Truth for Today

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The Cult of Mary

by Rev. David Blunt

We hear much about the "cults" and their beliefs but there is one cult which is often overlooked. Found chiefly among Roman Catholics is a cult of gigantic proportion and worldwide scope; the worship of Mary. The present Pope has been noted for his allegiance to Mary and steps are now being taken to 'beatify' the two Portuguese children to whom she is supposed to have appeared at Fatima in 1917.

To some Protestants 'Mariolatry' is a harmless, even admirable, form of devotion which encourages the virtues of charity and humility among its followers. To those who know their Bibles and their history it is a devilish snare which keeps many poor souls from seeking the Saviour.

In this series of articles we compare Romanist teaching regarding Mary with what we find in the Scriptures. First, we look at what Romanism teaches concerning the advent and birth of Mary. Whereas the Scripture of Truth is silent on these things, Rome has developed beliefs, taught doctrines and proclaimed dogmas regarding them. Second, we bring the biblical witness to bear upon the Roman Catholic views of Mary as the Mother of God, Mary having a role in salvation and Mary as perpetual virgin. Thirdly, we note Rome's teaching on Mary's death and present existence. While a physical translation from this world to the next is not unknown to Scripture, it is not so with respect to Mary; the Bible also opposes any idea that Mary is to be worshipped or used as a mediator.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard in three parts: Issue No. 18, April-June 2000, Issue No. 19 July-September 2000, and Issue No. 20 October-December 2000.


T HE Marian doctrine is one of the most distinctive tenets of the Roman Catholic faith. Millions of its adherents view the Virgin Mary as a 'goddess' who is effectively added to the glorious Trinity, even supplanting the three divine Persons. In the Protestant argument with Rome therefore we must address the subject of the historical life of the mother of Christ: does Scripture provide any basis for the fantastic claims of Rome?

Biblical Theology and Romanist Belief

In comparing the Bible's doctrine of the mother of Christ with that of the Church of Rome, it is vital to grasp the difference in the method by which belief is derived in true, historic Christianity and in Romanism.

A truly Biblical theology begins with exegesis of the relevant passages of Scripture. Biblical theology differs from systematic theology in that the principle of organising the material is historical rather than logical. It takes into account the progressive nature of Biblical revelation. It attempts to enter into the outlook of the authors and to get the perspective of the truth as presented to them.

Once revelation had ceased, the church was bound to organise in a systematic way her understanding of the Bible's contents. Scripture says that the substance of what we are to believe has been "once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). Now that the canon is closed there is no room for development and additions to the body of our Faith. The watchword of Protestantism is "semper reformanda " – "always reforming" (in the light of the completed revelation of Scripture). The church formulates her doctrine by searching the Word of God, and refines it over the centuries by further study, but she does not add new doctrines to her creed. The Bible is our sole rule of faith and life; the church submits to the authority of Scripture, and not vice versa.

The nature of belief in the Church of Rome is markedly different from the above. Dr. Hugh Farrell, a former Carmelite monk, gave a very helpful description, from which we quote at some length:

"In the Roman Catholic Church there are roughly three levels of belief. Pious belief is the simplest sort. An example of pious belief is the vision of 'Our Lady of Fatima' during World War l, in Portugal. Mary supposedly appeared to three children and made marvellous promises. People flock to Fatima and claim all kinds of miracles, but not a single Roman Catholic is compelled or required to believe in it. That is pious belief.

The second grade or level is that of doctrine. Now this may or may not be believed. The teaching about the assumption of the body of the blessed virgin into heaven used to be doctrine. For five hundred years up to 1950 it had been a teaching in the Roman Catholic Church, but if you did not believe in it you did not sin, for it was doctrine. However, from midnight on November 1st. 1950, this doctrine became dogma through the proclamation of the Pope that day.

Since that day any Roman Catholic who does not positively and emphatically believe that Mary's physical body never suffered corruption in the grave, and was carried by the angels to heaven to be together with the physical body of Christ, is in mortal sin and is a heretic.

