Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant

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Introduction

After only a cursory reading of the Bible, it may appear that Mary, the mother of Our Lord, was nothing more than a humble virgin from Nazareth, who gave birth to Jesus and then faded into the background, practically disappearing from God’s plan of salvation. Why is it then that Catholics think so highly of Mary, honoring her with all kinds of titles, such as Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Help of Christians, and even praying for Her intercession? Is there any Scriptural basis for these beliefs and practices? The answer may surprise many Bible believing Christians, but we will need to dig a little deeper into Scripture, to understand the context, the language, the symbology and especially the typology used by the inspired authors of Scripture to convey their message and their understanding of the role of Mary in God’s plan of redemption.

Typology

As the Scriptures are literally overflowing with typology, it is very important for a Bible believing Christian to understand what typology is, and what we can learn from the study of typology. In other words, we need to learn to understand the way in which God prepared His people in the Old Testament for the truths He was to reveal to them in the New Testament. And we need to learn the language of the Holy Spirit who inspired the authors of Scripture when they referred to these Old Testament types.

A type is a person, a thing, or an event in the Old Testament which prefigures its fulfillment or reality in the New Testament. A type is like a divine analogy, a glimpse into the future, a picture of something greater that is to come. The New Testament fulfillments are always more glorious, more effective and more universal than their Old Testament types. As St. Augustine said, “the Old Testament is the New concealed, but the New Testament is the Old revealed.”

In Romans 5:14 we see St. Paul using typology when he tells his followers that Adam is “a figure of him who was to come”, Jesus. And in 1 Corinthians 15:45 he further explains this typology by saying that “the first man Adam was made into a living soul; the last Adam into a quickening spirit.” In other words, Adam was a type of Christ.

Remember the Israelites, who were enslaved under Pharaoh in Egypt? Egypt is a type of the world, Pharaoh a type of the devil, and slavery a type of sin. Moses is a type of Christ who is raised up from among his own people to rescue them (Deuteronomy 18:15,18), just as Jesus was raised up from among his own people to save them (John 1:11-12). Jesus is the new Moses who leads us out of sin and slavery, through the cleansing water of baptism, to the promised land of heaven. Paul recognises this in 1 Corinthians 1-4.

Another important example of typology is when Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:3-5 that we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless we are born again of “water and spirit.” Jesus in John 3:10 almost rebuked Nicodemus, “a master in Israel”, who did not recognise this Old Testament typology of “water and spirit”. Just before this passage we read that Jesus, at the very start of His ministry, had gone down into the water of the Jordan to be baptised and the Spirit had come down upon Him (John 1:28-32, Luke 3:21-22). Water and Spirit, at the “birth” of Jesus’ ministry.

This was also the way in which the Israelites were saved from Egypt, Pharaoh, and slavery. They went down into the water of the Red Sea and God’s Spirit hovered over them in the form of a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22, Exodus 14:21-31). Paul recognises Moses and the exodus from Egypt as true history, but also as a type — a type of Christian baptism and salvation. This is what he said in 1 Corinthians 1-4: “For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud: and all passed through the sea. And all in Moses were baptised, in the cloud and in the sea: And did all eat the same spiritual food: And all drank the same spiritual drink: And they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ.” Water and Spirit, the birth of a new nation, Israel.

We see this “water and spirit” type already in the very first verses of Scripture, at the “birth” of creation, when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters, and out of the water arose land, all kinds of creatures and lastly, man. Water and Spirit, the birth of a creation.

Likewise, we see God starting a new humanity with Noah as he was saved through water, with a dove hovering above, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Peter draws this parallel between the flood and baptism in 1 Peter 3:18-21. Water and Spirit, the birth of a new humanity.

There are many more examples of typology in Scripture. For example, Colossians 2:11-12 describes circumcision, which was the sign of the Old Covenant, as a type of baptism, the sign of the New Covenant. John 3:14 describes the bronze serpent as a type of the crucified Christ. 1 Corinthians 5:7 describes Jesus as the new Passover Lamb. Scripture is literally overflowing with typology, and as the Apostles demonstrated in their teaching, much can be learned from the study and the understanding of typology in Scripture.

The Ark of the Old Testament

But before we look at the Scriptural references to Mary, we need to recall the events surrounding the Ark of the Old Covenant, in which God dwelled with the people of Israel.

