Have you ever heard someone claim that Jesus’ mother, Mary, never sinned? It’s a radical claim. And yet it’s a teaching of the Catholic faith. But have you ever wondered why Catholics believe this about Mary?
Many will dismiss this belief without a second thought, chalking it up to an unbiblical Catholic tradition. Others will say that Mary was a sinner just like you and me since the Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
Not long ago I would have echoed those objections. But once I learned why the Catholic Church teaches what it does about Mary, my objections slowly faded. Sure, you won’t find “Mary was sinless” anywhere in the Bible. But you also won’t find the word “Trinity” in the Bible either. That doesn’t mean it’s not biblical.
I recently wrote on the Catholic belief that Jesus’ mother, Mary, never sinned (click here to read). I had room to explain only a few of the reasons why Catholics believe this. Well, this post explains one more: The new Eve.
Eve: A Type of Mary
In a previous post, we explored the way we can find Old Testament types of New Testament realities within the Bible. What the Old Testament conceals as a shadow, the New Testament reveals in it’s full glory. (Click here for a recap). Not only does a type teach us about the New Testament fulfillment, but we can be sure that what is revealed in the New Testament is more glorious than what it succeeds.
A good example of this comes from St. Paul, who describes Adam as a “type” of Jesus (Rom 5:14). Among many other similarities, they were both born in a state of original innocence, they both faced off with Satan, and they both impacted the whole of humanity. Yet the first Adam failed where Jesus succeeded.
Just as Jesus is portrayed as the New Adam, so too, for centuries Christians have seen Mary as the New Eve. Writing around the year AD 180, St. Irenaeus said that, “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.”1
As the New Testament fulfillment of Eve, we’d expect Mary to be superior. But that’s a big role to succeed. Afterall, Eve was born without sin into a state of original innocence, and she was said to be the “mother of all living” (Gen 3:20). Yet Eve did leave some room for improvement. Afterall, she listened to the serpent’s lie and hand delivered the forbidden fruit to Adam. Thus entered sin and death.
If Eve was conceived without sin, and was born into original innocence, it would be fitting that her New Testament fulfillment would as well. And Apologist Tim Staples explains that, “just as the New Adam, Jesus, never fell into sin as the first Adam did, it is fitting that Mary would likewise repair the old Eve’s sin with perfect obedience.”2
The New Eve in the Bible
In the Garden
When we first meet Eve in the garden of Eden, she is introduced to us as “woman” (Gen 2:23), the title Adam bestowed upon her. She was made from Adam’s rib as “a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18), and she was created innocent of all sin in a paradise where sin hadn’t yet entered.
But paradise didn’t last for long. The woman was approached by a serpent, who tempted her into eating the forbidden fruit. Not only did it work, she brought it to Adam to eat as well. Thus entered sin.
Seeing what they had done, God said to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15, emphasis added). God then turned to Adam and the woman to tell them the consequences of their sin. After this Adam gave the woman a name: “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20, emphasis added).
Notice in God’s words to the serpent, that the enmity was between the serpent and the woman, rather than Adam. This also comes with the promise that the woman’s seed will one day bruise the head of the serpent. It’s clear that the seed is a reference to Jesus, who ultimately defeated the serpent on the cross. But what we will soon find out is that the enmity between the woman and the serpent also takes form in New Testament times.
The story continues, but we’d best stop here. To see the connection to the New Testament, we will now turn our attention to the Gospel of John.
The Woman at Cana
John begins his Gospel in words familiar to first-century Jewish ears: “In the beginning” (John 1:1). In the exact words the author of the creation story used (Gen 1:1), He brought his readers back to the creation, where God created the universe in six days. On the seventh God rested. His work was perfect (at least until Adam and Eve happened).
And if we look carefully, we see John continue his creation story. In verses 29, 35, and 43 of John 1, “The next day” this happened; “The next day” that happened; “The next day”… you get the point. These three verses count from the first day to the fourth day. And then chapter 2 begins, “on the third day” (John 2:1).
Hahn explains that by the “third day”, John, “cannot mean the third day from the beginning, since he has already proceeded past that point in his narrative. He must mean the third day from the fourth day, which brings us to the seventh day – and then John stops counting.”3 So chapter 2 of John’s Gospel brings readers back to that day of perfection and rest. You might imagine that first century Jews would be eager to see what happens on this day.
“On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there” (John 2:1). But when they run out of wine, Mary prompts Jesus: “They have no wine” (v. 3), to which Jesus replies, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come” (v. 4). Then Mary turns to the servants, saying, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5). And at Mary’s request, Jesus turned the water into wine, his first public miracle.
Now some people will read this and question if Jesus being rude to his mom when he called her woman. After all, it wouldn’t be very respectful if I were to address my mother as “woman.”
First of all, Jesus addressed Mary as “woman” when he hung, dying on the cross (John 19:26). Could he possibly have meant to disrespect his mother in his final moments? I think not. And secondly, if Jesus were to disrespect his mother, he would be breaking the commandment to honor his mother (Ex 20:12), which would be sinful.4
Why then on the seventh day does John refer to Mary as “woman” when the other Gospels address her as “Mary” or “Jesus’ mother”? With the striking parallels to the creation story, we may suspect that John is associating Mary with Eve, who was first “woman”. But, as Hahn points out, “the New Eve radically reverses the fatal decision of the first Eve. It was woman who led the old Adam to his first evil act in the garden. It was woman who led the New Adam to His first glorious work.”5
But let’s not stop here. Our step takes is to the foot of the cross.
