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The 'woman' of Revelation 12 is Israel - not Mary
TCE: as highlighted in blue, the Catholic writer is able to accept the traditional and Scriptural views interpreted from Revelation 12 and Genesis 3:15, but then slips in the 'essential' elements of Marian dogma which have absolutely no Scriptural support, namely:
Like Mary, she is pictured as being in heaven and she flies (mirroring Mary's Assumption).
Mary did not experience literal pain when bringing forth the Messiah, but she suffered figuratively (the prophecy that a sword would pierce her heart at the Crucifixion).
In Revelation 12, the emphasis is on the pain and suffering of the woman in the throes of childbirth, both physical and spiritual. Whether favouring literal or figurative interpretation of the book of Revelation, many commentators agree that these verses depict the birth of Jesus the Messiah and his ascension to heaven after being resurrected. Revelation is not simply a presentation of future events in chronological order, since this passage flashes back to past history. The woman is not Mary, Jesus' mother, but Israel, in its normal sense the Jewish people, because the imagery is from Isaiah 66:7-10:
66:7 "Before she goes into labor, she gives birth; before the pains come upon her, she delivers a son. ISA 66:8 Who has ever heard of such a thing? Who has ever seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children. ISA 66:9 Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?" says the LORD. "Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?" says your God. ISA 66:10 "Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her. ISA 66:11 For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance."
Compare also Isaiah 26:17:
ISA 26:17 As a woman with child and about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in your presence, O LORD.
And Micah 4:10 and 5:3:
MIC 4:10 Writhe in agony, O Daughter of Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you must leave the city to camp in the open field. You will go to Babylon; there you will be rescued. There the LORD will redeem you out of the hand of your enemies.
MIC 5:3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.
Although Israel is on earth, John sees her in heaven, symbolizing the fact that God protects and preserves the Jews and this is made more explicit at Revelation 12:6, 13-16. Catholic writers also miss the obvious resemblance between the woman and 'heavenly Jerusalem' in Galatians 4:26 and Hebrews 12:22-24:
GAL 4:26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband."
HEB 12:22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Catholic writers also refuse to see the emphasis on this 'woman' suffering - 'she screamed in the agony of labor' - or the comparison with Matthew 24:8 (8 'All these are the beginning of birth pains') regarding the 'birth pains' of the Messiah.
The meaning of her anguish has therefore been historically taken to refer to the faithful messianic community that suffers as a prelude to the coming of the Messiah himself and the new age (Old Testament references above). Therefore the 'birth' (tikto) itself does not necessarily refer to the actual physical birth of Christ but denotes the travail of the community from which the Messiah has arisen (see same word in Hebrews 6:7 and James 1:15). Again, Catholic writers will rely on this interpretation deflecting attention away from physical birth pains suffered by 'Mary' to lend support to their doctrine of 'Immaculate Conception'. Some identify the woman exclusively with the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, as this view seems to be supported by the reference to the woman giving birth to the Messiah or 'male child' (v. 5). At Revelation 21:12-14 the number twelve refers to the tribes of Israel and the emissaries of Jesus, and this understanding is also adequate to the context here. The twelve stars would therefore refer to the twelve tribes (Gen 37:9-11). Reference to the twelve tribes (cf. Revelation 7:5-8) would most naturally be understood to refer to the ancient historic Israel and not to the church. The twelve signs of the zodiac were used only by some Jews to represent the twelve tribes because they were led astray by astrology and took their tribal standards to correspond to the zodiacal names.
Compare the adornments of the woman with those of the sun, moon, and stars in verse one with Genesis 37:9:
'And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.'
This verse is strikingly similar to Revelation 12:1. Why does the Genesis passage speak of eleven stars? Remember that the one who uttered these words is Joseph, a brother to the ones he labelled as the eleven stars. Add Joseph, and you have the twelve stars, symbolic of the twelve sons (tribes) of Israel (and, perhaps, in turn the twelve patriarchs). The 'sun' and the 'moon' have therefore been taken to represent the parents, Jacob and Rachel. The sun, moon and stars depict the glory and dominion which has been promised to Israel in the coming kingdom, just as they pictured Joseph's ultimate rule over his father, mother, and brothers. The passage would seem to address the persecution of the believing community, rather than the persecution of the nation of Israel as a whole.
