Protestants, Jews and Allegory
As mentioned in this post, one of the differences between Catholics and most Protestants is the Marian doctrines, i.e. the Immaculate Conception, Mary as co-redemptorix, Mary as Mediatrix of all graces, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and her bodily assumption into heaven. Some Protestants believe that an honest reading of Scripture would never yield the Catholic doctrines of the Blessed Virgin Mary. However, just as the Jews read the Old Testament and do not conclude that Jesus is the Messiah, so do Protestants read the New Testament and do not conclude that the Catholic doctrines of the Blessed Virgin are Biblical because they do not consistently interpret the Scriptures allegorically.
Did the Apostles Interpret the Scriptures Allegorically?
Unquestionably, the Apostles interpreted the Scriptures allegorically. Although the Jew would read Hosea 11:1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” and interpret “Israel” as the nation of Israel, since that is the meaning in the immediate context, the Apostles took such passages as Hosea 11:1 and, though they recognized the literal interpretation referred to the nation of Israel, they also recognized a higher, allegorical meaning which they believed pointed to Christ, as is seen in Matthew 2:15. Another example can be found in Galatians 4:21-31 where the Apostle Paul interprets Sarah and Hagar in the Book of Genesis as two covenants. Many more scriptures demonstrating this may abound but these two should suffice in order to establish the fact that the Apostles not only interpreted the Scriptures according to their literal meaning but also according to their allegorical meaning.
An Important Consideration
The Jews do not see Christ as the Messiah because they do not use an allegorical method of interpretation; however, Protestants, following the example of the Apostles, do interpret the Scriptures using an allegorical method in order to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. Since Protestants interpret the Old Testament allegorically in order to establish that Jesus is the Messiah, then they should also be willing to consider the allegorical argument for the Marian doctrines.
Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant
The majority of Protestants are not familiar with the Catholic concept that Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant. As a result, they often are not aware of the beauty between the Old Testament shadows of Mary and Mary herself. I’ll first point out some descriptions of the Ark of the Covenant in Scripture and then demonstrate how they allegorically point to their archetype, Mary.
- Hebrews 9:4 tells us what was within the Ark, as it reads “having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant.” In this verse we see that the Ark contained the “manna”, the bread that came down from heaven in the wilderness (Exodus 16). It contained “Aaron’s staff that budded” (Numbers 17), the staff of the high priest of Israel and it contained the “tablets of the covenant” (Exodus 25:16), which were the words of God revealed to Moses.
- We read in Exodus 25:22, “There [in the Ark] I [God] will meet with you [Moses], and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.” We learn from this passage that God’s presence dwelled within the Ark of the Covenant.
- Exodus 25:11 reads “Overlay it [the Ark] with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it”. In this verse God gives instructions on how to make the Ark of the Covenant and God is careful to instruct that it should be made of “pure gold”.
- Psalm 132:8 says “Arise, O LORD, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might.” This is also quoted in 2 Chronicles 6:41. The context indicates that the resting place for the Ark is the temple Solomon built.
- Lastly, we learn from 2 Samual 6:1-15 that the Ark was so holy that most were not allowed to touch it, as can be see in the case of Uzzah.
With these verses on the Ark of the Covenant in mind, we are now ready to see how these Old Testament shadows are allegorically fulfilled in Mary.
- Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant because within her womb she contained Jesus, the ultimate manna, the living bread of life that came down from heaven (John 6:51), the ultimate high priest (Hebrews 4:14), and the incarnate word of God (John 1:1, 14).
- Just as the old Ark of the Covenant contained the presence of God, so did the new Ark of the Covenant, Mary, contain in her womb Jesus, who is God incarnate (Colossians 2:9).
- In the same way that the old Ark was made of “pure gold” in order to contain holy things, so too it was fitting for the new Ark to be pure and sinless in order to contain her holy Son.
- Just as the old Ark, together with God’s presence, came to Solomon’s temple for its resting place, so is the new Ark, along with Christ, assumed into heaven to His resting place, at the right hand of the Father (though technically Jesus ascended into heaven, whereas Mary was assumed into heaven).
- Lastly, as the old Ark could not be touched because of its holiness, so too it was fitting that the new Ark, remain a virgin, and not know the touch of a man.
Did the New Testament Writers Make this Connection?
One of the first questions a Protestant will have after examining the information above is: did the New Testament writers make the connection between the Ark of the Covenant and Mary? The answer is yes.
- In 2 Samual 6:9 David says “how can the ark of the lord come to me”. This is very similar to what was said by Elizabeth when Mary came into her presence in Luke 1:43 which reads “but why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me.”
