One billion people adore and pray to Mary. Is this practice biblical?
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With one of its many beads pinched between forefinger and thumb, a rosary sways in a woman’s hand. She approaches a private, serene place, illuminated with burning candles.
Kneeling down, she begins to recite, almost at a whisper, a prayer of intercession. Her heart is deeply troubled—she is grieving over the loss of a loved one.
As minutes tick by and emotions well up, her prayer intensifies. Her fingers move from bead to bead. As her grip grows firmer, their faceted shapes leave little impressions on her fingers.
Lifting her head, the woman stares intently at the object of her devotion. Her misting eyes are fixed on a statue of a woman clothed in blue and white. A crown adorns the veil covering the statue’s head; she cradles an infant in her left arm. The Madonna and Child captivate the woman’s gaze.
Her prayer soon becomes audible. The Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen) pours out: “Hail, holy queen, Mother of Mercy! Our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping, in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us; and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.”
She moves to another prayer: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
Confident her prayers were heard, the woman, still clutching her rosary, stands and leaves, knowing that tomorrow she will return.
She is not alone. For thousands of years, millions of women and men alike, across nations and cultures, have offered prayers and adoration to a Mary. Pictures and statues of this personage are commonplace. She is depicted in various ways: standing alone, holding a small child or a baby, or astride a crescent moon with stars surrounding her head. People erect shrines in her honor, with others claiming that she appears to them in visions.
Having been brought up in a large Catholic church, I recited the Hail Mary and Salve Regina many times. I never gave much thought about what I was saying or to whom I was saying it. Nor did I question whether the doctrines embodied by these prayers were scriptural—based solely on the Bible. Like so many others, I simply accepted what I had been taught without question.
Who is this Mary? Is she Mary, the mother of Jesus, spoken of in the Bible? Does God’s Word support praying to her? Does she intercede on behalf of Christians? Is this the “queen of heaven” mentioned in the Bible?
Before answering these questions, keep in mind Jesus Christ’s warning: “This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…Full well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition” (Mark 7:6-9).
Though some would try to redefine what worship is, and is not, the Second Commandment is most clear (Ex. 20:4-5; Deut. 5:8-10)! Religious images and statues always become objects of worship, and this also breaks the First Commandment (Ex. 20:3): “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Mary was a young Jewish girl engaged to Joseph, a carpenter. Like any young woman, she probably had her life planned: marriage, bearing children, raising a family, growing old with Joseph, one day enjoying her own grandchildren and perhaps great-grandchildren.
Mary had no hint that she had been selected to experience a monumental, life-changing event, a major step that would be part of the overarching Plan of God, affecting all peoples—past, present and future.
At a point, Mary came face to face with an archangel named Gabriel, whom God sent to Nazareth, a small town in Galilee, to carry out a special mission. “Hail, you who are highly favored,” he greeted young Mary. “The Lord is with you: blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:28).
Mary was familiar with Old Testament accounts of God-fearing men and women who had encountered angels. Now she was standing before such a being. Naturally, she was startled, rendered virtually speechless. After all, God rarely sends angels to appear before human beings.
As Gabriel watched her struggle to find the right words to respond he said, “Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with God” (vs. 29-30).
While Mary found favor with God, this verse says nothing about being “full of grace” or being able to “extend grace” to another. Nor does any other verse in God’s Word say any such thing. This belief is simply not supported by Scripture.
Mary was a person of honorable character. Adultery and all other forms of promiscuity were common during the time she lived—yet Mary saved her virginity for her future husband. Also, rather than rebel against God, she submitted to His will, calling herself a “handmaid of the Lord” (vs. 38), despite rumors that she was an unwed mother.
However, Mary was not holy or without sin, as popular doctrine asserts. The Bible clearly states that, with the exception of Jesus Christ, “There is none righteous, no, not one,” and “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:10, 23).
On one occasion, Jesus was approached by a certain ruler who asked Him, “Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). Jesus’ response? “Why call you Me good? None is good, save [except] one, that is, God” (vs. 19).
Take note. If Christ’s mother was “holy” or “sinless,” surely He would have mentioned it—yet He did not.
When a woman praised Jesus’ mother in His presence, what was His response? “Yes rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it” (Luke 11:28).
Mary strove to obey God. Nevertheless, like any other human being, she was subject to the pulls and weaknesses of the flesh, and therefore sinned, as do all.
She knew and understood that she too needed a Savior (Luke 1:46-47).
Notice Luke 1:31-33: “Behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”
Many are familiar with this scripture. Mary did conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit—God’s Spirit—and gave birth to Jesus, who was God in the flesh. In every sense of the word, she was Jesus’ physical mother.
But does this mean she is “the mother of God”?
