Response to an Inquiring Protestant (Austin Suggs)

Response to an Inquiring Protestant (Austin Suggs) May 3, 2022

Strictly Biblical Arguments Regarding the Papacy & Mary’s Immaculate Conception & Assumption

After working full-time at a large non-denominational church, Austin Suggs fell in love with teaching people to love and live out the message of the Bible, and this drove him to attend Moody Bible Institute where he is currently a theology major (senior year). This love for teaching also led to the start of his YouTube channel, Gospel Simplicity, where he has conversations about biblical and theological topics with people from across the spectrum of Christian traditions. His channel is known for its ecumenical outlook and the diversity of views represented.


I am replying to Austin’s video, “Protestant Looks Into Catholicism: One Year Later” (10-21-21). As of this writing it has been viewed 118,323 times, and there are 4,103 comments in the combox.

I appreciate the open-minded, charitable candor of this video and Austin’s honesty about where is is, spiritually, and how he continues to struggle in understanding some things about Catholicism (whether he ultimately agrees or disagrees with it). I’d like to first respond to Austin’s comments regarding a certain amount of pressure being put onto him by Catholics to convert. In 2006, I wrote an article about this sort of thing. I noted:

I never pester people about their possible or actual conversions, or use the situation of a person struggling through issues to “go in for the kill,” so to speak. That’s as far from my method and approach to both people and apologetics as can be imagined.

I don’t interfere or cynically speculate about people’s faith journeys. That is between them and God. I’ve been a convert myself [to Catholicism from evangelicalism, in 1990], so I know what that’s like. One doesn’t need folks coming in and acting like they have all the answers; judging souls and motives alike. I don’t try to force God’s hand or presume or denigrate the motives of potential converts.

That said, Austin mentioned in this video three things in Catholicism that he struggled with: the papacy, and the Marian doctrines of  the Immaculate Conception and Assumption. Since I specialize in “biblical evidence for Catholicism” in my apostolate, I thought Austin might be interested in the purely biblical arguments that I make for all three doctrines. All I intend for it is to be food for thought. No pressure, no polemics, or proselytizing (though maybe persuasion . . .). Just something to consider . . .

A Biblical Argument for the Papacy

There is much in the Bible about St. Peter’s leadership of the disciples (as virtually all Protestants would agree) and the early Church. He is the model for what popes were to be. See my 50 New Testament Proofs for Petrine Primacy & the Papacy. We see him as the central figure and leader of the Jerusalem Council (just as later Catholic popes presided over ecumenical councils). Protestants argue that James presided. This is my answer to that:
From Acts 15, we learn that “after there was much debate, Peter rose” to address the assembly (15:7). The Bible records his speech, which goes on for five verses. Then it reports that “all the assembly kept silence” (15:12). Paul and Barnabas speak next, not making authoritative pronouncements, but confirming Peter’s exposition, speaking about “signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles” (15:12). Then when James speaks, he refers right back to what “Simeon [Peter] has related” (15:14). To me, this suggests that Peter’s talk was central and definitive. James speaking last could easily be explained by the fact that he was the bishop of Jerusalem and therefore the “host.”
St. Peter indeed had already received a relevant revelation, related to the council. God gave him a vision of the cleanness of all foods (contrary to the Jewish Law: see Acts 10:9-16). St. Peter is already learning about the relaxation of Jewish dietary laws, and is eating with uncircumcised men, and is ready to proclaim the gospel widely to the Gentiles (Acts 10 and 11).

The First Epistle of Peter is directed towards a wide audience, and reads like pastoral guidance of the leader of the Church to the whole Church. Peter humbly calls himself a “fellow elder.” But it doesn’t follow that he has no more authority than the other bishops. In fact, he assumes authority throughout his epistle: “gird up your minds” (1:13); “be holy yourselves in all your conduct” (1:15); “love one another earnestly from the heart” (1:22); “So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander” (2:1); “long for the pure spiritual milk” (2:2); “abstain from the passions of the flesh” (2:11); “Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles” (2:12); “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (2:13); “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (2:17); ” wives, be submissive to your husbands” (3:1); “Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman” (3:7); “have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind.” (3:8); “Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling” (3:9); “in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense” (3:15: apologetics!); ” keep your conscience clear” (3:16); “keep sane and sober for your prayers” (4:7); “hold unfailing your love for one another” (4:8); “Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another” (4:9); “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another” (4:10); “Tend the flock of God that is your charge” (5:2: addressed specifically to other bishops); “you that are younger be subject to the elders” (5:5); “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God” (5:6); “Be sober, be watchful” (5:8); and “Resist him, firm in your faith” (5:9).

