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A Biblical Basis for the "Immaculate Conception"?
A Review and Rebuttal of Patrick Madrid's Article "Ark of the New Covenant" in "This Rock" magazine, December 1991.

 


by James White

Catholic Answers has some interesting ways of grabbing your attention. By placing the beginning paragraph or two of the lead article of their monthly magazine, This Rock, on the very cover of the work, they draw your attention into reading the rest of the article. True to form, the December, 1991 edition sported Pat Madrid's article, "Ark of the New Covenant" with the interesting lead in, "His face stiffened, and his eyes narrowed to slits. Until now the Calvary Chapel pastor had been calm as he `shared the gospel' with me, but when I mentioned my belief in Mary's Immaculate Conception, his attitude changed." Using a "real-life" backdrop for the presentation of some particular topic is another fine writing tool used by the folks at Catholic Answers. As you continue to read about this encounter, you discover that our author, Pat Madrid, is going to provide Biblical support for his belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary. He writes of his encounter with the Protestant pastor,

    After we'd examined the biblical evidence for the doctrine, the 
    anti-Marianism he'd shown became muted, but it was clear that, 
    at least emotionally if not biblically, Mary was a stumbling 
    block for him.  Like most Christians (Catholic and Protestant) 
    the minister was unaware of the biblical support for the 
    Church's teaching on the Immaculate Conception.  But sometimes 
    even knowledge of these passages isn't enough.  Many former 
    Evangelicals who have converted to the Catholic Church relate 
    how hard it was for them to put aside prejudices and embrace 
    Marian doctrines even after they'd thoroughly satisfied 
    themselves through prayer and Scripture study that such 
    teachings were indeed biblical.

Such words indicated to me that I was going to have the opportunity of seeing solid, Biblical argumentation for the concept of the Immaculate Conception in what followed. Unfortunately, what was presented as "biblical evidence" turned out to be much less than convincing.

Before examining Mr. Madrid's attempt to substantiate the Immaculate Conception of Mary, let's set one thing straight. Mr. Madrid speaks of "anti-Marianism" in the above quotation. From the Roman position, the Protestant's refusal to accept the Roman Catholic teachings on Mary is "anti-Marianism." Yet, is this a valid statement on Mr. Madrid's part? I certainly do not believe so. Rejection of non-Biblical and anti- Biblical teachings about Mary does not make one "anti-Mary." Indeed, one might well assert that to be concerned about maintaining the truth about she who was "blessed among women" would include safeguarding her against idolatrous worship, etc. I am sure that if Mary was aware of the millions who attempt to pray to her, ask her intercession, and dedicate themselves to her, all in direct violation of Biblical commands, she would be greatly distressed and grieved. I believe that God, in His mercy, has surely shielded Mary from such knowledge. So, one might well turn the charge of "anti-Marianism" against those who propagate such items of belief as these:

    Prayer to Our Lady:  Hail Mary, etc.  My Queen!  My Mother!  I 
    give thee all myself, and, to show my devotion to thee, I 
    consecrate to thee my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my heart, my 
    entire self.  Wherefore, O loving Mother, as I am thine own, 
    keep me, defend me, as thy property and possession.

The above prayer provides a promised indulgence of 500 days for a month's recitation. In another publication we find the promise of the Virgin Mary concerning the "Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel." The scapular is said to be a "gift to you from your heavenly mother," and is said to be an "assurance of salvation." Mary's own promise, supposedly given July 16th, 1251, is that "Whosoever dies clothed in this (scapular) shall not suffer eternal fire." The following prayer, titled "The Morning Offering," is included:

    O my God, in union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary (here kiss 
    your Scapular as a sign of your consecration; partial indulgence 
    also), I offer Thee the Precious Blood of Jesus from all the 
    altars throughout the world, joining with It the offering of my 
    every thought, word and action of this day.  O my Jesus, I 
    desire today to gain every indulgence and merit I can and I 
    offer them, together with myself, to Mary Immaculate, that she 
    may best apply them in the interests of Thy most Sacred Heart.  
    Precious Blood of Jesus, save us!  Immaculate Heart of Mary, 
    pray for us!  Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!

