In Scripture, blessed Elizabeth recognizes Mary as the Mother of God. Mary references two Old Testament texts, applying them to herself, the Queen of the Kingdom. The perpetual virginity of Mary makes sense of many curious details throughout Scripture.
Indeed, the Mariology of the New Testament is not undeveloped. Rather, the Church through the ages, as it deepens its understanding of Scripture further and further, is able to see what has always been there from the beginning.
This article provides a summary of the biblical basis for the Marian teaching of the Orthodox Church.
1. Mary is the New Eve
Eve is only named Eve, “the mother of all living” after the promise of the Seed who will crush the head of the death-dealing Serpent. She is called “mother of all living” not because she is the mother of humanity in general, but specifically because she is Mother of the seed who will redeem humanity from death. Mary is the New Eve because God made a promise to Eve that was fulfilled in Mary.
Moreover, the duality of Eve as mother of the seed and bride of Adam is combined in Exodus 4 and Isaiah 62. In the former, Zipporah refers to her newly circumcised son as her “bridegroom of blood” who redeems her (foreshadowing Passover) and in the latter, God speaks to Zion as a bridal city, and states that “your sons will marry you.”
More particular typological resonances are used in the New Testament. John 1-2 narrates its chronology so that the wedding at Cana happens on the seventh day (this is the day of the fall, where God comes to judge). Mary is called “Woman”, an allusion to Genesis 2-3, and she requests that the Last Adam provide wine for the people- just as Eve was deceived into consuming food that was dealing death because Adam failed to guard her. Eve gave Adam the fruit which led him to sin, Mary asked the Last Adam to provide food which grants eternal life. Finally, Pilate brings Jesus out and says “Behold the Man”, alluding to the Johannine theme of Jesus as the true man and Last Adam. Jesus’ words to St. John “Behold your Mother!” allude to that passage and sets up the duality of New Adam as Jesus and New Eve as Mary.
2. Mary is the Mother of the Church
Most generally, Mary is the Mother of the Church because she is the mother of Christ, whose body is the Church. But there are more particular references to this teaching in the New Testament. In John, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” is a symbol of all Christians who are loved by the Son. For example, in the prologue to John, the Son is said to dwell “at the side of the Father.” This word is only elsewhere used when John is said to dwell “at the side” of Jesus. Jesus brings us to His heavenly dwellings and relates to us just as the Father relates to Him. Hence, in John 19 when we are told that Jesus spoke to “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and gave Mary to him as Mother, the implication is that we are to take Mary as our Mother as well.
Moreover, the text specifically reports that John took Mary “to his home” which alludes to the rich theme of dwelling with the Father and the Son in John. John opens with the apostles Peter and John asking Jesus “Where are you dwelling”, it continues when Jesus says “In my Father’s house there are many dwellings” and in John 19, the apostle John takes Mary to his own dwelling. The family of God has Mary as Mother.
The Apocalypse of John has rich connections with the Gospel of John, and we see one in Revelation 12, which narrates the history of the cosmos. The Woman crying out in pain is the story of Eve through Israel which is focused down to Mary who gives birth to the seed. We are told that Mary fled into the wilderness, a narration of the flight to Egypt in Matthew 2. Revelation opens up the prophecies of Daniel (Revelation 10 opens the book closed in Daniel 12) and Revelation 11, 12, and 13 each expound a particular prophecy of Daniel. Revelation 12 expands Daniel 11, where the “king who does as he wills” (Herod the Great) is alarmed by “news from the east” and devotes many to destruction: Herod in Matthew is alarmed by “news from the east” and kills the sons of Bethlehem. Revelation expounds the history of Mary in this story. The seed of the Church are called “the rest of her offspring” in 12:17. Mary is the Mother of the Church.
