Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Bible Teaches That Mary Sinned

Earlier today, in response to a post by Evan May at Steve Hays' blog, I mentioned that we have good Biblical evidence that Mary was a sinner. I want to give an example.

I've often mentioned the doctrine of the sinlessness of Mary as an illustration of why Roman Catholics don't want us to interpret scripture as we would interpret other forms of communication. They wouldn't want us to interpret Athanasius or a papal decree from Pope Benedict XVI the way they interpret scripture.

This doctrine of Mary's sinlessness is also an example of how selective Catholics are in their concern for what the church fathers believed. For hundreds of years, no church father said that Mary was sinless. Yet, from the second century onward, in both the West and East, we see one source after another either directly or indirectly referring to Mary as a sinner (Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, A Treatise On Re-Baptism, Apostolic Constitutions, etc.). The concept that Mary was sinless for a large part of her life seems to first arise among patristic sources sometime in the fourth century, but it's accompanied by references to Mary's being a sinner at other times and the continuance of the older view that she was a sinner like anybody else.

This patristic belief that Mary was a sinner goes back to scripture itself, if we're to interpret scripture as we would other forms of communication. (Those who allege that we should interpret it otherwise carry the burden of proof.) An example is Luke 2:48-50. Mary mistakenly thinks that Jesus has mistreated her, criticizes Jesus by asking Him why He treated His parents that way, is rebuked by Jesus, and is referred to by Luke as being ignorant of what Jesus was saying. The gulf existing between Luke 2 and the modern Roman Catholic view of Mary is large. We can see it in the attempts of Roman Catholic scholars to offer unlikely renderings of the passage in order to get around the most natural reading, and those attempts at alternative renderings have been criticized by other Roman Catholic scholars.

A group of some of the leading Catholic and Lutheran scholars in the world concluded that "Mary's complaining question in v. 48 seems to be a reproach to Jesus" (Raymond Brown, et al., editors, Mary in the New Testament [Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1978], p. 160). Referring to attempts to avoid the most natural reading of verse 50, they comment, "This whole effort borders on eisegesis." (n. 369 on p. 161) Darrell Bock writes:

"Mary, speaking for both parents, wants to know why he [Jesus] has done such a seemingly insensitive thing. Jesus' reply in the next verse addresses both of them as well. The form of Mary's question may have OT roots (Gen. 20:9; 12:18; 26:10; Exod. 14:11; Num. 23:11; Judg. 15:11). This is the language of complaint....Bovon 1989: 159 notes that the idiom suggests the questioner's [Mary's] belief that an error has been made." (Luke, Volume 1, 1:1-9:50 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1994], p. 268 and n. 18 on p. 268)