What is the Immaculate Conception?

Question
What is the Immaculate Conception? Is it a true doctrine of Christianity?
Answer

What Immaculate Conception is not?

The Immaculate Conception does not refer to the conception of Jesus Christ, whose conception was immaculate; that is, without the stain of sin (original sin or otherwise). The writer of Hebrews says, Jesus is "holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners" (cf. Isa 53:9; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Immaculate Conception does not refer to the birth of Jesus.

What is the False Doctrine of Immaculate Conception?

The Immaculate Conception is a false doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) regarding Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 490-494 tradition, not Scripture, concludes, "The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin" (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 1854: DS 2803). They affirm Mary is the "New Eve" (CCC 508-509) who gave birth to the "New Adam" (CCC 504-505) - Jesus Christ. Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, Mary is considered to be the holy "ark," sinlessly fit to carry the Son of God. As the ark of the Lord in Moses' day carried the Old Covenant within it (Deut 10:8), so Mary carried the author of the New Covenant within her (Matt 1:18). Catholic doctrine affirms that she was "highly favored" (Luke 1:28), meaning in Catholic terms that Mary had an abundance of grace, rendering her sinless from birth (CCC 490-494).

Mary A Sinner?

In essence, RCC doctrine states Mary was free from the stain of original sin. In other words, Mary did not have a sin nature? Mary was sinless? Is this true?

The sinlessness of Mary is not taught in the Bible.

(1) Mary and Matthew 1:18

Indeed, Mary carried Christ. She was indeed the Ark of the New Covenant (Matt 1:18). However, even the Ark of the Old Covenant was made of "cursed" elements (Gen 3:17-18; Rom 8:22). But as such, it could still hold things that were set apart (made holy) by God: (1) the manna, (2) Aaron's rod, and (3) tablets stones (Heb 9:4). So, Mary being the Ark of God does not make her sinless (c.g. Isa 6:1-8; 2 Tim 2:20-21). We should also note that as the Ark in Noah's day carried sinners (Noah and his family), so Mary did after she bore Christ, as she had other children (Matt 1:24-25; 13:56; Mark 6:3; John 2:12; 7:3; 7:5, 10, Acts 1:14, 1 Cor 9:5; Gal 1:19). So:

Premise 1: The Ark of the Old Covenant was made of corruptible things
Premise 2: Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant
Conclusion: Mary was a sinner

(2) Mary and Mark 3:20-21

In Mark 3:20-21, Mary and others believed Jesus was out of his mind. They even acted on their false belief seeking to take Jesus home (Mark 3:31-32). So, Mary and others demonstrated that they were of little faith. Such lack of faith is sin (2 Chron 30:7; Psa 119:158; Jer 3:12; Matt 8:26; 14:31; Rom 14:23; Jas 1:6). So:

Premise 1: Lack of faith is a sin
Premise 2: Mary had a lack of faith
Conclusion: Mary was a sinner

(3) Mary and Mark 6:4

Mark 6:4 states, "A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household" (cf. 1 Sam 2:30). This group includes Mary. Even the Catholic commentator Richard P. McBrien remarks, "We find a somewhat negative portrait of Mary in the Gospel of Mark. . ." (Catholicism: Completely Revised & Updated, HarperCollins, 1994, p. 1079). So:

Premise 1: Jesus' family held him in dishonor at times
Premise 2: Mary was a member of Jesus' family
Conclusion: Mary was a sinner

(4) Mary and Luke 1:30

As Noah was (Gen 6:8), Mary was given saving grace (Luke 1:30). By God's grace alone Noah gave birth to a re-created world (Gen 8:1-3) and Mary gave birth to the one that makes "new creatures" (2 Cor 5:17). Both Noah and Mary found grace in God's sight. However, the emphasis in both cases was not upon their own merit, but on God's sovereign choice. God's grace was needed in both instances (cf. Judges 6:12). As Mary herself said to Gabriel, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her" (Luke 1:38, KJV).

