How Mary Built the Temple that King David Couldn’t

Yesterday’s First Reading was about King David, and his plans to build a Temple for the Lord, to store the Ark. It begins (2 Samuel 7:1-3):

Now when the king dwelt in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies round about, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart; for the LORD is with you.”

But that night, Nathan hears in a dream that David shouldn’t go ahead.  God hasn’t asked David to build him a Temple, and has something better in mind. Namely, God sends a message to David, via Nathan, saying (2 Sam. 7:11b-16):

Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.

I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men; but I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.’

This prophesy was of both David’s son Solomon (1 Kings 6:1), and of Christ (Hebrews 1:5).  When it comes to Jesus, the Temple of Christ is His Body.

The Lord is With You

But here’s what I missed, until Fr. Ruskamp pointed it out in his homily yesterday.  When David wanted to build a Temple for God, and create a glorious place, fitting of the Ark of the Covenant, Nathan initially approved by saying, “Go, do all that is in your heart; for the LORD is with you” (2 Samuel 7:3).  Compare this with the way the angel Gabriel greets Mary in Luke 1:26-33, from yesterday’s Gospel reading:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

It’s just astonishingly clear. At the end, Gabriel explicitly references God’s promise in 2 Sam. 7:11-16 that He’d establish David’s throne forever.  But given this, how can we deny that his greeting, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” fulfills what had been promised but deferred to David?  Mary is going to build (in her womb) the Temple that David didn’t get to build.  

A Worthy Builder

Nicolas Cordier, King David 

Don’t overlook how beautifully all of this Ark imagery is tied in with the idea of the Temple.  We can see this in two different ways. First, as we’ve just seen, the passage being alluded to in Luke 1:26-33 is 2 Samuel 7:1-16.  But this part came almost directly after the next parallel we see, between Luke 1:39-56 and 2 Samuel 6:2-14.  Both the Old Testament passages and their New Testament fulfillments occur one right after another. That can hardly be ignored as a coincidence.

Second, David makes clear that the Temple is needed because of the Ark. Listen to how he justifies the need for a Temple: “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent” (2 Sam. 7:2).  He wanted a worthy dwelling for the Ark.

And God doesn’t disagree with this rationale.  In fact, He blesses David for his good intentions.  But He forbids David from doing the building, because David was “a man of war, and has shed blood” (1 Chronicles 28:3). The builder of the Temple needed clean hands.  That God chose Mary, of all the women who have ever lived, to not only build the New Temple, but be the Gate of that Temple, and the New Ark, is an incredible testimony to her purity and sinlessness.

The Woman of Rev. 12, Revisited
Finally, this sheds more light on the identity of the glorified Woman from Revelation. It does this in two ways.  First, Luke 1 (read through the lens of 2 Samuel 6-7) once again ties the Temple, the Ark, and the Mother of God together, just as we see in Rev. 11:19-12:3,

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, voices, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery.

The Woman gives birth to Jesus Christ (Rev. 12:5).

The objection to reading this passage as referring to Mary is that some of the details don’t fit Mary very well: they fit the Church better.  This is true, but 2 Sam. 7:11b-16 contains the answer to this objection, as well.  Some of the details don’t fit Christ well at all (for example: “When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men”), and fit Solomon better.  Protestants have no trouble recognizing that the solution isn’t that it’s Solomon or Christ, but both:

Moreover, it is certain that God never anticipated that his beloved Christ would “commit iniquity,” and therefore possibly need “chastening” with the “rod of men” (2 Samuel 7:14). In a number of ways, for example, Isaiah 53 affirms the utter perfection of Jehovah’s servant, Jesus Christ. This portion of 2 Samuel 7:14-15, therefore, obviously applies to Solomon alone.
The prophecy plainly encompasses, however, a far grander scope than that of Solomon’s day, as is suggested by the “last words” of David himself (2 Samuel 23:1ff) and the comments of several inspired New Testament writers.

So 2 Samuel 7 is about Solomon and Jesus, but some details only apply to One or the other.  Why shouldn’t Rev. 11:19-12:17 be understood the same way in understanding the Woman as Mary and the Church?


  1. IMHO, the “birth pains” that John saw is she is a good student of Scripture; she knows intellectually that her Messiah will be a suffering servant and this is what the prophesy of the her soul being pierced meant. She knew this at Christ’s birth.

    She didn’t literally have birth pains. But she grieved during labor, (and rejoiced). My 2 pennies…

  2. When is this idenfication of the Holy Theotokos with the woman of Rev. 12 first appear? It would seem that Rev. 12:2, in view of Gen. 3:16 and Isa. 66:7, and the patristic understanding thereof, precludes such an identification. And any use as a prooftext for the IC (or, for that matter, the Assumption). Btw, another idenfifcation is the OT Church, the True Israel.

