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Mary 'Full of Grace'?

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Question #1: 

Hello--I hope you had a blessed Easter. I have a question. You know where Luke has Gabriel saying to Mary, "Greetings, highly favored one!"? Catholics prefer "full of grace." I checked our concordances and BibleWorks 4.0, and it means "to be full of favor; graced with favor." Well, this Roman Catholic guy wrote this to me. He says the verb means to be filled with all possible grace, so, if she has all the grace possible, then there is no more to be given to her, so ergo, she is sinless. I think that sounds mighty fishy. I don't see that meaning in any of our concordances. Could you look it up, please? Here is what he wrote:

"Yes, all Christians are full of Grace, but you are using Grace as a adjective- describing them. Second, Christians have not been Graced with all possible Grace both past present and future as the Greek literally means here. Third, the angel did not use Grace to describe Mary. He did not say "Hail Mary Full of Grace." Rather he called her by name "Hail Full of Grace." In other words her name was "Full of Grace" not "Mary full of Grace." This is the only time this is used this way in the entire Bible, it is not used this way in Acts, as Stephen is described as "Stephen Full of Grace." not "Full of Grace" This is what Scripture Scholars call a Hapax Lagamonon in Luke. Highly favored one is a valid but a poor translation. Talk to a Greek Scholar and see what they say about my own translation of it. The reason Bible Scholars both Catholic and Protestants translate the way they do is so the translation is flowing. Highly favored one is more flowing then "Having been Graced with all Possible Grace both past present and future." Would you not agree? If my translation is accurate, or valid, then if one is Graced with all possible Grace not only now, but in the past, and in the future, that is there is no more Grace they can possible have, what does that imply? All possible Grace in the past? It means from conception, which means Mary was saved before ever falling in to sin."

What do you think, Doctor Luginbill? Thanks for any help you can give me, on Luke 1:28. I told him I haven't seen such a "stretch" since I had taken exercises classes! I wanted to tell him I had already been to the deli and therefore, didn't need his "baloney", about the part that her name is "Hail full of grace." And I've never heard of that Hapax thing. Because the Angel didn't say "Hail Mary" but "Hail, full of grace", it means her name is Full of Grace"????

Oh, here is something someone else wrote about the Greek tense of that word:

"Yes, it is in Keritomene...."full of grace"; you want to take grace in the subjective sense as merely being favor, whereas the catholic calls grace something objective. but lets just stick to your definition...it still works; because not only is it "Highly favored one" but the Greek Keritomene is in the perfect passive...meaning that at each and every moment she was favored by God. There never was a time that she was not highly favored of God...therefore she could never have sinned because this would have caused her to no longer be in God's favor. And only in view of Jesus' suffering and death could this come about..so you can't dispense with it...it is the cause of this grace. And in case you want to claim that Stephen also was full of grace in Acts 7 notice that this is not in the perfect passive tense...therefore Stephen was not highly favored at each and every moment of his life, but only at that moment in which God is declaring this. The Greek tense leaves little to no room for question."

Is this true, Doctor? Thanks.

Response #1:  Nonsense like this "bugs" me too!  Let me begin by pointing out that Mary too was a bit confused by this greeting, wondering "what kind of greeting this might be" (Lk.1:29 NIV).  The angel Gabriel himself responds with the explanation:  "But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor (charis-grace) with God'" (Lk.1:30).  The word italicized here, favor or "grace", is the root word of the verbal form in question.  That is to say, kecharitomene is "grace", charis, made into a verb (to be specific, a verbal participle).  Thus we have from God's messenger himself an answer to this question, if we are but ready to receive it, namely, Mary is called by this epithet because she had "garnered grace" in God's eyes through her exemplary spiritual life (cf. the similar praise given to her cousins, Zechariah and Elizabeth earlier in the chapter:  Lk.1:6).  And that, after all, is the literal meaning of kecharitomene, namely, "having been graced".  Further, because Mary had "found" this favor/grace/charis at some point in the past, by definition she was not born with it.  This favor came about from something she did, namely, believing in the Lord and walking in a way pleasing to Him through spiritual growth and service.  This explanation from Gabriel proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that his appellation in question here does not imply sinlessness, but rather demonstrates Mary's spiritual prominence, divine favor of the sort available to all believers but, sadly, appropriated by few.