The dazzling appearance of the 'woman' ('like the sun') relates her to the glory and brilliance of her Lord (Rev 1:16). With the moon under her feet signifying her permanence (Pss 72:5; 89:37; cf. Matt 16:18) and a crown of twelve stars on her head indicating her elect identity (cf. comments on 'twelve tribes' at 7:4ff.), she appears in her true heavenly and glorious character despite her seemingly fragile and uncertain earthly history (vv. 13-16). A possible allusion to her priestly nature may be suggested by the cosmic imagery of stars, sun, and moon - figures that Josephus used in describing the high priestly vestments (Antiq. III, 179-87 [vii. 7]; cf. Rev 1:6; 5:10). Peter likewise refers to the priestly function of the church (1 Peter 2:5, 9). The church viewed as a 'woman' is found elsewhere in the New Testament as well as in early Christian literature (e.g.: Hermas 5.1.i-ii):
For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. (2 Cor 11:2)
25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish… (Eph 5:25-27, 32)
1 The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth; 2 For the truth's sake, which dwelleth in us, and shall be with us for ever. 3 Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. 4 I rejoiced greatly that I found of thy children walking in truth, as we have received a commandment from the Father. 5 And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another… 13The children of your chosen sister greet you. (2 John 1-5, 13)
Some commentators postulate that 2 John is addressed to an actual woman, but John could equally be using the words figuratively, calling the church 'the elect lady' and addressing her members as 'children' and signing the letter in verse 13 ("children of your elect sister") as from a corresponding congregation. Taken literally, the epistle is written to a particular woman and her children and we accept that the most obvious meaning of Scripture is usually the most correct meaning. Unfortunately for those who would attempt to seize on this as a 'flip-flop' with reference to Revelation 12, it becomes obvious that much of Scripture has to be translated from metaphor and symbolism. None of this excuses the way Rome draws inferences out of thin air and extra-Biblical 'revelation' to support her Marian doctrines.
Alternative views of the 'woman' peddled by Rome?
As we saw in the quotes above, historical Catholic views have gone beyond suggesting that Mary is the woman of Revelation 12 (and 'the mother of all Christians'), and have also seen the woman as being the Church, the people of God, and an assortment of other views. But is there any truth in these suggestions?
The idea that the woman is Mary, the mother of Jesus is rejected by some commentators because of verse 14:
'And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the earth.''
Is there anything of either a literal or symbolic nature to support the idea that the woman is Mary? The site you referred to makes an obvious attempt to link this flight into the wilderness with Mary and Joseph's flight into Egypt with the infant Lord Jesus. But was Egypt really a 'wilderness'? Orthodox Christians fully accept the symbolism of this flight into Satan's territory, for Egypt has long been a source of the enemy's occultic powers - but 'a wilderness'?!
Many commentators believe that verse five refutes the school of thought that the woman is the church by asserting:
'And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.'
Since the church did not give birth to Jesus, but Jesus gave birth to the church, they consider that the woman cannot be suggestive of the church.
Israel is more readily accepted as representing the 'woman' because the entire Old Testament history of Israel is embodied in verse two where it speaks of the woman 'travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered' in the same manner the New Testament refers to the New Covenant believers in Christ coming into the church with similar 'travail'. From the earliest pages of the Bible a war raged between Satan and the people of Israel as the deceiver tried to destroy God's chosen people and obstruct the birth of Christ. Israel desperately needed a redeemer. The law cried for one, the prophets cried for one, the very nation cried for one. The promise had been given that a Messiah would come and Satan was fully aware of it. God had proclaimed Christ's coming in Genesis 3:15:
'And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.'
We would agree with the proposal the Catholic writers make that we can discover who the woman of Revelation 12 is, in Genesis 3:14-16:
14 The LORD God said to the serpent, 'Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.' 16 To the woman he said, 'I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.'
The Catholic writer states:
Before we approach the task of identifying who this woman of Genesis 3:15 is, let us look at the similarities between Genesis 3, which speaks of a 'woman', and Revelation 12, which also speaks of a 'woman'.
