The Historical Setting of the Introduction of the Doctrine of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity Was Introduced into Christian Dogma
Holy Tradition informs us that not only did Mary conceive Jesus and retain her virginity, but she remained a virgin during and after childbirth. Bishop Nikolai writes:
“When the Most-holy Virgin immaculately gave birth to the Lord and Savior, Salome came to visit her. She was amazed that such a young girl could give birth without the aid of a midwife, swaddle the Child herself, and beside all of that still be on her feet. When it was explained to Salome that this birth was of God and not man, that it was immaculate and without pain, and that the Virgin Mother remained a Virgin after birth as she was before birth, Salome did not believe it, but rather she stretched out her hand to the body of the Most-holy Virgin to examine it, after the custom of a midwife, and to find out if this was indeed so. And because of her unbelief and insolence, a punishment befell her: her hand was seized and withered. The aged woman was greatly frightened by the miracle and lamented over her withered hand. However, when she touched the Divine Child later, her hand was restored to health like it was before. Thus, Salome believed in the virginity of the Most-pure Virgin Mary and in the Divinity of Christ.”
It is completely evident that in the absence of God-inspired biblical texts to prove their beliefs, Orthodox teachers are forced to resort to very dubious sources of tradition. Previously, I have already explained in sufficient detail the teaching of sacred tradition about Mary and her children, so there is no further need to dwell on that issue. Suffice it to say only that the evangelists never mention these “miracles” of the “drying up” and healing of the hands of Mary’s judgmental midwife during the Lord’s birth. Such a “miracle” would have come to the attention of the New Testament writers had it truly occurred.
As demonstrated earlier, the first century Church had completely different teaching about Mary than those in the Orthodox Church would have us believe. (This chapter will deal with this subject in more detail.) However, it is necessary to understand the historical setting when this doctrine appeared in Christian dogma.
Starting with the second century after Christ and the ceasing of apostolic prophecies, false teachings began to seep into the Church. One of these teachings was the interpretation which came from some of the church fathers that Adam’s wife Eve, the mother of all human beings, committed the first sin not by eating the fruit from the Tree
of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 3:6), but rather by having sexual intercourse with the serpent (i.e. Satan). These religious authorities began to teach the concept that Mary was Eve’s counterpart. Death came through Eve and life through Mary. Eve gave birth by the words of the serpent, while Mary conceived “by the words of the Lord.”
For the church fathers who interpreted the sin of Eve to be adultery, the virginity of Mary stood in opposition to the immorality of Eve. Her sin and perverted sexuality contrasted with the faith and virtue of Jesus’ mother. Already at the end of the second and early third century, the emergence of monasticism in certain Christian circles corresponded with a special exaltation of the concept of the life of celibacy. Church fathers including Ambrose, Athanasius, Cyprian, and Jerome made Mary out to be a model of Christian virginity. At the end of the fourth century (383 A.D.), Jerome wrote the work in which he claimed that Jesus was the only child of Mary, while he considered the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in the gospels to be more distant relatives. By the middle of the fifth century, Mary was proclaimed “Immaculate” (a Perpetual Virgin). In the year 649 (in the sixth century), her permanent virginity was proclaimed as official church dogma.
Therefore, it is clear that the teaching of the perpetual virginity of Jesus’ mother derived from the minds of later church leaders and not from the Holy Scriptures. This conclusion is completely true, and the following text from Orthodox literature will further demonstrate it. In it we clearly see that the Eastern Church finds support in its belief, first of all, in the apocryphal texts and specific interpretation of certain texts of the Bible. In truth, neither has anything to do with Jesus or Mary. Here is the interesting text from an Orthodox magazine:
“With the name of the Most Holy Virgin, and only with Her name, are two Divine attributes:
She is eternally a Virgin (Innocent Girl) and She gave birth to God, She is the Theotokos.
No one else has these attributes, nor will any other woman have them, nor anyone who ever existed on this earth.
