In Part 1 we saw that Mary is the woman from Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12 who is at enmity with the devil. In Part 2, we saw that Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant. Now I would like to examine the salutation of Gabriel, which I think provides some of the strongest evidence for the Immaculate Conception and the sinlessness of Mary.
The Salutation of Gabriel
With this section, I am attempting to synthesize information taken from the following articles:
- Lk 1:28 and the Immaculate Conception: Linguistic and Exegetical Considerations
- Dialogue on the Exegesis of Lk 1:28 and the Immaculate Conception
- The Meaning of Kecharitomene: Full of Grace
- Translating Lk 1:28: “Highly Favored” or “Full of Grace”?
- Our Blessed Mother and the Saints: Kecharitomene
- White Man Can’t Jump: A Response to James White’s Book, Mary, Another Redeemer
- CRI’s Attack on Mary: Part II
- How to Defend the Immaculate Conception
- Resources for Learning New Testament Greek
Now, let’s turn to the Angel Gabriel’s salutation to Mary:
And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28 [RSV-CE])
The Greek word that is being translated as “full of grace” here is κεχαριτωμένη (transliterated: kecharitōmene), the perfect passive participle of χαριτόω (transliterated: charitoō), which denotes grace. Some versions translate kecharitōmene as “hail, thou that art highly favored,” but that doesn’t really capture the full meaning of what the angel Gabriel is saying here.
For one, to translate charitoō as “favor” instead of “grace” is really to give a bare minimum translation of the word. Ultimately, kecharitōmene is derived from the word χάρις (transliterated: charis): charis –> charitoō –> kecharitōmene. The KJV translates charis as “grace” over 83% of the time. The KJV NT Greek Lexicon defines charitoō as “to make graceful, to peruse with grace” as its primary meaning. When the favor is divine favor, “grace” is the better translation.
Various well-respected and scholarly reference works confirm this understanding. For example:
- “Charitoō can mean to Grace as in Luke 1:28 and Eph. 1:6, provided we understand that this grace is endowed by God…” [The Pocket Word Study of the New Testament, Atlanta, Ga.: Bernard & Brothers Publishing, 1982, p. 348]
- “Charitoō…Highly favored as in Luke 1:28 meaning to bestow grace upon…it really does not mean to show favor, but to give grace to” [Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D, ed., Lexicon To The Old and New Testaments, Iowa Falls, Iowa: World Bible Publications Inc., 1988, p. 1739]
- “Charitoō: Grace. To Grace.. as to the virgin Mary in Luke 1:28,… as in Eph. 1:6 were believers are said to be “accepted in the beloved” i.e., objects of Grace” [The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament, Chattanooga, Tenn.: AMG International, Inc. 1992, p. 1471]
- “Luke 1:28 This is all one word in Greek kecharitōmene a perfect passive participle of the verb Charitoō (only here and Eph. 1:6) … Abbott-Smith defines Charitoō as follows: endow with charis i.e. 1. (a.) to make graceful; (b.) to endure with Grace (i.e. Divine favor)” [Ralph Earle, ed., Word Meaning in the New Testament, Peabody, Mass.: Henndrickson Publishing, 1986, p. 52]
- “… Highly favored as in Luke 1:28 meaning to bestow grace upon … it really does not mean to show favor, but to give grace to” [Lexical Aides To the New Testament, Chattanooga, Tenn.: AMG International, Inc., 1992, p. 966]
- “Charitoō … kecharitōmene, full of grace, Luke i. 28 (RV. in margin, endued with grace) ” [W.J. Hickie M.A, Greek- English Lexicon to the New Testament, London: Macmillan, 1945, p. 208]
- “Charitoō: to bestow grace upon, Lk 1:28 Ep 1:6″ [George V. Wigram & Jay Patrick Green, Sr., The New Englishman’s Greek Concordance and Lexicon, Peabody, Mass.: Henndrickson Pub., 1982, p. 915]
- “28. kecharitomene… to bestow grace” [Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., ed., A Linguistic Key To The New Testament, copyright 1970, printed by Zondervan Publishing House, edited by . Vol. 1, p. 140]
- “Charitoō … to endue with grace …: Lk 1:28, Eph 1:6″ [George Abbott-Smith D.D, D.C.L., A Manual Lexicon of the New Testament, London: T. & T. Clark, 1929, p. 480]
- “Charitoō: akin to A., to endow with charis, primarily signified to make graceful or gracious… Luke I:28 ‘Highly favoured’ (Marg., ‘endued with grace’)” [W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, (unabridged edition), Iowa Falls: Riverside Book and Bible House, p. 424]
You get the idea. Now that we know that charitoō is better understood in this instance as “grace” and not simply “favor,” we must now consider what the perfect passive participle would mean.
The website NTGreek.org, which provides instruction on the Koine Greek of the Gospels, tells us (here) in the section “Grammatical Voice of Verbs” that the passive voice indicates that the subject of the sentence is being acted upon (instead of performing the action, which is the active voice). Further down on this same page, in the section on “Verb Tenses” we learn that the perfect tense indicates that this action was completed in the past, with results that continue into the present and are in full effect. The action is the giving of grace. So, kecharitōmene, the perfect passive participle of charitoō, would literally mean, “you who were and continue to be full of and completed in grace.” Blass and DeBrummer’s Greek Grammar of the New Testament says [emphasis mine]: “It is permissible, on Greek grammatical and linguistic grounds, to paraphrase kecharitōmene as completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace.” This supports Mark Bonocore, who says (here) that kecharitōmene literally means “perfectly graced” or “completed in grace.”
This is the single instance in all of Scripture where the verb charitoō is used in this way. There is a completeness here with a permanent result. There is a fullness and a perfection to the grace that Mary has received. She wasn’t given grace like we are given grace. She was filled with grace, completed in grace, perfected in grace, and this fullness of grace persisted, it continued up to and through the present.
Put aside your presuppositions for a moment and just look at the evidence. This is amazing what has happened here! Note that sin and grace are opposed (Romans 5:20-21), and grace saves us from sin (Ephesians 2:5,8). Where there is fullness of grace, there is no room for sin. That’s why we claim that Luke 1:28 points to the sinlessness of Mary.
Something else that is interesting about this word kecharitōmene is that it is in the vocative case. NTGreek.org tells us (here) that the vocative is “the case of direct address. It is used when one person is speaking to another, calling out or saying their name, or generally addressing them.” In other words, Gabriel is literally calls Mary “full of grace” as if that were her name.
This is important because in the Bible, a person’s name often points to an essential element of that person’s nature, or the person’s defining characteristic. Jacob’s name was changed to “Israel” because he wrestled with God. Abram was called “Abraham” because he was to be the father of many nations. Now the angel has called Mary by a different name: kecharitōmene. No one in the Bible is so defined by the grace he or she has received that this state of grace becomes that person’s name. Yet, so it is with Mary. More and more I think that, as we dig deeper into the meaning of kecharitōmene, we find that Mary is a uniquely graced individual.
In Part 4, I will discuss what it means that Mary is “blessed among women,” which will conclude my presentation of the scriptural evidence in defense of the Immaculate Conception. With the remaining parts, I will respond to the common objections raised against this teaching.