It really irritates me when people who are used to dealing with others who don't have degrees in Greek use their insufficient knowledge as a sort of sledge hammer to "settle" all arguments. Based on the above, a simple answer to give your respondent would be: "hogwash!", but I suppose we should go into the details:

1) Transliterated the actual form of the word in question would be kecharitomene, but anyone dealing with Greek would describe it as what it is, a participle of the verb charitoo.

2) Of all Indo-European languages of which I am aware, Greek is the most root-focused. The import of that fact here is that this verb is based on a root meaning "favor" (cf. Greek charis); that is what is at the core of charitoo's meaning, and that is the key to discovering what this particular form of the verb means or might mean in turn. To put the matter in terms of its essential accidence, charitoo is merely a factitive verb, that is, it's what someone does when they want to take a noun and turn it into a transitive/causative verb. Therefore, by its structure and root the verb ought to mean "to give or bestow favor-grace to or on someone". In the case of a perfect participle in passive voice (such as we have here), the form would then mean "someone who has had favor-grace given/bestowed to/on them (i.e., from some source)".

3) To call this word a "hapax" in an attempt to bestow some sort of uniqueness on it is disingenuous. Not only does this verb occur throughout Greek literature - it also occurs elsewhere in the Bible at Ephesians 1:6:

Having foreordained us for adoption to Himself through Jesus Christ according to the good pleasure of His will, for the purpose of producing (at salvation) praise for the glory of His grace which He has graciously bestowed on us in the Beloved [One].
Ephesians 1:5-6

Another way to put the italicized phrase is "the favor-grace with which He has favored-graced us"; in the Greek its charin hes echaritosen. In other words, the verb in question from Luke 1:28 has as its first or internal object "favor/grace" and as its second or true direct object "us". We get / have gotten favor/grace from God in Jesus Christ. We know that here because the verse says so explicitly, but that is not any kind of surprise for anyone who understands that grace is favor, and specifically and importantly in the Bible it is God's favor, His beneficence, good will, grace, kindliness, etc. directed our way because of our relationship with His Son. We are all said to have this grace in Ephesians 1:6 expressed by exactly the same verb as is used in Luke 1:28. That doesn't mean, of course, that we never sin!

4) The voice is surely not significant here in terms of changing the essential meaning of the verb (it merely views the action from the recipient's point of view instead of the donor's as is the case in the Ephesians passage above). As your correspondent doesn't make any claim based on the voice in any case, I will pass on immediately to the tense of the participle. The perfect tense is the rarest of the four tense stems in Greek – outside of biblical literature. The reason is simple enough. The Greeks are very big on duality, and in the aorist and present stems they are able to express either continuous "Aktionsart" (as the Germans would say) with the present stem (i.e., "it is happen-ing"), or with the aorist stem a punctiliar idea of timelessness (i.e., "it happen-s"). This is true whether or not one wishes to apply such timeless "happening" to a small or to an infinite amount of time. I like to describe this phenomenon to my classes as the difference between a straight line with an arrow indicating motion (present), and an "x" which marks an unmoving spot (aorist) – they never seem to get it without much pain, however, so don't despair if all this seems a tad confusing. Essentially, "aspect" is of little true effect in Greek usage. There are very few instances when the difference between these stems means very much except as it has a temporal application. Generally speaking, authors will use an aorist versus a present infinitive, e.g., more because they like the way it sounds in context than for any other apparent reason. But the fact is that they were able to make all the distinction they wanted or needed to make with these two. The perfect stem forms, as can be plainly seen from kecharitomene, tend to be long and cumbersome, and so from the same stylistic concerns (coupled with the dislike of the idea of perfect – the Greeks are much more likely to say something "happened" when we would say it "has happened"), the perfect is used much less frequently – in non-biblical Greek. In all biblically derived Greek, however, one cannot discount the enormous influence of Hebrew, and it is often the case in scripture that the tenses – especially where the perfect is used – reflect the fact that Hebrew has an imperfect and a perfect to deal with past tense ideas, and that is all. For this reason it should not be surprising that faced with a choice translators and writers under Hebrew influence would often gravitate to the use of the perfective forms in Greek when they have in mind a perfective exemplar in Hebrew (not unlike the similar influence that Latin begins to wield later on some non-biblical Greek). These facts taken together have the decided effect of greatly diminishing the significance of the occurrence of a perfect form in biblical Greek (as in our case).