TCE: the Catholic writer then makes various points:
The beginning of the passage echoes the prophecy of Is. 7:14 taken up by Micah 5:1-2.
There is no 'echo' of these passages at all.
As the almah of Isaiah, the woman of the Apocalypse is a sign (semeion). But here she appears in her triumph; the moon 'under her feet' seems to indicate that she is raised above the vicissitude of which this constantly changing planet is the symbol.
There is absolutely no support for this view.
As with Mary in Jn 19:25-27 this heavenly personage is repeatedly designated by the word 'woman' (Apoc. 12:1, 4, 12, 13-17).
Look up all the references to the use of 'woman' as an address in the New Testament; it is clearly a common term in use at the time and therefore has no special use or reference when applied to Mary.
As with Mary, who is taken to be the Mother of Christ, and mother of the disciples of Christ, who are called 'the rest of her children' (Apoc. 12-17).
There is no support for this idea anywhere in Scripture, so the supposed connection with Revelation 12-17 is completely fanciful.
This last term is an echo of Gn. 3:14-15, where also the serpent (Apoc. 12:9 and 14) is at war against 'the woman' and 'her descendants'. Genesis 3:14-15
This last point has merely proven who 'the woman' is - Eve - by reminding us who 'her descendants' are - Israel and all the nations who believe in her seed, Jesus!
We should also note that projecting 'the woman' as Mary couples her with the rest of the promise from God which is that He will 'greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.' So, once again, the false doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is dwelt a body blow by the very scriptures that Papal writers appeal to! Clearly, there is no point in them attempting to prove that 'travail' in Revelation 12 does not refer to 'pain in child-bearing' if they attempt to make parallels throughout both Scriptures to make Mary the subject!How was Genesis 3:15 understood by the early believers in the nation of Israel?
The Catholic writer continues:
The woman of the promise, victorious over the serpent and bearer of the Savior, finds no echo in sinful Eve, who will live and die in the obscurity of her days. In fact, immediately after the divine oracle of Gen. 3:15 she gets penalized by God, with Adam in vv. 16-24.
TCE: Again, there is the attempt to take away the promise of the Messiah from Eve - and Israel. However, this also goes against the thrust of many other passages in which the seed of sinful Adam and Eve looked forward to the promise of the Messiah. In the same way the meaning of a biblical text must first be examined in light of its historical setting before it can be applied to our situation today, interpretation also cannot be divorced from its historical setting if we seek to arrive at its proper meaning for today. In short, we must interpret scripture in the way that scripture does. Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum makes clear the importance of recognizing what this promise from God meant to the early believers in Israel:
'God cursed the serpent who caused the Fall, and declared enmity between the serpent and womanhood. This enmity extends to the Seed of the Woman and the seed of the serpent. The Seed of the Woman refers to Christ, the Messiah, and the seed of the serpent will be the Antichrist. This, the first messianic prophecy, declares that the Messiah's descent or genealogy will be reckoned after a woman, not a man. This is, of course, contrary to the normal practice of Biblical times. There are many genealogies in Scripture, e.g. the earliest in Genesis 5 and 10, the first nine chapters of I Chronicles, Matthew 1, and Luke 3 (among many others) - and virtually all of them are lists of men's names. Legal descent, national and tribal identity, were always taken from the father, never from the mother (the sole exception is found in Ezra 2:61 and Nehemiah 7:63). Very rarely would a woman's name be included at all unless she figured very prominently in Jewish history, and even then she would warrant only a passing reference. The fact that Moses traced this genealogy through the woman tells us that there will be something very different about the Messiah, something that necessitates tracing His ancestry through His mother, not His Father. Moses gives no explanation here, and none will be given for several centuries until the time of the Prophet Isaiah - when he will prophesy (in chapter 7) that Messiah is to be born of a virgin and have no human father.
Genesis 3:15 states that Messiah will crush the head of the serpent, that is, Satan (Revelation 12:9, 15; 20:2). In the process Satan will manage to wound the heel of Messiah, but will be unable to prevent his own destruction. The bruising of Messiah's heel took place at Jesus' crucifixion - painful but, in the eternal sense, not fatal. The crushing of the serpent's head began with Jesus' death and resurrection, a point made in Hebrews 2:14--18. Romans 16:20 sees the crushing of Satan's head as still future and, so, his final destruction will not come until he is thrown into the Lake of Fire, as described in Revelation 20:10.
