In Part 1 of my defense of the Immaculate Conception, I presented Mary as the “woman” from Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12 who is at enmity with the devil. I would like to turn now to the scriptural evidence that points to Mary as the “Ark of the New Covenant.”
The Ark of the Covenant
Another indication of Mary’s sinlessness can be found in the parallel between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant from the Old Testament:
- Luke 1:28,31,42,45,48 (DRB) and Psalms 93:5: Mary was a house of the Lord, and the house of the Lord is forever holy.
- Luke 1:35 and Exodus 40:35: God overshadowed Mary just as He overshadowed the ark.
- Luke 1:39 and 2 Samuel 6:2: Both Mary and the ark arise and go to Judah.
- Luke 1:41 and 2 Samuel 6:16: David leaps with joy at the presence of the ark, just as John leaps at the presence of Mary.
- Luke 1:43 and 2 Samuel 6:9: What David says at the coming of the ark is almost exactly what Elizabeth says upon the coming of Mary.
- Luke 1:56 and 2 Samuel 6:11: Both Mary and the ark reside for 3 months in their new locations.
- Hebrews 9:4 and John 1:1; 6:51; Hebrews 5:4-5: Just as the ark of the Old Covenant contained the word of God on the stone tablets, the manna from heaven, and the rod of Aaron the great High Priest, so did Mary contain Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God, the Manna from Heaven, and the great High Priest.
If that weren’t enough to establish Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, there is a very interesting word from Luke 1:42 that further confirms this. Notice that when Elizabeth saw Mary for the first time, Elizabeth “exclaimed” with a loud cry. This seems hardly worth noting until you look at the Greek word that Luke decided to use here. ἀναφωνέω (transliterated: anaphōneō), is used only once in the entire New Testament and it’s right here in Luke 1:42. Its presence in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint) is likewise sparse, appearing only five times. Why is this important? Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch explain:
[E]very time the expression is used in the Old Testament, it forms part of the stories surrounding the Ark of the Covenant. In particular, it refers to the melodic sounds made by Levitical singers and musicians when they glorify the Lord in song. It thus describes the “exulting” voice of instruments that were played before the Ark as David carried it in procession to Jerusalem (1 Chron 15:28; 16:4-5) and as Solomon transferred the Ark to its final resting place in the Temple (2 Chron 5:13). Alluding to these episodes, Luke connects this same expression with the melodic cry of another Levitical descendant, the aged Elizabeth (Lk 1:5). She too lifts up her voice in liturgical praise, not before the golden chest, but before Mary. (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, “The Gospel of Luke,” pg. 21).
But what does “Mary as Ark” have to do with her sinlessness, her immaculate conception? Don’t forget: the tablets, the manna, and the priestly rod that were contained in the Ark were the holiest of all Jewish relics and represented the very presence of God to the Jewish people. As such, the container or “ark” that held them had to be made of the purest and most perfect materials. The ark itself was considered so holy that no one was allowed to even touch it, lest they die (cf. 2 Samuel 6:7; 1 Chronicles 13:9-10).
Just as the contents of the old covenant ark demanded a perfectly pure container, so does Christ, not as a matter of strict necessity (God could have took on human flesh from any woman) but because His holiness demands and deserves it. By preserving Mary from sin, God has prepared her to be the pure Ark of the New Covenant.
In Part 3, I will examine the salutation of Gabriel and what it means that Mary is “full of grace.”