Immaculate Conception: Dialogue w Evangelical Protestant

Immaculate Conception: Dialogue w Evangelical Protestant August 12, 2019

This dialogue came about as a result of Jack DisPennett‘s critique of my paper, The Blessed Virgin Mary: Biblical & Catholic Overview. His words will be in blue.

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This seems to contradict what Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” One could try to argue that since Jesus Christ Himself is an exception to this universal statement, then perhaps there are other exceptions also. This, however, is a weak objection. For the only reason Jesus Christ did not sin and fall short of the glory of God was because he was God. Indeed, Paul Himself would agree: just read verses 24-25. But to add that Mary also did not sin seems to commit special pleading, because Mary was mortal just as the rest of us are.

If your argument is merely or primarily a linguistic one, based on the meaning of all, it fails, not only by other uses of all in Scripture, and the latitude of meanings for it in Greek, but because an absolute all would indeed include Jesus Christ, He being a true man as well as true God,and a conscious being. It would also presumably include good angels who never sinned, and miscarried children, aborted babies, newborns, and severely retarded or brain-damaged persons, who do not have sufficient knowledge to commit actual sin.

Therefore, if the meaning is not absolute — i.e., now allowing any exceptions whatsoever, your argument collapses. But it can also be overcome on exegetical grounds. I presented that argument in the following paper: “All Have Sinned” vs. a Sinless, Immaculate Mary?

Paul is obviously referring in this context to human beings who have sufficient understanding so as to either choose or reject God.

Then your argument collapses, because if all doesn’t mean absolutely all, without a single exception, then Mary could be an exception (as indeed she is).

Note the preceding verses: “Jews and Gentiles” in verse 9–this passage is not talking about angels– “with their tongues they deceive”-13 “Their feet are swift for shedding blood”-15 “There is no reverence for God before their eyes.”-18 All these verses lead us to conclude that the “all” in verse 23 refers to mature human beings who have reached the age of accountability, since their rejection of God is portrayed as blatant and willful.

Hence, the exceptions you listed (infants, mentally handicapped folk, angels) do not apply to the obvious context of this passage, since Romans 3:9 straight on through past Romans 3:23 is based on the same line of thought regarding mature human beings. I think on these grounds alone it is unlikely that there would be any exception other than Christ, who was able to avoid such sin precisely because He was God.

I reiterate that the linguistic argument collapses as soon as more than one meaning of all is conceded, as it must be, if anyone pursues the matter in biblical Greek linguistic reference books. The exegetical argument is very important, and of course, it is entirely biblical. I will reproduce a portion of the above-cited article:

Jesus says: “No one is good but God alone” (Lk 18:19; cf. Mt 19:17). Yet He also said: “The good person brings good things out of a good treasure.” (Mt 12:35; cf. 5:45; 7:17-20; 22:10). Furthermore, in each instance in Matthew and Luke above of the English “good” the Greek word is the same: agatho.

Is this a contradiction? Of course not. Jesus is merely drawing a contrast between our righteousness and God’s, but He doesn’t deny that we can be “good” in a lesser sense. We observe the same dynamic in the Psalms:

Psalm 14:2-3 The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God. [3] They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, [Hebrew, tob] no not one. (cf. 53:1-3; Paul cites this in Rom 3:10-12)

Yet in the immediately preceding Psalm, David proclaims, “I have trusted in thy steadfast love” (13:5), which certainly is “seeking” after God! And in the very next he refers to “He who walk blamelessly, and does what is right” (15:2). Even two verses later (14:5) he writes that “God is with the generation of the righteous.” So obviously his lament in 14:2-3 is an indignant hyperbole and not intended as a literal utterance.

Such remarks are common to Hebrew poetic idiom. The anonymous psalmist in 112:5-6 refers to the “righteous” (Heb. tob), as does the book of Proverbs repeatedly: using the words “righteous” or “good” (11:23; 12:2; 13:22; 14:14, 19), using the same word, tob, which appears in Psalm 14:2-3. References to righteous men are innumerable (e.g., Job 17:9; 22:19; Ps 5:12; 32:11; 34:15; 37:16, 32; Mt 9:13; 13:17; 25:37, 46; Rom 5:19; Heb 11:4; Jas 5:16; 1 Pet 3:12; 4:18, etc.).