That is dogma. And the Roman Catholic Church cannot change dogma since it is infallible. The Roman Catholic Church can bring pious belief up to the level of doctrine and it can re-express and re-classify doctrine.

The Pope could tomorrow state that he hoped the Roman Catholic world would believe in the vision of Fatima and Roman Catholics would then have to decide one way or the other, but they would be bound to try and believe in it. The Pope would have elevated it from pious belief to doctrine.

If he went further and proclaimed that Mary definitely had appeared at Fatima, then all Roman Catholics would have to believe that. They would have to believe that Mary appeared and that she stopped the sun in the sky, and so forth. And once this teaching was elevated to dogma, that could never be changed." [1]

The watchword of Romanism, given the above, is the misleading " semper idem " – "always the same". Each new dogmatic decree of the Pope is irreformable, regardless of the witness of Scripture. Moreover it is not the Bible alone from which Roman dogma is derived. The documents of the Second Vatican Council (1965) are especially relevant here. The following two passages are from the Section on Divine Revelation :

"Hence, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal feelings of devotion and reverence." (Article 9)

"Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church. The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone." (Article 10)

In this way Rome inseparably links Scripture with tradition, and both to the teaching authority of the Church. The censure of Christ upon the scribes and Pharisees of His day may be applied to Rome: "Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition...Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered" (Mark 7:9, 13).

What does the Bible actually teach concerning Mary – her advent, birth, life, death and present existence? And what does the Roman Church teach on these same things?

1. Mary's Advent

It is right to begin here. We believe that the Old Testament is full of plain references and clear allusions to the coming Messiah. His person and His work are graphically portrayed by the prophets. They were privileged to record His eternal Sonship and complete manhood, His humble birth and cruel death, His divinely-appointed mission and its successful accomplishment, hundreds of years before the actual fulfilment of these things. The writers of the New Testament saw in the life and death of Jesus Christ the fulfilment of these prophecies.

It is commonly asserted by Roman Catholic authorities that Mary is the greatest of all creatures, the chiefest of God's people. Extraordinary claims are made for the quality and impact of her life. Is it not very strange then that Mary receives such minimal attention from the Old Testament prophets?

There are a number of references to the birth of the Saviour in the Old Testament, but the writers always concentrate on the baby who is to be born, not on His mother. Of the mother we learn that she is to be distinguished by the remarkable fact of her virginity (Isa. 7:14; Jer. 31:22). Of her own birth, life and death we are told precisely nothing. The prophets tell us more about the life and work of John the Baptist (Isa. 40:3; Mal. 3:1; 4:5, 6) and even of Judas Iscariot (Psa. 41:9; 69:25; 109:7, 8; Zech. 11:13) than of Mary.

Perhaps conscious of this lack, Rome has deliberately corrupted the text which contains the first precious promise of a Saviour. This was announced immediately after man's rebellion. Moses recorded those words of deliverance and hope for sinners spoken by God to the arch-enemy of mankind: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel" (Gen. 3:15).

Romanist translations of the Bible, such as the Douay Version, replace the words "it shall bruise" with " she shall crush", and "his heel" with " her heel". These perversions are not to be found anywhere in either the Hebrew manuscripts or the Septuagint. Footnotes and the writings of Roman apologists refer the words of the mutilated text to Mary. She is thus credited with the work of redemption. The present author has seen the same thing in Roman Catholic (and even in an Anglican) places of worship; a statue of Mary with her foot resting upon a serpent's head!

There have been further attempts by Romanist writers to affix Old Testament passages to Mary, such as Psalm 45:9 and Proverbs 31:28. A certain St. John Damascene saw Mary symbolised by the ark, and claimed that the furniture of the tabernacle prefigured her! The worst perversions are surely those of Bonaventura and Ligouri, the latter regarded as the prince of moral theologians in the Roman Church. These either turned the Psalms into hymns of praise to Mary or removed the name of God and substituted that of Mary.[2] No language is too strong in condemnation of such blasphemy.