If Mary were sinless, why would she need saving grace at all? After all, saving grace is a gift given only to elect sinners (Eph 2:8-10). As Jesus says, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17). So:

Premise 1: Mary was given saving grace
Premise 2: Saving grace is given only to elect sinners
Conclusion: Mary was a sinner

(5) Mary and Luke 1:47

While Mary was a godly woman (Luke 1:28) and Jesus loved her very much (John 19:27) this does not mean she was sinless. Every human being, except Jesus, has a sin nature (Eccl 7:20; Rom 3:23; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Just like every other elect sinner, Mary understood that she needed a Savior. She says, "My spirit rejoices in God my savior" (Luke 1:47). So:

Premise 1: Mary said she has a Savior
Premise 2: A Savior is only for elect sinners
Conclusion: Mary was a sinner

(6) Mary and Luke 2:24

Unlike Jesus who is sinless and therefore had no need to make sacrifice for his own sin (Heb. 7:27), but approached God directly (Matt 11:25-26; Matt 26:39, 42, 44; 27:46; Mark 15:34; Luke 10:21; John 11:41-43; 12:28; 17:1-26, etc.), before Christ's resurrection, Mary did not have access directly to God the Father. Mary only had access to God the Father through priests/High Priest, before the atonement accomplished in full by Christ (c.g. 1 Pet 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6).

According to Old Testament Law (Lev 12:1-8), Mary offered a "sin offering" (Lev 12:6) through Simeon, a priest, after the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:22-35). Mary was "unclean" after the birth of Christ (Lev 12:2, 4; cf. 15:19-33). The issue concerned the spilling of blood (Lev 17:11). Uncleanness was a serious condition under Moses' Law; among other limitations (Lev 7:20-21; Num 5:3; 9:6-13; Deut 26:14, etc.) it could also lead to expulsion from the land (Lev 18:25) or even death (Lev 15:31). Just as Mary's ceremonial uncleanness pictured her sin and her inability to approach God the Father on her own, so her sacrifice pictured the perfect sinless sacrifice Jesus would make on the Cross (Heb 9:14). Note, that Christ's ultimate sacrifice upon the Cross allowed direct access to God the Father (Heb 4:14-16; 1 Pet 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6) satisfying the wrath of the God (Rom 5:9; Heb 9:14, 22) for all those that trust in him (Rom 5:1; 8:1, 30). So:

Premise 1: Because of sin, sinners under the Law approached God through a priest
Premise 2: Mary approached God through a priest
Conclusion: Mary was a sinner

(7) Mary and Luke 2:48-49

Indeed, Mary was a sinner. Luke 2:48-49 reveals that she reproached and complained to Jesus, who is God. However, such complaining to God is a sin (Jude 1:16); where the Greek word "mempsimoiroi" meaning "malcontents" "faultfinders," or "complainer" is spoken against as a sin (cf. Rom 9:20). Even RCC scholar Raymond Brown states, "Mary's complaining question in v. 48 seems to be a reproach to Jesus" (Mary in the New Testament, Paulist Press, 1978, p. 160). Mary would not have been "astonished" (Luke 2:48) and thus complained if she had properly reflected upon Gabriel's words in Luke 1:30-35. So:

Premise 1: Complaining is a sin
Premise 2: Mary complained
Conclusion: Mary was a sinner

(8) Mary and Romans 3:23

In Romans 3:9-23, Paul explains the universal sinfulness of all humanity. Paul sees all individual Jews and Greeks as sinners (Rom 3:9). "None is righteous, no, not one" (Rom 3:10). In summary, he writes, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Paul wrote "all," not 'all except Mary.' However, Paul did observe that Jesus was the one exception and the only solution for sin in Romans 3:24-26. Jesus is the perfect sinless blood sacrifice (Heb 9:11-14). So:

Premise 1: All humanity, except Jesus, has sinned
Premise 2: Mary is part of all humanity
Conclusion: Mary was a sinner

Moreover, the Greek word used for "sin" in Romans 3:23 is "hemarton." It is in the aorist tense (AKA: the summary aorist). According to Douglas Moo it means, "gathering up the sins of people throughout the past into a single 'moment'" (The Epistle to the Romans, New International Commentary on the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Co. 1996, p. 226 note 32). A.T. Robertson says, "This tense gathers up the whole race into one statement (a timeless aorist)" (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament, Broadman Press 1932, 33, Renewal 1960). So, the verse cannot refer to "original sin," as RCC scholar Karl Keating maintains (Immaculate Conception and Assumption, http://www.ewtn.com/library/answers/caimcon.htm last accessed 05/11/17). Rather it refers to every sin of every single individual in the entire universe, save Jesus, who alone is sinless (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5).

