The Immaculate Conception?

The Roman Catholic Church teaches not only the historic Christian doctrine of the virginal conception and birth of Jesus Christ, but also the “Immaculate Conception” of the Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne. Although born by the normal means of a sexual union of her parents, Mary was, according to Rome, miraculously preserved in her conception and birth from the stain of original sin. As a result, Mary lived a sinless life and was therefore qualified to be ark of the new covenant, the holy vessel of the Incarnation, just as the ark of the old covenant had been the holy vessel of the tablets of the old covenant. The presupposition behind this argument seems to be that God the Son required a holy dwelling place, free from all sin, for the time of his gestation in the womb, and Mary is the one human being in history uniquely qualified for this role.

I am afraid the doctrine of Mary’s immaculate conception and sinless life not only has no warrant in Scripture, it also stands at odds with the gospel itself. Paul declares in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” But the Roman Catholic teaching about Mary’s unique status as the sinless, and therefore only qualified, vessel of the Incarnation places her in a role of mediation alongside her Son. Furthermore, calling Mary the ark of the new covenant places undue emphasis on the fetal life of Jesus, obscuring the redemptive significance of the cross itself. Jesus does not save us from the womb of his mother. After nine months there, he exited her womb so that he could fulfill the mission for which he had become a man in the first place.

Among the few references we have to Mary in the Gospels, several of them put Jesus’ redemptive work at some distance from any role played by his mother. The most notable passage here is the account of the wedding feast at Cana in John 2, where Mary comes to Jesus to report that the young couple have run out of wine to serve their guests. Jesus’ response is telling: “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). Of course, Jesus goes on to resolve the situation with his first miraculous sign, but his answer to Mary and the manner of the resolution (a hidden, rather than a public, manifestation of his glory) indicate that Jesus’ ministry is not at all subject to the will of his mother. The “hour” of his public glorification will come according to the plan of his Father. Jesus has a mission, and it is in obedience to his Father, without any unique role for his mother, that he will redeem humanity. And while Jesus, as a faithful son to Mary, provided for her well-being in his final moments (John 19:26-27), it is clear that the kingdom he proclaimed brought with it a new definition of familial relations, where spiritual kinship surpasses bloodlines (Mark 2:31-35).

The incarnate Son of God lived his entire life without sin. But he did not require a sinless mother to do that. He came into the world to redeem sinners, including his mother.

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10 thoughts on “The Immaculate Conception?

  1. Gen 3:15 says that the devil and his seed will have enmity with the woman and her seed. All Christians believe that Gen 3:15 is prophecy, i.e. the woman refers to Mary and her seed is Christ – both are in enmity with devil. If Mary a sinner then she cannot fulfill this prophecy because according to 1 John 3:8 whoever commits sins belongs to the devil. The woman in Gen 3:15 cannot be Eve because she was the first human who committed sin.

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    • Thanks for your comment. I disagree with several parts of your argument:

      (1) I believe the promise of Genesis 3:15, while ultimately fulfilled in Christ, is also anticipated in the ongoing war throughout history between the collective “seed” of the woman (God’s people) and the collective “seed” of the serpent (unbelievers). The narrative of Genesis seems to bear this out, as you have Cain murdering Abel in the next chapter. Of course, all people descended from Adam are born in sin, so the way to become part of the “seed” of the woman is by the miracle of God’s grace in regeneration. Consequently, the woman and her collective seed are not envisioned here as being untouched by sin, though the ultimate fulfillment of the seed promise (Christ), certainly is without sin.

      (2) I think your reading of 1 John 3:8 presses things too far. I think John is using the term “sins” to refer to a lifestyle that is under the dominion of sin (which is why, I think, he uses the present tense, referring to an ongoing life of sin). So, those who live under sin’s dominion are of the devil.

      If we take it to include anyone who has ever sinned once, we would have to conclude that all of us, even if we are in a state of grace, are of the devil. Is it your position that those who are baptized, receive the sacraments, and avoid mortal sin are, nevertheless, of the devil because they continue to commit venial sins?

      (3) The warfare envisioned in Gen. 3:15 is between humanity (the image of God) and beast (the serpent/the devil). It doesn’t fall exactly along the lines of sinful vs. sinless. It is a promise about humanity reclaiming dominion from the serpent through a seed of the woman who will triumph over him. The focus of the promise is on the “seed,” not the woman from whom he comes. In context, I think it is very clear that “the woman” is the only woman who has appeared in the immediate context: Eve, the mother of all the living.