- In 2 Samual 6:16 we read that David leapt for joy in the presence of the Ark as it says “As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD”. In Luke 1:44 John leapt for joy in the presence of the Mary as it says “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”
- The old Ark stayed with Obed-edom for three months (1 Chronicles 13:14), Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months (Luke 1:56).
- In 2 Samual 6:1-3 we learn the old Ark was taken to Judah in the hill country. In Luke 1:39 we read that Mary came to Elizabeth into the hill country in Judah.
Based on this information it is clear that Luke saw a connection between the old Ark in 2 Samuel and Mary, the new Ark of the Covenant, in Luke 1.
Mary is the New Eve
It can also be demonstrated that Mary is the new Eve.
- The first Eve was known as the “mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20). Mary is the mother of all those who live in her Son (Colossians 3:3-4).
- The first Eve disobeyed God and brought condemnation on all who are in the first Adam. The second Eve, Mary, obeyed God and brought life to all who are in the second Adam.
- The first Eve was greeted by an angel (a fallen angel) and received his message, the second Eve was greeted by an angel and received his message.
It should be noted that just as the first Eve was conceived without sin, so it is fitting that Mary also be conceived without sin.
What about the Fathers of the Church?
If there is a strong Biblical case for the Marian doctrines then surely there would be some Church Fathers who allegorically interpreted the Scriptures in favor of the Marian doctrines. Indeed there are.
- Justin Martyr wrote “[Jesus] became man by the Virgin so that the course which was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent might be also the very course by which it would be put down. Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her is the Son of God. And she replied ‘Be it done unto me according to your word’ [Luke 1:38]” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 100 [A.D. 155]).
- Irenaeus wrote “Consequently, then, Mary the Virgin is found to be obedient, saying, ‘Behold, O Lord, your handmaid; be it done to me according to your word.’ Eve, however, was disobedient, and, when yet a virgin, she did not obey. Just as she, who was then still a virgin although she had Adam for a husband—for in paradise they were both naked but were not ashamed; for, having been created only a short time, they had no understanding of the procreation of children, and it was necessary that they first come to maturity before beginning to multiply—having become disobedient, was made the cause of death for herself and for the whole human race; so also Mary, betrothed to a man but nevertheless still a virgin, being obedient, was made the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race. . . . Thus, the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. What the virgin Eve had bound in unbelief, the Virgin Mary loosed through faith” (Against Heresies 3:22:24 [A.D. 189]).
- Irenaeus also wrote “The Lord then was manifestly coming to his own things, and was sustaining them by means of that creation that is supported by himself. He was making a recapitulation of that disobedience that had occurred in connection with a tree, through the obedience that was upon a tree [i.e., the cross]. Furthermore, the original deception was to be done away with—the deception by which that virgin Eve (who was already espoused to a man) was unhappily misled. That this was to be overturned was happily announced through means of the truth by the angel to the Virgin Mary (who was also [espoused] to a man). . . . So if Eve disobeyed God, yet Mary was persuaded to be obedient to God. In this way, the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. And thus, as the human race fell into bondage to death by means of a virgin, so it is rescued by a virgin. Virginal disobedience has been balanced in the opposite scale by virginal obedience. For in the same way, the sin of the first created man received amendment by the correction of the First-Begotten” (ibid., 5:19:1 [A.D. 189]).
- Tertullian (though not a church father but an early ecclesiastical writer) wrote “And again, lest I depart from my argumentation on the name of Adam: Why is Christ called Adam by the apostle [Paul], if as man he was not of that earthly origin? But even reason defends this conclusion, that God recovered his image and likeness by a procedure similar to that in which he had been robbed of it by the devil. It was while Eve was still a virgin that the word of the devil crept in to erect an edifice of death. Likewise through a virgin the Word of God was introduced to set up a structure of life. Thus what had been laid waste in ruin by this sex was by the same sex reestablished in salvation. Eve had believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. That which the one destroyed by believing, the other, by believing, set straight” (The Flesh of Christ 17:4 [A.D. 210].
The Marian Doctrines Need Not Be a Source of Division
It has been demonstrated that there is a strong Biblical case for the Catholic Marian doctrines if one interprets the Scriptures allegorically, as the Apostles and early Church Fathers. For this reason, Protestants should not see the Marian doctrines as unbiblical but should see these doctrines as the fulfillment of many Old Testament Scriptures. Given the strong case for the Marian doctrines in the Bible, the Catholic understanding of Mary need not be a stumbling block for unity between Catholics and Protestants.