In Romans 3:10, 23, Paul is quoting Psalm 14:1-3. The only solution for this horrible wretched condition is a Savior. As the Psalmist does on to say, "Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad" (Psa 14:7). Only "in Christ" are any made righteous (2 Cor 5:21). Outside of Christ all are sinners. Mary understood this and rejoiced (cf. Luke 1:47).

Hail Mary?

Luke 1:28 And he came to her and said, "Greetings [Hail], O favored one, the Lord is with you!"

The Greek word for "Greetings" [Hail] is "chaire." It was a common greeting even used by the Romans ("Hail Caesar"). It is used in numerous ways in Scripture, even in mocking Christ himself (Matt 27:29; John 19:3). In the context of Luke 1:28, the word means "rejoice." Even the Catholic New Jerusalem Bible translates it as such! Gabriel said to Mary "rejoice." Why? Because "the Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). Compare Zephaniah 3:14-18 and Zechariah 9:9 where the Greek word "chaire" is used in the Septuagint (Greek version of the Old Testament) regarding the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, Gabriel was not praising Mary, but preparing her for the One that should be praised; Jesus Christ the Son of God (Matt 2:1-12; Luke 2:11-14).

Mary the Favored One?

Luke 1:28 And he came to her and said, "Greetings [Hail], O favored one, the Lord is with you!"

The Greek word "kecharitomene" means "favored one." Some Catholic scholars state that "kecharitomene" is a perfect passive participle, and should be translated as "full of grace." Thus, its translation in the Douay-Rheims Bible (DRB) and Aramaic Bible in Plain English (ABPE). They assume that the perfect tense means Mary has been graced in the past - since conception - and it continues into the present. However, while the perfect tense may be used as such, it may also merely mean that at some past time - not necessarily at her birth, where she like David was conceived in sin (Psa 51:5) - she was graced and the effect continues. In Colossians 1:23, Paul uses the Greek word "tethemeliomenoi," meaning "stable," a perfect passive participle like "kecharitomene" in Luke 1:28. According to RCC exegesis, are we to assume then that all believers in Christ have been grounded in their faith since their natural conception? See John 14:29 where the word "told" is in the perfect tense. Does this mean since thier birth too (cf. Matt 13:46; Acts 7:56; 10:45)?

The meaning of Luke 1:28 is simply that Mary had been graced by God in that she had been chosen to bear God's only begotten Son. This is indeed a high favor, but not one that went back to Mary's conception. Mary believed the same thing; as she was humbled at the very thought of these things (Luke 1:48).

Blessed Mary?

Luke 1:42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!

Here we observe the word "blessed" (Greek, Eulogemene . . . Eulogemenos) used twice. Some Catholic scholars assume that this double "blessing" here means Mary was free of sin from her conception as Jesus was. For instance, Ludwig Ott states:

The blessings of God which rests upon Mary is made parallel to the blessing of God which rests upon Christ in his humanity. This parallelism suggests that Mary, just like Christ, was from the beginning of her existence, free from all sin (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1960, p. 201).

However, Genesis 14:19-20 uses the double blessing as well. Does this mean that Abraham was God Most High, the possessor of Heaven and earth? Compare Ephesians 1:3 where the same word for "blessed" is used as in Luke 1:42 (Eulogetos . . . eulogesas). According to the RCC interpretation this would mean that all the elect would be exactly like God; God, King, Sovereign, Most High. Proper interpretation of Scripture (exegesis) disagrees with Roman eisegesis (reading into a text one's own presuppositions). Besides, even Jesus outright rejects the blessings of Mary in Luke 11:27-28. According to Jesus the blessed ones are those who hear and obey the Word of God. Though he had ample opportunity to assert it, "Blessed Mary" was not even on Jesus' radar; and it shouldn't be on ours either.

In addition, Mary is not the only woman to be given the title of "blessed" in the Bible (Judges 5:24). Jael is praised as not only as "blessed," but "most blessed." However, in the Old Testament we do not see others worshipping her. Jael is simply being honorably identified for the part she played in carrying out God's sovereign plan. In Luke 1:42, Mary is being indentified in a similar fashion. However, this is not so she should be worshipped.