  3. Isa,

    Revelation is full of imagery and multiple meanings. The woman in Rev 12 can be understood as Mary but can also be understood as the Church. While looking at the woman in Rev 12 as Mary, there is no conflict regarding the labor pains. Certainly Mary’s physical birthing of Jesus was free of pain, but metaphorically Mary suffered along with Jesus in his passion and alo Mary can be seen as the Mother of the Church and in that sense she suffered “birth pains” in giving birth to the Church.

  4. Isa,

    First off, I think you asked me this earlier, and I never got back with you. Sorry about that. In any case, St. Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 320-403) speaks on the subject, but is very cautious. He raises it as part of a discussion on the Assumption of Mary, from the Panarion:

    “For I dare not say – though I have my suspicions, I keep silent. Perhaps, just as her death is not to be found, so I may have found some traces of the holy and blessed Virgin. In one passage Simeon says of her, ‘And a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed’ [Luke 2:35]. And elsewhere the Revelation of John says, ‘And the dragon hastened after the woman who had born the man child, and she was given the wings of an eagle and was taken to the wilderness, that the dragon might not seize her’ [Rev. 12:13-14]. Perhaps this can be applied to her; I cannot decide for certain, and am not saying that she remained immortal. But neither am I affirming that she died.”

    Stephen J. Shoemaker, in Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary’s Dormition and Assumption points to this as the first Patristic identification of Mary with Rev. 12, and as far as I know, he’s right. The only possible exception I can think of is a passage in which Origen that might just as well be a reference to Gen. 3:15 as Rev. 12.

    That actually brings up another point, though: while identifications of Mary with the Woman of Rev. 12 are scarce in the early Church, there are plenty of identifications of Mary with the Woman of Gen. 3:15. Do you think that these are different women? The imagery is almost identical, consisting of a woman battling a serpent and giving birth to Christ.  Finally, the Navarre Bible’s commentary on Rev. 12:1-6 begins:

    “The Woman is depicted by features that can apply to Israel, the Blessed Virgin and the Church. This passage becomes clearer and more meaningful in light of Revelation as a whole. For example, in St. Luke, in his account of the Annunciation, sees Mary as representing the faithful remnant of Israel; the angel salutes her with the greeting given in Zephaniah 3:14-15 (cf. the note on Lk. 1:26-38). But the sacred text of the Apocalypse is open to an interpretation of this Woman as a direct reference to the Blessed Virgin who, as mother, shares in the pain of Calvary (see Lk. 2:35) and who was earlier prophesied in Isaiah 7:14 as a ‘sign’ (cf. Mt. 1:22-23). St. Paul in Galatians 4:26 already sees in a woman, Sarah, an allegory of the Church our Mother, and, in non-canonical Jewish writings of the same period as this book, the community is not infrequently personified as a woman.”



  5. “Revelation is full of imagery and multiple meanings.”
    True, which is why I doubt the usefulness of Rev. 12 as a prooftext for the Assumption (which I don’t doubt).

    Thanks for jogging my memory with the quote (and I haven’t been able to find anything predating it). Yes, I share St. Epiphanius’ reticence in using Revelation, a reticence the Orthodox Church shares as a whole, given how Revelation has the dubious distinction of the most misunderstood and misrepresented book of the entire Bible. As St. Epiphanius goes on (after your quote) “For scripture went beyond man’s understanding…”

    Besides the Vulgate’s mistranslation of “her foot crushing his head” (cited in Ineffibilis Deus), there is no doubt of identifying the Protoevangelion of Gen. 3 with the Holy Theotokos, the New Eve.

  6. Isa,

    My understanding is that the Hebrew of Genesis 3:15 literally says,

    “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and hers; it will crush your head, and you will strike its heel.”

    Now, the question is whether we understand the neuter-pronoun as properly referring to: she (Mary), He (Jesus), they (Mary and Jesus), they (humanity / the descendants of Eve), or they (the Church / the children of Mary). If that’s right, then it doesn’t seem that “mistranslation” is really the right word, since there’s an acceptable range of interpretation.

    In any case, I agree with you that the truth of the Assumption doesn’t rest on the Woman in Revelation 12 being Mary. Certainly, if it is Mary, that’s strong support for the doctrine of the Assumption. But if it’s not, that doesn’t render the Assumption false. Pope Pius XII doesn’t try to “prove” the Assumption in this way in Munificentissimus Deus, although he does mention:

    “Moreover, the scholastic Doctors have recognized the Assumption of the Virgin Mother of God as something signified, not only in various figures of the Old Testament, but also in that woman clothed with the sun whom John the Apostle contemplated on the Island of Patmos.”

    Having said all of this, I still think the case for it being Mary (inclusive of other fulfillments) is rather strong. Particularly since, as you note, Mary is identified with the Woman in Gen. 3:15. The Woman / snake parallels between those two just seem directly on point to me.

    God bless and an early Merry Christmas,


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