Mary, Mother of Jesus

By Royce Frederick

The Bible tells us many facts about the life of Mary, mother of Jesus — mostly in Matthew and Luke. We will first present a brief outline of Mary’s life as the Lord revealed it in the Bible. Then we will examine some legends and teachings which developed in later centuries.

BEFORE the ministry of Jesus, Mary is involved in the following events:

(1) The angel Gabriel appears to Mary in Nazareth and tells her that she will conceive a Son by the Holy Spirit — Lk. 1:26-38.

(2) Mary visits her relative, Elizabeth — Lk. 1:39-56.

(3) In a dream, an angel tells Joseph that Mary’s conception was by the Holy Spirit. Joseph then takes her in marriage — Matt. 1:18-24.

(4) Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem, and Mary gives birth to Jesus — Lk. 2:1-7; Matt. 1:25.

(5) An angel tells some shepherds about His birth, and the shepherds go see Him — Lk. 2:8-20.

(6) Jesus is circumcised, named, and presented in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem — Lk. 2:21-38; Matt. 1:25.

(7) Wise men from the East visit, present their gifts, and return home — Matt. 2:1-12.

(8) King Herod desires to find Jesus to kill Him, so the family escapes to Egypt. They later return to Israel and settle in Nazareth — Matt. 2:13-23; Lk. 2:39-40.

(9) When Jesus is twelve years old, the family goes to the Feast of the Passover in Jerusalem, then returns to Nazareth — Lk. 2:41-51.

(10) Jesus continues to grow up in Nazareth — Lk. 2:51-52.

DURING the ministry of Jesus, Mary is involved in the following events:

(1) She is present at the marriage feast in Cana, where Jesus works His first miracle — Jn. 2:1-11.

(2) Jesus, His mother, His brothers, and His disciples briefly visit Capernaum — Jn. 2:12.

(3) Mary and the brothers of Jesus attempt to speak to Jesus while He is teaching in a house in Capernaum — Matt. 12:46-50; Mk. 3:31-35; Lk. 8:19-21.

(4) While He is on the cross, Jesus speaks to Mary and to one of His disciples — Jn. 19:25-27.

AFTER the ministry of Jesus, Mary is mentioned only two times:

(1) In an upper room in Jerusalem, we find the apostles, some women, Mary, and the brothers of Jesus praying — Acts 1:14.

(2) The mother of Jesus is mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, but not by her name: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” — Gal. 4:4.

Notice that Mary is involved in a large number of events before the ministry of Jesus. She is involved in only four events during His ministry. And after His resurrection, Mary is mentioned as being present only once (Acts 1:14). From Acts 2 through the remaining 22 books of the New Testament, the Bible does not mention Mary — except Galatians 4:4 regarding the birth of Jesus.

In the gospel story, Mary certainly has an important role before the ministry of Jesus. But when he begins His ministry at about age 30 (Lk. 3:23), Mary almost disappears from the pages of the gospel. In fact, Mary speaks her last recorded words at Cana (Jn. 2:5) before Jesus works His first miracle (Jn. 2:7-11). Mary decreases, and Jesus increases (compare Jn. 3:30). Even in those events before the ministry of Jesus, the focus of attention is not on Mary, but on the Son of God who is coming into the world.

Before Jesus returned to heaven, He told the apostles, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (Jn. 14:26). He later told them, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth (Jn. 16:13). Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ finished revealing the will of God before the end of the first century. At the end of his life, the apostle Peter wrote that ...His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Pet. 1:3). The New Testament is “the perfect law of liberty” (Js. 1:25). It contains everything we need to know to have eternal life.

Jesus warned that many false teachers would come (Matt. 7:15; 24:11, 24). The apostles gave the same warning (Acts 20:29-30; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:13; 4:3-4; 2 Pet. 2:1-3). Even during the first century, many false teachers were already trying to lead people away from the truth (2 Cor. 11:13-15; Gal. 1:6-7; 3:1; 5:7-10; 1 Tim. 1:6-7, 19-20; 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 2:16-18; Titus 1:10-14: 2 Pet. 3:16; 1 Jn. 2:18, 26; 4:1; 2 Jn. 7).