Although it’s not a biblical argument, the following argument does show papal succession before 100 AD. 1 Clement, which was written by St. Clement of Rome, an early pope, is of the same nature. Strong central authority is expressed. St. Clement writes (I use the standard [Protestant] Schaff translation):

If, however, any shall disobey the words spoken by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and serious danger; . . . (59, my italics)

Joy and gladness will you afford us, if you become obedient to the words written by us and through the Holy Spiritroot out the lawless wrath of your jealousy according to the intercession which we have made for peace and unity in this letter. (63, my italics)

Clement definitely asserts his authority over the Corinthian church far away. Again, the question is: “why?” What sense does that make in a Protestant-type ecclesiology where every region is autonomous and there is supposedly no hierarchical authority in the Christian Church? Why must they obey the bishop from another region? Not only does Clement assert strong authority; he also claims that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are speaking “through” him.

That is extraordinary, and very similar to what we see in the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:28 (“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things”: RSV) and in Scripture itself. It’s not strictly inspiration but it is sure something akin to infallibility (divine protection from error and the pope as a unique mouthpiece of, or representative of God).

Catholics maintain that the Jerusalem Council is an exercise of conciliar authority in conjunction with the pope (Peter), and that 1 Clement is analogous to a papal encyclical (a pope authoritatively acting on his own).

A Biblical Argument for Mary’s Immaculate Conception

Neither the notion nor the fact of a sinless created being is impossible. The angels (excepting the fallen ones, or demons) are sinless and always have been. They never sinned. They never rebelled against God. They’re creatures as we are, with a free will to sin or not sin. Adam and Eve were originally sinless and could have remained so had they not rebelled against God’s commands.

Babies in the womb are without actual sin (though not without original sin), and even after birth they cannot sin mortally (with full subjective awareness necessary for mortal sin) for quite some time, until they attain the age of reason.

The Immaculate Conception was not, strictly speaking, absolutely necessary for God to do. God could possibly have gone about things a different way, just as He could have saved mankind with just His word, without a bloody cross and Jesus’ agonizing suffering, had He chosen to do that.

That is freely granted in Catholic (as well as in most non-Catholic Christian) theology. That said, we contend that the Immaculate Conception is a completely plausible act of God, and most fitting and proper and should not be at all “surprising,” in light of several analogous variables in Scripture.

Another biblical argument can be made from the “proximity to God”: in other words, “the closer one gets to God, the more holy one must be.” I developed this at some length in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (pp. 178-185). The presence of God imparts holiness (Deuteronomy 7:6; 26:19; Jeremiah 2:3). The temple site was sacred and holy (Isaiah 11:9; 56:7; 64:10), and the Holy of Holies where God was specially present above the ark of the covenant (Exodus 25:22), was the holiest place of all within the temple. When we are ultimately with God in heaven, sin is abolished once and for all (1 John 3:3-9; Revelation 14:5; 21:27).

In order to be such a magnificent vessel for the Incarnate God Himself, it stands to reason that God would make the Blessed Virgin Mary an exceptional human being: not only full of grace and therefore sinless (Luke 1:28), but ordained as completely free from original sin, from the moment of her conception: to be preserved by a special act of grace from God, from all sin whatever: original and actual.

Now, the challenge at this point is to show how and why one would posit the Immaculate Conception, based on the biblical data alone (since our Protestant brethren put the highest emphasis on Scripture, and regard it as the only infallible authority in Christianity). Is it possible to do that? Can some semblance of an argument be made from the Bible: if not directly (as we grant), at least from analogy, plausibility, and indirect deduction? I think so.

A sinless Mary is a completely biblical concept: even a fairly explicit one: once one examines Luke 1:28 very closely (the meaning of the Greek word involved: kecharitomene) and realizes the inexorable deductions based on the nature of grace and its relation to sin (about which the Bible has much to say). I made this argument in my book, The Catholic Verses (pp. 181-190), and consider it a rather strong one. In a nutshell, the reasoning works as follows:

1) Grace saves us.

2) Grace is the antithesis of sin and gives us the power to be holy and righteous and without sin.

