Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was a great person. She was a devout Jewish woman who miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit gave birth to the world’s Savior, while she was still a virgin. (Matthew 1:18-25) Jesus obeyed his mother as a child and honored her, as he became a man. (Luke 2:51; John 19:26,27) All that the Bible says about her is true. However, some people through the years have come to believe many things about Mary which are purely fictional. In this paper I am going to examine the teachings of the Catholic church regarding Mary. They teach several doctrines about Mary that are not based upon the Bible but are based upon their own tradition. It is helpful to know that they believe that the teachings of the pope and the bishops (called the magisterium), are guided and protected from error by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they believe that their words are infallible. Furthermore, the Catholics believe that God also speaks to the church through tradition. They believe these oral teachings began with Jesus and include the teachings of the 21 general (ecumenical) councils and the teachings of the “church fathers”. They believe like three legs on a stool that the bible, tradition, and the magisterium are all necessary to guarantee sound doctrine. However, those of us who simply want to follow the bible alone as sole authority disagree with their conclusions. They actually teach that the “bible alone theory” was not believed by any one in the early church. But that it is a new idea only since the Protestant Reformation. They actually believe that using the “Bible alone” is a false idea.
However, the Bible itself refutes this Catholic dogma. (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5,6; Mark 7:1-23; Matthew 15:1-20; Colossians 2:8,9; Acts 17:11; Galatians 1:6-10; II Timothy 3:16,17; Jude 3; Revelation 22:18,19) The bible is sufficient to guide us to all truth. Therefore, I want to compare and contrast some traditions of the Catholic church about Mary with what the bible says about her.
The Perpetual Virginity of Mary
Catholic dogma: “Mary conceived and gave birth to her Son without any damage to her virginity and she remained a virgin also after the birth.”1 (Denzenger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum)
The perpetual virginity of Mary is a major doctrine of the Catholic church. While the Scriptures clearly teach the virgin birth of Jesus, they do not support the idea that Mary was always a virgin. For example, in Matthew 13:55-56 we read:55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” According to the logical sense of the text it must be accepted that those brothers and sisters were children of Mary and Joseph. However, the theory of Jerome, followed by the Roman Catholic church is that they were simply cousins of Jesus. Aniceto M. Sparagna has done some worth while research in the original languages concerning the different words for brothers and cousins.
1Gerald Paden, Teachings of Catholism Examined , (Lubbock: Sunset Extension School) , 26.
“We do not deny that sometimes the Hebrew word for “brother” can have several meanings, but here the question of the language is excluded, because the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the apostle Paul have written in Greek, a language absolutely precise, and they have all called these supposed cousins “the brethren of the Lord.” Did not they understand the distinction between the Greek term “anepsious” (cousin) and “adelphos” (brother)? It is impossible to believe such a thing when we know that Paul writing about Mark called him a cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), while speaking about James called him the brother of the Lord (Galatians 1:19). How is it then that they were so confused about such an important matter? But, fortunately for the church of Christ, the confusion is only on the side of Jerome and Roman Catholics who wanted at all costs to build up the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity.”2
From what I have been able to discover, Jerome’s theory was his own private theory, unheard of until his time, and in later days declared even by himself to be doubtful. It needs to be said here that there is nothing unholy about Mary and Joseph having intercourse. How could there be? Marriage was designed by God, with sex as one of its blessings. (I Corinthians 7:1-5) The notion of marriage without sex is the opposite of what the Scriptures teach. In the Old Testament the Patriarch’s were married and had children (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). The priest’s who served in the tabernacle and the temple were married and had children as well. (Luke 1:5-25)
2Aniceto M. Sparagna, Personal Evangelism Among Roman Catholics (Joplin: College Press, 1955), 184,85
However, the Bible is careful to point out that while Mary and Joseph lived together as husband and wife during her pregnancy with Jesus, they had no sexual relations until after Jesus was born. Here is the testimony of Matthew 1:24,25:
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Furthermore, according to the earliest “fathers of the church” Jesus did have physical brothers.
“Hegesippus, a Palestinian Christian Jew of the middle of the second century, in fragments of his writing preserved in Eusebius (Hist.Eccl.,2,23) speaks of James as the “brother of the Lord’ and of Jude “called his brother according to the flesh.” Likewise Tertullian (180) plainly affirmed that the “brethren of the Lord” signified sons of Joseph and Mary, born after Jesus.”3
Mary was a virgin before the birth of Jesus and she did conceive by virtue of the Holy Spirit. However, after Jesus’ birth she lived as a normal Jewish wife and she and Joseph had several other children. (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 6:1-5; John 7:2,3,5,10; Galatians 1:18-20; I Corinthians 9:3-5) The Catholic Church can not defend its doctrine about the perpetual virginity of Mary from the Bible; it must go outside the word of God, and as a result it ends up with a doctrine that contradicts the word of God.
3Sparagna, Personal Evangelism. , 186
Catholic dogma: On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX issued the following decree: “We, by the authority of Jesus Christ, our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles, Peter and Paul and by our Own, declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by singular privilege and grace of the omnipotent God, in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind was preserved free from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore is to be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.”4
The evidence that the Catholics use to support this position is Luke 1:28.
