Q. Mary, like every other Jew of her time, was born under law. In other words, under the old covenant, she had to obey the 10 Commandments and all the ceremonial laws given by God through Moses. For example, we see her observing the pregnancy and childbirth laws here:
(Luke 2:22-24) When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord She must also bring to the priest a lamb for a burnt offering and a dove for a sin offering. The priest will then offer them to the Lord to make atonement for her.
A. The above quotation of Luke is inaccurate Here is what the NIV actually says:
When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.
Q. Now, if Mary was always pure and sinless, why did she go through the purification period? Why did she offer a sacrifice for sin to the priest? Why would the priest need to make atonement for her to cleanse her?
Leviticus 12:1-8 The LORD said to Moses, ‘A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period… . 8 If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering
A. These are very good and very legitimate questions. Of course, being ceremonially unclean is not equivalent to being sinful. The laws here are going to apply to everyone. They would not have written these laws with one immaculate virgin in mind. But scripture does seem to indicate in Luke, that Mary offered a sin offering.
Good point about Mary’s sin offering. But the Catholic reply would be that she offered the sin offering out of humility and to avoid scandal and to fulfill all righteousness, (Mt. 3) just as her Divine Son was baptized in the Jordan by John. John’s baptism was for repentance and yet we both agree Jesus did not need to be baptized b/c He did not need to repent of any sin. And yet He submitted to baptism. And Mary offered the sin offering according to the Law. Both fulfilled all righteousness in humility.
Q. As we have seen, Mary was born under law and she observed the Law of Moses with regard to pregnancy and childbirth. But the Bible says that no one can become righteous in God’s sight by observing the law. In fact, the purpose of the law is to increase sin in man and show man his utter sinfulness, hopelessness and, hence, need for God’s grace.
If Mary was born without sin and never sinned, it would mean that she perfectly obeyed the entire Law of Moses (the 10 Commandments and more than 360 ceremonial laws) in thought, word and deed, all of the time, and thus, achieved righteousness by the law!
A. No, she did not achieve righteousness by the law. She was righteous from her conception by the power of God. And yes, she kept the entire law.
Q. So, Mary did not need “the righteousness from God, apart from the law” that “comes through faith in Jesus Christ”? In other words, she did not need Jesus to die for her sins because she had none — she was not a sinner!
A. She certainly did need Jesus to save her. True, she was not a sinner but she certainly DID have faith in Jesus Christ her Divine Son. She was the first believer. She was saved by Jesus from sin BEFORE she sinned by a unique grace of God Almighty. Surely God could do this if He wanted to do it. Just as Jesus’ death saves all people, even those who lived and died before His incarnation, so His salvation through His death and resurrection was applied to Mary before it actually happened in time.
Q. Matthew 11:11 I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Even the most “insignificant” Christian is greater than the most prominent Old Testament prophet! To be made righteous by the blood of Christ, to be born again as a child of God, and to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour, is far better than being a mighty Old Testament prophet who is not walking in the New Covenant.
A. And Our Blessed Mother would most definitely fall into this category. So, she too, as a Christian and in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than John the Baptist.
Q. Jesus said that “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist”.
A. This must be referring to OT people. Because Jesus also was born of woman and yet we both agree He is the greatest of all.
Q. So, if anyone is to be put on a pedestal, why have the Catholics chosen Mary instead of the greater John the Baptist?
A. Because she is the mother of Our Lord and unlike Eve, she was perfectly obedient to God.
Q. I mean no disrespect to Mary or John the Baptist. But Christians should merely give them the same honour and respect they give to any Christian. Only Jesus is to be exalted above all!
A. Jesus is exalted above all. We worship Him. We honor Mary for who she is we do not worship her.
Q. Jesus’ response when someone called Mary blessed: Luke 11:27,28 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “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.”
The woman in the crowd was impressed with Jesus’ teaching, but, she gave the glory to Mary. Jesus’ response did two things. It shifted the focus from one person—Mary—to ANYONE who hears the Word of God and obeys it. This, in turn, puts Mary on equal footing with anyone who hears the Word of God and obeys it.
A. True. And, of course, Mary also heard the word of God and obeyed it. All who do this are blessed just as Jesus said. This is true. I would submit that Jesus’ response did redirect the woman’s focus from honoring His mother to the necessity that this woman attend to her own salvation. But, it in no way indicates that Mary is thus equal in every way to any Christian who hears and obeys Jesus regardless of the perfection of their obedience. But she would be equal to any Christian who believed and obeyed perfectly.
In closing , I would like to say that you have submitted some very good and thoughtful questions. I have also submitted to you a different way to understand the same scriptures. I hope you can see that it is possible to interpret the same scriptures differently. This is the very reason there are over 40,000 different Protestant denominations.
The basic difference between Protestant interpretation of scripture and Catholic is that for us the Faith existed before the NT scriptures were written down. So the NT is a product of the Catholic Faith and is not contrary to any of our beliefs and doctrines.
For instance, no one in the Catholic Church sat down and read the Angelic salutation in Luke 1–“Hail Full of Grace..” thought it over and said, “I know, this must mean that Mary was sinless, immaculate from the first instance of her conception!”
If the Catholic Church had done that Protestant derision would be deserved. But no, that is not why we cite this verse. The Catholic Church has always believed in the immaculate conception of Mary. This was never seriously questioned until some time after the Protestant Reformation. (Even Luther believed in her immaculate conception.)We cite this verse in response to Protestant demands for scripture. And because we know that Protestants will only consider scripture Catholics give the scriptural evidence we have for our beliefs. Protestants will then often scoff because they think we derived our doctrine and dogma from what seems to them insubstantial scriptural evidence. But as I said above, our doctrines do not come out of scripture in the same way Protestants derive their doctrine. Our doctrine comes directly from the teaching of Jesus to the apostles to us.
On the other hand, Protestants, 1500 years later, read scriptures and then decide what is to be believed based on their own private interpretation.
By the way this is proscribed in
2 Peter 1:20 Understanding this first, that no prophecy of scripture is made by private interpretation.
The reason I am Catholic is that for many scriptures there are more than one way to interpret them. I have decided that the oldest Church, the one that can trace her origin back to the apostles, founded by Jesus Christ 2000 years ago, is the one church most likely to KNOW how the scriptures should be interpreted.
Protestant individuals, 1500 – 2000 years removed from the events in the NT, are pretty much on their own. Their hope is that the Holy Spirit will lead them into all truth but this has not been the case since the differences in Protestant interpretation has spawned thousands of different denominations in direct opposition to Jesus’ desire that we all be ONE.