The belief that Mary remained immaculately free of all sin from the moment of her conception onwards—also known as the Immaculate Conception—is not unbiblical. In fact, the biblical evidence supporting this doctrine is quite strong; and when considered alongside the historical evidence, the case becomes clear.
Of course—no Christian doctrine can ever contradict Scripture. Therefore if Mary’s sinlessness is indeed in direct contradiction with the Bible it must be buried immediately as a false teaching.
But there is no biblical passage that contradicts the Immaculate Conception of Mary. There is no specific passage that indicates a single sin committed by Mary explicitly.
But wait! Doesn’t Romans 3:23 say that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?” Yes it does; but let’s think about this for a moment.
There are two kinds of sin, original and actual. Original sin affects all who have come into being since Adam and Eve and results in the loss of sanctifying grace (the grace that “equips” us for life in heaven). This is why we needed a Saviour—it was the only way we could re-gain access to the original grace that was lost in the Garden of Eden. When Jesus died and rose this sanctifying grace became obtainable once again.
Now there are at least three ways for a person to be without original sin. First, the person could be God (Heb 4:15). Second, the person could be baptized (1 Pet 3:21; Jn 3:5; Titus 3:5). Or third, the person could receive God’s renewing grace (by merit of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross) in perfect fullness at the very moment of conception (Lk 1:28) through a special act of God. And if a person is cleansed in their first moment of existence, as we believe Mary was, then there was never a moment previous when that person had original sin. Therefore, this person never had it, by God’s grace. They are born “immaculate.” So, regarding Mary, Catholics agree with the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, when he said:
“It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul…” (Sermon: “On the Day of the Conception of the Mother of God,” 1527).
Did Mary Need A Savior?
Yes. Catholics believe Mary needed a saviour just like the rest of created humanity. St. Luke makes it clear in his gospel that she also knew this herself in hindsight (Lk 1:47). This does not take away from or contradict the necessity of what Jesus did on the cross. Catholics believe that the salvation merited by Jesus on the cross was “advanced” to Mary at the moment of her conception (in other words, at the moment her actual existence began) thus preserving her from the stain of original sin and equipping her to live sinlessly all her life long by grace. Remember, God is not bound by time—all things in the past, present and future are eternally present to Him (including the Redemption) allowing Him to “save” Mary in virtue of what Jesus would do for her decades later. God is not bound by time but time is bound by God, as He is the Author of time and can act in (or out) of time however and whenever He wishes. We can see then how it is reasonable to believe that Mary remained unaffected by Original Sin in light of this divine act of preservation.
But Romans 3:23 is much more clearly referring to actual sin—that is, sin that has been willfully committed by an individual. Original Sin is not actual sin for you and I (it was the sin of Adam and Eve), but unfortunately its effects have damaged our souls. Therefore, when he says that “all have sinned” St. Paul is saying that all have sinned actually. But have all sinned in this way absolutely?
We must think at a deeper level about this. Sin requires intention and violation of conscience. Have infants sinned? What about the severely disabled? What about Jesus, who could also be included in the category of “all?” Of course not! For to actually sin is to offend God and neighbour with conscious intention. There must then be exceptions! (And Mary is one of them). St. Paul is writing that all in general have sinned. He is emphasizing the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice for our redemption. This is clear when you read the verse in context.
Sinless “Earth-Dwelling” Humans Other Than Jesus?
Second, if Mary was created without sin she would not be the first human who was created without sin. Recall Adam and Eve before the Fall. They were created in the image and likeness of God and were “very good” in the eyes of God (Gen 1:31). No Christian would argue that Adam and Eve were created by God with sin. They were created without sin and remained so, until that dreaded day. Nonetheless we can read Genesis and conclude that God is very interested in creating sinless, immaculate humans. Although it was not necessary that Mary be sinless in order to be the mother of Jesus, it was most-fitting that God would give her a special “dose” of grace for the job. This special privilege does not mean, however, that she did not suffer as a consequence of God’s favour—see Luke 2:35 and John 19:26.
We should also recall that one of the consequences of the Fall of Adam and Eve was the pains of childbirth. God told Eve after the Fall: “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children” (Gen 3:16). Interestingly in Christian writings dated from the late first to early second century, such as the Odes of Solomon and the Ascension of Isaiah, the writers deemed it important to illustrate the detail that no sounds of pain came from the manger at Jesus’ birth—implying that Mary did not suffer in childbirth as one inflicted by the effect of sin—which fulfills a prophetic Old Testament passage from the sixty-sixth chapter from the Book of Isaiah:
“before her pain came upon her
she delivered a son.
Who has heard of such a thing?
Who has seen such things?”
Is There More?
There is more. These points only begin to unveil the biblical evidence for Mary’s sinlessness perpetuated by her Immaculate Conception, a tradition accepted by the Church since the earliest centuries. For more on this two thousand year old Christian belief you can click here and here.