churches have graveyards on the church grounds? If you ask some of them, the more theologically sophisticated will say that the departed are still members of the church. Some sacramental Protestants (such as Lutherans) will go so far as to say that every time they celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the departed dead are celebrating it with them in heaven.[ii] If this is true, then why would we not ask the saints to intercede for us, just as we might ask the pastor or a trusted friend?

Bibliography

Aulén, Gustaf. The Faith of the Christian Church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960.

Dau, William H. T., and Gerhard F. Bente, . Triglot Concordia: The Symbolical Books of the Ev. Lutheran Church. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921.

Gillquist, Peter. Becoming Orthodox: A Journy to the Ancient Christian Faith. Third. Ben Lomond: Conciliar Press, 2009.

Mathewes-Green, Frederica. The Lost Gospel of Mary: The Theotokos in Three Ancient Texts. Brewster: Paraclete Press, 2007.

Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. “The Oldest Hymn to the Theotokos.” OMHKSEA. August 10, 2011. http://www.omhksea.org/2011/08/the-oldest-hymn-to-the-theotokos/ (accessed February 12, 2012).

St John of Kronstadt. My Life in Christ, or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest SelfAmendment, and of Peace in God. Edited by John Iliytch Sergieff. Translated by E. E. Goulaeff. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2010.

Tribe, Shawn, and Henri de Villiers. “The Sub Tuum Praesidium.” New Liturgical Movement. February 3, 2011. http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2011/02/sub-tuum-praesidium.html (accessed February 12, 2012).

Von Schenk, Berthold. The Presence: An Approach to the Holy Communion. New York: E. Kaufmann, Incorporated, 1945.



[i] This is an excerpt from the diary of St. John of Kronstadt. As such it lacks the theological precision one might otherwise expect. Theologically, we honor or venerate Mary and the saints, but reserve worship for God alone.

[ii] Scandinavian Lutheran churches often have a semi-circular altar rail; the other half of the circle is in heaven, and reserved for the departed saints who celebrate their heavenly liturgy with us.

Theological Traditions and their Effect on Mariology

The Third Law of Theology - For every theologian there is an equal and opposite theologian.

The Third Law of Theology

We often forget our theological traditions have an important function; they serve to guide us in our hermeneutics, which affect our doctrine. Regarding the effect of tradition upon late Protestant doctrine, Peter Gillquist writes:

Saddled even more with late tradition is the Protestant movement. Whereas Rome generally has added to the faith, Protestantism has subtracted from it. In an effort to shake off Roman excesses, modern Protestants have sorely over-corrected their course. The reductionism that results cripples Protestant Christians in their quest for full maturity in Christ and in steering a steady course in doctrine and worship.

Mary has become a non-name; Holy Communion, a quarterly memorial; authority and discipline in the Church, a memory; doctrine, a matter of personal interpretation, constantly up for renegotiation. Name one Protestant denomination that has held on fully to the faith of its own founders — to say nothing of its adherence to the apostolic faith. (Gillquist 2009, 63)

Lutherans (and from them, the Protestants in general) assert two primary principles of interpretation. The first principle is the absolute oneness (or unicity) of the literal sense (sensus literalis unis est), by which they mean that each passage has only one literal meaning, as intended by the original author; the second principle is the internal consistency of Scripture (scriptura scripturam interpretatur). (Piepkorn, I Believe 2007, 290-291) The interpretive problem comes when we try to determine the literal sense of Scripture, and attempt to discover which passages of scripture should be used to interpret other passages. What is often missed, as Piepkorn reminds us, is that the principles of interpretation are secular, not theological, and apply equally to scripture as well as other critical enterprises. (Piepkorn, I Believe 2007, 291)

Piepkorn describes a problem that is often missed — that the conclusions of your scriptural interpretation depend to a great extent upon the place you start from. An Orthodox, a Catholic, a Lutheran, a Presbyterian, and a Baptist may well look at the same passages of scripture, apply the same rules of interpretation, and come to different conclusions about what the scriptures say. Each theological tradition would look at the conclusions of the others as “prima facie evidence of malice, blindness, or ignorance. …[I]n applying the principle that “Scripture interprets Scripture” (scriptura scripturam interpretatur) we discover which scripture is in the nominative (scriptura) and which scripture is in the accusative (scripturam) not from the bible immediately, but from our theological tradition.” (Piepkorn, The Sacred Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions 2007, xxx)

