Mary Mediatrix & the Bible (vs. Dr. Robert Bowman)

Mary Mediatrix & the Bible (vs. Dr. Robert Bowman) December 20, 2016
The Coronation of the Virgin, by Jean Fouquet (1420-1480) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

Dr. Robert M. Bowman, Jr. is  an eminent Protestant evangelical theologian and apologist. His words will be in blue.


Biblical Evidence: Mary, Paul, and “Spirits” as Distributors of Grace

Mary as Mediatrix, or Co-Redemptrix (rightly understood) is no more shocking or unbelievable than Paul in effect calling himself a “savior” and a “steward” of God’s grace:

Ephesians 3:2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you…

Steve Kellmeyer (from whom I got this insightful material) wrote:

Paul was a self-proclaimed steward of God’s grace. A steward guards and distributes his master’s belongings with equity and justice to the members of the master’s household. Here, Paul claimed to be designated by God to distribute grace to everyone for God by the fact that he preached the Gospel. If Paul can claim to be a steward of God’s grace through preaching the Word, then consider Mary, who preached the Word more completely, more effectively, than any Apostle or disciple who ever lived. She preached His Word in complete silence, in a stable. Through the stewardship given to her by the Holy Spirit, the grace of God came into the world for the salvation of men; wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger.

1 Corinthians 9:22 I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

1 Timothy 4:16 Take heed to yourself and to your teaching: hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Steve again:

If Paul could claim to be a saviour, and could instruct Timothy in how to be a saviour, then Mary has a claim at least as strong as either to the same title and honor. Paul and Timothy can only claim to have preached the Word while Mary’s submission to God’s will actually allows us to meet Him in the flesh.

The above argument depends on a number of equivocations. Paul did speak of himself and of Timothy as “saving” people through their ministry activities of preaching and teaching God’s word. In this sense, though, all Christians can and should have some role in “saving” others.

Exactly. That was my point. If we all have some share in it, in some sense, then why not Mary (to a greater degree, but not different in kind)? That was, pretty much, the nature of my argument.

We can all “preach” and “teach” the gospel and God’s word to our children, to our friends and neighbors, not even necessarily in any official ministry capacity but simply as believers. We must also “preach” and “teach” ourselves the gospel in order to make sure that we have properly heard and responded to it, and in that narrow sense we can be said to “save ourselves.”

We also pray for one another, do acts of charity, and in so doing, help to spread or distribute the grace of God.

But it would be equivocating to conclude that any of us can be called “savior” or “mediator” or any other title along those lines. Such titles necessarily express a distinct role exercised by one or at most a few in relation to others. And of course biblically these two titles are exclusive in usage. In the NT, God alone, or specifically Jesus Christ, is called “Savior,” sôter (Luke 1:47; 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Eph. 5:23; Phil. 3:20; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:3, 4; 2:10, 13; 3:4, 6; 2 Pet. 1:1, 11; 2:20; 3:2, 18; 1 John 4:14; Jude 25). Likewise, just as there was one mediator (Moses) in the old covenant (Gal. 3:19, 20), so now Jesus Christ alone is “the mediator” of the new covenant (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24).

Those things are not in dispute. No one is denying that Jesus is Savior and Mediator. My point was that God uses His creatures to accomplish His purposes, and that Mary is the preeminent example of this. This is why my words were: “. . . Paul in effect calling himself a ‘savior’ and a ‘steward’ of God’s grace . . . ”

As for calling Mary “Co-Redemptrix,” biblically “redemption” and the closely related concept of “ransom” is something that is attributed under the new covenant to God in Jesus Christ alone (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 1:68; 24:21; Rom. 3:24; 8:23; 1 Cor. 1:30; Eph. 1:7, 14; 4:30; Col. 1:14; Titus 2:14; Heb. 9:12, 15; 1 Peter 1:18-19).

Of course it is. That is not in dispute, either. What we assert in the notion of Mary Mediatrix is that God chose Mary to play a unique role in salvation history and the application and distribution of what God alone produces, wins for us on the cross, etc. God is the Redeemer. Mary is simply a helper or chosen vessel, just as Moses or John the Baptist or Elijah or Paul or Peter or John or anyone else was. In no way does this impinge upon God’s sole prerogatives because He is simply using one of His creatures for His divine purposes. No one can say that God “could not” or “should not” do such a thing. In other words, it is not an a priori impossible concept; nor is it unbiblical in essence, as I was trying to show.