Is there any harm in believing and teaching a doctrine which is not in the Bible? (1) If we teach men’s doctrines, God does not accept our worship: “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9). (2) Anyone who perverts the gospel of Christ is to be “accursed” (Gal. 1:8-10; see Rev. 22:18-19). (3) Believing a false teaching will cause us to lose our reward (Col. 2:8, 18; 2 Thess. 2:9-12). (4) If we follow the teachings of men, we become disciples of those men. To be disciples of Christ, we must remain in His teachings: “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’” (Jn. 8:31-32). (5) A person who does not remain in the doctrine of Christ does not have God (2 Jn. 9).

There is only one safe course of action: we must examine every teaching by studying the Bible. If a doctrine is not taught in the Bible, we must not put our trust in it. “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). We must be like the people in Berea: “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so [true] (Acts 17:11). In the judgment day, Jesus Christ will judge us by the truth which He has revealed in His New Testament (Jn. 12:48; Rom. 2:16; Acts 17:31).

“Mother of God”?

It is not known who first called Mary “mother of God.” In the third century, some religious leaders in Alexandria, Egypt, were referring to Mary as “mother of God.”1 Many other people also began using that term. At Ephesus in A.D. 431, a group of religious leaders declared that the term “mother of God” is a valid term for Mary.2 They made their declaration more than 300 years after the Lord had completed His New Testament.

What does the Bible say? In John 2:1, Mary is called “mother of Jesus.” Her relative Elizabeth called her “mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43). Mary did not claim to be “mother of God.” Jesus Christ and His New Testament writers never called her “mother of God.”

Jesus Christ is the only person who was both human and divine. He did not have a human father, but He did have a human mother. Through a miracle, God caused the human form of Jesus to begin within Mary (Matt. 1:18-20; Lk. 1:26-38). Jesus is the only person who existed before His flesh was formed within the womb of a mother. He was “the only begotten” Son of God (Jn. 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn. 4:9). All other people come from a human father and human mother — except Adam and Eve, the first humans. The life of each person begins when their human mother conceives by a human father and God forms that person’s spirit within his body (Zechariah 12:1; see Heb. 12:9). Each person then lives only one life on earth (Heb. 9:27). When we die, our body decays, and our spirit returns to God to wait for the day of resurrection, judgment, and eternal reward or punishment (Ecclesiastes 12:7, 14; John 5:28-29; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:12-13).

Mary was the mother of the human form of Jesus. Through Mary, Jesus was a physical descendant of king David (Luke 1:32; 3:23-31; Acts 2:30). Jesus was ...born of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Romans 1:3). Jesus told Nicodemus, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Mary certainly had a unique and wonderful part in God’s eternal plan. The flesh or human form of Jesus came through Mary. But Mary was not divine, and she was not the mother of the divine nature of Jesus.

The divine nature of Jesus Christ existed long before His flesh was formed within Mary. About 700 B.C., the prophet Micah foretold that the Lord would come out of Bethlehem. That same prophecy tells us that He had existed eternally: “...whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2).

The divine nature of Jesus Christ was eternal. Calling Him “the Word,” the apostle John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...” (John 1:1-3, 14). On the night before He was crucified, Jesus prayed, “And now, 0 Father, glorify Me together with Yourself with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5). See also Jn. 8:58; Heb. 1:2, 10-12; Col. 1:16; Phil. 2:5-8.

Perhaps the people who first began using the term “mother of God” thought there would be no harm in “honoring” Mary with this new title. However, people continued exalting Mary more and more through the centuries. Eventually, many people began to worship her as if she were a deity. Errors which seem small and harmless often lead to worse errors. It is not in harmony with the teaching of the Bible to call Mary “mother of God.”

There is likewise no reason in the Bible for calling Mary “our mother.” The first woman, Eve, was called “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20). All people who have ever lived have descended from Adam and Eve. But Mary is not the physical mother of all people, and she is not our mother spiritually.

