Does the Bible contradict the dogma of the Assumption of Mary? At first, the answer may seem obvious. Scripture doesn’t explicitly say anything about what happened to Mary at the end of her life, so it is tough to see how the Bible even could contradict it.
Nevertheless, there is in fact a biblical argument that non-Catholics often make against this dogma, and it is actually quite strong. It is not based on an obvious misinterpretation of Scripture or a misunderstanding of what we Catholics really believe. No, this is a real challenge, and we have to know how to answer it if we want to be able to explain and defend our faith.
The Anti-Assumption Argument
Like I said, Scripture doesn’t explicitly say anything about what happened to Mary when her life was over, but it does say something that seems to imply that she could not have been assumed into heaven:
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23)
In this passage, St. Paul seems to clearly rule out the possibility of Mary being assumed into heaven with a risen body just like Jesus’ (and just like we too will have when he comes again). He says that Jesus was raised first, and then everybody else will follow at his second coming, and he doesn’t leave any room for exceptions. Case closed.
We’ve All Sinned
That sounds pretty convincing, right? Like I said, this is a challenging argument, but it is not airtight. To see why, let’s begin by looking at something else Paul says in another one of his letters:
“[A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
Like Paul’s teaching about the resurrection, this one also seems absolute. He says that everybody has sinned, and he does not leave any room for exceptions. However, we know that there actually are some. For example, very young children and the severely intellectually disabled aren’t able to sin (because they are not intellectually mature enough to even understand the concepts of right and wrong), so it is not true that literally every single person in the world has sinned. And Paul knew this. Take a look at something he says later in that same letter:
“And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children…though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad…she was told, ‘The elder will serve the younger.’” (Romans 9:10-12)
The key part here is that before Rebecca’s children were born, they “had done nothing either good or bad.” In other words, while they were still in the womb, they were exceptions to St. Paul’s teaching that “all have sinned.” Now, you could argue that they sinned later on, and that is true. However, not every unborn child grows and develops to the point where they are capable of committing a sin, and Paul knew that. He certainly knew that pregnant women sometimes miscarry, so he must have known that there were exceptions to his teaching about the universality of sin.
Nevertheless, he still stated the principle in a rigid, seemingly absolute manner. And why did he do that? It is because he was not writing a doctoral dissertation on the exact limits of the pervasiveness of human sinfulness. He was not writing with the precision of a scholar or a philosopher. Rather, he was writing to common people as a common person himself, and when common people talk, they don’t always mention exceptions to general rules.
For example, if I am teaching someone how to drive and I say that it is illegal to drive through a red light, I do not normally have to explain that it is okay to do so in a life-or-death situation. The rule is true enough for my purposes, so I do not have to explain every possible exception to it. I do not expect my student to have too many life or death situations, and I can reasonably expect him to know that such a scenario would in fact be an exception to the general rule.
Similarly, when St. Paul wrote to the Romans that “all have sinned,” he didn’t need to explain that there were actually a few exceptions. For his purposes, the rule was true enough, and the exceptions didn’t matter to the point he was making (in context, his point was that both Jews and Gentiles need Jesus to save them).
And in case there is any doubt, let’s look at another similar case:
“And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)
Again, this verse doesn’t even hint that there might be exceptions, but we know from reading the Gospels that there are. Jesus raised the dead several times (for example, the story of Lazarus in John 11:1-44), so there are in fact some people who have died twice. Again, the author of Hebrews states his point in such absolute terms because he was not writing a doctoral dissertation on the nature and frequency of human death. Rather, his point was true enough for his purposes, so he did not need to mention the exceptions.
From these two examples, we can see that when Scripture states general norms or rules, they are not always intended to be absolutely airtight and true in every single instance. Rather, they are sometimes just general rules that can have exceptions, much like the general rule that it is illegal to drive through a red light. Consequently, the fact that St. Paul says that everybody besides Jesus will rise at his second coming doesn’t necessarily mean that Mary couldn’t possibly have been assumed into heaven before that. It is very possible that she is an exception to the general rule, an exception that he did not feel the need to mention, so this argument does not disprove the dogma of the Assumption of Mary.