A pattern I see in scripture is that God performs a literal act in history, then makes it into the concrete support for a doctrinal principle, a fitting example.

  • He creates the world and all of humanity, therefore he has the right to command and judge it.
  • He destroys the world once by flood, therefore proves that he has the power and intention to judge it again.
  • He sends Peter a dream to persuade him to accept Gentiles into the church, then affirms this by giving them the Holy Spirit.
  • Jesus rises from the dead, proving that God can and will do this for his faithful.

There are many such object lessons from which God shaped history and the meaning of the Bible. Concerning racism, we have the Tower of Babel story illustrating the origin of the many languages and peoples, tacked onto the stories of Adam and Eve and Noah, with many genealogies to convey the fact that all people are of one blood, then the statement that in Christ there are no Jews or Greeks, slave or free, etc.

Then we get to the division between men and women. The New Testament seems equivocal here. It affirms a spiritual equality but retains a functional inequality. In looking at Church history side by side with the progress of women, I compared it to the development of Catholic Marian doctrine over the centuries. I see that as greater dignity is accorded Mary, the fortunes of women have improved. If I were a Catholic mystic (which I am not), my apologetic would be that liberating truths emanating from Christ and Mary through the mediating influence of the Catholic Church are transforming the world and progressively reversing the curse upon Eve. Mary is the example for women comparable to the other powerful examples I shared first.

My question is, as far as examples and the slow unfolding and application of Biblical truths to society are concerned, what does a Reformed Tradition have to offer in place of Mary, seeing as much of Mariology is not accepted by the Reformed church?

One specific instance: some religions said women were inherently impure and inferior to men, maybe did not even have souls. Dualistic religions said that all matter is inherently evil. Then Jesus comes and lives a perfect life, showing that a MAN, made of matter, can be perfect, not evil. For Catholics who believe in the Immaculate Conception, Mary did not sin. She is the example WOMAN who lived a perfect life. If you jettison that doctrine, you have no example perfect woman, so need some alternate way to convey the truth that women can be perfected.

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    Are you saying that all of womankind are accorded 'a new dignity' ? In the New Testament, it is stated that there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28. But that is a matter of repentance, a new birth, faith and redemption. It describes the members of the body of Christ. It is not a feature of the unbelieving nations. Could you clarify what you mean by 'new dignity accorded women', please ?
    – Nigel J
    Dec 27, 2020 at 5:14
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    Also, reformed theology sees God manifest in flesh, come of woman, anointed of the Holy Spirit as a new humanity. That is to say, a different humanity than Adam. Christ is a second man and a last Adam. He is not just 'a man made of matter' that 'can be perfect, not evil'. He is the Son of God : Jesus Christ come in the flesh. Reformed theology does not apprehend this matter as you are describing it.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 27, 2020 at 6:01
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    Are you asking if reformed theology has gender specific saviors? Are you suggesting that Jesus' perfect humanity does not represent women? Does the resurrection of Christ exclude women for Catholics? Dec 27, 2020 at 19:12
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    In what way does Catholic Marian Doctrine exemplify “the new dignity accorded women”? Could you please give us some examples? I am a woman and I would love to know what it is I'm missing out on, given I'm of the Protestant persuasion. Meanwhile, I will continue to look into the more liberal ideas of some Protestant denominations. So far the only "example" I've found is the new and liberal embracing of women into positions of authority and teaching by becoming ordained ministers or pastors. Personally, I would never sit under the authority of a woman in church because it's unbiblical.
    – Lesley
    Jan 4, 2021 at 13:23
  • @MikeBorden - Not gender specific saviors, but instead gender specific salvific details. The Bible shows specific problems entering human history (like slavery, racism, and sexism) and God's specific plans to address them. So you have a man like Joseph becoming a slave, then being liberated. You have Gentiles converting to Judaism (like Rahab, Ruth) and finding an honored place within Israel, culminating in Peter's acceptance of Gentiles into the church. Problems tied to Examples tied to principles tied to large scale remedies. I look for the same thing regarding women. Jan 4, 2021 at 14:49

2 Answers 2


The Reformed Protestant faith does not "substitute" Catholic Marian doctrine with anything. Although it happily includes traditions that are in agreement with the holy scriptures, it has always maintained that there is no scriptural support for the Marian doctrines and devotions that only later arose gradually after 541 when the Catholic populace misunderstood the meaning of the word 'theotokos' as applied to Mary. Talk of her 'perpetual virginity' only became the formula, 'virginity before, in and after giving birth' after the 7th century. It wasn't until 1854 that faith in Mary's freedom from original sin became a dogma. And not until 1950 was her 'bodily assumption into heaven' defined as a doctrine. The 1966 papal encyclical 'Christi Matri' called for special devotions during the month of October, to invoke her intercession for peace. The 1987 papal encyclical 'Redemptoris Mater' confirmed her special place in salvation, the title 'Mother of the Church' (given in 1964) also confirmed. But Mary cannot be 'Mother of the Church' because the Church is made up of all those of faith in the Old Testament - see Hebrews ch. 11. The Church was in existence thousands of years before Mary was born. It was added to from New Testament times onward, Mary being one of its members.

It's vital to state this gradual development in Catholic views of Mary because many Catholics have no idea about it, while many Protestants do. We see Catholic traditions being added, one on to another, over long spans of time from the second half of the 6th century till the last quarter of the 20th century. Protestants just stick to what the Bible actually says about Mary, agreeing that she is "blessed among women" and is greatly respected. We would also say the Apostle Paul was blessed among men, and is greatly respected by us, but we no more adore and pray to him than we would Mary. The Bible just does not warrant that.

