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

Thursday, February 05, 2004 

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.