This is surely the true "anti-Marianism," for Mary would never desire that anyone consecrate themselves to her. She would recognize that any such action takes away from the sole glory of Jesus Christ, and, as He is her Savior and Lord as well, she would never seek to be placed in competition with Him, even if those so doing denied that such a competition was the end result of their teachings. Now, I recognize that some of the sentiments expressed in the above quotations are not considered to be items that must be believed by Roman Catholics. Apologists such as Mr. Madrid are quick to point out the difference between true Catholic doctrine and devotional beliefs. But in passing let us note that if the Roman Church allows her people to believe these things, she must either not have any concern for truth (if these beliefs are not true), or she must believe them true as well, and simply lack the courage to say so directly and openly. One cannot imagine the Apostle Paul allowing believers in the churches to pray to someone other than God and, when asked about this practice, saying, "Well, it's not really something that you have to believe to be saved--they are not being hurt by the practice, so it's a matter of individual choice." So, denying the Roman Catholic doctrines concerning Mary is not "anti-Marianism." It is "anti-Marian-distortionism" if anything at all.

Before providing what the "Bible has to say in favor of the Catholic position" regarding Mary's Immaculate Conception, Mr. Madrid takes the time to review some common objections to the doctrine from the Protestant perspective. He asserts that Mary was indeed saved from sin, but in a "different and more glorious way than the rest of us are." The merits of Christ were applied to her, he says, prior to her birth, in an anticipatory way, so that she was born without sin. By citing the examples of babies who are aborted, or people born with mental deficiencies, Mr. Madrid thinks to show that Paul's universal statements of sinfulness (Romans 3 and 5) admit of exceptions. Without taking the time to discuss the fall, sin, etc., we note in passing that we would not wish to put Mary in the same category as aborted children and those born with mental problems. But, Mr. Madrid is right about one thing--the Bible does not explicitly say that Mary sinned. Of course, it doesn't explicitly say that 99.9% of all of humanity, by name, has sinned. It doesn't need to. I think the reason that it does not address Mary's situation is quite simple--neither Luke, nor any other Biblical writer, had the foggiest idea of the concept of the Immaculate Conception, so it does not enter into their writings. Mr. Madrid, however, should be aware of the danger of this kind of exegesis. He is an expert on Mormonism, and must realize that there is no explicit statement that "Jesus is not the spirit-brother of Lucifer" (an LDS belief that he and I would both reject). As we shall see, Pat Madrid is forced to utilize "interpretive methods" that leave the door open for any kind of teaching--whether LDS, Jehovah's Witness, Moonie, or any other. But, I'm getting ahead of myself....

In introducing the Biblical evidence for the Immaculate Conception, Mr. Madrid says the following:

    Now let's consider what the Bible has to say in favor of the 
    Catholic position.  It's important to recognize that neither the 
    words "Immaculate Conception" nor the precise formula adopted by 
    the Church to enunciate this truth are found in the Bible.  This 
    doesn't mean the doctrine isn't biblical, only that the truth of 
    the Immaculate Conception, like the truths of the Trinity and 
    Jesus' hypostatic union (that Jesus was incarnated as God and 
    man, possessing completely and simultaneously two natures, 
    divine and human, in one divine person), is mentioned either in 
    other words or only indirectly.

