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Question and Answer

Mary: Mother of God?


Is "Theotokos" (God-bearer, translated by Roman Catholics as "Mater Dei", or Mother of God) an adequate title for Mary? Can she be called Mother of the Lord, as Elizabeth called her?


Two very big questions in one short paragraph. You have a gift.

Let's take them in reverse order.

It seems clear to me that the Spirit-inspired gospel writer (Luke) reported Elizabeth's confession (1:43) as a truth we should all confess. There is no hint of disapproval (for an example of which, see Rev. 22:8, 9). It is recorded in Scripture not only because it is true that Elizabeth spoke these words to Mary, but because her words are true: Jesus, even as a pre-born infant, was truly Elizabeth's Lord and our Lord. We may certainly say that Mary was the mother of our Lord.

What about theotokos? This word is not used in the Bible and did not come into use until the Christological debates in the early centuries of the church. What does it mean? Just what you state: God-bearer or mother of God. We cannot say that Mary was the mother of God in any sense that makes her the originator of the deity of her son or implies any superiority over Him. Before Mary ever conceived Jesus (before she ever was born), the second person of the Triune God, the Son, was in existence - even from all eternity, uncreated God of God, very God of very God (John 1:1-3, Hebrews 1:10, etc.). But in the unity of His one person, the man-child in her womb was at the same time the fully divine eternal Son. Deity and humanity united in one person, even from the instant of conception in Mary, so that she truly bore God (the second person of the Godhead) in her womb and the One to whom she gave birth was both man and God (in the one person of Jesus). God did not owe his existence to her, but God was pleased to be borne within her.

These statements are true, but in the history of the church they have often been used in the interests of exalting Mary beyond Scriptural warrant as an object of devotion, worship, and prayer. The problem is not with the truths stated above. The problem lies elsewhere. Mary was a humble servant of the Lord (by His grace) who was given the unique and amazing privilege of bringing the promised Messiah into the world. He is the Redeemer, He is the Lord, He is the One we must worship (John 5:23, 17:3, 16:13, 14, Colossians 1:16-20, etc.). He is the only Mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5). There is no other name given among men whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12, see John 14:6). Mary, a fallen daughter of Eve, was as much in need of His saving work as we all. By God's grace she played a key role, but she with us bows to worship her Son and give thanks to Him for her salvation.

About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

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