By Mark Swarbrick
Catholics are fond of employing the title Mother of God for Mary the mother of Jesus. They say that since Jesus is God and Mary is the mother of Jesus,
then the title for Mary as Mother of God is legitimate. They also site Luke 1:43 where Elizabeth says to Mary, “And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?” The argument is that since Elizabeth referred to Mary as the “mother of my Lord,” that the appellation “Mother of God,” is appropriate to be used for Mary. Protestants as well as Catholics affirm that Jesus is God, so is it then appropriate to call Mary the Mother of God? This article shall examine that question.
First of all, we must ask, why give Mary a title at all? The scripture does not give her a title, so why does the Catholic Church desire to bestow a title upon her? Indeed, the New Testament does not give Mary a prominent position whatsoever in the Church. In fact, when someone said something that elevated Mary, Jesus was quick to refute it:
“While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed.’ But He said, ‘On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.’” (Luke 11:27-28)
There is also this passage from Mark where Jesus makes clear that his mother has no special standing in the kingdom above other believers:
“There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, ‘Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.’ And he answered them, saying, ‘Who is my mother, or my brethren?’ And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, ‘Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.’” (Mark 3:31-35)
Protestants maintain that Catholicism magnifies and exalts Mary’s position beyond that which is biblical and balanced by claiming that she was sinless, did not die but was taken up into heaven, and that if Catholics will petition her to do so, she will continually forward the millions of daily Catholic requests on to Jesus. Non-Catholic Christians see the title Mother of God as a further example of the deification of Mary and therefore reject the title as extraneous and unbiblical.
So let us examine the Catholic defense for the phrase Mother of God. First let’s look at the passage in Luke 1:43 where Mary is referred to by Elizabeth as the “mother of my Lord.” Note that the text does not say “Mother” with a capitol M as Catholics use it. It is “mother” with a small m. Elizabeth was not using the phrase as an appellation or title and neither she nor the Holy Spirit every intended to give Mary a title. The emphasis was upon “Lord,” not upon Mary as mother. It was not a title as Catholics employ it.
Furthermore, the phrase “mother of my Lord” does not specifically express deity as the title “Mother of God” does. Mary did not at that time know that Jesus was God. She understood he was the Son of God, but she didn’t yet know about the Trinity. The concept of the deity of Christ was not yet understood. Even the disciples did not grasp it until just before Christ’s crucifixion. This is evident from John 14:9, wherein Jesus says, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
The word “Lord” is sometimes used of God, but it also had another meaning of “master,” implying ownership as a slave to a master. It is a title of honor, expressing respect and reverence. The Greek transliteration in Luke 1:43 of the phrase is “mother of the lord of me,” and the Greek word for lord is Kyriou. It is word 2962 in Strong’s dictionary and has a translation of “he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has the power of deciding; master, lord…the possessor and disposer of a thing, the owner…a sovereign prince, or chief.”
This word is sometimes translated as “master,” as in Luke 12:46 where it refers to the owner of a servant. In Luke 13:8 it is translated as “sir.” In Matthew 8:25 in the story of the storm at sea we read, “They awoke him saying, ‘Lord save us we are perishing.” Again same word, Kyriou.
As stated earlier, the disciples at that time did not yet understand the Deity of Christ. So in this passage of the disciples in the boat, they were not using the word Kyriou (Lord) to infer deity. They did not as of yet recognize the deity of Christ or the Trinity. They were using it as “sir or “master.” This is evidenced further in Thomas’ statement to Jesus in John 20:28, “My Lord and my God.” Kyrios is used here for Lord and Theos is used for God. It reads literally “the lord (kyrios) of me and the God (theos) of me.” If “Lord” always means God, then Thomas was being ridiculously redundant by saying “My God and my God.”
This dual meaning for Lord is why God is sometimes referred to in scripture to as the “Lord of lords,” not to express that God is lord over other Gods, but that he is sovereign over all rulers, princes and authorities. So we can see from this that Elizabeth’s phrase of “mother of my lord,” would not have been said by Elizabeth with the intent of conveying that Jesus is God. She was using the word as it would naturally be used of the coming Messiah.
The problem with the title Mother of God is that it is misleading. It tends to convey the idea that Mary was the mother of Jesus’ divinity. Catholics further confound the issue with their unbiblical claim that Mary was sinless and was assumed into heaven where she has the divine powers of omniscience and omnipresence to be able to answer millions of prayers to her simultaneously. With all of that, a Catholic is very likely to get the idea that Mary is divine and was therefore somehow the mother of Christ’s divinity. She was not.
Jesus was both fully God and fully man. Mary was only the mother of Jesus as a man, and not the mother of Jesus as God. Jesus existed as God in eternity and created all things. Jesus created Mary’s spirit, just as he created man and all things material and immaterial.
So, to summarize what we have so far: We see that Elizabeth spoke of Mary as the “mother of her Lord,” not as a title for Mary but simply as a description of facts. We also see that she did not understand the statement to mean “Mother of God,” either as a description or a title. The statement only meant that the Messiah would be Lord of his followers.
