Becoming Orthodox: A Journey to the Ancient Christian Faith
by Peter E. Gillquist
Ben Lomond: Conciliar Press, 1992, 187 pp., $12.95, paperback.
From the very early years of the Church, Mary was called not only Virgin, but Ever-Virgin. She was seen as never having had a sexual union with Joseph, before or after the birth of Christ.A broad range of experts would disagree. For example, a Lutheran/Roman Catholic-sponsored task force of a dozen scholars collaborated in the 1970s to examine and discuss the material about Mary in the Biblical and extra-Biblical literature. Their findings were published as "Mary In The New Testament." Despite the Roman Catholic presence on the task force, they concluded that:
Although belief in the virginal conception was widespread, there is no second-century evidence of belief in Mary's remaining a virgin after the birth of Jesus, apart from the implications of the Protevangelium. The later development of this doctrine went hand in hand with the ascetic glorification of virginity. The second-century evidence for belief in Mary's virginity in partu (miraculous birth), while relatively slight, is more copious than for belief in her perpetual virginity.The Protevangelium is a shaky source at best, unambiguously rejected by the Roman church's Gelasian Decree of A.D. 500. Thus, the doctrine of perpetual virginity lacks a credible means of support in "the very early years of the Church," as Gillquist claims without offering documentation. In combatting the docetic heresy (that Jesus didn't have a physical human body) early in the third century, "Tertullian opposed any extension of Mary's virginity beyond the conception of Jesus." Jerome claimed Ignatius as a proponent of perpetual virginity in his tract (ca. A.D. 383) against Helvidius, but when we examine Ignatius, that support is not so apparent. In Ephesians 19, "Three Celebrated Mysteries", Ignatius writes:
Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world...God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life...God being manifested as a man, and man displaying power as God. But neither was the former a mere imagination, nor did the second imply a bare humanity; but the one was absolutely true, and the other an economical arrangement.Ignatius is stressing the true humanness of God in the incarnation, not focusing on Mary at all. The term "virginity" here is the Greek parthenia, often read as "a state of virginity". However, as used in Luke 2:36, parthenia can not be held to insinuate perpetual virginity:
...the word until in Matthew 1:25 does not mean that Joseph and Mary began a sexual union after Christ was born. Such a teaching is found nowhere in Scripture and is contrary to the consistent voice of the entire early Church.Once again, Gillquist appears to prematurely issue a panoramic generalization. We've already shown that "the entire early Church" did not speak with so consistent a voice as he would have us believe. Moreover, citing two examples in which the Old Testament Septuagint uses heos in a manner opposed to a future change of status is insufficient to settle the issue. Unlike the contrarian examples, Matthew 1:25 uses the phrase heos hou, as Dr. Eric Svendsen explains in the book based on his doctoral thesis, "Who Is My Mother?":
This construction is used in Matt 1:25 and so is of special interest here. It occurs only seventeen times in the NT, and all are temporal.
Whatever meaning we finally adopt for heos hou in Matt 1:25 must be tempered by the fact that this phrase never elsewhere has the meaning "until (and continuing)" in the NT. Moreover, when used with the negative, this phrase (at least so far as the NT is concerned) always means "not [main clause] until [subordinate clause], after which [main clause] ensues..." If Matthew means to communicate to us that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Jesus, we might expect him to use either heos alone or heos an to show no necessary change in the action of the main clause...So far from remaining silent on this issue, the Scriptures here provide us with the positive evidence of Mary's normal marital relations after the birth of Jesus.At this point I would expect Orthodox apologists such as Gillquist to leave off exegeting the text and resort to tradition. One can build doctrine on only one firm foundation, and when sola scriptura is rejected, tradition must trump the Word of God every time. We come next to the section, "Christ's Brothers and Sisters." Becoming Orthodox claims,
Scripture is therefore silent concerning the nature of this relationship between Christ and these brothers and sisters...Saint Ambrose believed that the "brothers" were children of a former marriage between Joseph and a wife who died prior to the events of Matthew, chapter 1. Others taught that the "brothers" were cousins. But on one point, almost everyone is in agreement: Mary and Joseph had no sexual union whatsoever, before or after the birth of Christ. Without resorting to our earlier arguments, let us examine this claim on its own merits. The "others" that Gillquist refers to begin with Jerome. Known as the Hieronymian view, the claim that the "brothers" were actually cousins remains the majority view among Roman Catholics. Respected church historian Philip Schaff sheds some interesting light on Jerome's "cousin" view:
