According to Catholic Doctrine, the Immaculate Conception refers to the teaching that Mary's own conception (not that of Jesus) was without the stain of original sin.

What is the biblical basis for this? And if this is true, did Mary not need to be saved from her sin? Was she also sinless? If she were sinless, then why would she have suffered the consequences of sin--that of death?


Q. Biblical Basis for Biblical literalists:

A. None.

Catholics believe that Mary is a type prefigured in the Old Testament of the Ark of the Covenant. The basis for this belief is rooted in scripture as firmly as Mary is rooted in scripture. God created His mother, and in so doing He created His mother as a fit dwelling place, like the Holy of Holies. And like the Holy of Holies the dwelling place would bear the effects of the perfect priest, the perfect prophet and the perfect king. That is why the ark contained Aaron's Rod, Manna from Heaven and the Ten Commandments. That is why Jesus is priest prophet and king.

Q. Did Mary need to be redeemed?

A. Yes

But her redemption was pre-conception.

Q. Was she sinless?

A. Yes

Through a singular grace, she was able to avoid sin. In a way she lived on earth as we will live in Heaven. Furthermore she experienced Christ as fully as any human is able to this side of the grave.

Q. Did she suffer the consequences of sin?

A. No

It was not as a consequence of sin. She chose death (or dormition as it's called in the East) in imitation of Jesus and was subsequently assumed body and soul into Heaven.

I'll leave you with one piece of Biblical basis for Mary being sanctified. Used in the dogmatic text defining the Assumption

Arise, O Lord, into your resting place: you and the ark, which you have sanctified

(Old Translation of Psalm 131(132):8)

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  • WPeterTurner Q. Biblical Basis for Biblical literalists: A. None. Pope Pius 1X and Catholics will disagree. – user13992 Aug 30 '14 at 23:56
  • I don't disagree with you that there is a Biblical Basis for Our Lady's singular grace, but you aren't going to see it spelled out for you. The best reason you didn't mention which is that she is a type for the ark of the covenant. And that is not a literal interpretation. – Peter Turner Aug 31 '14 at 16:08
  • FYI, the earliest church fathers saw Christ as the ark of the covenant. – SLM May 4 '18 at 15:55

The Bible doesn't itself have anything to say on the subject of Mary's conception (or birth), so the idea must have come from an outside tradition. I argued in a related question that Mary's honor needed to be defended at a very early stage in the Church's history. But the Immaculate Conception doctrine came much later.

However, the doctrine seems to logically follow from the related doctrine that Mary was without sin when Jesus was born. Augustine expressed this doctrine in his On Nature and Grace:

We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord; for from Him we know what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin.

In context, Augustine examined a list of pious men and women that Pelagius asserted had lived their entire lives without sin. Augustine excluded "the mother of our Lord and Saviour" and posed a hypothetical question: Would the rest of the people on the list agree that they were without sin or would they agree with 1st John 1:8 (ESV):

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

But Augustine didn't actually assert that Mary was without sin. Rather he suggested that she was granted the grace to overcome sin on the basis of 1st John 3:5 (ESV):

You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.

Notice that the main reason for considering the idea that Mary lived a sinless life is the same apologetic reason for considering the idea that Mary was a perpetual virgin: out of honor toward Christ.

Interestingly, Augustine in this work fought the heresy of Pelagianism and asserted the doctrine of Total Depravity. Therefore, he ought to have had every incentive to pin original sin on Mary at this point if he could bring himself to do so. That he didn't strongly suggests that he at least considered the idea that Mary was sinless from birth. However, his reasoning would have derived from the nature of Jesus and not the nature of Mary herself.

Aquinas stops just short of asserting that Mary was born completely sinless:

And although this appears to be part of the dignity of the Virgin Mother, yet it is somewhat derogatory to the dignity of Christ, without whose power no one had been freed from the first sentence of condemnation. And though, through faith in Christ, some were freed from that condemnation, according to the spirit, before Christ's Incarnation, yet it does not seem fitting that any one should be freed from that condemnation, according to the flesh, except after His Incarnation, for it was then that immunity from condemnation was first to appear.

(Note that Aquinas uses the word "fomes" as shorthand for the inclination to sin. He presumes that Mary was freed from that inclination from her conception until Jesus' conception so that He would be born without the taint of sin.)

  • St. Augustine taught the depravity of human nature post-Fall (a consequence of original sin). He did not teach the Calvinist doctrine of 'Total Depravity'. – Sola Gratia Jul 3 '17 at 14:23

What is the biblical basis for the Immaculate Conception?

