Definition: The divinely chosen and highly favored woman who gave birth to Jesus. There are five other Marys mentioned in the Bible. This one was a descendant of King David, of the tribe of Judah, and a daughter of Heli. When she is first introduced to us in Scripture, she is engaged to Joseph, also of the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David.
What can we learn from the Bible record about Mary?
(1) A lesson in willingness to listen to what God says through his messengers even though what we hear may at first disturb us or seem impossible.—Luke 1:26-37.
(2) Courage to act in harmony with what one learns to be God’s will, trusting fully in him. (See Luke 1:38. As shown at Deuteronomy 22:23, 24, there could be serious consequences for an unmarried Jewish girl who was found to be pregnant.)
(4) Giving prominence to spiritual interests. (See Luke 2:41; Acts 1:14. It was not required that Jewish wives join their husbands for the long trip to Jerusalem at Passover time each year, but Mary did so.)
(5) Appreciation of moral purity.—Luke 1:34.
Was Mary truly a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus?
Luke 1:26-31 (JB) reports that it was to “a virgin” whose name was Mary that the angel Gabriel carried the news: “You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus.” At this, verse 34 states, “Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin [“I do not know man: i.e., as husband,” NAB footnote; “I am having no intercourse with a man,” NW]?’” Matthew 1:22-25 (JB) adds: “Now all this took place to fulfil the words spoken by the Lord through the prophet: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Immanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’. When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home and, though he had not had intercourse with her, she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.”
Is this reasonable? Surely it was not impossible for the Creator, who designed the human reproductive organs, to bring about the fertilization of an egg cell in the womb of Mary by supernatural means. Marvelously, Jehovah transferred the life-force and the personality pattern of his firstborn heavenly Son to the womb of Mary. God’s own active force, his holy spirit, safeguarded the development of the child in Mary’s womb so that what was born was a perfect human.—Luke 1:35; John 17:5.
Was Mary always a virgin?
Matt. 13:53-56, JB: “When Jesus had finished these parables he left the district; and, coming to his home town, he taught the people in their synagogue in such a way that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did the man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? This is the carpenter’s son, surely? Is not his mother the woman called Mary, and his brothers [Greek, a·del·phoiʹ] James and Joseph and Simon and Jude? His sisters [Greek, a·del·phaiʹ], too, are they not all here with us?’” (On the basis of this text, would you conclude that Jesus was Mary’s only child or that she had other sons as well as daughters?)
The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967, Vol. IX, p. 337) admits regarding the Greek words a·del·phoiʹ and a·del·phaiʹ, used at Matthew 13:55, 56, that these “have the meaning of full blood brother and sister in the Greek-speaking world of the Evangelist’s time and would naturally be taken by his Greek reader in this sense. Toward the end of the 4th century (c. 380) Helvidius in a work now lost pressed this fact in order to attribute to Mary other children besides Jesus so as to make her a model for mothers of larger families. St. Jerome, motivated by the Church’s traditional faith in Mary’s perpetual virginity, wrote a tract against Helvidius (A.D. 383) in which he developed an explanation . . . that is still in vogue among Catholic scholars.”
Mark 3:31-35, JB: “His mother and brothers now arrived and, standing outside, sent in a message asking for him. A crowd was sitting round him at the time the message was passed to him, ‘Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside asking for you’. He replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking round at those sitting in a circle about him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. Anyone who does the will of God, that person is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Here a clear distinction is drawn between Jesus’ natural brothers and his spiritual brothers, his disciples. No one claims that the reference to Jesus’ mother means anything different from what it says. Is it consistent, then, to reason that his natural brothers were not that but were perhaps cousins? When what is meant is not brothers but relatives, a different Greek word [syg·ge·nonʹ] is used, as at Luke 21:16.)
Was Mary the Mother of God?
The angel who informed her of the coming miraculous birth did not say that her son would be God. He said: “You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. . . . The child will be holy and will be called Son of God.”—Luke 1:31-35, JB; italics added.
Heb. 2:14, 17, JB: “Since all the children share the same blood and flesh, he [Jesus] too shared equally in it . . . It was essential that he should in this way become completely like his brothers.” (But would he have been “completely like his brothers” if he had been a God-man?)
The New Catholic Encyclopedia says: “Mary is truly the mother of God if two conditions are fulfilled: that she is really the mother of Jesus and that Jesus is really God.” (1967, Vol. X, p. 21) The Bible says that Mary was the mother of Jesus, but was Jesus God? In the fourth century, long after the writing of the Bible was completed, the Church formulated its statement of the Trinity. (New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, Vol. XIV, p. 295; see page 405, under the heading “Trinity.”) At that time in the Nicene Creed the Church spoke of Jesus Christ as “very God.” After that, at the Council of Ephesus in 431 C.E., Mary was proclaimed by the Church to be The·o·toʹkos, meaning “God-bearer” or “Mother of God.” However, neither that expression nor the idea is found in the text of any translation of the Bible. (See pages 212-216, under “Jesus Christ.”)
Was Mary herself immaculately conceived, free from original sin when her mother conceived her?
The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967, Vol. VII, pp. 378-381) acknowledges regarding the origin of the belief: “ . . . the Immaculate Conception is not taught explicitly in Scripture . . . The earliest Church Fathers regarded Mary as holy but not as absolutely sinless. . . . It is impossible to give a precise date when the belief was held as a matter of faith, but by the 8th or 9th century it seems to have been generally admitted. . . . [In 1854 Pope Pius IX defined the dogma] ‘which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin in the first instant of her Conception.’” This belief was confirmed by Vatican II (1962-1965).—The Documents of Vatican II (New York, 1966), edited by W. M. Abbott, S.J., p. 88.
The Bible itself says: “Well then, sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and through sin death, and thus death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned.” (Rom. 5:12, JB; italics added.) Does that include Mary? The Bible reports that in accord with the requirement of the Mosaic Law, 40 days after Jesus’ birth Mary offered at the temple in Jerusalem a sin offering for purification from uncleanness. She, too, had inherited sin and imperfection from Adam.—Luke 2:22-24; Lev. 12:1-8.
Did Mary ascend to heaven with her body of flesh?
In commenting on the proclamation made by Pope Pius XII in 1950 that made this dogma an official article of Catholic faith, the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967, Vol. I, p. 972) states: “There is no explicit reference to the Assumption in the Bible, yet the Pope insists in the decree of promulgation that the Scriptures are the ultimate foundation of this truth.”
The Bible itself says: “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God: and the perishable cannot inherit what lasts for ever.” (1 Cor. 15:50, JB) Jesus said that “God is spirit.” At Jesus’ resurrection he again became spirit, now “a life-giving spirit.” The angels are spirits. (John 4:24; 1 Cor. 15:45; Heb. 1:13, 14, JB) Where is the Scriptural basis for saying that anyone would attain to heavenly life in a body that requires the physical surroundings of the earth to sustain it? (See pages 334-336, under “Resurrection.”)
Is it proper to address prayers to Mary as intercessor?
Jesus Christ said: “You should pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven . . . ’” He also said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. . . . If you ask for anything in my name, I will do it.”—Matt. 6:9; John 14:6, 14, JB; italics added.
Will prayers to the Father through Jesus Christ be received with as much understanding and compassion as they would if they were directed through someone who has shared the experiences of womankind? Concerning the Father, the Bible tells us: “As tenderly as a father treats his children, so Yahweh treats those who fear him; he knows what we are made of, he remembers we are dust.” He is “a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness.” (Ps. 103:13, 14; Ex. 34:6, JB) And of Christ it is written: “It is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin. Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.”—Heb. 4:15, 16, JB.
Is the veneration of images of Mary in harmony with Bible Christianity?
The practice was definitely encouraged by Vatican II (1962-1965). “This most holy Synod . . . admonishes all the sons of the Church that the cult, especially the liturgical cult, of the Blessed Virgin, be generously fostered. It charges that practices and exercises of devotion toward her be treasured as recommended by the teaching authority of the Church in the course of centuries, and that those decrees issued in earlier times regarding the veneration of images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and the saints, be religiously observed.”—The Documents of Vatican II, pp. 94, 95.
For the Bible’s answer, see “Images,” pages 183-187.
Was Mary specially honored in the first-century Christian congregation?
The apostle Peter makes no mention of her at all in his inspired writings. The apostle Paul did not use her name in his inspired letters but spoke of her only as “a woman.”—Gal. 4:4.
What example did Jesus himself set in referring to his mother?
John 2:3, 4, JB: “When they ran out of wine [at a wedding feast in Cana], since the wine provided for the wedding was all finished, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine’. Jesus said, ‘Woman, why turn to me [“what is that to me and to thee,” Dy]? My hour has not come yet.’” (When Jesus was a child he subjected himself to his mother and his adoptive father. But now that he was grown he kindly but firmly rejected Mary’s direction. She humbly accepted the correction.)
Luke 11:27, 28, JB: “Now as he [Jesus] was speaking, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said, ‘Happy the womb that bore you and the breasts you sucked!’ But he replied, ‘Still happier those who hear the word of God and keep it!’” (This would certainly have been a fine opportunity for Jesus to pay special honor to his mother if that had been appropriate. He did not do so.)
What are the historical origins of the adoration of Mary?
Says Catholic priest Andrew Greeley: “Mary is one of the most powerful religious symbols in the history of the Western world . . . The Mary symbol links Christianity directly to the ancient religions of mother goddesses.”—The Making of the Popes 1978 (U.S.A., 1979), p. 227.
Of interest is the location where the teaching that Mary is the Mother of God was confirmed. “The Council of Ephesus assembled in the basilica of the Theotokos in 431. There, if anywhere, in the city so notorious for its devotion to Artemis, or Diana as the Romans called her, where her image was said to have fallen from heaven, under the shadow of the great temple dedicated to the Magna Mater since 330 B.C. and containing, according to tradition, a temporary residence of Mary, the title ‘God-bearer’ hardly could fail to be upheld.”—The Cult of the Mother-Goddess (New York, 1959), E. O. James, p. 207.
If Someone Says—
‘Do you believe in the Virgin Mary?’
You might reply: ‘The Holy Scriptures clearly say that the mother of Jesus Christ was a virgin, and we believe that. God was his Father. The child that was born was truly the Son of God, just as the angel told Mary. (Luke 1:35)’ Then perhaps add: ‘But have you ever wondered why it was so important that Jesus be born in that way? . . . Only in that way could a suitable ransom be provided that would make possible release from sin and death for us.—1 Tim. 2:5, 6; then perhaps John 3:16.’
Or you could say: ‘Yes, we do. We believe everything the Sacred Scriptures say about her, and they definitely say that it was as a virgin that she gave birth to Jesus. I also find very heartwarming other things they tell us about Mary and the lessons that we can learn from her. (Use material on pages 254, 255.)’
‘You don’t believe in the Virgin Mary’
You might reply: ‘I realize that there are people who do not believe that it was a virgin who gave birth to the Son of God. But we do believe that. (Open one of our books to a section that discusses this matter and show the householder.)’ Then perhaps add: ‘But is there anything more that is needed if we are to gain salvation? . . . Notice what Jesus said in prayer to his Father. (John 17:3)’