As well as hinting at the virgin birth, this verse also emphasizes the humanity of the Messiah. Messiah, the Redeemer, will not be angelic nor simply divine, but will be a man. It also lays the groundwork for the Messiah to be the God-Man. These ideas are further developed in subsequent prophecies.
These understandings about Genesis 3:15 come from our own historical perspective with the light of full revelation we have from the Scriptures. But how was this verse understood by those who first heard it? There are three passages in the following chapters of Genesis which offer some clues as to the thinking of three significant individuals concerning the meaning of Genesis 3:15. A study of these passages shows that though the virgin birth would not be understood until Isaiah, the expectation of a God-Man Redeemer was understood.
A literal translation of the Hebrew text for Genesis 4:1 would read:
'And the man knew Eve his wife, she conceived and bare Cain and said 'I have gotten a man: Jehovah.'
This is exactly the same sentence construction as in the next verse:
Again she bare his brother: Abel.
Few Bible translators really understand what Eve is saying here, which is why our English translations do not read as given above. Eve has clearly understood from God's words in Genesis 3:15 that the serpent will be defeated by a God-Man. She obviously thinks that Cain is Jehovah. Her basic theology is correct: Messiah would be both man and God. Her mistake is in her application of that theology. She has assumed that Cain, her first child, was the promised God-Man. That she quickly realized her mistake is evident at the birth of Cain's brother whom she names Abel, meaning 'vanity.'
It is interesting to see how different scholars have dealt with this verse at different times. Most English translations read, 'I have gotten a man with the help of Jehovah.' The words 'with the help of' were added by the translators to avoid giving a reading which was unacceptable to them. But the Hebrew does literally read, 'I have gotten a man: Jehovah.' This is actually the same construction as the Hebrew for the immediately preceding words, 'and she bare: Cain.' The common English translation is not based on the Hebrew text but on the Greek Septuagint which reads 'through God.' This was followed by the Latin Vulgate which also reads 'through God.'
The Jerusalem Targum, an Aramaic translation, reads, 'I have gotten a man: the angel of Jehovah.' The rabbis gave a reading here which is much closer to the original Hebrew text. The Targum Pseudo--Jonathan reads, 'I have gotten for a man the angel of the Lord.' Another Aramaic translation is the Targum Onqelos which says 'from before the Lord.' These Aramaic translations and paraphrases are seeing what the Hebrew is saying and the supernatural implications of it. In Christian theology the Angel of Jehovah is seen as the second person of the triune God but, of course, that was not the view of the Jewish translators of the Targumim.
The Midrash Rabbah (on Genesis, 22:2), the rabbinic commentary, says of Genesis 4:1 'with the help of the Lord.' 'Rabbi Ishmael asked Rabbi Akiba, 'Since you have served Nahum of Gimzo for 22 years and he taught that every ach and rach is a limitation but every et and gam is an extension, tell me what is the purpose of the et here.' He replied, 'if it is said 'I have gotten a man: the Lord it would have been difficult to interpret, hence et 'with the help of the Lord is required.' The footnote on page 181 of this Midrash says 'it might imply that she had begotten the Lord.' The rabbis clearly understood the implications of the construction and so had to make the necessary adjustments in their translation. The Peshitta says, 'I have gotten a man to the Lord.' A leading rabbi known as Saadia Gaon read it 'from with the Lord.' Rashi translates it as 'with the Lord' and Nachmanides translates it as 'unto the Lord for the service of the Lord.' Here, again, attempts are made to get around the obvious.
