The Virgin Tomb of Christ

Carl Bloch, Burial of Christ (19th c.)
Carl Bloch, Burial of Christ (19th c.)

The title’s not a typo. Both St. Matthew and St. John take pains to specify that Christ’s Tomb was never-before used. Matthew 27:59-61 says,

And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulchre.

And John 19:41 is even more explicit: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid.”  But why do they both specify this seemingly-mundane detail?

Because it shows that the Tomb is holy. Certain things are given to God alone, and we don’t touch them. That’s the original meaning of the Greek word hagios, used nearly 100 times in the New Testament. Strong’s Concordance defines it as meaning “set apart by (or for) God, holy, sacred.” A thing is holy by being given over to God in a unique way. There’s a good example of this in Ezekiel 44:1-3, in a prophetic vision of the New Temple:

Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, which faces east; and it was shut. And he said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut. Only the prince may sit in it to eat bread before the Lord; he shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out by the same way.”

The Temple Gate is God’s alone – nobody else gets to pass through it, because God has passed through it. The Tomb of Christ is similarly God’s alone. Nobody else is buried there because it was set aside by God (even if not by Joseph of Arimathea) for His Son Jesus. And of course, the Apostles are able to continue to point to the reality of the Empty Tomb (Acts 2:29-31, 13:29-31) precisely because no one would ever be laid in that Tomb again.

If you understand this – if you can see why it mattered to the Jews that nobody else had gone (or would go) through the Temple Gate, and why it mattered to the Evangelists that nobody else had been buried (or would be buried) in the Tomb – then you should be able to see why the early Christians were so insistent upon the Virgin Birth and upon the perpetual virginity of Mary.

It’s not about marital sex being sinful or dirty. Matthew & John aren’t insulting burials when they emphasize the newness of the Tomb. Ezekiel isn’t demeaning entering the Temple. And the early Christians aren’t bashing the union between husband and wife. All of those things, in contrast, are good and holy. What all of them are instead emphasizing is that some things are holy, in that they belong utterly and only to God. In fact, some of the earliest Christian commentary on Ezekiel 44 makes it clear that the Virgin Mary is the Temple Gate of Ezekiel 44. For example, St. Gregory the Wonderworker (213-270) proclaims:

The Holy Virgin is herself both an honourable temple of God and a shrine made pure, and a golden altar of whole burnt offerings. By reason of her surpassing purity [she is] the Divine incense of oblation, and oil of the holy grace, and a precious vase bearing in itself the true nard; [yea and] the priestly diadem revealing the good pleasure of God, whom she alone approacheth holy in body and soul. [She is] the door which looks eastward, and by the comings in and goings forth the whole earth is illuminated.

That language makes some Protestants uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t. St. Gregory is saying is that the Virgin Mary, like the Temple of Old, or the Tomb in which Christ lay, is wholly and permanently consecrated to God. And who can deny this? Or who can imagine that this sort of total consecration to God somehow dishonors or diminishes His Glory?

The perpetually-virgin Tomb & the perpetually-Virgin Womb run parallel to one another, and they both tell us something about Who Jesus Is: namely, that He is God, Who alone can command these sorts of radical consecrations. In both His Incarnation and His Resurrection, Jesus emerges into the world in a radical way, and these “portals” between time and eternity are consecrated to Him absolutely and completely.

12 Comments

  1. Gregory might have not written the homilies written to him (Catholic source): https://books.google.com/books?id=xYlKAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA164&lpg=PA164&dq=gregory+the+wonderworker+spurious+homilies&source=bl&ots=XF-qBzc1_a&sig=ZGE6FSw_kaUZvBq6E5VvLknj5_w&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjCu4bOmorMAhUFPz4KHZyEARYQ6AEINTAE#v=onepage&q=gregory%20the%20wonderworker%20spurious%20homilies&f=false

    Gregory of Nyssa related a story from his grandmother that the Wonderworker himself saw Mary. This legend probably gave rise to ascribing several Marian homilies to him.

    This is not to say that nice things weren’t written about Mary early on. By the fourth century, her perpetual virginity was a firmly entrenched doctrine throughout the church. But, what we have quoted here probably does not reflect 3rd century thought anymore than the writings of Dionysus the Areopogite [sic] reflect first century thought.

