Was Mary Taken Bodily into Heaven?
MILLIONS today believe in Mary’s “assumption,” that is, that she was taken bodily into heaven. It was on November 1, 1950, that Pope Pius XII proclaimed this to be infallible Roman Catholic doctrine.
The groundwork for this proclamation had been laid much earlier. For many centuries Catholics had been observing the Feast of the Assumption on August 15. Then, after Pope Pius IX, in 1854, proclaimed as dogma that “Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin in the first instant of her Conception,” the Vatican began receiving petitions that the “assumption of Mary” be defined. The question needing to be settled was whether Mary was exempted, not only from original sin, but also from having to die and to remain in the grave until the time of the resurrection of the dead.
The definition that Pope Pius XII gave did not resolve whether Mary actually died but did present the “assumption” of Mary as fact. Pope Pius XII stated: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”
Since Mary’s “assumption,” therefore, is viewed by many millions as a Christian doctrine, we should expect to find solid basis for it in the Holy Scriptures. But do we? “There is no explicit reference to the Assumption in the Bible,” says the New Catholic Encyclopedia, “yet the Pope insists in the decree of promulgation that the Scriptures are the ultimate foundation of this truth.” (Vol. 1, p. 972) To determine whether “the Scriptures are the ultimate foundation” for the doctrine of Mary’s “assumption,” we need to examine just what the Bible does say.
WHAT GOD’S WORD REVEALS
As is evident from the historical development of the doctrine, Mary’s “assumption” is rooted in the dogma of the “immaculate conception.” So we might first examine whether there is a Scriptural basis for believing that Mary, as defined in the dogma of the “immaculate conception,” was “preserved from all stain of original sin.”
Of the “immaculate conception,” the New Catholic Encyclopedia admits that “Scripture makes no direct reference to Mary’s conception.” (Vol. 7, p. 378) This work frankly points out that historical evidence is against the belief that the “immaculate conception” was part of the oral teaching of the apostles. This doctrine was not even taught by the earliest Church Fathers. We read: “The earliest Church Fathers regarded Mary as holy but not as absolutely sinless. Origen and some of his followers assumed that she had been imperfect like other human beings.” (Vol. 7, pp. 378, 379) Were the “earliest Church Fathers” in error? Not according to the Holy Scriptures.
There is clear Biblical evidence that Mary viewed herself as a sinner. In connection with the birth of a baby boy, the Mosaic law commanded that, at the end of her purification period, a mother should offer “a lamb one year old for a holocaust, and a young pigeon or turtledove as a sacrifice for sin.” Regarding a woman who could not afford to offer a lamb, the law stated: “She is to take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for the holocaust and the other for the sacrifice for sin.” (Lev. 12:6-8, Catholic Jerusalem Bible) Had Mary been sinless, she would have misrepresented matters had she offered a sin offering. Yet the Bible reports that Joseph and Mary came to offer, “in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:24, JB) By complying with a law applying to sinful humans, Mary acknowledged that she was imperfect.
This was very different from what Jesus did regarding the temple tax. When asked by others whether Jesus paid that tax, the apostle Peter said Yes. Later, Jesus counseled Peter by making it clear that kings do not tax their sons. Applying Jesus’ words, Peter could appreciate that Jesus, as God’s only-begotten Son, was under no obligation to pay the tax that supported the temple of his Father. However, in view of the circumstances prevailing, Jesus did not want to give an occasion for others to stumble. Therefore, by miraculous means, he made it possible for Peter to pay the temple tax.—Matt. 17:24-27.
But what about the angel Gabriel’s words to Mary, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee”? (Luke 1:28, Catholic Douay Version) These words have been interpreted to mean that Mary must have possessed ‘fullness of grace’ from the beginning of her life and, therefore, must have been conceived totally free from sin. Pope Pius XII extended the application of Gabriel’s statement to the “assumption,” maintaining that not until the “assumption” would Mary have attained the ‘fullness of grace’ bestowed upon her.
It is noteworthy that such interpretations of Gabriel’s words do not harmonize with the Bible record in the original Greek. Regarding the use of the expression “full of grace” to support the “immaculate conception,” the New Catholic Encyclopedia says: “This interpretation . . . overlooks the fact that the Greek term [kecharitoméne] is not nearly so explicit as the translation ‘full of grace’ might suggest.” (Vol. 7, p. 378) In harmony with the true sense of the original Greek a number of modern Catholic translations do not use the expression “full of grace” in rendering Gabriel’s statement. The Jerusalem Bible, for example, reads “so highly favoured,” and The New American Bible says, “O highly favored daughter.” Accordingly, Gabriel’s words to Mary show that she was highly favored to become the mother of the Messiah, but those words cannot be used to support such doctrines as the “immaculate conception” and the “assumption.”
Furthermore, the Bible argues against anyone’s being taken bodily to heaven. In discussing the resurrection to heavenly life, the apostle Paul states: “There are heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies. The splendor of the heavenly bodies is one thing, that of the earthly another. The sun has a splendor of its own, so has the moon, and the stars have theirs. Even among the stars, one differs from another in brightness. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown in the earth is subject to decay, what rises is incorruptible. What is sown is ignoble, what rises is glorious. Weakness is sown, strength rises up. A natural body is put down and a spiritual body comes up. . . . This is what I mean, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 15:40-50, New American Bible) Like all others who gain immortal life in the heavens, Mary would have to give up her body of flesh in order to experience a change to heavenly nature.
So Biblical evidence unmistakably points to the conclusion that Mary was neither conceived free from every trace of sin nor was she ‘taken up bodily to heaven.’ This is something to which one should give sober consideration. Jesus Christ charged the religious leaders of his day with “making dogmas out of human precepts.” (Matt. 15:9, NAB) In view of the evidence we have considered, is not the dogma of Mary’s “assumption” derived from “human precepts”? So, if you have been taught this doctrine, should you not want to investigate whether other things you have learned are likewise not based on the Bible but are merely the product of human reasoning? By such investigation, you will be acting in harmony with the apostolic admonition: “Test everything; retain what is good.”—1 Thess. 5:21, NAB.