5) The idea that one can read into this word meaning "object of grace/favor" any degree of sinlessness or perfection on the basis of a "perfect" verb form indicates a complete misunderstanding of what "perfect" means in grammatical terms. In verbs, it only means "completed action" – not sinlessness! To go back to the discussion in point 4 above, if the present is a line with an arrow and the aorist is an "x", then the perfect would be a line with an "x" at the end, that is, action begun in the past and now complete. The action doesn't have to have begun in eternity nor does the completion of the action impart perfection of any sort on the object. In our case all it would mean is that Mary had received favor from God in the past and was still in His good-graces. In short, this is just a verb form, not a miracle or the representation of one. If the perfect tense could do all the author claims, then every time it says anything about "knowing" in scripture (for oida is perfective in all of its forms), it would mean "knowing with a perfect knowledge that was conceived in eternity past": such a convention of translation would lead only to utter nonsense (cf. Acts 16:3).

6) Finally as to the translation "full of grace", while there is nothing to recommend the "full of" here, it's not really the translation that's the problem but rather what R.C. theology attempts to do with it (and would no doubt attempt to do with any reasonable translation), namely, to make Mary sinless or special in some super-human way based upon this appellation. Mary was special indeed, a true believer in a time of wide-spread apostasy, and obviously an exceptionally good one too, with whom the Lord was well-pleased indeed. But there is no indication that she was perfect, nor was there any need for her to be, for the only way to avoid the reception of a sin nature is to be virgin born as the sin nature is passed down through the male side (see Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology, section I.2, "The Sin Nature"). It was the fact that Jesus was born without human male participation that produces a body free from sin, not any supposed sinlessness on Mary's part.

Also in Luke, Luke 2:52 to be precise, we are told that "Jesus continued to grow in wisdom, and in stature, and in grace with God and men". If grace or favor is progressive in the case of our unquestionably perfect Lord, how could it be that in Mary's case she was "perfectly filled with grace from eternity"? Clearly, even our Lord in His capacity as a true human being was required to grow spiritually, showing that even in the case of someone who did not in fact possess a sin nature or ever sin, still, grace or favor received from God remains a relative thing and is still dependent upon one's actions rather than being some sort of "magic" one just has. Long story short, this idea about Mary being perfect coming from Luke 1:28 is ridiculous on the face of it. Even the preferred R.C. translation doesn't say or imply that – unless, as I say, we imagine grace as "magic" and give "full of" the idea of absolute perfection and eternal residency, neither of which is either biblical or theologically reasonable to anyone who is consulting scripture and thinking for themselves.

In our truly perfect Lord in whom we have been given grace abundantly, our dear Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Dear Dr. Luginbill--Sorry to bother you, but I have one further question about the following:

"3) To call this word a "hapax" in an attempt to bestow some sort of uniqueness on it is disingenuous. Not only does this verb occur throughout Greek literature - it also occurs in the Bible at Ephesians 1:6:"

Is this the same verb and verb form that is in the Luke verse, where Gabriel tells Mary that she is highly favored, or "graced with favor"? This Roman Catholic guy says the Greek expert he consulted says the "hapax" thing is in the verb form in Luke, which is what makes it unique and mean what he says it means--that Mary was graced with all possible favor, from the beginning to end.

This guy told me that the "hapax" thing is in the verb form in Luke, and it is unique in the Bible. You said it not only was in Greek literature, but also in the Bible. So, is the one you found, in Ephesians, in the same verb form as in the Ephesians verse you cited? I just wanted to be clear on that. And, could it possibly mean what this guy says it means--being graced with all possible grace, not only now, but in the past and in the future?

