Mary: Favored but not Immaculate

By: Rob Zins

It is the Roman Catholic position that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was born without sin and committed no sin her entire life. We read this from the New Catholic Catechism:

"Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ's victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life." (Paragraph 411 NCC)
In a recent article a Roman Catholic writer attempts to show from Scripture that Mary indeed was not only born sinless (Immaculate Conception) but was preserved from committing sin her entire life.

Lumping together the Immaculate Conception and preservation from sinning, this writer begins as follows:

"It is difficult to accept the Immaculate Conception when it seems to contradict directly the passage, "all have sinned."
Evidently, a major stumbling block to the doctrine of the sinlessness of Mary is Paul's statement in Romans 3:23 that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Would not Mary be a part of the "all" who have sinned? Not so says this writer and he sets out his argument why Mary should not be included in "all have sinned."

The focus of his reasoning centers upon the use of the word "all" in Roman 3:23. Paul says, "for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." But does Paul mean "all" in the sense of all without exception? Or, does Paul mean "all" in the sense of all generally speaking but with some exceptions? It is argued that Paul could not have meant "all", as in each and every without exception, because Jesus Christ did not sin. It is argued that Jesus is an exception and so there may be others who are exempted from Paul's announcement. Hence, it is argued that Mary could also be an exception.

It should be pointed out initially that Jesus Christ is said in the Bible to be an exception. Jesus is specifically said to be sinless in the Bible. Mary is not. It should also be pointed out that anyone whose sin is not mentioned in the Bible could be said to be an exception to the "all have sinned" of Romans 3:23. If the logic is that one biblically identified exception (Jesus Christ) means there must be others, then anyone could be an exception. Joseph, Luke, Andrew, Simeon, Matthew, and a whole host of others whose sins are not recorded may well be exceptions. Why not?

With this in mind there are other textual considerations which make the logic of Mary's exception to the "all have sinned" statement of Paul highly unlikely.

It is the burden of the apostle Paul in Romans three to conclude his indictment on both Jew and Gentile as being under sin.

Rom 3:9-10
"What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written," (NASB)
Paul had begun his notification of the necessity of both groups hearing the gospel in Romans one. Jesus Christ came for the salvation of the Jew and the Gentile because both have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Rom 1:16-19
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "But the righteous man shall live by faith." For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness," (NASB). It is at this point where the Roman Catholic interpreter wishes to direct our attention to what he considers to be Paul's point. Paul, according to this interpretation, is only indicting Jews and Gentiles who have sinned. He is not including Adam and Eve before the fall. He is not including newborn children. He is not including Jesus. He is not including Esau or Jacob in the womb of Rebekah.

These examples are a product of deeper Roman Catholic theology. We shall point out a couple of things about them first. But we can rest assured that they have no bearing whatsoever on the question of Mary being a sinner.

In the first place, Adam and Eve did sin. Hence, they too are part of the "all have sinned". Secondly, newborn children are born with a corrupt nature inherited from Adam and are guilty of the one sin of Adam who is their representative head. Though a newborn child may not have sinned yet in his own person, he is nevertheless spiritually dead in Adam and guilty of Adam's sin. Thirdly, Jacob and Esau did not live sinless lives as far as we know. Jesus Christ is the only exception to the "all have sinned". We know this because the Bible informs us of it. The Bible does not enlighten us that anyone else, including Mary, was born without sin and remained sinless.

The language of Romans 3:23 is very clear. Even if we were to say that Paul had in mind only Jews and Gentiles as having sinned what is left? There is no one else left. One is either a Jew or a Gentile. There is nothing in between. The question is not whether Paul is inclusive of his indictment on mankind (Jew and Gentile). The question is whether there is anyone, except Jesus Christ, who is an exception within Paul's all inclusive statement.

