Thursday, February 05, 2004

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

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 blue):
    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.

Written in 1998 by Dave Armstrong.

1 comment:

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.