On Mother’s Day we honor our mothers. It’s been said that the most powerful force in a child’s life is their mother’s influence. Let’s look at what the Bible says about this topic.
In Biblical times, infants and young children spent most of the time under their mother’s care (Gen. 32:11). Samuel remained with Hannah until he was weaned, when he would be at least three years of age (1 Sam. 1:22-24). Nursing mothers gently care for their children (1 Th. 2:7). The Bible says that after weaning, a child is content to be “with its mother” because it has learnt to trust its mother (Ps. 131:2NIV).
As Israelite children were commanded to respect and obey their parents, they were also influenced by their father (Ex. 20:2; Lev. 19:3; Dt. 21:18-21). As they usually lived in extended households, children in Biblical times were also influenced by their relatives. When they were old enough to be married, they would be influenced by their spouse. A spouse’s family would also be influential if a person moved to live with that family.
Solomon advised parents, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). The first word can also be translated as “train” and “teach”. It is probably associated with discipline, as the Hebrew word translated “children” is also mentioned in Proverbs 22: 15 and 23:13.
This is a proverb that is generally true, but not a promise or guarantee. It is the best course to a desired outcome. Children are more likely to be godly if they are trained in such a way. But other factors can come in like the influence of others.
Another proverb says, “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Prov. 14:1). It contrasts two types of woman. The first is focused on her family, whereas the second tears down her family. The first is godly, while the second is ungodly.
When Paul gives instructions to Christian households he addresses wives, husbands, children and fathers, but not mothers (Eph. 5:22 – 6:4; Col. 3:18-21). The fathers are told “do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” and “do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Eph. 6:4; Col. 3:21). Obviously the mothers didn’t require any command about bringing up their children. Maybe because they went through a 9-month pregnancy and breastfed their children, they developed a strong bond with their children.
However, Paul says that older women should urge younger ones to love their children (Tit. 2:3-4). He also says that one of the good deeds of a wife was bringing up children (1 Tim. 5:9-10).
Paul told a godly woman, “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth” (2 Jn. 1:4). Note the word he used was “some”, not “all”. This shows godly faith in two generations. For example, Hannah was a godly mother whose child Samuel grew up to be godly (1 Sam. 1:24-28). Also, three proverbs that King Lemuel was taught by his mother are recorded in the Bible (Prov. 31:1-9). As a prayer meeting was held in her home, presumably both John Mark and his mother were godly (Acts 12:12).
Paul wrote to Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Ti. 1:5). This shows godly faith in three generations. A godly grandmother was followed by a godly mother who was followed by a godly son. He also wrote, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures” (2 Tim. 3:15). This implies that these women probably taught the Scriptures to Timothy when he was an infant.
So godly mothers can have a positive influence on their children.
But sometimes a mother’s influence is not the best. One of the reasons for the spread of wickedness before the flood in Noah’s day seems to be the strong influence that mothers have on their children (Gen 6:1-5). The Israelites were commanded not to intermarry with the Canaanites because they will turn their children to follow idols (Dt. 7:3-4). King Ahaziah and King Joram were ungodly like their parents (1 Ki. 22:52, 2 Ki. 3:2). However, as in the previous category, a child can differ from their parents. For example, King Asa was godly unlike his grandmother (2 Chron. 15:16).
So, ungodly mothers can have a negative influence on their children.
Lessons for us
This shows that mothers can have a significant influence on their children.
If you are a mother, do you have a positive or a negative impact on your children? Do you discipline them fairly? Are you building them up or tearing them down? Are you “walking in the truth”? Do you have a sincere Christian faith?
If you are a father, do you support your wife?
Do you honor and respect your mother?
Written, May 2014
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”?
What can we learn from her life?
About 2,000 years ago, a young teenage girl named Mary lived in Nazareth, Israel, a despised town of which people said, “Can anything good come from there?” (Jn. 1:46 NIV).
Mary lived under her father’s authority and had been trained by her mother to protect her father’s honor. In public, she dressed according to their social standing, behaved according to good manners, and spoke to men only when spoken to. Otherwise she would bring shame to her father.
In her day, a Jewish woman’s words didn’t count – everything had to be supported by male witnesses. Every day, the Jewish man thanked God that he had not been born a Gentile, a slave or a woman. Women received little education and were not taught the Law of God. In public, they were veiled; an uncovered head could result in divorce. Their social relationships were confined to other women. They did not eat with male guests, and men were discouraged from talking to women.
