Mary, the mother of Jesus, holds a special place in the hearts of many Christians. Throughout church history, she has been revered, honored, and even worshiped by some. However, what does the Bible actually teach about Mary? Should she be an object of worship and devotion? Or does Scripture give us a more sober perspective on how we should view and relate to her? In this comprehensive article, we will examine the Bible’s testimony about Mary in order to understand what God would have us know and believe.
- The Bible teaches Mary was a godly woman, blessed to be the mother of Jesus, but remained a finite human like all of us.
- There are no instructions or examples in Scripture about worshiping or praying to Mary. Our prayers should be directed to God alone.
- The Bible warns against worshiping any created being, dead or alive, and says such practices displease God and dishonor Christ.
- We should follow the example of Jesus, who while honoring His mother, clearly distinguished her from God and corrected those who would venerate her too highly.
- Rather than worshiping Mary, we are to worship God alone and place our faith in Christ alone for salvation. Exalting Mary detracts from the glory due only to the Lord.
Mary in the Gospels
The Bible first introduces us to Mary in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth. The Gospels record that Mary was a Jewish virgin pledged in marriage to a man named Joseph (Matthew 1:18). Both Mary and Joseph were ordinary residents of Nazareth. They were not royalty or people of high position in society. Mary was a descendant of David and was surely a woman of faith, but there was nothing particularly unusual about her background.
Into the ordinary circumstances of Mary’s life, God intervened with an extraordinary purpose and promise. An angel appeared to Mary and announced that she had found favor with God. She was told she would miraculously conceive and bear a son, even though she was still a virgin. This child would be the long-awaited Messiah, fulfilling the ancient prophecies about a coming Deliverer for Israel. Mary humbly responded in faith, saying “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 NKJV). Mary believed God’s promise to her and submitted herself to His will, playing a part in the most pivotal event in all human history – the birth of Jesus the Savior.
Mary rightfully serves as an example of humble, obedient faith for all believers. God’s favor rested on her not because of any inherent goodness in herself, but because of His gracious choice. Her role as the “God-bearer” (Theotokos) is unique and worthy of respect. However, Scripture gives us no reason to think there was anything supernatural or divine about Mary herself. The angel told Mary “you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30 NKJV), not “you are a source of divine favor” or “you should be an object of veneration.” She was a humble, redeemed sinner like any of us.
After the birth of Jesus, Mary fades into the background in the biblical narrative. She is mentioned periodically in the Gospels, but often without detail or emphasis. For example, Luke simply states that after finding Jesus in the temple as a boy, Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51 NKJV). Only a few conversations between Mary and Jesus are recorded in the Gospels. In them, Jesus makes clear distinctions between His earthly family and His spiritual relationships, correcting faulty views people held about Mary:
- When Mary tried to intervene in Jesus’ ministry, He responded, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And looking about on those sitting all around Him, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35 NKJV)
- While Jesus was speaking to a crowd, a woman tried to exalt Mary, shouting “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” But Jesus corrected her, saying “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28 NKJV)
- At the wedding in Cana, Jesus performed His first public miracle and turned water to wine at Mary’s request. But He still made a distinction between their earthly relationship and His divine authority, saying to Mary “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4 NKJV)
In these examples, Jesus makes clear that while Mary deserves honor as His earthly mother, she is not to be venerated or exalted in an unbiblical way. Relationships in God’s spiritual kingdom are defined by obedience to Him, not earthly ties. Even Mary needed to learn this lesson and not presume upon her role as Jesus’ mother.
The Absence of Veneration in the New Testament
The overwhelming reality is that Scripture neither commands nor models worshiping or praying to Mary in any form. None of the inspired New Testament authors, including John who cared for Mary in her later years, indicate that veneration of Mary was occurring or endorsed by the apostles. Worshiping created beings is precisely the kind of false religion the Jerusalem Council repudiated (Acts 15:28-29). If honoring Mary as divine were an important Christian practice, we would expect to see instruction about it alongside the many passages teaching us to worship, pray to, and put our hope in God alone.
In the one place Mary is specifically mentioned in the epistles, Paul says Jesus was “born of a woman” (Galatians 4:4), using language that emphasizes Christ’s humanity, not Mary’s glory. Mary is also not mentioned in any of the numerous lists of the heroes of the faith, prayers, hymns, or other liturgical material found in the New Testament. The perpetual virginity of Mary, her bodily assumption into heaven, and her role as co-redemptrix and dispenser of grace developed much later in church history and remain Roman Catholic doctrines without biblical support.
The Biblical Warnings Against Veneration
Not only does Scripture lack support for Marian devotion, it strongly warns against practices that venerate or deify any person other than God Himself. The Ten Commandments explicitly forbid making images or bowing down to worship anyone or anything except the Lord (Exodus 20:4-6). The New Testament reaffirms the necessity of worshiping the one true God alone and condemns idolatry in all its forms (1 Corinthians 8, 10:14, Galatians 5:20, Colossians 3:5, 1 Peter 4:3). These clear biblical commands leave no room for worshiping Mary or any created being, no matter how highly esteemed.
