Menu Close

Mary the “Mother of God” and other Marian idolatries12 min read

Listen to this article

One of the reasons the Protestant Reformation occurred is because of the idolatrous worship of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

To this day we cannot enjoy the blessing brought to us in Christ without thinking at the same time of that which God gave as adornment and honour to Mary, in willing her to be the mother of his only-begotten Son…..Let us beware on every hand against excess, lest, when we would honour the Virgin, we dishonour her Son.” (John Calvin)

The Papacy has made Mary into a kind of idol. Mary is the Mother of Christ, and the Mother of God; She is not the mother of us all, and Christians should pray to Christ alone. (Martin Luther)

A man’s heart is entreated and moved to Godward, by such means as God has appointed for that purpose. Amongst these means, prayer is one appointed by God, as well to obtain that which we lack, as also to confirm our faith, and put us in mind of our duty towards him. True it is, God only moves the heart, but by prayer we show obedience. And so I would that’ve left the vain superstition of praying to dead saints departed, and principally to the Virgin Mary. (John Knox)

The classic syllogism in favor of the “mother of God” nomenclature goes like this:

P1. Jesus is God
P2. Mary gave birth to Jesus
C1. Therefore, Mary is the mother of God

Seems pretty ironclad, but there is an error here, that of equivocation. There are two words here that deserve clarification so that their implications are not misunderstood.

1. What do we mean by “God” in this context?

While Jesus is fully God (Colossians 2:9), he is not the complete Godhead – he is not the Father, and he is not the Spirit. The implication of Mary as the “mother of God” is that she gave birth to God himself – that is, the entire godhead. That is the normal use of the word “God.”

So to be more accurate, we could say “Mary is the mother of God the Son.” But that’s not what is said, and the ambiguity is dangerous for many reasons.

2. What does motherhood entail? Origins?

Typically, children receive their actual being, their existence from their parents. But of course, Jesus himself pre-existed Mary. But this use of “mother of” is not qualified to omit this understanding. Jesus does not have his origins in Mary alone, but is the preexistent creator. And Mary had nothing to do with that.

In defense of the use of this phrase, it was employed in combatting the heresy of Nestorianism, which attempted to separate Jesus into two separate beings, one divine and the other human. As well, Arianism, which denied Jesus’ deity, was nicely rebutted with this phrase.

But the misunderstanding that Mary gave birth to the Godhead puts her in the place of superiority to God and of having created Jesus ontologically. Again, this may not be intended, but this is exactly the danger of using this unbiblical phraseology. Now of course, “Marians” who use this phrase may not mean that she is divine or in some sense greater than Jesus, but the problem is that this is a direct implication of this clumsy, undefined use of the word “God.”

3. What’s wrong with ambiguous naming? Even the Reformers did it

The Wesleyan Quadrangle: A response to sola scriptura

Surprisingly, the Catholics aren’t the only ones to use inexact nomenclature for their dogmas. The reformers used superlative, extreme, ambiguous naming of their doctrines as well, such as in sola scriptura and total depravity. Sola scriptura does not mean that the sole spiritual authority in the life of the Christian is scripture, and that church tradition and reason have no place in our epistemology. But it sure sounds like it on first blush.

When you read the Reformer’s definitions, and more importantly, the limitations of what they mean by sola (“Only” – how can there be limitations on “only”?), you find that they are not excluding reason or tradition, but rather, placing them under the authority of scripture. This gap between the naming and the Reformer’s definitions is in part what drove the Arminian John Wesley to formulate his doctrinal epistemology into what is now known as the Wesleyan Quadrangle.

The same can be said about the obvious implications of total depravity. This seems to imply that nothing can be trusted in mankind, since their entire faculties, including their intellect and conscience, are depraved or corrupted. Yet this is not exactly what the reformers meant. However, they were happy to imply that because they were provocateurs, goading the Catholic Church’s doctrine of merit through works. They wanted to echo Paul’s claim that “in me nothing good dwells” (Romans 7:18), but of course, even Paul went on to clarify what he meant.

But the ambiguous phrase “mother of God” has much worse implications and real world impact than these Reformed goads – it leads to idolatry and heresy.

4. Mohammed’s misunderstanding of the Trinity

This concern for the deification of Mary and the relative demotion of the Holy Spirit was not lost on Mohammed, who witnessed the doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church. This is why the Koran has canonized his misunderstanding of the Trinity as Father, Son, and Mary.

And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? (Koran 5:116a)

I mention this, not to make an guilt by association claim against this doctrine, as if it aligns with Islam, but to show that the negative implications of such irresponsible phrasing are real.