Mary’s mother managed the household under her husband’s direction. She managed the budget, prepared the food and saw to the welcoming rituals when her husband entertained. She reared and educated the children, the father taking over the son’s education and discipline at puberty. When she left the house to go shopping, she was usually accompanied by a suitable companion to protect her husband’s name from mistakes she might make.
At puberty, daughters were expected to marry, and suitable husbands were found by the parents. Daughters had no choice in this, otherwise they would bring shame on the family. Marriage age was low – 18-24 years for the man, 13-16 years for the girl. It was a patriarchal society which placed women in the same category as one’s ox, donkey or possessions.
A women’s security in her husband’s family was limited by his legal right to divorce her if she caused an “impediment” to the marriage. A man could divorce his wife without her consent for reasons ranging from unchastity, to burning a meal, or finding a fairer woman. When they went to the synagogue the women sat separate from the men. At social occasions the women were always in the background.
Mary was engaged to Joseph, the contract probably being arranged by their fathers and finalized in a public ceremony in the town square. If the husband-to-be wanted to break the betrothal, he had to get a bill of divorce. Let’s see how Mary responded to the circumstances in her life and what we can learn about that for mothers.
Fear And Confusion
When an angel visited Mary she was afraid and confused. She was “greatly troubled at his words,” but the angel said “Do not be afraid” (Lk. 1:29-30). She knew about angels from the synagogue and an angel had visited Zechariah, the priest in the temple (Lk. 1:11). Angels usually visited men, not women. This was most unusual. What was going on? Why did it visit her, the least important one in the family, and not Joseph or her father? How would she tell Joseph about it; there were no male witnesses? Would he believe her being made pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Lk. 1:35)?
Then there was the fear of rejection. To be pregnant while engaged was scandalous. If suspected of unfaithfulness she could be divorced or even put to death (Dt. 22:23-24). Would she be rejected by Joseph and left to bring up this child alone in a culture hostile to women – and probably remain unmarried for life? If she was also rejected by her father she could be forced into begging or prostitution to survive.
An Illegitimate Child
Although Jesus would have been easy to love, Mary faced many struggles. A child born during engagement was considered illegitimate. There would have been suspicions of adultery. People would have wondered, who was the father? Did the child look like Joseph? Mary would have faced this stigma for years, as the whole community would have known.
A Hated Child
Then she had to face the fact that people hated her child. Joseph and Mary escaped into Egypt when Jesus was a baby because the king wanted to kill Him (Mt. 2:13). Later, the respected religious leaders bitterly opposed Jesus. They accused Him of blasphemy – of mocking God by claiming to forgive sins – and of breaking the Law (Lk. 5:21; Mt. 12:2), and planned to kill Him (Mt. 12:14). Mary would have felt this hatred as well, as she identified closely with her special son.
A Missing Child
Then there was the occasion when Jesus was lost for three days at the age of 12. Mary and Joseph rushed back to Jerusalem and searched frantically for Him until they found Him among the teachers in the temple courts (Lk. 2:41-51). When His parents saw Him, they were astonished and Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you” (Lk. 2:48). She didn’t know whether her firstborn was dead or alive. Who was He with? Had He been kidnapped? Where did He spend the night? She was very concerned for His safety.
Mary faced two tragedies that are not often thought about. First, Joseph probably died sometime after Jesus was 12 years old, leaving her to raise the children alone. The fact that Joseph is not named in Matthew 13:55 possibly indicates his death. This means that Mary was a single mother and Jesus, the eldest son, was the head of the household and expected to care for his mother, brothers and sisters. This would have been a difficult time for Mary, bringing up her children without the support of a husband.
The second tragedy was when Jesus gave up His carpenter’s occupation and left home. The eldest son was expected to follow his father’s trade and position in society. In people’s eyes, Jesus dishonored His dead father when He left home on His messianic mission. He brought great shame on the family by giving up His responsibility as head of the household. That’s why Mary tried to get Jesus back into the household (Mk. 3:31-32).
A Rejected Child
His family said Jesus was insane; respected Jewish leaders said He was demon possessed (Mk. 3:21, 22). How would a mother cope with that? When she went to talk with Him, a messenger was sent through the crowd, but instead of replying to her concern, Jesus used the incident to teach the people the importance of putting God’s interests above family interests (Mk. 3:31-35). Mary could have felt rejected at this time. On another occasion we read that “even His own brothers did not believe in Him” (Jn. 7:5). How difficult for Mary, with such disputes between her children.
