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Karen wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am Catholic but have been going to a Protestant Bible Study that a friend invited me to. We are reading a book about the crucifixion and one of the chapters is on Mary. The author says that in all four gospels, Jesus never refers to Mary as mother; rather he uses the word woman.
The author says the reason is because Jesus is using His omniscient foresight and seeing the system of Mariolatry that would be erected.

He is basically saying that Jesus didn't say the word mother because He knew there would be idolatry in the form of worshipping Mary as Mother of God.

I understand why we Catholics call Mary the Mother of God. I can explain that to the other Bible Study members but I am not sure what to say about the fact that Jesus doesn't refer to Mary as mother. To me it seems like a non-issue. I thought it just had something to do with the vernacular of that time but the other members of my Bible Study were convinced this was what Jesus was trying to do.

  • What are your thoughts?

After reading your postings below, I do understand your view on Catholics attending Protestant Bible studies.  I have two small children and my Catholic parish does not have a Bible Study with child care, but this one does. Nevertheless, I am having second thoughts about attending.


  { Did Jesus willfully not call Mary, mother, to prevent others from worshiping her as Mother of God? }

Mary Ann replied:

Hi, Karen —

Jesus does refer to Mary as Mother. On the cross, He said, Woman, behold, your son! And then He told John, Behold, your mother!

25 So the soldiers did this. But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" 27 Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

(John 19:25-27)

Mary Ann

Karen replied:

Thanks for your reply.

I have a Catholic bible and in mine Jesus says, Woman, behold your son . . . (John 19:26)

  • Is it different in different versions?

The author we are reading, Arthur Pink, makes a point that Jesus doesn't refer to Mary as mother and this was the verse he used as an example.


Paul replied:

Hi, Karen —

Here's another thing to consider regarding: Why Jesus may have called Mary Woman rather than Mother:

The word in Hebrew for woman is the same for wife. Woman is found in four crucial places in the Scriptures:

  1. In Genesis Eve is called Woman by Adam (Genesis 2:23);
  2. in John's gospel Mary is called Woman by the new Adam (Jesus) at the wedding at Cana (John 2:4) and
  3. at the foot of the cross (John 19:26);
  4. and the Woman clothed with the sun in Revelation 12:1 who is to fight the dragon is seen as the Church as well as a fulfillment of Eve and Mary.

One way to understand this, is that Mary is the icon of the Church, not only as perfect disciple but as symbol of the Church as a whole. Hence, when the marriage of Christ to His bride (the Church) is ratified in Cana, Mary is the "Woman" who symbolizes the bride; and when it is consummated, Mary is there as the Woman (John 19:30 - "It is consummated") at the marriage bed which is the cross. As a disciple that Jesus loved, St. John becomes the first spiritual offspring of this consummation as Jesus calls him Mary's son and Mary his mother (John 19:26).

So while Mary is said to be the mother of Jesus a number of times by the narration in Scripture,
it is important, in a symbolic way, that she be called Woman to communicate the plan of salvation from Genesis to Revelation that began with the first parents in Eden and continues through Mary and His bride, the Church.


Eric replied:

Hi, Karen —

The woman refers back to the Garden of Eden and the Protoevangelium (first proclamation
of the Gospel), Genesis 3:15. It says,

15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, between her seed and your seed; he shall crush your head, and you will strike at his heel (emphasis mine).

Thus Jesus is identifying Mary as the Woman who will bear the Seed (Messiah) who will destroy the power of the enemy.

The wife theory is an interesting one — and points to the idea that Mary is the New Eve — but
I think you'll have a tougher time convincing your Bible Study of that theory than this one.

Another tack is to explain what we mean by Mother of God. I've explained this at length in another posting (go to the AAC Knowledge base tab at the top of this page and click on Save time; Search for an answer, and search for Exact Phrase "Mother of God"). I'll summarize it here.

By this, we mean she, a human creature, conceived the Incarnate Word, carried Him in her womb for nine months, gave birth to Him, suckled Him, and raised Him.

We don't mean she is mother on the Eternal order, like God the Father is Father on the Eternal order, as if she were a fourth member of the Holy Trinity.

  • Why is it important to call her Mother of God?

This really says more about Jesus than it does about Mary. This title exquisitely vanquishes a number of heresies about Jesus. For example, if you call Jesus the Son of God, this leaves open a number of questions.

  • Was He adopted as a Son of God, or was He Son of God by nature?
    (Obviously, if Mary was truly Mother of God, Jesus was God from the beginning.)
  • Was He human, or did He just appear to be human?
    (Again, Mary wouldn't be truly mother if He was not truly human.)
  • Was He one divine person, or two persons, divine and human?
    This title arose in a time when some of these controversies had arisen, and was added to our prayers as a way of inoculating against them.

Maybe if they understand that this title is intended to protect Jesus, not primarily exalt Mary, they'll understand the title better.

Another point to address is whether we worship Mary (Mariolatry). We don't; adoration is due to God alone. Simply go to a Roman Catholic liturgy and you'll see she's mentioned twice, once in passing, and once together with a lot of other individuals. Contrast this with how often the Holy Trinity is invoked in the liturgy, or Jesus is mentioned. We do ask her for her intercession: (we 'pray' to her), as we do other saints, but in Latin the word for pray is identical to ask, and we do not consider this worship or adoration, but part of the Communion of Saints.

For Protestants, since they only pray to God, prayer has become synonymous with worship. It is not necromancy either. That involves receiving messages back from the dead, which is not at all the point of the intercession of the saints. Anyway prayer to the saints is another big topic you can search for on the site.


Karen replied:

Hi, guys—

Thank you for your answers and for replying back so quickly. (I have Bible Study tomorrow!)

I do have another question. This book we are reading is by Arthur Pink. Although he doesn't say it outright, he seems to be pretty anti-Catholic. He keeps saying that when Jesus died on the cross that He actually became sin. I never heard it explained like that. I was taught that Jesus died for our sins.

  • Is it the same thing?



Eric replied:

Hi, Karen —

Thanks for your additional question. This comes from a quirky translation of 2 Corinthians 5:21:

21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

sin here can also be translated a sin offering, which makes a whole lot more sense: God made Him who had no sin to be a sin offering for us, which means exactly what you said:

Jesus died for our sins.


Paul replied:

Hi, Karen —

The Bible translations of the NAB and RSV do state that Jesus was made to be sin for our sake.

The passage is a bit ambiguous, but I like to see it as a fulfillment of the scapegoat idea of the Old Testament. The Israelites ritually placed the sins of the people onto the goat, who was then left to die with their sins. Perhaps in the same way, all of the repented sins of humanity — past, present, and future — are placed within the human nature of Christ on the cross. When He died they died and we are freed. This is actualized in time in the sacrament of Confession. Hence, Jesus in His human nature felt so alienated from God on the cross because of being made sin by our sins that He shouted out:

46 Father, Why have you abandoned me?

(Matthew 27:46)

After annihilating all repented sin, by His Death, He rose to a New Life and offers humanity
His Divine Life to replace the death caused by sin.


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