What’s the Bible say about Mary and Mary Veneration?
Humble Mary was “highly favored” of the LORD (Luke 1:28) and her relative Elizabeth called her “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43). Moreover Mary’s inspired song says that generations from then on would call her blessed (Luke 1:48).
This shows that believers should have a high respect for Mary, which is what ‘venerate’ means. But the veneration of Mary by some Catholics borders on excessive, which is why they’re sometimes accused of Mary worship by Protestants, et al.
Here’s where the issue becomes complicated: Venerate and worship mean the same thing—to adore, respect, reverence, honor or celebrate. The main difference is that worship usually applies to a deity, but not always. For instance, if I say “I worship my wife,” I simply mean that I adore and honor her. If you hear it said “Our culture worships youth” it refers to adoration or devotion similar to religious homage.
Both the Hebrew and Greek words for ‘worship’ literally mean to prostrate oneself—bow down—to illustrate adoration or reverence. For verification, you can look up the Hebrew shachah (shaw-KHAW) here and the Greek proskuneó (pros-koo-NEH-oh) here.
All of this begs the question: Are Catholics & others who venerate Mary simply showing their great respect for her or are they worshiping her as a deity? If it’s the former, there’s no problem since Luke 1:48 says future generations will call Mary blessed. However, if their veneration smacks of worshiping a deity or idol worship, it’s obviously not good since it breaks the first two of the Ten Commandments: 1. “You shall have no other gods before me” and 2. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:3-5).
It all comes down to what’s going on in the person’s heart. In other words, only God and the individual venerating Mary know if the veneration is simply giving honor or if it’s worship in the sense of worshiping a deity or idol. Obviously any behavior that hints of idolatry or the idea that Mary is anything other than a blessed—but otherwise normal—human being should be forsaken.
Is Mary the “Mother of God”?
The answer is no. As Elizabeth pointed out in Luke 1:43, Mary is indeed the mother of the physical Lord Jesus Christ, but she’s not the mother of God, the Great I Am. This passage helps explain:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
While an infant child was born to into the world through Mary by the Holy Spirit, the Son of God was given to us because the Son already existed since forever. This passage sheds light (keeping in mind that “the Word” refers to Christ):
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
As you can see, the Mighty Christ is God and the earth & universe and all living things were made through him. So Mary did not give birth to the Word because the Word already existed from eternity and created all physical things in the universe; she was simply the blessed human vessel through whom the Word could manifest to the world as a physical human.
Jesus’ attitude toward Mary
What was Christ’s outlook toward Mary? Notice this exchange with a woman after Jesus exorcized a demon from a mute individual:
27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
The Messiah didn’t deny the blessedness of Mary, but he clearly didn’t support the elevation of Mary as an object (idol) of veneration/worship. Mary’s esteemed position as the mother of Christ’s physical being didn’t grant her any greater honor than the blessedness of those who simply receive God’s Word and put it into practice.
This is augmented by a similar account that occurred earlier:
19 Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”
21 He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”
Christ loved & respected his blessed mother but, again, he put those who seek divine truth and live by it on the same level as Mary (as well as his physical brothers).
Let that sink in.
Mary should certainly be honored as the woman privileged with the job of birthing & nursing the child Jesus, not to mention parenting him through puberty and adolescence. She should be venerated—greatly respected—for this. But, as Christ Himself pointed out above, any person who seeks God’s Word and strives to put it into practice should be equally honored as Mary (which includes you & me, if that’s what we’re honestly doing).
The biblical references to Mary in the Gospels & Acts reveal a normal woman, albeit one blessed with an extraordinary God-appointed role:
- After Jesus’ birth, Mary & Joseph had common sexual relations, which birthed several children (Matthew 13:54-56 & Mark 6:3).
- Jesus softly reproved Mary when he was 12 for failing to grasp his exceptional concern for the things of God (Luke 2:43-50).
- Eighteen years later Jesus performed Mary’s requested miracle at Cana, but also gently rebuked her (John 2:1-11).
- When the Messiah was crucified he committed Mary to John’s care (John 19:26-27) and, after he ascended, Mary & her sons were with the believers in Jerusalem awaiting the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14).
As you can see, there’s zero scriptural support for Catholic doctrines concocted hundreds of years later that added unwarranted dimensions to appreciation of Mary:
- The Immaculate Conception, which suggests that Mary was sinless, born without original sin. This false belief didn’t become official Catholic dogma until 1854. (It is often confused with the biblical doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus, which is the Incarnation).
- Perpetual Virginity, which maintains that Mary was always a virgin—before, during and after the birth of Christ. The earliest this false doctrine can be traced is the 4th century.
- The Assumption of Mary (aka Assumption) suggests that Mary was bodily taken up to Heaven at the end of her earthly life. This didn’t become Catholic dogma until 1950.
- Mediatrix, the idea that Mary functions as in an intercessory role in Heaven, i.e. a mediator in the salvific redemption via Christ and that the Lord bestows graces through her. The first mention of Mary as “the mediatrix of the whole world” can be traced to a 4th century prayer by Ephrem the Syrian. The Marian title of “Mediatrix” has been used by several Catholic leaders since the 5th century, reaching its height in the literatures of Louis de Montfort and Alphonsus Liguori in the 18th century.
These beliefs are both post-biblical and extra-biblical, not to mention utterly fantastical, and therefore must be rejected.
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