Mary's Birth

There is no Scripture reference to the birth of Mary, although it is maintained by some that Luke derives his genealogy of the Saviour from Mary rather than Joseph, tracing her pedigree from Nathan, son of David (Luke 3:31). However, it is to this point that the Roman Church looks as she defines her dogma known as the Immaculate Conception. Promulgated by Pope Pius IX on 8th December 1854, this new teaching stated:

"The Most Holy Virgin Mary was, in the first moment of her conception, by a unique gift of grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Redeemer of mankind, preserved free from all stain of original sin."[3]

From that date this teaching was to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful. The Papal Bull in which the decree is contained cites two passages of Scripture only to support this doctrine.[4] The first passage is Genesis 3:15, which has been commented upon already. The Roman interpretation would have Christ and Mary as joint-victors over the devil. As there has always been an absolute enmity between the seed of the woman, Christ, and the seed of the serpent, that enmity being sin, so, the reasoning goes, there must always have been a like enmity between Mary and Satan. Thus Mary was never under the stain of any sin whatsoever. This is the same thing as saying that she was conceived immaculate. This interpretation is quite baseless because, if for no other reason, it rests on a false rendering of the Hebrew, as was shown before.

The second passage is Luke 1:28. The angel Gabriel comes to Mary saying literally: "Greetings, favoured one!" The word comes from the verb χαριτοω, which indicates "to bestow favour". The Authorised Version gives "highly favoured" in the text, with the marginal alternatives "graciously accepted" and "much graced". The Douay Version prefers "full of grace", following the Latin Vulgate's rendering "gratia plena ". The suggestion is that Mary herself is a bestower of grace. It is said that:

" this singular and solemn salutation is shown that the Mother of God is the seal of all divine graces, and adorned with all the gifts of the Holy Ghost."[5]

In fact the greeting indicates that Mary has been particularly favoured by God; He has already chosen her to be the mother of the Christ. Scripture gives its own commentary in the angel's words of comfort to the astonished woman: "Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour [lit. 'grace'] with God." The phrase emphasises the unqualified choice of God.

To infer from the fact of Mary being a special object of divine favour that she is therefore sinless is absurd. The same verb is used in Ephesians 1:6: "To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved." The Douay Version here gives " which he hath graced us in his beloved Son." Neither the Ephesians nor any other believers would assert from the wonderful fact that God has 'graced us' in Christ that we were therefore immune from sin, and more, had never sinned. The Ephesians and all other Christians were once "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). Interestingly, although John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb (Luke 1:15) we find that the Church of Rome makes no claims of sinlessness for him.

In his first epistle the apostle John denounces both the claim to present perfection ("If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" – 1:8); and the assertion of immaculate conception ("If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" – 1:10). Grace in Scripture, where Adam's fallen sons are concerned, is the unmerited favour of God given to hell-deserving sinners, who deserve eternal punishment through original and personal transgression of the law of God. The most sanctified of saints on earth may say only this: "We are unprofitable ['useless, worthless'] servants: we have done that which was our duty to do" (Luke 17:10).

A third verse claimed as evidence for the sinlessness of the mother of Jesus is Luke 1:42. Elisabeth, the mother-to-be of John the Baptist, greets Mary her cousin: "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." It is said that the similarity in the words directed to the mother and to her child indicate that Mary shares the sinlessness of her son.[6]

What is it that is "blessed" about Mary? The word used is the one from which we obtain our English word 'eulogy', and here it signifies "one provided with benefits" (by God). Though the mother of Jesus is here distinguished from other women, yet nothing unique is conferred upon Mary's character, for in one place in the Bible the word is applied to all the people of God (Matt. 25:34).

There is a second word, μακαριοζ, referring to Mary which is also translated "blessed" in the AV (Luke 1:45, 48). It is very similar in meaning to the one previously considered and is used widely in the New Testament to describe the gracious state of the believer, especially in the Beatitudes. The picture is even more clear that Mary was merely the recipient of a particular grace of God.

Mary's own reaction to the amazing tidings concerning her confirms this. She speaks of her "low estate" or "meanness" which the Lord has pitied (v.48). How far from the demigod status she is accorded by Rome! Finally, as though Scripture had anticipated the error regarding the person of Mary, we have the following judgment of our Lord:

"And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it" (Luke 11:27, 28).

