Is Mary the Mother of God?
Catholics have recited the “Hail Mary” prayer for many years. It includes the words, “Holy Mary, Mother of God.” These words represent one of the most treasured doctrines of Catholicism. In A.D. 431, the Council of Ephesus proclaimed Mary “to be the mother of God because God the Word took flesh and became man and from his very conception united to himself the temple he took from her” (“Formula of Union...” n.d.). One of the arguments used extensively to support this doctrine is presented as follows: (1) Mary was the mother of Jesus; (2) Jesus is God; (3) therefore, Mary is the “Mother of God.” This syllogism may seem logical, but the conclusion is superficial. Consider the following.
First, although the Bible documents that Mary became the mother of Jesus and clearly teaches that Jesus is God, it never states, or even implies, that Mary was (or is) the “Mother of God.” For a theological syllogism to explain correctly the relationship between Mary and God, it must be based on biblical truth. We can propose correctly that (1) Jesus is God (Hebrews 1:8); (2) God became flesh (John 1:1,14); (3) therefore, Mary is the mother of Jesus according to the flesh (Romans 9:5), i.e., Jesus’ physical body.
Second, we should keep in mind that Deity is not constituted by a literal family—with fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters—like some of the gods of Greek and Roman mythology. Although we refer to the first and second Persons of the Godhead as the Father and the Son, these titles do not denote a literal familial bond, but emphasize Their united and divine nature. To refer to Mary as the “Mother of God” is to misunderstand the nature of Deity and misapply Scripture.
Third, consider the consequences which develop from such an inappropriate use of the syllogism aforementioned. Since the Bible records that Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18), Catholics conclude that it is correct to refer to Mary as “the daughter of God the Father, Mother of Jesus Christ, and true spouse of the Holy Spirit” (Peffley, n.d., p. 3). If the Holy Spirit is Mary’s “husband” (and, therefore, Jesus’ “father”), and Jesus is God, would not the Holy Spirit be the “father” of God? This is not only a completely erroneous application of Scripture, but also blasphemous theology. Now let us consider some additional evidence from the Bible that further explains Mary’s relationship to God.
God does not have a physical mother.
Speaking to the Son, the Father declared, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” (Hebrews 1:8, emp. added). In God’s revelation to the apostle John, the resurrected Christ said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,...who is and who was and who is to come” (Revelation 1:8, emp. added). The Son did not have a beginning; He is the Beginning. “He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). Paul pointed out, “He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Colossians 1:17, emp. added).
The Son’s existence did not begin with His conception in Mary’s womb. He was alive in eternity (cf. Micah 5:2), and, at the right time in history, He became flesh (John 1:1,14). Paul put it this way: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4). On the other hand, Mary came into a time-bound world long after the creation of the Universe. She, like all human beings, was not eternal. She was not divine, not “from everlasting to everlasting” (Micah 5:2). She could not have provided an eternal nature to her Son. He is Deity. He is the “eternally blessed God” (Romans 9:5).
Consider how Jesus explained His divine nature. When addressing the Pharisees, He asked them: “‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?’ They said to Him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How then does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord’.... If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?’” (Matthew 22:42-45, emp. added). The Pharisees failed to answer the question correctly because they were thinking about the physical nature of the Messiah. While Christ was a physical descendant of David (cf. Luke 1:32; Matthew 1:1), according to His divine nature He did not have a physical father, since He Himself is before all (John 8:58). In the same way that David could not be the father of the divine Messiah since he called Him “Lord,” Mary cannot be the “Mother of God” since she calls Him “Lord” in Luke 1:38,46-47. The truth is, as Paul explains, “according to the flesh, Christ came” through the patriarchs, David, and, yes, Mary, but according to His deity, He is the “eternally blessed God” who is over all (Romans 9:5, emp. added).
Mary never was considered the “Mother of God.”
There is not a single verse in the Bible that describes Mary as the “Mother of God.” In fact, none of the inspired writers of either the Old or New Testament gave even a hint that she should be regarded as such. This idea is based purely on human tradition. Mary considered herself as a “maidservant of the Lord” (Luke 1:38, emp. added) and considered God as her “Savior” (Luke 1:47). Sadly, many have distorted this concept.