Romans 3:23–I think you misunderstood my point. When someone uses the word “all,” it is our responsibility to look back and see what the antecedent is. I argued that the antecedent of the “all” is “all Jews and Gentiles who have reached the age of accountability.” I gave arguments for this. Jesus Himself is an exception, yes. But this is assumed in that very text, because Jesus Himself is the one who the “all” come to for salvation (v. 22).

Hence, since Jesus Christ in that very text is differentiated from the “all” who have sinned, there actually are no exceptions to the all, once we figure out exegetically who the antecedent is; All Jews and Gentiles, except Jesus,who have reached the age of accountability and have the witness of conscience in them. Hence, your objection that stated, “Since there is one exception, why couldn’t there be more?” fails once we properly establish the antecedent, of which Mary is obviously a part, being an adult Jew. Indeed, we should assume a priori that there are no exceptions from within the antecedent group, unless someone has good positive proof otherwise.

As for the argument “all doesn’t always mean all,” it is a decent point, but I think it fails exegetically. Notice Paul’s words, “all have turned away…there is no one who does good, not even one.”-v.12, emphasis mine. Paul said that this was written “so that…the whole world (may be) held accountable to God.” And that “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” Paul emphasizes the depravity of all mankind too much for there to be any exceptions within the antecedent group.

As for your exegetical argument, I think that even though David may have understood his words as hyperbole when he wrote them, applying only to the desperately wicked majority, Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, seemed to take those words quite literally insofar as they apply to all people. His point is that, at some point in everyone’s life, people sin and go astray from God, and that we don’t naturally seek Him in our flesh (unless we are led by His Spirit.) Paul is emphasizing the universality of sin. No human being (save Christ) who has understood the difference between right and wrong has always chosen the right.

Notice especially, “there is no one who does good, not even one.” This means that everyone (and remember the antecedent) has broken God’s laws As he said, “No one will be declared righteous by obedience to the law.” Christ is the only exception, but not really an exception, since the text itself places Him outside of the antecedent of “no one.” To say that Mary was sinless would mean that she was declared righteous by obedience to the law, which seems to contradict this passage.

The whole doctrine of the immaculate conception also raises other problems: For example, why does God not simply immaculately conceive everybody and remove the stain of original sin from everybody as a result of the merits of Jesus Christ?

I don’t know. He hasn’t told us, just as we don’t understand many things about Him and what He does, particularly with regard to the Problem of Evil. God gives grace as He wills, and it is not for us to question why He does, but to believe in faith that He does so fairly and justly, and with some profound purpose, whether or not we comprehend it. God could have chosen to save all men by grace, due to the Cross, or to utterly annihilate the devil and his demons long ago, even before man’s creation.

Or He could have prevented the Fall itself, but He would have had to restrain human free will, to make it impossible for man to rebel. So this argument is simply an appeal to things we can’t fully know, by the nature of things, hence, of little relevance to our present discussion (because it would apply to many, many mysteries of Christianity).

This would seem to be much more merciful than allowing all men to sin and a large portion to go to hell simply because they were born with original sin.

But this is untrue in the first place. They don’t go to hell “simply because they were born with original sin.” They go there because they choose to live in disobedience to God’s commandments and refuse to accept Jesus as their Redeemer and Savior. Anyone can be saved who chooses to be, and perseveres to the end, by God’s grace. Catholics are not supralapsarian Calvinists.

Go argue with them about the injustice of that doctrine. In any event, baptism removes the penalties of original sin (although concupiscence remains, and must be overcome through a lifetime of spiritual struggle and moment-by-moment obedience, aided by the power of the Holy Spirit and enabling grace).

It is clear from the case of Mary that He is able to do such a thing: It must follow that He is unwilling to remove the stain of original sin. But how can this be if He desires all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth? (1 Timothy 2:4)

Because they can still be saved despite original sin. What your argument amounts to is the silly thought-experiment of: “we know how God should have done things, better than God Himself.” No Christian can make that argument. This is really, then, much ado about nothing: mere philosophizing, and proves little one way or the other concerning the plausibility and biblical support for the Immaculate Conception.

I am dropping my points regarding why God did not then create everyone without original sin, because I would rather this not turn in to a philosophical free-for-all with counterfactuals flying all around. I think it was a mistake for me to even make those points, because that whole part of the issue is really very moot.