3) To be full of the grace (Luke 1:28) which gives us the power to be holy and righteous and without sin, is to be fully without sin, by that same grace.

I flesh this part of the argument out quite a bit in my paper, Luke 1:28 (“Full of Grace”) & Immaculate Conception.

Now we must make some connection between Mary’s conception or (failing that) at least sanctity from the womb, to provide some biblical rationale for her Immaculate Conception. The Bible doesn’t directly reveal anything in this respect about Mary. It informs us (through the mouth of the angel Gabriel) that she is “full of grace” and that this state was present at the time of the Annunciation.

From that information alone, however, we can’t tell how long Mary had been full of grace and without sin. Therefore, that particular aspect has to be argued from analogy and plausibility. And I think that can be done as well.

It’s fairly easy to find examples of holy people who have been sanctified or made righteous from the womb, and even (in terms of God’s foreordination or predestination) from before they were ever conceived. The Bible does refer to holiness being imparted even before birth; indeed, even before conception.

Before we pursue that line of thought, let’s step back a bit and note that the biblical writers are fully aware of the notion of conception itself. And this presupposes that a person (with a soul; otherwise he or she is no person) is in existence from that time (e.g., Genesis 25:21; Numbers 5:28; 2 Samuel 11:5; Job 3:3; Psalm 51:5; Song of Solomon 8:2; Luke 2:21; Romans 9:10).

Does the Bible, moreover, refer to people being called from the womb for His purposes? Yes; Samson was one such person:

Judges 16:17 (RSV) And he told her all his mind, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head; for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If I be shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak, and be like any other man.”

A Nazirite was a person who separated himself and was specially consecrated to God: one who made special vows that went beyond the ordinary requirements of the Law. But we know that Samson was not without sin, so his example suffices only to show that being called by God before birth is not unknown in Holy Scripture. The same notion occurs in relation to Isaiah the prophet:

Isaiah 49:1, 5 . . . The LORD called me from the womb, . . . [5] And now the LORD says, who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD, and my God has become my strength –

We find the same in the book of Job:

Job 31:15, 18 Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb? . . . (for from his youth I reared him as a father, and from his mother’s womb I guided him);

We also observe in Sacred Scripture that God has plans for His servants from even before they were conceived (God being out of time in the first place):

Psalm 139:13-16 For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb. [14] I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful. Wonderful are thy works! Thou knowest me right well; [15] my frame was not hidden from thee, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depths of the earth. [16] Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Thus, the idea that a person is somehow spiritually formed and molded by God and called from the very time of their conception (and before) is an explicit biblical concept. But we can produce even more than that: having to do also with holiness. The prophet Jeremiah reported the Lord’s revelation to him (as confirmed by another writer of Scripture):

Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (KJV: “sanctified thee”)

Sirach 49:7 . . . he had been consecrated in the womb as prophet, . . .

“Consecrated” or “sanctified” in Jeremiah 1:5 is the Hebrew word quadash (Strong’s word #6942). According to Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1979 reprint, p. 725), in this instance it meant “to declare any one holy.” Gesenius applies this particular meaning also to the temple:

1 Kings 9:3 And the LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before me; I have consecrated this house which you have built, and put my name there for ever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time.”

Here are a few more related appearances of the word:

Exodus 29:42-43 . . . the door of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak there to you. [43] There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory;

Isaiah 5:16 But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.

Ezekiel 20:12 Moreover I gave them my sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I the LORD sanctify them.

Jeremiah was thus consecrated or sanctified from the womb; possibly from conception (the text is somewhat vague as to the exact time). This is fairly analogous to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. It approximates it. We know Jeremiah was a very holy man. Was he sinless, though? Perhaps he was. I don’t recall reading accounts of Jeremiah sinning.

We know, after all, that the Bible is very frank about exposing sins where they existed (David’s adultery, Noah’s drunkenness, Moses’ murder, Isaiah’s “unclean lips,” Elijah’s and Jonah’s lapses of faith, Doubting Thomas, Peter’s betrayals, Paul’s persecutions, etc.). Therefore, though the lack of such an account of sin does not prove sinlessness, it is consistent with its possibility.

The retort at this point might be that there is a lack of such a notion in the New Testament. But that’s not true. We have the example of John the Baptist:

Luke 1:15 for he will be great before the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.

Luke 1:41, 44 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. . . For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.