Pat makes a good point. One does not need to find the phrase "Immaculate Conception" in the Bible for it to be Biblical anymore than one has to find the term "Trinity" in the Bible for it to be Biblical. We agree on this point. However, knowing that Pat, like myself, works extensively with Mormons, and that he is familiar with Jehovah's Witnesses as well (Mark Brumley is the expert on the Witnesses at Catholic Answers), I am certain that he is well aware that the depth and breadth of Biblical evidence for both the Trinity, and the hypostatic union, is light years beyond that of the Immaculate Conception. Layer after layer of Biblical data can be presented, in context, for the Trinity--one could fill this entire publication with evidence of monotheism, the existence of the three Persons, and the equality of those Persons (the three foundations of the doctrine of the Trinity). One could dig into linguistics, for example, and show how theotetos, that is, "deity," at Colossians 2:9, clearly demonstrates that Jesus is God in human flesh. One could examine John's usage of ego eimi, "I Am," and see how this, too, shows the deity of Christ. One can note the many instances of "triadic formulae" throughout the New Testament, where the Father, Son, and Spirit are placed together in divine settings (Ephesians 4:4-5, 2 Corinthians 13:14). Given that Mr. Madrid parallels the Immaculate Conception with the Trinity and the hypostatic union, then, do we find him presenting the same kind of Biblical evidence for the doctrine? No, we do not. In fact, Pat managed to get the specifically exegetical material (in opposition to typological evidence, material that depends upon "types" rather than direct assertion or teaching) into one paragraph of fifteen lines. Here it is:

    Look first at two passages in Luke 1.  In verse 28, the angel 
    Gabriel greets Mary as "kecharitomene" ("full of grace" or 
    "highly favored").  This is a recognition of her sinless state.  
    In verse 42 Elizabeth greets Mary as "blessed among women."  The 
    original import of this phrase is lost in English translation.  
    Since neither the Hebrew nor Aramaic languages have superlatives 
    (best, highest, tallest, holiest), a speaker of those languages 
    would have say (sic), "You are tall among men" or "You are 
    wealthy among men" to mean "You are the tallest" or "You are the 
    wealthiest."  Elizabeth's words mean Mary was the holiest of all 
    women.

That's it. That's the entirety of the specific, exegetical evidence of the doctrine, according to Pat Madrid. Yes, he goes on to present lots of "typological" attempts to find Mary in various Old Testament stories. We shall examine them later. But, with reference to specific, direct teaching, this is all that is offered, and all that is said in defense of the interpretation put forward. Obviously, then, the Immaculate Conception does not qualify to be included in the Trinity/hypostatic union category of Biblical teachings that are not mentioned directly by name, for the evidence presented is, quite simply, paltry when compared to the direct, obvious evidence for the Trinity and the hypostatic union.

Does Mr. Madrid's interpretation stand up to scrutiny? It most certainly does not. Let us begin with the first assertion. Luke 1:28 says,

    The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly 
    favored!  The Lord is with you" (NIV).

Mr. Madrid's sole comment on this passage is, "This is a recognition of her sinless state." How does Pat know this? He doesn't say. But Pat's boss, the head of Catholic Answers, Karl Keating, at least attempted a fuller discussion in his book, Catholicism and Fundamentalism. In speaking of the Greek term, kecaritomene, he alleged:

    The newer translations leave out something the Greek conveys, 
    something the older translation conveys, which is that this 
    grace (and the core of the word kecharitomene is charis, after 
    all) is at once permanent and of a singular kind.  The Greek 
    indicates a perfection of grace.  A perfection must be perfect 
    not only intensively, but extensively.  The grace Mary enjoyed 
    must not only have been as "full" or strong or complete as 
    possible at any given time, but it must have extended over the 
    whole of her life, from conception.  That is, she must have been 
    in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her 
    existence to have been called "full of grace" or to have been 
    filled with divine favor in a singular way.  This is just what 
    the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception holds... (p. 269).

Perhaps Pat just didn't have the room to put all that into his article. Or, we could hope, he didn't include it, because he recognizes that the above quotation goes so far beyond anything a serious exegete of the passage in Greek could possibly say that it rivals the attempts made by Mormons to substantiate the concept of men being exalted to the status of a God by citing Romans 8:17. This can be seen by examining the term in question, the perfect passive participle kecaritwmenh. Does the term carry an entire doctrine, unknown in the rest of the New Testament, unheard of by the first three centuries of the Christian Church, in itself? Or are modern Roman Catholic interpreters reading into this term a tremendous amount of material that was never intended by Luke?

