Thursday, February 05, 2004

Did Jesus Renounce Marian Veneration? (Luke 11:27-28)

By Dave Armstrong (1998)

Someone wrote to me, asking:

"I am in the midst of an internet newsgroup debate with a Fundamentalist regarding the Catholic teaching on Mary. This man claims to be an ex-Catholic, and apparently graduated from Catholic schools. He recently attempted to use Luke 11:27-28 as a proof text against Catholic veneration of Mary:
    'While he was speaking, a woman in the crowd called out and said to him "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed!" He replied, "Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it." '
"In response, I explained that the woman was actually complimenting Jesus, not Mary. In effect, she was saying 'Your mother is so lucky to have a son like You!' Clearly, this is a compliment directed at Jesus. If a neighbor lady were to say this to you, obviously you would take it as a compliment directed at you, not your mother."

My Englishman's Greek Concordance shows that the word for "rather" here, menounge (Strong's word #3304) is used four times in the NT: Lk 11:28, Rom 9:20, 10:18, and Phil 3:8. Apparently, it can mean a contrast; however, this contrast need not negate what came before it. A clear example is Phil 3:8. In Phil 3:7 Paul says (KJV):
    But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.
He goes on to write (menounge in italics):
    Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord . . .
Other translations:
"Indeed" (RSV) "What is more" (NIV) "Not only that" (Jerusalem) "I would say more" (NEB) "More than that" (NRSV / NASB).

Clearly, the word in this passage does not negate what came before, since the comparison is between "gainful things" and "all things." The second didn't undermine the first, but merely expanded upon it, making the category even broader. Likewise in Lk 11:27-28.

My New Bible Commentary (ed. D. Guthrie, rev. 1970, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, p. 906), a reputable Protestant source, states:
    The woman's rather sentimental benediction on Jesus' mother meant, 'If only I had such a son as this.' Jesus' reply is that something else matters far more, to hear the message He proclaimed and to obey it (cf. 6:46-49).
This verse has no bearing whatever on the veneration of Mary, let alone undermining it. One must understand the Jewish "literary technique" of comparison and contrast, and it is improper to regard all instances of that in terms of an "either/or" approach, as Protestants are so often prone to do.


Athanasius said...

I have always felt that Our Lord's response here is a confirmation of what we believe about Our Lady: she is truly the one who has 'received the Word and kept it', even in her womb. She is in other words the absolute definition of blessed, to which we should all aspire.

Furthermore, I find similarities with Ecclus. 18, where 'there is Logos and a gift in the one who is in a state of grace' - in a state of grace here is kekharitomenoi, i.e. exactly the same word St Luke uses of Our Lady in the Annunciation narrative. This is in Ecclus. a hypothetical situation, made real by Mary who receives the ultimate gift of the Word in her womb.

ferike53 said...

"Luke 11:28 - when Jesus says, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it," some Protestants also call this a rebuke of Mary. Again, to the contrary, Jesus is exalting Mary by emphasizing her obedience to God's word as being more critical than her biological role of mother. This affirms Luke 1:48.

Luke 11:28 - also, the Greek word for "rather" is "menounge." Menounge really means "Yes, but in addition," or "Further." Thus, Jesus is saying, yes my mother is blessed indeed, but further blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. Jesus is encouraging others to follow Mary's example in order to build up His kingdom.

Luke 11:27-28 - finally, Jesus is the one being complimented, not Mary. Therefore, Jesus is refocusing the attention from Him to others who obey the word of God. If He is refocusing the attention away from Him to others, His comment cannot be a rebuke of Mary His mother."

"Mary's total obedience to God more important than her motherhood"

“Menounge, imo vero, yes indeed. Our Saviour does not here wish to deny what the woman had said, but rather to confirm it: indeed how could he deny, as Calvin impiously maintained, that his mother was blessed? By these words, he only wishes to tell his auditors what great advantage they might obtain by attending to his words. For the blessed Virgin, as St. Augustine says, was more happy in having our Saviour in her heart and affections, than in having conceived him in her womb. (Tirinus)”

„Blessed is the one who gave you birth! This woman envies the mother of Jesus and is full of admiration for his way of speaking. She is mistaken if she thinks that Jesus’ relatives can be proud on his account, and she is wasting her time if she admires his words instead of making them her own. So Jesus turns her towards the Father, whose word he gives, and to herself, whom God invites to the family of his sons and daughters.
As for Mary, the mother of Jesus, the one who believed (1:45), she kept all the words and deeds of the Lord in her heart (Lk 2:51).”

„The beatitude in Luke 11:28 should not be interpreted as a rebuke of the mother of Jesus. Rather, it emphasizes (like Luke 2:35) that attentiveness to God's word is more important than biological relationship to Jesus.”

ferike53 said...

„Yes, and more than that…” - Greek μενουν (compar Romans 9:20; 10:18; Philippians 3:8). The meaning “on the contrary” is extremely unlikely.

„Lk 11:27-28 does not negate devotion to Mary. Jesus said, “Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.” This certainly applies to Mary as well as to others. She heard and kept the word of God. She was not blessed just because she was Jesus’ mother. We know from the Bible that Mary was “full of grace” (Lk 1:28) and that the Holy Spirit inspired Elizabeth to shout, “Blessed are you among women” (Lk 1:42). So we dare not belittle Mary’s standing before God. “All generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48).”

“Jesus is not suggesting that Mary is not blessed, rather He is giving the most important reason that she is blessed. If He was saying that Mary was not Most blessed or that she did not believe in God's holy Word, then there would be a contradiction with the following Scripture.”

„Another text which blesses Mary is Luke 11:27-28, " 'Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.' [Jesus] replied, 'Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.'" CRI says, "That Luke 11:27 would be cited as a proof text for the veneration of Mary is, to the Protestant, striking evidence of a scriptural blindness where Mary is concerned. . . . It should be obvious that, rather than supporting the tendency to venerate Mary, it refutes it."117

Here it will help to look at the Greek particle menoun in Luke 11 :28, which several translations render as "rather." CRI italicizes this "rather," thus implying (without proof) that Luke is using menoun as a particle of contradiction to mean, "No, Mary isn't blessed; rather, blessed are they, etc." And what is worse, because uncritical and unscholarly, CRI alleges that this interpretation is "obvious." It is far from obvious; it is extremely tenuous and, I believe, quite false.

Margaret E. Thrall, a Protestant scholar, cannot be accused of bias toward the Catholic position. In her study Greek Particles in the New Testament, suggests the following interpretation of menoun in Luke 11:27-28: "What you have said is true as far as it goes. But the blessedness of Mary does not consist simply in the fact of her relationship towards myself, but (menoun) in the fact that she shares in the blessedness of those who hear the word of God and keep it, and it is in this that true blessedness lies.” I think this is probably the best interpretation of this text, giving the true sense of "rather."”