This teaching of the Church of Rome concerning the so-called Immaculate Conception is dangerous, because it strikes a blow at the unique sinlessness of Christ, who alone could say, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" (John 8:46); and because it exalts depraved human nature to an unwarrantable position. Scripture asserts the universal corruption of mankind (Rom. 3:10; 3:23; 5:12). The Shorter Catechism Q.16 asks: "Did all mankind fall in Adam's first transgression?" and gives the answer:

"The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression."

The Lord Jesus Christ alone was "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners" (Heb. 7:26). He was so by virtue of His unique conception and birth. No human father was involved (Matt. 1:18; Luke 1:34). The Roman Church does not say other than that Mary was a product of "ordinary generation". To maintain then that Mary was preserved from all sin by way of her extraordinary "Immaculate Conception" is in fact to raise more questions than are answered. What of her parents (about whom Scripture is silent)? If they partook of the common sinfulness of mankind, how were they able to produce a sinless child? "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one" (Job 14:4). Only in the conception of the eternal Son of God in the womb of His mother do we read of the special intervention of God the Holy Spirit, by-passing the normal method of reproduction, leading to a unique birth (Luke 1:35).

Perhaps the best response to Roman Catholic claims is the words and actions of Mary herself. Her immediate reply to Elisabeth's greeting is: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour" (Luke 1:46, 47). In her speech, Mary acknowledges God as her personal Saviour. It is only sinners who require a Saviour. At this point we see the absurd position which Rome puts herself in by rejecting the plain teaching of Scripture. A Roman Catholic author tries to deal with this text:

"Mary, like all of us, was a child of Adam or fallen human nature. Therefore she too needed to be redeemed, in the strictest sense of the word, by the Redeemer of the human race....Mary too was saved by Christ's redemption. Only she was saved, we shall see, in a higher way, by being preserved from the fall and its consequences, while we are saved after we have incurred the effects of the fall."

Such reasoning surely ranks alongside the best (or worst) examples of Jesuitical thinking! How can a person be redeemed from sin that was never imputed, from sin that was never committed, from sin that never existed? This is a riddle that the author of the above shirks from attempting to solve!

Mary no doubt now understood that she was to be the mother of the One who would be the long-promised Messiah. She shows an awareness of the Old Testament promises (Luke 1:54, 55). Her attitude is one of humble rejoicing at the marvellous grace of God. Further evidence of Mary's actual (sinful) state comes with the birth of her child. She willingly attends the temple to offer the sacrifice prescribed in the Levitical law for the purification of a woman after childbirth (Luke 2:22-24). In Leviticus 12:6, 7 this is clearly said to be a sin offering, the priest offering the sacrifice before the Lord to make an atonement for the woman.

2. Mary's Life

It is a notable fact that the Scriptures are virtually silent concerning Mary, except when in connection with our Lord Jesus Christ. The only exception to this rule is Acts 1:14, which is after the ascension of Christ. She is not mentioned once in the Epistles of the New Testament. This contrasts markedly with the position she is accorded in the Roman system.

The Scriptural account begins with her espousal to Joseph, the details of her pregnancy and the birth of her son. In simple form the visits of the shepherds and wise men to the child are described. The presentation of Jesus to the Lord in the temple indirectly indicates the mean origins of His mother. His parents cannot bring a firstling lamb for a burnt offering as the law stipulated, and so bring a pair of birds instead, as the code allowed in such a case (Lev. 12:8). The flight into Egypt and return to Nazareth are then recorded.

When her son is twelve years of age, Mary has cause to marvel at His extraordinary wisdom, as He engages in discussion with the Jewish theologians in the temple at the occasion of the Passover. It is apparent that she does not yet comprehend the nature of her son's mission (Luke 2:46-50). Mary is present at Jesus' first miracle, but it is as if now that He has begun His public ministry, no-one must detract from Him. Thus her last recorded words point all who hear them to Christ: "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it" (John 2:5). The next encounter is midway through the ministry of the Lord, when Mary and the brothers of Jesus desire to speak to Him while He is busy teaching large crowds. The terms of our Lord's response to their request again intimate that Mary has not yet fully grasped the role her son is fulfilling (Matt. 12:46-50).

