What does the Bible say about Mary the mother of Jesus?
The Pope’s exhortation “On the proclamation of the gospel in today’s world” issued in November 2013 to Roman Catholics makes some claims about Mary the mother of Jesus Christ that seem to be inconsistent with the Bible. Let’s look at some of them.
Don’t exalt, revere or worship Mary
Prayers to Mary?
The exhortation concludes with a long prayer to Mary that asks her to “pray for the church” and “pray for us” (p.216-217). Also a “prayer for help from Mary” is said to be “the manifestation of a theological life nourished by the working of the Holy Spirit” (p. 102). Furthermore, the Pope asks her “to help us proclaim the message of salvation to all and to enable new disciples to become evangelizers in turn” (p.214).
Most prayer in the Bible is addressed to God the Father. There are instances of prayers in the New Testament addressed to the Lord Jesus Christ, which is consistent with the fact that Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and mankind (Acts 7:59; 1 Tim. 2:5). As Mary is neither divine nor a mediator between God and mankind, the Bible never suggests that people should pray to Mary and it gives no explanation of how Mary could answer such prayers.
Between Christ’s ascension and the day of Pentecost the apostles “all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14NIV). Notice that they prayed with Mary, not to her. She was waiting with them to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. She wasn’t different to the other believers. This is the last mention of Mary in the Bible.
Mary like Jesus and God?
The Pope says, “As mother of all, she is a sign of hope for people’s suffering …” (p.213) and “Many Christian parents ask that their children be baptized in a Marian shrine, as a sign of their faith in her motherhood which brings forth new children for God” (p.213). Also, “Mary offers them maternal comfort and love, and whispers in their ear: ‘Let your heart not be troubled… Am I not here, who am your Mother?’”.
In this instance Mary is given divine attributes like Jesus Christ and God the Father. In the Bible, Jesus is the one who said “Do not let your hearts be troubled” and is a sign of hope (Jn. 14:1; 1 Tim. 1:1NIV). God is the one who “brings forth new children for God”.
But Mary was not divine. When she praised God for what He has done for her, Mary said “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Lk. 1:46-47). Because God was her Savior, she was not sinless. Mary didn’t have the power to do miracles, but she knew that Jesus could. When the wine was used up at the wedding at Cana, Mary told the servants “Do whatever He tells you” (Jn. 2:5).
Mary like the Holy Spirit?
In the Pope’s prayer to Mary he asked her to “Obtain for us now a new ardour … Give us a holy courage … help us to bear radiant witness …” for evangelism (p.216). He also says, “With the Holy Spirit, Mary is always present in the midst of the people” and her prayer “made possible the missionary outburst which took place at Pentecost” (p.211) and “She is the missionary who draws near to us and accompanies us throughout life, opening our hearts to faith by her maternal love … she constantly surrounds us with God’s love” (p.213).
In this instance Mary is given divine attributes like the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, the Holy Spirit lives in each believer and gives power for evangelism (Acts 1:8; Rom. 8:9).
Shrines to Mary?
The Pope endorses shines to Mary (p.213).
When the Magi sought “the one who has been born king of the Jews”, “On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Mt. 2:1-2, 10). Here the Magi worshipped Jesus, not Mary.
After John was given great revelations by an angel, twice he fell down to worship him (Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9). Twice he was told, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you … Worship God!”. He was told to worship God, not the angel. If John had worshipped Mary, he would have been told to worship God, not Mary. The worship of any created being (angelic or human) is a form of idolatry. Christians are not to worship any other god except the one true God (1 Cor. 8:4-6) and not to worship idols (1 Cor. 10:7, 14; 1 Jn. 5:21). This was stated as the first and second commandments in the Old Testament (Ex. 20:3-6).
Mary is not mentioned any of the letters in the Bible that were written to the early church. Instead we read that the apostles and prophets laid the doctrinal foundation of the church in what they taught about Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:10-11; Eph. 2:20). Those with the most important spiritual gifts in the early church were the apostles, prophets and teachers (1 Cor. 12:28). They wrote these letters, not Mary. The letters describe their ministry, not Mary’s.
