Apologetics for the Masses #351 - An Evangelical Pastor and Mary (Finale)

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The Sinlessness of Mary - A Debate With an Evangelical Pastor (Finale)



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Hey folks,

     Okay, this will be the last of the newsletters that will be dealing with Pastor Greg Smith.  I may still continue the dialogue with him, but just not publicly in this newsletter - he's had enough airtime. 

     What I want to do with in this particular issue is two things:

     1) Summarize the argument about the sinlessness of Mary - which is where this all started; and,

     2) To run through a few of the lessons learned...lessons that can be applied to any conversation you have with a non-Catholic.



The Sinlessness of Mary

     Okay, this all started when Pastor Greg sent me an unsolicited email in response to one of my e-newsletters that he read in which I stated that Mary was sinless from the moment of her conception (the Immaculate Conception) and remained sinless throughout her lifetime.

     Pastor Greg, in his email, said this: " For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  This includes Mary.  Please stick to the Scriptures, not Catholic dogma." 

     In essence, Pastor Greg's proof that Mary had indeed sinned, was Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."  In Pastor Greg's theology, "all" means "absolutely all without exception."  Well, it does in Rom 3:23 anyway.  More on that in a moment.

     I responded by asking him if he was seeking God.  All Christians should respond, "Yes," to that question.  In fact, all people, whether they realize it or not, are seeking God - although quite often in the wrong places and things.  And, Pastor Greg did indeed say, "Yes," he is seeking God.  That's when I pointed out to him that in Rom 3:11, the Word of God says that, "No one seeks for God."  In other words, his answer to my question contradicted the Word of God.

     That's when something interesting happened: Even though Pastor Greg interpreted the word "all" in verse 23 as an absolute, he now interpreted the words "no one" in verse 11 to not be an absolute.  It was only talking about "unbelievers" he said, not believers.  And, in his latest email to me, he states that the word "none" in verse 10 - "None is righteous, no not one" - is an absolute without exception.  So, "none" in verse 10 is an absolute, but "no one" in verse 11 is not an absolute - it's only talking about unbelievers.  Thus demonstrating the point I was making in asking my question about him seeking God - Pastor Greg is inconsistent in his methodology when interpreting verses of the Bible that were not only in the very same chapter, but one verse to the next.  Absolute here; not absolute there.  Why?  In order to fit the Bible to his theology. 

     The point I was trying to make is that the word "all" is cannot necessarily be interpreted as an absolute.  This was especially shown to be true in Rom 5:18-19, which Pastor Greg brought into the argument, which says condemnation for "all" and acquittal and life (salvation) for "all".  Pastor Greg says the first "all" - regarding condemnation - is an absolute, but the second "all" - regarding salvation - is not an absolute.  And he bolsters his argument that the second "all" regarding salvation is not an absolute by pointing to verse 19 which says, "many" will be made righteous.  He said, "See, John, the word 'all' here means many, not absolutely all."  But, verse 19 also says that "many" were made sinners (i.e., not all).  Yet, according to Pastor Greg, the word "many," in regard to being made sinners, means "absolutely all without exception."  Which means Pastor Greg is inconsistent in his interpretations of the same word within the same versd!  Why?  He has to be in order to try to keep his theology intact.  You see, instead of fitting his theology to the Bible, he is fitting the Bible to his theology.  Rom 5:18-19 absolutely destroys Pastor Greg's "proof" from Rom 3:23 about Mary being a sinner.  "All" is not an absolute.

     The 2nd biblical "proof" Pastor Greg used in claiming Mary was indeed a sinner was to cite Luke 1:47 where Mary says, "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior."  Pastor Greg claims that Mary would not need a savior if she were not a sinner.  When I tried to make the point that a person can be saved from something - like sin - before they ever fall into it, Pastor Greg refused to go near it.  I asked him a simple question: "Have you ever been an alcoholic, or a drug addict, or an adulterer, etc.," and if he had not committed any of those sins could it not be said that Jesus saved him from those sins.  At first, he wouldn't give me a direct answer.  Then he actually said, "No," that Jesus had not saved him from those sins.  When I pressed him on it, however, he just sort of went around in circles.  Finally, in his latest communication to me, he said that, "No," he had never committed those sins, and "Yes," it can be said that Jesus - and the Holy Spirit - had something to do with it. 