It is the same reason that Pope Pius IX put forth in the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus (Latin for "Ineffable God") that defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The decree was promulgated on December 8, 1854, the date of the annual Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Supreme Reason for the Privilege: The Divine Maternity
And indeed it was wholly fitting that so wonderful a mother should be ever resplendent with the glory of most sublime holiness and so completely free from all taint of original sin that she would triumph utterly over the ancient serpent. To her did the Father will to give his only-begotten Son -- the Son whom, equal to the Father and begotten by him, the Father loves from his heart -- and to give this Son in such a way that he would be the one and the same common Son of God the Father and of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was she whom the Son himself chose to make his Mother and it was from her that the Holy Spirit willed and brought it about that he should be conceived and born from whom he himself proceeds.

Might we find this Supreme Reason the Divine Maternity in Sacred Scripture?

Yes from the Angel's words:

In Lk 1:32 (RSVCE)
32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,


In Lk 1:35 (RSVCE) 35 And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

And Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit exclaims with a loud cry, '[a]nd why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?'

Therefore the "my LORD" of Elizabeth is "the Son of the Most High/the Son of God".

Thus the Supreme Reason, the Divine Maternity [Mary being the Mother of the Son of the Most High/the Son of God, the Mother of the LORD], is in the Bible.

And if this is true, did Mary not need to be saved from her sin?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church answers

CCC, 492 The "splendor of an entirely unique holiness" by which Mary is "enriched from the first instant of her conception" comes wholly from Christ: she is "redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son".[LG 53, 56.]] The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person "in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" and chose her "in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love".[cf. Eph 1:3-4.]

Please see also CCC, 508.

If she were sinless, then why would she have suffered the consequences of sin--that of death?

This question has no scriptural grounding. Two men born with original sin have not yet died and are no longer in the world, Enoch and Elijah, and Christ the sinless one died.

The reason Mary died is linked to that of her Son.


What biblical indications are there that Mary was conceived without sin?

God through Angel Gabriel greets Mary, "Hail, full of grace1". St. John the Baptist is born sinless but is sanctified after his conception. Therefore we can deduce that Mary was always full of grace from the very first moment of her existence.

1. Grace being a supernatural gift of God, freely bestowed upon us for our sanctification and salvation, Mary is therefore fully sanctified and fully saved.

What is now revealed in the New was hinted at in the Old:

Song of Solomon 4:7 (RSVCE)
7 You are all fair, my love; there is no flaw in you.

Please see also Ineffabilis Deus | Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854 starting from Interpreters of the Sacred Scripture. - The entire Apostolic Constitution is very fruitful reading.

cf. Ineffabilis Deus | New Advent.

  • I do not understand your first point. All Luke 1:32 and 35 are saying is that Jesus is the son of God. Nothing in those verses suggests Mary was born without sin. – curiousdannii Sep 1 '14 at 4:53
  • @curiousdannii Please see latest edit. – user13992 Dec 6 '15 at 7:11
  • Sorry, but from my perspective your edit didn't help at all. Those verses might be consistent with the Divine Reason, but they don't directly lead to it. – curiousdannii Dec 8 '15 at 8:57
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    @PeterTurner I really appreciate the bounty award. May you and yours and all near and dear to you be blessed this holy season and always. – user13992 Dec 12 '15 at 19:10

There is no biblical basis for the immaculate conception of Mary. The fact that we do not even have reliable information of who her parents were reinforces this (an early Christian tradition, still accepted by many Catholics, was that they were called Joachim and Anne, but others say her father was called Heli). The Church acknowledges we have no historical evidence of any elements of their lives, yet such a private detail as Mary's conception is held as irrefutable dogma.

The tradition of Mary's immaculate conception was certainly held long before the time of Pope Pius IX, but it was he who, in 1854, published Ineffabilis Deus (The Immaculate Conception), declaring infallibly the Immaculate Conception to be a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

Pope Pius did not claim biblical support for his declaration, instead relying on precedent and tradition, in addition to revelation from God. The very absence of a claim to biblical support means that, although possibly justified by revelation, there is no biblical basis for the immaculate conception of Mary.

The immaculate conception means that Mary was free from the stain of original sin, but does not mean that she was necessarily free from all sin. However, being free from original sin means that she would be unlikely to have committed any sin.

  • Although Ineffabilis Deus does not say so explicitly, there is a long tradition, in both the Eastern and Western churches of calling Mary the Panagia, the All-Holy, which includes the tradition that Mary was also free of personal sin. (See Catechism number 493.) That does not mean that Mary was incapable of sinning, just that she, being free from the stain of Original Sin, was capable of not sinning (unlike the rest of us)—and, fortunately, the Church argues, she took advantage of that ability. – AthanasiusOfAlex Dec 7 '15 at 20:34
  • @AthanasiusOfAlex Agreed. You probably said that more lucidly than I did in my last paragraph. Here I only summarised the position, because it is incidental to the question of biblical basis. – Dick Harfield Dec 7 '15 at 20:37

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