3. Mary is a Symbol of the Church
Mary as symbol of the entire Church relates to the doctrine of Mary as the New Eve. 2 Corinthians 11 describes the whole Church as an Eve who needs protection from the Serpent, but Mary is likewise the New Eve. This entails that there is a deep correspondence between the person of the Blessed Virgin and the Church. Hence, we see in Revelation 12 that the person of the Woman is whittled down to the Blessed Virgin and then expanded out to incorporate the entire Church-Bride.
In Revelation 21, the Church is called the New Jerusalem, the City of God, and in Genesis 2 we discover that Eve is described as a city of God. We are told that God “built” Eve from Adam’s side, language only ever used architecturally elsewhere, and next used in Genesis 4 when Cain exalted himself to the place of God and “built” a city. Thus, Zion is described in the prophetic books (Isaiah especially) as a bride who is glorified by its Divine Bridegroom. As Eve was a sign of the City of God, so is Mary — and as the City of God is the Church, Mary is a sign of the Church. Hence, the twelve stars on the head of the Woman of Revelation 12 (a symbol, ala Genesis 37, of the twelve tribes of Israel) correspond to the twelve jewels of the City in Revelation 21, likewise corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. She is the Christian whose union with Christ signifies what we all are to be through union with Christ.
4. Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant
We must understand this in relation to her role as symbol of the Church, since in a sense, the Church is the ark of the new covenant, in whose heart the Divine Lord dwells. But the Blessed Virgin herself is described in terms of the ark of the new covenant in the Gospel of Luke. In 2 Samuel 6, we are told that the ark dwelt in the house of Obed-edom for three months. In Luke, we are told that Mary dwelt in the house of Elizabeth for three months. When the ark of the covenant comes to David, he says “Who am I that the ark of the Lord should come to me?” When Mary comes to Elizabeth she says “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” When the ark comes to David, he leaps and dances before the ark. When Mary comes to Elizabeth, John the Baptist “leaps” in her womb.
This portion of Luke is especially rich in allusions to Samuel, with the Song of Mary, the favored one, alluding to the Song of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2, whose name means “favored one.” One of the great themes of Luke’s Gospel is indeed the return of the Glory of God to Zion. Jesus is the incarnation of the ark of the covenant, and Mary is described in those terms on account of her union with him and because she contains Christ bodily in her womb. Additionally, Revelation 11 ends with the opening of the heavens and the vision of the ark of the covenant — immediately after this is stated, we see the Woman in Heaven. They correspond to one another.
5. Mary is the Mother of God
We state that Mary is the mother of God not because she is the origin of the divine person of the Son, but because the divine person in the incarnation participates truly in all aspects of human life, thereby redeeming them — including birth. We say therefore not merely that Christ was crucified, but that God was crucified. Paul states in agreement with this that they “crucified the Lord of Glory” in 1 Corinthians 2:8. The Lord of Glory is a term for God — this means that it is proper to speak of the divine person as the subject of the aspects of Christ in His humanity. Hence, Mary bore the divine person of the Son. She is the mother of God.
There is, however, a more particular allusion to this in the New Testament. I mentioned above that the phrase “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” is an allusion to David’s exclamation in Samuel: “What am I that the ark of the Lord should come to me?” In the Hebrew text, “the Lord” is “YHWH”, and the LXX translated "YHWH" as "Kyrios". So in the use of “Kyrios” in Luke, it carries this meaning by implication. Mary is the “Mother of YHWH”, the Mother of God.
6. Mary is the Queen of God’s Kingdom
We hold that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the queen of her Son’s kingdom, queen of the creation. In the Old Testament, the queens of the kingdom of David were the king’s mothers (though the bride is also spoken of in royal terms). Almost every king introduced in the Book of Kings is introduced with his Gebirah, his queen mother. In the introduction to Kings, we see Bathsheba entering the throne room of King Solomon. Solomon stands, reverences his mother, and prepares a throne for her at his right hand. Jesus is the ultimate king on the throne of David, and it therefore makes perfect sense that Mary is the queen mother of His kingdom.
