I just completed my first year of seminary and some friends and I decided that over the summer we would work on translating the book of Luke so that we could stay sharp on the Greek we learned. Yes, I’m a nerd. I quickly discovered that the book of Luke was not the easiest place for an amateur to begin. Have you ever had that really smart friend who used a lot of fancy words? I’m pretty sure Luke would be that guy. Anyway, as I was working on translating the first chapter of Luke, one particular story seemed to jump of the page. It was the story of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and telling her that she was going to give birth to the son of God. In church-world, this event is referred to as the annunciation. This story is found in Luke 1:26-38. I will be using my own translation in this post (in italic), but you can find a professional translation here at Bible Gateway.
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into the city of Galilee which is called Nazareth to a young woman betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the name of the young woman was Mary. And when the angel came to her he said, “Greetings highly favored one, the Lord is with you.” She was troubled at his word, and she considered what manner of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace with God. Behold, you will conceive in the womb and will bear a son, and you will call his name Jesus. This one will be great and will be called son of the highest, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of David his father. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will not be an end.” (Luke 1:26-33, translation mine)
So take just a moment and try to put yourself in Mary’s sandals. You are a young woman (stay with me fellas), probably just a teenager, going about life as usual. You are engaged to a guy named Joseph and will be married sometime soon. All of a sudden, an angel appears and starts talking to you. “Greetings, highly favored one, the Lord is with you.” Now I assume that the appearance of angels usually quite startling, if not actually terrifying, because they’re always saying “don’t be afraid.” So Mary is obviously and understandably a bit perplexed. But before she has a chance to say anything the angel keeps talking. “Don’t be afraid, you’ve found grace with God.” Ok, that’s nice to hear. It’s good to find grace with God. Maybe this guy…or this angel…isn’t so bad after all. “Oh, and by the way,” the angel continues, “You’re going to be pregnant, and have a son. You’ll name him Jesus and he is going to be the son of the highest and he is going to be king of Israel and his kingdom is going to last forever.” Wait, what? I imagine at this point that most of us would have taken off running about halfway through that last sentence, or, maybe pepper sprayed the creepy guy who just showed up saying really weird things. Not Mary though, she asks a very logical question.
“And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be since I am not knowing [having sexual relations with] a man?” (Luke 1:34, translation mine).
That’s a great question. “Hey buddy, maybe you’re not familiar with how this whole ‘having a child’ thing is supposed to work. There’s something that people have to do before they can have a baby and I haven’t done that thing.” We obviously don’t know how Mary said what she said, but I get the impression that she was much kinder and much less sarcastic than I would be. When I read the text I get the impression that she was actually quite sincere in her question. I have no idea what response she was expecting from the angel, but I would bet a significant sum of money that it was nothing like the response she actually received.
And the angel answering said to her, “Holy spirit will come upon you and power of the most high will overshadow you, therefore, the holy child that is born will be called the son of God. And, behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also herself conceived a child in her old age, and this is the sixth month to her who is called barren. Because no word from God will be without power.” (Luke 1:35-37, translation mine)
So if I was Mary this is probably how I would have reacted. “Hold on a second…back up. I’m going to get pregnant by holy spirit and the shadow of the most high? How does that even work? You know what people are going to think right? I’m not married yet, remember? Maybe you’re not from around here, but if people find out that I got pregnant before getting married, the very best I could hope for is public shame. Also, I’m pretty sure that Joseph is going to know that it’s not his kid since we’re not, ya know, doing that thing, so according to our laws he has every right to call off the wedding, or even have me stoned. I’m just not so sure that people are going to buy that ‘Don’t worry, it’s God’s baby, I’m really still a virgin’ story. And even if Joseph, by some miracle, does still decide to marry me, this will ruin my wedding day. I’ll have to find another dress, I’ll be pregnant in all my wedding photos. Doesn’t God know that this is going to mess up all of the plans that I made for my life? ” I have no doubt that Mary knew all of those things were true, and yet, she didn’t mention any of them. Her response to the angel just blows my mind.
And Mary said, “Behold, the servant of the Lord. May it be for me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38, translation mine).
Wow. What heart! What obedience! What faith! Here is this teenage girl going about her business when some random stranger shows up and turns her world upside down by telling her that she is going to become pregnant miraculously and give birth to the son of God. Mary, knowing full well the consequences she might face, basically responds with “Ok, whatever you say.” That kind of trust in God is amazing. I want to have a heart like Mary.
P.S. This, for me, is one of the major benefits of studying Greek. It makes me slow down and think every word and phrase.
P.P.S. Isn’t it a bit silly that some people believe that God entrusted a woman to carry, give birth to, and then raise his own son and then go on to say women aren’t fit for ministry? Can you think of a more important ministry than raising the son of God?
I am glad to see that you are applying some of that Greek knowledge…lol. Luke is not the easiest book to translate for sure. But I checked through your translation and I think it is pretty good. I like it. I do not have any real critiques of your work. Well done my friend!…haha. BTW you should have referenced your translation among the professional ones. 🙂
The “Annunciation,” as it has been commonly called in Christian history, is really an amazing part of the Gospel story. I thought about a few different things that I have not considered before as I read through it again recently. One thing that stuck out in my mind was that when the angel proclaimed to Mary that she will conceive a child in her womb, there must have been something about the way the angel spoke to her that implied this was something that would happen in the near future. At the time, Mary was engaged to Joseph, and so how come would she not associate the words of the angel as a foreshadowing of the conception that she would naturally expect with Joseph after they were married? But Mary’s response to the angel seems to imply that she is perplexed about conceiving a child since she was not currently having sexual relations with a man. So some element of the conversation must have been ascribing immediacy to the proclamation of the angel.
As you rightly pointed out Thomas, the truly remarkable part of the story is the way that Mary received and responded to the words of the angel. I don’t think that Mary would have had an attitude like “Oh, really! A baby from God’s spirit huh. Hmm…that different. Well, all right then. No worries mate.” Every time the phrase “Fear Not” is used in the NT it is associated with phenomenological circumstances that would be difficult to accept and remain calm. I believe the words “Fear Not” from the angel certainly relate to the angel’s appearance, but I believe that they surely extend to the content of the message as well.
I like your description about the character of Mary upon her hearing the message from the angel and then simply responding with “Sure, let it happen like you said.” Mary’s world was getting turned upside down and even worse, her life would be in danger. She very easily could be killed for what the angel explained would soon happen.
How often do we not want God to discomfit our lives but to just give us the easy tasks and leisurely callings? Most of us would not have the conviction to just stand up and say, “Sure, I’ll do it. I may die but I believe you have a greater plan Lord.” Mary’s resolve to perform the will of the Lord and subject herself to utter public shame, humiliation, social ostracizing, and very possibly death, goes way beyond what most of us ever think God would ask us to do. But if God ever did call for such a sacrifice from us, how would we respond?
P.S. Hey Thomas, just curious, was there any other option but for God to entrust a woman to carry, give birth to, and raise the Messiah? I am not sure God had many options…lol. But just to be clear, I am definitely an advocate of women in ministry and I liked the implications you drew from the significance of Mary’s responsibility in being the mother of the Jesus.
John Calvin said, “It cannot be denied that God in choosing and destining Mary to be the Mother of his Son, granted her the highest honor.”
P.P.S Greek has made the NT come alive for me because you can’t gloss over anything (intentionally or unintentionally). As you said, it forces us to slow down and read every word and every line…especially for a writer like Luke…haha…you know what I mean.
Hello sir! loved reading this! Although I always thought that the reason why God chose Mary was because she was the best woman for giving birth to His son, not only in the physical sense but mentally as well…knowing the bible and having a good strong mindset to Gods Word. I guess I never pictured her questioning so much or letting her mind go so crazy over the whole situation.
If it’s broken down into simple steps, for me it’s easy to see that she seems to take it in stride pretty well because of who she was as a woman of God, etc.
step 1 – angel greets Mary with words of encouragement
(greetings highly favored one, the Lord is with you)
step 2 – mary is troubled, disturbed, agitated greatly.
(Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found grace with God. angel immediately confronts the fear then gives her more Godly words of encouragement and explains why)
step 3 – fear is gone, Mary is starting to communicate back to angel questioning the legitimacy in a logical way.
step 4 – angel answers with even more encouraging Godly words relating what God has done for her cousin in her age being pregnant, etc and ending everything with “For with God, nothing shall be impossible”
step 5 – Mary re-aligns her thinking back to God and His Word and proclaims “Here I am, a handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”.
p.s. what book do you use to study the greek words for the new testament? thank you for any help! 🙂