Perpetual Virginity?

In the first century A.D., there was a group known as Gnostics. They taught a mixture of Christian doctrines combined with Greek and Oriental philosophies. One of their beliefs was that all matter is evil, and everything connected with the flesh is evil. They influenced many of the Christians to believe that the human body is evil. Some people began believing it was sinful to eat a nourishing meal, marry, or give birth.3 They believed that remaining a virgin or being unmarried was more holy than being joined to a marriage partner.

To oppose that teaching, Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215) wrote “On Marriage.”4 He used many New Testament scriptures to show that marriage is not less holy than being unmarried. But other leaders taught that a person could not live the highest spiritual life while married. That is not a teaching of the Bible, but many people believed it.

Some of those people considered the life of Mary. From the Bible, they knew that Mary was still a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus. They did not want to believe that she later lived a less holy life by union with her husband Joseph. So they began teaching that she remained a virgin all of her life. This doctrine became known as the “perpetual virginity” (continual virginity) of Mary. That doctrine, likewise, is not taught anywhere in the Bible. But the doctrine became very popular. In A.D. 649, at the Lateran church in Rome, a group of religious leaders declared that the perpetual virginity of Mary is a true doctrine.5 They made their declaration more than 500 years after the New Testament was written.

What does the Bible say about marriage? Is marriage a less holy condition than being unmarried? Consider several verses:

(1) “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4).

(2) A man who desires to serve as a bishop (overseer) must be married and have children. “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence” (1 Tim. 3:2, 4). How a man rules his own house helps show how he would take care of the local church (1 Tim. 3:5). Since the overseers of the local church must be married, how could we possibly believe that being married is less holy than being unmarried?

(3) In A.D. 325, some religious leaders at Nicaea discussed the idea of requiring leaders in the church to live unmarried lives.6 They did not decide to make it a “law,” but unmarried leaders became very common. In A.D. 1074, Gregory VII caused the Lateran Council to require their religious leaders to live unmarried.7 That decree did not surprise the Lord. He foreknew and foretold that some people would depart from the truth and forbid marriage. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:1-3). Paul wrote those words about A.D. 65, more than 1000 years before the Lateran Council’s decree.

(4) The apostle Peter was married (Matt. 8:14; 1 Cor. 9:5).

(5) Jesus Himself said, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:4-6). The sexual relationship between a husband and wife was created by God Himself.

(6) “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor. 7:2-5). The Bible clearly says that Mary was married to Joseph (Matt. 1:18-25). The doctrine of perpetual virginity dishonors Mary, saying that she failed to fulfill her marriage obligations.

What does the Bible say about “brothers” and “sisters” of Jesus? If Jesus had brothers and sisters, that would certainly be evidence that Mary did not remain a virgin after Jesus was born.

In Matthew 13, we read that Jesus returned to His hometown, Nazareth, and taught in the synagogue. The people were amazed and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us?...” (Matt. 13:54-56; see Mk. 6:1-6; Lk. 4:16).

Some people claim that these “brothers” and “sisters” were merely cousins or close relatives of Jesus. In the Bible, the word “brother” does sometimes refer to a person who is merely a close relative. For example, the word “brethren” was used in a broad sense to mean that Abraham and Lot were “close relatives” (Gen. 14:14). We know that was the meaning, because Genesis 11:27-31 had already revealed that Lot was actually a nephew of Abraham. But regarding the “brothers” and “sisters” of Jesus, there are no such verses which tell us that they were actually His cousins or some other relationship.

Most students of the Bible recognize a very basic principle for understanding the Bible: a word should always be accepted in its literal, normal sense unless the context indicates it is being used in a different sense. The “context” is the portion of text which is before and after the word. The context around Matthew 13:54-56 does not provide any reason for believing that these “brothers” and “sisters” of Jesus were merely cousins or close relatives. Instead, those verses describe a typical family with a father, a mother, brothers, and sisters. The people of Nazareth knew Jesus and His family members very well. When He told them that the Old Testament prophesied about Him, they had great difficulty accepting it (Matt. 13:57-58; Mk. 6:3-6; Lk. 4:22-30). He had grown up there and had worked as a carpenter among them. They had regarded Jesus as a normal young man growing up in a normal family.