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, “The title seems to have arisen in devotional usage, probably in Alexandria, sometime in the 3rd or 4th century; it was a logical deduction from the doctrine of the full deity of Christ, which was established as a dogma during the 4th century, and those who defended that dogma were also the ones who drew the inference.” It is supposed that the “…determination of the Council of Nicaea in 325 that Christ was not merely the highest of creatures but belonged on the divine side of the line between Creator and creature was even responsible for the rapid growth of devotion and speculation attached to Mary as the highest of creatures [emphasis ours]. By the end of the 4th century, the [title “mother of God”] had successfully established itself in various sections of the church.”
But what does the Bible say?
The apostle John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). Two divine Beings—both called God—have eternally existed.
Through the Word (who later became Jesus Christ – John 1:14), “All things were made…and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3)—“For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him” (Col. 1:16). This includes His physical mother, Mary.
Speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament—the “I AM” who spoke to Moses (Ex. 3:14). Certainly, He also existed before Mary.
To fulfill an important part in God’s plan of salvation, the Word voluntarily decided to be born of a woman, to become God in the flesh. Because He was the Supreme Creator, His divine life far outvalued His creation. And because He was physical—subject to pulls of the flesh—He was capable of committing sin. Yet if He never strayed, never broke God’s laws, as a God-being in the flesh, He could offer His sinless, innocent life as the ultimate and perfect sacrifice.
Mary was a human instrument whom God the Father used and through which the Word—the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ—took on the appearance of flesh—came in the form and likeness of man, became God in the flesh. As the Word, He did not come into existence through a human birth—He had eternally existed. Mary was the mother of Jesus Christ—God in the flesh—but she was not the mother, the source or originator of God.
Search the entire Bible. You will not find one instance of the phrase “the Mother of God.” No twisting of Scripture can make it otherwise. Nor is Jesus’ mother ever referred to as the “queen of heaven.” (But another “Mary” is!) Mary is only referred to as “His mother” or “the mother of Jesus,” the last instance found in Acts 1:14. After that point, the Bible no longer mentions her.
Why is this—especially if we are to adore and pray to her?
There is a common misconception that Jesus Christ was an only child, and that it was impossible for Him to have brothers and sisters because of Mary’s supposed “perpetual virginity.”
Yet Matthew 13:54-56 (NKJV) states, “When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished 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? Where then did this Man get all these things?’”
Though some might try to spiritualize away what this passage clearly reveals, the Greek (the language in which the New Testament was originally written) words for “brothers” and “sisters” mean just that—flesh-and-blood siblings.
From this single passage, we can draw a number of conclusions: (1) Mary was the mother of Jesus; (2) Jesus had four brothers; (3) He had at least two sisters; (4) Jesus and His six or more siblings had a common mother.
These are the most specific verses identifying the family relations of Jesus Christ. If one accepts these verses, it should be impossible to believe that Jesus was an only child, as this would plainly contradict the Bible.
Another passage clearly shows that Mary came together in sexual union with her husband after Jesus’ birth. Matthew 1:18 (NKJV) states, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” This implies that, as husband and wife, they eventually shared intimate relations.
Continuing in verse 20: “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.’”
The angel did not express any words forbidding Joseph to take Mary as his wife, but instead encouraged him with the words “do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife.” The angel did not say, “Do not dare touch Mary, for she is to be a virgin throughout her life.”
The concept of Mary’s perpetual, or lifelong, virginity derived from the early writings of a Catholic scholar named Origen (AD 185-254). His claims, based on the apocryphal Gospel of James, which focuses on the childhood of Mary up to the birth and childhood of Jesus, appeared around the middle of the second century.
As you can see, the perpetual virginity doctrine crumbles in a heap in light of these and other scriptures.
Who is a Christian’s intercessor? Is it a shared role—or held by only one person? Is it Mary, Christ or both?
Let’s begin by examining the gospel accounts of Christ’s life and death. A key prophecy describing where Jesus went after His Resurrection is found in Luke 22: “And as soon as it was day, the elders of the people and the chief priests and the scribes came together, and led Him into their council, saying, Are You the Christ? Tell us. And He said unto them, If I tell you, you will not believe: And if I also ask you, you will not answer Me, nor let Me go. Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God” (vs. 66-69).
Jesus’ words are clear. There is no mention of Mary.
After Jesus was raised from the dead, He continued to teach His disciples and prepare them for the work they would carry out after He was gone. The account in Mark records that after fulfilling His task, Christ ascended into heaven: “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).
It is Christ whom God raised to the second-highest position possible on Earth or in heaven. Notice: “When He [the Father] raised Him [Christ] from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and has put all things under His feet” (Eph. 1:20-22).
Again, no mention of Mary.
And what is Jesus’ role now that He is “sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3)?
Among His many roles and titles—such as Prince of Peace, Savior, Chief Apostle, King of kings, Lord of lords—Jesus Christ is also referred to as “High Priest.” “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:14-15).
Nowhere does God’s Word ascribe any office or title to Jesus’ mother!
Let’s examine more about Christ’s all-important office. In Hebrews 3:1-2, the apostle Paul writes, “Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; who was faithful to Him that appointed Him.” The Bible plainly states that God the Father appointed Jesus Christ to the office of spiritual High Priest. This is the office through which Christ—and Christ alone—works.
But what does Jesus do as High Priest?
In Hebrews 8, Paul elaborates on Christ’s responsibilities as High Priest. “We have such a High Priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a Minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man. For every high priest is ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices” (vs. 1-3).
Jesus Christ is described as a “Minister” in God’s sanctuary. He, and no one else, is actively working as Mediator between Christians and the Father. His sacrifice alone gives Christians access to God. Christians do not have to—and cannot—go through anyone else to have access to God.
In Ephesians 2, Paul records, “But now in Christ Jesus you who sometimes were far off are made near by the blood of Christ…for through Him [alone] we both [Jew and Gentile] have access by one Spirit unto the Father” (vs. 13, 18).
Christ’s death was required to break this wall of separation. Through prayer, Christians are now permitted to enter God’s throne room (Heb. 4:16). Only through Jesus, the active High Priest over His New Testament Church, is this possible. His responsibilities include presenting spiritual sacrifices—prayers—to God the Father.
Paul wrote, “Wherefore He [Christ] is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him [He does not need anyone else’s help], seeing He ever lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).
Christ intercedes on behalf of Christians. The word “intercede” means to “intervene between parties with a view to reconciling differences.” In I Timothy 2:5, Christ is also called the “Mediator between God and men”—not Mary.
It is plain then that Jesus takes an active role in working with true Christians and the Father—and no one else!
Scriptures easily disprove commonly held erroneous beliefs about Jesus’ mother. We will examine two more: that Mary is alive in heaven and, at various times, appears in vision to believers.
Contrary to the beliefs of mainstream Christianity, when people die, they are dead—period. They do not roll around in heaven or eternally roast in hell. Neither do they bide their time in purgatory or roam the earth as ghosts. Therefore, they cannot appear or speak to anyone. These popular ideas are manmade inventions based on the “traditions of men” (Mark 7:6-7, 9).
The Bible teaches that “the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything” (Ecc. 9:5). Christ Himself said, “…no man has ascended up to heaven” (John 3:13). Even King David, whom God said was “a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22), did not go to heaven when he died. The apostle Peter preached, “He is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day” (Acts 2:29).
Paul wrote that since all people have sinned (Rom. 3:23), they have earned the wages of sin—death (Rom. 6:23)—not eternal life in hell, heaven or anywhere else! On the other hand, eternal life is a gift from God. It is not something we already inherently possess.
Believe God’s Word for what it says.
The Bible teaches that all of God’s faithful and righteous servants—His saints—David, Moses, Aaron, Sarah, for example—are dead, “asleep in the grave,” awaiting the First Resurrection at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (I Cor. 15:12-23, 50-54; I Thes. 4:13-17; Heb. 11:39-40). Mary will be resurrected among them. She is still in the grave and, contrary to what men may assert, she does not appear nor speak in vision to anyone. The Bible has long warned against being deceived by false miracles, dreams and demonic supernatural events (Jer. 14:13-14, 23:16-17, 21, 25-27, 30-32).
As we approach the end of Satan’s rule over Earth (II Cor. 4:4; I John 5:19; Rev. 12:9) and the Return of Jesus Christ, false miracles and visions will increase, deceiving an unsuspecting humanity (Matt. 24:24; II Thes. 2:9; Rev. 13:13).
Understand that Satan is a master counterfeiter. He counterfeits virtually every one of God’s true doctrines, pawning off his forgeries on humanity. As the “god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4), he “deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9). It should be no surprise then that “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” and “his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness” (II Cor. 11:14-15), who then teach his counterfeit doctrines to the masses. Through his ministers, the devil has been able to take pagan religious practices, slightly repackage them with Christian-sounding names, and deceive most of mankind into observing them instead of God’s Holy Days.
Satan’s practice of counterfeiting the things of God includes counterfeiting Mary. It is the devil’s version of “Mary”—anciently called Ishtar or Ashtaroth—who is being worshipped by millions. And this Mary has her own pagan religious celebration—Easter!
The article “The Mary of Antiquity – Clever Counterfeit Exposed!” (also found in this issue), makes this ancient connection plain.