For All Have Sinned
A Refutation of the Attack on the Immaculate Conception of Mary from Romans 3:23
(Based on a talk by Karlo Broussard on Catholic Answers Live on 2/11/08)
Many people reject the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and argue that Mary was not born sinless and that she did not remain sinless all of her life. In support of their position, they often quote a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans which declares, **“**for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
However, does this passage really prove that Mary could not have been without sin? And is this really what Paul intended to teach in this passage? Let’s take a closer look.
The primary question to be asked concerning Romans 3:23 is this: When the Bible uses the word “all”, does it necessarily exclude exceptions? The answer is “no” as several scripture passages suggest. For example, Matthew 3:5 tells us, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan.” Does this mean that there were no places from which people did not go out to see Jesus? This is not likely. The author attempted to convey an idea that a large number of people went out to see Jesus by using hyperbole. Similarly, 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Does this mean that every single person ever born will die? Well, the Bible tells us that Enoch and Elijah were taken up into heaven without dying, so we know that obviously not all die because these two exceptions exist. From this, we know that the Bible does not necessarily exclude exceptions when it uses the word, “all”.
Returning to Romans 3:23, we should ask further whether Paul intended to exclude exceptions when he used the word, “all”, or is he using it in a non-absolute way? To understand the context of Paul’s thought, we should look at Romans 3:10-12 wherein he quotes Psalm 14:2-3: **“**As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Does Paul really believe that there no righteous people? Of course not! The Bible tells us that Joseph was a just man (Mt 1:19), John the Baptist’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were declared righteous (Luke 1:19), and Psalm 14 goes on to speak of “the company of the righteous” in verse 5 while Psalm 15 references those who walk blamelessly and do what is right. So, if Paul is using the word “all” to mean “absolutely no exceptions”, then he is using the word very differently from the verses he quoted from Psalm 14 and from other passages of scripture.
Finally, it is also reasonable for us to assume that Paul would agree that infants and those who are mentally deficient cannot sin personally—two additional exceptions to the concept of “all” having sinned.
Therefore, when Paul uses the word, “all”, it is obvious that he is not attempting to declare that every single individual who ever lives will be guilty of committing personal sin; rather, he is attempting to communicate with clarity the universality of sin and the idea that both Jews and Gentiles alike are sinners before God. He is not attempting to exclude the possibility of exceptions.
Thus, the word “all” in Romans 3:23 cannot be used to disprove the doctrine of sinlessness of Mary.
Hope this helps. :tiphat: