This is the sole scriptural reference that even remotely suggests that Mary might be worthy of worship. While the angel gives Mary a number of high compliments, nothing indicates that she is worthy of worship, let alone being an intercessor between Jesus Christ and His followers, a Co-Redemptrix, sinless for her entire life, or given any other honor aside from being God's chosen vessel for the purpose of the Son of God being made flesh and blood. This is not to denigrate that role in the least, because truly it is a great honor, but God has throughout the ages chosen various people to fill different roles according to His will and purpose—and none of them are shown to be worthy of worship.
In verse 28, Gabriel tells Mary in his salutation that she is "highly favored," and in verse 30, that she "has found favor with God." The Greek word translated highly favored means "to grace," "to endue with special honor," or "to be accepted." The only other place it is used is Ephesians 1:6, where Paul says to the church at Ephesus and to the body of Christ generally, ". . . to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved." From this example, we can see that being "highly favored" is not synonymous with being worthy of worship. Everyone in the body of Christ is highly favored because God has accepted us through the justification brought about by Christ's sacrifice.
In verse 30, Gabriel tells Mary that she has found favor with God. "Favor" is the Greek word charis, which means "graciousness of manner or action." It indicates favor on the part of the giver and thankfulness on the part of the receiver. It is most often translated "grace" in the New Testament. Gabriel tells Mary that she is the recipient of charis, of grace and favor by God—the emphasis is on what God is doing. The type of grace bestowed on Mary is implied to be sweetness, charm, loveliness, joy, and delight. Again, we see nothing in this verse to give any indication that Mary should be worshipped. She simply received God's favor by being chosen to fulfill this role.
David C. Grabbe
Is Mary Worthy of Worship?
Any modern newspaper editor would look at his opening salvo and say, "What a wonderful opening paragraph for this story!" Luke gives the who, what, where, and when right away, and gets to the why in short order. A complex scene is set out in order in just a few words.
Former Catholics will recognize verse 28 from the recitation of the rosary, "Hail, Mary, full of grace," taken from Jerome's Latin Vulgate, but the Greek does not read anything like that. Nor is there any authority to pray this to her. What the angel, Gabriel, really says to her is, "Rejoice, Mary, because you have found favor with God." She is so highly favored that the Lord blesses her, among all women on earth at the time, to be chosen for the honor of bearing and raising His Son.
Luke is actually suggesting, not that Mary should be adored for her favor with God, but that God should receive glory and adoration for bestowing such a blessing on her. He is the source of her favor; He gives it by grace to her, not because she was somehow qualified for it. She must have been a pretty good person, but she was not converted at the time. She was an ordinary Jewess of the line of David, though specially prepared for this blessing. Nevertheless, God displays His graciousness, not Mary's.
Most commentaries guess that she was about fourteen years old at the time, as that was the age when women commonly married then. Perhaps she was a little older. Tradition says that Joseph himself was an older man and might have desired a slightly older wife than was normal.
Verse 29 states that she was perplexed, agitated, or disturbed by what the angel said to her. She probably had no idea what to think, but to her credit, she did not become flighty or melt into a quivering mass. The Scriptures bring out that Mary was a serious thinker. In Luke 2:51, the evangelist tells us that she "kept all these things [concerning Jesus] in her heart," suggesting that she was patient, thoughtful, and wise. She did not jump to conclusions but let matters play out.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Birth of Jesus Christ (Part One): Annunciation
For his part, Luke treats his material with precision, dignity, and grandeur. He immediately gives concrete details of time and place, setting the miraculous in the real world (Luke 1:16-27). The speech of both the angel and Mary is measured and dignified, though he is careful to include the young woman's "troubled" reaction to the angel's greeting, her consternation that she could become pregnant while still a virgin, and her humble, Hannah-like acceptance of God's charge (verses 29, 34, 38). Luke does not overpaint the picture with gaudy details, reporting the simple yet astonishing announcement with respectful restraint, which adds to its solid reality.
Though the virgin birth is central to Luke's passage, its emphasis is not on the uniqueness of this situation but on the divinity, nobility, and capability of the One it will produce. This is God's way of putting matters in their proper perspective. The virgin birth is merely a miraculous means to an end - the advent of the Son of God in human form to perform the works that will bring salvation to humanity and eventually the Kingdom of God to this earth. Such a marvelous Person requires an astounding entrance to mark Him for His far-greater future accomplishments. The emphasis, then, is not on Mary and her condition but upon her divine Son and His purpose.
