The Real Mary

It is widely known that Mary was the mother of Jesus Christ, yet there are many misconceptions about her life. Who was Mary, and what was she really like?

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is certainly famous, but she is also much misunderstood. The Bible can help us clear away the myths and misconceptions.

First of all, Mary was conceived in the same manner as everyone else was conceived. She had a human father and a human mother—she was fully human, and she was Jewish!

Most scholars believe the genealogy listed in Luke 3:23-38 to be the lineage of Mary, who was of the house of David, who was of the tribe of Judah. She was a virgin living at Nazareth and betrothed to Joseph, whose lineage (Matthew 1:1-16) can also be traced back to King David.

A prophecy about Mary

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [God with us]” (Isaiah 7:14). Mary fulfilled this prophecy and was this virgin who conceived without having sexual relations with a man. She was impregnated by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). Jesus was the only One who did not have a human father. Such a conception never happened before or afterwards. Mary herself was not conceived in this way.

Mary did not stay a perpetual virgin all her life either. After giving birth to Jesus Christ, she had other children by Joseph, her husband, as noted in Matthew 13:55-56: “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James [who wrote the book of James], Joses, Simon, and Judas [who wrote the book of Jude]? And His sisters, are they not all with us?”

These were, therefore, the half-brothers and half-sisters of Jesus Christ. Mary had a large family!

What kind of person was Mary?

First, let’s notice what the angel said to Mary: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).

There were elements in Mary’s character—her faith, her submission to God, her attitude, her love—that God could see, and He chose her. She was God’s “highly favored one” (Luke 1:28), blessed by Him to be selected to bear the Son of God, the Messiah, and to be His mother.

Mary demonstrated her faith in and submission to God. She replied to the angel: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

She believed, even though the event that was to take place in her had never occurred before in human history!

Mary’s example of Christian living

Mary marveled and pondered over all the inspired things that were told to her by various people, such as what the shepherds said at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:19) and what Simeon said at the temple (Luke 2:33). Later, when Jesus was 12 years old and told her that He was to be “about My Father’s business,” Mary (and Joseph) did not fully understand the statement, but she “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:49-51).

In like manner, we also should ponder over and marvel at the prophecies and words of Jesus Christ. Jesus was and is “a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). Do we think about the prophecies concerning Jesus Christ—that He will eventually be returning as King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Do we ponder over all of the words spoken by Jesus? Mary did.

Another thing we can learn from Mary’s example is that she believed in what Jesus taught. She witnessed the crucifixion of Christ (Mark 15:40; John 19:25). She was among His disciples after Christ had ascended to heaven. She stayed in Jerusalem waiting for Pentecost (Acts 1:12-14). Mary was included in the group of God’s elect. And the apostle John was also treating her as his mother and providing for her, at Jesus Christ’s request (John 19:27).

Beware of erroneous inferences to Mary

We must be careful not to mix the truth of God with pre-Christian pagan traditions. For example, the Bible refers to Mary and her Son Jesus several times in Matthew 2 as “the young Child and His mother” (verses 13-14, 20-21). But this should not be blended in with other mother-and-son duos that were worshipped in pagan cultures. These include Isis and Horus in Egypt, Ishtar and Tammuz in Babylon, Venus and Adonis in Rome, and Ashtoreth and Baal in Phoenicia. These were pagan gods and goddesses that had nothing to do with Mary.

Satan likes to counterfeit biblical truth with pagan traditions, such as pagan gods and goddesses. But God hates the blending of false, pagan religion and idolatry with the true religion revealed in the Bible (Deuteronomy 12:28-32).

The real Mary, if she were alive, would thus be appalled to find out that people in following generations would be making carved images of her and would be worshipping her.Mary, as a believer in God’s words, did not believe in idolatry or in carved images as an aid to worship. The real Mary, if she were alive, would thus be appalled to find out that people in following generations would be making carved images of her and would be worshipping her. She would be greatly offended at the carved images said to resemble her, and she would be aghast that people would be praying to her!

As an angel once told the apostle John (who had started bowing down to that angel): “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!” (Revelation 19:10). Mary would have said the same thing.

Remember the second of God’s 10 Commandments: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5). This is what God commands, and this is what Mary would have believed.

Mary is dead—awaiting the resurrection

The Bible doesn’t have much more to say about Mary, except that she was noted as being among the disciples and was there for Pentecost—the day when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers (Acts 2:1-4). She lived out her life and died in the faith, along with the other saints, and will be resurrected when Jesus returns (Hebrews 11:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).

Mary is not alive, and she does not (and cannot) intercede for anyone. We are to pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. The Bible reveals that Jesus Christ is our only Mediator. He is our High Priest, our Intercessor (Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 Timothy 2:5).

For anyone to pray to Mary would be an insult and an abomination to God and to our Lord Jesus Christ. If Mary could hear (which she can’t) that people on earth were calling her the “Queen of Heaven” and praying to her instead of to God, she would be horrified.

The queen of heaven in many cultures was a goddess (Ishtar, or Astarte) worshipped by the ancient pagans. In Jeremiah 7:18 and 44:17-25, God indicted the Jews who had been giving offerings to the queen of heaven instead of to the true God. The title “Queen of Heaven” has a pagan connotation associated with it; and yet, despite that fact, many people today refer to Mary as the “Queen of Heaven.”

Mary’s inspired words:

Remember what Mary said. She magnified and glorified God. Her words are now part of the inspired Scriptures. Mary gave God all the credit and the glory: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has rewarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed [she acknowledged, as we do, that God blessed her]. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Luke 1:46-49).

She continued speaking in verse 50: “And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.” Perhaps she was familiar with this psalm of David: “But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children” (Psalm 103:17).

Mary likewise echoed Hannah (Samuel’s mother) when praising God. Mary said: “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly” (Luke 1:52). Now look at Hannah’s words, which are markedly similar to Mary’s: “The LORD makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory” (1 Samuel 2:7-8).

Perhaps Mary was thinking of her own relatively poor and humble condition, and the fact that her Son would be raised from humble origins to be great someday!

Lessons from Mary

Mary’s example and message continue today, a source of study for all generations after her. She pondered and marveled over the inspired words that she was told. Mary feared God and obeyed Him and served Him. She was submissive, and she believed in God and in her Son, the Son of God.

In the miracle of the water that Jesus turned into wine at a wedding feast in Cana, Mary told the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it” (John 2:5). She knew from experience that He could do anything, if He so chose, any miracle whatsoever, and that people should simply do what He said, and everything would work out.

Do we believe that as well?

God’s mercy was upon Mary through her life, and God blessed her. She recognized what God was doing in the world and in His Son: God was fulfilling His promise of bringing help to Israel and salvation to Abraham and his seed. Listen finally to Mary’s words, inspired of the Holy Spirit: “He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever” (Luke 1:54-55).

For further examples of women who had faith, including the story of Hannah, see the other articles in this “Women of Faith” section.

About the Author

John Foster

John Foster

John Foster grew up in the Chicago, Illinois, area and began attending the Church of God with his parents in 1958.

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