Was Mary sinless?

The Roman Catholic church believes that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was born without sin. This is called the doctrine of Immaculate Conception and was formally accepted by the Roman Catholic Church in 1854. Roman Catholic doctrine states that "The blessed Virgin Mary [was] from the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Christ Jesus the Savior of Mankind, preserved free from all stain of original sin" (Pope Pious IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 1854). In short, the Bible does not support this claim in the least, continually asserting that Jesus Christ is the only person to ever be born without sin.

The idea that Mary was sinless is primarily based off one verse in the Bible. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" (Luke 1:28). The phrase "favored one" can be translated as "favored with grace." The Douay-Rheims Bible and the Aramaic Bible in Plain English translate it as "full of grace." Roman Catholic theologians claim that this was Gabriel's way of renaming Mary because he uses this phrase to address Mary. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that, as with other times people have been renamed in the Bible, this renaming reveals a part of her character: Mary, favored with grace, means that she is full of the grace of God, which they say reflects a sinless nature. Even if this is Gabriel revealing a part of Mary's character, being "favored with grace" or "full of grace" does not mean that she is sinless. There is a definite theological gap between having grace and being sinless.

Whether or not Gabriel was renaming Mary, Roman Catholic doctrine misconstrues Scripture here to say something it doesn't. The Greek word translated as "favored one" is charitoo, which means "to make graceful" or "honor with blessings." The Greek for "full of grace" is pleres charis, and it is used twice in the Bible, referring to Jesus and Stephen (John 1:14; Acts 6:8). Stephen was referred to as full of grace, but no one claims that he is sinless because of it. By being the mother of Jesus, Mary was honored with blessings from God. But this does not imply sinlessness.

If Mary was sinless, she would have had no need for a savior, yet she says, "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Luke 1:47). Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that Mary was still "saved," but that her salvation happened at the moment of her conception, and she was prevented from inheriting original sin. To support the act of God "saving" Mary at conception, the Roman Catholic Church uses Jude 1:24, which says that God is able to "keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless." It is stretching Scripture to say that this means God prevented Mary from inheriting original sin. God is able to keep us from falling into temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13; Matthew 6:13). When we are saved in Jesus Christ, we are eternally secure. By His sacrifice we become blameless before God. But nowhere does Scripture support or even imply that a person can be sinless from conception. In fact, the Bible teaches quite the opposite. Romans 3:10–12, quoting from Psalm 14 and Psalm 53, says, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." Mary did not escape original sin.

One reason some Roman Catholics believe it is necessary for Mary to be sinless is because they claim nothing unholy can touch Jesus. However, throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus touched many unholy and unclean people. The woman who had been bleeding for twelve years touched Jesus' clothes (Matthew 9:20–22). Jesus touched the hand of a dead girl and raised her from the dead (Matthew 9:25). He not only touched sinners, but He also willingly touched the most unholy thing in Jewish culture, a leper (Matthew 8:1–3; Mark 1:41–42; Luke 5:13). Jesus was known as a "friend of sinners." Jesus came to earth unafraid to make contact with the dirty and the unholy. He Himself became sin for us so that we could live with Him in heaven: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Others claim in order for Jesus to avoid the human sin nature, He had to be conceived in a sinless vessel. There is no question that Jesus was born fully human but without sin. Aside from fulfilled prophecies and the obvious miracle of it, the virgin birth was important so that Jesus could avoid the original sin apparently passed from father to children (Romans 5:12, 17, 19). Affirming the sinlessness of Jesus does not require that Mary be sinless. How far back in Jesus' genealogical line would sinlessness need to go to ensure Jesus was pure? No, Jesus is the only sinless one. If there were another, Jesus would not be the only way to the Father, a fact about which the Bible is abundantly clear (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Ephesians 2:1–10).

The Bible clearly states that every human being is a sinner. Paul says in Romans that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Mary was clearly a faithful woman whom God blessed and used in redemptive history. But she was also just as sinful as the rest of us. In fact, we see some of her flaws in the Gospel narratives when she, along with her other children, tries to stop Jesus from ministry (Mark 3:31–35). Jesus, however, was fully man and fully God. The Bible explicitly tells us of Jesus' sinlessness, never once saying anything of the sort about Mary (Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5; 1 Peter 1:19).

The Bible says very clearly that "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). The Bible teaches that Mary was a regular woman, considered one of the least important people in her society, yet chosen by God for a task of utmost importance, to carry His son. God in His grace does not require us to be sinless in order to serve Him. He uses sinners to do wonderful things for the kingdom because it is not by our power or strength that His will is accomplished or His love is communicated, but by His power in us. How wonderful it is to know that God chooses ordinary people to aid in accomplishing the miraculous: "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong" (1 Corinthians 1:27). Mary was an ordinary woman who responded to God in obedience, "I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). We, just like Mary, have the opportunity to be used by God if we respond with humble obedience. That begins by responding to Him in repentance and faith to receive the salvation offered through Jesus alone (John 3:16–18; Romans 10:9; Ephesians 2:8–10).

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