Finally, it should be noted that the angel admits that the virgin birth, along with Elizabeth's pregnancy in old age, are things men consider "impossible." His answer is to make us realize that in this matter we are not dealing with the things of men: "For with God nothing will be impossible" (verse 37). It is this assurance of God's ability to turn reality on its head - from a human perspective - that elicits Mary's declaration of faithful submission to God's will: "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word" (verse 38).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
'Behold, A Virgin Shall Conceive . . .'
The references to Mary in Luke 1 are the core scriptures that Catholic scholars use to try to prove that Mary is worthy of our worship. It is evident that the verses say little more than that Mary was given grace and favor by God, as we all have. They simply cannot be used as a starting point for establishing a doctrine of worship.
Aside from the little that the Bible says about Mary, there are other significant biblical principles that directly contradict a doctrine of Mary-worship. We could examine a whole host of scriptures relating to human death and resurrection to show that Mary is in the same condition as the rest of the dead in Christ—awaiting the resurrection, without consciousness, and not in heaven (Psalm 146:3-4; Ecclesiastes 9:5; Job 14:12; John 3:13; Acts 2:29-34; I Corinthians 15:12-55; see also Is Heaven the Reward of the Saved?). We could look at a vast array of scriptures that show that Mary-worship is indeed idolatry, because only God the Father and Jesus Christ are worthy of our worship (Exodus 34:14; Matthew 4:10). We could delve into the singular role that Jesus Christ plays as Mediator of the New Covenant—a role in which He does not need any help (Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). These are not difficult concepts. Nevertheless, there is a vital lesson to be learned from this obviously erroneous doctrine.
The veneration of Mary, like many pagan practices, has its origin in the heathen religious system created by Nimrod and Semiramis, and more specifically, from the worship of the "Mother and Child." Through the millennia, the symbol of the "Mother and Child" has been endlessly repeated; one can find evidence of Mother-and-Child worship in all of the nations in ancient times. Though her characteristics varied from culture to culture, the common element is that the Mother was the Queen of Heaven, and she bore fruit even though a virgin.
In China, Semiramis became known as the "Holy Mother." The Germans named her "Hertha." The Scandinavians called her "Disa." Among the Druids, the "Vigo-Paritura" was worshipped as the "Mother of God." To the Greeks, she was "Aphrodite." To the Romans she was known as "Venus," and her son was "Jupiter." The Canaanites, and sometimes even the Israelites, worshipped "Ashtoreth" (Judges 2:13; 10:6; I Samuel 7:3-4; 12:10; I Kings 11:5, 33; II Kings 23:13), who was also known as "the queen of heaven" (Jeremiah 7:18). In Ephesus, the Great Mother was known as "Diana." T.W. Doane in his book Bible Myths sums it up this way: "Thus we see that the Virgin and child were worshipped in pagan times from China to Britain . . . and even in Mexico the 'Mother and child' were worshipped."
This false worship, having spread from Babylon to the various nations, finally became established at Rome and throughout the Roman Empire. James George Frazer in his The Golden Bough observes:
The worship of the Great Mother . . . was very popular under the Roman Empire. Inscriptions prove that the [Mother and the Child] received divine honors . . . not only in Italy and especially at Rome, but also in the provinces, particularly in Africa, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, and Bulgaria. (vol. 1, p. 356)
One of the repeated patterns of the Roman church is syncretism, bringing pagan beliefs and practices into the church to keep certain groups happy. This is the same mechanism by which Christmas, Easter, Sunday-worship, and the pagan trinity-god were brought into the Roman church—and which most of mainstream Christianity has accepted without question. The church allowed the pagans within it to continue their practices—in this case, the worship of the Great Mother—only in a slightly different form and with a new name. Many pagans had been drawn to Christianity, but so strong in their mind was the adoration for the Mother-goddess, that they did not want to forsake her. Compromising church leaders saw that, if they could find some similarity in Christianity with the Mother-goddess worship of the pagans, they could increase their numbers by bringing many pagans into their fold. Of course, Mary fit the bill perfectly. So the pagans were allowed to continue their prayers and devotion to the Mother-goddess, but her name was changed to Mary. In this way, the pagan worship of the Mother was given the appearance of Christianity, and the course was set.
Scripture cannot be used as a starting place for attempting to prove that Mary is worthy of worship. The true beginning for this practice lies with Semiramis and the Babylonian system begun by Nimrod. When the Catholic Encyclopedia presents as proof the historical fact that early Catholics venerated and worshipped Mary, it conveniently leaves out the fact that this adoration started in paganism and was shifted to the personage of the mother of Christ. Once the Roman Church adopted this practice, support had to be found for it, so it "interpreted" Scripture in a way that would lend credence to this practice. However, in these explanations it is apparent that Catholics start with a conclusion and then attempt to find support for it.
David C. Grabbe
Is Mary Worthy of Worship?
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Luke 1:26: