HONORING MARY, The Mother of the Savior, in a Truthful and Biblical Way
If there is a topic that provides ongoing division between Protestant and Roman Catholics today it is the topic of the person of Mary.
Catholics are accused of “worshiping her”, Protestants of ignoring her.
Yet, in the Christmas story narrative never before nor after, has any individual been asked to carry out such a Divinely miraculous task as Mary was. To supernaturally conceive a child, who would not only be the Messiah, but God Incarnate, was no small thing.
Beyond the Christmas narrative, we should not forget that she was also given the task to nurse, care for, protect, teach and prepare her Divine Son until He reached adulthood and took on the task that HE was sent to do.
Surely God saw something in Mary above all other women alive at the time. No doubt her obedience and submission pleased God as she cooperated with His plan.
38 Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38
Before I address a sound biblical approach to honoring Mary, I will address some doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church that is troublesome to the rest of Christianity:
- THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
This is the Roman Catholic teaching that Mary (not Jesus) was conceived as a baby without original sin. In a nutshell, that she was born sinless, in a state of full grace.
If a Roman Catholic had to cite a scripture it would be the greeting given to her by the Angel Gabriel in Luke 1:28. The Catholic version of the Bible reads “Hail Mary, full of grace…”
This translation comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible produced by St. Jerome in the 4th century in which “gratia plena” is used in regards to Mary.
Catholic teaching states that since Mary was “full of grace”, then she had to be without sin. The Roman Church takes it further stating that if she was “full of grace” then she was full of grace from the moment of her conception, thus she was “immaculate” at her conception.
Strange that so much could be extracted from a short two word phrase. The problem is that a major doctrine is made from the Latin translation of the original Greek. At that, it is a MIS-translation.
The Greek word used to address Mary is “kexaritomena” and simply means “highly favored” or “made acceptable”. It never means “full of grace”. The expression “full of grace” or “plaras karitas” is used only twice in the New Testament; once concerning Jesus, and once for Stephen at the time he was stoned to death. While we all know Jesus was conceived without sin, no one is using the expression to make the same claim about Stephen.
The NRSV English Greek Reverse Interlinear New Testament, “And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. Luke 1:28
The truth is that scripture says absolutely nothing about an Immaculate Conception of Mary.
Furthermore, the Ante-Nicean Fathers, who wrote profusely in the early church defending the doctrines of the Church teach nothing of a sinless Mary. As the idea began to surface centuries later, great thinkers such as St. Benard Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, John Dun Scotus, all argued against such a teaching.
The tradition was first visited in 1439. Pope Pius IX formulated Catholic teaching on this in 1854. However it was among medieval, Latin monks that this teaching really began to develop.
When traditions contrast with Scripture, then Scripture is the higher authority every time.
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23
10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;” Romans 3:10
Paul the great theologian never provides an exception here. Only Christ is identified in the New Testament as being without sin.
- THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY
This is the teaching that Mary was assumed into Heaven both body and soul at the end of her life on earth. In some Roman Catholic circles, it is taught that she never died, but was assumed into Heaven like Enoch or Elijah. Others believe that she actually died, but like Christ, rose bodily on the 3rd day and was assumed into Heaven.
Scripturally speaking, the Bible backs the possibility of God assuming someone directly into Heaven. He has done it before. However, the scripture gives no evidence whatsoever that this was the case with Mary.
In fact, Mary is never mentioned again after Acts chapter 1. One would think that such a monumental event would have been recorded or referred to by the writers of the New Testament who were writing their epistles long after Mary would have been dead and gone. We have only silence.
Catholics have used Genesis 3:15 for scriptural support. When God promises that through the “seed of the woman” (Jesus) the head of Satan would be crushed, Catholics assert that the woman (Mary) would rightly share in His victory. Such a position of course is stretching a very plain scripture into more than what it is.
During the 6th century there were certain apocryphal books that were circulating with wild stories concerning the death of Mary. Some claimed that at her death, the 12 Apostles were transported to her death bead on pillowy, white clouds. Another story tells of Thomas, who arrived late, went into her tomb, upon opening it found an empty tomb, only Mary’s grave clothes were left behind.