We know that John the Baptist was also a very holy man. Was he sinless? We can’t know that for sure from the biblical data. I don’t recall any mention of a sin from John the Baptist, in Scripture. St. Catherine of Siena, for one, believed that he never sinned (A Treatise of Prayer). But we know that he was sanctified from the womb. And that forms some plausible analogy to the Immaculate Conception. Lastly, St. Paul refers to being called before he was born:

Galatians 1:15 . . . he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace,

Therefore, by analogy and plausibility, based on many biblical cross-references, we can and may conclude that it is “biblical” and reasonable to believe in faith that Mary was immaculately conceived. Nothing in the Bible contradicts this belief. And there is much that suggests various elements of it, as we have seen. It does require faith, of course, but based on the biblical data alone it is not an unreasonable or “unbiblical” belief at all.

Her sinlessness is taught in Luke 1:28, so we need only extrapolate the sinlessness back into the womb (which is easy to do), and with regard to original sin as well (not as easy, assuredly, but not impossible to imagine, either).

If God calls and predestines people for a specific purpose from all eternity, from before they were ever born, as David states and as Jeremiah strongly implies, then what inherent difficulty is there in His sanctifying a very important person in salvation history, centrally involved in the Incarnation, from conception?

The possibility simply can’t be ruled out. And if God can call Jeremiah and John the Baptist from the womb and (possibly) from conception, why not Mary as well? The one case is no less plausible than the other, and so we believe it, by analogy.

It’s not foreign to biblical thinking, and makes perfect sense. According to the Catholic Church, God restored to Mary the innocence of Eve before the Fall, and filled her with grace, in order to prepare her for her unspeakably sublime, sanctified task as the Mother of God the Son. Why should He not do so?

A Biblical Argument for Mary’s Bodily Assumption

Catholics believe that all Catholic and Christian doctrines must be in harmony with Scripture; must not contradict it; also, that some doctrines are able to be supported only indirectly, implicitly, or by deduction from other related Bible passages. All Catholic doctrines have scriptural support in some sense (this is my main specialty as an apologist). We also believe in Sacred Tradition: itself always in harmony with Scripture. Sometimes (as in the present case), a doctrine is “stronger” in Tradition.

I agree that there is no direct “proof” of Mary’s Assumption in Scripture. But there is strong deductive and analogical evidence. The deductive argument has to do with the “consequences” of Mary’s Immaculate Conception: a doctrine more directly indicated in Scripture (e.g., Lk 1:28). Bodily death and decay are the result of sin and the fall of man (Gen 3:16-19; Ps 16:10). An absence of actual and original sin would allow for instant bodily resurrection. It’s as if Mary goes back to before the fall (for this reason the Church fathers call her the “New Eve”).

Jesus’ Resurrection makes possible universal resurrection (1 Cor 15:13, 16), and redemption of our bodies as well as souls (1 Cor 15:20-23). Mary’s Assumption is the “first fruits,” sign, and type of the general resurrection of all (created) mankind; she exemplifies the age in which death and sin are conquered once and for all (1 Cor 15:26).

The analogical argument is a second line of approach: biblical examples that have strong similarity in important respects to Mary’s Bodily Assumption. Here are five such analogies:

2 Kings 2:1, 11 . . . the LORD was about to take Eli’jah up to heaven by a whirlwind, . . . [11] . . . And Eli’jah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

2 Corinthians 12:2-3 I know a man in Christ [i.e., Paul himself] who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven . . . [3] And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows —

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 . . . And the dead in Christ will rise first; [17] then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

Hebrews 11:5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. . . . (cf. Gen 5:24)

Revelation 11:11-12 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, . . . [12] Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up hither!” And in the sight of their foes they went up to heaven in a cloud.

In three of these instances, the person didn’t die (in one the person even came back); in two they died first. The Church hasn’t declared whether Mary died or not. All of these events occur by virtue of the power of God, not the intrinsic ability of the persons.

Jesus ascended by His own power, but the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed by the power of her Son Jesus’ victory over death. Hers was an “immediate resurrection.” One day all who are saved will be bodily resurrected. Mary was the first after the Resurrection: quite appropriately (and even, I submit, “expected”), since she was Jesus’ own Mother.


Photo credit: Austin Suggs, from his “About Page” on his YouTube channel, Gospel Simplicity.


Summary: Inquiring Protestant Austin Suggs (YouTube channel “Gospel Simplicity”) mentioned three Catholic doctrines he struggled with. I offer biblical arguments for ’em.

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