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I have heard the title "Mother of God" in connection with the "Hail Mary" prayer that(Ave Maria) is recited by Catholics.

However, I have never heard this term used in any Protestant setting. (From the comment by Bobo, we find that the Orthodox also refer to Mary in this way; Theotokos in Greek literally means "Birth-giver of God", as well as Bohoroditza in Russian. Both of these terms are widely used in their respective Orthodox groups).

Why, then, do Protestants not use this title that appears to be so common in Catholicism?

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    I know this was answered a long time ago, but I just want to mention that the Orthodox also refer to Mary in this way. Theotokos in Greek literally means "Birth-giver of God", as well as Bohoroditza in Russian. Both of these terms are widely used in their respective Orthodox groups. – Bobo Aug 16 '13 at 21:54
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At its most basic level, Protestants believe Mary merely to be the earthly mother of Jesus - not the eternal mother of "God." To imply that she had a role in creating that which is divine with Him seems an overreach. This is not to say that Jesus is not God, but Mary's role is as a vehicle for the incarnation, not the means by which the Godhood was made. To believe otherwise would unnecessarily elevate her above mere mortals.

This is not imply she is not "blessed among women," nor that she was not the vessel through which God incarnated and dwelt among us. But to stress the motherhood of that which is God within Jesus (and no, I do not mean to imply a Nestorian, no-hypostatic union Jesus - he is fully God and fully Man) - that motherhood denotes a role in creation, and that is not possible.

That "Creation" would fly in the face of John 1:2, of course - for Jesus was not created. Jesus was incarnated, meaning that his existence and personhood indwelt man, but was not created "by the will of man or by the flesh." Motherhood denotes a much greater role in the creation of the child[1] than incarnation would suggest.

Finally, Calvin suggests that Mary's role as mother was only earthly:

Opponents of the aforementioned view of Calvin's mariology point out that, in his writings, Calvin never explicitly refers to Mary as the 'Mother of God'. Moreover, Calvin's comments on Mary as the mother of Elizabeth's Lord, may be understood to mean that, in Calvin's view, Mary was mother of the Lord only while he was on earth. Proponents of this view have cited Calvin's commentary on John 19:26, from which it has been argued that Calvin considered the mother-son relationship between Mary and Jesus to have ceased at Jesus’ death. In this scheme, Christ, as he was dying on the cross, appointed his disciple John to take his place as Mary's son, so that he himself might henceforth take his rightful place at the Father's right hand in heaven.

Once John was beheld as "your son," Mary was now the mother of John, not Jesus.


Notes

  1. I was about to say "she does contribute genetic material for example," when I realized that there is nothing to suggest she didn't. That said, genetics were an unknown science at the time of the incarnation, and as such it is anachronistic to require a knowledge thereof when these titles were being decided. The point is that Mary did not make God in the same way a mother "makes" her baby.

  2. To be fair, Luther did call her mother of God, but the formulation seems much Roman Catholic as anything.

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There are two things going on here, one theological and one sociological.

Theologically, there are certainly Protestants who would call Mary the Mother of God. As noted in the comment, the key term is the Greek word Theotokos. The teaching of the Council of Ephesus is that since Christ is God, and since Mary is the mother of Christ, Mary is the mother of God. This council is accepted as authoritative (or at least its teachings are accepted) by large swathes of Protestant Christianity.

The sociological thing is a Protestant aversion to venerating or even honoring Mary. You could call this anti-Catholic bias, or you could call it a simple reaction to Protestantism's Catholic roots, but for whatever reason, it is what it is. (Another example is that Protestants have mined the whole of the Old and New Testaments for biblical names for girls, but almost never choose “Mary”.)

I will add personally that, as a Protestant, the term “Mother of God” made me cringe, but when learned about the origin of the controversy—which is after all about Christ, and not about Mary at all—the point became quite obvious to me.

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Protestants do not call Mary "Mother of God" because:-

  1. the title has no scriptural precedent. Is it wise to call her by a title which is not scriptural? The watchword for Protestants is "sola scriptura", Scripture only: God's Word alone is the Protestant's guide for belief and practice. No where in God's Word is Mary called "the Mother of God".

  2. there is no Biblical evidence that the New Testament church bequeathed on Mary any special position. The title is often associated with the idea that prayers can be offered to Mary. But in Acts of the Apostles Mary the mother of Jesus was not being prayed to, but praying with others to God, exactly the same as all the other believers (Acts 1:14);

  3. the title gives a measure of honour to biological kinship which is unspiritual (and unscriptural).

In Mark's Gospel Jesus does not do as Mary wishes, he denies there is any significant bond between himself and his mother:

'And they said to him Behold your mother and your brethren outside seek for you. And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!' Mark 3:31-35

This event is described in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew 12:46-50, Luke 8:19-21. For Him, those who obey God's word are closer in relation than fleshly relations.

She wants him to come outside to her and his brothers. He ignores her wish. To call her "Mother of God" is to give her a respect which Jesus certainly does not give her on this occasion. Why did Jesus not obey his mother here? His family thought he had taken leave of his senses, was out of his mind, for they said "he is beside himself" (Mark 3:21). So they come to kindly "lay hold on him" (Mark 3:21) to take him away from the crowds for his own good. Mary has probably been persuaded by her other sons to play a part in this (sinful) act of unbelief.

