03 December 2012

Thoughts on the Immaculate Conception

A very dear friend and I have been discussing many wonderful things! One of these is the Immaculate Conception. For those who don’t know, the Immaculate Conception refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus, being conceived without sin. My contention is that there is not any biblical support for the doctrine and furthermore, there isn’t a need for it. My friend did some digging and sent me a great article that outlined some of the major points for the doctrine and also some of the arguments against it. I’ll briefly address some of those here.

First, the author of the article clearly indicates that the tradition is not explicitly stated in the Bible but only inferred. The passage that makes this inference is Luke 1.28. In the Mounce Reverse Interlinear New Testament1, that verse is translated as,

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, highly favored one, the Lord is with you!”

The words “highly favored one” are the ones that infer Mary’s sinlessness. They’re actually one word in the Greek - κεχαριτωμένη (kecharitōmenē) which is based on the word χαριτόω (charitoó). The meaning of which can be seen from the HELPS Word-studies:

Cognate: 5487 xaritóō (from 5486 /xárisma, “grace,” see there) – properly, highly-favored because receptive to God’s grace. 5487 (xaritóō) is used twice in the NT (Lk 1:28 and Eph 1:6), both times of God extending Himself to freely bestow grace (favor).

The idea, then, is that Mary is considered “highly favored” because she was receptive to the favor (or grace) which God extended through Godself to her. I bring this up because the author contends that, because the verb is in the perfect tense, it is something that Mary had since her conception. He states,

“Since this term is in the perfect tense, it indicates that Mary was graced in the past but with continuing effects in the present. So, the grace Mary enjoyed was not a result of the angel’s visit. In fact, Catholics hold, it extended over the whole of her life, from conception onward. She was in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence.”

That is, because of this grace (or favor) bestowed upon Mary at her conception, she did not “inherit” the sin of Adam and Eve, known as the doctrine of “Original Sin.” She was born without sin and lived her life without sinning (it should be noted that no other churches, including the Orthodox church, hold to this doctrine).

While this is certainly true of the perfect tense in the Greek language (that is, it refers to something that happened in the past but has present results), remember, all of this is inferred. It’s not plainly stated. We have no clear record of when God gave this favor (or grace) to Mary. It could just as easily happened at the moment God chose her or when Gabriel spoke with her, contrary to the author’s view (since there’s no way of “proving” it one way or the other). Also, there’s nothing in the text that indicates that the grace (or favor) bestowed means “sinless.” That is also an inference and not in the Greek. The Greek only indicates that God’s favor (or grace) was given to Mary at some point in the past.

Also, I think “infer” is too strong of a word. To infer means to “deduce or conclude from evidence and reasoning.” To me, there is no evidence or reasoning for the Immaculate Conception. There’s nothing in the Greek to deduce or conclude that Mary was without sin her entire existence.

Furthermore, I don’t believe the context supports this dogma. Here’s the context from Mounce:

Luke 1.26-38: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee that was called Nazareth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the name of the virgin was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, highly favored one, the Lord is with you!” She was thoroughly troubled by what he said, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this could be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Look, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you will call his name Jesus. This very one will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for all time, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I have no sexual relationship with a man?” And the angel answered, saying to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you: therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God. Look, your relative Elizabeth, she also has conceived a son in her old age; indeed, this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible for God.” So Mary said, “Behold, the maidservant of the Lord! Let it happen to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

I think the context is quite telling, especially verse 30, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” If, as is maintained, Mary was “full of grace (or favor)” from her conception, she wouldn’t have “found favor with God;” she would have been favored her entire life. The way the Greek reads, it’s not Mary seeking favor (or grace) from God, it’s rather God seeking one upon whom God could bestow grace (or favor). If Mary was “full of favor (or grace)” from conception, God wouldn’t have to search for her, she would have been the chosen vessel from the very beginning.

There are several examples of God choosing people from birth and before for the purpose of God. Take as an example Jacob and Esau. St Paul stated in Romans 9 that God chose Jacob over Esau “before they were born or had done anything either good or bad” to fulfills God’s purposes (Romans 9.6-13; MOUNCE). Or look at Jeremiah. God told him, “Jeremiah, I am your Creator,  and before you were born, I chose you to speak for me to the nations” (Jeremiah 1.5; CEB).

What I’m trying to say is that the doctrine of Immaculate Conception feels forced (we’ll get to why in a moment). The only passage the author used for supporting this dogma doesn’t address the issue or give any indication that Mary was either sinless from conception or throughout her life. What I see, however, is just the opposite. The context of the passage seems to indicate that God was searching for a vessel through whom Jesus could be born. Granted, God’s favor (or grace) was given to Mary at some point (and I personally think it was prior to the sending of Gabriel; see Daniel 10, note verses 12-13), but since the text doesn’t tell us one way or the other, the best thing to do is not build a doctrine of the church upon it.

At another point in the article, the author compares Mary to the Ark of the Covenant (or Testimony). This is the chest that carried the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments (among other things). The idea goes that, since the Ark was carried by people who were “sanctified” (that is, set apart for service), how much more would Mary be honored for carrying the incarnate Word of God.

I have no problem with that. Mary should be honored.

However, honoring Mary for being the “bearer of God” is one thing. But to claim that she has to be sinless so Jesus can be born without sin doesn’t make sense (this is where the doctrine feels forced). Think about it. If God mystically made Mary to be free from “original sin” so that “original sin” wasn’t passed on to Jesus, why couldn’t God just do the same thing with Jesus in Mary’s womb? If Mary didn’t “inherit” sin from her parents by God’s Grace, certainly God could have done the same thing for Jesus. And we have biblical proof of that very thing! Without inference! It’s plainly stated in several passages:

Hebrews 4.14-15; CEB: Also, let’s hold on to the confession since we have a great high priest who passed through the heavens, who is Jesus, God’s Son; because we don’t have a high priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses but instead one who was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin.

2Corinthians 5.21; CEB: God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.

1Peter 2.22; CEB: He committed no sin, nor did he ever speak in ways meant to deceive.

Therefore, I don’t think the Immaculate Conception is a necessary doctrine. In my humble opinion, it’s just not needed. One can - and should! - honor and respect Mary! She’s the “God-bearer.” Mary’s a shining example of how ordinary people (especially women) can be used by God for extraordinary things. If Mary was “just” an ordinary person, just a “regular” gal, what better example for all of us “regular” gals! God doesn’t have to bestow a certain grace upon you to be able to use you. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that God doesn’t do that. We’ve seen examples where that was the case. Nor am I saying that God doesn’t grant gifts for service. What I’m saying is that God is seeking “ordinary” people who will be willing vessels for service; those who are willing to be Christ to those around them. For me, that’s what’s so empowering about all of the saints. They’re just “ordinary” folks through whom God does extraordinary things. We need more of those type of people in God’s good world today.

May it start with me.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br Jack+, LC


1. The Mounce Reverse-Interlinear™ New Testament (MOUNCE) Copyright © 2011 by Robert H. Mounce and William D. Mounce. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.  “Reverse-Interlinear” is a trademark of William D. Mounce.

Bill Mounce is highly regarded as (one of) the best sources for New Testament Greek studies. His books are used in universities and seminaries around the world.

No comments: