This is the fourth part of a series of some reflections of mine on a recent debate with Mr. William Albrecht on the veneration of Mary. The issue I'd like to deal with in this post is the issue of Mary's being highly favored. This is an issue I would have liked to have addressed more fully during the debate.
There was some back-and-forth on the issue of the properly translation of the term κεχαριτωμένη (kecharitomeneh). Mr. Albrecht himself gave several renderings of it in his opening statement, I went with the KJV's rendering of it in my opening statement and criticized the Vulgate's mistranslation of the term. Then, later in the debate, Mr. Albrecht argued that the Vulgate's mistranslation is actually acceptable.
Here are some (But certainly not all) translations that are out there (words have been adjusted to their American spellings):
"highly favored" - American Standard Version, King James Version, Revised Version, Webster's Bible, International Standard Version, New International Version, 21st Century King James Version, Today's New International Version, World English Bible, Third Millenium Bible,
"favored one" - English Majority Text Version, English Standard Version, John Nelson Darby Bible, New Testament in Modern Speech, Young's Literal Translation, New American Standard Bible, Amplified Bible (primary reading), Rotherham, New English Translation, Revised Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version,
"highly favored one" - New King James Version
"favored by the Lord" - God's Word to the Nations Bible
"favored woman" - New Living Translation, Holman Christian Standard Bible
"who enjoy God's favour" - Jerusalem Bible
"freely beloved" - Bishops' Bible, Geneva Bible
"truly blessed" - Contemporary English Version
"full of grace" - Douay-Rheims Bible, Murdock's Translation of the Peshitta, Younan's Translation of the Peshitta
"[one] having been bestowed grace [or, shown kindness]!" - Analytical-Literal Translation
"to whom special grace has been given" - Bible in Basic English
"one having received grace!" - Literal Translation of the Holy Bible
"one receiving grace" - Modern King James Version
"The Lord ... has greatly blessed you" - Good News Bible
"The Lord has given you special favor" - New International Reader's Version
"You're beautiful with God's beauty, Beautiful inside and out!" - The Message
"The Lord has blessed you" (or possibly omitted) - New Century Version
(apparently omitted) - Worldwide English (New Testament)
What should be taken away from all of this? The only versions that translate the word as "full of grace" are those that are based on the Vulgate, either directly or by way of the Peshitta. None of the English translations that are based on the Greek come close to "full of grace" because that's simply not what is being conveyed by the participle.
Instead, the sense of the participle is that some special favor or blessing has been shown to Mary. In this case, the special favor or blessing is that Jesus is in her womb. Furthermore, this is not a favor that is deserved, it is a gracious favor. It is not as though Mary somehow was more holy than other women, and consequently obtained this blessing by merit, but instead it was according to the grace of God.
The mistranslation "full of grace" as well as several confused comments by Mr. Albrecht during the debate treat Mary as though she were an urn into which some stuff called "grace" had been poured. That's not what the text is conveying at all. Instead, it is simply indicating that something wonderful had happened to Mary, a great blessing had been given to her by God.
This is reflected in virtually all of the major English translations, as I've outlined above. Furthermore, as was mentioned during the debate, the verb is a perfect passive participle. That means that the participle is conveying information about a past act (in this case the conception of Jesus in Mary's womb) with continuing effects (her pregnancy).
Of course, after nine months, Jesus emerged from Mary's womb. At that point, the act of bearing Jesus in her womb was over. Mary continued to have an important role in Jesus' upbringing (breast-feeding and so forth), but eventually even that ceased as Jesus was weaned and grew from being a boy to a man.
So, as an historical matter, it will always be the case that Mary was the Theotokos - the God-bearer - the one who had in her womb the second person of the Trinity. It was truly an amazing and unforgettable experience.
But it is not as though grace was a powder that was sprinkled on Mary or that grace was in an IV drip that was given to Mary. It wasn't a golden dress she wore. Such an idea of κεχαριτωμένη (kecharitomeneh) misses the point.
Mary was highly favored. Mary was given an enormous privilege. Mary was given a tremendous blessing, she got to be the womb from which our Savior sprung. Children are always a gift from God, but this child was a more wonderful gift than any other woman has ever received from God.
Thus we should understand κεχαριτωμένη (kecharitomeneh) - not as suggesting that Mary was an urn full of grace, or a vending machine loaded up with grace, but as a woman who was given an amazing gift from God.