All of the books depicting Mary’s death or resurrection have long been declared apocryphal. However the Eastern churches did adopt the tradition of commemorating her “falling asleep” with a feast day. As the tradition moved West to the Roman church it began to develop into more.
In the 8th century Pope Leo IV declared a feast day. Pope Pius XII declared Mary’s assumption a “divinely revealed dogma” in 1950.
Again, this teaching did not develop from the early Fathers nor from Scripture, but rather is a uniquely Roman Catholic dogma with little to no merit.
- MARY’ PERPETUAL VIRGINITY
This is the teaching that Mary remained a virgin her entire life, never having consummated her marriage with Joseph. Catholic teachers will go as far as saying that when Mary gave birth to Jesus, her womb remained unbroken and intact.
Scripture does first introduce Mary as a virgin.
“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son,” Matthew 1:23
The beauty of the Incarnation is that Mary, a virgin, was overshadowed by the Holy Ghost and conceived. This was miraculous.
The scripture however, never teaches that she remained a virgin the rest of her life. On the contrary, notice the following verses in the Catholic New American Version of the Bible:
“He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.” Matthew 1:25
“Is He not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother named Mary and his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Are not His sisters all with us?” Matthew 13:55-56
It must be pointed out that the expression “to know” is consistent through the Bible to refer to sexual union. To understand it so in all other Biblical references, then dismiss it here is an abandonment of responsible scriptural study.
In addition, the understanding of “marriage” from the earliest of times is that man and woman become “one flesh” once they come together in sexual union. Jewish marriage was not a ceremony conducted by a Rabbi or Priest, but an agreement between two families, which was consummated by the sexual union, followed by celebration.
The verses make sense then that Joseph agreed for her to be his wife, but did not KNOW her until after she gave birth.
The passage in Matthew 13 is clear upon reading it. However, Roman Catholics argue that the word “brothers” is also used for cousin or distant relative. While this may be true, consider this.
Matthew could have used the Greek word for “cousin” (anepsios), but he did not. It would seem if he wanted to emphasize Mary’s perpetual virginity he would have. He could have used the word “suggenes” which means “relative” but he did not.
Matthew used the Greek word “adelphos” which means BROTHER. It makes sense in context since the two people in question , Joseph the carpenter, and Mary his mother are immediate family. It follows that “brothers” would be in associated with the mentioned parents.
The Word “adelphos” is used again when his mother Mary seeks Jesus out along with His “brothers” in Matthew 12.
Why would Catholics redirect scripture to mean something it does not?
Mostly due to an apocryphal book called “The Infancy Gospel of James” which had many alleged details about the life of Mary. It was long rejected as not having been produced by James and marked with contradictions within the text and against the scriptures.
Yet, some of the themes made their way into Roman Catholic thought nonetheless. By the 7th century Roman Catholic councils were affirming the teaching that Mary remained a perpetual virgin.
It should be pointed out that there is nothing heretical about believing that she remained a virgin. It should also be pointed out that if Mary had normal sexual relations with her husband she would have been no less holy as sex within marriage is not sinful.
The bottom line is, earliest Church Fathers asserted the Virgin birth, but not continued virginity. The scripture strongly suggest that Joseph and Mary resumed a normal marital life, as normal as one could raising the Messiah that is.
The three Catholic teachings above have led to other doctrinal conclusions by Roman Catholics such as THE CORONATION, that is the belief that Mary was crowned as Queen of Heaven by the Trinity upon her arrival. Most recently there has been language leaning towards naming Mary as CO-REDEMPTRESS with Christ. This is just a matter of time.
Do non-Catholics need to shun everything Mary in order to avoid falling into excessive glorification of her? Absolutely not.
Like all of the Old and New Testament saints, we can look at her with admiration. We can use her obedience as an illustration and example for our own lives.
We can also be sure that her reward must be great for her obedient act and servanthood to Christ as His earthly mother.
We can say she was highly favored. We can acknowledge that she was blessed among women. We can be thankful that she said “yes” to the amazing plan of God.