My mother and I go round and round on various Catholic vs. Protestant beliefs and in particular the Catholic belief in the pseudo-divinity of Mary. One item is whether Mary was sinless.

I pointed to Paul's statement:

Romans 3:23
For all have sinned…


Romans 5:12
…by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death: and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.

That would seem to include Mary among the "all". Yet her retort is the "all" would then have to mean babies in the womb, infants, etc., who weren't capable of sin. My thinking is Paul might have meant "all" as referring to those actually capable of sinning or old enough to know better.

According to the Catholic Church, what did Paul really mean by that declaration? Does "all" really mean "all"?

  • We as Catholics do not believe that Mary was divine. We believe that she was preserved from original sin by a singular privilege given to her from God.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 25, 2018 at 13:08
  • I didn't use the word "divine". I said pseudo-divine. Clearly Catholics believe Mary has a certain authority beyond even that of the apostles, along with titles such as "Queen of Heaven" from the mysteries, the assumption, etc. Put it all together and I think pseudo-divine is appropriate. Dec 25, 2018 at 21:03
  • Mary may have been given many devotional titles within the Church. Our Lady had no true authority equal or beyond that of the Apostles. The Apostles were the administrators of the sacraments, not Mary.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 26, 2018 at 4:12
  • Does this answer your question? How do Catholics reconcile the Immaculate Conception with Romans 3:23? Oct 26, 2020 at 8:46

3 Answers 3


According to Catholicism: Does “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23, 5:12) include every single human being?

According to Catholicism the short answer is: No.

The two exceptions according to the Church were Jesus called the Christ and his mother Mary.

The belief that Mary lived without sin from the moment of her conception springs from Church tradition. It evolved over a period of time and was not formally defined as a teaching of the Church until 1854. It is not found explicitly in Scripture, but seems for Catholics to flow naturally from the testimony of Scripture that Mary was “full of grace” (Luke 1:28) and “blessed” (Luke 1:42).

In Catholic understanding, the belief in Mary’s “immaculate conception” does not say so much about Mary as it is about Christ’s saving power. We believe that God created the human person to be in God’s own image. Grace is more original than sin. Our natural state was to be “full of grace.” Sin is our universal experience, but it’s not what God intended for us in the past nor wants for us in the future. We are saved from sin through Christ. Mary’s being conceived without sin takes place in the context of the entire saving act of Christ. In being “full of grace” she is a model of what we human beings were intended to be and who we are redeemed to be through God’s saving power. She is the first sign of God’s victory over sin in Christ. - Where in the Bible does it say that Mary, mother of Jesus, is sinless? And if it is not in the Bible, why does the Catholic Church act like she is?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it this way:

490 To become the mother of the Saviour, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.” The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace”. In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace.

491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.

8 Things You Need to Know About the Immaculate Conception


“All” Does Not Always Mean “Every Single One”

Consider a few other statements by Paul in Romans.

Romans 1:28-29 (NASB)
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips,

Is Paul saying that these people were filled with “every single (kind)” of unrighteousness? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Romans 14:2 (NASB)
One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.

Can a person with such faith eat every last thing, like human flesh, blood, lava, poison, etc.?

I don't think Paul is trying to answer the ridiculous questions I'm asking, but my point is that the word “all” has some metaphorical uses that might prevent you from arguing that “all” means “every single one” in every instance of its use. In these cases, it means (like in English) “pretty much every one” or “everything (that makes sense)” or something similar.

“All” Frequently Means “Every Single One”

Consider the 301 uses of the word translated “all” in the Pauline epistles.

Particularly in Romans, he’s using the word to indicate everyone (e.g. 1:18, 2:12, 3:19), but particularly in chapter 5, when he makes the case that sin came through Adam, and we all inherited that nature.

Romans 5:12-14 (NASB)
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

Romans 5:18 (NASB)
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

Paul certainly seems to be saying that every last person is sinful, except for the one who was sinless, Jesus the Christ. There’s no specific mention of Mary, but since the none of the Biblical authors make direct assertions like the Roman Catholic church does about Mary being somehow special (WRT to being sinless), it would be reasonable to conclude that Mary is included, with the rest of us, as a sinner.

There’s also no specific mention of children or other people that many protestants would describe as “innocent.”

Mary’s Sinlessness is Only a Conclusion

It seems to me that the Roman Catholic church has concluded that Mary must have been sinless because there is no clear statement by the biblical authors to this effect. (Update Thanks for the correction.)

The Innocence of Children is Only a Conclusion

I cannot find any concrete assertions by the Biblical authors confirming the protestant notion of “the age of accountability.” It is a conclusion based on all the necessary requirements for salvation (e.g. belief), which children before some level of maturity are incapable of doing. It is a reasonable conclusion to say that infants cannot have faith in Jesus (as is required for salvation), but are simultaneously not guilty of sin (literally, “miss the mark” or “err”; often thought of as a purposeful choice to do wrong).

