Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant
It is said that the Old Testament prefigures the New Testament and that the New Testament fulfills the Old Testament. This is applicable in many ways; for example, the Aaronic high priesthood is replaced by Jesus the High Priest, the Passover is replaced by the Lord's Supper, baptism replaces circumcision, the sacrificial system is replaced by Christ's ongoing once-and-for-all propitiation. All of these things point to the fact that the New Covenant is an improvement on the Old Covenant, as Scripture says:
"But now hath He obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, He saith, 'Behold, the days come', saith the Lord, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah...I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people." (Heb 8:6-8,10)
In exactly the same way, the Ark of the Old Covenant is replaced by the Ark of the New Covenant. Catholics believe that Mary represents this Ark of the New Covenant, which has special significance to the Catholic belief in Mary's Perpetual Virginity. To this effect, the symmetry between the Old and New Testaments is striking.
Luke's Gospel makes a concerted effort to portray Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. In Luke 1:35, the angel Gabriel tells Mary "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you." Now, the Greek word for "overshadow" is episkiasei, which denotes a bright cloud of glory. It is the same cloud at the transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:5, Mark 9:7. Luke 9:34), and it is known as the Shekinah Glory - the visible Presence of God in the Hebrew Scriptures - which dwelt in the Holy of Holies above the ark of the covenant (Exodus 24:15-16, 40:34-38, 1 Kings 8:10).
In Matthew 1:20, Joseph is told by the angel Gabriel to "not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home" (paralambano gunaika). This wording is VERY different from what the angel told Mary, i.e., that "the power of the Most High will overshadow you". Taking a woman into your house is not language that describes marital intercourse, whereas "to overshadow" or "to lay one's power over" a woman was a euphemism for sexual intercourse, and there is ample Jewish rabbinic literature to support this. Furthermore, the Greek for "overshadow", episkiasei, is used in Matthew 17:5 to describe what the bright cloud does at the Transfiguration, which is used to indicate God's Presence like in Exodus 24:15-16; 40:34-8 and 1 Kings 8:4-11. In other words, God's Presence overshadowed Mary's womb before Joseph could have marital relations with her. This is why Catholics believe that Mary already belonged to God, not Joseph.
Note the similarities between God's presence overshadowing the temple (Ex 40:34-35) and God's presence overshadowing Mary (Lk 1:35). In the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament used by Jesus and the apostles), episkiasei is used in the Exodus passage, as it is used in Luke 1:35 as well:
| Ark of the Covenant
"Then a cloud covered the
tent of the congregation,
and the glory of the Lord
(episkiasei) filled the tabernacle.
"The Holy Spirit will come
upon thee, and the power
of the Most High will
overshadow (episkiasei) thee"
It is clear, then, that the angel Gabriel drew a parallel between God's presence in the Sanctuary and in Mary. She is the new, living Ark chosen to bear the God-Messiah; just as the glory of the Lord overshadowed and dwelt in the Old Covenant Ark, the glory of the Lord overshadowed and dwelt in Mary.
The parallels between Luke's account of the Visitation between Mary and the Ark of the Old Covenant continue. Once such connection is seen by comparing 2 Samuel 6:15 with Luke 1:44:
"So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the horn." (2 Sam 6:15)
"For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy." (Luke 1:44)
James Akin has pointed out that the term used here is anephonesen, which means "shouts of joy". It is not a commonly-used word; in fact, it is only used in the context of a liturgical celebration and even then only when the Ark of the Covenant is present. Literally translated "to cry aloud, to proclaim, or to intone". Therefore, if this powerful witness is reserved only in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant, and the same word is used regarding Mary, then Mary must be the Ark of the New Covenant.
|Ark of the Covenant
1) the Ark is on a journey (2 Sam 6:2)
2) David dances before the ark (2 Sam 6:14)
3) David asks, "How shall the ark of the Lord come to me"? (2 Sam 6:9)
4) The ark stayed in the house of Obededom for three months (2 Sa 6:11)
1) Mary is on a journey (Lk 1:39)
2) John leaps in the womb of Elizabeth (Lk 1:41)
3) Elizabeth asks, "how is it that the mother of my Lord should
come to me?" (Lk 1:43)
4) Mary stayed for 3 months (Lk 1:56)
With respect to the specific nature of the Old Covenant Ark, the similarities continue. Moses and the Israelites built the Ark of the Covenant to house the tablets of the Decalogue, otherwise known as the 10 Commandments. (Ex. 25:8-16). The Lord instructed His People to also place manna that He had given them in the desert on the Ark (Ex.16:32-35). Centuries later, when King Solomon built the Temple of Jerusalem, the priests brought the Ark of the Covenant to the Temple and placed it inside the Holy of Holies (3 Kgs. 8:3-7) (cf. Heb. 9:1-5).