First, let's look at the lexical meaning of the root of the term, that being the Greek word caritow. Bauer's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (edited by Gingrich and Danker) defines the usage of caritow at Luke 1:28, "favored one (in the sight of God)." No lexical source that we have found gives as a meaning of caritow "sinlessness." The term refers to favor, in the case of Luke 1:28, divine favor, that is, God's grace. The only other occurrence of caritow is at Ephesians 1:6, "...to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves" (NIV). If the bare term caritow means "sinlessness," then it follows that the elect of God, throughout their lives, have been sinless as well.

However, if we look at Mr. Keating's presentation, it seems clear that he is basing his interpretation not primarily upon the lexical meaning of the word caritow, but upon the form it takes in Luke 1:28, that being the perfect passive participle, kecaritomene. Note that Keating alleges that the "Greek indicates a perfection of grace." He seems to be playing on the perfect tense of the participle. But, as anyone trained in Greek is aware, there is no way to jump from the perfect tense of a participle to the idea that the Greek "indicates a perfection of grace." First, participles primarily derive their tense aspect from the main verb of the sentence. In this case, however, we have a vocative participle, and no main verb in what is in actuality simply a greeting. (The fact that the Roman Catholic Church has to attempt to build such a complex theology on the form of a participle in a greeting should say a great deal in and of itself.) What are we to do with the perfect tense of the participle, then? We might take it as an intensive perfect, one that emphatically states that something *is* (see Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament pg. 202), but most likely it is simply emphasizing the certainty of the favor given, just as the perfect passive participle in Matthew 25:34 ("Come, you who are blessed by my Father..."), 1 Thessalonians 1:4 ("For we know, brothers loved by God..."), and 2 Thessalonians 2:13 ("But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord...") emphasizes the completedness of the action as well. No one would argue that in Matthew 25:34, Jesus means to tell us that the righteous have a "perfection of blessedness that indicates that they had this perfection throughout their life, for a perfection must be perfect not only intensively, but extensively" (to borrow from Mr. Keating's presentation). The application of Keating's thoughts to any of the above passages results in foolishness. Hence, it is obvious that when Keating says that the Greek indicates that Mary "must have been in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence to have been called `full of grace' or to have been filled with divine favor in a singular way," he is, in point of fact, not deriving this from the Greek at all, but from his own theology, which he then reads back into the text. There is simply nothing in the Greek to support the pretentious interpretation put forward by Keating and Madrid. Therefore, Madrid's statement, "This is a recognition of her sinless state," falls for lack of support. The angel addressed Mary as "highly favored," for, as he himself said, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God."

The second passage cited by Madrid is also found in Luke 1, this time, the 42nd verse, which reads,

    In a loud voice she exclaimed, "Blessed are you among women, and 
    blessed is the child you will bear!"  (NIV)

Madrid is quite correct to point out that Hebrew and Aramaic do not have superlative forms, and that the phrase "blessed among women" (euloghmenh su en gunaixin) should be translated as a superlative. I would suggest something like, "you are most blessed of all women." However, as it often the case, truth can be used in a sleight-of-hand trick, and that is what we have here. While all the discussion of the superlative force is true, Mr. Madrid goes on to slip in a wholly unwarranted conclusion, right on the heels of his proper discussion of the superlative force of the passage. Note that he concludes his paragraph with the sentence, "Elizabeth's words mean Mary was the holiest of all women." Where did that come from? To substantiate such a statement, Mr. Madrid would have to prove to us that eulogeo does not actually mean "blessed" here (as all lexical sources say it does), but actually means "holy" instead. But Mr. Madrid doesn't even attempt to do this. He just makes the bald assertion, and leaves it at that--without a bit of commentary.