At the Foot of the Cross
John tells us that standing by Jesus on the cross “were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Mag′dalene,” (John 19:25), as well as the beloved apostle.
Now some might find it interesting that St. Paul draws a connection between Christ hanging on the cross, and a quote from the Old Testament: “Cursed be every one who hangs on a tree” (Gal 3:13, also see Deut 21:23). In its proper sense, the “tree” isn’t a direct reference to the tree in the Garden. Though in Paul’s mind, Jesus is the new Adam who undid the consequences of the first Adam’s sin (Rom 5:14). Prompted by the serpent, the fall of mankind took place around the tree in the garden. Standing around the new tree (the cross), the new Adam, the woman’s seed, defeated sin and death, and ultimately crushed the head of the ancient serpent (Gen 3:15).
Though I’ll point out that Adam was not alone at the first tree. There, as under the cross, stood the woman, Eve. And John was sure to include this, a detail that no other Gospel writer included: “when Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” (John 19:26-27, emphasis added). Again, woman stood with the new Adam as he battled sin and death. And just as around the tree woman was made mother of all the living (Gen 3:20), we see the new woman become mother of the beloved apostle (John 19:27).
Then John tells us that Jesus, “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). As Eve watched as Adam ate of the tree, bringing death to the whole world, now Mary watched as her beloved son died on the tree that he might bring life (1 Cor 15:21).
But before we get ahead of ourselves, we have one last stop.
The Woman in Revelation
As we wrap up our search, we find ourselves at the end. Literally. We end up in the book of Revelation. In the heavenly display, John sees an image of a woman clothed with the sun, standing upon the moon, with a crown of 12 stars (Rev 12:1). She is with child, and labors in anguish as she gives birth (v. 2). But another character enters the picture: a great dragon with seven heads, ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads (v. 3). (Not exactly the kind of guy you’d invite over for dinner, if you know what I mean.) The story continues:
Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God. (Rev 12:4-5).
Michael the Archangel and his angels fought and defeated the dragon and his angels. “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world” (Rev 12:9). Once on earth, the dragon pursued the woman, but when his attempts were thwarted, he “went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” (Rev 12:17).
Okay, there’s a lot to unpack here. But we should first recall God’s words to the serpent in the garden: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15).
With that in mind, who are the characters in Revelation 12? The text tells us who the dragon is: “ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world.” The woman’s child is Jesus, the “male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron,” (Rev 12:5). Then there is the woman. While the woman can represent the faithful of Israel who brought forth the Messiah, much more directly, she is Mary, the mother of Jesus.6 For Jesus is most directly the seed of Mary.
The enmity between the serpent and Eve was present between the new Eve and the dragon, as was foretold. But while the serpent had his way in the garden, it wasn’t so with the woman, Mary. Mary cooperated with God in bringing the Savior into the world. Unlike in the garden, the serpent ultimately loses. The new Adam crushed the serpent’s head as he gave up his life on the tree.
There is one more detail of note. Recall that Eve was given the title “mother of all living” (Gen 3:20), and Mary became the mother of the beloved apostle at the foot of the cross. Notice that the woman is the mother of a great multitude: those who follow Jesus. Eve was mother of all who possess natural life, but the new Eve is mother of all who possess the supernatural life in Christ.
As we searched for the new Eve in Scripture, we’ve traced through the garden of Eden, through the wedding at Cana, the Crucifixion, and the heavenly imagery in Revelation. And through all of these stages, we’ve seen the connection that Mary shares with Eve.
Not only is Mary the new Eve, but she is superior to the first Eve. She isn’t just the mother of all the living, but the mother of those who have supernatural life in Jesus. Though she lived in a world tainted by sin, she was there to see the new Adam defeat sin and death. And as is fitting for the fulfillment of Eve, she was born into and remained in a state of innocence. As St. Irenaeus put it, “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary.”7 And through his obedience the new Adam, Jesus Christ, defeated sin and death.
Some may chalk this up to an overactive imagination. But it’s my hope that some will see the biblical evidence for Mary as the new Eve, just as the Church has for centuries. The connections are subtle, yet they cannot be denied. And the implications are great.
Mary’s portrayal as the new Eve is only one of many reasons why the Catholic Church believes that Mary was sinless. There are many other reasons, and I hope to write about them in the future. But if nothing else, I hope that this might help us see one more reason why all generations will call her blessed (Luke 1:48).
1. Irenaeus, Against Heresies III, 22, 4.
2. Staples, Tim. Behold Your Mother: a Biblical and Historical Defense of the Marian
Doctrines. Catholic Answers Press, 2014, pp. 122.
3. Hahn, Scott W. Hail, Holy Queen: the Mother of God in the Word of God. Image Books,
2006, pp. 34.
4. In addition, the fact that Jesus obeyed his mother’s request is evidence that his reply
was not a rebuke. Had he rebuked his mother, he surely would not have obeyed
5. Hahn, Scott W. Hail, Holy Queen: the Mother of God in the Word of God. Image Books,
2006, pp. 38.
6. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, note on Revelation 12:1-6.
7. Irenaeus, Against Heresies III, 22, 4.