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(Last Updated: 26 May 1999 )
We listened with interest to the discussion on Tuesday about Mary as the Mother of God. We tried to get through to add our two cents worth to the discussion, but was unable to do so, so if you get the opportunity to read some of this message out, that would be great. We have three points that we would appreciate you reading out.
1. Some New Testament scriptures were brought up in an attempt to make light of Mary's motherhood, but no one mentioned Luke 1:42-43:
"When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: ‘‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (NIV)
Note how Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when she affirmed Mary as the mother of her Lord.
2. A lot of the discussion was about the divinity of Christ. The title "Mother of God" (in Greek "Theotokos", or "God-bearer") was used at the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in 431 to protect Jesus' divinity against the heresy of Nestorius, who claimed that Mary gave birth only to Jesus' human nature. This split Christ's human nature away from his divine nature and created two separate persons, a major heresy that was rejected by the Council and also rejected by the Protestant Reformers. As Martin Luther wrote, "She is rightly called not only the mother of the man, but also the Mother of God. . . . It is certain that Mary is the Mother of the real and true God" (Martin Luther, Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan). The title "Mother of God," was not given to honour Mary but to protect the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation.
3. Finally, those who call Mary "The Mother of God" (like Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and practically the entire early Church) do not claim that God had His beginning in Mary's womb. Of course, He had no beginning at all. God created Mary, not the other way around. But you can look at it like this: (a) Mary is the mother of Jesus; (b) Jesus is God; therefore (c) Mary is the mother of God.
Could you please read or summarise at least
the above 3 points, as it is what we would have said if we'd gotten through,
and it would be good to have some straight talk about all sides of the
issue. Of course we won't mind if you mention the rest of this message
too, but that might be asking a bit much. :-)
From the Council of Ephesus:
"We confess, then, our lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God perfect God and perfect man of a rational soul and a body, begotten before all ages from the Father in his godhead, the same in the last days, for us and for our salvation, born of Mary the virgin, according to his humanity, one and the same consubstantial with the Father in godhead and consubstantial with us in humanity, for a union of two natures took place. Therefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. According to this understanding of the unconfused union, we confess the holy virgin to be the Mother of God because God the Word took flesh and became man and from his very conception united to himself the temple he took from her" (Formula of Union [A.D. 431]).
There are heaps of quotes from the early
Church Fathers about this as well. The earliest one we found was
from Irenaeus of Lyons:
"The Virgin Mary, being obedient to his word, received from an angel the glad tidings that she would bear God" (Against Heresies, 5:19:1 [A.D. 189]).
Here's one other point. A lot of people think that Jesus showed Mary disrespect by calling her "woman", like in John 2:4. In fact though, we have seen a number of Protestant sources that say the opposite.
The Protestant commentator William Barclay writes:
"The word Woman (gynai) is also misleading. It sounds to us very rough and abrupt. But it is the same word as Jesus used on the Cross to address Mary as he left her to the care of John (John 19:26). In Homer it is the title by which Odysseus addresses Penelope, his well-loved wife. It is the title by which Augustus, the Roman Emperor, addressed Cleopatara, the famous Egyptian queen. So far from being a rough and discourteous way of address, it was a title of respect. We have no way of speaking in English which exactly renders it; but it is better to translate it Lady which gives at least the courtesy in it" (The Gospel of John, revised edition, vol. 1, p. 98).
In the same way, the Expositor's Bible Commentary, published by Zondervan, states:
Jesus' reply to Mary was not so abrupt as it seems. 'Woman' (gynai) was a polite form of address. Jesus used it when he spoke to his mother from the cross (19:26) and also when he spoke to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection (20:15)" (vol. 9, p. 42).
The Wycliff Bible Commentary put out by Moody Press acknowledges in its comment on this verse, "In his reply, the use of 'Woman' does not involve disrespect (cf. 19:26)" (p. 1076).
And of course we know that it is unlikely that Jesus would have shown disrespect to his mother because that would be breaking the Commandment to honour your father and mother.
Anyway, thanks for reading. It's really good that your program provides a forum for furthering understanding of issues like these.
God bless you!
Julie and Dean Mischewski
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