Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #128

Bible Christian Society

Mary Being Without Sin

This dogma is obviously closely related to the Immaculate Conception, since if Mary was without sin her entire life, she would have to have been without sin at the moment of her conception.  This particular belief in regard to Mary is where the loudest howls of protest come in from non-Catholics and, unfortunately, sometimes from those who call themselves Catholic.  I see the arguments against the Immaculate Conception as merely a sidebar to the arguments against Mary’s lifelong sinlessness.  After all, if God stepped into history and created Mary without sin, then that would be a good foundation from which to argue for Mary’s perpetual sinlessness.  So I believe that the arguments against the Immaculate Conception, are simply the result of folks not wanting to give an inch in regards to their belief that Mary was not without sin her entire life.

As I mentioned above, the Scripture verses that will almost always be mentioned first, when arguing Mary as having been without sin, will come from chapter 3 of Romans: Rom 3:9-12, “…I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.’”  And, Rom 3:22-23, “For there is no distinction since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”  “See”, they will say, “The Bible says that all are under the power of sin and that all have sinned. No one is righteous, no, not one."  They have made these words of Scripture an absolute.  "All" have sinned.  It says, "all," by golly, so that means all – everyone – without exception.  Which means, they believe, that Mary could not have been without sin her entire life.

The very first thing I do when presented by someone with these passages as "proof" that Mary had to have sinned, is to ask that person a question.  And that question is this: "Are you seeking God in your life?"  If I’m speaking to them in person, I almost always get a quick retort of, "Absolutely!"  To which I respond by pointing out that they just contradicted the Bible.  Romans 3:11 states very specifically that "no one seeks for God," yet they just told me that they do indeed seek for God.  How can that be?  Either they’ve just contradicted the Bible, or there is a problem with their absolutist interpretation of this passage of Scripture. 

Another question you could ask at this point is this: "Is praying to God a good thing?"  You will undoubtedly be answered in the affirmative.  You then ask, "Do you pray?"  And they will respond that they do.  You can then make the observation that by praying, they are doing good; yet, in Rom 3:12, it says that "no one does good, not even one."  So, once again, either they have contradicted the Bible, or there is a problem with their absolutist interpretation of these passages from Romans.

If they interpret "all have sinned" as meaning every single human being, without exception, they can’t then turn around and interpret "No one seeks for God" and "No one does good" as not meaning every single human being, without exception.   But, their absolutist interpretation of these passages puts them in the position, if they wish to not contradict the teaching of the Bible, of having to say they do not seek God in their lives, or that they never do anything good in their lives.  Both of which are ridiculous things to have to admit if you’re a "saved" Christian doing your best to follow God’s will for your life.


Furthermore, the folks who interpret these verses from Romans 3 as absolutely meaning "all" – everyone without exception – have sinned, fail to take something into account in their fallible, non-authoritative interpretation of these Scripture verses.  I’m going to give you a Catholic principle here, one which is very important to remember.  In Romans 3, Paul is quoting from the Old Testament (O.T.).  And, whenever you see a quote from the O.T., you need to go back and read it in its entirety so that you can get the O.T. context – in order to put it in its proper context when it is used in the N.T.  If you don’t get the O.T. context, you will quite possibly misinterpret the N.T. passage it is used in.  And that’s the mistake a lot of people make when reading Romans 3, they don’t look at the Old Testament to get the context of the passages Paul is quoting from.

Let’s look at an example of this principle.  A passage which is often misunderstood by Fundamentalists and Evangelicals is Matthew 27:46, where Jesus cries from the Cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  I have often heard people say that that passage means that God turned His back on Jesus at that moment.  As if you can separate Jesus from God.  Jesus was and is God.  Can God turn His back on Himself?  Can you ever separate Jesus from God?  Was there ever a moment when Jesus wasn’t God?  No!  What they fail to understand is that these words of Jesus are coming straight from Psalm 22.  Listen to what Psalm 22 has to say.  This is how it starts: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?  

Psalm 22 goes on to say, “All who see me mock me…I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint…they divide my garments among them…they have pierced my hands and feet.”  Sound familiar?  This is a prophetic psalm that points to the Crucifixion.  But, even though Psalm 22 starts off with a pathetic and seemingly hopeless cry from a man in agony, it ends up as a triumphant statement full of the hope and the glory and the victory of God.  This psalm is saying that even though things seem bad, and even though it seems, at first, that God is nowhere to be found…that’s not actually the case.  This psalm is saying that God is in control and that ultimately the victory is His.  