Does John 19:25-27 support the idea that the “brothers” and “sisters” were merely close relatives? Those verses tell us: “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.”

Some people say, “Jesus would not have done that if Mary had other children of her own.” (1) How can any person know what Jesus would not have done? (2) Those verses did not say Mary had no other children. (3) Must a woman be totally childless before she can become like a mother to another person? (4) Did Jesus speak His words for Mary’s sake? Or was it for John’s sake? Or perhaps for both of them? Some people may enjoy guessing why Jesus said these words, but the Bible is completely silent about His motives for saying them. Opinions and guesses do not make a dependable foundation for faith (see Gal. 1:8-10; 2 Jn. 9-10; Rev. 22:18-19; Col. 2:8,18; Matt. 15:6-9).

There is a very interesting scripture in the Old Testament which we should consider:

“I have become a stranger to my brothers, And an alien to my mother’s children; Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.” (Psalm 69:8-9, New King James Version).

The King James Version makes two sentences of these verses: alien unto my mother’s children. For the zeal...” “For” connects the thought in the two verses. The apostle Paul noted that the last part of that scripture was true about Christ: “For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me’” (Rom. 15:3). The apostle John noted that the middle part of that scripture was true about Christ. After Jesus cleansed the temple, “Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up’” (Jn. 2:17).

Is the first part of that scripture also true about Christ? Did Christ become a stranger to his “brothers” and an alien to His “mother’s children”? John tells us, His brothers therefore said to Him, ‘Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.’ For even His brothers did not believe in Him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always ready. The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil. You go up to this feast. I am not yet going up to this feast, for My time has not yet fully come’” (Jn. 7:35). The New Testament shows abundant evidence that these “brothers” were in fact His “mother’s children.” (Later, His brothers changed their attitudes and were included among His disciples, Acts 1:14.)

The “brothers” of Jesus are mentioned on six occasions in the New Testament (Jn. 2:12; Matt. 12:46; Matt. 13:55; Jn. 7:2-10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5). They are never called “cousins” or any other such term — only “brothers” of Jesus. One time their names are mentioned with Mary’s name (Matt. 13:55). On three occasions they are personally present with Mary (Jn. 2:12; Matt. 12:46; Acts 1:14).

The Bible tells us that Mary remained a virgin until after Jesus was born. “Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus” (Matt. 1:24-25). The New International Version reads, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.”

The “perpetual virginity” doctrine has absolutely no basis in the Bible, but the Bible does contain abundant evidence against it.

Immaculate Conception?

To understand the doctrine called “the immaculate conception,” we must first learn something about a doctrine called “original sin.”

Tertullian lived from 160 to 220 A.D., which was after the Bible was completed. He was the first person to formulate the doctrine of “original sin.”8 He taught that every infant inherits the guilt of Adam’s sin. He believed that each newborn infant is under God’s condemnation because of Adam’s sin, even before the child is old enough to commit any act of sin.

That doctrine produced a dilemma in the minds of many people. Regarding His human flesh, Jesus Christ was a descendant of Adam (Luke 3:23-38; Romans 1:3; John 1:1-2,14; Hebrews 2:14). If every descendant of Adam inherits the guilt of sin, was Jesus Christ born guilty of sin?

Eventually, men developed the theory that God cleansed all sin from the womb of Mary’s mother. They said God made the womb of Mary’s mother “immaculate” — completely clean. They taught that the conception of Mary’s life within her mother was an “immaculate conception.” That would mean Mary was the first person who did not inherit Adam’s sin. It would also mean that Jesus could not inherit Adam’s sin from Mary.