This theory was first advanced by Jerome in 383, in a youthful polemic tract against Helvidius, without any traditional support, but with the professed dogmatic and ascetic aim to save the virginity of both Mary and Joseph, and to reduce their marriage relation to a merely nominal and barren connection. In his later writings, however, after his residence in Palestine, he treats the question with less confidence.Perhaps Jerome realized that the view owed more to wishful thinking than anything else. As Svendsen points out,  equating "brothers" with "cousins" weakens NT passages such as Matthew 12:46-50 (=Mark 3:31-35):
Not only are "his mother and brothers" seen as a unit in this passage (as though they are of the same household), but to posit that these "brothers" are in reality "cousins" or "distant relatives" severely weakens the "punch line" that Jesus delivers at the end...are we really to conclude that what Jesus is saying here is "whoever does the will of my father in heaven is my cousin/distant relative and my mother"? "The full force of the aphorism is retained only if the natural relationships mentioned are all equally close and blood-related."What about the usage of adelphos (brother) and adelphe (sister) in the Bible? In the LXX, numerous meanings--including "relative"--are found. However, the semantic range in the NT is limited. Svendsen writes,
Unlike its counterpart in the LXX, there are no instances of adelphos in the NT that bear the meaning "relatives," except of course where the reference is to biological siblings.The case grows stronger when we examine passages like Luke 21:16:
if the brethren had been elder sons of Joseph, Jesus would not have been regarded as legal heir of the throne of David (Matt. 1:16; Luke 1:27; Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 22:16).Addressing both views, Meier states,
With 'full brother' and 'half-brother' we exhaust the literal meaning of adelphos found in the NT. ...it never means stepbrother (the solution of Epiphanius), [or] cousin (the solution of Jerome).Schaff quotes Eusebius Pamphilius in his "Church History":
"Of the family of the Lord there were still living the grandchildren of Jude, who is said to have been the Lord's brother according to the flesh."In regards to Mary's bodily assumption to heaven, Becoming Orthodox indicates that
The assumption of the Virgin can be safely seen and honored as an historic Christian tradition, though not recorded in the Scriptures.It may not be quite that safe (or historic) after all, due to a lack of support prior to the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325):
...the notion of Mary's assumption into heaven has left no trace in the literature of the third, much less of the second century.This can not be reassuring to those seeking an apostolic faith, but this silence applies to more than Mary's assumption:
Most of the earliest patristic writings do not even mention Mary.
...even in the available literature, Marian references are extremely rare before A.D. 150 and 200.
If we approach the Marian texts of the second century with the hope that they reflect additional independent sources for our quest of Mary, the result is disappointing. The noncanonical literature, including the apocrypha, furnish very little information about Mary which is not paralleled in the NT. Furthermore, as was the case in the NT, Jesus' mother appears almost exclusively in connection with christological discussions and concerns. Even if there was an interest in Mary's person, no substantial, independent memories of her life and of her role in the early church seems to have been available.Our brief quest for the historical Mary finds the Orthodox theologian scaling the heights to the theological mountaintops of antiquity, only to find the landscape virtually bereft of Marian icons. Gillquist's closing plea rings hollow:
...the historic Orthodox Church...has maintained the biblical fidelity concerning Mary...Confess her as the Mother of God. Come home to the Church that has kept intact our holy faith.Rather than keeping the apostolic faith intact, it appears that a tendency has arisen to attribute the role of the Holy Spirit to Mary, as we see in the writings of Eastern Orthodox theologian Nissiotis:
[Mary's] motherhood in the Church is a direct appeal for the unity of the Church on a charismatic basis by way of inviting our mutual repentance in the face of God and in obedience to him. We have to grow into 'the mature stature of a man' in faith (Eph. 4:13) by appreciating the charismata of the 'woman' as Theotokos, who as Mother unites all members of the Body of Christ in one undivided family in unbroken continuity.Becoming Orthodox claims that in the Orthodox church, "fads and fashion take a back seat to apostolic worship and doctrine," but the reality is that even a cursory look at some of the doctrines promulgated in the book raises serious doubts as to their apostolic authenticity. While lamenting the weariness of being an evangelical and lauding the courage of those willing to search out the truth and wrestle with the tough questions, Gillquist disappoints us by brushing over topics such as the few tackled in this review. If Gillquist and his companions wrestled with issues as vigorously as he claims, we are not privy to the discussions, or even the specific questions. One wonders just how deep the search really was--perhaps his involvement with parachurch organizations rather than with a solidly-grounded normal evangelical body primed him for a quick conversion once he encountered the structure of the Orthodox church. I found some of his material to be interesting and even enlightening, but what was left unsaid spoke far more loudly than anything he wrote.