So, Jesus’ cry from the cross does not prove that God turned His back on His Son, rather it was Jesus’ way of bringing Psalm 22 to the memory of those at the foot of the cross and to everyone who ever reads or hears about Jesus’ cry from the cross.   This was Jesus’ way of saying that even though this looks like defeat, it is, in reality, victory.  Read Psalm 22 and you will know exactly what I am talking about!  But, you don’t understand this if you don’t look at the O.T. context of Jesus’ cry from the Cross.  

The same happens with the quote by Paul from Romans about “for all have sinned”.  We need to understand the O.T. context of the quote Paul is using in Romans.  And, what is that context from the O.T.?  Let’s see: Ps 14:1-5, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’  They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good [sound familiar?].  The Lord looks down from Heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God.  They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one.  Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord?  There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.”  And there is almost the exact same passage in Ps 53:1-4.

Psalm 14 starts off talking about the "fool" who says there is no God.  It says that they, the fools who do not believe in God, are corrupt and do abominable deeds.  "There is none [of the fools] that does good."  It goes on to tell us that there are evildoers, none of whom do right.  But then, it speaks of God’s people, "the generation of the righteous."  So, the Psalm that Paul quotes, even though it says, “…there is none that does good, no, not one,” is obviously not talking about all people, but only those fools who do not believe in God and who it goes on to call “evildoers”.  Because, if it was talking about absolutely all people, then how can the Psalm talk about, just a verse or two later, the generation of the righteous?  If all have gone wrong, if there are none that do good, then there are no righteous people.

Now that we have the O.T. context, we can look at the N.T. context.  So, is Paul really saying that all men, with no exceptions, have committed sin?  Is he really saying that all men, with no exceptions, are not righteous?  Is he really saying that all men, with no exceptions, do not seek God?  Is he really saying that all men, without exceptions, never do good?  No, he isn’t.  Remember, the O.T. passage he is quoting is not talking about all men, even though it uses the word "all."  Which means, that these verses from Romans 3 are not the "proof" of Mary’s sinfulness that many non-Catholics think they are.

Paul is not talking about all men having committed sin.  Even Evangelicals and Fundamentalists who believe Paul is talking about personal sin here in Romans, make exceptions for infants and young children.  Everyone agrees that neither an infant, nor a young child, has committed a personal sin.  So, even those who quote this passage to show that all men, without exception, have committed personal sin… don’t believe that all men, without exception, have committed personal sin.  They make exceptions. 

Plus, remember it says in Romans 3:9-12, that no one is righteous, no not one.  Well, if we are to make this an absolute, as many non-Catholics do, then we would expect not to find anyone in the Bible referred to as being righteous.  Yet, Luke 1:6 says that Elizabeth and Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptist, were “righteous” before God.  How can that be if no one is righteous, no not one?  In chapter 5 of James it says that the prayer of a righteous man availeth much.  Well, if no one is righteous, no not one, then what righteous men is James talking about?  And there are other righteous folks mentioned throughout the Bible as well.

We mentioned Elizabeth and Zechariah, John the Baptist’s parents, being righteous before God.  Something else that Luke 1:6 says is this: “And [Elizabeth and Zechariah] were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.”  Blameless?  Would that be… without sin?!  How does this fit with “all men have sinned”?

And listen to this from Lk 1:15,  “…and he [John the Baptist] will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.”  Would you say that a man who is filled with the Holy Spirit his entire life, even before he is born, was a sinner?

Lk 1:28, “And he [the angel Gabriel] came to her [Mary] and said, “Hail, full of grace, the lord is with you!”  Mary is “full of grace” even before Jesus is conceived.  Would someone who is “full of grace”, full of the very life of God, be considered a sinner?

And, if the wages of sin is death, as Paul clearly says in Rom 6:23, then the argument can be made that Enoch and Elijah must not have ever sinned – because they never died.  We see this in Heb 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.”  [see also Gen 5:24].  2 Kings 2:11, “And as they still went on and talked, behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them.  And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into Heaven.”  Neither Enoch nor Elijah died.  If the wages of sin is death, as Paul says in Romans, then a case could be made that neither of them sinned.

So, Paul was not talking about absolutely “all” men, without exception, committing personal sin.  Most everyone agrees that he was not talking about infants and young children.  Scripture tells us that the parents of John the Baptist were blameless before the Lord in all of His commandments and ordinances.  Scripture also tells us that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from even before he was born!  I can’t be sure, but it looks like a pretty sinless family to me…at least, that’s what the Bible seems to be saying.

