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Misconceptions About Mary

Doctrines of Mary the Mother of Jesus

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La Purísima Inmaculada Concepción by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1678, now in Museo del Prado, Spain.
Public Domain

There are numerous misconceptions among Christians about Mary, the mother of Jesus. These are just a few of the doctrines about Mary that, according to many Bible scholars, appear to lack biblical foundation.

Misconception or Immaculate Conception?

The Immaculate Conception is a doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Immaculate Conception refers to the sinless state of Mary. Pope Pius IX proclaimed this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December 8, 1854.

Many people, Catholics included, wrongly believe that this dogma refers to the conception of Jesus Christ. But, in fact, the Immaculate Conception doctrine states that Mary, "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin." Immaculate, meaning "without stain," implies that Mary herself was preserved from original sin at conception, that she was born without a sin nature, and that she lived a sinless life.

Christians who reject the doctrine of Immaculate Conception maintain that there is no biblical support or basis for it. They believe Mary, although favored of God, was an ordinary human being. Only Jesus Christ was immaculately conceived, born of a virgin, and born without sin. He was the only human being to live a sinless life.

Why do Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception?

Interestingly, the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (NACE) states, "No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture." Yet, Catholic teaching does put forward some biblical findings, mainly Luke 1:28, when the angel Gabriel said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you." Here is an explanation from Catholic Answers:

The phrase "full of grace" is a translation of the Greek word kecharitomene. It therefore expresses a characteristic quality of Mary.

The traditional translation, "full of grace," is better than the one found in many recent versions of the New Testament, which give something along the lines of "highly favored daughter." Mary was indeed a highly favored daughter of God, but the Greek implies more than that (and it never mentions the word for "daughter"). The grace given to Mary is at once permanent and of a unique kind. Kecharitomene is a perfect passive participle of charitoo, meaning "to fill or endow with grace." 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.

Catholic teaching seems to suggest that in order for Jesus to have been born without sin, Mary needed to be a sinless vessel. In other words, if Mary had possessed a sin nature when she conceived Jesus, then he would have inherited this sin nature through her:

The immunity from original sin was given to Mary by a singular exemption from a universal law through the same merits of Christ, by which other men are cleansed from sin by baptism. Mary needed the redeeming Saviour to obtain this exemption, and to be delivered from the universal necessity and debt (debitum) of being subject to original sin. The person of Mary, in consequence of her origin from Adam, should have been subject to sin, but, being the new Eve who was to be the mother of the new Adam, she was, by the eternal counsel of God and by the merits of Christ, withdrawn from the general law of original sin. Her redemption was the very masterpiece of Christ's redeeming wisdom. He is a greater redeemer who pays the debt that it may not be incurred than he who pays after it has fallen on the debtor. (NACE)

For this doctrine to hold up, some would argue that Mary's mother would have to be free from original sin also, else Mary would have inherited a sinful nature through her. Based on Scripture, the miracle of Jesus Christ's conception was that he alone was conceived as the only perfect and sinless one, because of his complete union with the divine nature of God.

The Assumption of Mary

The Assumption of Mary is a Roman Catholic doctrine, and to a lesser degree it is also taught by the Eastern Orthodox Church. Pope Pius XII proclaimed this doctrine on November 1, 1950 in his Munificentissimus Deus. This dogma states that the "Immaculate Virgin," the mother of Jesus, "after the completion of her earthly life was assumed body and soul into the glory of Heaven." This means that after her death, Mary was assumed into heaven, body and soul, in a manner similar to Enoch and Elijah. The doctrine further states that Mary was glorified in heaven and is "exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things."

The Assumption of Mary doctrine is based solely on church tradition. The Bible does not record Mary's death.

Perpetual Virginity of Mary

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary is a Roman Catholic belief. It states that Mary remained a virgin throughout her entire life.

Similarly, no basis for the Perpetual Virginity doctrine exists within the Scriptures. In fact, in several places the Bible names the children of Joseph and Mary, calling them Jesus' brothers.

More Misconceptions About Mary

Catholic Popes have referred to Mary as "co-redemptrix," "the gate of heaven," "Advocate," and "Mediatrix," ascribing to her a cooperative role in the work of salvation. It should be noted that the official Catholic stance is that Mary's elevated status "neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator."

For more information about Mary, including papal declarations regarding the nature and status of Mary, visit:

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