As I noted in Part I, Dave Armstrong’s attempt to substantiate the sinlessness of Mary is one of the longest sections in his book. We have noted that he specifically claims to be offering sound exegesis and analysis of Luke 1:28, but so far, we have not found his comments to live up to the claims he makes for them. So now we turn to the bulk of his positive argumentation, the “deductive logic” he presents as a basis for this Roman Catholic dogma.
First, Armstrong establishes that the noun “grace” means “grace.” This was not in dispute, of course, though the Roman Catholic concept of grace, the state of grace, graces, etc., surely requires a significantly fuller effort than is offered even here. Be that as it may, Armstrong writes, “The Catholic argument hinges on the meaning of kecharitomene.” This alone is sufficient to establish the propriety of the previous five installments, for the meaning of the term can only be determined lexically, grammatically, and syntactically, and we have seen that beyond question the term does not, in fact, carry the weight assigned to it by Rome. But we continue on with Armstrong’s argument, for he refers to the abridged edition of Kittel’s TDNT regarding grace, and while what Kittel’s says is quite true, given the passages being referred to (1 Cor. 1:29, Romans 5:20-21, Galatians 5:2, 1:6), unless Armstrong can establish, contextually, that the meaning of the noun “grace” in those passages is carried into the participial form of a vocative participle used as a greeting by an angel in a completely different context and used by a completely different writer, we once again have no reason to find it a compelling argument. I remind the reader of what we could do, using the very same kind of speculation, with “blessed” in reference to believers, etc.
In passing I should mention the repeated assertion by Armstrong that Rome believes in sola gratia but not sola fide. We here learn the importance of Reformed theology, for non-Reformed Protestants who in fact stand firmly with Rome against the Reformers on the nature of grace and the will of man have no grounds upon which to argue this point. I have consistently proclaimed the vast importance of seeing the difference between the idea of the necessity of grace (which Rome, and non-Reformed Protestants embrace and proclaim) and the sufficiency of grace. Even the Mormons believe in the necessity of grace. Trent anathematized anyone who would hold to full Pelagianism and deny the necessity of grace. But the soteriological locus of the battle is the freedom, ability, and sufficiency of God’s grace to save a people perfectly in Jesus Christ. All synergists (and the very attempt to deny synergism on the part of some RC apologists is simply beyond the bounds of the rational) join hands in proclaiming the necessity of God’s grace, but limiting the sufficiency and freedom of it. Even when they try to get as close to proclaiming a sufficient grace (“All my works are prompted by grace, so it is all of grace in the end!”) as possible, they still must, to avoid the spectre of the freedom of God in salvation (that is the heart of Reformed theology), assert the freedom of man as the final determining factor as to whether grace will succeed in its task. God’s freedom to have efficient grace that accomplishes His own purposes must be denied, and is denied, when Rome’s doctrine of the will of man and its sacramentology are taken seriously. Surely, as we see more and more of Rome’s leadership moving toward inclusivism and even universalism, we will have to “update” our definitions, but looking back upon current doctrinal norms we can see that this is the case.
At this point the deductive argumentation begins. Noting that God’s grace will save and “conquer” sin (Rom. 6:14), Armstrong argues:
1. Grace saves us. [Yes, completely, without our addition, solely to the glory of God, without distraction by things like…Mary as a co-redemptrix, for example].
2. Grace gives us the power to be holy and righteous and without sin. [This fails to recognize the truth of Romans 5:1, a key text inexplicably ignored in Armstrong’s A Biblical Defense of Catholicism and which I do not see addressed in the relevant section of The Catholic Verses either—we are made righteous by faith in that we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ as our sole standing before God. Our sanctification is likewise by grace, through the means God has ordained, applied by the Holy Spirit who is conforming us to the image of Christ.]
At this point we have a huge leap that simply does not follow, at least to one who believes only in the apostolic preaching contained in the New Testament: “Therefore, for a person to be full of grace is both to be saved and to be completely, exceptionally holy.” I would counter this claim by saying a person who has been made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, (2 Cor. 5:21) the blessed man of Romans 4:6-8, is a person who is saved and is not just exceptionally holy, such a person is completely holy, for they possess the righteousness of Christ. Is this Mary’s position? Yes, of course it is! Just as it is the position of every single believer in Christ! Mary is not unique here, and surely, the angelic greeting has next to nothing to do with this particular portion of divine truth.
Armstrong continues past anything that can meaningfully be said to be based upon the text when he says, “It is a ‘zero-sum game’: the more grace one has, the less sin.” He has not established this as the meaning of grace, let alone the meaning of the verbal form in Luke 1:28. But as it is very useful to illlustrate the kind of reasoning that marks Roman Catholic usage of Scripture, here is his deductive argument, based, as we have now seen, upon no foundation at all:
1. The Bible teaches that we are saved by God’s grace.
2. To be “full of” God’s grace, then, is to be saved.
3. Therefore, Mary is saved (Luke 1:28).
4. The Bible teaches that we need God’s grace to live a holy life, free from sin.
5. To be “full of” God’s grace is thus to be so holy that one is sinless. [Compare #2: does it mean to be saved, or to be sinless?]
6. Therefore, Mary is holy and sinless. [Probably, in Armstrong’s mind, Mary experiences in her life what is reserved only for believers after death, hence, “saved” in that sense]
7. The essence of the Immaculate Conception is sinlessness.
8. Therefore, the Immaculate Conception, in its essence, can be directly deduced from Scripture.
Seeing this kind of reasoning laid out like this, especially having already examined the lexical and grammatical backgrounds, is somewhat shocking, but certainly educational. This helps you to explain how a Roman Catholic can think the Papacy is “biblical.” The term “biblical” takes on new meaning when it is extended to this level. And take note of another statement found shortly after this, “In this fashion, the essence of the Immaculate Conception (i.e., the sinlessness of Mary) is proven from biblical principles and doctrines accepted by every orthodox Protestant.” No, Mr. Armstrong, your understanding of grace, confusion over the differences between justification and sanctification, and your errors in lexical and grammatical argumentation, render that statement utterly void of truth value.
Now, finally, keep in mind the fact that in a matter of sentences Mary will call God “her Savior” like all godly Jewish women did (Luke 1:47). Rome says, “Of course! God is Mary’s Savior in that He applied the merits of Christ to her pre-emptively so that she was protected from the stain of original sin.” But are we to seriously think that Mary knew this? These are Mary’s words, and the only way we can understand them is in the context in which she uttered them, and that was a long, long time before anyone thought up modern Roman dogma. Mary saw God as her Savior the same way any other godly Jewish maiden would have. To think that she had even an inkling of some kind of pre-emptive application of the merits of her Son is simply beyond belief. She knew she needed a Savior. And she has one. A perfect one. The same one we have.