Finding Mary in the Old Testament

The most obvious references to the Virgin Mary are those that mention her explicitly.

These may be few, but they are the most important. Literal references take priority in any doctrinal discussion and are the basis for all other ways of reading Scripture.

The Protestant theologian Daniel Migliore reminds us to keep in mind:

The Gospel writers were not interested in supplying us with material for a biography of Mary any more than they were in giving us material to write a life of Jesus. Yet Mary stands before us in the Gospels as a woman of faith. The faith of Mary is portrayed—with economy, beauty, and stunning realism—in several clusters of Gospel stories.

Some Scripture passages reference Mary directly, mentioning her by name. Yet the whole Old Testament—God’s word—prophetically anticipates the Messiah’s coming and his incarnate Word. Due to Mary’s intimate relationship to the historical Christ, Old Testament prophecies foreshadowing Christ may also foreshadow her. And so, before exploring the literal references to the Virgin Mary, let us look at some of the Old Testament prophecies that foreshadow her.

Mark Roberts identifies three of these Marian prophecies:

Christians see Mary in three Old Testament passages. Two are obvious prophecies. The first is a little more obscure. After the man and woman sin in Genesis 3, God promised that the “seed” of the woman will “strike the head” of the serpent. If the seed is Christ, then the woman is, in a sense, Mary. Isaiah 7:14 refers to a virgin or young woman (same Hebrew word) who bears a child named Immanuel. Micah 5:2-5 refers to a woman who gives birth to a messianic ruler.

Genesis 3 relays God’s prophetic curse of the serpent who tempted Eve:“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.”This foretells a special enmity or war between Mary’s seed (Jesus) and Satan. Using this passage, early Christians, such as Justin Martyr (d. 165), began calling Mary the New Eve:

[God]became Man by the Virgin so that the course which was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent, might be also the very course by which it would be put down. For Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent, and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tiding that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her is the Son of God.

In Isaiah 7:14, God gives King Ahaz and all of Judah a reassuring sign of his protection against the evil surrounding them:“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”The reassuring sign of God’s protection in our war against Satan is the young virgin who conceives Immanuel, God with us.

Finally, Micah 5:2-4 prophesies of the town of the Messiah’s birth and his mother’s “travail” as the Messiah brings back his people to God and feeds them.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in travail has brought forth; then the rest of his brethren shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord . . . for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth.

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson notes many New Testament passages reflect customs, rituals, and laws laid out in the Old, reflecting Mary’s religious world:

At the time of Mary’s son’s presentation . . . Mary’s devotion is evident. . . . [She keeps] the law: “And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest . . . a burnt offering and . . . a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood”(Lev. 12:6-7).The offering, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons,” betrays her poverty, for she cannot afford a year-old lamb.

Out of the nine times in the whole Gospel that Luke uses the expression “the law of the Lord” or the “Law of Moses,” five of them appear in this report of Jesus’ presentation and early childhood.

Descriptions of Old Testament customs, rituals, and faithful Jewish women were the context of Mary’s motherly relationship with Christ. Pope John Paul II concurs.

Although all Scripture finds fulfillment in God’s incarnate Word (Matt. 5:17), truths about Mary will be mirrored in truths about Christ, as the Second Vatican Council says:

For Mary, who since her entry into salvation history unites in herself and re-echoes the greatest teachings of the Faith as she is proclaimed and venerated, calls the faithful to her son and his sacrifice and to the love of the Father(Lumen Gentium 65).

John Paul II adds,

The council further says that “Mary figured profoundly in the history of salvation and in a certain way unites and mirrors within herself the central truths of the faith.” Among all believers she is like a “mirror” in which are reflected in the most profound and limpid way “the mighty works of God”(Acts 2:11) (Redemptoris Mater25).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says,“What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ”(487). Applying this to the Bible, we derive another key for identifying Marian Scripture passages:

Christ, our true model, fulfills all Scripture. We identify prophecies, laws, customs, and dogmas describing Mary based on prophecies, laws, customs, and dogmas describing Christ.

We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Fr. John Waiss's brand-new book
Bible Mary: The Mother of Jesus in the Word of God

Jan 2nd 2024 Fr. John Waiss

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