When speaking about the blessing of being chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah, Mary declared: “For He [God] has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant” (Luke 1:48, emp. added). Certainly the words “lowly state” would be inappropriate to refer to Mary if she is the “Mother of God.” W.E. Vine has noted that the Greek word for “lowly state” is tapeinosis, which denotes “abasement, humiliation, or low estate” (1966, 3:23). Mary was conscious of the humble state of her human condition.
Additionally, the New Testament makes it very clear Who became flesh. It was God Who took on the form of a man (John 1:14) and was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4). The woman did not become “divine” in order to conceive the Son of God. The Bible mentions Mary as the mother of Jesus, but never as the “Mother of God” (cf. Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; Acts 1:14; et al.).
Mary never was worshipped as the “Mother of God.”
Catholics worship Mary, claiming that she has “divine maternity” (“Dogmatic Constitution...,” 1964, 8.3). But if Mary is to be worshipped as the “Mother of God,” we should expect to find a biblical command to do so, or a biblical example of approved action. However, such commands and examples are nowhere to be found. From the first moment Mary appears in the biblical record, there is no indication of her being the object of worship of any kind. When God’s angel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah, the heavenly messenger did not worship her (Luke 1:26-38). The shepherds, who came to the stable, praised God—not Mary—for what they had witnessed (Luke 2:16-20). Later, the wise men came to a house and “saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him” (Matthew 2:11, emp. added)—not Mary. Simeon and Anna, who had waited their entire lives for the Messiah, recognized Jesus as the One sent by God. They did not offer any special acknowledgement or praise to Mary (Luke 2:21-38). Additionally, Jesus’ disciples never gave Mary any preeminence during their gatherings, much less worshipped her as the “Mother of God” (cf. Acts 1:14-26).
When Mary asked for Jesus’ help at the wedding in Cana, He said, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?” (John 2:4, emp. added). He used the word “woman” not in a derogatory way but as an expression of respect and affection (cf. Matthew 15:28; John 19:26; 20:15; Lyons, 2004). He may have used “woman” instead of “mother” to emphasize that “in his calling Jesus knows no mother or earthly relative, [but] he is their Lord and Savior as well as of all men” (Lenski, 1961, p. 189).
Jesus made it clear that Mary had no preeminence among His followers or before God. On one occasion, “He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers!’” (Matthew 12:49, emp. added). Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that anyone who believed in Him and obeyed the will of the Father would be blessed as part of His family. But He did not say that any member of that family was worthy of worship or adoration.
Another incident in Jesus’ ministry is worth mentioning. While Jesus was teaching the multitudes, “a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!’” (Luke 11:27). Jesus responded, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (11:28, emp. added). Again, Jesus made it clear that there was nothing about Mary that elevated her above anyone else who heard the Word of God and obeyed it. Jesus Himself taught us not to consider His mother as the “Mother of God,” a person to be worshipped.
The title “Mother of God” is unbiblical, as are other titles given to Mary, such as “Mother of the Church,” “Mother of Mercy, Life, Gentleness, and Hope,” “Door to Heaven,” etc. Worship directed toward her (or any other mere human being), rather than to Almighty God, not only denigrates appreciation and respect for Deity, but also leads further into apostasy.
“Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” (1964), Second Vatican Council [On-line], URL: http://www.vatican.va/ archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_ council/documents/vatii_const_19641121_ lumen-gentium_en.html.
“Formula of Union Between Cyrill and John of Antioch” (no date), The Council of Ephesus [On-line], URL: http://www.ewtn.com/library/COUNCILS/EPHESUS.HTM.
Lenski, R.C.H. (1961), The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg).
Lyons, Eric (2004), “How Rude!?,” [On-line], URL: http://apologeticspress.org/articles/593.
Peffley, Francis J. (no date), “Mary and the Mission of the Holy Spirit,” [On-line], URL: http://www.legionofmary.org/files/marymission.pdf.
Vine, W.E. (1966), An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell).