Luke 1:34
Then said Mary to the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(34) How shall this be?—The question of the Virgin is not altogether of the same nature as that of Zacharias in Luke 1:18. He asks by what sign he shall know that the words were true which told him of a son in his old age. Mary is told of a far greater marvel, for her question shows that she understood the angel to speak of the birth as antecedent to her marriage, and she, accepting the words in faith, does not demand a sign, but reverently seeks to know the manner of their accomplishment.

Luke 1:34-38. Then said Mary, How shall this be — How can I immediately conceive a child, (for so the angel meant, and so she understood him to mean,) seeing I know not a man? — This was not the language of distrust, or of doubt, respecting what the angel said, but of a desire to be further instructed, for the direction of her conduct. She so inquired concerning the manner, as not to doubt of the fact. Some would render the clause, What? shall this be, if I have no intercourse with a man? as if she desired to be resolved, whether the birth were to be produced in a common, or a miraculous manner. But it is much more natural to suppose, that she understood the former words as an intimation that the effect was immediately to take place, to which her present circumstances seemed, humanly speaking, an invincible objection. She, however, asks no sign for the confirmation of her faith, as Zacharias had done, nor insinuates that she would not believe till a miracle was wrought to convince her; but only that she did not understand how her pregnancy could be effected in her virgin state, and desired him to explain it to her, not doubting but it was possible. Wherefore, the weakness of her apprehension being consistent with faith, and her request being conceived with modesty and humility, the angel told her that the wonderful event should be accomplished by the interposition of the Holy Spirit, and special energy of the power of God, who would preserve her reputation entire, at least in the opinion of impartial judges, and protect her from any injury which this mystery might expose her to; for, by the Jewish law, a severe punishment was inflicted on women betrothed, who proved with child before cohabiting with their husbands. Therefore also — Because thou shalt conceive by the immediate operation of the Holy Ghost; that holy thing which shall be born of thee — That holy offspring of thine; shall — With regard to this miraculous conception, as well as another, and yet greater consideration, be called the Son of God. And behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, &c. — For the confirmation of her faith the angel acquaints her with the pregnancy of her relation Elisabeth, who was then past the age of child-bearing; that being a thing similar, though inferior, to her own pregnancy, which he had been predicting. Mary and Elisabeth might be cousins, as the text affirms, although the former was a descendant of David, and the latter a daughter of Aaron; because the law, Numbers 36:6, forbidding women to marry out of their own tribes, related only to heiresses, and consequently did not include the tribe of Levi, which had not heritable possessions that could be alienated by such marriages. Accordingly, Leviticus 22:12, it is supposed a common case, that a priest’s daughter might be married to a stranger. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord, &c. — In this answer Mary expressed both great faith and great resignation. She believed what the angel had told her concerning her conception, and wished for it; not regarding the inconveniences she might be exposed to thereby, well knowing that the power of God could easily protect her. Thus Mary, though a young virgin, readily believes an event much more wonderful than that which Zacharias, though an aged priest, had found it so difficult to credit: and thus does God, as it were, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings perfect his praise. It is not improbable, that this time of the virgin’s humble faith, consent, and expectation, might be the very time of her conceiving.1:26-38 We have here an account of the mother of our Lord; though we are not to pray to her, yet we ought to praise God for her. Christ must be born miraculously. The angel's address means only, Hail, thou that art the especially chosen and favoured of the Most High, to attain the honour Jewish mothers have so long desired. This wondrous salutation and appearance troubled Mary. The angel then assured her that she had found favour with God, and would become the mother of a son whose name she should call Jesus, the Son of the Highest, one in a nature and perfection with the Lord God. JESUS! the name that refreshes the fainting spirits of humbled sinners; sweet to speak and sweet to hear, Jesus, a Saviour! We know not his riches and our own poverty, therefore we run not to him; we perceive not that we are lost and perishing, therefore a Saviour is a word of little relish. Were we convinced of the huge mass of guilt that lies upon us, and the wrath that hangs over us for it, ready to fall upon us, it would be our continual thought, Is the Saviour mine? And that we might find him so, we should trample on all that hinders our way to him. Mary's reply to the angel was the language of faith and humble admiration, and she asked no sign for the confirming her faith. Without controversy, great was the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh, 1Ti 3:16. Christ's human nature must be produced so, as it was fit that should be which was to be taken into union with the Divine nature. And we must, as Mary here, guide our desires by the word of God. In all conflicts, let us remember that with God nothing is impossible; and as we read and hear his promises, let us turn them into prayers, Behold the willing servant of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word.Over the house of Jacob - The house of Jacob means the same thing as the "family" of Jacob, or the descendants of Jacob - that is, the children of Israel. This was the name by which the ancient people of God were known, and it is the same as saying that he would reign over his own church and people forever. This he does by giving them laws, by defending them, and by guiding them; and this he will do forever in the kingdom of his glory.