The fact that the principles of scriptural interpretation are products of human reason does not mean we should discard them, but it does mean that we should use them with care. It is not always clear exactly how these tools should be used. The famous principle, scripture interprets scripture, functions differently in different hands. We often think of the principles of scriptural interpretation as a roadmap that guides us to our proper destination. Yet a great many theological traditions claim that scripture interprets scripture, and each of them arrives at a different theological destination. The problem, as Piepkorn defines it, is that “scripture interprets scripture” leaves open the question of how to identify which passage of scripture is being used to interpret another passage. In other words, the principle itself tells us that one passage of scripture should be used to interpret another passage, but knowing that does nothing to tell us which is which.

The theological argument from the sufficiency and the perspicuity of the Sacred Scriptures was fortified with the basic principle of classic Lutheran hermeneutics: Scriptura scripturam interpretatur. Although it still left open the serious question of how one identified the nominative Scriptura interpretans [the Scripture passage that is doing the interpretation] and differentiated it from the accusative scriptura interpretanda [the Scripture passage to be interpreted], the implication was that every sober student of the Sacred Scriptures would finally have to come out at the same place theologically, regardless of his epoch and the other aspects of his Sitz im Leben [setting in life]. (Piepkorn, The Sacred Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions 2007, xxix)

Piepkorn’s argument is based on Luther’s concept of the perspicuity (clearness) of Scripture, which formed a major part of Luther’s argument in his “The Bondage of the Will” — his answer to the Diatribe of Erasmus. The basic thrust of this argument is expressed in Luther’s famous answer at the Diet of Worms:

 I cannot think myself bound to believe either the Pope or his councils; for it is very clear, not only that they have often erred, but often contradicted themselves. Therefore, unless I am convinced by Scripture or clear reasons, my belief is so confirmed by the scriptural passages I have produced, and my conscience so determined to abide by the word of God, that I neither can nor will retract any thing; for it is neither safe nor innocent to act against any man’s conscience. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. May God help me. Amen. (Luther, The Bondage of the Will 1823, xvii)

Luther’s principles of scriptural interpretation are based upon the idea that scripture is clear and open to individual interpretation. His famous (and perhaps apocryphal) statement expresses the primacy of the individual conscience over and against the Catholic church, in this specific instance. Yet once Luther opened this door, it was difficult to close it again. Even though the Lutheran Book of Concord is perhaps the largest and most comprehensive confessional statements in all of Christendom, it does not suffice to create doctrinal unity. In fact, the Lutherans have become increasingly sectarian even amongst themselves, and continue to split over issues of conscience to this day.

The fact is that the scriptures are not always clear, and are often confusing. Professor Peter Bouteneff quotes a number of ancient Christian authors on this subject, beginning with Tertullian. “Scripture, writes Tertullian, is complex by design, containing material that God knew would be wrongly understood, because ‘there must be heresies’.”[i] (P. C. Bouteneff 2008, 90) Boutenoff goes on to explain that the complexity of Scripture requires a variety of methodologies be used to get at the meaning. “Indeed, Scripture is designed by God in such a way that multiple methods would need to be used in order to read in terms of the regula. [Regula fidei, or rule of faith.] As T. P. O’Malley has shown, biblical language has a certain “otherness” or “strangeness to it, wherein terms do not always mean what people think they do.” (P. C. Bouteneff 2008, 91)

It is because of their complexity and otherness that the conclusions we draw from Sacred Scriptures are not determined by the proper or improper application of our hermeneutic, but are in fact determined by our starting place, our theological tradition. This then points out the importance of theological tradition in the life of the church, for it provides a common starting point for our scriptural interpretation. An individual or a church body that jettisons theological tradition altogether does so on the basis of suppositions that determines the final outcome of their scriptural interpretation. Thus a church body that begins by jettisoning their theological traditions is really exchanging one set of theological traditions for another; and, being guided by a different set of traditions, the church body inevitably comes to different theological conclusions. Therefore scripture is not self-authenticating, as some like to say, for the dogmatic content of scripture, and indeed the canon of scripture itself, is determined to a great extent by ones initial suppositions.

