Luke 11:27-28 (RSV) As he said this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” [28] But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

The contra-Catholic argument “drawn” from this passage, is that Jesus was supposedly denying the blessedness of His mother, and thus expressly denying the Catholic practice of calling her “Blessed Virgin Mary.” This hardly seems possible or plausible, even in an ecumenical Protestant reading (i.e., how could the mother of God incarnate — an extraordinary and singular privilege —  not be blessed?), but that is the argument: be what it may.

Some have argued that it was merely a translation matter: that at least some translations have something to the effect of “yes, rather . . .” which would mean that Jesus wasn’t denying that His mother was blessed, but instead, affirming it and moving on to make a more general point (which would likely include Mary as well: as the exemplar of a general description of holiness).

This was very interesting to me (and something I had never heard before). In checking many Bible translations (many of which I have in my own library), I discovered that translations of Luke 11:28 vary; however, many can be found that give a meaning that would include rather than (by possible implication, but not necessity) exclude Mary. Here’s what I found:

KJV But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

ASV But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

NKJV But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Phillips But Jesus replied, “Yes, but a far greater blessing to hear the word of God and obey it.”

Living Bible He replied, “Yes, but even more blessed are all who hear the Word of God and put it into practice.”

Young’s Literal Translation And he said, `Yea, rather, happy those hearing the word of God, and keeping [it]!’

Darby But *he* said, Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep [it].

CEV Jesus replied, “That’s true, but the people who are really blessed are the ones who hear and obey God’s message!”

King James 2000 Bible But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

American King James Version But he said, Yes rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

Douay-Rheims Bible But he said: Yea rather, blessed are they who hear the word of God, and keep it.

English Revised Version But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

Webster’s Bible Translation But he said, Yes, rather blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

Williams But He said, “Yes, but better still, blessed are those who listen to God’s message and practice it!”

Beck “Yes,” He said, “but happy are those who listen to God’s Word and keep it.”

Jerusalem Bible But he replied, “Still happier those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Barclay But Jesus said: “True, but rather, happy are those who listen to the word of God and obey it.”

I would add that many Catholic versions (e.g., Knox, Confraternity, NAB) do not have this sort of rendering; thus, they can’t be accused of translation bias; and for those that do, they are merely in agreement with many Protestant translations.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (in its article: “The Blessed Virgin Mary”) comments on this passage:

At first sight, it seems that Jesus Himself depreciated the dignity of His Blessed Mother. . . .

In reality, Jesus in both these passages places the bond that unites the soul with God above the natural bond of parentage which unites the Mother of God with her Divine Son. The latter dignity is not belittled; as men naturally appreciate it more easily, it is employed by Our Lord as a means to make known the real value of holiness. Jesus, therefore, really, praises His mother in a most emphatic way; for she excelled the rest of men in holiness not less than in dignity. . . . we must remember that when the sun appears, even the brightest stars become invisible.

Think for a moment of the implications of the interpretation whereby Jesus would be denying that Mary was blessed. Really? This is not just a question of allegedly “excessive” Catholic Marian veneration, but of clear biblical texts.

This is about a woman who was hailed by the angel Gabriel (what other human being is treated this way by an angel?), twice called “blessed” by Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist: Lk 1:42, 45), precisely because she was the Mother of God the Son and believed the angel when she was informed of this. Mary herself says in reply: “henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48). And of course, Catholics do that and almost all Protestants do not. We fulfill the prophecy.

Moreover, when Jesus said all these others would be blessed, does it make sense to exclude Mary (whom many Protestants would agree, was — while not sinless, in their view — the greatest and holiest woman who ever lived) from among them? No, of course not. It makes no sense whatsoever. It’s utterly implausible.

This is scarcely a case illustrating “Catholicism gone awry.” In fact, it is no problem at all (none, whatsoever), rightly understood. Jesus affirms (and even in the “other” translation renderings, doesn’t deny) his mother and her holiness, and goes on to make another point, just as he did in several other similar passages. He was referring to Mary, too, when he was extolling those who “hear the word of God and obey it” (Phillips).