I will admit that Mary is “full of grace.” [Luke 1:28] I’m not a Greek scholar so I’m not sure how to translate things, and will thus accept the Catholic interpretation at face value. The problem with this argument is in what it reads into the text. Catholics chide Protestants for reading into texts like 2 Tim 3:16 to prove Sola Scriptura, and yet I think that I could raise a similar objection here.

You make that claim, yet the Catholic view is arguably derived straight from the Greek meaning of kecharitomene; thus I don’t think it involves as much “reading into” the text (eisegesis) as you and many Protestants suppose. You have not dealt adequately with my biblical and linguistic arguments, so I will expand upon and strengthen my case presently. In my paper, The Blessed Virgin Mary: Biblical & Catholic Overview, which you are critiquing, I wrote:

Kecharitomene, in any event, is derived from the root charis, whose literal meaning is grace (it is translated as grace 129 out of 150 times in the KJV). The angel is here, in effect, giving Mary a new name (full of grace), as if he were addressing Abraham as full of faith, or Solomon full of wisdom (characteristics which typified them). Throughout the Bible, names were indicative of one’s character and essence, all the more so if God renamed a person.

To pursue the linguistic argument further, I shall consult the highly-regarded Protestant Greek reference work,Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words (edited by Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich; translated and abridged in one volume by Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1985, 1304-1305, charischarizomai, charitoo, acharistos):

Distinctively charis in Paul expounds the structure of the salvation event. The basic thought is that of free giving. In view is not just a quality in God but its actualization at the cross (Gal. 2:21) and its proclamation in the gospel. We are saved by grace alone . . . it is the totality of salvation (2 Cor. 6:1) that all believers have (1 Cor. 1:4) . . . Grace is the basis of justification and is also manifested in it ([Rom.] 5:20-21). Hence grace is in some sense a state (5:2), although one is always called into it (Gal. 1:6), and it is always a gift on which one has no claim. Grace is sufficient (1 Cor. 1:29) . . . The work of grace in overcoming sin displays its power (Rom. 5:20-21) . . . In Col. 1:6 charis means the gospel . . .

Charis (grace) often means favor, it is true, but it can also refer to a state. The latter is how Catholics usually think of grace: or more specifically, as a power or ability which God grants in order to overcome sin (and this is how we interpret Luke 1:28). This sense is a biblical one, as well, as seen in the above citation, and in the following, from Greek scholar W. E. Vine:

. . . in another objective sense, the effect of grace, the spiritual state of those who have experienced its exercise, whether (1) a state of grace, e.g., Rom. 5:2; 1 Pet. 5:12; 2 Pet. 3:18, or (2) a proof thereof in practical effects, deeds of grace, e.g., 1 Cor. 16:3 . . .; 2 Cor. 8:6,19 . . . the power and equipment for ministry, e.g., Rom. 1:5; 12:6; 15:15; 1 Cor. 3:10; Gal. 2:9; Eph. 3:2,7 . . . (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1940, vol. 2, 170, “Grace” / “Charis”)

For Paul, grace (charis) is the antithesis and overcomer of sin (RSV):

Romans 5:20-21 Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in deathgrace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.*

Romans 6:14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 5:17 If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

2 Timothy 1:9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago,

2 Corinthians 1:12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience that we have behaved in the world, and still more toward you, with holiness and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God.

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2 Corinthians 12:9 but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

We are saved, of course, by grace, and grace alone:

Acts 15:11 But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.

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Ephesians 2:5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God– not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men,

1 Peter 1:10 The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation;

Romans 3:24 they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,

Romans 11:5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.

Titus 3:7 so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Now, the implications of all this for Luke 1:28 and the Immaculate Conception of Mary ought to be obvious by now.

Unlike the doctrine of the Trinity (which can be more or less defined by applying deductive reasoning to various passages of scripture) the Catholics are using a few very indirect verses to prove what is to them an important doctrine. I deny that one can prove the immaculate conception using only the Bible and deductive reasoning. An example of a legitimate deductive argument from the Bible to prove, for example, the Trinity:

1. There is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4)
2. The Father is God (2 Thes. 1:1)
3. The Son is God (John 1:1, John 20:28)
4. The Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-4)
5. These Three are distinct Persons with distinct roles (Ephesians 2:14, Matthew
28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14)
6. Therefore, we conclude that there is one God who exists as three distinct
Persons.