The only OT analogue, again, is Moses, who is said to have been the liberator (lutrwthn, only here in the NT) of Israel in a physical sense (Acts 7:35). The concept of redemption in the new covenant, spiritual sense is inextricably bound up with the unique work of Jesus Christ in dying on the cross; it is an aspect or way of understanding Christ’s atoning death for our sins. Mary no more participated in that work than Jesus’ grandparents or anyone else did.

We are not saying that she did — not in the sense which I am interpreting you. We would say that she offered up her Son for the Redemption of the world in the sense that Abraham was willing to offer up Isaac. She knew what was going on and was perfectly willing to undergo the suffering of seeing her Son being crucified for the Redemption of the world.

In Ephesians 3:2, Paul speaks of having a “stewardship of God’s grace” entrusted to him. You understand this to mean that Paul was a steward responsible for dispensing God’s grace. However, this is almost certainly a misunderstanding of Paul’s language.

There are two exegetical possibilities here. The first construes the genitive expression “of God’s grace” (tês charitos tou theou) as an objective genitive, that is, it construes the text to mean that Paul stewarded or administered God’s grace. This is the way your view would require us to construe the genitive. In another context it would be possible to understand the expression as an objective genitive, but the meaning would be other than what you are concluding. For example, in 1 Peter 4:10, Peter writes, “As each one has received a gift (charisma), employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (kaloi oikonomoi poikilês charitos theou). Here “of the manifold grace of God” is an objective genitive, but the sense is that Christians are to steward or manage well the various gifts of God’s grace. That is, in Peter this “manifold grace of God” does not refer to God’s saving grace “dispensed” to others, but refers to the diverse gifts that God gives to believers. Moreover, in this context everyone is called to be good “stewards”; the term does not refer to a distinct, special role exercised by one or several Christians as distinguished from all others.

We have a very different use of similar words in Ephesians 3:2. When Paul speaks of “the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me (tên oikonomian tês charitos tou theou tês dotheisês moi),” this almost certainly is to be construed as a subjective, not objective, use of the genitive (or, which amounts to the same thing, as a genitive of source or origin). That is, in this context Paul is saying not that he stewarded God’s grace but that the stewardship was given to him by or from God’s grace. We know this because he uses the same expression later in the same passage when he speaks of “the gospel, of which I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me” (tên dôrean tês charitos tou theou tês dotheisês moi). Clearly, this must mean the gift that was given to him by or from God’s grace.

No one is denying that “the gift was given to him by or from God’s grace.” What is at issue is what Paul means by saying that he is a steward of grace “for” the Ephesians. Paul being given the gift is not contradictory to his “spreading it around,” so to speak. You would say, I think, that the grace was given to preach the Word, and that was how Paul spread the grace. But just as the word can help bring one to salvation, so can also prayer, and (so Catholics and Paul elsewhere say), penance.

In context, then, Ephesians 3:2 simply does not support the idea that Paul was authorized to dispense God’s grace.

I see nothing that contradicts the notion there. But I agree that the one verse is certainly not conclusive, is a bit ambiguous, and since I don’t know Greek, I will have to defer to you on that discussion of grammar.

Even so, I think one still has to deal with Paul’s many statements about penance (that were also part of my argument). They demonstrate, I believe, that Paul thought he was involved in the process of “getting people saved” not only by word, but also by the value of his own sufferings for their sakes (much like Moses in the OT, “atoning” for his people). But we can deal with that later, if you respond to that argument.

For now, I just found something interesting along those lines that I don’t think I ever noticed before (looking through instances of “Grace” in Strong’s Concordance): in 2 Corinthians 4:8-12, Paul speaks of being “afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down, “carrying in the body the death of Jesus,” etc. (I am citing the RSV). I think I cited this passage with regard to notions of penance, in both my first book and the present argument. What I discovered today, however, was how Paul summed up all of his suffering:

2 Corinthians 4:15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
This appears to me to be some sort of “extension of grace” by means of Paul’s sufferings (cf. esp. Phil 2:7 and above all, Col 1:24). I see that as no different than the effect of prayer. When we pray for someone and God answers, they are blessed, and one might say that they are given more grace thereby, just as Paul often opens his epistles, “grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 1:2). Thus, everyone who prays is potentially a “mini-distributor” of grace.

