Q: #415. Was Mary (the mother of Jesus) sinless?
By: Steve Shirley
A: The teaching that Mary was sinless is found only within the Roman Catholic Church (called "The Immaculate Conception). Interestingly, I have found that most Catholics who hold to this belief really don't know why they believe it. They have simply been taught it is true, so they believe it. Just last night, when I brought this up with a new Christian friend, he replied, "Well the Bible never says she sinned, so I assumed she hadn't." He is not the only one to think this way. This is called an "argument of silence." In other words, if the Bible is silent on something, either it must be true/ok "or" it must be false/wrong. Some examples of this are: the New Testament doesn't show musical instruments being used in worship, therefore, it must be "wrong." The Bible doesn't talk about smoking, tattoos, pornography, etc..., therefore, this must be "ok." The New Testament doesn't say Jesus wasn't married, so maybe He was, etc... Obviously, when we start to make doctrine based on what the Bible "doesn't say" we can run into all kinds of problems. We must avoid this...
***Note: The Bible doesn't say that New Testament people like Stephen, Luke, Barnabas, or Timothy sinned either. Does this mean they were also without sin?
Nearly any Catholic who defends the teaching of the sinlessness of Mary will admit that the Bible does not directly support this (although some say it does indirectly). Even the Catholic Encyclopedia, when speaking of The Immaculate Conception says, "No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture." So where does this believe come from? It basically came to fruition based on the logic that if Mary had been born with original sin, then Jesus would have inherited that sinful nature from Mary. (Question: Didn't Mary's mother need to be sinless as well so she wouldn't pass on original sin to Mary?)
The concept of "original sin" teaches that when Adam "originally sinned," or committed the first sin in the Garden of Eden, his sin was then imputed or passed on (kind of like a genetic defect) to each successive generation that followed. As such, a baby is a condemned sinner at conception and has no choice but to sin. He is also unable to seek God at all, or choose Christ until God regenerates him, at which point he will be saved.
In contrast to this is the teaching of having a "sin nature." This teaches that man is not forced to sin because he has the "sin gene" passed on to him from Adam, but instead, he has the "free will" choice to sin or not. He is also able to believe in God, repent, and call upon the Lord in order to be saved without first being regenerated.
We will not debate "original sin" vs "sin nature" here (I hold to the "sin nature" position). However, because Catholicism teaches "original sin," they had the dilemma I mentioned above. If Mary had been born with original sin, then it was reasoned that Jesus would have inherited that sinful nature from Mary. Therefore, they came up with "The Immaculate Conception," teaching that Mary was born without "original sin," and remained sinless her whole life. On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX, declared this as Catholic doctrine (many Catholics celebrate this each year with a feast on Dec. 8). While this was not the first time that the Catholic church had taught on the sinlessness of Mary, it wasn't an official Papal decree until this point.
OK! So, why couldn't Mary have been sinless? Let's look at two places in the book of Luke.
First, (Lk 2:22-24) states that after the birth of Jesus, Mary undertook purification rituals to make herself clean. She did this in accordance with Old Testament law (Lev 12:2-8). The law stated that purification after birth took 40 days after having a boy (80 days for a girl). At the end of the 40 days (or 80), (Lev 12:6-7) said that a woman must do this: "And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, FOR A SIN OFFERING, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest: (7) Who shall offer it before the Lord, AND MAKE ATONEMENT FOR HER; and she shall be cleansed from the issue of her blood. This is the law for her that hath born a male or a female" (caps emphasis mine).
Mary performed this ritual, with her sacrifice being "A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons" (Lk 2:24)(God allowed this for those who were poor: Lev 12:8). If Mary was born without sin, why did she undergo this purification ritual to be made clean, and for her atonement?
Secondly, (Lk 1:46-47) says, "And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, (47) And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my SAVIOUR" (caps emphasis mine). Why did Mary need a Saviour if she was sinless?
In addition, the Bible emphasizes the sinlessness of Jesus in a number of places (2 Cor 5:21)(1 Pet 2:22)(1 Jn 3:5)(Heb 4:15)(1 Pet 1:19)(Jn 8:46). It is important to understand that in order to spend eternity with God in Heaven one day, God demands that we must be perfect and sinless just as He is (Jas 1:13)(Hab 1:13)(Ps 18:30). However, we will never attain perfection, nor be sinless. BUT, Jesus did this while on Earth! He lived the "righteous" and sinless life that we could never live. When we accept Jesus' payment for our sins, surrender our lives to Him, and place our trust in Him; His blood, shed on the cross, covers our sins (Col 1:14,20)(Eph 1:7)(Heb 10:16-19). The righteousness and sinlessness of Jesus' perfect life on Earth is "imputed" to us (counted or credited to our account)(2 Cor 5:19,21)(Rom 4:7-8,24-25)(1 Pet 3:18).
The Bible makes it plain over and over that apart from Jesus, ALL men (and women; which would include Mary) who have lived on this planet are sinners (Rom 3:10,23)(Eccl 7:20)(1 Jn 1:8,10)(Prov 20:9). Only God is sinless. In a previous question, I discussed: Could Jesus have sinned while on the Earth as a man?. I do not believe He could have. Why? Because the Bible tells us that while He was on the Earth, Jesus was FULLY God and FULLY man. This is sometimes called "the hypostatic union," which I explain here. In short, although He became a man, Jesus never stopped being God. In conjunction with this, the Bible says that God cannot be tempted with evil (James 1:13). Therefore, Jesus could not have sinned when He was tempted, because He was still God. In other words, only God is unable to sin, and Jesus has ALWAYS been God (even in His humanity), so He could not have sinned.
Therefore, if ONLY God is unable to sin, then Mary was not sinless (unless one wishes to deify Mary, which unfortunately some have done).
The sinlessness of Mary is but one of several teachings about Mary that the Catholic church holds to that does not have Biblical support. It is also taught that she was a perpetual virgin, a co-redeemer with Christ, and that she is to be prayed to and worshipped. The term used for this is "Mariolatry." These are all based upon papal decrees and tradition rather than the Bible.
Friends, Mary was undoubtedly a great lady, and blessed by God to be chosen to give birth to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amazingly, however, in (Lk 11:27-28) Jesus said that "those who hear the word of God and obey it" are even MORE blessed than Mary. Jesus also said in (Mt 12:46-50) that if we do the will of His Father, we are His brothers, sisters, and MOTHER. Jesus certainly loved, honored, and respected His mother, but He NEVER told us to make her an object of worship or adoration. We should also honor and respect her, but we should not elevate her to levels beyond what the Bible teaches.