And is "highly favored one" a poor translation, as he has stated? I don't think this guy thought that a "perfect" tense meant that Mary was perfect.

Thanks for your help. God bless.

Response #2: 

The phrase "hapax legomenon" is applied to the unique occurrence of a word in a corpus. It is not applied to the every specific form a word may take. In Greek, any given verb can potentially have hundreds of different forms (depending upon how one counts these). Therefore in any highly inflected language – like Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and virtually all of the ancient languages – trying to carry this concept which rightly belongs to core words over to individual forms is ludicrous. The word charitoo is not a true "hapax" in the Bible because it occurs more than 'once' (which is what hapax means), and because of the wide variety of forms any verb or substantive in Greek can manifest it makes no sense to apply this term to an individual form of a word and call it a "hapax" (or, alternatively, one can say such a thing, it's just that saying such a thing is meaningless). The point behind identifying a word as a hapax legomenon" (i.e., "mentioned/said only once [in the corpus]") is generally that one has very little information about what the word might mean precisely because it only occurs "once". If a word is a "hapax" only in a particular author or specialized corpus but appears elsewhere in the language, then the value of this "uniqueness" is greatly reduced. When one has multiple contexts to judge from, one is not in the same position as in the case of a true "hapax" where there is indeed only one single context on which to base one's decision about what a word might mean. As the matter at hand actually stands, moreover, in the case of charitoo, we have an abundance of riches: 1) it occurs elsewhere in the NT; 2) it occurs widely in the literature elsewhere; 3) it is a simple verbal formation on a very well attested noun – so much so as to make its essential meaning so crystal clear that even if this verb only occurred here in all of Greek literature there would still not be any serious doubt as to its meaning. Your correspondent does not really quibble with the essential meaning of the verb as reflected in every dictionary and every version, namely, "to bestow grace/favor upon". Where you correspondent falls down – and where he over-reaches the Greek scholars he is consulting – is in his attempt to take a simple verb form and make it bear a meaning it cannot bear. You mention that this fellow "really didn't mean that the Greek perfect form here meant that Mary was "perfect", but that is the essence of his argument. His translation is "Having been Graced with all Possible Grace both past present and future." Further he says that the "past" part means that "Mary was saved before ever falling in to sin". Clearly, this person's argument is entirely dependent upon making the perfect tense "magical" in the sense of infusing 'perfection,' even if he is trying to couch this lunacy in grammatical-sounding expressions:

1) "all possible grace" - there is nothing in the root of the verb to introduce the idea of "all possible", and the perfect tense most assuredly does not lend to the base meaning of a verb the idea of perfection implied in the words "all possible".

2) "past present and future" - the perfect tense doesn't say anything about the future; it expresses a present result based upon past action, that is all; the past action does not have to begin at 'the earliest possible time', just prior to the point in question, and, indeed, there is nothing in the verb form to indicate the time of commencement (just as in English, "I have been studying Greek" could mean a week or a decade – but certainly doesn't necessitate one to understand "from conception");

3) "The reason Bible Scholars both Catholic and Protestants translate the way they do is so the translation is flowing" – there is quite a difference between "highly favored" and "Having been Graced with all Possible Grace both past present and future." No version, no dictionary, no serious scholar would ever dream of even interpreting kecharitomene in this way, let alone translating it that way. To do so would be to place one's only speculation in place of what the Greek actually says.