Mary the New Eve?

Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

The RCC doctrine on this point relies upon parallelism and typology. They believe that as the first Eve in the Garden brought sin into the world by one act of disobedience, so the New Eve (Mary the mother of Jesus) who was sinless from conception, brought salvation and righteousness into the world by one act of obedience.

The New Eve doctrine of the Catholic Church is mindless rubbish (1 Tim 1:3-4). Unlike Paul who limited the typology of the first and second Adam (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:22, 45, 47), the Catholic Church has no direct Scripture limiting the typology of the first Eve in the Garden and the New Eve; Mary the mother of Jesus. Put another way, there is not a single verse of Scripture which mentions or supports the New Eve doctrine. The New Eve doctrine is not a biblical doctrine.

First, Eve was under the Federal Headship (see below) of Adam (1 Cor 11:3). It was not Eve that brought sin into the world, but Adam (Rom 5:12, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 21; 1 Cor 15:21; cf. Hos 6:7). Second, what is the logical end of this Catholic heresy? If the first Eve was married to the first Adam in the Garden (Gen 2:23-25), wouldn't the logical parallel be that the New Eve, Mary the mother of Jesus, was married to the Second Adam, Jesus? This is incest! But if Jesus was married to Mary and the Apostle Paul and others maintain that Christ's bride is the church (Eph 5:22-33; cf. Matt 9:15; 25:1-13; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34; Rev 21:2, 9-10), doesn't this make Jesus, who is absolutely sinless, an adulterer? Moreover, the first Eve had other children (Gen 4:1, 25), so this is contrary to another Catholic heresy; the perpetual virginity of Mary (see below). Ultimately, in the Catholic's attempt to make Mary sinless, they in turn make both Jesus and Mary sinners (incest and adultery). In the words of the Apostle Paul, "May it never be" (Rom 6:2).

Just because Jesus refers to Mary as "woman" (John 2:4) does not make her the "woman" of Genesis 3:15 anymore than the Canaanite "woman" of Matthew 15:28 was! Genesis 3:15 does not state that "she" (Mary) will crush the head of the serpent but "he" (Jesus) would. Simply put, the Eve of Genesis 3:15 (cf. Gen 3: 1-2, 4, 6, 12-13, 16) expected a male Savior (Gen 4:1; 25). Mary had no thought of being the New Eve; rather she and Joseph were rather shocked that she was chosen to bear the Messiah (Matt 1:19; Luke 1:29, 34). Mary even continued to ponder these things after Jesus was born (Luke 2:19). Mary is not the New Eve.

Jesus is Sinless?

If Mary was a sinner, than how is Jesus sinless? The answer is in the mystery of the virgin birth. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states:

Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin. (Q. 22)

Mary, a virgin (Luke 1:34), was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:18; Luke 1:35). The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, similarly as the cloud which overshadowed the Mount of Transfiguration. In such a way, Mary became the bearer of the Holy One of God (Gal 4:4). Jesus, very God of very God, was sinless before his birth as the Second Person of the Trinity, was born without sin, and will remain sinless for eternity (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Jesus, the second and last man Adam (1 Cor 15:45, 47), though he was without sin, had pity upon elect sinners so as to die in their place while they were yet the enemies of God (Rom 5:6, 10; 2 Cor 5:21). What love is this (John 15:13; Rom 5:8)! What amazing grace!

In Summary:

The RCC doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is based upon tradition, not Scripture. It is a false doctrine. There is much more that may be added to this discussion, but alas I rest.

Related Topics:

What is Federal Headship?
What is the Perpetual Virginity of Mary?
Praying the Rosary?
Catholics and Justification?
Is Purgatory Biblical?
Is Catholic Penance Biblical?
The Catholic Bible?
Apocrypha Accounts?
Transubstantiation vs. Consubstantiation vs. Memorialism vs Reformed?
Hahn's Hersey: The Four Cups?
Pre-Apostolic Succession ???
What are the three types of Merit?
Can Catholics be Saved?
Are all Protestants going to Hell (Catholic Dogma)?
Was Peter the First Pope?
Who is the One True Church?
Do you agree with what the Roman Catholic teaches?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).