Does Elizabeth's words tell us that Mary was the holiest of all women? Well, you certainly wouldn't get that idea from simply reading the passage. There is nothing in the word eulogemene that speaks of sinlessness or holiness. If Mr. Madrid attempts to use the form of the term in the passage to come up with the Immaculate Conception idea, does it follow that all the righteous in Matthew 25:34 were immaculately conceived as well, since the same term is used of them? It seems that would prove too much. But, it's the only route open to the Roman apologist, who, of course, has attempted to prove too much already by even citing this passage and asserting that being "blessed among women" means "the holiest of all women."

Remember that Pat began his article by mentioning the "biblical evidence for the doctrine" of the Immaculate Conception. However, we have found no evidence in what has been presented. Yet, the article did not end with the one paragraph cited earlier. Instead, we find a whole section dedicated to the discussion of "types" of Mary in the Old Testament. To give the reader a sense of what kind of interpretation the Roman Catholic is forced to utilize to find "biblical evidence" for the Immaculate Conception, we provide the first example from Mr. Madrid's article:

    Mary's Immaculate Conception is foreshadowed in Genesis 1, where 
    God creates the universe in an immaculate state, free from any 
    blemish or stain or sin or imperfection.  This is borne out by 
    the repeated mention in Genesis 1 of God beholding his creations 
    and saying they were "very good."  Out of pristine matter the 
    Lord created Adam, the first immaculately created human being, 
    forming him from the "womb" of the Earth.  The immaculate 
    elements from which the first Adam received his substance 
    foreshadowed the immaculate mother from whom the second Adam 
    (Romans 5:14) took his human substance.

How does one deal with interpretation such as this? Personally, I don't see Mary foreshadowed in creation, do you? I don't recall any emphasis in the original text upon the "immaculate" elements of the earth, nor upon the idea that Adam was formed in the "womb" of the immaculate earth. Are we to believe that Moses had these ideas in mind, or is it just a result of inspiration? I have no problem with the types that are directly presented to us in Scripture--Paul uses such an allegory in Galatians 4:21-31. But I also realize that there is no end to the "types" that one can find in Scripture, nor any controls upon how far you can take such a method.

An examination of the types Mr. Madrid presents shows us the danger of this kind of interpretation. Forced by lack of direct evidence to rely upon a lesser source of information, Madrid points to Genesis 3:5 and the "proto-evangelon":

    And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between 
    your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will 
    strike his heel (Genesis 3:15, NIV).

After identifying the "seed of the woman" as Mary, Madrid says,

    If Mary was not completely sinless this prophesy becomes 
    untenable.  Why is that?  The passage points to Mary's 
    Immaculate Conception because it mentions a complete enmity 
    between the woman and Satan.  Such enmity would have been 
    impossible if Mary were tainted by sin....

We are forced to ask, where does the passage even address a complete enmity between the woman and Satan? Upon what basis can Mr. Madrid insert into this passage some concept of Immaculate Conception? Is there not enmity between believers and the world? Does that make us sinless? Does the fact that we still have sin in our lives mean that not enmity exists at all? Hardly.

The greatest effort in typological interpretation by Mr. Madrid comes in his attempt to parallel the Ark of the Covenant and Mary. The first parallel he draws has to do with the fact that God took such great pains to make sure the Ark was properly constructed. He says,

    God wanted the ark to be as perfect and unblemished as humanly 
    possible so it would be worthy of the honor of bearing the 
    written Word of God.  How much more so would God want Mary, the 
    ark of the new covenant, to be perfect and unblemished since she 
    would carry within her womb the Word of God in flesh.