The angel Gabriel makes it quite clear in context what he meant: "Don't fear, Mary! You have found grace in God's eyes." If she "found it", that means she didn't have it by virtue of merely being born. Mary "found it" by seeking the Lord as we all must. Beyond all argument, Mary was a great believer, but scripture "silences every mouth" on the score of perfection: we are all sinners (Rom.3:19; cf. Rom.3:9; 3:23). Besides, if Mary were going to avoid the universal sinful nature, she would have had to have been born of perfect parents (and they would have had to have been born of perfect parents; etc., etc.) – or she also would have had to have had a "unique birth". In fact, it is only Jesus whose birth is unique; He is the only One who by means of a virgin birth avoided the transmission of a sin nature, not Mary. The doctrinal problem with your correspondent's argument is that it places undue and untrue emphasis on Mary, who and what she was and what she did or did not do. And in my thinking, it really diminishes her rather than paying her a compliment. She did not receive the honor she received merely as a birthright – she earned it by diligent spiritual growth, the same as we are all called to do. Even though she was a human being with the same sin nature we possess, yet she "grew in grace" to such an impressive degree that she was chosen to be the mother of our Lord's humanity. I can't imagine a greater compliment.

To sum up, "full of grace" and "highly favored" are problematic translations, but to the opposite of the way your correspondent takes kecharitomene. Rather they are misleading because there is in truth no sense of "fullness" or of the intensity expressed in the adverb "highly" actually present in the form of the participle Gabriel uses. Any idea of intensity in the context comes not from the verb form but rather from that fact that Mary – of all the women in the world – is being visited by the archangel Gabriel and told she is about to become the mother of the Son of Man! Literally, the form in question means "having been graced/favored", or "one upon whom grace/favor has been bestowed" – everything else is interpretation, or translation accommodation, or, as in the case of your correspondent, speculation (gone wildly awry in this instance).

In our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Do you know of anything in the NT that would qualify as a hapax legomenon? All I can think of is "only-begotten" but Hebrews uses that of Isaac, so maybe that wouldn't be one, either. Just something to show you how desperate this guy is: About sola scriptura, I pointed out 1 Tim., where Paul tells him that "all Scripture is God-breathed..." etc.? To show that it is Scripture--not man-made traditions--that make the man of God complete. He shot back that this verse is very difficult to translate into English, that no one is sure exactly what it means and one scholar refuses to translate it!!! Have you ever heard of this? I asked a minister who knows Greek if it were a particularly difficult passage in Greek, and he looked at it in Greek and said, no way, that it was really pretty simple Greek and not difficult to translate. Can you beat that? And this guy provided no documentation, either. Such desperation!

I also pointed out that the Bible warns against adding to the word of God--twice in the OT (once in the Pentateuch someplace, forget where, and once in Proverbs) and also in Revelation. And how Paul told the Corinthians "not to go beyond what is written." This guy sputtered that Paul was going beyond what was written, when he wrote to his parishioners, not just using the OT. I said, "But Paul WAS writing to his parishioners and he was well aware that what he was WRITING came from God and he made distinctions from when what he wrote was from him or from God. And he WAS actually WRITING, so how could he go beyond what was written?"

Response #3:  I'm with your minister – nothing out of the ordinary about that verse – although theopneustos "God-breathed" is in fact a "hapax" in the NT. It's not a "hapax" in Greek, however, as Plutarch uses it, for example (et al.). Also, it would be a very easy word to translate even if this were the only occurrence in the entire Greek language since it is composed of two very common roots. That shows up the difference between the OT and NT as concerns the issue of the "hapax"; in the NT it's never (or almost never) an issue worthy of much comment because Greek is so well attested. But in the OT, well, virtually all the ancient Hebrew we have is from the Bible. It's true that there are a very small handful of inscriptions, and also that there is a corpus of Hebrew in the Mishna, but the former is so paltry as to have little impact and the latter is, well, later Hebrew, and based on the Bible at that. In the OT there are large number of "hapax legomena" and many more cases of words or word roots that occur only twice or just a few times wherein there are serious questions as to the precise meaning. It is in such cases that one has to be very concerned about context, roots, ancient translations, parallels in other languages, etc. in order to get a handle on what a word might mean in the first place. This is not the case in the NT at all, which is why this fellow's argument raised such a red flag.

In our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #4:

Hi Dr. Luginbill--Once again, I have a question for you about "full of grace". You pointed out that Eph. 1:6 uses the same verb and it doesn't mean "full of grace" there, and therefore, "sinless". A Catholic correspondent has found this by some scholar or other; what do you think of his argument?