We read in the book of Exodus that God had chosen the nation of Israel to play an essential role in His plan for the salvation of mankind. God loved His people, and we read in Exodus 25:8 that God wanted to dwell in the midst of His people. So He instructed Moses to make a sanctuary, and inside the sanctuary a tabernacle in which God Himself was to dwell. In several places in the book of Exodus we read how careful and particular God was in giving detailed instructions for the making of His tabernacle. Moses was instructed to use Setim wood (a very durable, incorruptible and precious kind of wood), the purest gold (a sign of divinity), precious stones, onyx, etc. If God was to dwell in the Ark of the Old Covenant, He made sure that nothing but the best materials were used in it’s construction, and that it was made with the utmost care and into the greatest detail, a pure and immaculate vessel.

Exodus 40:34 tells us that when Moses had finished making the tabernacle and the Ark within it, “the cloud covered the tabernacle of the testimony, and the glory of the Lord filled it.” The verb “to cover” or “overshadow” and the metaphor “cloud” are used in a special way in the Bible. They represent the presence and glory of God. The spirit of God covered or “overshadowed” the Ark and the tabernacle and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

The Jews call this the Shekinah Glory, derived from the Semitic root shekinah, which means “to settle, inhabit, or dwell,” and which is often used to refer to the dwelling of a person or animal in a place, or in our case, to the dwelling of God. As God promised, He now dwelled with His people.

The Greek word for “overshadow” (ἐπισκιάζω or episkiadzo) in Exodus 40:34 is rarely used in the Greek Old Testament. The Holy Spirit chooses his words very carefully. Here it is used of the presence of God overshadowing the Ark. The same Shekinah Glory cloud also filled the Temple of Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:1-3.

Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant

This is where it gets interesting. The same rare Greek word for the Glory of the Lord “covering” or “overshadowing” the Ark of the Old Testament is used by Luke at the start of his gospel, where he relates the words of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary. In Luke 1:35 we read: “And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

The same rarely used Greek word (ἐπισκιάζω or episkiazo), the same idea of God’s overshadowing (the Ark in the Old Testament and Mary in the New Testament), and the same result of God’s presence (the Shekinah Glory in the Old Testament and Jesus, God Incarnate inside Mary’s womb in the New Testament). Maybe Luke is trying to tell us something?

If someone were to read Luke’s gospel without thinking like a Jew, without any knowledge of the Greek speaking language or a deep understanding of the Old Testament and its types and symbols, this interesting bit of information about the Ark and Mary would probably slip past them. Luke is suggesting there is a parallel between the Old Testament Ark as the dwelling place of God and Mary as the new dwelling place of God, but this time God came to dwell upon the earth in the flesh.

We may be wondering why God was so specific and careful about every exacting detail of the Ark (Exodus 25-30). God wanted it made for Himself — a place for Him to dwell (Exodus 25:8). If God made it very clear that the word of God inscribed on stone should be housed in a perfect container covered with pure gold within and without, how much more would God prepare a very special woman to carry his holy and only begotten Son, the Word of God made flesh! Soon the Word of God in flesh would take up residence in the womb of a human girl. Imagine how concerned God would be to prepare a perfect and flawless Ark that would carry the Word of God in flesh — the Second Person of the Trinity.

Let’s explore this parallel, this typology a little further. Luke was a real genius, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he was able to weave a whole lot more detail into his gospel that could easily be missed by the cursory reader of Scripture.

After Moses had died, Joshua led the people of Israel into the Promised Land where he established the Ark in Shiloh, and where it stayed for over two hundred years. But then one day the Israelites were fighting the Philistines and they weren’t doing so well. So they ran and removed the Ark from the temple and carried it to the front lines of the battle, hoping that there in the midst of the battle the Ark would guarantee their victory. But God was not pleased with this and allowed the Philistines to steal the Ark. When the Philistines noticed however that the Ark was causing lots of problems for them, they sent it back to Israel (1 Samuel 5:1 to 1 Samuel 6:12).

So when the Ark had arrived back in Israel, in the hill country of Judea, David arose and went to retrieve it (1 Samuel 6:1-2). But after Uzzah was struck dead when he touched the Holy Ark David was afraid of the Ark and exclaimed “how shall the ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:9). So he left the Ark in the hill country of Judea for three months (2 Samuel 6:11). And then we are told that David (dressed as a priest) danced and leapt in front of the Ark and everyone shouted for joy (2 Samuel 6:14). The house of Obededom which had housed the Ark was blessed (2 Samuel 6:11) and then David took the Ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:12).

Now let’s return to Luke’s gospel. In Luke 1:39 we read that Mary rose up, just like David rose up, and she went into the hill country of Judea, just like David had gone into the hill country of Judea. In Luke 1:41 we then read that upon meeting Mary, Elizabeth’s child, John the Baptist, who was of the priestly lineage of Aaron, leapt in her womb, just like David danced in from of the Ark, wearing the ephod, which was the clothing of a priest. And in Luke 1:42 we read that Elizabeth cried out, just like David and the people had shouted when the Ark approached them.

