Sunday, February 17, 2013

Dave Armstrong's Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception

The Roman church teaches that when Mary was conceived in the womb she was kept free from original sin and filled with sanctifying grace. It wasn't until 1854 that this doctrine became an official teaching of the Roman church. This teaching was not established by appealing to the Scriptures but rather by appealing to "implicit" teachings in the church fathers. Unlike the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary which is not contradicted by the Scriptures and which is very strongly and unanimously taught by the church fathers, the immaculate conception contradicts the Scriptures and has very weak support among the church fathers. Even in the middle ages significant theologians like Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas denied the immaculate conception. The doctrine most likely developed as an attempt to safeguard the doctrine of the sinlessness of Christ but as Thomas Aquinas points out, if Mary were sinless Christ could not be her redeemer.

But more recent Roman apologists in an attempt to win over evangelicals have tried to defend the doctrine immaculate conception from the Scriptures. On page 178 of  A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, Dave Armstrong discusses the use of the term "full of grace" and says:

It is permissible, on Greek grammatical and linguistic grounds, to paraphrase kecharitomene as completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace.
In the book, Armstrong does not treat the above as a direct quotation from any particular source but he does provide a footnote that says

Blass and DeBrunner, Greek Grammar of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 166; H.W. Smyth, Greek Grammar (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968), sect 1852:b.
The book does not cite Blass and DeBrunner as a direct quotation but if you search the internet, you'll find plenty of people quoting this as if it were a direct quotation from Blass and DeBrunner including Dave Armstrong on his blog. But page 166 doesn't say anything that resembles what Armstrong is saying here. Blass and DeBrunner simply mention that the perfect stem is used to denote "a condition or state as the result of a past action." The passage cited by Smyth says, "Completed action with permanent result is denoted by the perfect stem." None of this sounds anything like what Armstrong is saying. The passage clearly says that God graced Mary but it's rather insane to try to derive the doctrine of the immaculate conception from that.

The ever-virgin Mary can truly be called the Queen of Heaven. She was given the most important position of any human being by being chosen by God to be the Mother of God. But Mary was a sinner who needed Christ to suffer and die for her just as well all do.


Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Chuck,

I have made a thorough, point-by-point reply to your post on my blog:

It's cross-posted on my Facebook page, too:

I would welcome further discussion, should you desire that.

Anonymous said...

Jesus was both Son of God and "son of man", fully Divine, and fully human. Part of our human condition is tied to the concept of original sin. We all share in this connection. If Mary had no "share" in or connection to original sin, then she was MORE than human in some sense. This completely negates the mystery and import of the Incarnation.