It is impossible to jettison tradition; instead, we trade one set of traditions for another. What we see among theological Liberals is the interpretation of scripture by means of a rationalistic, enlightenment tradition. What we see among conservative Protestants is a tradition that tries to reject the rationalistic, enlightenment tradition. The United States has developed its own peculiar theological traditions as well, derived from a romantic notion of lawlessness, of every man for himself, of a frontier ethos; these theological traditions include a rejection of the communal aspects of Christianity in favor of an individualist Christianity, aptly summarized in the country song “Me and Jesus” by Tom T. Hall:

Me and Jesus, got our own thing goin’.
Me and Jesus, got it all worked out.
Me and Jesus, got our own thing goin’.
We don’t need anybody to tell us what it’s all about.

Many older Protestant hymnals contain the song “In The Garden” (by C. Austin Miles), which expresses much the same sentiment.

I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.

Refrain

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

The literary critic Harold Bloom makes a similar statement in the opening paragraph of his book The American Religion.

Freedom, in the context of the American Religion, means being alone with God or with Jesus, the American God or the American Christ. In social reality, this translates as solitude, at least in the inmost sense. The soul stands apart, and something deeper than the soul, the Real Me or self or spark, thus is made free to be utterly alone with a God who is also quite separate and solitary, that is, a free God or God of freedom. …No American pragmatically feels free if she is not alone, and no American ultimately concedes that she is part of nature. (Bloom 1992, 15)

The morphology or shape of one’s theology can often be derived simply by determining their theological traditions; in a similar fashion, if we determine a person’s theological traditions, we can often guess at their theology. For an example of how this works in practice, let us return to a contentious issue in modern Lutheran circles, one alluded to in the introduction to this paper — the question of the perpetual virginity of Mary. Two different Lutheran scholars, looking at the same scriptures and Lutheran confessions, and reviewing the same arguments, will come to very different conclusions — one wholeheartedly accepting the perpetual virginity of Mary, the other adamantly rejecting it. This does not indicate that one or the other of them has acted in bad faith, or in ignorance, or is simply blind to the truth. Instead, it indicates that each scholar began from a different theological starting point, one based on different theological traditions.

Basically, you can tell what theological traditions a person comes from by the different conclusions they draw from the identical arguments and passages of scripture, or by which passage of scripture they use to determine the meaning of other passages. Therefore, despite what Protestants are often told, tradition is important in the life of the church, for the starting point of theology generally determines its morphology. This is amply illustrated by the manner in which different faith traditions approach the Annunciation, and specifically the initial greeting by the angel Gabriel. Unfortunately, it was not possible to find a wide assortment of modern, Protestant, & authoritative sources who dealt specifically with the meaning and import of the Annunciation—more’s the pity.

Presbyterian/Reformed

Matthew J. Slick, writing from a Presbyterian and Reformed background,[ii] says the Catholics derive their translation “full of grace” from the Vulgate, a Latin mistranslation of the bible, rather than from the original Greek. “What does the Greek say here for ‘highly favored one?’ It is the single Greek word kecharitomene and means highly favored, make accepted, make graceful, etc. It does not mean ‘full of grace’ which is ‘plaras karitos’ (plaras = full and karitos = Grace) in the Greek.” (Slick 2002)

Slick then provides two word definitions — one from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible and one from the Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek, both of which give a definition for charitoo (caritow) instead of kecharitomene (kecaritwmenh). Now it is true that kecharitomene is the perfect passive participle form of charitoo, but that does not mean that one can substitute the definition of charitoo for that of kecharitomene. In fact, as Fr. Manelli reminds us, the Greek expression kecharitomene is not easily translatable. (Manelli 2005, 162)  And it is at this point, having conflated the definitions of two Greek words, that Slick then switches to English to find places where Protestant translators use the phrase “full of grace”. In other words, he accuses the Latins of basing their theology upon a translation, then uses a translation as a means of arguing against the Latins.

The phrase “full of grace” in Greek is “plaras karitos” and it occurs in only two places in the New Testament, neither one is in reference to Mary.

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

“And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8).