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      • The seed in Gen 3:15 may mean descendants (plural) as in Gen 16:10 (seed of Hagar) and 24:60 (seed of Rebecca) – all of us, in a sense, are seed of Eve. Jewish English Bible of Gen 3:15 reads “they (the seeds) shall strike at your head” while Christian Bible use “he”, not “they”. The problem is we, as the seeds of Eve, are not in enmity with the devil, regardless whether we are Christians (who were born again after being monergistically regenerated, if you believe in such thing) or not. As Christians we are both sinners (present tense, 1 John 3:8) and saints. That is the reason why in Catholicism we have sacraments of baptism and of penance and purgatory; they are meant to cleanse us from sins, detaching us from the devil. The Bible does teach there are deadly and non-deadly (venial) sins (1 John 5:16-17).
        At the same timey you also interpret “seed” to be Christ. You wrote “It is a promise about humanity reclaiming dominion from the serpent through a seed of the woman who will triumph over him. The focus of the promise is on the “seed,” not the woman from whom he comes.” Well, the focus is both the woman and her seed because her seed must go through her. Christ could come down from heaven as adult but God’s divine plan involves a woman, chosen for this purpose, to be His mother. If the seed or Christ is sinless (which we both agree) and thus in enmity with the devil, then following the first part of Gen 3:15, then His mother must be sinless as well. Remember that Mary is sinless by Grace of God, not by her own power. She was always in the state of grace and this is reflected when the angel greeted her in Luke 1:28 using Greek verb kecharitomene. Kecharitomene is the passive form in perfect tense of the Greek verb “charitoo”, meaning “to give grace”. Perfect tense in Greek (not the same with that of English), indicates a completed action in the past with continuing result to the present.

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    • Responding to your second comment here. Your argument seems to be predicated on the assumption that 1 John 3:8 entails that anyone who is at enmity with Satan must be absolutely sinless. I don’t believe that is what John means, as I argued in my previous comment. Further confirmation comes from 1 Peter 5:8, which explicitly identifies the devil as “your adversary,” indicating that Peter’s Gentile Christian readers are at enmity with the devil. Yet no one would argue that they were absolutely without sin. If 1 John 3:8 entails that “the woman” of Genesis 3:15 must be sinless, it also entails that the audience of the letter of 1 Peter must be sinless as well, or else you would be inconsistent with your own manner of interpreting and applying 1 John 3:8.

      I raise this argument to illustrate the fact that it is illegitimate to impose a concept on Genesis 3:15 that is supposedly from 1 John 3:8 (but one that, in fact, doesn’t really read 1 John 3:8 fairly to begin with, in the context of John’s own argument in that letter). The Bible must be read with careful attention to the context of each verse. It is ultimately one coherent book with one overall message, but we don’t rightly read the text if we take verses out of context and use them as grids to impose on on other verses. The bottom line is that neither Genesis 3:15 nor 1 John 3:8 are anywhere remotely close to affirming the concept of the immaculate conception. It is a Roman dogma in search of biblical support, and one that threatens the unique mediation of Christ.

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      • In Gen 3:15 both the woman and her seed are in enmity with the devil. If you agree that her seed refers to Christ and Christ is sinless then the woman must be sinless as well, right? Immaculate conception has nothing to do with unique mediation of Christ.

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      • No, that doesn’t follow at all, because, as I have said before, the nature of the enmity in Gen. 3:15 does not fall along the lines of sinless/not sinless. That is an imposition you are taking from a misreading of 1 John 3:8 and imposing on the text, and it is one that clearly conflicts with the way I would assume you interpret Peter’s reference to the devil as “your adversary” in his letter (speaking to readers who are clearly not sinless). This issue does indeed affect the uniqueness of Christ’s mediation, because it elevates Mary over every other human being and makes her unique role as the ark of the new covenant a necessary component in our redemption. It’s not surprising that the Roman church would prescribe repetitive prayers to her as though she were a goddess with that kind of theology. The rosary is the most pagan aspect of Roman practice.

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      • You may interpret Scripture in any way you like to meet your belief. Mary is not a goddess – she is just a woman specially chosen by God to be the mother of Christ. Remember that Christ could come down from heaven as adult. The Law of the Old Covenant was kept in the Ark. We know that Christ who bring new covenant and He spent some time in her womb. She deserves to be called the ark of the new covenant. You have problem with repetitive prayer but Christ Himself repeat the same prayer in the night He was betrayed. When Catholics say Hail Mary they fulfilled what Mary said that all generations shall call her blessed. Can you recall when was the last time, if any, you called her blessed among women? You consider Mary to be competitor to Christ, a necessary component of redemption. Consider this: God gives you life but He gave it through your parents. Are they competitors to God even though they are necessary component to bring you into this world?

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      • Thanks, Vivator, for dialoguing with me. I have a better grasp of some of the arguments used to support the immaculate conception as a result. Still not persuaded, but helpful to know. I hope you have a merry Christmas.

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