The Eternal Virginity of the Most Holy Mother of God is threefold: She was a Virgin when she conceived God’s Son, She remained a Virgin during the birth of Her Son, and She remains a virgin after He was born. ‘A Virgin conceiving, a Virgin bearing, a Virgin pregnant, a Virgin bringing forth, a Virgin perpetual,’ says the inspired Blessed Augustine. About Her Virginity, Isaiah prophesied: ‘Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.’ The Holy Prophet Moses on Mount Sinai saw the burning bush that was not consumed and from there the Angel of the Lord spoke to him. This burning bush symbolizes the Most Holy Mother of God; just as the bush burned, but was not consumed, so also the Most Holy conceived, gave birth, and still remained a Virgin. As the Divine Word moved into Her without breaking the seal of Her virginity, so He also enabled her to give birth without violating Her virginity. The Holy Prophet Ezekiel had a vision of the east gate and was told, ‘This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the LORD God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.’ Regarding this holy place, [John] the Damascan interpreted as follows: ‘As the LORD kept a Virgin the One who conceived Him, He also kept Her virginity inviolate when He was born. He only went through the gate and kept it closed.’ The Canonical books of the New Testament books and the more apocryphal gospels support the dogma of the perpetual virginity of the Most Holy Mother of God.”
We offer a few brief comments on this excerpt. First, it is true that the prophet Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah Jesus would be born of a virgin without intercourse with a man, just as the apostle Matthew confirms in his gospel (Mt. 1:22-3). However, neither the prophet Isaiah nor the apostle Matthew state anywhere the idea that this girl will remain a Virgin after His birth (in terms of her whole hymen remaining intact). Furthermore, the texts from Isaiah and Matthew do not confirm the so-called “church dogma” that the Messiah is the only child of His mother. One cannot simply read into the Bible that interpretation which the Word does not support. A faithful interpreter of the Bible can only read what the Bible clearly presents in its own text. The only thing that was important to Isaiah and Matthew is the emphasis on the fact that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in a completely supernatural way. Neither Isaiah nor Matthew promoted teaching that Mary’s hymen remained “unbroken”.
However, we notice that the text of the magazine states that the authority of this Orthodox teaching rests not upon the first century apostolic accounts inspired by God. Rather, Orthodoxy bases its teaching of Mary upon “inspired” interpretation of the blessed Augustine who lived in the fourth and fifth century after Christ, therefore, more than four hundred years after the birth of the Lord Messiah. It is even a more blatant example of distorting the Book of Ezekiel when the magazine alleges the passage refers to the Mother of Christ. Nor does it properly cite examples from the apostolic writings (in contrast to the justifiable citation of Isaiah from the Matthew text). The interpretation of St. John of Damascus is as close to truth as the sky is to the land. Let us prove the following facts from the Old Testament books.
First, in order to gain the proper understanding of this passage, we need to read it in its proper context. From the perspective of Orthodox theologians who read into Ezekiel 44:2 the bride, they should carefully read the whole context of chapters 40-48. If they had done so, they would have recognized that the prophet describes in these chapters the vision of the future restored Temple of Jerusalem, and the residence of God’s glory among His people, Israel. According to the historical record in Ezekiel 40:1, Ezekiel received this vision in 572 B.C. This vision occurred twenty-five years after the partial scattering of the Jews from Judea over the Babylonian Empire by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C., i.e. fourteen years after the final destruction of Jerusalem and the beautiful temple of Solomon’s temple in 586 B.C.
The reason for the scattering of the Jews among the Gentiles and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple stems from complete national apostasy from their Lord and their wide acceptance of idolatrous customs over several centuries previously. After the union of David and Solomon’s empire broke up into two parts, Jeroboam, the ruler of the northern kingdom, legislated idolatry and introduced idols of pagan deities into his own territory (1 Ki.12:26-33). Shortly thereafter, the southern territory fell into apostasy as a result of popular rejection of repentance preached by Old Testament prophets. The northern kingdom suffered defeat at the hands of Assyria in 722 B.C., while the southern kingdom finally succumbed to Babylon in 586 B.C., when Jerusalem was looted and the temple collapsed to the ground.