    1. Start moving the goal posts.

      Origen

      “The Book [the Protoevangelium] of James [records] that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honor of Mary in virginity to the end, so that body of hers which was appointed to minister to the Word . . . might not know intercourse with a man after the Holy Spirit came into her and the power from on high overshadowed her. And I think it in harmony with reason that Jesus was the firstfruit among men of the purity which consists in [perpetual] chastity, and Mary was among women. For it were not pious to ascribe to any other than to her the firstfruit of virginity” (Commentary on Matthew 2:17 [A.D. 248]).

    2. Mary is the Ark of the Covenant. And just as in 2 Samuel 6:6-7, anyone who dared to touch the Ark did so at the peril of his life, the very idea of Joseph “touching” Mary is unthinkable.

      I don’t think it took three centuries for Christians to realize this. The hymn “Sum tuum praesidium” by itself testifies to how they thought from the very first.

  2. Craig. You have yet to grasp the meaning of the Original Deposit of Faith and so you are repeatedly trying to disprove this or that doctrine by arguing as to whether or not certain words meant then what they mean now or trying to claim the author of a text really wasn;rt the author.

    Unless you can understand the implications of the Original Deposit of Faith, you will forever be chasing chimeras down rabbit holes and down in rabbit holes there is no light.

    1. Maybe for him the Original Deposit of Faith is/was just present in [Bible] codices. That’s why it doesn’t have any meaning in Protestantism.

    2. I know how you feel, but I think this lays bare what intellectually divides our two camps. What you are essentially saying is that I must accept your presupposition by default and then I will understand the truth.

      So, Protestants will accuse Catholics of arrogance because Catholics demand that they accept Catholic presupositions.

      Catholics will accuse Protestants of arrogance because Protestants demand that Catholics accept Sola Scriptura, which itself is only presuppositionally true.

      And round and round we go.

      1. Craig. You are the one wandering aimlessly in the desert of egoism. You do not have the necessary spiritual and intellectual humility to accept the authority of the One True Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church Jesus established and so you are doomed to repeating many of the countless errors of your intellectual progenitors, the protestant revolutionaries.

        As for ABS and his, he was blessed to have been born into the Church and he ain’t going nowhere for Jesus has always been, is now, and always will, be the head of His Church He established and you seem destined to circle around outside the Church, unable to commit to the truth.

        ABS could claim that our lives are an example of predestination but that seems a truth too steely for a Friday 🙂

        Repent while you still have time for outside the Church there is no salvation.

        O, and arrogant is a silly charge (psychological projection) because that would mean that we took authority unto ourselves whereas the truth is the authority we have is of Divine Design whereas it was the protestant revolutionaries who were arrogant in that they took authority unto themselves.

          1. And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath the faithful with the unbeliever?

            Even handedness in treating of good and evil, truth and lies, is the way of heretics and standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ, such a claim will be impossible for you to make.

            You will. one day, stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and you may be asked why you repeatedly rejected His Truth and the hounds of heaven and the prompting of the Holy Ghost to take advantage of your participation in places like her and your reading of the Church Fathers etc.

            You must make a choice, Craig, you can not forever put off choosing.

            One is either a Christian Catholic (a disciple of Christ who follows Him in the Church He created) or one is outside the church which means no salvation, no sanctifying grace.

            This is your choice, Craig, and you must choose and Jesus will give you the consequences of your choice.

            Jesus established His Church for two purposes – Salvation and Sanctification – and you can not attain unto either outside His Church.

  3. arrogance (n.)
    c. 1300, from Old French arrogance (12c.), from Latin arrogantia, from arrogantem (nominative arrogans) “assuming, overbearing, insolent,” present participle of arrogare “to claim for oneself, assume,” from ad- “to” (see ad-) + rogare “ask, propose” (see rogation).

  4. Speaking of ‘not a typo…’…note Canonical Gospels all mention a ‘linen cloth’….now why would every Gospel author go to the trouble of specifying the material of Jesus’ burial wrappings, in the same way, when there other items and events seemingly more important on which the differing texts vary in some detail? Why not just say, ‘wrapped in burial clothes…’ or something like that..instead of specifying, linen?

    The Shroud of Turin is linen. Just sayin’…..

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