The last mention of Mary in the Gospels is at Calvary, where she is standing by the cross. There Jesus in His dying agony lovingly commends her to John's care, and she continues with the band of disciples (Acts 1:14).

Not a single Scripture would indicate any special prominence for Mary during our Lord's earthly life, or at the outset of the New Testament church. She is notable rather by her absence from the drama as it unfolds. Not a single word spoken by Mary herself would suggest to the impartial reader that she understood herself to possess any of the attributes or functions ascribed to her by the Church of Rome. The portrait the Bible sketches is of a simple and humble Jewish woman, with the common frailties of fallen human nature, who was ennobled by the grace of God to fulfil a unique function to the glory of God.

There are three prominent aspects of the Roman doctrine of Mary that should be evaluated by Scripture here:

A. Mother of God?

One of the many titles the Church of Rome attaches to Mary is "Mother of God". The following passage from the Acts of Vatican I (1870) was referred to with approval by the Second Vatican Council (1965):

"From this wonderful union of the Godhead with human nature in the one (person) of Christ, it follows that the holy and immaculate Mary ever Virgin is called, and strictly and truly is, Mother of God, because He who is truly God, took flesh from her and was born from her."

The phrase "Mother of God" indeed has an honourable background. It arose in the 5th century as orthodox Fathers sought to assert the deity of Christ over against the heretical Nestorian sect, who so separated the two natures in Christ that they held our Lord to have a dual personality. In order to emphasise the fact that the one person born to Mary was truly God, she was called "the Mother of God" (θεοτοκος).[7]

The meaning intended is quite clear. Mary was honoured to be the mother, according to the human nature only, of the person Jesus Christ, of whom Paul says "God was manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16). Such is the union of the two natures in Christ, that:

"...the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition or confusion" (of the two distinct natures) ( Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch.8:ii).

As used and understood in the Roman system however, the title has been divorced from its original context. It is no longer used as a bulwark against christological heresies, but rather to magnify the status of our Lord's mother. She is now the focus of attention, not her son. But it is simply impossible for the eternal, uncreated God to have a mother. Jesus said in defence of His own deity, "Before Abraham was [and therefore before Mary also], I am " (John 8:58). The Son of God made Mary, and not the other way round. "...all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist" (Col. 1:16,17).

The New Testament studiously avoids the title. Elisabeth, moved by the Holy Spirit, calls Mary "the mother of my Lord" (Luke 1:43); John in his Gospel calls her "the mother of Jesus" (John 2:1).

Finally, and as if in direct rebuke to Romanism's exaggerated idea of Mary's status, the Holy Spirit has nowhere left us a record of Christ speaking to Mary as "mother". He always addresses her as "woman", and that sometimes in a manner that contains a hint of correction (John 2:4). In the Greek this form of address does not itself imply reproof or severity, but respect (Matt. 15:28).[8] By this address we are shown Christ's unique Sonship and independence of Mary. [9] The Lord Jesus denied the right of anyone or anything, including the natural ties of flesh and blood, to interfere with His mission on earth. He regarded spiritual affinity with Himself as of far greater worth even than the bonds of family kinship (Matt. 12:48-50). It is Christ, not His mother, who has been given "a name which is above every name" (Phil. 2:9).

B. A Role in Salvation?

Closely linked with her role as mother of our Lord, there is a claim in Roman Catholicism that Mary is also concerned with our salvation. The following passage from a commentary on Vatican II is typical:

"The mother God chose was a virgin. 'How can this be because I know not a man' she asked (Luke 1:34); her consent had therefore first to be obtained for the intention of becoming incarnate to save us. God, who made men free, never infringes their liberty but allows them freedom of choice, though it lead to their rejection of Him. Mary then, on receiving the explanation that the Incarnation would come about by the power of the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:35) gave her consent to the divine plan. 'Behold in me,' she said, 'the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word' (Luke 1:38).

