Is Mary Full of Grace?

When the linguist Jerome set about to create a Latin version of the Bible in the late fourth century A.D., many congregations claiming to consist of Christians were already well on their way towards becoming the Roman Catholic Church as we know it. When complete, Jerome’s translation would become the authoritative text for this developing denomination, and its language – Latin – would become the authoritative language for the church’s publications and worship services for hundreds of years. Though Jerome’s work in many ways represents a monumental scholarly achievement, it is not without its issues. One of these issues is Jerome’s translation of a simple phrase found in Luke 1:28. Jerome’s choice of words there bolstered an already growing trend in these churches towards Mariolatry, the adoration and veneration of Mary.  

The phrase is correctly translated in the King James Version (and most English translations since), which reads, “thou that art highly favoured.” Jerome’s version though could be taken to imply something different than the KJV. Instead of describing Mary as the recipient of grace by being blessed with the honor of bearing Jesus, it opens the door to the idea that she was a fountain of grace for others to access. Jerome’s translation can be found in the common Catholic prayer, “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

The latter part of the prayer beginning with, “Holy Mary” is fabricated. Asking for Mary or any departed person for help in intercession is an invention of Catholicism found nowhere in the Bible either in command, example, or implication. However, its positioning next to two Biblical phrases (found in Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:42 respectively) and Jerome’s translation choice (“full of grace”) seem to give credence to the idea that we ought to seek Mary’s help. Is Mary really full of grace that she can impart to others? Should she receive honor or praise, and should we prayerfully seek her intercession?

Like all Bible questions, it is always best to let the Bible explain itself. The validity of the practice of praying to Mary or exalting her was put to the test late in Jesus’ ministry when a woman moved by Jesus’ teachings said this: “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” (Luke 11:27). Had Jesus intended for His followers to venerate Mary, no doubt this would have been a great opportunity to command it. Jesus’ response gives no inclination this was something that Jesus wanted. In fact, it says quite the opposite: “More than that [On the contrary – NASB], blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28).

Mary is not “full of grace” to offer others as Jerome’s version and the Catholic prayer it influenced seem to teach; instead, as the Bible affirms it is Jesus who is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). If a person wishes to access the grace that is found in Jesus, he or she must access it through the gracious teaching found in the word of God, the Bible (Titus 2:11-12). If a person rejects the gracious teaching found in the Bible, He rejects Jesus and the blessings of grace found in Him. As Jesus said, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).

As one of Jerome’s contemporaries named Augustine said, “Her relationship as mother would not at all have profited Mary if she had not borne Christ more happily in the heart than in the flesh.”[1] Was Mary granted an enormous blessing by being chosen by God the Father to be the means through which the Word would become flesh (cf. John 1:1-5, 14)? Absolutely. Yet without accessing the grace which Jesus provides through the teaching of the New Testament, Mary would have been lost, and all who trust in her will be lost. May Christians place their full confidence in Jesus and His teachings, and may they do their utmost to keep them so that they might be blessed. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
-Patrick Swayne  
patrick@tftw.org
[1] Jerome, De virginitate; translation provided in Andrew Robert Fausset, “Mary the Virgin” in The Englishman’s Critical and Expository Bible Cyclopaedia (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1878), 456.

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