5. Mother of my lord

The Catholic’s main defense of the phrase “mother of God” is in the phrase used by Elizabeth to Mary, “mother of my Lord”:

But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Luke 1:43)

“Doesn’t Lord mean God? Isn’t this synonymous with saying ‘mother of God’?” But the answer is again no.

First, because Lord is a title and a function, not a person. Second, as discussed previously, the term God usually includes the entire Godhead. Equating “Lord” with the Godhead is a linguistic slight of hand, a false equivalency.

6. Mother of God tacitly approves of the other Marian heresies in the cult of Mary

The larger issue is that the use of this phrase is part of a larger cult of Marianism which worships and deifies Mary. Not only is that idolatry, it obscures the Gospel by providing an alternate avenue of prayer, even salvation in Mary. The near equality of Mary with Jesus in Catholic theology include these other extra-biblical doctrines:

6.1 The assumption of Mary

The Assumption of the Virgin (Rubens)

This is very similar to the ascension of Jesus bodily into heaven, except that Mary did not have a resurrection body. Supposedly, she rose into heaven bodily just like Jesus. The Catholic Church formally defined the dogma of the Assumption in 1950, stating that Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed into heavenly glory, both body and soul.

6.2 The sacred heart of Mary

Both Mary and Jesus certainly suffered, but somehow Mary’s is seen as co-redemptive with the work of Jesus. The Immaculate Heart of Mary is often seen as united with the Sacred Heart of Jesus in their shared roles in the redemptive plan. Mary’s cooperation with God’s plan, her profound love and faithfulness, especially during the Passion and death of Jesus, are considered significant aspects of the redemptive narrative. However, the emphasis on Mary’s role is seen as subordinate and derived from the central redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

In Catholic theology, Mary is often referred to as the “Co-Redemptrix” or “Cooperator in the Redemption.” This does not mean that Mary is equal to Jesus in the work of redemption, but rather that she uniquely participated in and cooperated with God’s plan for salvation through her fiat (her “yes” to God) and her enduring faithfulness. Not only does this doctrine exist, but The Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary celebrates this annually in the Catholic Church.

The ease by which these unbiblical doctrines deify Mary is why we must see the phrase “mother of God” as part of a larger network of idolatrous Marianism, and why approval of any of these can be seen as support for the other insidious idolatries.

6.3 The immaculate conception of Mary

The Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, without the stain of original sin. I’m sure this is claimed so that Jesus himself could be seen as sinless, but this is not biblical or necessary to claim Jesus’ innocence.

6.4 Mary, Queen of Heaven (another divinizing title)

It’s important to note that the title “Queen of Heaven” is primarily a devotional title and is not meant to suggest that Mary is equal to or surpasses the divine authority of God or Jesus. However, not only does the Bible not give Mary this title, in the Book of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:18; 44:17-19, 25), there are references to the “Queen of Heaven” in the context of idolatrous practices.

6.5 Praying to Mary and asking her for mercy (the Cult of the Saints)

One of the most problematic Marian practices is that of praying to dead saints, especially Mary. Here’s an example from the Rosary:

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.

Turn then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

Of course, nowhere in the entire Bible do we see the practice of prayer to the dead, nor the dead saints. It is likely that the dead are asleep until the resurrection (soul sleep), but even if they are conscious in the interim period before resurrection, we see no interaction with the dead in scripture, save two unusual events:

  • Saul’s discussion with the prophet Samuel via the spiritist medium (the “Witch at Endor”, 1 Samuel 28:3-25). After the necromancers are driven out of Israel, Saul decides to sin and visit one. And we all know how honest mediums are.
  • In the Transifiguration, Jesus shines with glory, and Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, talk with him. Except that they might not have actually been there. In the Matthean version of the story, Jesus warns the disciples not to share this “vision” (Matthew 17:1-13)

Praying to Mary is extrabiblical, and perhaps idolatrous and a waste of time.

6.6 The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

The cleansing of Mary continues – beyond her freedom from original sin is her ongoing virginity. Never mind that she almost certainly consummated her marriage with Joseph, as was customary in Jewish (and all!) marriage. But the scriptures unambiguously mention that Jesus had brothers (not spirit or soul brothers, like those who believed in him, but bodily half brothers and sisters:

“Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us?” (Matthew 13:55-56)

The Catholic doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity holds that Mary remained a virgin throughout her entire life, and she did not have any other children after the birth of Jesus.


After a certain point, you have to observe all of these titles and doctrines of Marian exaltation and realize that idolatry and worship are going on here. The literal definition of equivocation is the root of these errors.