     Which means, he made my point.  He was saved from alcoholism by God, before he ever became an alcoholic.  He was saved from drug addiction by God, before he ever became a drug addict.  He was saved from adultery by God, before he ever became an adulterer.  If God is his savior when it comes to particular sin that he never committed, why could it not be said that God is Mary's savior when it comes to any and all sin - before she ever committed any sin?  So, it can indeed be said that God is her savior, even though she never committed a sin.  Which is why Pastor Greg tried so hard to avoid the question I asked him.  Because he knew his answer would make my point.  The only point Pastor Greg has to retreat to, in an attempt to salvage his argument is to say that God is unable to save Mary from sin before she ever committed sin.  Do you think he'll go there? 

     So, I have shown that with just a couple of questions, you can completely destroy the so-called "biblical" arguments for Mary having committed sin.  But, does the Bible anywhere actually say that Mary did not commit sin?  Directly?  No.  Indirectly?  There is indeed an argument to be made.  And I made those arguments.  What was Pastor Greg's response?  "John, you misinterpreted those verses."  Well, by whose authority does he make that claim?  No one's.  He has no authority - none, zero, zip, nada - to claim that my interpretations of the Bible are wrong.  All he is doing is giving his fallible, non-authoritative, personal opinion that my interpretations are wrong.  And he is asking, if not outright demanding, that I - and all Catholics - gamble the fate or our immortal souls on his fallible, non-authoritative, personal opinion.  How dare he?!

     The biblical evidence for Mary being without sin? 

1) Gen 3:15 - the "woman" whose "seed" will crush the serpent.  Who crushed the serpent?  Jesus.  Whose seed was Jesus?  Mary's.  And, notice, this is, I believe, the only time in Scripture where the word "seed" is used in connection with a woman.  Why?  Because Jesus was born of a virgin.  So, this passage points directly to Mary as the woman being referred to.  Pastor Greg says it is Eve.  Is Jesus the "seed" of Eve?

2) Rev 12:1-6,14-17 - the "woman" whose child [seed] will rule all nations with a rod of iron [same child we see in Gen 3:15 who will crush the serpent - Jesus], has a special place prepared for her by God to escape the dragon [Satan] and is saved - by a miraculous work of God - before Satan ever catches up to her [verses 14 and 16].  What woman gave birth to Jesus?  Mary.  What woman do we teach was saved from sin - from Satan - by a miraculous work of God?  Mary.  Pastor Greg says the "woman" is merely a symbol for Israel.  Well, not so fast.  Let's be consistent in our reading.  Is the child who the woman gives birth to a real person...or just a symbol?  Pastor Greg says, "Real person!"  Is the dragon, Satan, a real person...or just a symbol?  Pastor Greg says, "Real person!"  Is Michael the Archangel [verse 7] a real person...or just a symbol?  Pastor Greg says, "Real person!"  Are the angels in heaven [verse 7] real persons...or just symbols?  Pastor Greg says, "Real persons!"  So, then, since this passage is all about real persons, in order to be consistent in our interpretation, is the woman who gives birth to the male child a real person...or just a symbol?  Pastor Greg says, "Symbol!" 

     That's just another problem with consistency in Pastor Greg's interpretative principles.  Pastor Greg says the "woman" is Israel.  But there's a problem with that.  In verse 17, it says the dragon went off to make war on the rest of the woman's offspring - those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus.  The children of Israel were not doing that.  "Oh, but wait," says Pastor Greg, "that is referring to the offspring of Israel - the Jews - during the Jewish war with Rome who have converted to Christianity."  Well, a couple of problems with that.  #1, nowhere does the text actually say that, and #2, that would imply that Christian Israel gave birth to Jesus, but there were no Christian Israelites until many years after Jesus was born.  So, that causes another inconsistency in Pastor Greg's interpretations. 

3) Rev 11:19 - 12:1; Luke 1:39-56 vis-a-vis 2 Sam 6:2-16 - The Ark of the Covenant appears in Heaven in Rev 11:19 and then immediately after the Ark is mentioned, there appears a woman in Heaven.  This woman who bears the male child that is to rule all nations.  Mary is that woman.  Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant.  What did the Old Testament Ark bear?  The staff of the high priest; the Word of God in stone; the bread that came down from Heaven to feed the Israelites.  What did the New Testament Ark bear?  The High Priest Himself; the Word of God in the flesh; the living bread which came down from Heaven that feeds all those who believe.  The Ark of the Covenant was made to be a pure vessel since it contained these things of God.  How much more pure must the New Ark of the Covenant be to contain God Himself...in the flesh?

