Is Mary, the mother of God, theotokos?

The Roman Catholic Church frequently refers to Mary as "The Mother of God." The phrase is associated with the Greek theotokos which means God-bearer. It is intended to be a term of exaltation and reverence to Mary who bore the Messiah and is especially used by Catholic theologians. 

Called in the Gospels "the mother of Jesus", Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as "the mother of my Lord". In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father's eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly "Mother of God" (Theotokos), (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 495).

Now, there is a problem with the term. The phrase "Mother of God" does not occur in Scripture. However, the phrase "mother of my Lord" does. "And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me?" (Luke 1:43).  So is the title "Mother of God" warranted of Mary? It depends on what is meant by the phrase, as well as what is attached to it.

Mary is called the mother of God in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 29 times in the following paragraphs: 466, 467, 469, 493, 495, 509, 721, 963, 966, 971, 975, 1014, 1020, 1138, 1161, 1172, 1187, 1192, 1195, 2131, 2177, 2502, 2619, 2675, 2677, 2678, 2725, 2827, 2853. Within these paragraphs that call Mary the mother of God, we see some pretty bold statements about her.

  1.  "the all-holy ever-virgin Mother of God, is the masterwork of the mission of the Son..." (CCC 721)
  2.  "the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church" (CCC 975)
  3.  "our inviolate Lady, the holy Mother of God..." (CCC 1161)
  4.  "This spiritual beauty of God is reflected in the most holy Virgin Mother of God..." (CCC 2502)

Such exalted praises of Mary cannot be justified from Scripture. Instead, they are inventions of the Roman Catholic Church. Yes, Mary bore the Messiah who is God in flesh, but she is not the "mother of God" in the sense that she was before Him and/or superior to Him as is what motherhood implies.

The Mother of God

God Himself is a supreme being, and the emotional inference of being the "mother of" someone carries with it authority over, maturity beyond, and even superiority. This kind of attitude has led to further errors.

  1. She is called the second Eve, (Mystici Corpois Christ, par. 110)
  2. expressed devotion to Mary, (CCC 971)
  3. They pray to Mary, (CCC 2679)
  4. Mary sits at the right hand of Christ, "(Pope Pius X, 1835-1914, Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum, 14)
  5. Mary is second only to Jesus, (Handbook for Todays Catholic, p. 31)
  6. "so no man goeth to Christ but by His Mother," (Vatican Website: Encyclical of Pope Leo 13th on the Rosary, Octobri Mense, Pope Leo 13th, 1903-1914)

Problems with "Mother of God"

As you can see from the above quotes, Mary is highly exalted. Along with her exaltation is the implication that Mary has better access to Jesus because she is his mother and Jesus will listen to his mother. I've heard countless Roman Catholics tell me this. Add to this the error that no one goes to Christ but through Mary (Pope Leo 13th), and it should be clear that Mary is being idolized beyond what is appropriate. That is why Roman Catholicism advocates praying to Mary (CCC 2679). This is a problem because this leads to people putting their focus, hope, and prayers in Mary instead of Jesus. This is heresy. It is idolatry.

An additional problem is found when we compare Mary in relation to God the Trinity (the teaching that there are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). When the Catholic Church says that Mary is the "mother of God" there is the possibility of implying that Mary is the mother of the Trinity. Since this is not logically possible, the Catholics would have to understand the term in a different sense. They would, of course, say that Mary is only the mother of the second person of the Trinity, the Word.  But they don't clarify this very often. Instead, they continually use the phrase "mother of God" and leave it open that somehow Mary has a special relationship to God Himself by being the mother of Christ. Again, this is dangerous since it encourages people to take their eyes off of Christ, putting on to the creature: Mary.

God is the preeminent one, the most important and praiseworthy being in the universe. God has no "mother." He is the creator of all things. Motherhood, on the other hand, is a biological function (as it is used in the context of Mary in Roman Catholicism), not one dealing with the nature and essence of God as it relates to a human being who is a mother. But, God has no mother. There is nothing and there is no one before Him, equal to Him, or comparable to Him. We must guard his glory and not give it to another.

Finally, the term "mother of God" runs the risk of suggesting that Mary is somehow divine and part of the Godhead. So far, the Roman Catholic Church does not teach this, but there is a movement within Catholic adherents to exalt Mary to the level of divinity. The Roman Catholic Church, so far, has rightly denounced this proposal, but it does not mean that later on there might be a movement that succeeds in elevating her to divinity or semi-divinity. After all, consider the above references that exalt her far beyond what the Scriptures teach. If the Roman Catholic Church can go beyond what is written in Scripture (1 Corinthians 4:6) in disregard to it, who is to say that it won't eventually elevate her to the status equal to a goddess?



About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.