Is Mary Truly the “Mother of God”?
FOR many centuries before the birth of Jesus, Hebrew prophets were pointing forward to that unique event. The birth was to be the only one of its kind—a virgin birth. (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:20-23) The extraordinary role that Jesus would thereafter play in the outworking of his Father’s purpose required that he be born a perfect human.
More than seven centuries before Jesus was born to the virgin Jewess Mary, the prophecy of Isaiah called attention to the important position he would have. We read: “For there is a child born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.”—Isa. 9:6, Catholic Jerusalem Bible (JB).
Does Jesus’ being prophetically designated as “Mighty-God” truly make Mary the “mother of God”? To answer that question, we would need to know just what is meant by the expression “mother of God.” Then only can we determine whether this is a Biblical designation.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia observes: “If Mary is not truly the mother of God, then Christ is not true God as well as true man . . . 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.” (Vol. 10, p. 21) Accordingly, one’s calling Mary the “mother of God” is based on the belief that Jesus Christ is actually God. This is further shown in the New Catholic Encyclopedia: “In denying . . . that the Incarnate Word is the uncreated Son of the Father, coequal to the Father, the Arians refused to accept Christ’s divinity and as a consequence Mary’s divine motherhood.” (Vol. 10, p. 21) Hence, only if it can be established that Jesus Christ is “true God” and “coequal to the Father” can Mary rightly be called the “mother of God.” But is Jesus Christ indeed “true God” and “coequal to the Father”?
The Bible does not use the expression “true God” with reference to Jesus Christ. Jesus himself limited this designation to his Father. Addressing his Father in prayer, Jesus said: “Eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3, JB) Never did Jesus speak of himself as his Father’s equal. Instead, he acknowledged his Father as his God, saying to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection: “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:17, JB) Even after he had ascended to the heavens, Jesus continued to speak of his Father as “my God,” four times in the same verse.—Rev. 3:12, JB.
That Jesus could not be his Father’s equal is also shown by what is foretold to happen at the end of Christ’s thousand-year reign. The apostle Paul wrote of this: “When, finally, all has been subjected to the Son, he will then subject himself to the One who made all things subject to him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor. 15:28, Catholic New American Bible [NAB]) Clearly, Jesus could not be “coequal to the Father” and yet subject himself to the Father, acknowledging him as God.
Noteworthy, too, is Mary’s own attitude. In due humility, she spoke of herself as the “handmaid of the Lord.” (Luke 1:38, JB) Because of her being favored to bear the Son of God, Mary said to her relative Elizabeth: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.” (Luke 1:46-48, JB) So Mary viewed herself, not as the “mother of God,” but as God’s “lowly handmaid.”
Similarly, Jesus Christ did not put the emphasis on any fleshly relationship to Mary. Once a woman exclaimed: “Happy the womb that bore you and the breasts you sucked!” Answering that exclamation, Jesus said: “Still happier those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27, 28, JB) Great though the privilege was of bearing God’s Son, Mary’s greatest happiness therefore would lie in being God’s humble servant, ‘hearing his word and keeping it.’ Note, too, that when told that his mother and brothers wanted to see him, Jesus extended his hand toward his disciples and said: “There are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is brother and sister and mother to me.” (Matt. 12:47-50, NAB) Again, the words emphasized the spiritual relationship as being more important than the physical relationship.
Of course, as the “Son of God” Jesus Christ could be spoken of prophetically as “Mighty-God.” That expression (in the original Hebrew) means a “strong, mighty one.” In the capacity of “King of kings and Lord of lords,” Jesus Christ is indeed a mighty one or “god.” (Rev. 19:16, NAB) But as the Son he remains ever submissive to his Father, “the only true God.”
In the Bible, Jesus Christ is never called “God the Son” but the “Son of God.” He proved to be exactly what the angel Gabriel told Mary: “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 Holy Spirit will come upon you . . . and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God.”—Luke 1:31, 32, 35, JB.
Scriptural evidence thus makes it clear that designating Mary as the “mother of God” distorts the facts about the true God and his Son as well as Mary. The designation “mother of God” rests on the unscriptural teaching that the Son is “coequal to the Father.” This distortion of truth is not something to be treated lightly. For worship to be acceptable to God it must harmonize with truth. As Jesus Christ told a Samaritan woman: “True worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth: that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants. God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.”—John 4:23, 24, JB.
If you desire to worship God “in spirit and truth,” make sure that what you believe rests on a factual, Scriptural basis.