But what’s even more striking is this. In Luke 1:43 we read that Elizabeth exclaimed “And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”, which is almost verbatim the same as David exclaiming in 2 Samuel 6:9 : “how shall the ark of the Lord come to me?” Then we are told in Luke 1:56 that Mary stayed in the house of Elizabeth for three months, just as in 2 Samuel 6:11 we found out that the Ark of the Old Testament stayed in the house of Obedemon for thee months.

Finally, the Ark returns to its home and ends up in Jerusalem where God’s presence and glory is revealed in the Temple (2 Samuel 6:12; 1 Kings 8:9-11) and likewise, Mary returns home and at the appointed time ends up in Jerusalem where she presents God enfleshed in the Temple (Luke 1:56 and Luke 2:21-22).

There are simply too many parallels to be attributed to coincidence. Remember, the Holy Spirit does not engage in small talk, always chooses His Words carefully and certainly leaves nothing to coincidence. But there is more.

What does the Ark contain?

We must now turn our attention upon the contents of the Ark.

In Deuteronomy 10:3-5 we read that Moses put the two tables of stone, on which God had written His law, inside the Ark of the Covenant. And Hebrews 9:4 tells that there were two more items inside the Ark of the Covenant, “a golden pot that had manna and the rod of Aaron that had blossomed and the tables of the testament.”

And what do we find inside the Ark of the New Testament?

Inside the Old Testament Ark we find God’s law written on stone, but in the New Testament Ark we find the Word of God Himself, in flesh.

Inside the Old Testament Ark we find the manna, which had come down from heaven to feed the people of Israel, who would still die, but in the New Testament Ark we find Jesus, the bread of life, given to all of God’s children, so that whoever eats of this bread would never die. (John 6:35-59)

Inside the Old Testament Ark we find the rod of Aaron, a symbol of the temporary, Levitical priesthood, but inside the New Testament Ark we find Jesus, the Eternal High Priest. (Hebrews 4:14, Hebrews 9:11, etc.)

Coincidence? I don’t think so. But there’s more.

The Ark of the Covenant, lost and found again

In 2 Maccabees, a book that unfortunately for many Bible-believing Christians Luther removed from his Bible because he didn’t like it, we read that just before the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people of Israel, God instructed the prophet Jeremias to remove the ark from the temple in Jerusalem, and to bring it “to the mountain where Moses went up.” (2 Maccabees 2:1) There Jeremias found a cave where he hid the ark of the Covenant and then he sealed the cave. It has been “lost” ever since, until.. fast forward to St. John, exiled on the island of Patmos

In Revelation 11:19 we find St. John having a vision, wherein he sees that “the temple of God was opened in heaven: and the ark of his testament was seen in his temple.” Now we must remember that in the original Greek manuscripts there were no chapter or verse numbers, not even punctuation marks to delineate sentences. So any Jew reading John’s account of the whereabouts of the long lost Ark would have sat up at this point and paid close attention: “The Ark of the Covenant? Where is it? It hasn’t been seen in 600 years! Tell us more..”

And what does St. John tell us in the very next verse? St. John saw “a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12:1) And the woman was with child, travailing in birth. She was about to give birth to a child that “was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her son was taken up to God and to his throne.” (Revelation 12:5)

This woman, portrayed by John as the Ark of the New Covenant and as Queen of heaven, who would bring forth a child that would rule all nations, can be no other than Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant and the Queen of Heaven!

The Bible begins with a real man (Adam), a real woman (Eve) and a real serpent (the devil) — and it also ends with a real man (Jesus, the Last Adam, 1 Corinthians 15:45), a real woman (Mary the New Eve , Revelation 11:19—12:2) and a real serpent (the devil of old). All this exactly as was foretold in Genesis 3:15, where God promised that “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel”.

The Early Church Fathers

Considering that the Apostolic and Early Church Fathers lived and talked with the Apostles, we would do well to listen how they interpreted Scripture, and what they thought of the role of Mary in God’s plan of redemption. After all, these are also the same men that were inspired by the Holy Spirit to decide which books were to be included in the Bible we have today, and which ones were to be rejected.

Athanasius of Alexandria (circa 296–373) was the main defender of the deity of Christ against the 2nd century heretics. He wrote:

“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 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.” — Homily of the Papyrus of Turin.

