When I tell people in Ireland that I am a Christian, they often want to know what kind of Christian. Sadly, the simplicity and unity that Jesus Christ intended when He established His Church has been corrupted through the intervening centuries by both addition and subtraction to His simple plan. In an attempt to clarify what kind of “Christian” I am, many people ask, “Do you believe in Mary?”, or “What do you think of Our Lady?”
But before answering, we need to clarify the question. What do you mean by “believing in Mary”? In fact, what does it mean to believe? There are many things that I believe. I believe in God, in Jesus Christ, in angels, and in Satan, but not all in the same way. I believe in the existence of Satan, and I believe everything the Bible teaches about him. I believe in the existence of angels, and I believe everything the Bible teaches about them. I believe in the existence of God and I believe everything the Bible teaches about Him, and therefore, I trust Him to care for me and pray to Him as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe in the existence of Jesus Christ and I believe everything the Bible teaches about Him, and therefore, I depend upon Him alone for my salvation, and I worship Him as my Saviour and Lord.
So when you ask me, “Do you believe in Mary?”, I would say that I believe in her existence and believe everything the Bible teaches about her. I do not pray to her or depend upon her for my care or salvation. That would be contrary to what the Bible teaches about Mary and her role as the mother of Jesus.
What does the Bible teach about Mary?
The role of Mary was prophesied from earliest days in the Bible. Back in the Garden of Eden, God promised that the Seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s heel (Genesis 3:15). It is an unusual expression because normally we would speak of a man’s seed. The prophet Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14) and that His name would be called Immanuel, meaning “God with us”. And this was fulfilled 700 years later when the angel Gabriel came and announced to Joseph that Mary would give birth to a Son who would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
It is clear from Scripture that Mary was a godly young woman. The angel told her that she was full of grace (highly favoured), that the Lord was with her, and that she would be called blessed among women (Luke 1:28). Although she had questions about how it would be possible for her as a virgin to bear a child (Luke 1:34), she humbly submitted to God’s will for her life (Luke 1:38). The expression “full of grace” means that God had bestowed His grace (that is, undeserved favour) upon her in giving her the singular privilege of bringing the Saviour into the world. It is not that she is the source of grace but the recipient of God’s undeserved favour.
The Bible never calls Mary the mother of God, as that would imply that she existed before the Creator of the world, but Mary’s cousin Elizabeth rightly calls her “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43). While it is true that the Lord Jesus is God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16), Mary was not the source of His Godhood but of His manhood. She was a chosen and willing vessel through which God poured out His gift of love upon the world. She was God’s chosen vessel for the fulfilment of the first prophecy that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). She was truly blessed among women, but God is the true source of all blessing.
Despite all that she knew of the miracle of His conception and birth, there was much that she didn’t understand. For instance, she didn’t understand the prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:29-35), nor the full significance of the words of the twelve-year-old Jesus when He told her that He must be about His Father’s business (Luke 2:48-50). But she was faithful as a mother to care for His needs.
As Jesus grew and matured, we see that Mary had great confidence in Him. At the wedding in Cana (John 2), we see that when she found out about the shortage of wine, she brought the problem to Jesus and told the servants to do whatever He told them. Jesus gently told her that it was not her place to be directing His actions, and yet He did act to care for the needs of the guests. He refers to her not as mother but as “woman.” It was a respectful term in that culture, but it also indicates that He was beginning to distance Himself from His earthly family . This is seen more clearly in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus was facing growing opposition from the religious leaders, when His mother and brothers came to speak to Him. He was told that His mother and brothers were there, but He replied:
“Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”Matthew 12:48-50
The New Testament teaches that only those who believe and receive Jesus become children of God (John 1:10-13), and that He is not ashamed to call those who are saved by God’s grace His brothers (Hebrews 2:10-13).
On another occasion, one of the followers of Jesus cried out, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” (Luke 11:27). But Jesus said: “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” As blessed as Mary was for her willingness to submit to God’s will for her life, it is possible for us today to be more blessed than Mary if we hear the Word of God and keep it. This is a marvellous truth! God has given us His unchanging Word which is the source of new life (1 Peter 1:23-25). So, what does God’s Word mean to you? Do you treasure it like Job (Job 23:12)? Do you obey its teaching (James 1:21-25)? God’s Word, the Bible, is God’s primary means of grace and obedience to it is the path to true blessing.
Should we pray to Mary?
Many people have accepted the idea that Mary has special access to Jesus and if we pray to Mary she will intercede with Him on our behalf. This idea is never taught in the Bible. Indeed, one of the major themes of the Epistle to the Hebrews is that by His incarnation the Lord Jesus has become our sympathetic High Priest, and we are invited to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). To say that Mary is more gracious and approachable than the Lord Jesus is to insult His character and deny one of the primary reasons for His becoming man.
Do I believe in Mary? Yes, I believe in her existence and in everything the Bible teaches about her as the young woman who miraculously conceived the Christ Child by the Holy Spirit. I believe she spoke the truth when she said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it” (John 2:5).
But I believe that her role in the salvation of the world was completed when she gave birth to the Lord Jesus who alone is the Savour of the world. While Mary suffered emotionally at the death of her son (as any loving mother would), it was only the sufferings of Christ that have any merit with God for the forgiveness of our sin. That is why the Apostle Peter could confidently proclaim “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). And that is why the Apostle Paul could say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).