Protestants pay a lot of attention to Jesus' mother at Christmas but she is largely forgotten the rest of the year. How has the church historically viewed her? And has that changed?
Christianity Today assistant online editor Todd Hertz sat down with CT executive editors and theologians J.I. Packer and Tom Oden to discuss the role of Mary throughout history and why she remains important to all Christians today.
J.I. Packer is Board of Governors' Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia. Tom Oden is Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey and general editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.
What were early church impressions of Mary?
Oden: It is very speculative, but my own view is that the mother of Jesus was quite important to the earliest church—the church during the writing of the gospel of Luke. It was probably written in Ephesus during the middle part of the first century, and there is a very good chance that Mary was living there at that time.
Now if you take that as a premise, which is uncertain historically, you then have a very important figure in the whole world church who is still alive. She has stored these memories in her heart. She is highly revered. After she died, [the church] was facing much persecution, and there was a great emphasis on the memory of holy lives. She was certainly at the center of that.
From the outset she was remembered as a virgin in whom the Holy Spirit conceived the incarnate Lord. In my view, the incarnation was an early recognition of the church. There's good textual evidence [to support that] in the earliest documents we have. Luke supported this view, as did other documents such as Paul's ...1