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Kofi Asare wrote:

Hi, guys —

I came across some literature about the Catholic Church on web and it made mention that the Church believes it is based on the Scriptures and Tradition.

  1. My question is what is the tradition this literature was talking about?
  2. Why do the Catholics believe the Bible is not complete?
  3. Why was Mary's Assumption to Heaven, body and soul, not stated in the Bible, like Enoch and Elijah?
  4. If Mary was ever virgin throughout her days on earth, what then happened to her marriage with Joseph, after Jesus birth?

Thank you,

Kofi

  { Can you answer some questions about Tradition, the Bible, and Mary in the Church? }

Eric replied:

Hi, Kofi —

Thanks for the question.

The tradition that was mentioned was Apostolic Tradition. We believe all revelation was given to the Apostles, who wrote some of it down and transmitted some of it orally. Public revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle (John).

I think the question you are asking is whether the bible is sufficient. We believe it is complete in the sense that our bible has all the books we believe God intended it to have, but as any lawyer knows, it is one thing to have an authoritative text, it is quite another to know how to correctly interpret it. Different people read the same passage different ways. We need a Spirit-guided authority to settle disputes in the community over how Scripture is to be interpreted. Also, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 says that we are to hold fast to the traditions passed on to us — whether by word of mouth or by letter. Do a search on our website for the term "tradition" and you'll find lots of treatment of this question.

You ask why Mary's Assumption was not stated in the bible. I can return the question and ask:

  • Why is it not stated in the bible, that something must be stated in the bible, to be believed or authoritative?

Nothing in the bible says that it is exhaustive or that it says everything; in fact in one place it says that lots of things Jesus said and did were not written down (John 21:25). This demonstrates that not everything needs to be in Scripture to be true.

You see, Scripture was not intended to cover every theological question. Consider the New Testament where most Christian doctrine is contained. You have four Gospels which are intended to be snapshots of Jesus's life. No more, no less. You have a history (Acts); if Mary's assumption was in Scripture it would probably be here, except it may have happened past the time frame of Acts. You have various epistles which were written mostly to specific communities addressing specific questions and problems. Then you have Revelation, which is an apocalypse.

  • None of these are intended to be systematic theology;
  • None make any claim to be expositions of all Christian doctrine;
  • None are teaching manuals.

They each have a limited scope; what doctrine is present is often a sidebar to the main point. This is even more true of the Old Testament. Scripture, therefore, is not intended to be a doctrinal manual. It's inspired and inerrant, but it is not structured as a complete, organized manual of teaching.

As for Mary's virginity, there is a tradition — not Apostolic, but an ancient one (the Protoevangelium of James) — that Mary was a consecrated virgin from her youth and was given to Joseph, an older widower, as a guardian. This might explain why Joseph doesn't appear after the Finding in the Temple.

In any case, regardless of whether this is true, Mary was, by Jesus's conception and birth, consecrated in a special way to the Holy Spirit; in fact, you could say the Holy Spirit was her spouse. A careful examination of Revelation 11:19 and chapter 12, which follows: (remember the chapter divisions are not in the original text) and a comparison of Luke 1:39-56 and 1 Samuel 6:2-16 shows that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. Given that she bears in her womb the Word of God and the Bread from Heaven like the Israelites' Ark, this is fitting. Uzziah was struck dead for touching the Ark. I'm certain Joseph would have nothing to do sexually with a woman who was consecrated to the Messiah by being overshadowed (the same language used of the Old Testament Ark) by the Holy Spirit and thus became the Ark of the New Covenant. His role was to support the family.

Finally, let me note that Mary says to Gabriel when he tells her she is going to be with child, "How can this be since I do not know man?" Obviously she was familiar with how babies work. Being betrothed, if she intended to live a normal married life, this question would make no sense. Her saying, "I do not know man", present tense, strongly suggesting a vow of virginity. Colloquially, she said, "since I do not have sex". It is quite clear that she intended to remain a virgin. For more information, do a search of our knowledge base on the term "Mary virginity" or "perpetual virginity".

I hope this helps.

Eric

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