The first citation refers to Jesus who is obviously full of grace. Jesus is God in flesh, the crucified and risen Lord, who cleanses us from our sins. In the second citation it is Stephen who is full of grace. We can certainly affirm that Jesus was conceived without sin and remained sinless, but can we conclude this about Stephen as well? Certainly not. The phrase “full of grace” does not necessitate sinlessness by virtue of its use. In Stephen’s case it signifies that he was “full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” along with faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3,5). But Stephen was a sinner. (Slick 2002)

So what Slick is saying is that we should be careful in reading too much into the statement of Gabriel. “[Mary] was graced with the privilege of being able to bear the Son of God.” (Slick 2002) In fact, although Slick doesn’t put it as crassly this, we might not be too far off if we accuse Slick of saying that God was doing Mary a favor by using her as an incubator.

Dispensationalist & Reformed

John MacArthur is a pastor and prolific author, writing from a Dispensationalist & Reformed perspective (which is a curious combination, neither fish nor fowl). The John MacArthur Collection, hosted on the Bible Bulletin Board, contains an alphabetized list of questions and answers, none of which concern Mary. It is almost as if Mary is an inconsequential figure. But in a two part article, MacArthur does provide information on what he calls the “Idolatry of Mary Worship” in Catholic Dogma. Unfortunately, MacArthur does not deal with Luke 1:28, which a key verse for any discussion of the topic. Instead, he begins by discussing peripheral matters, things that are merely derivative from an orthodox understanding of the angelic greeting: “Hail, full of grace”. He quotes from 1 Tim 1:3, where the apostle warns against certain men who teach strange doctrines, and not to pay attention to myths. (MacArthur, Exposing the Idolatry of Mary Worship: Catholic Dogma, Pt. 1 n.d.) Interestingly, he fails to notice that it is the concept of Mary as just another woman that is the aberration in the history of the church. MacArthur deals almost entirely with secondary and tertiary sources, and that in a most superficial way. He mentions a book by St. Alphonsus Delaguarie entitled The Glories of Mary, a history of devotion to Mary which seems to form the basis of his argument. What he fails to do is deal in any substantive way with any authoritative document — not the Catechism of the Catholic Church, not the papal bulls, nor the papal encyclicals. He does quote from Vatican II, and from some of the Catholic Saints, but fails to quote from the Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. He quotes from the Ineffabilis Deus of Pope Pius IX, which established the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, but only to establish the specific content of the doctrine. (MacArthur, Exposing the Idolatry of Mary Worship: Catholic Dogma, Pt. 2 n.d.) MacArthur never asks the question of why the Catholics (and to some extent, the Orthodox) believe as they do, nor how they exegete the passages in question — he assumes it the entire edifice is idolatrous devil-worship, and that is that. (MacArthur, Exposing the Idolatry of Mary Worship: Catholic Dogma, Pt. 2 n.d.) Based on his writings, you would think the Catholics do no analysis at all. Interestingly enough, although MacArthur speaks of himself as an exegete, he does precious little exegesis in this area. (MacArthur, Nothing But the Truth 2007) It is as though someone tried to deal with Lutheran doctrine without dealing with the Lutheran Confessions, or tried to deal with Reformed doctrine without dealing with Calvin, Zwingli, and the Synod of Dort. MacArthur seems unwilling to admit that Catholics might have an exegetical basis for their dogma, whether he agrees with their analysis or not. In his 26 pages of anti-Catholic invective, MacArthur is clearly coming from a theological tradition that is actively hostile to any form of Mariology, to any indication that Mary might be special, and to any sense that Mary might have a unique place in the plan of God. Moreover, it is evident that the reason for the denial of Mariology is solely its association with Catholicism.

A Lutheran Response to Mariology

Abbé Lucien Dhalenne was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1945, and later was converted and served the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of France. In his Lutheran response to the conclusion of the 1954 “Marian Year” by Pope Pius XII, he made the following comment:

Where do we find the Scriptural basis for the mariology of the Roman Church? Some believe that they find it in Gen. 3:15, where God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Isa. 7:14 is also cited: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” — In the interpretation of these passages we agree with Rome to this extent, that we see in them prophecy of the birth of the Savior, His conception by a virgin, and the victory of man over Satan in and through Christ. But to derive the theses for mariolatry from them seems like a bold stroke, in which we have to deal with anything but theology. For in Gen. 3:15 the term woman (האשׁה) designates Eve, and not Mary, as the mariologists insist, cf. vv. 12, 13, and 16. The woman’s Seed, Christ, in the protevangelium is the descendant of Eve, the first woman, who introduced transgression. He (Hebrew: הוא), not Eve (Vulgate: ipsa), shall bruise the head of the serpent. The seed of Jacob, in whom all the families of the earth shall be blessed, Gen. 28:14, was not his immediate descendant, but a distant descendant, Christ. Isaiah 7:14 does not support Roman mariology either, although here the miraculous birth of Christ by a virgin is prophesied most distinctly. Here the prophet is giving the dynasty of David the sign of divine judgment, that not it, but the untouched, unknown virgin shall bear the Messiah. By a miracle of God the prophecy of judgment is changed into a prophecy of grace. The emphasis shifts plainly also from the virgin, who is only God’s maid, to Immanuel, the God-with- us, cf. Isaiah 8:8, 10. The Roman theologians also appeal to Luke 1:28, which reads: “And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee,” in order to justify at least the Roman doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary. But with the best of good intentions we cannot find any support for that doctrine here. In that case we should have to attribute to Stephen also an immaculate conception, for of him it is said Acts 6:8: “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” (Dhalenne 1954)

In my opinion this statement says more about Dhalenne than it says about Mary. He indicates the Protoevangelium applies to Eve and Jesus, not to Mary, even though the angel Gabriel stated Mary would conceive in her womb of the Holy Ghost, and that she would bring forth a son who would be called the Son of God — a clear fulfillment of the protoevangelium. Dhalenne’s position turns Mary into an incubator, and the Holy Spirit into an incubus. Dhalenne also rejects the importance of Mary in Isa 7:14, changing the sign from the Virgin who conceives and bears a son who is to be called Immanuel, to an Immanuel who is his own sign apart from the virgin birth. In fact, by reinterpreting Isa 7:14 in this manner, Dhalenne has made the virgin birth unnecessary and superfluous. It is clear that Dhalenne has rejected Roman Catholicism, and in rejecting Roman Catholicism, he has also rejected an entire theological history, including the theological history the Lutherans inherited from the Roman Catholics. It is this rejection of the theological tradition, whole and entire, that fueled enthusiasts (Schwärmerei) and radicals like Karlstadt, against whom Luther fought for the last half of his career.

Bibliography

Bloom, Harold. The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Bouteneff, Peter C. Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.

Dhalenne, Abbé Lucien. “Antichristian Mariology.” Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Essay File. 1954. http://www.wlsessays.net/files/DhalenneMary.pdf (accessed October 14, 2008).

Gillquist, Peter. Becoming Orthodox: A Journy to the Ancient Christian Faith. Third. Ben Lomond: Conciliar Press, 2009.

Luther, Martin. The Bondage of the Will. Translated by Edward Thomas Vaughan. London: Forgotten Books, 1823.

MacArthur, John F. “Exposing the Idolatry of Mary Worship: Catholic Dogma, Pt. 1.” Bible Bulletin Board. n.d. http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/90-315.htm (accessed January 19, 2009).

—. “Exposing the Idolatry of Mary Worship: Catholic Dogma, Pt. 2.” Bible Bulletin Board. n.d. http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/90-316.htm (accessed January 19, 2009).

—. “Nothing But the Truth.” Bible Bulletin Board. 2007. http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/jm-233971.htm (accessed January 20, 2009).

Manelli, Stefano. All Generations Shall Call Me Blessed. New Bedford: Academy of the Immaculate, 2005.

Piepkorn, Arthur Carl. “I Believe.” In The Sacred Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, by Arthur Carl Piepkorn, 282-295. Mansfield: CEC Press, 2007.

—. The Sacred Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions. Edited by Phillip J Secker and Robert Kolb. Vol. 2. Mansfield: CEC Press, 2007.

Slick, Matthew J. “Mary, full of grace, and Luke 1:28.” CARM Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. Jan 2002. http://www.carm.org/catholic/fullofgrace.htm (accessed January 17, 2009).


[i] The Orthodox church disagrees with Tertullian on this; the scriptures are complex because God is speaking to us about things that are too high for us to understand — God is speaking to us in baby talk. It should also be noted that Tertullian ended his life as a heretic, which is why he is not a Saint in the Orthodox church.

[ii] Matthew J. Slick received a Bachelors in Social Science from Concordia Irvine before receiving his M.Div from Westminster Theological Seminary.