"The reason why the verb in Ephesians 1:6 does not imply sinless perfection, whereas the form of the same verb in Luke 1:28 does so imply, is this: The two verb forms use different stems. Every Greek verb has up to nine distinct stems, each expressing a different modality of the verb's lexical meanings (H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968), 108-109.) Ephesians 1:6 has the first aorist active indicative form, echaritosen, "he graced, bestowed grace." This form, based on an aorist stem, expresses momentary action  (Blass and DeBrunner, Greek Grammar of the New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 166. ) action simply brought to pass (Smyth, sec. 1852:c:1.) It cannot express or imply any fullness of bestowing because "the aorist tense . . . does not show . . . completion with permanent result."(Ibid., sec. 1852:c, note.)

What do you think of this argument?

Response #4: 

This argument is silly. Tense stems in Greek (and there are really only three which matter in such things: aorist, perfect, present) reflect 'aspect', which is something we have in English too (i.e., 'I go' = simple point action akin to the Greek aorist stem, vs. 'I am going' = repetitive action akin to the Greek present stem). These are not "magic", and investing them with layers of meaning invisible to the human eye and untranslatable into English is always a huge mistake (or a deliberate attempt to deceive). The Greek perfect has a meaning very similar to the English perfect, while the Greek aorist is very similar in meaning to the English past. By very similar I mean "essentially indistinguishable in the indicative mood". The only reason this issue of aspect even comes up is because Greek uses the different tense stems in places where we are no longer able to do so in English (i.e., while English users are generally unaware they even use a subjunctive, in Greek we can choose between present and aorist subjunctives in all contingent subordinate clause situations). This person's argument seems to rest entirely upon his quotation of Smyth. However, he misquotes Smyth by leaving out a critical part of the statement. What Smyth actually says in the context quoted (and I leave out the exempla with many Greek characters) is: "The aorist tense . . . is so named because it does not show the limitation . . . of continuance (expressed by the imperfect) or of completion of result (expressed by the perfect)." The notion that the aorist cannot express either or both of the preceding ideas is nonsense and clearly not at all what Smyth is saying. Rather, he is saying what all Greek readers understand, namely, that the aorist is the most flexible of the tense stems because it is not "limited" to a particular time-idea (as the perfect is). Indeed, Smyth later goes into great detail about all of the possible applications of the aorist, many of which completely contradict the misquoted statement as self-servingly queued up by your correspondent (cf. e.g., para. 1923-1944). In Ephesians, God "graced us" in the past (simple fact); in Luke, Mary "has been graced" (present state); the former focuses upon the fact of God's action, without in any way suggesting that it no longer applies!, while the latter focuses upon the present state, without in any way suggesting any the suggested extraneous ideas (and certainly not sinless perfection which is nowhere to be found in the text)!

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #5:

I have another person is trying to make a case that the verb and title used of Mary by Gabriel somehow "proves" Mary was free from the stain of sin. I think it's ridiculous. I shared what you said and he thinks he refutes it. He says, for instance, that no one in all of scripture is addressed as Mary was. I think you pointed out that Laban called Eliezer "blessed of the Lord", "baruch Adonai," which is similar to what Gabriel called Mary. Anyway, could you look at his "refutation" and tell me what you think? Thanks,