Yet, the Scriptures are even more explicit than this. In Mary’s Magnificat, she states that God has cast down the mighty from “their thrones” and exalted those of “lowly estate” in their place. At the very beginning of the Magnificat, Mary refers to herself as “of lowly estate.” The implication is that Mary has been elevated and enthroned!
But it gets even more specific than this. Mary states that “all generations shall call me blessed.” This is a double-allusion to two texts: Psalm 45:17 and Song of Songs 6:9. Psalm 45:17 states that God will “cause your name to be remembered in all generations.” The immediate context is the exaltation of David’s queen, and this promise of blessing likely is addressed to both king and queen, exalted and glorified together. In alluding to this phrase, Mary identifies herself as the queen of her Son’s kingdom — Luke has just told us that God will give Jesus “the throne of his father David.” In Song of Songs 6:9, Solomon’s Egyptian bride is led in a procession towards Solomon in Jerusalem, and the text informs us that the entourage “calls her blessed.” Solomon built his bride her own palace — she was a queen of his kingdom. Therefore, the Blessed Virgin Mary specifically alludes to two texts of the Old Testament, both referring to the queen of the kingdom, applying them to herself.
7. The Assumption of Mary
The Book of Revelation as a whole is structured around the fact that in the new covenant, men are exalted over the angels to the heavenly council. They enter the throne-room of God. Twenty-four angelic elders appear in Revelation 4-5, each perform an action throughout the book, and walk off-stage until the throne-room is empty in Revelation 15. Then, the saints are brought up and exalted with Christ in Revelation 20, during the millennium. The Apocalypse says “Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on…for they rest from their labors.” The theme of the book is the gift of sabbatical rest to God’s people, including those old covenant saints “under the altar” in Revelation 6.
Sabbatical rest is always associated in Scripture with enthronement. Because Mary (and specifically in the Johannine literature and Revelation 12) is a figure for the whole Church, if there was one place her exaltation and enthronement to God’s throne-room, the Heaven of Heavens, would be found, it would be Revelation. Thus, Revelation 11:19 declares that the heavens were opened when the kingdom came, and the “ark of the covenant was seen.” Hence, as described above, the first thing we hear following this is a Woman who was seen in Heaven. Weaving these threads together, it is likely that among other things, this is a reference to the bodily Assumption of Mary (since the point of the ark is exactly its physicality as a sign of the union of God with creation) as a sign that the souls of the departed saints shall be exalted and enthroned around Christ, followed at the end of Revelation 20 by their bodily resurrection (we believe that Mary first died before being resurrected and assumed).
8. Mary as Perpetual Virgin
There are two principal objections to the perpetual virginity of Mary. First, Jesus’ brothers and sisters are cited. Two solutions to this problem are possible. First, it is possible that his brothers are step-brothers, children of Joseph from a previous marriage (because Joseph would be a widower). The other solution is the idea that these are not Jesus’ literal brothers, but relatives or cousins, since the word adelphoi can refer to cousin. I hold the latter to be more likely, for this reason: Matthew’s Gospel refers to “James and Joses” in that order as two of the adelphoi of Jesus. There is only one other time in Matthew that “James and Joses” are mentioned — that is in Matthew 27, where we find the women standing at the foot of the cross, one of whom is “the other Mary, the mother of James and Joses.” It is impossible that the Virgin Mary would be referred to as “the other Mary”, and if this was the Virgin Mary, it would make much more sense to identify her as the mother of the primary character, Jesus, not these two minor characters. If these are Jesus’ cousins, then “the other Mary” must be a close relative of the Virgin Mary. And indeed, in John 19:25, one of the women at the foot of the cross is “his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas.” Such undesigned coincidences which explain each other are a hallmark of authenticity.
The Virgin Mary therefore had a sister or close relative named Mary, and this Mary is identified as the mother of James and Joses, the same James and Joses identified in Matthew as the adelphoi of Jesus. This strongly indicates that these were not the children of the Virgin Mary. Why call them adelphoi then, when there was another word for cousin? I believe it is likely because they were raised in the same household as Jesus, because poor families would sometimes group in the same household. As household is the critical unit of the family in Scripture, it would make sense for these individuals to be called the brothers of Jesus.
