Book Plunge: Behold Your Mother

What do I think of Tim Staples’s book published by Catholic Answers? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

A couple of decades or so ago the movie, “There’s Something About Mary” came out. In Christianity, there is also something about Mary. It’s my contention that both sides make too much of this. Catholics and Orthodox I think overdo it where it does seem practically like Mary is deified. I think Protestants look at this and say they want to avoid going to that extreme, and they do so by going to the other extreme. Mary shows up in the text and we have to rush her off.

Tim Staples writes from the Catholic side. A Catholic friend recommended I read this. Going through, I could see how if you were a Catholic, you would find this convincing, which is a danger we must all be wary of. I am by no means immune.

Yet as I went through this book, I thought about dispensationalism some. You take this conjecture here and take this premise here and you build upon those. If you accept the opening conjecture and the premise, the whole system seems to follow. But what if you don’t? If you don’t, it collapses like a house of cards.

Also, in full honesty, I realize I am not the best on this issue. I started looking into this for my own wife who is doing her exploration and I wanted to be informed and read the best minds. I think I have actually been reading far more pro-Catholic and pro-Orthodoxy works than otherwise.

Let’s start with a statement on tradition. Generally, I find that when I’m with an Orthodox or a Catholic, they tend to want to milk a passage like 2 Thess. 2:15 for all it’s worth. Interestingly, both of them think that their traditions are the ones that are being talked about. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it difficult to think that the sex life, or lack thereof, of Mary and Joseph was a church tradition at the time. I do think Luke had access to Mary as a source, but it seems odd to picture him interviewing her and say “So how often did you and Joseph have sex after that?”

My position on tradition is simple. Test all things. Hold to that which is true. Why do I accept Scripture as infallible? Because it proves itself over and over. Why do I not accept tradition as infallible? Because it doesn’t prove itself like that.

Staples on p. 23 starts making a comparison between the Ark of the Covenant and Mary. He points to the ark having the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and a copy of the Ten Commandments. These come from Scripture he says. The manna is the true bread from Heaven in John, the rod the great high priest in Hebrews, and the Ten Commandments the true Word of God in John 1.

That can sound impressive until you realize something. Luke’s audience didn’t have access to Hebrews or John. This is not to say we can’t use one work to understand another, but we must understand each work on its own to the best of our ability first. I also think it is wise to look at the work of Timothy Kauffman as well.

Kauffman points out that first, there seems to be a mania to make everything Mary in the Old Testament. Whatever exists, somehow it represents Mary. I told a friend last night I was expecting Naaman’s servant girl to be a type of Mary soon. While my friend humorously said Jezebel would seen be a type of Mary, he didn’t miss the mark too much. Athaliah and Maacah in the Old Testament are both seen by Staples of types of Mary since they were queen mothers.

Kauffman points out that what was in the Ark was also nothing for the Israelites to celebrate. All of them were permanent reminds of the failures of the Israelites. While we could say that Jesus came because the Israelites failed, it doesn’t really put Mary in the same glorious light. We also have to note the vast differences between Mary and the Ark. One could probably come into physical contact with Mary and live.

Yet this is what Staples’s work relies on. If you accept this interpretation and that one, then you have a case that can possibly be made. Again, we go back to the whole dispensational outlook.

On p. 38, Staples makes a point about an argument saying Scripture is silent on this matter. The irony was not lost on me. Scripture I think is silent on many of these issues about Mary and they are conjectures I think taken unwisely from the text.

In Matthew 12:48-50, we read about Jesus asking who His mother and brothers and sisters are. He says it is those who do God’s will. Staples says Pope John Paul II said that Jesus wished to divert attention from the purely fleshly bond of motherhood to the spiritual bond. Well, not exactly. Jesus was making a radical statement about family. Kingdom of God comes before even family. The same is in Luke when we are told that if we don’t hate our families, we cannot be disciples. This is a comparative statement saying simply that the Kingdom must come before even familial bonds.

On p. 61, Staples looks at the greeting of Gabriel to Mary. Noteworthy is when Staples looks at this whole section, he looks at Mary full of grace as a claim about her having forgiveness in her life. This is the idea of what the Reformers meant by grace. Note that. Staples is basing a Catholic doctrine of Mary on the usage of grace as understood by the Reformers.

