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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.






15 August 2011

Blessed Virgin Mary: Mother of God


Q: You refer to Mary as “God’s mother.” Is that the same as saying “Mother of God”?

TheotokosA: This question came in response to one of last week’s posts, Jesus Is Immanuel, concerning matters of Christmas and Epiphany, wherein I wrote, “Immanuel means that the Virgin conceived and bore a Son without human father; God assumed our flesh and joined Himself to mankind; a human woman became God’s mother.”

If Mary is not the “Mother of God,” then Christ is not true God and our faith is built upon a lie. Perhaps because of persistent anti-Roman Catholicism, particularly among American Lutherans and Protestants, many parts of the Church became uncomfortable referring to Mary by this title. However, if we are heirs of the true theology of Scripture, the early Church fathers, and the Reformation, we cannot abandon this teaching.

Calling the Blessed Virgin “Mother of God” doesn’t mean we worship Mary. It means that we are worshiping the God who chose such miraculous means to come into His Creation and deliver sinful mankind. However, thinking and speaking in such manner does fulfill the prophecy Mary uttered when visiting Elizabeth: “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1:48-49)” Notice how she herself distinguishes between the honor she receives and the total majesty of almighty God.

After centuries of common use, the Council of Ephesus (AD 431) officially sanctioned the title Theotokos (God-bearer) for the Virgin. Somewhat amazingly to our modern sensibilities, this council officially condemned another title, Christotokos (Christ-bearer). This wasn’t done to dishonor the Christ but to remove one possible way for heretics to point to a Christ who wasn’t truly and completely God and one with His Father.

During its formative days, the Lutheran Church carefully aligned itself with historic Biblical Christianity. Thus, regarding Mary, the Formula of Concord (1577) clearly states, “We believe, teach, and confess that Mary conceived and bore not a mere man and no more, but the true Son of God; therefore she also is rightly called and truly is the mother of God. (Epitome VIII:7)”

For more on her feast day, please see Saint Mary, Mother of God at Aardvark Alley.

Reposted from 2006.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author of the book What Do Lutherans Believe, and writer of numerous published devotions, prayers, and sermons.

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