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Claude Kemper wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • How can you teach that the Virgin Mary is without sin when Romans 3:23 says that all men have sinned and come short of the glory of God?


  { How can you teach the Virgin Mary is without sin, when Romans 3:23 says all men have sinned? }

Eric replied:

A good question, Claude.

It's understandable that this question should come to mind.

The answer is really very simple. You are interpreting the passage "all men have sinned" as all men, without exception, have sinned: every single human being from Adam to all future newborn babies.

The problem is that this can't be true, because we know that Jesus did not sin, and Jesus is a man. So Jesus was an exception to this principle.

What this is really trying to say then, is not so much that every single individual is a sinner (whether Jesus or Mary or John the Baptist or whoever), but that you (the reader) are a sinner, and you need to be saved, and this is how you are to be saved. The purpose is to highlight the need for everyone (meaning everyone who comes across this) to be saved.

Now, if it is true that there are exceptions to this principle, then it can also be true that Mary is an exception as well. Given the purpose of the passage as I explained above, it really wouldn't be talking about Mary, because its purpose is to convince you that you need to be saved.

So to take this passage to prove that Mary, or Jesus, for that matter, is a sinner, would be taking it out of context. It simply means that you need to be saved. That's all it means.

Incidentally, we as Catholics do believe that Mary needed to be saved, and that she was saved by the sacrificial death of Jesus. We believe that she was saved by the grace of God *before* she actually committed any sins. By the merits of Jesus' death on the cross, she was prevented from sinning, and so she was saved by Jesus as the rest of us were.

I hope this helps!

Your brother in Christ,

Eric Ewanco

John replied:

Hi, Claude —

I'd like to further clarify what Eric has said. Romans 3 is talking about personal sin, not original sin, or sin nature as Evangelicals may refer to it. Paul is specifically using the word "all" in the collective sense rather than in the individual sense of the word. Paul is saying that there is no difference between Jews and non-Jews; both categories of people have sinners.

We have to be careful about the way we interpret text that seems to be all inclusive in its use of language.

For example, Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians:

10 For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.

2 Thessalonians 3:10

  • OK, so if an infant won't get out of the crib and work, we should let him starve to death?
  • If a person is too old, sick, or otherwise unable to work, they should not eat either?

If we apply the same standard of exegesis to this passage as Evangelicals apply to the Romans 3 text in question, then not a single person, that does not work, should ever eat!

As I said before, context is the key.

  • What is the overall point Paul is making in Romans?

He is arguing against "works of the Law", specifically circumcision.

Let me give you another example of the collective or hyperbolic use of the words.

29 "Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?"

John 4:29

This is from the story of the woman at the well. The Scriptures only record that Jesus told her about her previous husbands and her current lover. We could really stretch the idea and say that the text simply does not mention all the things Jesus told her.

  • But do you really think Jesus mentioned all the things that she ever did?

If so, the conversation would have to include every single breath the woman took, every meal she ate, every bodily function, every glance, every conversation, ever place she visited etc., etc., etc. from the moment she exited the birth canal to the moment she met Jesus.

  • No doubt Jesus could have done that, but is that what the woman is implying by her use of the words "all and "ever"?

Well, you can't have it both ways. If you insist that Paul's use of the word "all" in Romans 3 must include every human, even if you exclude Jesus, then you must apply the same standard to the text in John and it must have been a very long conversation at the well.

Notice I emphasized must, because Paul could, in fact, have meant just that, but it does not mean that he must have meant that. As I said, the argument being read by the Jews in Rome was Paul's purpose, and it is not clear that Paul meant every person. Thus the Catholic Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception cannot be disproved by this text.

Now, there are many Scriptural arguments that point to the Immaculate Conception. If you are interested in continuing to dialogue on the subject, I'd be perfectly happy to discuss them with you.

Under His Blood,

John DiMascio

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