Let that sink in.

Grace was part of the language of the day. It meant favor and Mary was indeed highly favored. No Protestant should deny that. It’s right there in the text! I don’t see any reason to think that this is somehow a name change on the part of God that Mary would have a new name that meant full of grace. Yet Staples will come back to this passage over and over. Passages like Revelation 12 and this one are perennial passages that he returns to over and over.

Anyway, on this page, Staples finds it odd that Mary is troubled by the greeting of the angel. Who would be troubled if their neighbor said hello. This is just an odd argument to make. I guarantee you if I walked out of this apartment today and my neighbor said hello, I would say some greeting back. If I walked out and an angel said hello, I would stop in my tracks immediately and quite likely something would be going up on Facebook and we’d be calling friends and family, assuming we weren’t commanded to be silent. Being greeted by an angel is NOT like being greeted by your neighbor. I find it remarkable not that Mary was troubled, but that Staples could think such a thing.

Staples on p. 74 looks at a passage about the virgin daugther of Zion thinking it’s about Mary. Isaiah 37:22 says Assyria despises and scorns her. Could it actually be this is something in Isaiah’s time? The text is said in the present tense. Just saying. But once again, it has to be all about Mary.

Staples also says it is fitting that Mary be sinless since she bore Jesus in her body. Why not then make the whole household of Joseph sinless since Jesus would grow up there? Why should not Israel be sinless since Jesus would walk it’s streets? Such is the problem with conjecture of this sort.

On p. 77, Staples talks about how Mary inaugurates the New Covenant. Such thinking is again why many Protestants have a problem with the Marian dogmas. I recall a month or so ago my wife was watching a video about the rosary and all the people talking about all that Mary was doing for them. It ended and I said, “Kind of makes me wonder if Jesus is doing anything anymore.” As a Protestant, it just looks like much of the glory that goes to Jesus gets transferred to Mary.

Staples on p. 83 also say the ordering of names in Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary shows importance. Yet in this greeting, Mary is mentioned first and then Jesus. What also of the genealogy in this book? In Luke’s genealogy, God is listed last. Is God of least importance?

At 104-105, we get to Revelation 12 where Staples insists the woman is Mary. Unfortunately, his reading is selective. I am thankful to Jason Engwer of Triablogue for his work on this. It also looks like New Testament scholars like Raymond Brown do not accept this interpretation. Staples’s interpretation would have us switching back and forth between literal and apocalyptic interpretation.

Staples also regularly says Mary is the new Eve. Even if this is granted, it still doesn’t show immaculate conception. Staples quotes Justin Martyr to show that the early church did see Mary as a new Eve, but again as Engwer points out, he did not hold that Mary was sinless.

By the way, I find it odd to think that Eve was a virgin when she took the fruit. I see no reason to think that Adam saw Eve and then said, “Okay. Now let’s just go on a quiet walk through the garden.” Not at all. Sex is not evil and since the text talks about the two becoming one flesh then, I think it’s a fair judgment to say that’s what happened.

Speaking of which, when we get to perpetual virginity, Staples says we don’t need a defense of it because no one objected to it in the first century when the New Testament was written. This assumes, of course, that perpetual virginity was being taught in the first century.  It’s interesting to think that your sex life, or lack thereof, again, is part of the apostolic dogma being taught to all the Roman empire in the first century.

Staples tries to defend celibacy of the sort in marriage with many examples. Jeremiah was told to not take a wife. Well and good, but he was not told to take a wife and not have sex with her. Sometimes men were to abstain from their wives for a time. Well and good, but this is not a lifelong vow. Paul in 1 Cor. 7 even tells husbands and wives to NOT deny themselves to one another except for unless you both agree to it and even then, only for a short time. Paul is practically screaming, “Spouses! Don’t stop having sex with one another!”

What makes this all amusing is that on 141, he argues that it is unlikely Jesus’s brothers were younger because it was normally unacceptable for younger brothers to rebuke an older sibling. Sure, but yet Staples has spent pages defending the idea that Joseph and Mary would be husband and wife without having sex and yet all of a sudden, with this passage he goes with what is “normally unacceptable.”