Does this kind of interpretation bear the weight of investigation? While we admit the force such things carry with those who already accept these doctrine, we point out that there is no way to test the interpretation. We can easily point out absurdities to which the parallel can be pushed--for example, must Mary have been stolen by God's enemies for a time, so that she could be brought back to the people of God with great rejoicing? Who was Mary's Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:3-8)? Madrid draws a further parallel between the three months the ark was with Obededom and the three months Mary was with Elizabeth. What, then, is the parallel with David's action of sacrificing a bull and a fattened calf when those who were carrying the ark had taken six steps (2 Samuel 6:13)? See, Mr. Madrid feels free to pick and choose what aspects of Mary's life he wishes to parallel in the ark, and which he does not--there are no rules in this kind of interpretation, and it can lead to just about any conclusion. Pat seems to recognize at least some of this, for he says,

    Granted, none of these verses "proves" Mary's Immaculate 
    Conception, but they all point to it.  After all, the Bible 
    nowhere says Mary committed any sin or languished under original 
    sin.  As far as explicit statements are concerned, the Bible is 
    silent on most of the issue, yet all the biblical evidence 
    supports the Catholic teaching.

We are left wondering at Mr. Madrid's definition of "biblical evidence," but we are glad to see that he recognizes that all that has come before does not "prove" the Immaculate Conception. One will believe that doctrine only if one believes that the Roman Catholic Church is infallible and has an authority that does not need Scriptural basis. It seems that, sadly, Mr. Madrid accepts Rome's claims.

There is one other item that needs to be addressed in this article. Madrid says,

    The Mary/ark imagery appears again in Revelation 11:19 and 12:1-
    17, where she is called the mother of all "those who keep God's 
    commandments and bear witness to Jesus" (verse 17).  The ark 
    symbolism found in Luke 1 and Revelation 11 and 12 was not lost 
    on the early Christians.  They could see the parallels between 
    the Old Testament's description of the ark and the New 
    Testament's discussion of Mary's role.

We are forced to wonder again as to how Mr. Madrid is defining the phrase "early Christians." If we take "early" to mean "prior to the year 400," we find that he has no basis for his statements. It is plain for all to see that the entire concept of the Immaculate Conception is missing from the earliest patristic sources--indeed, Mary does not enter into the picture for quite some time, entering first because of the Christological controversies, and only later, under the impulse of asceticism and monasticism, as a central figure in her own right. But, for the first four centuries, the "Virgin Mother" for Christians was not Mary, but the Church. The woman in Revelation 12 was not Mary, but the Church as well (see Hippolytus, _On Christ and Antichrist_, 61, in ANF, V:217). Indeed, one will find controversies brewing over the concept of the Immaculate Conception a thousand years later, when the Dominicans and the Franciscans were at each other's throats over the issue. At the time, the "infallible authority" remained silent, following a middle course between the two sides. As late as the nineteenth century we find the Roman Catholic bishop Milner saying,

    The Church does not decide the controversy concerning the 
    Conception of the Blessed Virgin, and several other disputed 
    points, because she sees nothing clear and certain concerning 
    them either in the written or unwritten Word, and therefore 
    leaves her children to form their own opinions concerning them 
    (cited in Salmon, The Infallibility of the Church, p. 182).

So even tradition fails our Roman Catholic apologist in attempting to find a basis for the Immaculate Conception. The simple fact is that this doctrine is a very late development, a part of Roman Catholic teaching, officially, for less than 150 years. It has no Biblical basis, nor does it have foundation in the early writings of the Church. It was a hotly debated topic for centuries, and no "infallible Pope" dared schism by exercising his infallibility to end the argument until the nineteenth century. It is one of many Marian doctrines that, as a whole, not only greatly detract from the true, Biblical presentation of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, but which promote clearly false concepts in the minds of faithful Catholics everywhere. Given the results of our review, it seems clear that Pat Madrid's "examination" of the "biblical evidence" for the doctrine with the Calvary Chapel pastor took a very short period of time.


The above article has been sent to Mr. Madrid for comment. He was offered a full column in the publication in which the article appears for comment/defense. He declined the offer.


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