Throughout Scripture, faithful believers and servants of God like Moses, Daniel, Peter, and the apostle John repeatedly refused veneration and honors that belonged to God alone (Acts 10:25-26, 14:11-18, Revelation 19:10, 22:8-9). The Bible declares that only God is worthy to “receive glory and honor and power” (Revelation 4:11). There is only one name under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12). There is only one who can forgive sin (Mark 2:7). And there is only one mediator between God and humanity – Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5).
The exclusive worship of God is His due both as Creator “who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16) and as Savior who paid the full price for our redemption (Revelation 5:12-13). No finite creature can share in the incommunicable divine attributes that make God alone worthy of worship. Elevating Mary as an object of veneration, regardless of good intentions, detracts from the glory that belongs to God alone (Isaiah 42:8). It is also an affront to the all-sufficiency of Christ as mediator and Savior. For these reasons, the Bible insists God alone is to be worshiped, trusted, prayed to, and credited as the giver of all grace and salvation.
Following the Example of Jesus and the Apostles
The most compelling case against worshiping Mary comes from the example of Jesus Himself and His apostles. Jesus knew that God His Father alone was to be worshiped, prayed to, and relied upon. While He honored Mary’s role as His mother, He never ascribed undue religious honor to her. As already noted, He corrected those who would elevate Mary too highly or presume upon her maternal connection.
Jesus taught directly that we should pray only to God, not any human figure (Matthew 6:6). He prayed to the Father, not Mary, as His custom was (Luke 5:16). The only time He mentions Mary after His ascension is as a member of His spiritual family, not as an object of devotion (Matthew 12:50, John 19:26-27). The apostles understood their Rabbi. Whenever they are shown praying in the Book of Acts, it is always to God the Father in the name of Jesus, never to Mary. There is simply no biblical basis to make Mary the object of our prayers, attention, and worship that rightfully belong to God alone.
Rather than rituals like praying the rosary to Mary, the clear example of Scripture is that we should pray to God alone in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14, 15:16, 16:23-24). The Bible also reminds us that we have a Great High Priest who sympathizes with our human weakness – Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Hebrews 4:14-16). We can boldly approach His throne to receive grace and find help in time of need. We need no other intercessor than our Savior.
Worshiping in Spirit and Truth
Jesus declared that true, biblical worshipers will worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). Worshiping Mary or ascribing divine attributes to her contradicts the truth revealed in Scripture. It also reflects a worldly human desire to have visible representations of the divine that appeal to our senses. But faith that leads to genuine worship does not demand physical manifestations and images – it rests on the truths of God’s word (Romans 10:17, Hebrews 11:1).
The example of the early church in Scripture provides a pattern we should follow today. The apostles faithfully preserved and passed on the testimony of Mary’s words and actions, particularly at the incarnation of Christ (Luke 1:46-55, Matthew 1:18-25). However, they refrained from exceeding what was written about Christ’s mother with conjecture or myths designed to honor her (1 Timothy 1:4, Titus 1:14, 2 Peter 1:16). They encouraged emulating Mary’s faith, not worshiping her as a goddess.
Rather than exalting subordinate creatures, our primary concern should be bringing glory to God. We magnify God’s greatness by obeying His commands concerning worship. As Jesus taught, this means loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:29-31). Our affections and devotions belong wholly to the Lord who saved us from sin by His grace.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, should be honored for the part she played in God’s plan of redemption. The Bible gives her this respect as an exemplar of thoughtful faith. However, Scripture does not ascribe divine glory or attributes to Mary, nor does it instruct us to worship, pray to, or rely on her for salvation, grace, or intercession. On the contrary, the Bible defines worship of any creature as idolatry and insists that adoration belongs to God alone.
The practice of venerating Mary developed long after the close of the New Testament canon and remains an unbiblical Catholic tradition. Jesus, as well as His disciples who knew Mary intimately, made clear distinctions between honoring her and worshiping her. As the Scripture warns, we must not go beyond the doctrine of Christ to embrace traditions like Marian veneration that falsely elevate a human being to share in divine worship (2 John 1:9). Our great High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses is Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and humanity (Hebrews 4:14-16, 1 Timothy 2:5).
Rather than worshiping his earthly mother, our model should be Jesus Himself, who perfectly fulfilled the first commandment by worshiping God alone. Jesus is also our pattern for relating properly to Mary – honoring her faith while refraining from exalting her too highly or attributing divine qualities to her. As disciples of Christ, we obey the truth of Scripture when we pray to God alone in Jesus’ name and give to Him alone the worship, trust, and glory that He rightfully deserves.