By the way throughout here, Staples argues that Mary in essence became the spouse of the Holy Spirit. This is why Joseph could not have sex with her. Joseph needed to be there to raise Jesus and provide legal inheritance and protection for the family. The thought of such about Mary though is something that really makes Protestants like myself say we can’t go in for the whole Marian dogmas.

He also relies on the Protoevangelium of James. This can be a good work to read, but no reason is given to think it is historical and I don’t know of scholars today who do think that it is. It’s a work around mid-second century or possibly later. Why should we think it would be an accurate account then of Mary’s origins and the birth of Jesus?

Yet when we get to the brothers of Jesus, Staples says those who see these as biological brothers are eisegesis, which strikes me as a great point of irony. It’s noteworthy also that Josephus is never interacted with. Josephus could easily differentiate between brothers and cousins even when looking at the Old Testament, yet he refers to Jesus as the brother of James. Again, I am in debt to Engwer for his research on the patristics and perpetual virginity.

In looking at the bodily assumption of Mary, Staples says that there are two tombs of Mary. One is in Jerusalem and one is in Ephesus. This is explained because Mary lived in both places. So did the apostle John. Should we think that John would have two tombs? Could it be there are two tombs because there are differing traditions?

If so, then what of tradition? This is the problem we Proetstants have. Tradition is infallible, except for when it isn’t. We just have a simple test of trusting that which truly shows itself to be reliable.

On p. 220-221, Staples says that if we consider that the Gospels were written 30-60 years after the events and the fragments date from about 90 years after, even skeptics must admit third-century fragments about the Assumption make the Catholic position look compelling.

Uh. No.

Sorry, but they don’t. Those Gospels can be shown to be records of events that went on at that time. The same cannot be said for the Assumption, unless Staples wants to put the Assumption on the same level of the Gospels in his claim, which seems a stretch anyway.

Staples also says that the fact that some traditions say Mary died and was buried means nothing. We say the same about Jesus and He was resurrected! Well, yes, and we also explicitly say He was resurrected. I can show you plenty of people in the Old Testament that it was said that they died and were buried. Should we be open to the Assumption of all of them too?

On p. 227, Mary is said to be the hope of all humanity because she is what we can all hope to be. Well, yeah, unless Jesus is enough for you. Jesus shows the faithfulness of God enough. Again, this does at least border on the idolatry of Mary.

On p. 278, I get to an argument that really makes no sense to me. I contacted a friend of mine who understands English far better than I do and asked his opinion. Was I missing something? Apparently, I was not.

Staples is writing about the queen mother and the position she had. He goes back to the story of Adonijah and Bathsheba. Adonijah asks Bathsheba to ask Solomon if he could have Abishag as his wife. Bathsheba presents the request. (By the way, the text Staples quotes says Solomon had a seat brought in for his mother. Not much for a queen mother)

“When Solomon heard of the request Adonijah had made of the queen mother, he saw through his brother’s plans and had him immediately killed. Because of the power of the intercession of the queen mother, he knew he couldn’t refuse his mother’s request—but now he didn’t have to! Adonijah didn’t seem to have considered that outcome!”

So let’s see.

Adonijah requests to have Abishag be his wife.

Solomon cannot refuse since Bathsheba is the messenger.

So Solomon grants the request by killing Adonijah?

How is this not a refusal of the request?

I still read this passage and I cannot make any sense of it. And yet we are told because of this that the requests of Mary to Jesus will not be refused. Looking at that, it looks like Mary is put in a greater position than Jesus.

Finally, in a final appendix, Staples gives one more example of a queen mother. Esther. Now I know the book of Esther very well. Surely she fits.

Except for, well, she wasn’t a mother that we know of, she probably wasn’t a virgin, and she was the wife of the king rather than the mother of the king, but hey, if you ignore those differences, you might have something. Such reasoning is one more reason Protestants like myself look at this with suspicious.

Staples does do more work than most, but I still just can’t accept it. I think there are too many problems and it honestly looks like the early church had a low view of sex and didn’t want Mary to be associated with it as the mother of the Lord and then doctrine after doctrine had to be made. This isn’t to say Protestants don’t error in how they see Mary. We do. While Catholics I think give her too much honor, we give her too little. We need to find the median.

In Christ,
Nick Peters