On February 2, 1849, Pius IX sent a letter to many leaders regarding the “immaculate conception.” He said many of his people had “an ardent desire” for a “solemn judgment” that Mary had been conceived without original sin. A commission of leaders was appointed to study the question. On November 4, 1854, a group of leaders decided in favor of the idea — 576 votes for, and 4 votes against.9 On December 8, 1854, Pius IX proclaimed: “...that the most blessed Virgin Mary was in the first instance of her conception...preserved free from every stain of original sin....”10 Please notice that this declaration was made more than seventeen centuries after God had completed the Bible.

Is the doctrine of “original sin” true or false? If the guilt of sin cannot be inherited, there is absolutely no need for the “immaculate conception” doctrine.

Adam and Eve were the first man and woman, and all people have descended from them. Because of their sin in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3):

(1) God made child-bearing more painful, and He placed the woman in subjection to her husband. He also made the work of obtaining food more difficult.

(2) The human family lost its ignorance about good and evil that day. Now, the knowledge of good and evil develops within every person as he or she grows to mental maturity.

(3) Sin entered into the world that day (Romans 5:12). Eventually, every person chooses to commit sin (Romans 3:23). The desires of our physical body lead us to commit sin (James 1:13-15; Rom. 8:5; Gal. 5:16-21; Eph. 2:3; 2 Pet. 2:18; 1 Jn. 2:15-17). But the guilt of sin is not in our flesh when we are born.

(4) Death entered into the world through their sin (Romans 5:12).

(5) All of the human family lost the beautiful garden of Eden that day. Children often inherit the consequences of their parents’ sins, but never the guilt. If a wealthy man loses all of his land and money in one day by gambling, all of his descendants lose those things that same day — even his descendants who have not yet been born. They do not become guilty of their ancestor’s gambling, but they do suffer a very real loss. Their lives may be very difficult because of the sin of their ancestor. In a similar way, our life on earth is more difficult in many ways because of the sin of Adam and Eve.

But the Bible does not teach that infants inherit the guilt of Adam and Eve’s sin. “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son... (Ezekiel 18:20). To enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus said that we must become like little children (Matthew 18:3-5; see 19:14). After the world is destroyed, each person will be judged by his own actions, not by the actions of his ancestors. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:10). “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12; see Rev. 20:12).

The Bible does not say anything at all about an “immaculate conception.” All infants are born without the guilt of sin, including Mary and Jesus.


Pelagius (about 370-440 A.D.) taught that Mary never committed any sins.11 Other people have taught that Mary was totally sinless, and they have called her “all holy.”

The Bible certainly praises Mary. The angel Gabriel called her “highly favored one” (or endued with grace) and “blessed” (Lk. 1:28). Her relative Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you among women” and called her “the mother of my Lord” (Lk. 1:42-43). Mary herself said, “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Lk. 1:48). Mary was certainly an humble, faithful, outstanding servant of God.

But the Bible never says that Mary or any other person lived a sinless life, except Jesus Christ. Instead, the Bible says, “There is none righteous, no, not one...They have all gone out of the way...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10, 12, 23). “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Eccl. 7:20). “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8). “But the Scripture has confined all under sin...” (Gal. 3:22). Solomon said, ...there is no one who does not sin... (1 Kings 8:46). Mary herself referred to God as “God my Saviour” (Lk. 1:47).

The only person who is spoken of in the Bible as completely sinless is Jesus Christ. The Bible refers to Him as “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:26); “without spot” (Heb. 9:14); “Your Holy One” (Acts 2:27); and “the Holy One and the Just” (Acts 3:14). See also Jn. 8:46; 14:30; 1 Pet. 1:19. Jesus told some enemies, “And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him” (Jn. 8:29).

The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ “committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22); “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21); and “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). John wrote, “in Him there is no sin” (1 Jn. 3:5). The Bible does not make such statements about Mary or any other person, except Jesus Christ.

Pelagius could not possibly know Mary was sinless. No person has the power to know every action of Mary’s life, and every thought of her heart. Only God is able to know those things about Mary. In His written word, He never said Mary was sinless, and He never called her “all holy.” Since God did not reveal it in the Bible, we have no reason to believe that Mary lived a totally sinless life.

