In Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, we examined the scriptural evidence for the Immaculate Conception and the sinlessness of Mary. With Parts 5, 6, and 7 (we’re almost done!), I would like to address some of the biblical arguments that Protestants use to discredit that evidence. For this new phase, I am indebted to the following articles (as well as many of the ones I listed from Part 3):
- Hail Mary, Conceived Without Sin
- “All Have Sinned”: Mary?
- Dialogue with an Evangelical Protestant on Catholic Mariology
- The Immaculate Conception
- Mary Conceived Without Sin: The Dogma of the Immaculate Conception
- Acts 6:8: Stephen Full of Grace Too?
Let’s begin by looking again at Luke 1:28.
In response to the clear implications of Luke 1:28, some point out that in Acts 6:8, Stephen is referred to as “full of grace and power”:
“And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.”
Does that mean that he was sinless too? The answer is, “No.” There are in fact many differences between the two passages that effect their meaning a great deal.
The most obvious difference is in the Greek. In Luke 1:28, “full of grace” is the translation of kecharitomene, which, as we have seen, is the perfect passive participle of charitoo, in the vocative case. But, in Acts 6:8, the underlying Greek is pleres charitos (or in some manuscripts, pleres pisteos, which denotes faith, not grace). When the Greek is different, then the meaning usually is too.
In Luke 1:28, Mary is being acted upon by God. This action took place in the past with results that continue into the present. Fullness and perfection is implied by the verb, and this verb is used as Mary’s name. In Acts 6:8, Stephen isn’t given “full of grace” as his name. Instead, the phrase simply describes something that took place in the past with results completed in the past. A continual or perduring grace is not implied by the verb. He was filled with grace at the moment and only for as long as he was performing great wonders and signs among the people. The implications of the Greek are simply not the same. And, like I said before, older translations (cf. KJV, Wesley’s NT, Geneva Bible, Bishop’s Bible) and even some modern ones (Third Millennium Bible, YLT, Webster) have “full of faith and power,” in which case there is really no parallel at all.
The other passage that Protestants cite as a parallel to Luke 1:28 is Ephesians 1:6:
“… [T]o the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed (echaritosen) on us in the Beloved.”
The KJV, which says, “wherein he hath made us accepted,” and the DRB, which says, “in which he hath graced us,” perhaps give us a better understanding of the underlying Greek then most modern translations. The word here is echaritosen. While it does have the same base word (charitoo) as kecharitomene, since the inflection is different, the meaning is different.
Echaritosen is in the aorist active indicative form. It does not indicate fullness (as kecharitomene does) because it is not in the perfect tense. A look at the context also precludes such a meaning:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6)
Note that Paul mentions the “grace that God freely bestows on us” (v. 6) within his discussion of the “many spiritual blessings” (v. 3) that He grants us. In other words, believers receive many different graces throughout their lifetimes, and these in different measure, as other passages indicate:
Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, (Romans 5:20)
But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (Ephesians 4:7)
But he gives more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)
The “freely bestowed” grace of Ephesians 1:6, then, cannot possibly be considered the equivalent of that “fullness of grace” applied to Mary. Luke 1:28 refers to a single gift of grace-fullness in the life of a person. Ephesians 1:6 refers to several measures of grace given to believers over their lifespan, and apportioned to each one individually as the Spirit wills (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:11). It refers to a huge group of people, with different gifts and various levels of grace bestowed. Because each gift is given to each believer in different measure, it does not result in fullness as did the one gift given to Mary.
In Part 6, I will address the difficult question of how Mary’s sinlessness squares with Paul’s claim that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Stay tuned!