The Evolving Doctrine of MaryA Case Study in the Progress of Error
By Randy Blackaby
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of the most interesting and important women found in Scripture. The Bible describes her magnificent faith from the time she becomes pregnant until she stands at the foot of the cross. Hers is a compelling story.
But Catholicism has developed the story of Mary over the centuries until today she is called sinless, “the gate of heaven,” and the mediatress between God and man. How did she evolve from the very holy woman of the Bible to a sinless, undying female mediator through whom men can approach God? The answer may help us understand how all error progresses.
Let’s start with reality. The story of Mary is a marvelous one. As a virgin she conceived the Christ child through the Holy Spirit, as prophesied 700 years before (Luke Isaiah 7:14). This woman was God’s instrument for bringing Jesus into the world in the flesh. Her strength is evidenced in the things she endured. Her story needs no mythological additions to make it wondrous, inspiring and faith-building.
But the fact that additions aren’t needed doesn’t prevent men from creating “cunningly devised fables” (2 Peter 1:16; 2 Timothy 4:1-4).
Fable Of The Immaculate Conception
Many presume the term “immaculate conception” refers to the fact Jesus was born without sin. But that is not the case. Catholic doctrine teaches Mary was born without sin. “When we say that Mary was conceived without sin we mean that from the very first moment of her existence she was free from original sin, she was full of grace” (Mary—Doctrine for Everyman, page 17).
We’re exploring how error evolves. So, did you catch in the Catholic explanation above about why they came to believe she was born without sin?
It’s because they believe another error—the idea that men are born in sin or inherit the sin of Adam through their parents.
But the birth and sinless nature of Jesus cast the doctrine of inherited depravity in grave doubt. If babies inherit the sinful nature of their parents, how did Jesus come to be born without sin? Why didn’t he “catch” or otherwise “pick up” all the sins of his ancestors through Mary?
So, Catholic scholars faced a choice. Repudiate the false notion of inherited sin or create an answer to the dilemma. They chose the latter route. On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX declared Mary had been born without sin. Thus, they explained Jesus’ sinless nature and held on to the doctrine of inherited sin.
But it makes one wonder. If Mary was sinless, why did she say, “my spirit has rejoiced in God my savior” (Luke 1:47-48)? Describing someone as your savior implies the need for salvation. Mary must have recognized she had sinned.
Fable Of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity
The Bible clearly states that Mary was a virgin who had never known a man sexually from the time she conceived until after the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:18, 23-25; Luke 1:26-35). Thus, the birth of Jesus was absolutely unique. The manner of his birth helps depict the two-fold nature of our Lord, being man and God at once.
But why would the Catholic church contend that Mary remained a virgin for her entire life on earth? They contend she never had sexual relations with a man or had any other children. To quote their approved writings, “It is Catholic faith that Mary was a virgin before the divine birth; during it; and after it—Our Lady never had any other children” (Mary—Doctrine for Everyman, p. 14).
Like our first fable, this one is rooted in yet another false premise. The Catholic church teaches that abstinence from marriage and sexuality is a superior position spiritually. This is why priests, nuns and other church leaders take vows of celibacy.
But to maintain their doctrine on celibacy, the myth about Mary’s perpetual virginity runs headlong into conflict with the Bible. The Bible only declares that Joseph did not know his wife sexually “till she had brought forth her firstborn son” (Matthew 1:24-25). Jesus is declared to have had brothers and sisters (Mark 6:3; Matthew 12:46-50; Acts 1:14). And Hebrews 13:4 declares that marriage is honorable, including the sexual component (“the bed”).
The Apostle Paul taught that husbands and wives should not deprive or defraud one another of the sexual component of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-5) and the sexual union is a part of a man and woman becoming “one flesh” (Matthew 19:5-6).
It is interesting that the Catholic church will “annul” a marriage and say it never really existed if it isn’t sexually “consummated.” Did Mary’s marriage to Joseph never really exist?
What a tangled web is weaved when error is compounded by more error. But that is the nature of the evolution of false teaching.
