34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.
38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
Textual Issues: There are two minor textual differences between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26. One is the spelling of the word translated "old age" in verse 36; the other is a shift from the dative of "the God" in the Textus Receptus of verse 37 (translated "with God") to the genitive in the Nestle/Aland 26. This change does alter the meaning of verse 37 in terms of specifics, but the general idea remains the same. The AV says "with God nothing shall be impossible" (which, according to the textual commentary on the Nestle/Aland 26, follows the LXX in Genesis 18:14) and the ASV says "no word of God shall be void of power". The general meaning, as a response to Mary's question, is: If God has said it, it will happen. The specific meaning moves from the generic "nothing shall be impossible" in the AV to the specific "no word of God shall be void of power" in the ASV. The textual commentary on the Nestle/Aland 26 gives its genitive reading a "B" rating, which argues for a rather strong textual support for the change.
- 1. Mary responds to Gabriel's declarations regarding her coming son: How?
- 2. Gabriel answers her "how?" question.
- 3. He then proceeds to tell her Elizabeth's secret.
- 4. He then declares that God does what He says He will do.
- 5. Mary responds with submission and Gabriel leaves.
- 1. Mary's response indicates a certain direction of understanding that is not implicit in the angel's "revelation".
- a. Nothing Gabriel is recorded as having said to Mary implied that this was all going to happen to Mary while in her virgin state.
- 1) Mary is introduced to us by Luke as an "espoused virgin".
- 2) It would not be any kind of "jump" at all to assume that what he was telling her was going to take place "once she was married".
- b. But Mary did not make the assumption that her son would be "Joseph's"; rather, she assumed the angel was addressing her with a declaration that would be accomplished before her marriage.
- 1) The question here is this: why did Mary make the assumption she did?
- a) Is Luke's record an abbreviated form that simply did not include a direct statement from Gabriel that he actually made regarding a virgin birth? We do not know.
- b) Was it a part of Mary's prior understanding that the Messiah would be "virgin" born? We do not know.
- 2) Five things we do know...
- a) Mary's "assumption", whatever the cause, reinforces the fact that she was "of the seed of David" herself since her "son" was to be a "son of David" and she was assuming that Joseph wasn't going to be a part of the pregnancy. This was required by her assumptions regarding the angel's declaration.
- b) There was a very long tradition in Jewish theology of women giving birth because of pregnancies caused by non-human fathers.
- i. One of the Jewish interpretations of the Genesis 6 text was of "angels" impregnating human women.
- ii. Josephus claimed that Seth originated the symbolism of the Zodiac, and in that symbolism there stands "Virgo" as the "seed-bearer".
- iii. Hislop, in The Two Babylons, records the tradition that there was a "virgin-birth" claim as far back as Nimrod and the Tower of Babel.
- iv. Rampant in the mythologies of the pagan nations are stories of gods who took human wives, whose offspring were demigods. These ancient theologies were significant distortions of original seed-truths which Adam and Seth had passed on by word of mouth.
- c) The "dominant" theology of the Jews in the time of Mary had, apparently, pretty much dismissed the "virgin-birth" concept.
- i. This is an inference from the strong antagonism toward Jesus as an illegitimate child that surfaced in John's "we be not born of fornication" text.
- ii. This is also an inference from the question Jesus asked in the crucial debate over His identity: why did David call his "son" his "lord"?
- iii. This is also an inference from the "salvation by human merit" theology of Israel: there is no need for a "divine" savior if human works can meet the problem of unholiness sufficiently. No one "needs" substitutionary atonement if one's "will" is sufficient to the task of determining behavior and one's "works" are sufficient to the demands of Justice.
- d) The "virgin-birth" text of Isaiah 7:14 did not "require" a "virgin" conception, as revealed by the following record in Isaiah of the fulfillment of the "sign".
e) Mary's acquiescence to Gabriel's explanation signals some level of previous faith that permits her to accept that explanation [she is deliberately presented as a contrast to Zacharias in his disbelief].
- i. The unambiguous Hebrew term for "virgin" (Bethula) is not used by Isaiah; the term he used was "Alma", which can certainly be translated "virgin", but it can also be legitimately translated by whatever terminology would communicate a young female who was past puberty. The point: "Alma" has a field of meaning that includes, but is more inclusive than, "Bethula".
- ii. The "sign" was not of a "virgin" conception; it was of a "son whose birth would be the sign that God's words would be fulfilled".
- iii. How, then, did Matthew present the "virgin birth" as a "fulfillment" of the Isaiah text?
- (a) He followed the LXX translation of Isaiah 7:14, which uses "parthenos" (the Greek equivalent to "Alma", but used with specific "virgin" meaning).
- (b) He understood "types of meaning".
- (c) The "type of meaning" in Isaiah 7 was "a son whose birth would be the sign that God was keeping His words".
- (d)By the time of the birth of the "Savior", what kind of "birth of a son" would fit the bill of "a sign that God was keeping His words"? There may have been some other forms, but, for sure, a "virgin birth" would fill the bill.
- i. People do not just "jump into faith" (which is a certain level of 'strength of conviction') without sufficient strength of 'understanding' to make the "claims" at least "possible" if not "probable".
- ii. Even less do people accept the consequences of faith at the "bondservant" level without some prior development in that direction.
- 1. In spite of the often-made argument that men of intelligence can grasp the meaning of the biblical text apart from the illuminating ministry of the Spirit of God (witness the plethora of commentaries that are written by 'liberals'), there yet remains this reality: the significance of meaning is very often "hid from the wise and discerning" and revealed to "babes" by reason of the attitude of the heart.
- 2. No one can have a legitimate attitude of heart who has not come to the "bondservant" mentality.