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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Is Mary the “Mother of God”?


SUCH a prayer sums up the feelings of millions of men and women devoted to Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. In their eyes she is a kindly mother figure who can intercede for them with God and in some way temper his judgments toward them.

However, is Mary really the “Mother of God”?

Mary—“Highly Favored” by God

Mary was without doubt “highly favored”—more favored, in fact, than any other woman who has ever lived. (Luke 1:28, The Jerusalem Bible) The angel Gabriel appeared to her and explained just how privileged she would be. “Listen!” he said. “You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High.” How was this miraculous event possible? Gabriel continued: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, . . . and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God.”—Luke 1:31, 32, 35, JB.

“‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary, ‘let what you have said be done to me.’” (Luke 1:38, JB) Thus Mary humbly acceded to this divine direction and in time gave birth to Jesus.

During the following several centuries, however, her devotees elevated her from being a lowly “handmaid of the Lord” to the position of “queen mother” with immense influence in the heavens. Church leaders officially proclaimed her “Mother of God” in 431 C.E. at the Council of Ephesus. What triggered this transformation? Pope John Paul II explains one factor: “True devotion to the Mother of God . . . is very profoundly rooted in the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity.”—Crossing the Threshold of Hope.

Therefore, accepting Mary as the “Mother of God” hinges on believing in the Trinity. However, is the Trinity a Bible teaching? Examine, please, what the apostle Peter wrote in the Bible. He warned that “false teachers . . . will subtly introduce dangerous heresies [and] will try to exploit you too with their bogus arguments.” (2 Peter 2:1, 3, The New Testament in Modern English, by J. B. Phillips) One such heresy was the teaching of the Trinity. Once that was accepted, the idea that Mary was the “Mother of God” (Greek: Theotokos, meaning “God-bearer”) was quite logical. In his book The Virgin, Geoffrey Ashe states that “if Christ was God, the Second Person of the Trinity,” as the Trinitarians reasoned, “then his mother in his human manifestation was the Mother of God.”

If Jesus were “God whole and entire,” as the new Catechism of the Catholic Church states, then Mary rightly could be called the “Mother of God.” It must be said, though, that many early Trinitarians found it hard to accept this teaching when it was first proposed—as do Trinitarian Protestants today. It has been called a “devotional paradox, ‘he whom the heavens could not contain was contained in her womb.’” (The Virgin)—Compare 1 Kings 8:27.

But is Jesus Christ really “God whole and entire”? No, he never made that claim. Instead, he always acknowledged his subordinate position to his Father.—See Matthew 26:39; Mark 13:32; John 14:28; 1 Corinthians 15:27, 28.

‘Worship in a Way That Is Worthy of Thinking Beings’

The Bible, however, encourages Christians to use their power of reason in worship. We are not asked to put blind faith in what is clothed as a mystery. Rather, says the apostle Paul, we should ‘worship in a way that is worthy of thinking beings.’—Romans 12:1, JB.

“We were never encouraged to think about it,” says Anne, who was brought up as a Catholic. “We never questioned it. We just believed Jesus was God, so Mary was the ‘Mother of God’—it was the strangest thing!” Remember, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that each member of the “divine Unity” is “God whole and entire.” It states that there are not three separate gods. Should we believe, then, that as the living cells in Mary’s womb divided and redivided, “God whole and entire” was contained within an embryo that during the first month of her pregnancy grew to less than one quarter of an inch in length and had only rudimentary eyes and ears?

Keep in mind that the angel Gabriel told Mary her child was to be called “Son of the Most High” and “Son of God,” not “God the Son.” If, in fact, Jesus were Almighty God, why did the angel Gabriel not use the same term used by Trinitarians today—“God the Son”? Gabriel did not use the term because the teaching is not found in the Bible.

We are limited, of course, in our understanding of the works of God. But proper understanding of the Scriptures helps us to believe that Almighty God, the Creator of all life, had the power miraculously to transfer the life of his beloved Son, Jesus Christ, into the womb of Mary and then to protect its development by means of His active force, or holy spirit, until Mary became the mother of Jesus—the Son of God.

Yes, Mary was greatly blessed as the mother of the one who became the Christ. It is no disrespect to her to accept that the clear teaching of the Bible—including the record of Mary’s own humility—rules out giving her the title “Mother of God.”

- Published by the WTB&TS, 1996


Was Mary always a virgin?

Matt. 13:53-56, JB: “When Jesus had finished these parables he left the district; and, coming to his home town, he taught the people in their synagogue in such a way that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did the man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? This is the carpenter’s son, surely? Is not his mother the woman called Mary, and his brothers [Greek, a‧del‧phoi′] James and Joseph and Simon and Jude? His sisters [Greek, a‧del‧phai′], too, are they not all here with us?’” (On the basis of this text, would you conclude that Jesus was Mary’s only child or that she had other sons as well as daughters?)

The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967, Vol. IX, p. 337) admits regarding the Greek words a‧del‧phoi′ and a‧del‧phai′, used at Matthew 13:55, 56, that these “have the meaning of full blood brother and sister in the Greek-speaking world of the Evangelist’s time and would naturally be taken by his Greek reader in this sense. Toward the end of the 4th century (c. 380) Helvidius in a work now lost pressed this fact in order to attribute to Mary other children besides Jesus so as to make her a model for mothers of larger families. St. Jerome, motivated by the Church’s traditional faith in Mary’s perpetual virginity, wrote a tract against Helvidius (A.D. 383) in which he developed an explanation . . . that is still in vogue among Catholic scholars.”

Mark 3:31-35, JB: “His mother and brothers now arrived and, standing outside, sent in a message asking for him. A crowd was sitting round him at the time the message was passed to him, ‘Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you’. He replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Here a clear distinction is drawn between Jesus’ natural brothers and his spiritual brothers, his disciples. No one claims that the reference to Jesus’ mother means anything different from what it says. Is it consistent, then, to reason that his natural brothers were not that but were perhaps cousins? When what is meant is not brothers but relatives, a different Greek word [syg‧ge‧non′] is used, as at Luke 21:16.)

- Published by the WTB&TS, 1989