What we do stand in awe of is that great mystery in the New Testament, of Christ and his spiritual 'body', the Church, which is his bride. Paul went into that when explaining the allegory of Hagar and Sarah (Galatians 4:4-31), also when speaking of marriage - read Ephesians 5:24-33, especially "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church." In the Bible, Christian marriage should point to the marriage of the Lamb, in heaven - Revelation 21:1-2 & 9 where this heavenly 'woman' is simultaneously a spiritual virgin bride and the great city New Jerusalem. By then the satanic 'woman' who is simultaneously a spiritual whore and the great city Babylon the Great, has been destroyed (Rev.14:8 & 17:5-18 & 18:8-24).

A point about the heavenly New Jerusalem; the 12 names of the O.T. tribes of Israel are inscribed on its 12 gates, and those gates are on the 4 walls which have as their foundation the 12 names of the apostles of the Lamb. Mary's name is not mentioned anywhere, but she is part of that spiritual bride of Christ (= New Jerusalem), just as are all (male and female) who have been saved by God's grace and by what the Son of God has done. All glory and praise is directed there, and not to any individual humans, no matter how exemplary their lives of faith were. Fittingly, this heavenly woman, the bride of the Lamb, reflects the glory of her husband - imperfectly now, but at the marriage supper of the Lamb she descends as that awesome city, "having the glory of God, and her light was like unto a stone most precious" (Rev.21:9-11). This is the radiant woman, the bride of the Lamb, his Church. That is what we Reformed Protestants aspire to. The Book of the Revelation was given to the Church to focus her faith on Christ and what is to come. This is what we do.

Answer to the question: It’s not a ‘what’ – it’s a ‘who’ that Reformed Protestants look to, to exemplify the new dignity he accorded women. We look to Christ and prepare ourselves for the greatest dignity he will afford to humans (male and female) who he saves – being his loved, cherished bride, for whom he died, and rose again.


The question assumes (and seems to even presume) two major things: 1) That Christ came predominantly as an example to be emulated and 2) That the example of Christ, the man, has particular application to the male gender individually and societally. Given these assumptions the question asks Reformed Theology for a female role model likened unto Mary as expounded in Catholicism.

A strong correlation is supposed to exist such that the historical increase of truths liberating women "emanating from Christ and Mary through the mediating influence of the Catholic Church are transforming the world and progressively reversing the curse upon Eve". It would need to be demonstrated that the Protestant reformation and the formal advent of Reformed Theology represent a correlative subduing of these liberating truths regarding women in history since the 16th century.

A reformed look at the assumptions listed above would have to begin at Genesis 1:27:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Right from the very beginning there is a distinction in gender without a difference in humanity: Man, as created by God, includes both male and female. Both were formed by God from previously created matter (dust and a rib) and both, without distinction, are in His image. Since Jesus Christ came, uniquely in the image of the invisible God and filled with all Divine fullness (Colossians 1:15, 19), formed by the Spirit of God within the already created matter of a woman, he is therefore able to represent the image of God in which Man was created irrespective of gender. Thus He is savior of both male and female without distinction.

There is also, right from the beginning, a distinction in roles. The man was created first and the reason given for the creation of the woman is:

“It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Genesis 2:18

This should not be taken to indicate that the male, in his humanity, was created with some lack or deficit since the Divine intention to create Man (in His image) as both male and female is stated prior to the formation of either Adam or Eve. It should also not be understood from this that the woman was created with a "functional inequality" that the Church and the proclamation of the gospel should strive to overcome. While it is certain that the sinful heart of Man has birthed and promulgated all manner of grievous societal ills it needs to be stridently maintained that gender, and certain roles assigned to gender, were created by God prior to the incursion of sin and are therefore included in the statement "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good". It is therefore to be understood that gender finds it's meaning as divinely assigned roles for humans rather than distinctive valuations as humans.

Scripture is replete with godly women who are held up as examples for us to follow. Prominent is Hebrews chapter 11 in which are listed Sarah and Rahab. These women are lifted up along with the many men with which they are enumerated, not for gender specific tasks, but for the faith by which they lived:

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. - Hebrews 11:11

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. - Hebrews 11:31

And, indeed, Mary is to be esteemed for the faith by which she humbled herself under the calling with which God called her while yet a virgin:

“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

But to look to Mary or any other person for something gender specific that is supposed to be lacking in what the (male) Christ has exemplified is a category error for:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. - Galatians 3:28

It is therefore not a gender specific example that Christ has given us but an example of human faith to be lived out in whatever situation one finds themselves.

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.  Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. - 1 Corinthians 7:17-24

Reformed Theology holds that there are God ordained roles for both men and women in the family, the church, and the world and that these not necessarily be identical. It also affirms that the fallen nature of Man tends toward the abrogation and corruption of all that God has created. The reconciliation of the two is in lifting up Christ and the clarion call for Reformed Theology specifically and Protestantism in general is as follows irrespective of gender:

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. - Hebrews 10:36-39

There is no need, in Reformed Theology, for a female example of perfection to lift up before women "to convey the truth that women can be perfected" since our perfection, both male and female, is in Jesus:

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. - Hebrews 10:14

  • Found these relevant quotes from commentator Matthew Henry (died 1714): "Woman was not made out of Adam's head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him." And: "Eve's being made after Adam, and out of him, puts an honour upon that sex, as the glory of the man, 1 Corinthians 11:7. If man is the head, she is the crown, a crown to her husband, the crown of the visible creation."
    – Lesley
    Jan 9, 2021 at 9:23

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