Feb

15

2013

Don Carson|4:00 am CT

Genesis 48; Luke 1:39-80; Job 14; 1 Corinthians 2

Genesis 48; Luke 1:39-80; Job 14; 1 Corinthians 2

SOMETIMES BAD THEOLOGY BREEDS reactionary bad theology. Because Roman Catholicism has gradually added more titles and myths to Mary, Protestants have sometimes reacted by remaining silent about her astonishing character. Neither approach fares very well when tested by this passage (Luke 1:39-80) and a few others we shall have occasion to think about.

Catholics have added titles such as “Mother of God” and “Queen of Heaven” to Mary, neither of which is found in the Bible. The view that Mary was immaculately conceived (and was therefore born sinless), and that she, like Enoch, was transported to heaven bodily, thereby escaping death, are equally unsupported. The latter became a dogma for Roman Catholics as recently as 1950. According to news reports, the current Pope is weighing whether he should establish, as something that must be confessed, another title conservative Catholics apply to Mary, viz. “Co-Redemptrix.”

But Luke’s witness points in another direction. In Mary’s song (1:46-55), traditionally called the Magnificat (from the Latin word for magnifies: “My soul magnifies {NIV – glorifies} the Lord”), Jesus’ mother says that her spirit rejoices in “God my Savior” – which certainly sounds as if she thought of herself as needing a Savior, which would be odd for one immaculately conceived. Indeed, a rapid scan of the Gospels discloses that during Jesus’ ministry, Mary had no special access to her famous son, sometimes failed to understand the nature of his mission (e.g., 2:48-50), and never helped someone obtain some favor from Jesus that he or she could not otherwise obtain. Indeed, the unanimous testimony of Scripture is that people should come to Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28), Jesus says – not, “Come to my mother.” He alone is the true mediator between God and human beings.

Nevertheless, Mary is wholly admirable, a model of many virtues (as is also, e.g., Joseph in Gen. 37 – 50). She accepts her astonishing role with submissiveness and equanimity, considering what it must have initially done to her reputation (1:34-38). Elizabeth twice calls her “blessed” (1:42, 45), i.e., approved by God; the supernatural recognition of the superiority of Mary’s Son over Elizabeth’s son (1:41-45) was doubtless one of the things that Mary pondered in her heart (2:19). But none of this goes to Mary’s head: she herself recognizes that her “blessedness” is not based on intrinsic superiority, but on God’s (the “Mighty One’s”) mindfulness of her “humble state” and his choice to do “great things” for her (1:48-49). Her focus in the Magnificat, as ours must be, is on the faithfulness of God in bringing about the deliverance so long promised (1:50-55).

3 Comments

  1. Gabriel Crawford

    Thank you for your desire to remain faithful to Scripture. As followers of Jesus, we are encouraged to “have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching” (Titus 1:9). I appreciate your recognition of the humility of Mary and that her focus in the Magnificat “is on the faithfulness of God.” This is true and important.

    However, I am concerned about that this devotional is more about “bashing Catholicism,” than directing the reader towards the faithfulness of God demonstrated in and through the Christ by the power of the Spirit. Here is why I am receiving this as bashing catholicism.

    1) “Catholics have added titles such as “Mother of God” and “Queen of Heaven” to Mary, neither of which is found in the Bible.” This statement reveals a profound ignorance to the development of theology over the centuries. It is not Catholics who have given the term “Mother of God” to Mary. The Church gave the term “Mother of God,” or theotokus, to Mary in the early 4th century. There was no Catholic, Orthodox, Protestan division at this time, but it was one Church. The term mother of God is a term that protected the deity of Jesus. That Jesus is God was not fully decided until the 4th century due to the profound aid of theologians like Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, etc. Though “mother of God” does occur word-for-word in Scripture, does not mean that what the title denotes is not true. It is a theological term, just as trinity is a theological term. The term “queen of heaven” has to do with an interpretation of Revelation 12, which the early church believed this to be Mary. It is an interpretive title that is founded on Scripture. You may not agree with the interpretation, but it does not mean that it is not Scriptural.

    3) Your
    2) “Jesus’ mother says that her spirit rejoices in “God my Savior” – which certainly sounds as if she thought of herself as needing a Savior, which would be odd for one immaculately conceived.” Here is another occurence of Catholicism bashing. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Mary is in need of a Savior. However, the immaculate conception is a belief that the graces of Jesus’ salvific work are applied to Mary due to her obedience in receiving the promise of God spoken through Gabriel. Mary was in need of a savior, but due to her obedience, the believe is that the Father, who is outside of time, applied to her the graces of Christ’s redemptive work to her before she was born. As Eve brought sin into the word, Mary brought the Life and the Truth (john 14:6). Through Mary’s obedience, she reversed the disobedience of Eve. This all goes back to the protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15. In this passage, the woman who bears the seed the crushes the serpent is interpreted, in light of the Incarnation of the Son of God, to be Mary, the Mother of God. Again, you may not agree with the interpretation and belief, but I point this out to show that Mary indeed was in need of a savior, but the Father applied the grace of Jesus’ redemptive work to her. You may not agree with this “theological construct,” (remember, the trinity is a theological construct. Original sin is a theological construct.) but it does not mean that the Roman Catholic Church is not centering all of her beliefs in Scripture.

    3) The section that ends with: “He alone is the true mediator between God and human beings.” This statement is entirely true. However, it is a reaction against the belief in the co-madiatrix of Mary. The Roman Catholic Church believes that Jesus is the only mediator between the Father and humanity. But, let us look at Elizabeth’s encounter with Mary (Luke 1). Mary enters into her presence of Elizabeth and she proclaims “Blessed are you among women AND blessed is the fruit of your womb.” It is interesting that here, both the Mother and her Son are equally blessed. There is not differentiation in the level of blessedness. Mostly among protestants, we miss that Mary here is blessed just as her Son is blessed. Elizabeth says, “AS SOON AS I heard YOUR greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” It was upon the speaking of Mary, that John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit and leaped for joy. To deduce anything else would not be faithful exegesis of the passage. Here we see, Mary mediating between the Father who sends the Spirit (john 14:26) and humanity (symbolized by Elizabeth and John). Look at the passage, Mary speaks and the Spirit is poured out. This is only one part of the development of the theology of the co-redemptrix. You may not agree with the interpretation, but it does not mean that the theology is not founded in Scripture.

    Finally, I only say all of this because you have published a devotional on a public website that many read. I think that there is a lot of miss information in this devotional that many people will read. And because of your ignorance of the development of the theology of the Roman Catholic Church (and the Orthodox and many other denominations), many people will think that these churches are “unbiblical.” Such belief will only further the divide between denominations, further Christians ignorance upon others, and hinder the world from knowing that the Father sent the Son (John 17:20-26). In the end, this devotional was more catholic bashing and more “reactionary theology” than what I think was the writers intended purpose. It is ironic that you started with: “SOMETIMES BAD THEOLOGY BREEDS reactionary bad theology.” Sometimes ignorant theology breeds reactionary ignorant theology.

    Most important: Thank you for your desire to lead followers of Jesus in faithfulness. I want to encourage you in this. I pray that God will bless you in all you do.

    p.s. I am not Roman Catholic. I am a protestant, attending a PCUSA church in Pittsburgh, Pa. I am a leader with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh.

    • Gabriel Crawford

      When I posted my response, I myself was ignorant of who wrote this and when it was written. I did not notice that it was written by D.A. Carson, nor that it was written over 12 years ago. That reveals some of my ignorance :-)

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