What is going on here in Romans, chapter 3, is that Paul is saying to the Jews that even though they have had a privileged position as God’s people in the past vis-a-vis the Gentiles, and even though they often considered themselves as being without sin as opposed to the Gentile sinners, it is actually the case that both groups – Jews and Gentiles – are under the power of sin.  Paul is telling the Jews that they are not as special as they think they are.  They, too, can sin.  He goes on to tell them that the playing field has now been leveled through the death and resurrection of Christ, and that both groups – not just the Jews – now have access to salvation through Christ. 

Paul is saying that all men – Jew or Gentile – left unto themselves, of their own power, are indeed sinners.  However, by the grace of God, there are also men that can truly be called righteous.  He is indeed speaking in absolutes when it comes to men who have not God, to "The fool who says in his heart, ‘There is no God,’" but he is not speaking in absolutes when it comes to those who live by the grace of God. 

That’s why there are men who can truly be called righteous by the Scriptures, even though Romans 3:10 says, "None is righteous, no not one."  Which is also why it is possible that Mary lived her life without sin, even though Romans 3:23 says that, "all have sinned." 

Mary, without God, would indeed have been under the power of sin.  As it was, though, God, by a special grace, saved her from sin at the very moment of her conception.  And, she was so full of God’s grace, that she did not sin during her entire life.  We need to always remember Luke 1:37, “For with God, nothing is impossible.”  I believe even the most strident anti-Catholic will admit, that God could indeed have created Mary without sin, and that it is indeed possible, by the grace of God, that she remained without sin her entire life.  Would any one of them dare deny that this is at least a possibility?

The first Adam and the first Eve were conceived without sin.  The second Adam was conceived without sin.  Would not the second Eve also be conceived without sin?  The difference in the first Adam and the second Adam, in their human natures, was that the first Adam sinned and the second Adam did not.  Does it not then make sense that the difference between the first Eve and the second Eve would be that the first Eve sinned and the second Eve did not?

Through the first Eve, sin entered the world.  Through the second Eve, salvation entered the world.  The first Eve brought sin into the world through her disobedience.  The second Eve brought salvation into the world through her obedience.  The first Eve, created without sin, sinned.  The second Eve, created without sin, did not. 


The arguments against Mary’s sinlessness lack any foundation whatsoever.  I have already shown that the one passage from Scripture – Romans: 3:23 – which is used over and over and over again by Protestants to "prove" Mary could not have been without sin, actually "proves" no such thing.  If it "proves" that Mary did indeed sin, then it also proves that no Protestant is seeking God and that no Protestant ever does good and that no Protestant fears God (see Romans 3:10-12, and 18).  If the word "all" is an absolute in verse 23, then it is also an absolute in verses 10-18.  Would anyone who believes Romans 3:23 proves Mary sinned also then admit that they do not seek God, that they never do good, and that they have no fear of God?  I doubt it.

And, whether Rom 3:23 is referring to personal sin or to Original Sin or both, it makes no difference.   If it is referring to Original Sin, then "all" still isn’t an absolute.  Adam and Eve were created without the stain of Original Sin.  Jesus Christ was conceived without the stain of Original Sin.  Is it not possible for God to have Mary conceived without the stain of Original Sin?  Of course it is.  All things are possible with God.

Now, some people will say, "Well, if Mary was conceived without Original Sin, and if she never sinned her entire life, then she has no need of Jesus Christ as her Savior.  Yet, Mary herself says in Luke 1:47 that God is her Savior; therefore, Mary had to have sinned!"  The problem with this line of thinking, though, is that it flows from a limited view of the power of God.  These folks seem to think that God can only save someone after that person has sinned, and not before. 

I am not an alcoholic.  Why?  By the grace of God.  God saved me from being an alcoholic before I ever became one.  In that same vein, if I am walking along and fall into a big hole in the ground, and someone comes by and pulls me out of that hole, then they have indeed saved me from that hole.  However, if I am walking along and just before I reach the hole, someone comes by and prevents me from falling into it, did they not also save me from that hole?  Of course they did.  Which means, someone can be saved from something either after they have fallen into it, or before they ever fall into it.  So, Mary rightly claims God as her Savior because He saved her, before the fact, from Original Sin, and because He saved her, by His grace, from ever committing an actual sin. 

There are also those who say that by claiming Mary was free from the taint of sin, we Catholics are making Mary equal to God.  Where is the logic in that?  Does that mean Adam and Eve, before they sinned, were equal to God?  Of course not!  So, Mary being sinless in no way makes her equal to God, just as Adam and Eve being sinless in no way made them equal to God.  That argument is based on faulty logic.  Besides, how could Mary be equal to God, when it was only by the grace of God that she was immaculately conceived and was able to avoid sin her entire life? 

Apologetics for the Masses