Mary's perpetual virginity - a Coptic perspective (W. Hanna)
A letter by William Hanna from January 2, 1996.
Dear Rev. R. Stewart:
One of our members listens to your radio program regularly. She really enjoys your presentations and your knowledge of the Word of God. However, she was offended by your references to the Virgin St. Mary. We are members of the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Church. According to Orthodox tradition (passed from generation to generation), Mary the mother of Christ did not marry. She gave birth to Jesus while she was virgin. And after she gave birth, she remained virgin. With the help of God, I will try to point out some scriptures. I pray you see it the same way. God bless you and enrich your ministry:
- “Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father's house; So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.”
We believe that this verse from Psalms is a reference to Mary, from the seed of David. She forgot her own people, her desires, because the King, the Lord God, desired her inner beauty and choose her to become the mother of the Logos.
- “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
The verse is self evident, the virgin gave birth to Immanuel, God With Us. She is the mother of God
- “Then said the LORD unto me; This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the LORD, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut. It is for the prince; the prince, he shall sit in it to eat bread before the LORD; he shall
enter by the way of the porch of that gate, and shall go out by the way of the same.”
The gate here is a symbol of the womb of Mary, the LORD, the God of Israel, entered into the world by it; therefore it shall be shut, give birth no more.
- “Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. .. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.”
The angel explained to her that the holy thing born of her, shall be called the Son of God. Consequently, she is the mother of God. She replied I am the maiden (Arabic aamah meaning slave) of God. does only what pleases her master, God Al-Mighty.
- “And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.
Mary is blessed among women, she is not like every one else. She has a special position. Elizabeth calls her “the mother of my LORD”. The mother of God.
Luke 1:46-50: “And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
Mary’s prophecy: “all generations shall call me blessed.” This verse is important to ponder, because some of our dear Protestant brothers do not call her blessed.
- “Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Here if we accept literally that he had brothers in the flesh, then we loose the meaning that you and I and her are his brothers, sisters, and mothers.
- “Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.”
Literal interpretation of this verse is even more dangerous, because if you call James and Jose his brothers, why not call Joseph the Carpenter his father. This would deny us all our salvation: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). So in order to remove the confusion we have to accept the spiritual instead of the literal interpretation of the Gospel. Jesus is not the Son of the Carpenter, James and Jose are not his brothers in the flesh.
The scripture never affirms the relation of James and Jose to Christ. The Jews thought they were his brothers, like they thought that Joseph the Carpenter was his father. They were mistaken. Because if they new his real identity, they would not have crucified him.
In the Middle East, where I come from, cousins are considered sisters and brothers. Uncles and Aunts are considered parents. That does not mean that they literally are. My nephews call me Dad.
The Orthodox Church tradition states that after Mary were dedicated, her parents had another daughter whom they named Mary also. This Mary was married to Cleophas: John 19:25: ”Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.” This other Mary the sister of the Virgin Mary is the mother of those mentioned above”
My dear brother in Christ, I hope you study this humble letter, and ask the Holy Spirit of God to clear this matter for you. I ask the Lord to give you and me a better understanding of the scriptures, and at the end to have an inheritance with him in the Glory of His Father. Thank you, and God Bless.
Yours In Christ,
Deacon William A. Hanna, Ph.D.
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