The following is an article by James Swan refuting an attempted defense of Roman Catholicism’s great heresy: The Immaculate Conception. I found the timing of this to be highly apropos in light of a continued discussion that is taking place on this very subject on the comment thread from this post.
10/04/2009 – James Swan
The constant dilemma of the Roman Catholic apologist is to insert doctrines into the Bible that aren’t there to begin with. Their argumentation of meandering logic seeks to demonstrate: a) The Bible doesn’t contradict the doctrine being inserted; b)There are indirect Bible passages that if interpreted by first granting the validity of the extra-biblical doctrine, actually support the extra biblical doctrine. Catholic apologist John Martignoni’s most recent newsletter is a perfect example. He presents “Challenge/Response/Strategy” in defending Mary’s immaculate conception. This argumentation is for his upcoming book on basic Roman Catholic apologetics.
In Martignoni’s argumentation, the immaculate conception must first be brought to the biblical text. That is, by a plain reading of the Bible, one would not read from Genesis to Revelation and conclude Mary was born sinless and remained free of sin her entire life. Martignoni’s apologetic then is to prove the immaculate conception is not disproved by anything the Bible states, and that certain texts can be utilized as indirect proofs. I outlined Martignoni’s hypothetical challenges and his responses in the order he presented them. My counter responses are in red.
Argument 1: The Bible doesn’t use the words immaculate conception. Therefore it is an unbiblical concept.
Martignoni’s Response: The words Trinity and Incarnation are not found in the Bible either.
Swan’s Counter: I know of no serious Protestant apologist that actually uses such an argument. The question is not whether the phrase is found in the Bible, but are there specific direct passages that substantiate such a concept? To substantiate such a concept as a clear teaching of scripture one needs direct passages, not a few vague inference passages.
Argument 2: Trinity and Incarnation are concepts supported by the Bible, the immaculate conception has no such support.
Martignoni’s response: There is no passage in Scripture which directly states that Mary was not conceived without original sin, or that she was not immaculately conceived.
Swan’s counter: Aside from the fact this response doesn’t follow from the argument, this type of argument can [be] applied to many individuals within the Bible. The Bible doesn’t say Priscilla was conceived without original sin, or that she was not immaculately conceived, yet we don’t assume she was. A lack of evidence does not bolster or further an argument.
Argument 3: Romans 3:9-12 and 3:22-23 says all are under the power of sin and that all have sinned, therefore Mary sinned.
Martignoni’s response (four points):
A. Such an argument does not address Mary being immaculately conceived, it addresses whether or not she was sinless her entire life, which is a different question.
Swan’s Counter: Under the heading of “The Immaculate Conception,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long” (CCC 493), so it is not a different question.
B. There is no passage in Scripture which directly states that Mary was not conceived without original sin, or that she was not immaculately conceived.
Swan’s Counter: Luke 1:35 positively says Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. There is no such verse about Mary’s conception. There is no verse that states Mary must be sinless in order to bear the Son of God. Martignoni offers no similar positive evidence that would separate her from the rest of humanity described in Romans 3.
C. Some Protestants believe things not found in the Bible. Catholics likewise should be allowed to believe things not directly stated in the Bible. Example: The Bible nowhere says contraception is okay, yet most protestants believe it is.
Swan’s Counter: Martignoni’s argument would not work against Protestants who deny both the immaculate conception and contraception. To prove some Protestants may believe something not found in the Bible does nothing more than prove an inconsistency. To prove such offers no positive support for an extra-biblical belief in the immaculate conception.
D. Some Scripture passages indirectly support the Immaculate Conception, like Genesis 3:14-15. Mary is the woman described. Enmity exists between Satan and the woman. Martignoni says, “If you have sin in you, can you say that there is enmity between you and Satan?” Only a sinless being can be at enmity with Satan. Therefore Mary was not conceived in sin, and did not commit personal sin.
Swan’s counter: This is Martignoni’s only attempt to present positive argumentation. He candidly admits his Biblical proof is indirect. The argument has an unproven assumption: only a sinless person can be an enemy of Satan, at war with Satan. But, there has always been enmity between believers and Satan. One does not have to be sinless to be at war with Satan. Why would Paul exhort the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes“? Wouldn’t he first clarify that in order to put on the armor, one must be entirely sinless? Similarly, why would Peter exhort Christians to resist the Devil (1 Peter 5:8), or James to resist the devil (James 4:7)? Here we have direct proof that all Christians are enemies of Satan, at war with Satan. John warns us that “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves.” Christians are sinners, and they are at war with Satan. Nothing could be clearer.
Martignoni states that he was limited with the amount of time he had to put into this argumentation. Then again, he states this argumentation is for a book (as if the world needs yet another book repeating arguments already put forth by other writers). If he’s going to continue with a similar line of reasoning, perhaps he should back up a bit and explain his proofs are not proofs, but inferences. He claims to be presenting “biblical, historical, and logical perspectives” as to the immaculate conception. His reasoning though amounts to inferences and leaps of logic read into the text.