Ark of the Covenant
1) carried word of God written on
stone tablets (Ex 25:8-16)
2) manna placed in it (Ez 16:32-35)
3) shepherd's staff of Aaron (high priest)
4) contained Aaron's rod
1) carried in her womb the Incarnate Word of God to be written
on people's hearts (Heb 8:10)
2) carried Jesus, the Bread of Life (Jn 6:58)
3) carried Jesus, the eternal High Priest
4) Jesus will "rule the nations with a rod of iron" (Rev 12:5)
Also, consider John's description of the Woman and the Dragon in Revelation 12. Many scholars agree that the woman, who "was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth" (Rev 12:2) and eventually "gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod." (Rev 12:5) is actually Mary. In other words, the male child destined to rule all nations is Jesus, and the woman who gave birth to Him was Mary. Then, look just a few preceeding verses:
Then God's temple was opened, and the ark of His covenant could be seen in the temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a violent hailstorm." (Rev 11:19)
We see, then, that the appearance of the Ark immediately precedes the appearance of the Woman. This is felt to be a clear reference to Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, just as the flashes of lightning, etc., is the Cloud of Glory (the Shekinah Glory).
So, what does this have to do with Mary's Perpetual Virginity? Just as the Ark was a holy vessel which bore the Divine Presence, Mary was the holy living vessel chosen to bear the Lord God. The Ark was a created thing, just as Mary was a created being, for the purpose of carrying the presence of God. This explains also the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, because only something "perfectly endowed with grace" (Greek kecharitomene, Luke 1:28) was fit to carry God, as the Ark was made only of the purest gold for God's word (Ex 25:11-21).
Now, if God's presence "overshadowed" Mary, why did Joseph refrain from intercourse at all? The answer is that even he recognized her special consecration as God's living vessel, the Ark of the New Covenant. Note that because God's presence overshadowed the tabernacle, Moses was not able to enter:
"Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode therein, and the glory of the the Lord filled the tabernacle." (Ex 40:34-35)
Just as Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle due to God's presence, Joseph was not able to have marital relations with Mary because God's presence, in the same way as in Exodus 40:34-35, had overshadowed her. Another example is seen in Uz'zah, who aroused the anger of God simply for touching the Ark:
"And when they came to Na'chon's threshing floor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the Ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uz'zah, and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the Ark of God." (2 Sam 6:6-7)
Don't think that Joseph wasn't aware of this story - the fact that Uz'zah was killed immediately simply for reaching out to steady the Ark being shaken by the oxen. He knew that Mary, as the New Ark of the Covenant, was not to be touched, either. This is why Joseph refrained from intercourse with Mary during her miraculous pregancy and afterwards as well, because if God's Presence had indeed "overshadowed" Mary's womb, Catholics believe that Mary's womb had become the dwelling place of the Lord, something like the Eastern Gate mentioned in Ezekiel 44:
"This gate shall remain shut: it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter it; for the Lord, the God of Israel has entered it; THEREFORE, it shall remain shut. Only the prince may sit down in it to eat his meal in the presence of the Lord." (Ez 44:1-3)
Finally, this belief in Mary's Perpetual Virginity as the New Ark has been present from the earliest Christians:
"O noble Virgin, truly you are greater than any other greatness. For who is your equal in greatness, O dwelling place of God the Word? To whom among all creatures shall I compare you, O Virgin? You are greater than them all O (Ark of the) Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the Ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which Divinity resides." (Athanasius of Alexandria, Homily of the Papyrus of Turin)
This belief is not restricted to the Catholic writers - even the earliest Protestant Reformers believed in Mary's Perpetual Virginity. Therefore, anyone who denies the Perpetual Virginity of Mary has cut himself off even from his Protestant forefathers:
Ulrich Zwingli "I firmly believe that Mary, according to the words of the gospel as a pure Virgin brought forth for us the Son of God and in childbirth and after childbirth forever remained a pure, intact Virgin." (Corpus Reformatorum v. 1, p. 424)
Martin Luther "He, Christ, our Savior, was the real and natural fruit of Mary's virginal womb . . . This was without the cooperation of a man, and she remained a virgin after that." (Sermons on John, chapters 1-4, 1537-39)
John Calvin ""There have been certain folk who have wished to suggest from this passage [Matt 1:25] that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph had then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is! For the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply wished to make clear Joseph's obedience and to show also that Joseph had been well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His angel to Mary. He had therefore never dwelt with her nor had he shared her company... And besides this Our Lord Jesus Christ is called the first born. This is not because there was a second or a third, but because the gospel writer is paying regard to precedence. Scripture speaks thus of naming the first-born whether or not there was any question of the second." (Sermon on Matthew)