In fact, the context of Ephesians 3:2 makes mention of the notion of Paul’s suffering for others (akin to the Catholic conception of penance). In Ephesians 3:1 he calls himself “a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles,” and urges his flock in 3:13 “not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you.”

Indeed, in Romans 8:17 Paul even writes that we will be “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Again, we see the same dynamic in 2 Corinthians 5:16 through to 2 Corinthians 6:13. Paul freely intermingles the gospel message with talk of suffering. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 he writes that “if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation.” In the next verse he speaks of “God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself.” He goes on to refer to his own ministry, whereby God was “entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” So far this is much like your point of view: Paul is a preacher and passes along what he received from our Lord Jesus. He and other apostles are “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (5:20). Then note what he writes in 2 Corinthians 6:1:

Working together with him [God], then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.

After that, he again catalogues some of his extraordinary suffering. When we cross-reference his talk along those lines, we see that he believes it is somehow helping his flock that he suffers, not just as a sort of “inspiring example” (though it would certainly include that aspect) but as an actual aid for their salvation. Thus, he participates in a sense in “redemption.” And so do we all, in an entirely secondary sense, insofar as we “work together” with God.

All this sounds very “Catholic”! Evangelicals are not accustomed to thinking in categories whereby suffering is required for salvation or glorification, because that smacks too much of what is often (usually falsely) called “works-righteousness.” Seems to me it is simply biblical, as this passage and many others indicate. But Catholics are not semi-Pelagians. All of this must be understood as to how all these things are fit together in our theology. Paul suggests a “passing-on” of grace also in Ephesians 4:29:

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.

Is not “imparting grace” the same as “distributing” it? Likewise, St. Peter seems to unambiguously express the idea of passing on grace:

1 Peter 4:8b-10 . . . love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

Finally, James 4:6 (“more grace”) and 2 Peter 1:2 (“May grace and peace be multiplied to you . . . “) imply a “quantitative” conception of grace which sounds very “un-Protestant” and very Catholic (at least to this Catholic convert who was an evangelical for 13 years).

Finally, though, let us suppose for the sake of argument that Ephesians 3:2 is saying, as you stated, that Paul acted as a steward of God’s grace by preaching the gospel. This doesn’t make him a co-lord, co-savior, or co-redeemer with Christ.

I agree, but as we continue, I would have to see how you construe the Catholic use of those terms. I have rarely, if ever, run across a Protestant who even understood what we mean by “Mediatrix” or the vastly-misunderstood word “Co-Redemptrix.”

And you (following Steve) are equivocating (doubly so) in trying to argue that if Paul was a steward of God’s grace then Mary must be one as well.

I think you are slinging around the word “equivocating” a bit much. I have not made this argument. What I was doing was making an argument from analogy: not that Mary “must” be a steward, but that it is not implausible or immediately unbiblical for her to be one, given the examples from Paul. In other words, “Mary Mediatrix” is a notion that is harmonious with biblical thought. That is a different argument (and is not claiming that biblical proofs in and of themselves are compelling or even explicit), and it is also a cumulative argument of plausibility, taking into account many different strains of Pauline thought. No one verse is conclusive, but many together form a pretty good case, like strands of a rope which come together to make a strong rope.

Catholic apologist Steve Kellmeyer wrote:

. . . Mary . . . preached His Word in complete silence, in a stable. Through the stewardship given to her by the Holy Spirit, the grace of God came into the world for the salvation of men; wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger.

This is pretty but fallacious: Mary did not preach God’s word by giving birth to Jesus. As a bit of poetry, to speak of Mary as “preaching God’s word in silence” when she gave birth to Jesus (the Incarnate Word) is unobjectionable; as the premise in a theological argument intended to prove that Mary is properly designated Christ’s Co-Redemptrix, the statement is quite objectionable. This is the first equivocation in the argument here.

Not if it is only building the framework and laying the groundwork for a more complicated argument from analogy and plausibility, as explained.

