Monday, October 24, 2005

Mary and the Ark of the Covenant

Because of the lack of evidence for the Roman Catholic view of Mary, Catholics often appeal to unverifiable typology in order to argue for a Marian doctrine such as the Immaculate Conception or the Assumption of Mary. Supposedly, Mary is the ark in Psalm 132:8, which means that the passage is referring to a bodily assumption of Mary. In Luke 1, Mary is like the ark, which means that she, like the ark, is pure, thus leading to the conclusion that she was immaculately conceived. Etc.

In response to such argumentation, Evangelicals often cite examples of the church fathers identifying some entity other than Mary as the ark. As a recent thread on the NTRM boards illustrates, Catholics often misunderstand this argument.

A citation of a church father identifying the ark as an entity other than Mary doesn't prove that the church father in question couldn't possibly have thought that Mary was the ark. It's possible that he saw multiple entities filling that role, and that Mary was one of the fulfillments. That's possible, but how likely is it?

The earliest patristic sources who see the ark of the covenant as a type of a New Testament entity identify Jesus or something else, not Mary, as the parallel to the ark: Irenaeus (Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus, 48), Clement of Alexandria (The Stromata, 5:6), Tertullian (The Chaplet, 9), The Five Books in Reply to Marcion (4), Hippolytus (On Daniel, 2:6), and Victorinus (Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John, 11:19), for example. If so many ante-Nicene fathers comment on the ark of the covenant, and none of them draw the parallels that modern Catholic apologists are drawing, how likely is it that they held the modern Catholic view, but just happened to repeatedly mention some other interpretation instead? As these fathers show us, we can make sense of these passages of scripture without appealing to a Marian interpretation. Why, then, should we think that some additional Marian interpretation is appropriate?

Similarly, when Irenaeus, Tertullian, and other early fathers repeatedly comment on the subject of people who have been bodily assumed to Heaven, and they repeatedly cite Enoch, Elijah, and Paul (2 Corinthians 12:2), without ever citing Mary, then we have reason to think that they probably had no concept of Mary being bodily assumed. It's possible that they believed in the doctrine without mentioning it, but how likely is it that one father after another, century after century, would discuss the subject of bodily assumptions without any of them using Mary as an example? Catholics tell us that Mary is God's greatest creation, above all men and angels, so it wouldn't make sense to argue that these fathers kept overlooking Mary because she's such an obscure figure.

On the subject of Mary as the ark in Luke 1, a group of some of the leading Catholic and Lutheran scholars in the world concluded:

"However, in our judgment there is no convincing evidence that Luke specifically identified Mary with the symbolism of the Daughter of Zion or the Ark of the Covenant." (Raymond Brown, et al., editors, Mary in the New Testament [Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1978] p. 134)

Is Jesus the Word of God who was carried in Mary's womb, and did the ark of the covenant carry the word of God? Yes, but Jesus is the Word in a different sense, and Mary isn't the only entity or person who carried Jesus in some way. Why wouldn't the cross that carried Jesus, the tomb that carried Him, or Joseph of Arimathea and the other people who carried Him from the cross to the tomb be the New Testament parallel to the ark of the covenant? Why should we think that there is any New Testament parallel? If there is a parallel, nothing in scripture leads us to the conclusion that it's Mary, the earliest church fathers to write on the subject named an entity other than Mary, and Mary's being the ark wouldn't logically lead to the Roman Catholic view of Mary anyway.