Light of my Life

My Pet Peeve: Out of Context “Proof Texts”

Posted on: July 1, 2007

I must be a glutton for punishment. Every so often after I’ve spent a good deal of time studying a particular topic of Catholic doctrine, I start thinking, “What do non-Catholics have to say about this? How do they refute this?” And so I do a Google search, such as “Mary sinless.” And just about every time, I end up regretting it, not because I find rock-solid arguments against the Church that I can’t refute, but just the opposite. I find the same old misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and misgivings. Most frustratingly, I find one-liner bible verses taken out of context to (supposedly) prove the error of Catholic doctrines.

For instance, I cannot count how many times I’ve seen Romans 3:10 and 3:23 cited to prove that Mary could not have been sinless. “It says right here that ‘no one is righteous, not one… ALL have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ – so there you have it! Every single person is a sinner, including Mary!” shouts the Protestant with satisfaction. (Don’t misunderstand me; I believe these Protestants are good-hearted, well-meaning people who only want to lead souls to Christ.) And the sad thing is that many an ill-informed Catholic murmurs, “Hmm… looks like you’re right. It sure does say that ‘ALL have sinned…’ I guess the Catholic church got that one wrong!”

First of all, take some time to think about this. Do these verses mean literally that every single person who has ever lived, sinned? How about a baby who lived for only a few days? How about a person who has the mental capacity of a small child? A sin is a deliberate act; you must choose to turn away from God in order to sin. Babies are not capable of such a thing. So clearly the verse does not mean that every human being ever created has sinned. Generally, we are all sinners, but there are exceptions.

Second, notice that Paul says “It is written.” Look in your footnotes and see that the scripture verse he is referring to is Psalm 14. In Psalm 14, David writes of two groups of people: God’s people, and a group of evildoers who have gone astray. Only in the latter group does it say that “no one is righteous, no, not one.” It does not say that there is no one righteous in all the world.

I am certainly not saying that we are capable of saving ourselves, by our own means. My point is simply that it is not fair to take these lines out of context, then try to use them as proof texts that Mary was in fact a sinner, when that isn’t even what Paul was talking about. Paul’s point in Romans 3 is that salvation is not guaranteed to the Jews simply because they are circumcised; rather, they are saved by grace through faith.

Not faith alone, mind you, but that’s another topic for another day.

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About Me


I'm Erin, a 32-year-old homeschooling mother of three, doing my best to raise my children in the Catholic faith... (more)

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