We can see therefore that Mary by this act of her will became a co-operator with God in the work of our redemption. She became an instrument used by God for that work. And the important point is that she was not a blind instrument but a willing one; she freely chose to work with God for our salvation. For this reason it may be said, and in fact is said by the Fathers as we shall see, that we owe our salvation in a way to her. True, we are saved by Christ, but because we owe Christ to Mary and her consent, we owe our salvation in this respect to her. Or, in other words, Mary by becoming mother of the Redeemer became mother of those He came to redeem."

In similar vein, a recent Pope (Paul VI) extended this role of Mary throughout her life:

"It was in answer to her motherly prayer in Cana of Galilee that her Only-begotten worked that miracle by which 'His disciples came to believe in Him' (John 2:11). It was she who...offered Him on Golgotha to the Eternal Father...on behalf of all Adam's descendants besmirched by Adam's fall. It was Mary who, by her powerful intercession, obtained for the newly founded Church that prodigious outpouring of the divine Redeemer's Spirit on the day of Pentecost."

Here is the rotten fruit of the sort of 'free-will' theology that has prevailed in the Roman Catholic Church with the rise of the Jesuit party, triumphing at the First Vatican Council of 1870. This system of doctrine is known as 'semi-pelagianism'. It acknowledges that man's moral nature is diseased, by inheritance from Adam, and that this is the root of sin in the creature. No man therefore can keep God's revealed will unaided. But man can and must begin to act obediently, at which point God instantly grants the necessary gracious assistance.[10] The initiative is man's, and so must be praiseworthy and meritorious.

The contrast with the teaching of Scripture and the Reformed Confessions could not be more apparent. There "Salvation is of the LORD" (Jon. 2:9), from its inception to its completion, because it is by His grace alone. It is God's grace that secures man's co-operation, and not vice-versa. As the "Immaculate Conception" has been demonstrated to be but a fable, so must any idea of Mary contributing in any way to the salvation of God's elect. This work is sacred, and, like the ark of the covenant, no human hand may assist it in its progress (2 Sam. 6:6, 7).

Mary is not "Co-Redemptrix", but God's sovereignly-appointed and sovereignly-equipped agent in the fulfilment of His purposes, clay in the hands of the Divine Potter. Like others of sinful mankind, Mary, as a converted sinner, had been freed by God from her enslavement to sin. The grace of God alone enabled her freely to will and to do that which was spiritually good during her life (Phil. 2:12,13). Mary's response of faith (Luke 1:38) to the angel Gabriel's announcement that she is to bear a son is preceded by the angel's declaration of how it will take place (Luke 1:35): its accomplishment is not suspended upon Mary's exercise of will, but is guaranteed by the sovereign power of the Spirit. After her pregnancy has begun, Mary traces the event not to her own compliance with the will of God, but to His working alone: "For he that is mighty hath done to me great things" (Luke 1:49).

Christ did not require the assistance of His mother in winning salvation for His people. He "....offered himself without spot to God" (Heb. 9:14). Concerning Pentecost, Peter is reminded by the events, not of the prayers of Mary, but of the promise of Christ: "Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and receiving of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he (Christ) hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear" (Acts 2:33).

C. Perpetual Virginity?

In a "Profession of Faith" delivered in 1968, Pope Paul VI began a section on Mary with the following:

"We believe that the Blessed Mary, who ever enjoys the dignity of virginity...."

No Scripture references were given in this section. We might say that there are none which could be given.

The Roman Church of course has something of an obsession with the idea that the virginal state is more worthy than the married one, imposing this upon her so-called priests and nuns. This is despite the clear warning of Scripture that enforced celibacy is one of the marks of the apostasy to be expected in the last days (1 Tim. 4:1-3). Given the dogma of the Immaculate Conception already discussed, the idea of Mary continuing a virgin is presumably regarded as the necessary consequence of and the safeguard of her supposed sinlessness. In the Bible however, marriage is everywhere presented as a perfectly honourable and healthy state for all conditions of men (Heb. 13:4).