So, let's start. He says that the word is not unique to Scripture, even though it never appears in this form, because the root word appears in Ephesians 1:5-6 and "Greek is the most root-focused [of "all Indo-European languages" that Dr. Luginbill knows of]. He is right that the word appears in Ephesians 1:5-6, and it is in a different form (echaritosen vs. kecharitomene, but note that both keep the root charitoo). And it also appears in the Greek Septuagint translation of Sirach 18:17, but no Protestant probably cares about that because they don't accept Sirach as inspired. (For Catholic reference, the verse says, "Indeed, does not a word surpass a good gift? Both are to be found in a gracious man.") Anyway, I want to point out that Ephesians 1:5-6, in slightly greater context, mentions that God bestows His grace on us so that "we should be holy and blameless before him" (verse 4). This conflicts with Dr. Luginbill's sentiment that the bestowal of grace "doesn't mean, of course, that we never sin!", because Ephesians shows us that the intent of grace, even if not the immediate effect, is that we be blameless, which of course implies sinlessness. (The Greek word is amomos, which is the Greek root of the English word "immaculate" through the Latin equivalent inmaculata.) He failed to note that it is in the intensified form in Luke, and not so in Ephesians. This intensified form (as well as the perfect form, but we'll get to that in a moment) indicates grammatically that the intent of this grace should have been met; i.e. Mary should have been "holy and blameless before" God in Luke 1:28.To summarize that paragraph, the usage of charitoo in Ephesians 1:3-6 does not need to imply that we are all sinless because it is not in the intensified form. But in Luke 1:28, when applied to Mary, we find that it IS in the intensified form. So the syllogism fails there.

Dr. Luginbill said (paragraph 4) that the influence of Hebrew "has the decided effect of greatly diminishing the significance of the occurrence of a perfect form in biblical Greek", including Luke 1:28. In other words, Luke was not trying to indicate "conditional perfection in grace" though his grammatical choice of the perfect tense, but was only using flowery language he got from his Hebrew roots. I think this fails to take into account that Luke drew special attention to the Angel's salutation (see Luke 1:29), as if he wanted us to look into its meaning. This kind of special attention precludes any type of unintentional meaning on his part. He meant what he said through the word, because he wanted us to pay special attention it. He wasn't just using flowery language.

"The idea that one can read into this word 'object of grace/favor' sinless perfection or perfection of any sort on the basis of a 'perfect' verb form indicates a complete misunderstanding of what "perfect" means in grammatical terms. In verbs, it only means 'completed action'."

Dr. Luginbill misjudges our view of what the perfect form implies. If an engineer told you that your building "has been built", he could not mean that it was only partially built. When the angel said Mary was "having been favored/graced", he likewise could not have meant that she was only partially favored. As Dr. Luginbill says, it indicates "completed action", meaning the favor/grace must be complete. Dr. Luginbill apparently thinks we are trying to argue that the perfect tense indicates the degree of the favor/grace. But that is false: we argue it indicates the extent of the favor/grace, that is, total favor. When we argue from the degree of the favor, we would appeal to the fact that the verb is intensified, which is a subject he didn't bring up at all.

"in Luke, Luke 2:52 to be precise, we are told that 'Jesus continued to grow in wisdom, and in stature, and in grace with God and men'. If grace or favor is progressive in the case of our unquestionably perfect Lord, how is it that in Mary's case it is 'perfect from eternity'?"

I don't know what his actual questioner was claiming, but I have not seen a Catholic who claimed that Luke 1:28 requires that Mary's condition was "perfect from eternity", especially not simply on the grammar of her title. But I would also not limit the perspective to the grammar. If we look at it philologically, we know that titles from God indicate something about a person's inner nature, the thing we have all our lives, from conception to death. It is used that way throughout Scripture (see my OP for examples). This title from Mary thus indicates that she is graceful by nature, in other words, graceful from conception onwards. Dr. Luginbill's argument is fine if we are limited to grammar, but I don't think Catholics would ever limit Scriptural exegesis to grammatical structure alone. This may not be completely pertinent, but many people speculate that Jesus could grow in holiness and grace without becoming "more graceful" (because, how could God grow more holy/graceful anyway?). They give an example of a cup that is filled with liquid, like Jesus was filled with grace (John 1:14). If the cup gets bigger, you can put more liquid in it, and it would be correct to say that it was "full" on both occasions, even when it contained less liquid. Jesus too, could have matured (spiritually speaking) and thus have more "room" for holiness. He still would have been "full of grace" at all times, even though as He got older He would have more grace.

"Long story short, this idea about Mary being perfect coming from Luke 1:28 is ridiculous on the face of it."

If this defense was adequate, then his conclusion was just wrong, but it was still scholarly. She is rightly called sinless from exegesis of Luke 1:28.

Response #5: 

I'd be happy to respond.

