What Does the New Testament Say About the Virgin Mary the Theotokos
The Gospel of Saint Luke, the book of the beloved physician, gives us at least four crucial answers.
1. Mary is the greatest woman who ever lived.
Whereas our Lord Jesus Christ tells us there is no greater man to walk the earth than John the Baptist, both the Archangel Gabriel and the saintly Elizabeth confess to Mary, “Blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:28 and 42). She is the most blessed of women for several reasons, the greatest of which is that she conceived, carried, gave birth to, and nurtured the very Savior of our souls... She was sovereignly chosen by the Father to bear His only begotten Son. In that role, Mary is the first person in all history to receive and accept Christ as her Savior. You and I are called to enthrone the Lord in our hearts and lives-to follow her example in doing so. Early in Christian history she is called “the first of the redeemed”. I remember entering a church some years ago and seeing a painting or icon of Mary with open arms front and center on the wall (the apse) just behind the altar. My first impulse was to wonder why Christ alone was not featured at that particular place in the church, though He was shown in a large circle that was superimposed over Mary’s heart. When I asked why she was so prominently featured, the Christian scholar with me explained, “This is one of the greatest evangelistic icons in the entire Church. What you see is Christ living as Lord in Mary’s life, and her outstretched arms are an invitation to you and me to let Him live in our lives as He has in hers”. The power of that icon stays in my mind to this day. For she has set the pace for all of us to personally give our lives over fully to Jesus Christ. Mary is also blessed because she found favor in the sight of God. Gabriel’s words of encouragement to her were, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). Then he comforted her by saying, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30, italics mine). What does one do to become one of God’s favorites, to be favored by Him? Remember Cornelius in Acts 10? He was the first Gentile to convert to Christ, “a devout man and one who . . . gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). Two verses later he is told in a vision, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God”. The Lord took notice of his deeds of devotion and brought him salvation. In a similar way, Mary’s purity found favor with God, and she was chosen to bear His Son. You say, “Wait a minute! Are you suggesting human merit earns salvation?” Not at all! As commendable as it is for us to live in purity, a devout life never merits salvation. Else why would Mary be called first of the redeemed, or why would Cornelius be baptized into Christ by Saint Peter? Prayer and devotion, however, do gain God’s attention. When we seek Him with all our hearts, we do find Him! Do you want to be favored of God? Then give Him everything you have, give Him your very life. This is precisely what Mary did, and why she is to be considered the greatest woman who ever lived.
2. Mary is our model for Christian service.
While God certainly knew Mary desired to please Him, He did not take her service for granted. The angel explained how she would bear Christ. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest [God the Father] will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Now Mary had a decision to make. Was she willing? Hear her answer, for it is the doorway to the life of spiritual service for all of us. “Behold the maidservant of the Lord!” she said. “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Even if we are totally sincere about wanting to follow God, He will never conscript us apart from our consent! This is why He is called “the God of all grace” (1 Peter 5:10). We are to choose freely to obey Him and do His will. Some thirty years later, by the way, Mary again had opportunity to exalt her Lord. She was with Jesus at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. The servants who were in charge of the celebration discovered they were out of wine. Mary had no doubt as to who could solve their problem. Referring to her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, she advised them, “Whatever He says to you, do it” (John 2:5).
3. Mary is the Mother of God.
...Whether we like to face it or not, the Bible teaches Mary is the mother of God... After Christ had been conceived in her womb, Mary paid a visit to the home of relatives Zacharias and Elizabeth, soon to be parents of John the Baptist. When Mary greeted her cousin, Elizabeth called her blessed and said, “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). Elizabeth knew that her Lord, the Messiah of Israel, was in the womb of Mary. The title “Mother of God” took on great importance in the fourth century, when a heretic named Nestorius-a man who held high office in the Church-claimed that the one in Mary’s womb was certainly man, but that He was not God. Orthodox Christians, with one accord, said, “Wrong!” To see Jesus Christ as something less than God in the flesh is sub-Christian. For unless the one in Mary’s womb was and is God, we are dead in our sins. To safeguard the full deity of Christ, the Church has always insisted that Mary be rightly called-as Elizabeth called her the Mother of God. This title, of course, does not mean mother of the Holy Trinity, for the Holy Trinity has no mother. Neither does it mean she originated the Person who is God the Son. It refers instead to Mary being the Mother of the Son of God, who assumed full humanity in her womb. Just as we insist on the Virgin Birth of Christ, we also insist that for the nine months Mary carried Him in His humanity He was at every moment fully God as well. Thus we say boldly and with great insistence that Mary is the Mother of God, Theotokos, God-bearer. To say anything less is to side with those who deny His deity. When a man buys a large plot of land and turns cattle out to graze on it, he fences in his acreage. He does so to protect his cattle, to keep them from wandering off, and to discourage rustlers. Similarly, the Church sets doctrinal fences around its foundational truths. And nothing is more basic and important to us than the deity of Christ. Because Christ is God, we set a firm and non-negotiable fence around His divinity by our unmovable confession that Mary is Mother of God.
4. We are to honor Mary and call her blessed.
...The Bible tells us that During her three-month stay at Elizabeth’s house, Mary offered one of the most beautiful prayers of praise to the Lord in all the Scriptures. It begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord”, and thus it has become known as “The Magnificat”. In that prayer, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Mary prophesied, “henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). Essentially, all generations in Church history have done so; only the last few centuries have faltered... From the beginning of recorded Christian worship, Orthodox Christians have taken special care to venerate or honor Mary in the Liturgy. There is an ancient hymn which begins, “It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos (Mother of God)”. She is also called in this hymn “ever-blessed and most pure”. The biblical injunction to honor Mary is followed and taken seriously. We do not, of course, worship Mary, for worship is reserved for the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But she is most certainly to be honored and venerated. And because Christ is our elder brother, the firstborn of many brethren, we honor the Virgin Mary as our Mother, our Lady, as well. Just as Eve was mother of the old Adamic race, so Mary is the true Mother of the new race, the Body of Christ, the Church. Perhaps in part because we refuse to honor Mary, our generation seems to struggle with honoring anyone. For example, next time a presidential news conference comes on T.V., watch closely how most of the press corps behave! Far from merely trying to get the story, many are out for intimidation and willful dishonor. While God’s word tells us to honor the king (1 Peter 2:17) and to give preference to each other (Romans 12:10), our generation seems to delight in challenging and humiliating other people, especially those in authority. Not only are we who are Bible-believing Christians urged to give honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7), we are called by God in no uncertain terms to bless the Mother of our God. We cannot get around that point in Scripture.