But there is another equivocation. Evangelicals are in stout agreement with the fact that Mary gave birth to the Incarnate Word and Son. They gladly agree that this fact makes Mary the most blessed of women. They understand that in this historical (and very personal) sense Mary participated in God’s enacting of his plan of salvation for all humanity. None of this is in question.

Nor do Catholics question that Jesus is sole mediator in terms of being our redeemer and sole source of salvation.

If Catholic theology maintained merely that Mary played this unique, consecrated role in God’s redemptive plan, we evangelicals would have no objection whatsoever.

The problem arises in that Catholic theology, having made this legitimate point about Mary’s historical role in our redemption, then equivocates by going on to conclude that Mary plays a continuing, present role in our redemption as “Co-Redemptrix.”

Why must everything be “equivocation”? I find the use of this word a bit strange. We simply conclude different things.

Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms:

This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfilment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation…. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix (para. 969).

This doctrine of a “manifold intercession” by which Mary “continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation” is not taught anywhere in Scripture and cannot be inferred from anything in Scripture.

I agree that it is not taught explicitly. I think many inferences can be made — again, in the sense of argument which I describe above.

It certainly does not follow from her historical role in bringing Jesus Christ into the world.

Not logically, or compellingly (so that it could not have been otherwise), no; I agree.

This extrabiblical doctrine is what evangelicals find objectionable in the Catholic doctrine of Mary as Co-Redemptrix.

That gets into discussions of what is “biblical,” how explicit things have to be in the Bible to be believed (the canon is not in Scripture; nor is sola Scriptura, in my opinion), what it means to be “extrabiblical,” and the role of tradition (in other words, all the usual points of controversy between Catholics and Protestants).

I argue that since Protestants accept the canon of Scripture from Tradition and make sola Scriptura their formal principle and rule of faith (when it cannot be proven from Scripture at all), that they are far too quick to make the accusation of unbiblical and extrabiblical, and must re-think how all that works together. But that is another huge discussion. Right now I am trying to confine myself to biblical indications of a mediating role for grace.

On another board, I clarified this sort of argument, and discussed how it is often difficult for Protestants to grasp:
The use of analogy and analogical argument, which is not often used by Protestants (though I used to hear sermons on the “Types and Shadows of Scripture” which is somewhat along the same lines), is usually a new strain of thought for them.

When it comes to Mary, I was attempting to show that the ways in which Catholics approach that issue are similar to other analogous strains of biblical thought. I traced one of them. This is very different for Protestants because they are accustomed to arguing only for explicit biblical proofs (in other words, they always presuppose sola Scriptura); otherwise, they think a discussion is worthless, and (oftentimes) “unbiblical.” But not being explicitly biblical and being in contradiction to Scripture and utterly foreign to its outlook and worldview are different things.

Protestants need to understand the Catholic mind insofar as we reject sola Scriptura. If you don’t comprehend the mindset and arguments of an opponent, no good dialogue is possible. It quickly descends into two ships passing in the night, or what I call “mutual monologue,” because the thoughts of the other are not comprehended. And when that happens, a person simply reiterates his own view. That may be good on its own terms and in some respects, but it is not dialogue, where people both understand the opposing viewpoint and interact with it, rather than put it down and preach one’s own view.

I am arguing that Mary Mediatrix is not a notion that is fundamentally foreign to Scripture or “unbiblical” or a contradiction to what we find in the Bible, etc. This is distinct from arguing that it is proved from the Bible. I don’t think that at all; nor was I arguing such a thing. I am arguing that it is not as outrageous and foreign to the biblical worldview as Protestants casually assume (with much vehemence).

Obviously, Mariology involves much development of doctrine also: another huge topic . . .

Related Reading:

Mary Mediatrix: A Biblical Explanation [1999]

Mary Mediatrix vs. Jesus Christ the Sole Mediator? [1-30-03]

Biblical Evidence for Mary Mediatrix [11-25-08]

Mary Mediatrix: A Biblical & Theological Primer [9-15-15]

Mary Mediatrix? [Collection of papers compiled on 4-6-16]

Exchange on Catholic Mariology and Mary Mediatrix [Facebook, 12-3-16]


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