Paragraph 1:  charitoo is not an "intensified form". When a root is turned into a verb using the omicron contract suffix, it makes the root factitive (i.e., to "make/cause" the idea in the root), not "intensive"; e.g., a mastinx in Greek is a "whip"; mastigoo means "to whip". Hence, since charis means "favor", charitoo means "to bestow favor". In the passive voice as we have in Luke 1:28, it means "having been the recipient of favored bestowed"; as this is an infelicitous phrase in English, the various versions both ancient and modern have attempted smooth out the expression in various ways but, sadly, have often contributed to the misunderstanding of the passage. What this participle means is that Mary "has been the recipient of divine favor". Now it is beyond question a wonderful compliment to be addressed as someone characterized by God's grace/favor, but 1) the passive voice and perfect tense make clear that this is a gift coming from God, not some inherent quality for which she is being recognized; and 2) doesn't have anything to do with sin whatsoever, either the presence or the lack of it – that concept is just not present at all as anyone with a dictionary can easily determine.

Paragraph 2:  Note first that there is no response to the important argument about the influence of Hebrew on biblical Greek, but rather an appeal to ignore it because the salutation calls "special attention" to Mary. Clearly, the one has nothing to do with the other. It should also go without saying that there is a wide gulf between calling special attention to someone and pronouncing them immaculate! At Judges 6:12, Gideon is addressed in a likewise striking and special way by someone outranking Gabriel, namely, the angel of the Lord (the pre-incarnate Christ), and we can/should take notice of that too (and significantly in both cases the additional phrase "The Lord is with you" is used). But of course while we can take from such a development that Gideon was a spiritually special person, someone who walked closely with the Lord, we certainly don't want to read into the salutation "Mighty man" something that is not there. The same is true in Mary's case.

Paragraph 3:  As noted, there is no "intensification" here inherent in the form we have in the text, merely a perfect passive participle of a factitive verb. As I have repeatedly pointed out, trying to draw evidence of a sinless nature from this verb form is to place a massive burden solely on the perfect tense which it is will not even begin to support – there are hundreds upon hundreds of perfect tense forms in the NT alone, and none of them does anything similar to what correspondent is claiming for this one. To use correspondent's specious analogy, saying a building "has been built" does not mean that the building is "perfect and free from fault in any way" (the structural equivalent of being immaculate) – not to mention the fact that a building is a unit of which we have a certain expectation of completeness which is not true of most other things so that any idea of completeness comes from your correspondent's clever choice of vocabulary and not from the verb form. If I "have been loved" by someone, for example, that in no way would even suggest to any rational person that I had been the recipient of "perfect love". Likewise, the Greek perfect merely indicates a present state: "You, Mary, who are the current beneficiary of God's grace". This is a wonderful thing, but does not make Mary singularly unique (and certainly not sinlessly perfect).

Paragraph 4:  I find it interesting that correspondent says "I don't think Catholics would ever limit Scriptural exegesis to grammatical structure alone", because in his application what this seems to mean is "grammar is fine as long as it support what I believe, but when it does not, I don't wish to be limited by it". Clearly, finding the truth from scripture requires a full, balanced, prepared and professional approach. Correspondent certainly has a point that titles from God are significant, and I would agree that calling Mary "recipient of grace" calls attention to her prior walk with God and also to the gracious gift she was about to receive. Where I would say, however, that the "exegesis" morphs into bizarre theosophy is at the point where correspondent and his compatriots jump many logical steps and divorce themselves from scripture altogether in order support their group's false doctrine. There is and remains not the slightest indication from word kecharitomene of any trace of sinlessness, at least not in text of Luke 1:28. That issue is simply not to be found anywhere in the context, the word, the root, the tense, the voice or the form of the verb in question – or anywhere else in the Bible.

You might also have a look at the following links:

Mary, Joseph, and Nazareth.

The Meaning of "Only-Begotten".

The Events Surrounding the Birth of Christ.

Why did Jesus choose John over James to take care of His mother Mary?

Jesus' instructions to John about His mother Mary

Mary "highly favored"


In Jesus,

Bob L.

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