Mary was a Jew. She fits within Paul's all inclusive people grouping of all who have sinned. So then the real question is whether there is anything in Scripture that leads us to believe that Mary is an exception.1 There are no biblical assertions to this effect. Mary's birth is un-recorded. Her early life is un-recorded. Her adult life is largely un-reported. Mary's death is un-recorded. We know that she lived as an adult Jewish woman. There is nothing in her life to indicate that she would be an exception to the "all have sinned". The burden of proof is on Roman Catholics to place Mary outside of Paul's "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God". It is illogical to believe that Mary was sinless because Jesus Christ was sinless. The incarnate Son of God was indeed sinless and His sinlessness is attested throughout the New Testament. But no such description is ever given to Mary or anyone else.2

At the end of the article this writer contends that Paul does not say a word about Mary in Romans 3. This is only true if you believe beforehand that Mary was born without sin and remained sinless. But if you take Paul at his word that all (Jews and Gentiles alike) have sinned then Paul is saying a lot about Mary.3

As if by simply asserting something the truth of the matter will be settled, this writer concludes some fantastic things. By sheer exertion of expression he expects us to buy into his adoration of Mary. He states that Jesus and Mary became the Adam and Eve of God's new creation. But the Bible does not say this about Mary. He goes on to say that Jesus and Mary were made holy and blameless. But the Bible does not say this about Mary. He believes that all others, both Jew and Gentile, fall short of the glory, the favor, and the grace of God. Jesus and Mary are the exceptions. But the Bible does not say this about Mary. Finally, in a resounding crescendo of unbridled devotion to Mary he states that Mary is kecharitomene (full of grace) and only she and Jesus are full of grace.

While it is true that Mary is called "favored" (Greek: kecharitomena) in Luke 1:28, it is not true that she is the only "favored" one other than Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 1:6 all those believers in Christ are called "favored" (Greek: echaritosen). The exact same Greek word (charitoo) is used of both. In the case of Mary it is used as a perfect passive participle. In the case of all believers it is used as an aorist indicative. These two occurrences are the only two in the entire New Testament of this word. Jesus is said to be full of grace in John 1:14. However, John does not employ this particular term. Does this mean that Mary had more grace than Jesus? No, it does not. The Greek construction in John is pleres charitos (full of grace). Who would argue from this different construction that Jesus has less grace than Mary? Maybe the same author who concludes that the kecharitomena of Mary is somehow greater than the echaritosen of all believers despite it being the exact same Greek root!4 rmz


1In an interesting twist to his argument this Roman Catholic writer discloses his repulsion to the idea that all are guilty before God. He does so by taking Paul's description of the kinds of sins that man commits and tracing these citations to the Old Testament. In so doing, he concludes that the charge of Paul in Romans three is only for the wicked and evil and not for the innocent. In short, Paul's "all have sinned" refers to all kinds of evil doers while explicitly excluding the innocent. But in doing this he has missed the point entirely. Paul's cavalcade of sins in Romans 3:10-12 is not designed to show that only the evil doers and wicked have sinned but that all men are sinners to one degree or another! The very idea that there are innocent men and women wandering about who fall outside of Paul's charge that "all have sinned" ruins the argument of the apostle and destroys his premise that all Jews and Gentiles are in need of Christ.

2In this particular article the author runs out of gas trying to prove his point. Instead of giving us the standard RC arguments of Mary being full of grace, and redeemed from sinning rather than from her sin, this writer goes down a bizarre trail. He wishes to convince us that the Protestant interpretation of Paul's "all have sinned" is not truly "all have sinned". It is not, says he, because Protestants leave out Jesus Christ. He then claims the RC interpretation as being much more inclusive of Paul's statement. How so? He does so by asserting there is more than one way to "have sinned." Taking Paul's statement "all have sinned" and focusing on the "have sinned" part of it, this writer insists that Jesus is part of the "have sinned" in that He emptied Himself of divinity, became stricken and smitten by God, embraced the cross and took upon Himself the sins of sinners. Mary, by virtue of her closeness to her Son suffered with Him and thereby was part of the "have sinned" with her Son. Hence, not only is Mary exempt from sinning since Paul has in mind exemptions. But, if you like, this RC writer wishes to top those Protestants who take pride in viewing Paul's "all" with the exception of Christ. Protestant theology is wrong on both sides depending on which side they prefer to defend!

3Anyone can play the game of silence. Suppose we say that Paul does not mention Andrew in Romans 3. Then say that Andrew is not mentioned as having sinned in the Bible. Then conclude that Andrew was born without sin and remained sinless his entire life.

4In Acts 7:55 Stephen, who is not recorded in Scripture as having committed any sin, was full of the Holy Spirit while gazing into heaven. Does this mean that Stephen died without sin? Does he qualify as an exemption to Paul's "all" of Romans 3:23?