What then was the course of Mary's life after she had given birth to the Son of God? This is a question which has divided even godly Protestants. Were further children born to her? Some have held that the "brethren" of our Lord mentioned in the New Testament were the children of Joseph by a previous marriage, brought up by Mary. Others, including Augustine, Zwingli and Ryle, believe that they were no more than Christ's cousins or other relations. A third view regards them as true brothers of Jesus, born to Mary through her marriage to Joseph.

It may be seen that the first two options leave open the possibility at least that Mary remained a perpetual virgin, although if this were the case then her marriage to Joseph was a quite unnatural and abnormal one. Loraine Boettner has some compelling arguments in favour of the third option. In the Messianic Psalm 69, he sees verse 8 as a prophecy about Christ: "I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother's children." A common feature of Hebrew poetry is 'parallelism', where one clause of a sentence is explained by a second, succeeding, clause. Here the Lord's "brethren" are defined as the offspring of His own mother. Matthew names four brothers, and implies at least three sisters ("are they not all with us") (Matt. 13:54-56). Jesus is twice described as Mary's firstborn son (Matt. 1:25, Luke 2:7), a phrase strongly suggestive of further sons. Also, it is a plain fact that a quite distinct Greek word exists to indicate cousin as opposed to brother but this word is not used in the passages concerned.

Matthew tells us that Joseph took his wife, "and knew her not until she had brought forth her firstborn son" (Matt. 1:25). Thus the most natural reading is that the couple then had a large family. There are sixteen references to Jesus' brothers in the New Testament, with no hint that they were step-brothers or cousins or foster-brothers. Twelve of these are combined with a reference to Mary, suggesting that mother and brothers enjoyed the intimate relationship of the usual family unit.[11]

3. Mary's Death

As we have seen previously with other aspects of Mary's existence, there is in fact no Scripture testimony to the death of our Lord's mother. Beyond her committal by Christ to the care of the beloved disciple John, and her presence after His ascension at prayer with the other believers in the upper room in Jerusalem, we are told nothing.

Bodily Assumption?

However, the Roman Church, since 1950, would have us believe that the death of Mary, when it came, was not that of an ordinary saint. A modern (1985) document, the Catechism of Christian Doctrine expresses the new dogma:

"Q. What do we mean by the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin?

A. By the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin we mean that by the power of God, Mary, at the completion of her life, was taken body and soul into everlasting glory to reign as Queen of heaven and earth."

It is true of course that such a dramatic ending to earthly existence is not unknown among the people of God. Enoch (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) were both translated to heaven without tasting death. One can see the wisdom and purpose of God in thereby giving His people under the Old Dispensation a glimpse of what the coming Messiah would do in triumph over sin and death and hell. Enoch and Elijah foreshadowed the work of Christ. The supposed Assumption of Mary conversely can do nothing but detract from the unique position of her son in the times of fulfilment. Left to Scripture, we have no reason to suppose that Mary's body did anything other than return to dust in the grave, although the same Scripture gives us good reason to believe that her soul, freed from every stain of sin, was received into the highest heaven.

Mary's Present Existence

Finally, we are interested in what we may learn about the present life of the mother of Jesus. Once more, the Bible itself is silent. We may infer of the present existence of Mary nothing more than we may of the current state of any other redeemed soul.

Worship of Mary?

Rome's doctrine of Mary most certainly extends beyond the grave, and her teaching regarding Mary's present life plainly influences the extraordinary devotion paid to her in that church. To quote again from Pope Paul IV:

"We believe that the most holy Mother of God, the new Eve, the Mother of the Church, continues in heaven her maternal role towards the members of Christ, in that she co-operates with the birth and growth of divine life in the souls of the redeemed."

Two further questions and answers from the Catechism of Christian Doctrine are revealing here also:

"Q. Should we ask the Angels and Saints to pray for us?

A. We should ask the Angels and Saints to pray for us, because they are our friends and brethren, and because their prayers have great power with God."

"Q. What kind of honour or worship should we pay to the Angels and Saints?

A.We should pay to the Angels and Saints an inferior honour or worship, for this is due to them as the servants and special friends of God."