I will accept the Immaculate Conception as soon as such a conclusive deductive argument for it is presented to me. Notice that there are no analogies or speculations of any sort in the argument, and that the conclusion (6) follows logically and inescapably from the premises.

All of the above instances of “grace” in English are translations of the Greek charis, the root of the word used by an angel in Luke 1:28 to describe Mary: kecharitomene. From the above we learn two things, and they are biblically certain:

1. Grace saves us.

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2. Grace gives us the power to be holy and righteous and without sin.

Therefore, for a person to be full of grace is to both be saved and to be exceptionally, completely holy. Thus we might re-apply the above two propositions as follows:

1. To be full of the grace which saves is to surely be saved.

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2. To be full of the grace which gives us the power to be holy and righteous and without sin, is to be fully without sin, by that same grace.

Or, we could make the following deductive argument, with premises (#1 and #2) derived directly from Scripture:

1. The Bible teaches that we are saved by God’s grace.
2. The Bible teaches that we need God’s grace to live a holy life, above sin.
3. To be “full of” God’s grace, then, is to be saved.
4. Therefore, Mary is saved.
5. To be “full of” God’s grace is also to be so holy that one is sinless.
6. Therefore, Mary is holy and sinless.
7. The essence of the Immaculate Conception is sinlessness.
8. Therefore, the Immaculate Conception, in its essence, is directly deduced from the strong evidence of many biblical passages, which teach the doctrines of #1 and #2.

The logic would seem to follow inexorably, from unquestionable biblical principles. The only way out of it would be to deny one of the two premises, and hold that either (1) grace doesn’t save, or that (2) grace isn’t that power which enables one to be sinless and holy. In this fashion, the entire essence of the Immaculate Conception is proven (alone) from biblical principles and doctrines which every orthodox Protestant holds.

The only possible quibble might be about when God applied this grace to Mary. We know she had it as a young woman, at the Annunciation. Catholics believe that God gave her the grace at her conception so as to avoid the original sin which she inevitably would have inherited, being human, but for God’s preventive grace, which saved her from falling into the pit of sin by avoidance rather than rescue, after she had fallen in.

In a very simple sense, the Immaculate Conception is God giving Mary the grace to be as sinless and innocent as Eve originally was, a thing quite fitting and not at all strange or implausible for one chosen to bear the Lord God in her own body.

All of this follows straightforwardly from Luke 1:28 and the (primarily Pauline) exegesis of charis elsewhere in the New Testament. It would be strange for a Protestant to underplay grace, when they are known for their constant emphasis on grace alone for salvation (with which we Catholics fully agree — we merely deny the tenet of faith alone, as contrary to the clear teaching James, and Paul, when closely scrutinized). If grace saves, then to be full of it is to be not only saved, but without sin, according to biblical principles and Protestant beliefs concerning sanctification. For no one can have more grace than to be “full” of it. It’s as simple as that.

Protestants keep objecting that these Catholic beliefs are “speculative” (an insinuation that they go far beyond the biblical evidence) but once one goes deeply enough into Scripture and the meanings of the words of Scripture, it is not all that speculative at all. Rather, it looks much more like Protestant theology has selectively ignored grace when it applies to the Blessed Virgin Mary, but trumpeted it when it applies to all the rest of us Christian believers.

It is one more instance of ignoring some parts of Scripture, and pure bias against Catholic distinctives, causing a corresponding bias and unacceptable subjectivity in hermeneutics and exegesis. Thus, it is not so much a matter of Catholics reading into Scripture, as it is Protestants in effect reading certain passages out of Scripture altogether, because they don’t fit in with their preconceived notions.

I appreciated very much your deductive argument for the Immaculate Conception. It allows an easier analysis of the points and facilitates good discussion. I think your error lies somewhere in the following points:

5. To be “full of” God’s grace is also to be so holy that one is sinless.
6. Therefore, Mary is holy and sinless.

I think that point “5” is far from obvious. Given the free will of humans, it might be that even a person who is completely full of God’s grace might still commit sin, since God’s grace does not nullify free will. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15) yet he later doubted that Christ was the Messiah. In 1 Samuel 13:14, we learn that God will choose a king after His own heart. We later find out that this is David. So we could construct an argument.

