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Theotokos - Mother of God

A little leaven leavens the whole lump (Gal. 5:9).

Paul, in this Galatians passage, is expressing a very important principle regarding Biblical faith and the importance of not tampering with its content revealed in Scripture. The introduction of even a little error (leaven), given time, has the potential of changing the content of the faith which was "once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).

The title, THEOTOKOS, "Mother of God," or "God bearer," was first officially accorded to Mary at the council of Ephesus in 431AD. This council was called to establish, as orthodox, the belief that Jesus was truly God incarnate, i.e., fully God and fully man. A concept that was being vigorously challenged by a bishop named Nestorius -- formerly presbyter at Antioch and then made patriarch of Constantinople. The council deposed him and he was subsequently banished in 436AD. The title, theotokos (Mother of God), reasoned the Council, could rightly be given to Mary because, according to the Scriptures, He who was conceived of her was, by the Holy Spirit, called the "Son of God" and therefore, God, from the moment of His conception.

Though the Council was correct to recognize, according to Scripture, the hypostatic union of the theanthopic man (God-man), Jesus Christ, its error was trying to express this amazing union through Mary. The council's decree had good intentions but it went beyond Scriptural authority and introduced leaven into the faith, that is, the license for men to elevate Mary to a position beyond what Holy Writ would ever allow.

As a result, through the subsequent centuries numerous titles were predicated to her by leaders within the Roman Church and every one of them, extra-biblical. She was given a place of dignity equal to or even superior to Christ Himself and was considered the friend of the sinful and unfortunate and the guide of souls to heaven. She was placed as mediator between the soul and the Savior. Unlike the Father and Jesus, in Mary there was nothing to dread. It was said that if you were terrified at the thunders of the Father, go to Jesus, and if you fear to go to Jesus, then run to Mary. And being sought by the sinner she shows her breasts and bosom to the Son, as the Son shows His wounds to the Father. She is called by the Roman Church the "Queen of Heaven." Other excesses, such as her "Immaculate Conception," "Assumption into Heaven," "Mediatrix of our redemption" and "Our Lady" are ideas which parallel the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. These man-made designations and dogmas regarding Mary form the framework around what is properly called "Mariolatry." By the middle ages Mariolatry was prevalent in the Roman Catholic Church.

Error Begets Error

In reality, the emphasis of the title theotokos is not on the One to whom Mary gave birth, but Mary herself. It is Scripturally correct to say Mary gave birth to a Child who is, and always was (from all eternity) God the Son (2nd Person of the Trinity), but she, a creation of God, did not give birth to God, which is the unfortunate connotation of that title. Hence, the difficulty with theotokos is that it does not express accurately what even the council at Ephesus was trying to convey. Also, "Mother of God" primarily stresses Christ's humanity. Since Mary, being human, is the object of this title, it ostensibly states that the humanity of Christ took on divinity -- a pagan concept. But in truth, the eternal Son humbled Himself, left heaven and HE took on humanity.

"...but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in the appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:7-8).
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us.... Due. 29:29

Mary was the point of entrance for the divine to enter humanity and that is as far as Scripture takes her. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God and we must leave that divine mystery alone. We must not tamper with it by trying to explain it through Mary...which is impossible. The unbiblical title, "theotokos," falls far short of describing the wonder of this miracle but instead introduces "leaven" of another kind - the license to elevate Mary beyond what Holy Writ would ever allow. Once the Church bestowed on her a title not revealed or sanctioned by Scripture, nothing could hold back the subsequent inventions of carnal men who then proclaimed them as "orthodox."

Written by Gary Nystrom

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