The second objection to the perpetual virginity of Mary is that Matthew 1:25 says that “Joseph knew her not, until she had given birth to a son”, ostensibly implying that he did have conjugal relations with her afterwards. However, in Greek (as indeed in English), the word for "until" (heos) does not necessarily imply a change in status after the action is completed. The classic example is Matthew 28:20 where the Lord promises to be with His people always “even until the end of the age.” Obviously, Jesus does not abandon His people afterwards. Why emphasize the period up to her birth, then? I believe Matthew does this in order to absolutely rule out the idea that the child was conceived by Mary and Joseph.
Is there positive evidence for the perpetual virginity of Mary? I believe so. Some early sources (late first to early second centuries) state that the Virgin Mary had taken a ritual vow of virginity to serve at the Lord’s temple. Whereas some have argued in the past that such vows only belonged to Gentile sanctuaries and not Israel’s, it has become clear that this is incorrect. 1 Samuel 2, for example, refers to the great sin of Hophni and Phinehas sleeping with the women at the tabernacle. This sin is great precisely because it breaks their vow with God. The temple and tabernacle are described in feminine, bridal terms, and the inviolability of the virgin women symbolizes the inviolability of the sanctuary itself. Another example is the daughter of Jepthah. The word usually translated “burnt offering”, olah, really means “ascension offering. When Jepthah offers his daughter as an “ascension” it does not mean he kills her and burns her. Instead, it means that she, as the Gibeonites (who were described in sacrificial language when they were permanently consecrated to tabernacle service), is sent upwards (the tabernacle is always described as “up”) as an ascension. Thus, she spent time beforehand lamenting her virginity- the women who served at the tabernacle were perpetual virgins.
What is the evidence that Mary had taken such a vow? First, circumstantially, Joseph disappeared before the ministry of Jesus. This implies that he was old at the time of marriage and died before the ministry of Jesus, which would make sense if his role as husband were simply as a guardian and that he did not intend to produce children with her.
Second, more clearly, the response of the Virgin Mary to the Angel Gabriel makes no sense unless she had made such a vow. Gabriel tells Mary that she will have offspring. Imagine if she had intended to have conjugal relations with Joseph (she was already betrothed!) — if she intended such, it would have been obvious how she would bear Jesus. The promised child would be born after the two are formally married and consummate the marriage. But this is not how Mary responds. Instead, she says, literally: “How shall this be, since I know not man?” This literal translation is sharper than the typical “since I am a virgin.” The verb is active, and it indicates that this is an ongoing reality. There is something about Mary which entails that she has no conjugal relations with man — and that is why she must ask how she will have this child, even though she will be married to Joseph.
In the Old Testament, there is indeed precedent for a married woman taking a vow of perpetual virginity. Numbers 30 mentions how a wife, with the consent of her husband, can take a vow to the Lord to “afflict herself” temporarily or permanently. This appears to be an ascetic vow which includes abstention from conjugal relations- this is likely because it matches all of the other instances where God comes in glory — at Sinai, for example, one was not to “go near” your spouse because God was about to come in glory. Vows of consecration to God entail virginity for as long as the consecration lasts, and such vows could be taken by married women.
The perpetual virginity of Mary actually makes sense of a host of curious details throughout Scripture, and does not need to be forced on the text.
I hope you all have found this helpful. It is my firm belief that the Mariology of the New Testament is not undeveloped. Rather, the Church through the ages, as it deepens its understanding of Scripture further and further, has come to see what was always there. It is not as if the Scripture provides the premises for the Marian teaching and the Church works out their logical implication. Rather, the Scripture, in its typical mode of allusion, symbolism, and typology, itself draws out the Marian implications of its theology.
For more great memes like this one, follow Global Orthodox News on Telegram: https://t.me/globalorthodox