She Saw Her Child Die
Then Mary had to endure watching Jesus being crucified. Although most of the disciples had fled, she didn’t abandon Him (Jn. 19:25). When Jesus was eight days old, Simeon said that Mary would suffer as though she had been stabbed with a sword (Lk. 2:35). What suffering it would be for a mother to see her firstborn wrongfully accused, humiliated and executed.
How did Mary cope with motherhood that brought fear – the shame of an illegitimate child who was hated by the king and who went missing, being a single mother of a son who brought disgrace on the family and was rejected by society and executed before her eyes?
Followed God’s Will
Although she was afraid when the angel visited her, she accepted God’s will. After being told that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah, Mary accepted the situation saying, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (Lk. 1:38). She calls herself a female slave, one who waits on her Master and obeys in complete submission.
She believed that it would be a miraculous conception involving the Holy Spirit and God’s power, because the angel said “nothing is impossible with God.” Unlike Moses, she readily accepted the task. When God told Moses to go to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses said he was not good enough, and asked God to send someone else (Ex. 4:10, 13).
Mary rejoiced so much in what God was going to do with her life that she wrote a song about it (Lk. 1:46-55). She trusted that God was going to bring much blessing out of her life as mother of the Messiah. She knew that children are a gift from the Lord (Ps. 127:3).
In her song Mary praised God for His salvation (Lk. 1:46-49), for His mighty deeds (50-53), and for His faithfulness to Israel (54-55). Her song is full of Old Testament references. Clearly, Mary trusted God and the Scriptures.
A mother who praises God and knows His word makes a difference in her children and family. For example, Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim. 1:5). Timothy’s mother and grandmother passed on their Christian faith to him. Because Mary accepted God’s will for her life and praised Him, she was highly favored by God (Lk. 1:28, 30).
Protected Her Children
From the moment Jesus was born His life was in danger. When King Herod threatened His life, Mary and Joseph took Jesus and escaped to Egypt (Mt. 2:13-15). Mary also protected Jesus’ identity. Though she knew He was the promised Messiah, she kept this to herself. At His birth she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” and as he grew up she “treasured all these things in her heart” (Lk. 2:19,51).
Showed Love and Devotion
Mary’s love and devotion for Jesus began before He was born and lasted beyond the cross. She stood near the cross when He was crucified (Jn. 19:25-27) and was present with the believers in the upper room after the Ascension (Acts 1:14). Mary’s was an enduring love and devotion.
Mary was rewarded: she was there when Jesus was raised from the dead; she was among the 120 when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost; she saw her other children accept Jesus as Messiah; and today she’s in heaven.
A Supportive Husband
Although Joseph planned to divorce Mary quietly when he found out she was pregnant, so he “wouldn’t expose her to public disgrace,” he changed his mind after an angel appeared to him (Mt. 1:18-25). Joseph obeyed the angel’s message and married Mary. Mary had a supportive husband for at least 12 years. They were partners in raising Jesus to adulthood.
Husbands should love their wives, “just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Specifically we are to love our wives as our own bodies, helping them grow, and making them feel special (Eph. 5:28-29). This means supporting them by expressing confidence in them rather than controlling them, and praising them rather than criticizing them or taking them for granted.
An Understanding Friend
Mary visited Elizabeth, an older relative who was also expecting a child through miraculous circumstances – she was past the age of childbearing. Her child was John the Baptist. Elizabeth encouraged Mary during a difficult time.
Extended families are important and this should include the local church. Look around and you’ll find someone who needs encouragement. Or maybe you could offer to baby-sit so a husband and wife can have a day or evening to themselves. When her children were not present to support Mary in her grief at the cross, John was asked to care for her (Jn. 19:26-27), an example of the extended family.
A Model Mother
Mary was a special mother who had a special child. She lived in a society that was very different from ours, yet she had to deal with fear and a child that was hated, rejected and abused. She endured tragedy and suffering and she didn’t always understand what her child was saying or doing (Lk. 2:50). Yet the characteristics of the mother God chose to nurture His Son are a model for motherhood: she followed God’s will, knew His Word, praised Him enthusiastically, protected her children from danger, and showed them much love and devotion. She also had the support of her husband and friends in the family of God. Mothers play a most important role in our families. They deserve our honor and support.
Published, May 2003