  1. Scripture in one passage (at least) appears to actively discourage such a title:-

"For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him;

To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace;

Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually." (Hebrews 7:1-3)

Melchisedec was a type ((or a picture)) of Christ, (some think he was a theophany). How? He was :-

  1. Priest of the Most High God;
  2. A King;
  3. King of Righteousness;
  4. King of Peace;
  5. Without father;
  6. Without mother;
  7. Without descent;
  8. Having neither beginning of days nor end of life;
  9. Abiding a Priest continually.

In all these things Melchisedec was "made like unto the Son of God". What the writer is saying, speaking under inspiration, is that Jesus had no father and no mother. What does it mean?

Of course, Jesus was "5. Without father" in that he had no human father, his human nature had no father; likewise Jesus was "6. Without mother" in that he had no Divine mother, or his Divine nature had no mother.

Now someone could argue the logic of it all as Catholics do, and logically they would be right, Jesus in his united person had both a mother and a father, but the Bible is our guide, and we should stick to its language rather than make logical inferences.

Jesus also was without mother or father in the usual sense that a person who has a mother and father has a beginning. But Jesus had no beginning but "had neither beginning of days nor end of life" (Heb 7:3).

To call Mary "the Mother of God" is at least discouraged by the words of Hebrews 7:3 because Melchisedec was like the Son of God, "without mother".

  1. despite what may have been the original good intention to draw attention to Christ (as God), in Protestant eyes the evidence of history is that the title has drawn attention away from Christ and onto a creature; and of our Lord Jesus God's Word says "Salvation is found in no other name for this is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

  2. the title is given to one who is often said to be able to sympathise with us more than our dear Saviour; and therefore, to the Protestant, the title is associated with teachings which offer deep insult to our Lord Jesus Christ (and to all the Persons of the Godhead, whose character is identical to His character):

"For we have not an high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but he was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:15,16.

Hebrews 4:15,16 teaches us we do not need to go to anyone else. We must go to the Throne of Grace itself, to God himself seated on his Throne, in the name of Jesus Christ, to receive forgiveness. We do not need to go to any Priest, or to Mary or to anyone else. God invites us to come boldly (that is not arrogantly but confidently, knowing he will grant us his mercy and pardon). This is what David did (Psalm 32:5), and God forgave him. Sadly, the Roman Catholic Church leads needy sinners away from God and his goodness.

The Son went to great lengths to find his lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7) dying in their place; and we have a Father who ran to meet us (Luke 15:20) whose "compassions fail not" (Lamentations 3:22); and the Holy Spirit is our Comforter (John 14:16).

  1. to the Protestant, the title is associated with teachings which give a false comfort, because they are neither based on Scripture, nor on faith in Christ alone, nor on a life-changing turning away from sin and back to God. Jesus, and only Jesus, "is able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by him, seeing he ever lives to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:25). We must come to God, and we can only do that through believing on Jesus Christ and on his death for all our sins.

The Scriptures teaches "There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 2:5) and

Our Lord says: "No man comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6).

In short, the Scriptures say that "all men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father" (John 5:23), but it nowhere says that "all men should honour the Mother even as they honour the Son".

  • Virtually verything you said is Scripturally false, fallacious or a straw man ('Mary is the name by which we are saved' etc.; Hebrews explicitly says Melchizedek was "like" the Son of God, not a theophany). Would you be interested in discussing this doctrine in chat? Let me know. – Sola Gratia Mar 5 at 22:42
  • No sir, but thanks for the offer. You have given 2 straw men yourself because I didn't accuse anyone of saying Mary is the name by which we are saved and I don't personally believe Melchizedek was a theophany. Even if you persuade me of anything you have achieved nothing very much. What I have said I am sure is a fair reflection of how traditional Protestants view Catholic (and others) beliefs about Mary; so somehow you need to reach all Protestants; changing my opinion is not the real issue at all. Regards, Andrew – Andrew Shanks Mar 5 at 23:43
  • I was taking "some say" for "[and it's possible valid that]." Forgive me. But didn't you use "Jesus is the only name by which we are saved" as part your argument against honoring Mary? That's implying identifying Mary as the mother of God somehow means you think Mary is your Saviour or 'the name by which we are saved.' Otherwise remove it as an argument... or else why is it there? – Sola Gratia Mar 5 at 23:48
  • Also, how are you not holding to the Nestorian heresy by denying Mary is the mother of the Word made flesh? Who else is she the mother of? Mr Human Jesus? – Sola Gratia Mar 5 at 23:52
  • The point is we are sinners and easily distracted. Anything that tempts us to take our eyes off Jesus as our Lord and Saviour is a great hindrance to finding salvation, and a hindrance to our love for Him. Nothing, nothing at all, should be allowed to befuddle us, or cloud our grasp of Christ alone, faith in him alone, Christ our only hope, our ladder up to heaven, our bread of life, our light, "our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, our redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30), our peace, our all in all (Colossians 3:11). He is all we need. We are to fix our eyes on Him (Heb 12:2). – Andrew Shanks Mar 6 at 0:03

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