What is being taught here is a straight denial of what Almighty God says in His Word. The Biblical position is well summed by the following sentence:

"Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone; not to angels, saints, or any other creature: and, since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone" (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXI:ii).

One could spend considerable time listing the worship and devotions and honours paid to the Virgin Mary, and still only scrape the surface of what has grown into a worldwide cult of enormous proportions. Suffice it to say that no worship that is paid to God is not also paid to Mary in the Roman Church. It is the logical end of all that has been dealt with thus far.

The Church of Rome officially insists that the worship paid to Mary (termed hyperdulia ) and to other saints ( dulia ) is of a lesser kind than the supreme worship ( latria ) which is due to God alone. The average Romanist however, particularly those from the less-developed countries, probably does not know of the distinction, and is even less able to practise it. The honour due to Christ is obscured by the cult of His mother.

An incident occurring during the infancy of Christ is very instructive. The wise men sent by Herod are guided by the star to the birthplace of the Lord: "And having entered into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and having fallen down worshipped him: and having opened their treasures they presented gifts to him, gold and frankincense and myrrh" (Matt. 2:11).

The Holy Spirit has pointedly recorded the actions of the Magi: their worship is directed to the Christ-child alone, and not to His mother, even in an inferior way. If Mary was deserving of worship, then surely honour would have been rendered to her on this occasion.


Can Mary be our Mediator or 'Mediatrix'? The Bible says that there is only one Mediator between God and men, "the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). He is our Mediator because He is also our Redeemer (Heb. 9:12). To approach God through the Virgin Mary is to ascribe divine attributes to her, for to suppose that she is able to hear thousands of prayers addressed to her throughout the world at the same time, in many different languages and often in the silence of the heart, is to imply that she is omnipresent and omniscient – and, it must be presumed, omnipotent too.


How may the foregoing be summarised? The teaching of the Roman Church concerning Mary, free from the necessary biblical control, has developed over the centuries, and now spans the period from her conception to her death and continuance in heaven. Mary is honoured and worshipped by millions, and she is to her devotees what Christ is to His people. Topically, every Anglican convert to Rome is now required to accept these dogmas, which he or she once denied, without reservation.

The Word of God stands utterly opposed to such doctrine and practice. Mary may be full of grace, but it is as a recipient of unmerited favour, received from the Saviour Christ, who is the giver of grace. "And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace" (John 1:16).

The name Mary is derived from a Hebrew word meaning 'bitter'. It is a happy thought that the simple Jewish woman who has been the focus of these articles is kept from the sorrow and bitterness that would surely consume her if she knew what blasphemies were done upon the earth in her name, and how her son and her Saviour was thereby dishonoured. Even the chiefest saints in glory it seems are kept from knowing what takes place here below (Isa. 63:16). Their whole attention is turned in another direction. "These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth" (Rev. 14:4).


[1] Farrell, H., The Charismatic Phenomenon in the Church of Rome. In: The Bulwark, July/August 1985, pp.14-19.

[2] Stewart, A., Roman Dogma and Scripture Truth. Protestant Institute Lectures for 1930-31, Edinburgh,W.F. Henderson, 1931, pp.108,200-201.

[3] Carson, H.M., Dawn or Twilight? A Study of Contemporary Roman Catholicism. Leicester, IVP, 1976, p.121.

[4] Zachello, J., Secrets of Romanism. New York, Loizeaux, 1948, p.118.

[5] Ibid., p.120.

[6] Carson, op. cit., p.122.

[7] Boettner, L., Roman Catholicism. London, Banner of Truth Trust, 1966, pp.175,176.

[8] Vine,W.E., An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. London, Oliphants, 1975, p.227.

[9] Poole-Connor, E.J., Why I Prefer the Authorised Version of the English Bible. In: Truth Unchanged, Unchanging. Abingdon, The Bible League, 1984, pp.286,287.

[10] Hodge, A.A., Outlines of Theology. Edinburgh, Banner of Truth Trust, 1972, p.334.

[11] Wenham, J., Easter Enigma. Exeter, Paternoster Press, 1984, p.132.