Bodily Assumption?

The doctrine called “the Assumption of Mary” claims that the soul of Mary was reunited with her body shortly after her death. It says that she was then taken, body and soul, into heaven — “assumed” into heaven.

This legend may have started among the Gnostics, who claimed to receive special revelations from God. Christians rejected the legend of the assumption until about the end of the fifth century. Then many Christians began repeating the legends about Mary as a way to glorify her.12 On November 1, 1950, a proclamation was made which said that the doctrine of the assumption of Mary is “a God-revealed truth.”13 This proclamation was made more than eighteen centuries after God had finished revealing all of His truth in the Bible.

The New Testament is completely silent about the end of Mary’s life. The last fact revealed about her is that she was among the brethren in Jerusalem before the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14). The Bible does not provide one word of support for the legend of the assumption.

Devotion to Mary?

The first-century Christians showed great faith and courage. People in later centuries gave increasing honor to these “saints.” And Mary was honored among them.

But an event in 431 A.D. caused a great surge of devotion to Mary. The followers of Nestorius had been teaching that Jesus was only human when He was born, and that He later became the Son of God. In 431, a group of leaders met at Ephesus to oppose that false teaching. They affirmed the teaching of the Bible: that Jesus Christ was one with God before He came from Mary. They also went beyond the Bible by declaring that the term “Mother of God” was a valid term for Mary.14 The church in which the leaders met was later “dedicated” to Mary.15 Glorifying a feminine personality was not new in that city. Ephesus had been “temple guardian” of the “goddess” Diana, or Artemis (Acts 19:35).

Calling Mary “Mother of God” became very popular. It was a way to say that Mary’s first child was not merely a human at birth. Another popular way to affirm this belief was by painting pictures of the baby Jesus with Mary.16 The primary purpose was to honor the divinity of Christ. But both of these brought greater and greater attention to Mary. Devotion to Mary grew rapidly. Any legend which seemed to honor Mary was tolerated, then appreciated, and finally adopted by the people.17 Mary rose above all the other “saints” — in the minds of many people.

Christians are sometimes influenced to imitate the world around them. And new Christians sometimes bring some of their former ideas or practices into the church. In early centuries, the world worshiped many “gods.” Eventually, some Christians began praying to saints. A group of leaders met at Laodicea in 481 A.D. and condemned this practice.18 But praying to saints continued to grow in popularity, and leaders eventually gave their approval. The people also found other ways to glorify Mary and the saints. The Pantheon in Rome, which had been dedicated to the “gods,” was rededicated to Mary and all the saints by Boniface IV in 608 A.D.19

In 303 A.D., a group of leaders meeting at Elvira had opposed the use of all images.20 But in the fourth and fifth centuries, images representing Christ, Mary, and the saints had been brought into many churches — as aids for teaching.21 Some people began burning lights and incense before the images, and even kissing them.22 In 754 A.D., a group of 338 leaders met at Constantinople and condemned the use of images. But a group met at Nicea in 787 A.D. and gave their approval of the images.23

How highly have men promoted Mary? Here are some examples — words of mere men, not teachings of the Bible: 12th century Bernard of Clairvaux asked, “Dost thou fear the Divine Majesty in the Son?...Flee to Mary...”24 13th century — Bonaventure wrote, “Therefore, 0 Empress, and our benign Lady, by the right of a mother, command thy most beloved son, our Lord Jesus Christ....”25 14th century — Benedict XI called Mary “the mediatrix of all graces.”26 15th century — Bernardine of Sienna wrote, “Mary has done more for God, than God has for man....”27 15th century — Bernardine of Busti wrote, “...the blessed Virgin is herself superior to God, and God himself is her subject.”28 18th century Alphonsus Liguori wrote “...she offered to the eternal Father the life of her beloved Son on Mount Calvary....”29 “We ask many things of God and do not obtain them; we ask them from Mary and obtain them.”30 “She possesses, by right, the whole kingdom of her son.”31 “...the salvation of all depends on preaching Mary, and confidence in her intercession.”32 The men who wrote those statements may have been sincere. But their statements — which are absolutely foreign to the Bible — clearly oppose many of the truths which are taught in the Bible.