1. God’s heart is perfect and sinless.
2. To be a man after God’s own heart is to be sinless.
3. David is a man after God’s own heart.
4. Therefore, David is sinless.

This argument is obviously fallacious, since David did do sinful things, such as commit adultery with Bathsheba, kill Uriah the Hittite, and take an unauthorized census of the people. I would argue that this ad-hoc argument I’ve constructed here commits the same fallacy that your argument for the Immaculate Conception does. I would call this fallacy “over-application of a generalization.” That is, you take a statement or title meant to apply to the actions or character of a person in general, and you try to apply that to every single circumstance in that person’s life.

I could construct other deductive arguments to, such that “John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth,” becomes “John the Baptist always followed the Spirit’s leading and remained without sin.” Of course these saints who are described as “blameless” commit sins. But they avoid sin more than most of us, and that is the whole point. To say that Mary is “full of grace” and therefore sinless is therefore overapplication of a general description of her and is not proof of the Immaculate Conception.

You are overlooking several things here. The whole point of my going into many other verses having to do with grace, was to show that grace seems to be presented as the antithesis of sin. In other words, it is a zero-sum game: the more grace one has, the less sin they have, because the two are mutually exclusive: like oil and water. Or, one might look at grace as water, and sin as the air in an empty glass (us!). When you pour in the water (grace), the sin (air) is displaced. A full glass of water, therefore, contains no air.

My argument was that grace in Scripture seems to be portrayed in this fashion, vis-a-vis sin (see also, e.g., similar zero-sum game concepts in 1 John 1:7, 9; 3:6, 9; 5:18). I don’t claim that this is an airtight biblical argument, but it seems clear to me, at face value. Certainly all mainstream Christians agree that grace is required both for salvation and to overcome sin. So in a sense my argument is only one of degree, deduced (almost in common sense, I would say) from notions that Christians already hold in common.

Mary is the only person in Scripture who is defined (called, in the sense of a descriptive title) as “Full of Grace” (kecharitomene). This must be significant. I think that makes her unique in some sense, anyway you look at it (I contend that the uniqueness is sinlessness, as well as — obviously — being the Theotokos).

Furthermore, I’m not sure that an honest doubt by John the Baptist in the midst of possible despair (after all, he was in prison at the time, and probably knew he would be executed) is a sin. It may have been, but it may not have been, too. God — and courts of law — take into account our states of mind and emotion when we say and do certain things.

As for the analogy with David, this fails, because “being a man after God’s own heart” and committing sin are not presented as antitheses or contraries in Scripture, the way being “full of grace” and sin are. My whole exegetical/analogical argument above really turns on that, and this example of yours is not really analogous at all because the two ideas are not in the same relation to each other (based on other biblical support) as my two ideas were. Nor is there any such title given to David in an extraordinary sense of “complete and enduring, with permanent result.” So my reasoning involves both exegesis and linguistic analysis.

If grace is defined as “unmerited favor,” then we could see Mary as an extreme example of God’s favor; I would say that (and I don’t mean to offend anyone by this, but I must state my view clearly) that despite Mary’s unworthiness and sin, that she was chosen by God to carry His Son.

The alleged “unworthiness” and “sin” of Mary does not follow from Luke 1:28 and the above exegesis and linguistic analysis. So I contend that it is contrary to Holy Scripture. It is a Protestant bias, superimposed onto Scripture.

I admit that she was a very righteous person, insofar as people go. But since “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” it was an act of pure grace for God to choose her (or any other eligible female He could have chosen had He desired) to bear His Son.

The argument from “all have sinned . . . ” has been dealt with in another paper, and above, to some extent.

I see no reason to leap from “full of grace” to “completely sinless”; it is simply not there.

I believe I have shown above that it certainly is there. One merely has to make straightforward deductions from very clear Bible passages, precisely as one does with regard to the Holy Trinity.

In response to my lengthy, Bible-filled exegetical arguments related to Luke 1:35:

Your argument is not convincing, because we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity (1 Cor 3:16) and yet we are not sinless. There is no more need for Mary to be sinless from birth as the bearer of the second Person of the Trinity than there is a need that those in whom dwells the third Person of the Trinity be sinless from birth.