Gregory the Wonderworker (circa 213–270) an early Christian teacher wrote:

“Let us chant the melody which has been taught us by the inspired harp of David, and say, “Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest; Thou, and the Ark of Thy sanctuary.” For the holy Virgin is in truth an Ark, wrought with gold both within and without, that has received the whole treasury of the sanctuary” — The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. VI: Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325

The Magnificat

Now, let us return once more to Luke’s gospel, where he tells us that after being greeted by Elizabeth, Mary bursts into inspired, poetic worship and says that “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed”. Many Bible-believing Christians hesitate to do this. Why? Catholics on the other hand, as the Early Christians, have always been part of those generations that call Mary blessed.

Conclusion

And there is so much more still, too much for this modest article that is already too long. But at this point it should be clear to any honest Bible believing Christian that Mary, the mother of Jesus is much more than a simple and humble virgin from Nazareth, and that maybe, just maybe the Marian doctrines of the Catholic Church can indeed be found in Scripture, although one must go a little deeper, put in a little more effort and show a little bit of goodwill. Why is that? Maybe it is for the same reason that Jesus often spoke in parables, to sift the wheat from the tares? I don’t know for sure. But whatever the reason may be, God willed it so.

“Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you.” — Matthew 7:7

Objections

More Blessed than Mary

Objection: We read in Luke 11:27-28 that we ourselves can become even more blessed than Mary. Jesus said “Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it."

I disagree with your reasoning. Christ was not comparing us with Mary. That would imply that we keep the word of God and Mary doesn’t. That is quite presumptuous and unscriptural. If anyone can be said to have kept the word of God, it certainly was Mary!

Before Mary became the Mother of God, The Angel Gabriel in Luke 1:28 addressed Her as κεχαριτωμένη (kecharitomene), which is the feminine present perfect passive voice participle of a verb, specifically, the Greek verb χαριτόω (charitóō). In the passive voice, the verb means to have been made graceful, to have been endowed with grace. (see here) Which is why the Catholic Bible translates this as full of grace. The point is that Mary was already full of grace, even before She became the mother of Jesus.

What Jesus is saying in this verse is simply this, that keeping the Word of God is far more important than being someone’s earthly mother. And Mary certainly did keep the word of God, before, during and after She became the mother of Jesus.

Please note also that you have an incorrect translation/interpretation. The Greek word in question here is Μενοῦν (menoun), which means rather, on the contrary. Check Strong’s Concordance. Luke was not at all saying that those who keep the word of God are more blessed than Mary.

This highlights a very important fact, that it is extremely important that we use the correct translation of the Bible. It is a historical fact which practically all theologians on both sides of the fence admit, that many “Bible translators” did not translate the bible, but rather, they interpreted the Bible to fit their theology and then translated that interpretation.

Jesus was the Ark of the Covenant

Objection: The Ark of the Covenant and the things in the Ark as well as many more things in the law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms are pictures of Christ, not Mary. I say this based on Luke 24:44: “And he said to them: These are the words which I spoke to you while I was yet with you, that all things must needs be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses and in the prophets and in the psalms, concerning ME."

First, while it is true that the Old Testament contains, concealed and prophesied about the things to be revealed in the New Testament, and that Jesus was the essential and central figure of this New Testament, that does not mean that each and every type in the Old Testament must necessarily refer to Jesus. There’s for example Pharaoh and Egypt which are types of the devil and the world, not types of Christ. It is therefore a fact that the Old Testament can and does contain types that do not necessarily refer to Jesus.

Second, as with any analogy, there will be certain things about the type that fit it’s fulfillment, and others that do not fit. As 1 Corinthians 15:45 tells us, Adam was a type of Christ, but that does not mean that Christ sinned because Adam sinned. Moses was a type of Christ, but Jesus did not anger God, Moses did.

Third, as with any analogy, the same type can be made to fit two or more different fulfillments. For example, the temple can be seen as types of the physical body of Christ (John 2:19), the church (Ephesians 2:21), the believer (1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 6:19) or God Himself (Revelation 21:22).

But most importantly, it is clear that both Luke and John go to great efforts to depict Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, and while some of their analogies could be applied to fulfillments other than Mary, some of them cannot. For example, when Luke is drawing the parallel between Luke 1:43 and 2 Samuel 6:9, it would be absurd to say that Elizabeth was referring to Jesus when she said “And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” That would mean she was asking how Jesus the mother of Jesus could come to her. And it would be absurd to claim that the woman in John’s revelation was a type of Jesus who would give birth to Jesus. These analogies can only be applied to someone or something other than Jesus, and in this case to Mary.

You may also note that the Ark in the Old Testament was a created thing that was to contain the Creator. Likewise, Mary was a created being that was to contain the Creator. Jesus was not created, he is the Creator.