The Temple of God, which represented the place where the glory of the Lord was supposed to be manifested as a sign of His presence among His chosen people , was demolished. Similar to the time of Samuel when the Ark of the Covenant was stolen by the Philistines and transferred to the pagan temple of their idols, the people could also say, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” (1 Sam. 4:22)
The vision of Ezekiel, described in chapters 40-48, is set while the people had been weeping about their captivity for years, with Jerusalem and the temple lying in ruins. The Lord reveals to His servant future restoration. He strongly emphasizes that the time will come when His glory once again will dwell among the Jewish people assembled in the country. The Lord also discloses to the prophet the smallest details of the dimensions of the future temple and all its auxiliary facilities, and tells him the Israelites will once again worship and revere Him. After God shows Ezekiel the vision of how the future temple (along with the surrounding area) will be arranged, the Lord commands Ezekiel examine and measure the dimensions of the wall on all sides surrounding the Temple complex. On this wall there were three doors of equal size facing the north, south and east. While one could enter through any of these doors by walking straight up to the temple court, i.e. the altar where sacrifices were performed, the very doors of the entrance to the sanctuary (the first room in the temple reserved for priests) and the most holy things faced in the direction of the eastern wall. It is from this direction, the east, that the prophet Ezekiel saw the return of the long lost glory of God to the temple:
“Afterward he brought me to the gate, the gate that faces toward the east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east. His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory… And the glory of the LORD came into the temple by way of the gate which faces toward the east. The Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple.”
After Ezekiel received some commandments that are related to the future regulation of worship, the Lord just spoke the text that is the subject of our study, which refers to the prohibition against passing through the eastern gate of the future prophecy once the glory of God re-enters the Temple:
“Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces toward the east, but it was shut. And the LORD said to me, ‘This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it, because the LORD God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall be shut.’”
So based on the contextual analysis of Ezekiel, how is it possible that anyone could read into these verses a meaning that the prophecy never intended in the first place? How can anyone turn the gate of the Temple of God into the womb (more technically, the hymen, birth canal, and uterus) of Mary, mother of the Lord Jesus Christ?
However, if the Orthodox want to still persist in asserting that the prophecies of the east gate on the wall of the Temple of Jerusalem, through which the glory of the Lord will enter only in the future , symbolizes Mary’s female sexual organs (the next step in the logic of this misinterpretation of the holy fathers), they will have to answer some more, and one could even say, somewhat bizarre questions. One question, for example, would relate to the remaining two gates on the wall of the future temple in Jerusalem. Unlike the eastern gate through which only the Lord’s glory would pass, many godly worshipers would be able to continuously enter and leave the Temple (Ez. 46:8-10). Which of Mary’s other bodily organs do these other gates represent? Also, if we accept the Orthodox belief that the east gate symbolizes Mary’s womb, which gave birth to the Lord Jesus Christ, how would Orthodoxy explain the meaning of the next verse 43? Who then is the “prince” who is permitted to sit in the gate and eat bread there and to enter and exit through the north or south gate? Of course, it logically follows that the Orthodox would be unable to give meaningful answers to these questions, because their teaching clearly is unfounded. Their teaching relies upon the distortion of Biblical texts outside of their proper contexts.
After everything that we have learned about the true meaning of Ezekiel’s visions, we can only conclude that the argumentation of Orthodoxy, in the absence of biblical evidence to confirm their doctrines, is forced to resort to distorting verses and prophecies and misquoting verses completely out of their actual context. Such desperation clearly indicates their helplessness and inability to contradict the crystal clear teaching of the Bible that Mary gave birth to other children after Jesus was born. Of course, this fruitless effort by the Orthodox to deny the clear teaching of Scripture clearly cannot even compare to the grave they have dug for themselves in equating sinless Mary with the burning bush where Moses encountered the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament (Ex. 3:1-10).
Such comparison of various biblical events and personalities, which in general have nothing to do with one another (such as the burning bush that is not consumed with Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus) are used deliberately to rationalize and preserve the unbiblical doctrines of the so-called “Church of Christ” (Orthodox Church) regarding the perpetual virginity of Mary.
However, as much as the holy fathers try to compare Mary with bushes and temple gates, it still remains unclear why they could not find other comparisons. For example, what about the ass of Balaam, the only animal that God created, at some point it spoke with a human voice and communicated to a stubborn prophet a meaningful message (Num. 22)? The logic would follow that just as the ass was permitted only one time in its life to speak in a human voice, so Mary was the only one worthy to give birth to the Son of God once, and afterward could never have any more children again. Well, perhaps we can breathe a sigh of relief that the Orthodox apologists have not completely fallen into such blasphemy and lunacy.
Our long study of the tradition held by the Eastern Church has nearly touched on most of the beliefs that are related to Jesus’ mother. As was the case until now, once again we will demonstrate that Orthodox doctrine is completely contrary to Biblical revelation.