Fable Of The Assumption Of Mary Into Heaven
Some books call this the “great assumption.” That’s a pretty good description. This Catholic doctrine teaches that Mary never died but was taken directly to heaven like Enoch and Elijah. “When the course of our Lady’s life on earth was ended she was taken up body and soul into heaven” (Mary—Doctrine for Everyman, p. 34).
The Bible says absolutely nothing about Mary after reporting her and Jesus’ brothers assembling with the disciples after the Lord’s ascension (Acts 1:14). So, why did Catholics feel a need to create this doctrine?
Remember, error leads to error. Remember how the doctrine of original sin led to the development of the doctrine of immaculate conception? That doctrine didn’t end the problems Catholics had with the idea that men inherit sin from their forefathers.
By declaring Mary sinless, they created a new dilemma. Everyone who has read the book of Romans knows the Bible declares “the wages of sin is death” (6:23). But, wait a minute. If Mary had no sin, why would she die? Why would she receive the wages of a sinner when she hadn’t earned them?
Catholic doctrine had created a clear conflict. So, the choice was to repudiate the doctrines of the immaculate conception and original sin or “fix” the conflict with an explanation. Catholics chose the latter course.
In 1950, the year before I was born, it became official Catholic dogma that Mary didn’t die.
Fable Of Mary As Mediatress Or Mediatrix
If Mary was sinless and went straight to heaven without facing the judgment of our Lord, she certainly would be greater than the mighty lawgiver of old, Moses. She would be greater than Abraham, the model of faith. So, where does her “assumption” lead?
We really see how error evolves into complete and total blasphemy now. The Catholic church calls Mary a mediatress or mediatrix (feminine form of mediator). “The name mediatress is given her insofar as she exercises this influence in heaven” (Mary—Doctrine for Everyman, p. 40).
This is problematic because the Apostle Paul said, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). If Mary is a mediator, that makes “two” of them.
So, the Catholic church had a choice. Back away from this doctrine or develop it further. They chose the latter.
Calling her the “mother of God,” they also described her as the “gate of heaven” because, they say, no one can enter the blessed kingdom without passing through her.
So, Catholics pray to Mary. They claim that Jesus, as judge, is too harsh, but that Mary will not refuse anyone. Wow! That makes Mary sound more full of grace and mercy than even our Lord. And he’s the one who died for our sins on the cross.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray to God “in my name” (John 14:13-14). Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Peter preached as the church first began, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). He was speaking of Jesus, not Mary.
Jesus declared that “all power” had been given to him “in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). That wouldn’t leave any for Mary.
So, the Catholic church had a choice. It could repudiate this error and worship Jesus as Lord and only mediator, or it could develop this doctrine further. It chose to develop its error.
And that latter course is pure blasphemy, assuming for Mary the prerogatives of deity. In the same Catholic document previously quoted, it reads, “All power is given to thee (Mary—rb) in heaven and on earth” and “at the command of Mary all obey—even God.”
What? Even God obeys Mary?
“The whole Trinity, O Mary, gave thee a name…above every other name, that at thy name, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth,” says the same Catholic document.
All that leaves a Bible believer with mouth agape.
Why Opposing Error Is So Important
Perhaps you are seeing not only the errors of Catholicism about Mary but the more important issue—how error evolves into monstrous and blasphemous false doctrine that totally repudiates the teaching of Scripture and elevates the human to the level of divinity.
Beginning with the doctrine of original sin, the myths and fables about Mary have grown until now she is viewed as sinless and virtually equal with Jesus. There has been a move afoot for several years now to declare her a co-mediator with Christ.
Her supposed assumption into heaven and associated doctrines make her equal in glory with Jesus and her declared mediation makes it seem she actually has greater influence than the Lord himself.
This article has explored the development of one area of false doctrine in one human denomination. But the principle applies in the Lord’s church as well. If we teach and believe error and then refuse to repent when it obviously conflicts with the clear teaching of scripture, then we can expect the error to evolve into much more egregious error.