Biblical references to the Immaculate Conception
By Tom Quiner
Have you noticed something odd about the Bible? It makes no reference to the existence of the ‘Bible’ … and yet it exists.
I reference this oddity in light of a question from a Quiner’s Diner reader on the subject of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. His question:
“Is there a scripture that talks about Mary having been saved from her sin before she was born?”
The quick answer is yes and no, the same answer we’d give if the question were:
“Is there a scripture that talks about the doctrine of the Holy Trinity?”
Yes and no. Although Catholicism and Protestantism are united in their belief in the Holy Trinity, sacred scripture doesn’t directly reference the term, just as it doesn’t directly reference the term “Immaculate Conception” in describing Mary.
So how are we supposed to figure this stuff out? The Bible tells us how in 2 Thess. 2:15 when St. Paul writes:
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”
St. Paul mentions it again elsewhere in the same letter (2 Thess. 3:6):
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us”
And he mentions it again in a different letter, 1 Cor. 11:2:
“I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you”.
In other words, Christian Truth is conveyed by Tradition, “either by WORD OF MOUTH or by LETTER [that is, written word, aka the Bible or Sacred Scripture].
Again, writing this time to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:2), he instructed him to pass on this Sacred Tradition to others:
“[A]nd what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”
I know I belabor the point, but it’s an important one, because Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to write everything down He said and did, but He did command them to go out to the world and teach it:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20)
And how is that to be accomplished? Through Sacred Tradition and written scripture (which wasn’t formalized until the 4th century). Christ is with us always through the Holy Spirit who infallibly guides His Bride, the Church, through the office of Peter’s direct successors.
It took 4 centuries before the doctrine of the Holy Trinity was formalized by the Church, and it took 18 centuries before the doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception was formally recognized by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
And yet scripture lays the groundwork for both. Let’s look at what 1 Chronicles 15:14 has to say on the subject:
“So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD God of Israel.”
The ark carried the Word of God, which demanded sanctity and purification of those honored to carry it. And, as we know from the first five verses of the Gospel of John, Christ is the Word:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.
So Mary was the new ark of the covenant.
She was the One honored to carry the Word.
Just as purity and grace were necessary to carry the Old Testament ark, so it was for the New Testament ark, which was confirmed when the angel, Gabriel visited Her, as recorded in Luke 1:28:
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”
Christian theologian, Jason Evert, explains the significance of this phrase:
“Since this term is in the perfect tense, it indicates a perfection of grace that is both intensive and extensive.
This means that the grace Mary enjoyed was not a result of the angel’s visit, and was not only as “full” or strong or complete as possible at any given time, but it extended over the whole of her life, from conception onward.
She was in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence to have been called “full of grace.”
There are many more biblical references to Mary’s Immaculate Conception, but let’s look at just one more, found in Genesis 3:15:
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman,and between your offspring[a] and hers; he will crush[b] your head, and you will strike his heel.”
Mary’s offspring? Jesus.
The only way to crush the serpent’s head was to be sinless, so this passage can’t refer only to Eve, who colluded with the serpent. It also refers to the new Eve, Mary, who was full of Grace, and who, unlike Eve, said YES to God where Eve said NO.
Eve’s offspring, Cain, Abel, and Seth, didn’t crush the serpent’s head; but Mary’s did: Jesus. So this Genesis passage surely refers to Mary, too.
The Bible never said that Sacred Scripture was the only source of determining theological Truth. But it does say that Sacred Tradition is also such a source.
Nonetheless, the Bible is peppered with clue after clue of the Immaculate Conception, which the Holy Spirit revealed to mankind over time.
As you well know, I’m sure, most Protestants believe in Sola Scriptura. With that in mind, how do you read Revelation 22:18-19? “I warn everyone who hears the prophetic words in this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words in this prophetic book, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city described in this book.”
Hi Harlan: This a good conversation. I’m no theologian, but I am struck that Sola Scriptura is mentioned nowhere in the Bible, but Tradition is, as I referenced in this post. Regarding Revelation 22:18-19, the Catholic Church doesn’t take away any words, but rather lets the Holy Spirit reveal doctrine, such as the Holy Trinity and the Immaculate Conception, over time that was always in the Bible. On the other hand, Protestantism removed a number of books from the accepted canon of the Roman and Eastern Churches. If Martin Luther would have had it his way, Revelation would have been one of those books. Here is where the rubber really meets the road: who decides what Sacred Scripture means? Without a teaching authority that has a final say, the Bible can be misinterpreted and twisted in ways that would make it unrecognizable to St. Peter. That is what has happened to Protestantism, I’m afraid, as it has splintered into some 30,000 to 40,000 variations. I don’t say this as a criticism, as much as an observation. There has to be an infallible teaching authority. This is where we disagree. I believe the Catholic Church has that authority based on my understanding of Sacred Scripture and Tradition. Thanks for writing and sparking such a rich, and I hope, fruitful, conversation.
I am not certain that the scripture is saying what some think it is. i just wonder why Christ would say to pray straight to The Father if Mary is infallible. If mary is Infallible and to be asked for help then are all the other Catholic saints also infallible? The Pope is infallible. That’s an awful lot of folks between a believer and The Father. It feels a little like a gvt office where one must speak to 10 underlings to ever finally get to speak to the one in charge and get something done. As i understand many believe in a last pope who will be bad. Not knowing well which one he will be, how is one ever sure of the infallibility of the Pope?
No one says Mary is infallible. You’ve got the wrong “i” word in play. This blog post makes reference to Church dogma that Mary was Immaculately Conceived, meaning that she was born without the taint of original sin; that Jesus had saved her before she was born, while you and I were saved after we were born.
It’s a compilation of 2000 years of Holy Spirit-inspired teachings on our Christian faith. It liberally quotes the writings of the Popes and the saints, men and women alike. There is no question on what the Roman Catholic Church believes.
[…] recent posts on the subject have generated some good reactions, even if many of my Protestant readers remain […]
Thanks. I believe there are more similarities than there are differences between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Churches. The foundation of both churches is that both are Christian Churches. Both believe in worshiping the Triune God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Both believe in a personal relationship with Jesus. Both encourage daily bible reading as God’s means of communication with us. Protestants expect to see Catholic brothers and sisters in Heaven. I’m pretty sure not all Catholics believe Protestants will be in Heaven, but I know that some do. Tom, I have enjoyed this back and forth conversation we’ve been having. I always look forward to reading your blog even though I don’r agree with everything.
Thanks for the questions, the follow up, and your charitable attitude. Regarding the Catholic Church’s teachings on the disposition of Protestant souls, here is the exact teaching from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter. Those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. With the Orthodox churches, this communion is so profound that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist.” (CCC 838)