SHOULD WE BOW TO MARY? The apostle Peter did not permit a man to bow before him: “As Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him, up, saying, ‘Stand up, I myself am also a man’” (Acts 10:25-26). The people at Lystra thought Paul and Barnabas were “gods” and tried to offer sacrifices to them. Paul and Barnabas “...tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these vain [worthless] things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them’” (Acts 14:14-15).

Twice in the last book of the Bible, angels would not permit the apostle John to bow before them: “...And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God’” (Rev. 22:8-9; see 19:10). The Bible does not tell of anyone attempting to bow before Mary. But it does tell us Mary’s attitude. She called herself “the maidservant of the Lord” (Lk. 1:38), and she never claimed to be more than a mere human.

Jesus was likewise a servant of God the Father (Phil. 2:7; Matt. 20:26-28; Jn. 13:5, 14). But He was more than a servant. He was also the Son of God (Jn. 10:36). He was one with God (Jn. 1:1, 14; 10:30; Phil. 2:6). Jesus Christ did accept worship. After Jesus had walked on the water and entered the boat, “Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Truly You are the Son of God’” (Matt. 14:33). See also Matt. 8:2; 9:18; 15:25; 28:9, 17; Lk. 24:52; Jn. 9:38. Jesus said, “...that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (Jn. 5:23). When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wise men from the East searched for Him “to worship Him” (Matt. 2:2). “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him” (Matt.2:11). Jesus and Mary were both there. But the wise men did not worship them. They did not worship Mary. They worshiped only Him, and presented gifts to Him.

SHOULD WE BOW BEFORE AN IMAGE WHICH REPRESENTS MARY? God’s Old Testament for Israel said, “You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (Ex.20:4-5). “Take careful heed to yourselves for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female... (Deut. 4:15-16). God’s New Testament for all nations tells us that God’s attitude toward images is still the same (Acts 17:16, 29; Rom. 1:22-25; 1 Cor. 6:9; Rev. 21:8; 22:15). “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (1 Jn. 5:21).

In the first century A.D., and since that time, many thousands of people have ...turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9-10).

SHOULD WE BE AFRAID to approach God through Christ in prayer? Does Jesus lack compassion, so that we must go to Mary first? “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but [Christ] was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16; see 10:19-22; 2 Cor. 1:3-4). How could anyone be more compassionate than Jesus Christ? His heart overflowed with compassion — and help — for people with all kinds of problems (Matt. 8:3, 7, 15-17; 9:2-6, 10-13, 36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Lk. 7:13-15; 19:41; Jn. 8:1-11; 11:33-35, and many more). He left heaven’s glory to share our struggles, to be abused by us, and to die for us! He paid the penalty for our sins, so that we can live! “By this we know love, because he laid down His life for us...” (1 Jn. 3:16; see Jn. 10:11, 17-18).

DID MARY OFFER JESUS TO GOD AT CALVARY? Positively not. Mary saw Jesus crucified, but she certainly did not offer Him as a sacrifice to God. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3.-16).

DOES GOD RESIST OR FAIL TO GIVE US WHAT WE NEED? “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32; see Js. 1:5, 17).

IS THERE MORE THAN ONE MEDIATOR? Should we approach God through Mary or the “saints”? “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all...” (1 Tim. 2:5-6). Christ is “ the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34). “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He ever lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).