  • Here's a C.SE discussion of the age of accountibility.
    – mojo
    Dec 24, 2018 at 18:10
  • 1
    Here's an answer to a semi related question. christianity.stackexchange.com/a/44743/12563 Dec 24, 2018 at 18:21
  • -1 Part of your answer is completely your opinion and not that of the Church: "It seems to me that the Roman Catholic church has concluded that Mary must have been sinless because of their position on “original sin,” i.e. that if Mary were sinful before Jesus was born,Jesus would also have been sinful because he would have inherited it from Mary. " The Church's position is the Immaculate Conception was not necessary for the Incarnation of Christ. It was a privilege given to Mary. The Church teaches that if Eve had of sinned, but not Adam, the human race would not have contracted original sin.
    – Ken Graham
    Dec 24, 2018 at 23:29
  • @KenGraham I've changed my answer.
    – mojo
    Dec 24, 2018 at 23:50

Quick clarification: The Catholic faith at no time has ascribed divinity to the blessed virgin Mary. She was and is only human. Anything else is by definition a non-Catholic belief about Catholic beliefs about Mary.

“All Have Sinned”

I pointed to Paul's statement:

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned…

First things first: to sin (“all have sinned”) is an act. That is, actual sin (personal sin one decides to do: as distinct from original sin, which is a state, namely the privation of grace). So this verse does not concern original sin (and thus not the immaculate conception which is that Mary was exempted from inheriting such a state at all by God—not explicitly that she never committed personal sins).1

Moreover, in context, "for all have sinned" follows, "there is no distinction" (between groups, races, echelons etc. of men). That is to say there is no protected race or class of people: kings, poor, rich, fat, small, large, etc. Such is both the context of Paul's use and that of that which he is quoting (Psalm ).

“In Whom All Have Sinned”

Romans 5:12 …by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death: and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.

If this includes even one exception, the word “all” cannot possibly refer to absolutely all human beings (cf. Eccles. 7:20). And that's on a logical and linguistic (not doctrinal) level. One such exception exists, as it happens, since the same author writes that "the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5) never sinned:

2 Corinthians 5:21 (DRB) Him, who knew no sin, he hath made sin for us, that we might be made the justice of God in him.

So there is an implied qualification or exception, and so it cannot be used as a proof that Mary is not an exception (since such would rely on its being absolute).

More importantly, this verse is not using the word sinned in the personal sin sense, but on that fateful day in Eden, we were there in Adam (cf. Heb. 7:9). This is excluded by verse 14:

Romans 5:14 (DRB) But death reigned from Adam unto Moses, even over them also who have not sinned after the similitude of the transgression of Adam, who is a figure of him who was to come.

And of course the "death" spoken of in the context of the New Testament was not merely bodily death, but was moreso the separation from the life of God—grace. Including the 'sweat of the brow' and 'painful childbirth' stuff: in a word, original sin from which Jesus comes to save us (and he doesn't save us from bodily death—at least immediately).

In fact, the Adam - Jesus typology used by St. Paul specifically requires the understanding that we really inherit sin from Adam by his original sin, not just follow after His example (v. 15; cf. v. 14):

But not as the offence, so also the gift. For if by the offence of one, many died; much more the grace of God, and the gift, by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

Inasmuch as we are not 'ficticiously' made righteous, we are also not 'ficticiously' having sin without this 'rebirth' in, and being 'fathered' by, a new Adam.

In fact, if anything, the New Testament makes a connection between Mary and the sinless, equivalent to no original sin state of regeneration.

Ephesians 1:3-14 (DRB)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ: 4 As he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity. 5 Who hath predestinated us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will: 6 Unto the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he hath graced us in his beloved son. 7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the remission of sins, according to the riches of his grace, 8 Which hath superabounded in us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 That he might make known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in him, 10 In the dispensation of the fulness of times, to re-establish all things in Christ, that are in heaven and on earth, in him. 11 In whom we also are called by lot, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his will. 12 That we may be unto the praise of his glory, we who before hoped in Christ: 13 In whom you also, after you had heard the word of truth, (the gospel of your salvation;) in whom also believing, you were signed with the holy Spirit of promise, 14 Who is the pledge of our inheritance, unto the redemption of acquisition, unto the praise of his glory.

The only other place this Greek word 'to grace' (χαριτοω) is used in the New Testament is in Luke 1:

Luke 1:28 (DRB) And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

The verb used in Luke 1 adds to the connection in that it is a perfect past participle (it literally means [O] having been graced).

So if anything, the New Testament ties Mary's gracedness with the Ephesians 1 'fully benefiting from Christ's grace' state, by its use only in these two places, and saying Mary had before Gabriel even got to her.

The Bible doesn't say Mary sinned. And even if it didn't say Christ didn't, or even imply it, it still wouldn't mean He did, or is not an exception.


1 Although the ridiculousness of God beginning a new creation with a pure Adam and Eve setting everything straight only for them, or even one of them, to fall into the sin again as our first parents is virtually impossible, and quite abhorrent and clumsy. Cf. The Council of Trent, Decree on Justification, Canon 23: “If any one saith, that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the other hand, that he is able, during his whole life, to avoid all sins, even those that are venial —except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in regard of the Blessed Virgin—; let him be anathema. ”

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