4) Romans, chapter 5 - There is a parallel made here between Jesus and Adam.  The difference between the two?  Jesus was obedient, Adam was not.  The parallel between Jesus and Adam, implies a parallel between Mary and Eve.  The difference between the two?  It was Eve through whom sin entered the world.  It was Mary through whom salvation entered the world.  Mary was obedient, Eve was not. 

     And there are other passages.  But, no - nowhere does the Bible say, "Mary was immaculately conceived and was saved from ever committing a sin in her lifetime."  In essence, if you are a Sola Scriptura kinda person, then it comes down to a case of my Bible verses vs. your Bible verses.  And who has the authority to decide, infallibly, which side is right and which side is wrong?  Well, in Protestant theology, no one has such authority.  In Catholic theology, the Church founded by Jesus Christ and guided infallibly by the Holy Spirit Jesus promised to send has such authority. 

     Finally, the so-called biblical evidence presented to "prove" Mary did indeed sin, is so flimsy that the folks who present it have to avoid at all costs being questioned about it, because when they are questioned about it, the contradictions in their theology are made readily apparent.  Whereas, the biblical evidence for Mary's sinlessness is much stronger than the biblical evidence against, and cannot simply be waved away by claiming, "Misinterpretation!  Misinterpretation!"


Lessons Learned

     1) Protestants, for the most part, do not know what Catholic theology means in regard to infallibility.  They think it means being without sin - which is actually impeccability.  So, keep that in mind when you get into a discussion of infallibility - you will probably have to explain to them what it is.  And, if they don't understand it, make it a point of emphasis that they don't understand it.  Because that plants the seed that, well, if they don't understand one part of Catholic teaching, it's very likely they don't understand other parts of Catholic teaching.  Which is inevitably the case and which is exactly the case with Pastor Greg.  But, do not ever expect that they will admit that they have misunderstood Catholic teaching - just as Pastor Greg never did.  Which is something that always kind of baffles me: You claim to be a true Christian.  A true Christian would not deliberately misrepresent another person's beliefs.  Yet, even after I've told you that you've gotten my beliefs wrong, instead of apologizing and admitting mistake/confusion on your part, you simply continue to misrepresent my beliefs.

     2) Infallibility is the Achilles heel of Protestantism.  Since none of them claim to be infallible, then that means - by definition - that everything they tell you that is based on their fallible interpretations of the Bible, could possibly be wrong - either in part or in whole.  Although, they will never admit that.  You never saw Pastor Greg admit that he could be wrong in any specific thing that he said, did you?  And that goes for whether they are defending/explaining their beliefs, or they are questioning/attacking your beliefs.  They admit to being fallible in theory, but they never admit to being fallible in practice.  Nevertheless, in Protestant theology, every debate between a Catholic and a Protestant boils down to my private fallible interpretation of the Bible vs. your private fallible interpretation of the Bible.  In Catholic theology, though, every debate between a Catholic and a Protestant boils down to the infallible teaching of the Church founded by Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit vs. your private fallible interpretation of the Bible.

     3) So, every time you debate/discuss/dialogue with a Protestant, one of the first questions you should always ask is: "Are you infallible in your interpretations of the Bible...yes or no?"  When they say, "No, I am not infallible...no man is infallible," then from then on, whenever they make a statement as to their theology being right vs. Catholic theology being wrong, say to them something along these lines, "By what authority do you say such a thing?  We've already established that you are not infallible, so isn't what you just said nothing more than your private opinion based on your fallible interpretation of the Bible?"

     4) Because that is indeed all it is - their fallible opinion.  No Protestant believes in Sola Scriptura.  Rather, when you get right down to where the rubber meets the road, they actually believe in Sola [My Private Interpretation of] Scriptura.  Do not ever forget that!


Closing Comments

Okay, next issue we'll be moving on to something, or someone, new.  I hope all of you have a great week!



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Apologetics for the Masses