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Scott Thomas wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • How could the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist have had no personal sin at all if St. Paul says all have fallen short of the glory of God and that Jesus died once for all?

    See Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:10


  { How could the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist have had no personal sin when St. Paul said this? }

Eric replied:


First of all, while the sinlessness of Mary is dogmatic, the sinlessness of John the Baptist is a theological opinion or even perhaps a pious tradition.

To answer your question though, let's look at a few things.

First, let's consider language. If you and I are friends and I go to a party that you don't go to, and afterward you ask me:

Who was there? and I say, Everyone was there.

  • I obviously do not mean everyone in the world without exception.
  • I do not even mean everyone we know without exception.

What I mean is that in general a large number of people we know went. Likewise, Yogi Berra is credited (it may be apocryphal) with saying of a certain restaurant,

Nobody goes there anymore; it's too busy.

Obviously enough people were going to make it busy but what he meant was a large number of people have stopped going because it's too crowded.

Likewise, we can understand St. Paul to say that all in the sense of nearly everyone, not in the sense of absolutely everyone without exception, have sinned. We know that he doesn't mean absolutely everyone because we know that Jesus did not sin, and he would be included by the term all.

  • So if there is an implicit exception for Jesus, there could be an implicit exception for the Blessed Mother (and St. John the Baptist)?

Also, we know that children under the age of reason are incapable of sin and so are certain mentally retarded people. Therefore, there are a host of exceptions to this all.

That is not the only thing. When we read Scripture, we have to understand the context.

  • What point was St. Paul trying to make?
  • What did he say before and after the verse in question?

St. Paul is discussing Jews and the law at this point (Romans 2:17ff). Actually he's discussing Jews versus Gentiles and the law (see 2:9-15, 24, 26-27). A key verse in understanding this is verse 3:9b:

9b I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin.

His point is that all, meaning both Greeks and Jews, are under the power of sin, not just Greeks.

Following this, in verses 10-18, St. Paul quotes the Old Testament, in particular Psalm 14:1-3 (There is none who does good, no not one.) This verse is sometimes used to prove that no man is righteous or just but Paul would have understood this in context, and here is the full context:

The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.

The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.

Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge,
Who eat up my people as they eat bread,
And do not call on the Lord?
There they are in great fear,
For God is with the generation of the righteous.

Psalm 14:1-5

So first of all, God seems to be referring to fools who say in their heart, There is no God.

Note that he says that they are eat[ing] up my people as they eat bread and God is with the generation of the righteous, so there are righteous people — this psalm is contrasting the wicked with the righteous.

The point Paul is trying to make is not that every single person every created without exception is a wicked sinner; his point is that Jews are sinners as well as the Gentiles. The first part of the verse you quote says For there is no difference and then follows with for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . no difference meaning between Jew and Gentile, for "righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe" (verses 21-22).

Salvation is available to both Jews and Gentiles through faith in Jesus Christ.

As for your question about Jesus dying once for all, He did indeed die once for all; all who are saved, are saved through the Merits of His Death on the Cross (without exception)! but one can be saved from danger either:

  • by rescuing them from having fallen, or
  • by having prevented them falling in the first place.

For example:

  • If there is a tiger trap in the woods, and you fall into it, and I pull you out, I've saved you from it, but
  • if we are walking together and I detect the trap and stop you just as you are about to step on it, I've no less saved you than if you had fallen into it and I pulled you out.

So it is with Mary: She was saved by being prevented from contracting original sin by the Merits of Jesus Christ on the Cross solely through His Grace . . . not by any works of her own.

  • Does this answer your objection?


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