Next we look at some of the titles given to Mary in the Pope’s exhortation.
Don’t give Mary a special title
The Pope often gives Mary the title Mother (215):
- “Mother of the church” (p.211). The Pope states that on the cross “Jesus left us his mother to be our mother” and “Christ led us to Mary” (p. 212). The reason given is that “The Lord did not want to leave the Church without this icon of womanhood”.
- “Mother of the living gospel” (p.214).
- “Mother of evangelisation” (p.284).
- “mother of all” (p.213).
None of these titles occur in the Bible. Also Mary is never called “the mother of God” in the Bible, because God has existed eternally.
When Christ was being crucified He said to Mary, “Woman, here is your son,” and to John “Here is your mother” and from that time on, John took her into his home (Jn. 19:26-27). Notice that Jesus didn’t call her “Mother”, but he instructed John to care for Mary as if she was his own mother. Jesus also called Mary “woman” at the wedding at Cana (Jn. 2:4).
When a woman in the crowd called out to Jesus, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you”, He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Lk. 11:27-28). So a believer who hears the word of God and obeys it more blessed than the mother of Jesus. This means that Mary was more blessed as a believer than as the mother of Jesus.
Although the son mentioned in Revelation 12 is Jesus Christ, the mother symbolises Israel, not Mary. She is associated with the sun, the moon and 12 stars like in Joseph’s dream (Gen. 37:11, Rev. 12:1). The stars represent the tribes of Israel. Revelation 12 refers to the end times and is similar to Daniel 12. At that time the angel Michael protects the Jews (Dan. 12:1; Rev. 12:7-9). The woman’s offspring represent those who come to faith in the end times (Rev. 12:17).
The Pope also gives Mary the tile, “The Virgin Mary” (p. 212, 216, 217).
The Bible mentions Mary’s virginity to teach that a man wasn’t involved in Christ’s conception (Mt. 1:20; Lk. 1:31-35). As Jesus had brothers (James, Joseph, Simon and Judas) and sisters (Mt. 12:46-47; 13:55-56; Mk. 3:31-32; 6:3; Lk. 8:20-21; Jn. 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19), Mary didn’t remain a virgin after Christ’s birth. This is consistent with Joseph being told “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” (Mt. 1:20).
The Pope also gives Mary other titles:
- “Our Lady of help” (p.215).
- “Bride of the eternal wedding feast” (p.217). But at the wedding of the Lamb mentioned in the Bible, the bride is the members of the church, not Mary (Rev. 19:7).
- “Star of the new evangelisation” (p.217).
None of these titles is mentioned in the Bible.
Jesus taught that there is no place amongst believers for distinctive titles which elevate a person above the others; “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah” (Mt. 23:8-10). Instead our speech should reflect the equality between believers and distinctive titles should be reserved for the Godhead. If we shouldn’t elevate a person as our spiritual father, then we shouldn’t elevate another person as our spiritual mother.
The Pope’s claims about Mary that we have looked at above are inconsistent with the Bible. Presumably they come from extra-biblical traditional sources within the Roman Catholic church. Do they add to or take away from the Bible’s message (Rev. 22:18-19)? Is the different teaching with regard to Mary significant? Is it syncretism (the combination of different or opposing forms of belief or practice)? Is the Pope teaching a different gospel to the Bible’s gospel (Gal. 1:6-9)? That will be the topic of my next post.
Mary was a woman who was given a special role to be the mother who raised Jesus to adulthood. After the day of Pentecost she was a faithful member of the church in Jerusalem. Let’s imitate Mary’s faithfulness.
In the meantime, let’s exalt, revere and worship God the Father and Jesus, not Mary; and pray to God, not Mary.
Written December 2013
Also see – What is the Christian “good news”?