Now today we do know that Jesus is both Lord and God. So what is the harm in calling Mary “Mother of God?” First of all, why give her a title at all when the scriptures do not? And if you want to give her a title, why not, “Mother of my Lord?” At least that would be a little more scriptural. But no, Catholics want to call her the “Mother of God,” Why? It is for the same reason they call her “The Queen of Heaven.” It is done to elevate her for worship, and yes, Catholics do worship her and no amount of slippery semantics will let Catholics escape that fact. The title Queen of Heaven is reminiscent of Jeremiah 7:18 wherein God declares his anger against Israel for their worship of the host of heaven and in particular a female goddess called the Queen of Heaven.
Catholics claim, “We don’t pray to her, but ask her to pray FOR us, she is not worshiped but she is most highly honored.” However, the scripture has defined what is worship and what Christians can and cannot do:
“So watch yourselves carefully…so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female…So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the LORD your God has commanded you.” (Deuteronomy 4:15-16,23)
“Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 26:1)
Catholics all over the world make graven images of Mary and other dead people and they make them so that people can bow down to them. This is idolatrous worship as defined by the Bible. The Bible says don’t make graven images to bow down to. Do Catholics make graven images for the purpose of bowing down to them? Yes. Do they bow down to them? Yes. The scripture says don’t do that. Catholics do it anyway and make excuses for it but there is no valid excuse for idolatry. In the book of Revelation, we see that when John fell down at the feet of the angel, the angel said, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant…worship God.”
Catholics claim that since God commanded that images of cherubim be made for the top of the Mercy Seat in the temple, so therefore their use of statues in worship is OK. The attempted excuse of the cherubim on the Mercy Seat does not nullify God’s command against idolatry. God clearly has no problem with a statue or replica of something. It is when they are made for the express purpose of worshiping them that is forbidden. God never told the Israelites to bow down to the cherubim. He never told them to pray to them or ask them for anything. Yet this is exactly what Catholics do to statues of Mary in express contradiction of God’s command. Prayer is communication. When one talks with Jesus or our Father in heaven, that is prayer. Prayer is defined in the dictionary as a “religious request for help to an object of worship.” It is a religious exercise of worship, and worship only belongs to God and we should only pray to God, for that is an act of worship.
Catholics say they don’t really pray to Mary, they only as her to intercede with Jesus for them. But consider what one is doing when they ask Mary to intercede. Any attempt to communicate with Mary in heaven, is actually prayer directed to her. Consider what is done when beseeching Mary. Is it any different than when one communicates with God? What do you do when you pray? You kneel down perhaps. You fold your hands or perhaps lift them up toward heaven. You speak, either out loud or silently in your thoughts, desiring that you are heard. You may listen for an answer. That is prayer. But whether you do it unto God or unto Mary, you are doing the EXACT SAME THING. Any Catholic that cannot see that has been blinded to the truth.
The Psalms are full of wonderful prayers. Where in the Psalms or anywhere in the Old Testament are there examples of prayers to any dead person? They are not to be found. Where in the New Testament are we told to pray to Mary or to dead people? Nowhere. Catholics didn’t even begin doing it until 600 AD.
And finally, communication with the dead is forbidden by scripture:
“Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:31)
“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11)
Does the Bible say not to consult with the dead? Yes. Do Catholics consult with the dead? Yes, they pray to Mary they are consulting with the dead. The excuse that she is only being asked to pray for them is invalid. Any communication with her is forbidden, for it violates two of God’s laws: Communication with the dead is unlawful and communication to Mary is actually prayer, and prayer to anyone but God is idolatry.
And finally, Catholics do a whole lot more than just ask her to pray for them. To wit:
“HAIL, HOLY QUEEN, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!”
Catholic literature is full of prayers to Mary that are worshipful supplications. For example, consider these prayers to Mary taken from The Glories of Mary, a fully authorized publication of the Roman Catholic Church. Its latest edition is published by the Catholic Book Publishing Company of New York and officially stamped by the Vicar General, the Archdiocese of New York.
“We have confidence but in thee, O most faithful virgin. O great Mediatrix of Peace between men and God…”
“O Mary, sweet refuge of poor sinners, assist me with thy mercy. Banish me from the infernal enemies and come thou to take my soul and present it to the eternal judge. My queen, do not abandon me, I give you my heart and soul.”
“Mary, blessed virgin, immaculate queen, I dedicate my family forever to thy service. I appoint thee ruler of my whole house. Bless us, defend us, provide for us, counsel us, comfort us, assist us in our infirmities, especially in the sorrows of death. Grant that we may go to heaven.”
Just listen to them: “I give you my heart and soul…grant that we may go to heaven.” That is not just asking Mary to intercede. That is worshipful prayer. That is idolatrous worship and no amount of semantic silliness can get around this fact. The problem with the title “Mother of God” for Mary, besides being unscriptural, is that it is coupled with idolatrous worship of her and prayers to her, both of which are sinful breaches of God’s commandments.
In conclusion, Mother of God is not an appropriate title for Mary. It is an inaccurate misleading misnomer that is used by Catholics to exalt Mary to a higher position that Jesus or the scriptures give to her. Nevertheless, Catholics have a plethora of fancy and unique excuses for their blatant idolatry. As Jesus said of the Pharisees, so it applies to Catholicism: “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.” (Mark 7:9)