Genesis 5:21-29 reads:
5:21 And Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. 22 Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. 23 So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. 25And Methuselah lived one hundred and eighty-seven years, and became the father of Lamech. 26 Then Methuselah lived seven hundred and eighty-two years after he became the father of Lamech, and he had other sons and daughters. 27 So all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died. 28 And Lamech lived one hundred and eighty-two years, and became the father of a son. 29 Now he called his name Noah, saying, 'This one shall give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the LORD has cursed.' (NASB)
In Genesis 5:21-24, we read of righteous Enoch who 'was not, for God took him.' The New Testament, in Jude 14-15, tells us that Enoch was a preacher of righteousness and a prophet. The name which he gave to his son was indeed rich with prophetic significance. Methuselah is a Hebrew name which literally means 'When he dies it will come.' Since there is no neuter in Hebrew, it actually reads 'When he dies he will come.' This prophecy refers to the coming of the flood. Simple arithmetic with the years given in Genesis shows that the flood came in the year 1656 A.H. - the same year that Methuselah died. Lamech has understood the name of his father to be prophetic but has mistakenly seen the name as referring to the birth of his son, Noah. Noah will indeed be a man of tremendous significance in human history, but not in the way that Lamech thinks.
Lamech clearly hopes that Noah, meaning 'comfort,' will be the longed-for Messiah. It is clear from the ages and years given in Genesis 5 that Lamech was 56 years old when Adam died. Lamech would therefore have been given a clear first-hand account of all that happened in the Garden of Eden and all the words that God had spoken. It is very interesting, therefore, to see in verse 5:29 how Lamech expresses his own messianic hope; he sees Messiah as a redeemer who will remove the curse of Adam's fall, and all of its results. As with Eve, his basic theology is correct but he has misapplied it. Lamech is right: such a man will one day come, in fulfillment of the promise of Genesis 3:15 - but Noah was not to be that man.
Human creatures were not the only ones to understand the meaning and significance of God's words in Genesis. Satan, to whom those words were addressed, also understood them. In Genesis 6:1-4 we see Satan's first attempt to thwart God's messianic program. Since Messiah is to be the Seed of the Woman, Satan's objective must be to corrupt this line of descent:
6:1 Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the LORD said, 'My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.' The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.
In order to try to corrupt the Seed of the Woman, at Satan's command, fallen evil angels, 'the sons of God,' inter-marry with human women, foreshadowing the supernatural conception of the Antichrist also indicated in Genesis 3:15. The results of these marriages were grotesque creatures - the Nephilim. It was the appearance of these diabolic creatures which brought the judgment of the Flood upon the earth. By means of this flood God destroyed all the Nephilim and preserved a line through which Messiah would be born.' (ref. Messianic Christology, p.14-17)
This continuing anticipation of the birth of Jesus so troubled Satan that he expended every ounce of his energy in efforts to destroy any possibility of Christ fulfilling His priestly role for all mankind. Even small infants were dealt cruel death blows as Herod treacherously sought for the new-born king of the Jews - all of these plans are consistent with details of Revelation 12:4 - where the 'woman' represents Israel:
'... and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered for to devour her child as soon as it was born.'
Revelation 12:5 tells us that Jesus was delivered to 'rule' the nations (cf. Revelation 2:27). In its original form, the word 'rule' (Greek: poimaino) means 'to lead as a shepherd, to tend flocks.' Verse five also informs us of the ascension of Jesus - that He was 'caught up unto God, and to his throne.' It seems to have a dual meaning, too. Verse six says that the woman (Israel) fled into the wilderness 'a thousand two hundred and threescore days' or three and one-half years or one-half of the seven years of tribulation. The second meaning of this dual prophecy also has reference to the ascension of the saints and the rapture of the church. But the remaining verses in this chapter concern themselves with the flight of Israel during the tribulation period. Israel, seen as the woman, will be attacked during that time by the beast - the devil incarnate. He will be Satan in human flesh just as Jesus is God in human flesh. The phrase, 'time, and times, and half a time' in verse fourteen, is generally viewed as another way to state 'three and one-half years,' an indication of the action's date being within the time frame of the tribulation. Verse seventeen is primarily applicable to the saints of the tribulation but can also relate to the saints of all time. Satan is seen as angry at the followers of our Lord who 'keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.'
An ominous statement of warning is found in Revelation 12:9 where we are told that the devil has deceived the whole world. Do you know the worst thing about being deceived? A deceived man does not know that he is deceived! People around this world are living comfortable, and sometimes religious, lives. But when the ultimate truth is revealed, they will suddenly discover that they were but playthings of the devil, deceived and eternally damned to hell.
(Continued on page 288)