ARE MARY, THE APOSTLES, OR OTHER “SAINTS” ABLE TO HEAR OUR PRAYERS? The Bible does not give us any reason to believe that they can hear one person pray aloud, nor hear the prayers of all Christians on earth, nor hear the silent prayers within the hearts of all Christians. God is the one who knows and hears all things (1 Sam. 16:7; 1 Kgs. 8:39; 1 Chron. 28:9; Ps. 44:21; 139:1-4, 7-12; Is. 66:18; Jer. 17:10; Lk. 16:15; Acts 1:24; Rom. 8:27; Heb. 4:12; Rev. 2:23). The Bible does not contain one command to pray to Mary or the “saints,” nor one example of anyone doing it. Christians living on earth are called “saints” (Phil. 1:1; Rom. 15:25-26, 16:15). While Christians are alive on the earth, they should certainly pray for each other (Rom. 15:30; Eph. 6:18-20; Js. 5:16; 1 Jn. 5:16). But the Bible does not teach us to pray to people who have died, nor for people who have died.

IN WHOSE NAME SHOULD WE PRAY? Speaking of the time when He would arise from death, Jesus said, “And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full...In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I shall pray the Father for you; for the Father Himself loves you because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from God” (Jn. 14:23-24, 26).

IS MARY RULING NOW? Is she Empress,” superior to God, possessor of the kingdom, and able to command the Father and Son? After His resurrection, Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). God the Father is the only one who is not subject to Christ (1 Cor. 15:27).

Notice the changes in relationship between Mary and Christ:

(1) SUBJECTION OF THE CHILD JESUS to Mary and Joseph — Jesus “was subject to them” (Lk. 2:51).

(2) RESPECT AND HELP FOR MARY — Before His first miracle, Jesus respectfully rebuked His mother, yet responded to the need which she had mentioned to Him (Jn. 2:3-11).

(3) NO SPECIAL PRIVILEGES for Mary and His brothers. “Then one said to Him, ‘Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.’ But He answered and said to the one who told Him, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother’” (Matt. 12:47-50; see also Lk. 11:27-28).

(4) SUBJECTION OF MARY to the will of Christ as she waited with the other disciples in Jerusalem (Acts. 1:4, 14). Mary never sought after glory and power. She remained an humble, faithful maidservant of the Lord!

Jesus loved the church, died for it, and built it (Eph. 5:25; Acts 20:28; Matt. 16:18). Mary does not rule over the church in any way. Since the church belongs to Christ, men have no right to dedicate His church to Mary or anyone else. Men may dedicate their own churches to anyone they choose. But the church of Christ belongs only to Christ. He is ...head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all...Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body...the church is subject to Christ” (Eph. 1:22-23; 5:23-24).

Jesus governs His church today through His written word (Jn. 16:7-13; 2 Pet. 1:3; Jude 3; Rom. 10:17; 2 Jn. 9; Jn. 12:48; Rom. 2:16; Gal. 1:8-10). No legend or tradition can ever become old enough to replace the authority of God’s written word. No council can ever gather enough votes to overrule the will of God. The doctrines of men change directions like the blowing of the wind. But when we obey only the will of God in the Bible, we will not be “...tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine...” (Eph. 4:14).


We must never exalt any man, woman, or thing above Christ. God has “...highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Col. 2:8-10). We must always be “holding fast to the Head” (Col. 2:19). God has given Him the highest place of all, “...that in all things He may have the preeminence (Col. 1:18).  



Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, by John McClintock and James Strong: 9vol. IV, page 506; 12vol. V, page 839; 14vol. V, page 752; 15vol. V, page 752; 16vol. V, page 752; 17vol. V, page 752; 18vol. IV, page 638; 19vol. VII, page 624; 20vol. IV, pages 503-504; 21vol. IV, page 504; 22vol. IV, page 503; 23vol. VII, page 47.

The Catholic Faith, by John Harvey Treat: 11pages 16-17: 25pages 56-57; 27page 59; 28page 61.

The Eternal Kingdom, by F. W. Mattox: 3pages 75 & 120; 4page 120; 6pages 193 & 219; 7page 193; 8page 117.

The Glories of Mary, by Alphonsus Liguori: 29page 23; 30page 150; 31page 280; 32page 19.

Mary...Fact and Fiction, by James M. Tolle: 1page 3; 2page 4; 10page 10; 13pages 14-15; 26page 19.

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge: 24vol. VII, page 221.

Question Box, by B. L. Conway: 5page 378.