God is everywhere, and every Christian has the Holy Spirit inside of Him. This is true, and a decent point. The uniqueness of the Incarnation, on the other hand, was that only one person was chosen (with her willing consent) to be Theotokos and have the incarnate God: God made flesh, inside of her body for nine months. Though the Immaculate Conception was not, strictly speaking, necessary for the Incarnation, yet it was fitting and entirely appropriate, based on the arguments I gave having to do with proximity to God, and it is based on biblical reasoning.

I think that the analogy between the ark of the covenant and Mary ends where Mary’s humanity begins. The ark of the covenant was a thing, not a person. You could try to draw some sort of an analogy between the “cleanness” and “holiness” of that ark and the sinlessness of Mary, but ultimately, this is just your speculation., and nothing more.

No; it is based on several instances of explicitly-biblical parallels drawn between the ark of the covenant and Mary (noted by the Fathers as well). Again, you try to reduce to “speculation” what is clearly a biblical thought-pattern, which you choose to ignore as of no special significance. Catholics don’t ignore it; we apply it in our overall theology.

Yes, God told Moses to take off his shoes when he was standing on Holy Ground, but it was by God’s grace that Moses didn’t drop dead right then. Moses was, after all, a sinner. Peter himself couldn’t believe that he was worthy to be near with Christ (Luke 5:8), yet he became one of His apostles. I agree that Mary must have been very righteous to bear the Son of God, just as the High Priest had to be very righteous to enter the Holy of Holies. But one could apply similar logic to that you are applying to conclude that the High Priest should have dropped dead as soon as he entered the Holy of Holies, since he was only ritually pure, but not actually free from sin.

Parallels and analogies need not be absolutely exact in each particular (just as Jesus’ comparison of His Resurrection with Jonah and the whale was not exact in every detail). What I was getting at is a very common motif or way of thinking in Scripture. One either grasps the point or they do not. But it is not the sort of “historico-grammatical” biblical interpretation which is the usual Protestant modus operandi, so we would expect that these arguments do not appear plausible to a Protestant. This type of hermeneutic is very Hebraic, rather than rationalistic or strictly “logical.”

I would argue that Mary was washed in the blood of the Lamb through faith in God, and that she was thus justified (accounted as righteous) to bear the Son of God. This is my speculation.

Well, Luke 1:28 says she was full of grace, and that means without sin, as shown. Very biblical; very straightforward.

However, I think that my explanation is more sound as it does not add any new doctrine that is not taught elsewhere in scripture (i.e. based on Romans 3:23, we should assume a priori that Mary did sin, unless someone can prove otherwise.)

It will do no good to keep appealing to Romans 3:23, when I have shown that your argument is entirely fallacious. Until you overturn my counter-argument, a mere citation just won’t do.

I think that you would have to prove that Mary would have had to have been sinless to bear Christ; since your only analogy that you use to attempt to prove actual sinlessness is an inanimate object (the ark of the covenant), it is still not clear that Mary must be actually sinless.

I agree that it is not absolutely required (in the sense that God couldn’t have done otherwise, without violating His own holiness). But it was entirely fitting and appropriate for her role as the Mother of God.

In the final analysis, my fear is that our Biblical arguments will become not unlike a debate on a sentence such as: “My father likes shooting stars.” One person says it means “My father likes to watch meteorites penetrate the atmosphere and leave big streaks”, another says it means, “My father likes taking his .22 and aiming it at the big dipper and firing seven shots.”

I don’t think the matter is anywhere near as vague as that, and so I’m content to let the reader decide who brought more Scripture and deductive reasoning to the table on this issue, and which position is more biblically plausible and coherent.

In response to more of my lengthy biblical and analogical arguments:

These parallels do not really make the doctrine of the Immaculate conception any more conceivable to those of us who do not believe it. It seems that, as is the case with most apologetics in all circles these days, the “proofs” are only convincing to insiders.

That is largely true; I have thought much about that myself, and the reasons for it would require extremely lengthy analysis. But you miss one very important consideration: if my arguments were so weak, why did you not then decisively refute them, one-by-one, for all to see?

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(originally 1-21-02)

Photo credit: The Virgin and Child with an Angel (c. 1500), by Pietro Perugino (1448-1523) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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