What we now know as the Apostles Creed descended from an earlier form of the creed, known as the Old Roman Symbol. The beginning of the creed dates from as early as the second century. We do not have any direct evidence that it was penned by any of the apostles, but it is an admirable summary of the apostolic teaching.
We have been working through the Apostles’ Creed phrase by phrase, but this week I thought it important to take two phrases at once. We are talking about that most remarkable of women, Mary. If some have erred through excessive devotion to her, we are not going to fix anything by withholding from her the honor that is due her. There are five persons named in the Creed—the Father, Son, and Spirit, and Mary, and then Pilate.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the virgin, Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hades. On the third day He rose again from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Summary of the Text:
“Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:34–35).
Now the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, the city of Nazareth (Luke 1:26). He there appeared to a virgin whose name was Mariam (we know her as Mary), and greeted her as one highly favored among women (vv. 27-28). She was troubled by this and tried to figure out what it could mean (v. 29). He told her not to fear because she had found favor with God (v. 30). He then told her that she would conceive a son, and the promises Gabriel then made concerning Him constituted a complete fulfillment of all the hopes of Israel (vv. 31-33). Mary asked how this was possible, in that she was a virgin (v. 34). The angel replied that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, such that her child would be called the Son of God (v. 35). He also told her about her cousin Elizabeth conceiving in her old age, and of the greatness of God’s power (v. 36). Mary submissively accepted her assignment, and the angel departed (v. 38). Later, when the shepherds departed after their visit to the newborn Messiah, we are told that Mary treasured all these things in her heart (Luke 2:19). She is clearly Luke’s source for all this early material.
Clearing Some Debris:
We have come to an area where there is some overlap between classical Protestant theology and Roman Catholic theology, and so it is that some terms have gotten muddled up. We have to engage in some of what Wikipedia likes to call disambiguation. The Roman doctrine of the Immaculate Conception does not refer to the miraculous conception of Jesus in the womb, but rather to the miraculous conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, a woman named Anna (according to tradition). They were attempting to solve the problem that we addressed earlier when we said that sinfulness is covenantally imputed through the line of the father.
And you will notice that in our version of the Creed, we say that Jesus was “born of the virgin, Mary,” instead of saying “born of the Virgin Mary.” The difference is this: the former means you are referring to the doctrine of the virgin birth. The latter use of Virgin as a title indicates a belief in the doctrine of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. This is a teaching that holds that Mary conceived Jesus as virgin, which all orthodox Christians hold, but that her virginity was also miraculously preserved through the birth of Jesus, and that she also remained a virgin throughout the rest of her life. While some of the early Reformers accepted this, the general movement of Protestant theology has strongly rejected it.
“Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS” (Matt. 1:24–25).
“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him” (Mark 6:3).
So Jesus had four named brothers (adelphoi) and at least two sisters (adelphai), which means that, counting Jesus, Mary had seven children. The virgin birth was an exaltation of her Son, and an honor to her, but not an exaltation of virginity.
Seed of the Woman:
The first Messianic promise in Scripture (Gen. 3:15) is one that comes in a threat to the serpent. God promises that the woman, deceived by the serpent, would have her vengeance. There would be two parallel lines down through history with perpetual enmity between them. There would be the seed of the serpent, that brood of vipers, and there would be the seed of the woman. When the great moment of deliverance finally came, the seed of the woman (Christ) would crush the head of the seed of the serpent (Satan). “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen” (Rom. 16:20).
The Woman Gives Food:
When our first mother was deceived (2 Cor. 11:3), she gave Adam the fruit and he ate. We fell in our first father (Rom. 5:12), but it was because of food that our first mother gave him. Condemnation came through that present of food. And where Eve was deceived, Mary was not deceived. Eve disobeyed, and Mary obeyed. “Be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). Jesus is the bread of life, and Mary was the woman used by God to hand that food to us. And so it was that the woman was fully avenged.
Remember, the destructive or redemptive work was done by the respective Adams. But don’t leave the women out of it—particularly don’t make the mistake of including Eve and leaving out Mary. There is a divine symmetry in all of this.