28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
They teach that the expression highly favored is an allusion to her sinlessness. Some translations rather than saying highly favored say full of grace. However, our relationship with God results from God being gracious to us. Therefore we are all-full of grace. (Ephesians 1:5-8) The Immaculate Conception set forth by Pope Pius IX was an unknown doctrine to his predecessors. Moreover, sin is not something inherited it is something done. The problem is not inheriting original sin but becoming lawbreakers ourselves. Ezekiel 18:20 says this:
20 The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.
4Tony Coffee, Once A Catholic (Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1993), 114.
Jesus upheld the purity and innocence of little children. (Matthew 18:3-6; Matthew 19:14) Furthermore, no verse of the Bible can be quoted to show that Mary was even conceived miraculously. The bible excludes any idea that any one with the exception of Jesus is without sin.
10 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
I John 1:8
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
Add to this the testimony of Mary. It is important how she mentions the name of God in Luke 1:46,47:
46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
On the testimony of Mary’s own words, she acknowledges her need for a Savior. Therefore, the Immaculate Conception of Mary is a myth that was invented hundreds of years after Mary’s death. Teaching that Mary was sinless is an effort to raise her above human standards to the level of Deity. Exalting Mary above all of God’s creatures is a way to having Mary dispense graces in behalf of her devotees. These ideas contribute to some viewing her as a co-redeemer of the Human race, and participating with her Son in ruling the world.
The Bodily Assumption of Mary
Catholic Dogma: “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, persevered free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her by her son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.”5
The resurrection of Jesus and his body being taken into heaven is where Christians of any generation need to find their hope. For example the apostle Paul said these words in I Corinthians 15:20-23:
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
This is a provision established by God for all humanity. How can Mary be exempted? In reading the Scriptures, we find no mention of the Assumption of Mary’s body into heaven. Obviously it was not part of anything that Jesus ever taught, nor was it a doctrine ever believed by the apostles. If these dogmas about Mary are ordained by God for Christians, why did not Paul, or Peter or one of the other inspired writers not say something about them?
5Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Doubleday, 1995) , 274
However, on the day of Pentecost, Peter proclaimed that Jesus had risen in victory from the dead and had ascended to the Father’s right hand in heaven.
29 “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day.
30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.
31 Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. (Acts 2:29-31)
Unlike Christ’s body, all other human bodies will undergo decay when we die. Every doctrine of the early church is firmly rooted in Scripture. If Mary’s body was taken directly into heaven it would have been recorded in Scripture – like that of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Moreover, this doctrine contradicts some old tradition in the Catholic church like that expressed by the Monk Sophronius when he wrote about Mary from Jerusalem: “Many of us doubt whether she was assumed together with her body or departed without her body. How, or when, or by whom her most holy body was taken there, or where it was taken, or whether it rose again, is not known.”6
It is obvious that the Roman church will contradict some of its own traditions. It is also obvious that there is some weaknesses in their arguments about “an unbroken chain of tradition all the way back to apostolic times.
6Sparagna, Personal Evangelism. , 204
Mary as a mediator
Catholic dogma: “Mary is the perfect Orans (prayer), a figure of the church. When we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends his Son to save all men. Like the beloved disciples we welcome Jesus’ mother into our homes, for she has become the mother of all living. We can pray with and to her. The prayer of the church is sustained by the prayer of Mary and united with it in hope.7
Catholics pray to Mary and believe that she is a Mediatrix between God and mankind. However, in I Timothy 2:5, the apostle Paul says:
5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
The Bible also tells us that Jesus is adequate to meet all of our needs as our Advocate. Hebrews 7:23-25 says:
23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office;
24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.
25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
I John 2:1,2 should also be considered:
1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
7Catechism. , 706
When we pray we do not have to pray to Mary or any one else. To pray to any other mediator is false worship. There is nothing that Mary can do for us that Jesus has not already promised to do. Why do we need the intercession of Mary when we have the following promises from Jesus in Matthew 7:7-11?
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?
10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?
11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Jesus also had a lot to say about the traditions of men in Mark 7:1-8
7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and
2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed.
3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders.
4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
We should not simply accept traditions if they are not firmly backed by Scripture.
I have compared traditional Catholic dogmas about Mary with scripture in this paper.
It is my purpose to remind any one who reads this that we can not find in this world an authority greater than God and his inspired word. Titus 1:2 says that God can not lie. Therefore, if we find the Bible saying one thing and tradition saying something else, the only safe thing to do is rely on the sole authority of the word of God. The worship that some give Mary is nothing more than idolatry and detracts from the true worship that we must offer to heavenly Father and His Son.
The Bible. New International Version.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. (New York: Doubleday), 1995
Coffee, Tony. Once A Catholic. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 1993
Paden, Gerald. Teachings of Catholism. Lubbock: Sunset Extension School
Pillar of Fire Pillar of Truth. San Diego: Catholic Answers, 1993
Sparagna, Aniceto. Personal Evangelism Among Catholics. Joplin: College
BY: Jim Crisp