Of his kingdom there shall be no end - He shall reign among his people on earth until the end of time, and be their king forever in heaven. his is the only kingdom that shall never have an end; he the only King that shall never lay aside his diadem and robes, and that shall never die. "He "the only King that can defend us from all our enemies, sustain us in death, and reward us in eternity. O how important, then, to have an interest in his kingdom! and how unimportant, compared with "his" favor, is the favor of all earthly monarchs!

34. How, &c.—not the unbelief of Zacharias, "Whereby shall I know this?" but, taking the fact for granted, "How is it to be, so contrary to the unbroken law of human birth?" Instead of reproof, therefore, her question is answered in mysterious detail. There are some would excuse Mary in this reply, and tell us these words spake in her no doubt that the things spoken by the angel should not come to pass, only admiration, or a desire to be further acquainted which way God would effect such a wonder of providence. Others think her words hardly excusable from all guilt, though the more excusable because there had yet been no such precedent made in the world of the Divine power, as to cause a virgin to conceive, and bring forth a son. The next words,

seeing I know not a man, seem to import that she understood the angel of the present or past time, that she had already conceived, or should immediately conceive, against which she objects her not having any carnal knowledge of any man. For the notion of some papists, that would from hence impose upon us to believe that Mary hath vowed virginity, as if the sense of the words were, I am resolved never to know man, it is so ridiculous, that no man of ordinary sense can allow it; for, besides that there were no such vows that we ever read of amongst the Israelites, nor could any such be made but by the law of God might be rescinded, if made when the virgin was in her father’s house; and besides that it is very improbable that a Jewish woman should make such a vow, in whom barrenness was such a reproach, and who looked upon it as a curse; I say, besides these things, who can have such unworthy thoughts of the blessed virgin, as to think that she should, having made such a vow, admit of an espousal to Joseph to mock him? But she certainly understood the angel as speaking of a thing in being, or which presently should be; and though she believed what the angel said, yet is desirous of further satisfaction how such a thing could be out of the ordinary course of nature. Then said Mary to the angel, how shall this be,.... This she said not as doubting the truth of what was said; for she required no sign, as Zacharias did; nor is she charged with, and blamed for unbelief, as he was; yea, it is expressly said, Luke 1:45 that she believed: nor was this a curious question, as whether she should have this son by a man in a married state, or in her present virgin state; for she clearly understood the angel to mean the latter; and therefore her words express her admiration at it, and also her desire to be informed of the manner how it should be: as to the matter of fact, she did not dispute it, but wanted to be resolved by what means it would be brought about: she knew, by prophecy, that the Messiah was to be born of a virgin, and she perceived, by the angel's declaration, that she was that virgin, but could not imagine in what way this amazing thing should be effected; and therefore proposes this question for the following reason,

seeing I know not a man? "A husband", as the Arabic version renders it; not Joseph, nor any other man; for though she was espoused to Joseph, yet he had not taken her to wife; nor were they, as yet; come together; and before they did, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost, Matthew 1:18 she was a pure virgin, untouched by man. The words are an "euphemism", or a modest way of expressing carnal copulation; see Genesis 4:1.

Then said Mary unto the angel, {e} How shall this be, seeing {f} I know not a man?

(e) The greatness of the matter causes the virgin to ask this question, not that she distrusted by any means at all, for she asks only of the manner of the conceiving, so that it is plain she believed all the rest.

(f) So speak the Hebrews, signifying by this modest kind of speech the company of man and wife together, and this is the meaning of it: how will this be, for as I will be Christ's mother I am very sure I will not know any man: for the godly virgin had learned by the prophets that the Messiah would be born of a virgin.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Luke 1:34 f. How is it possible that this shall be the case?[22] namely, τὸ συλλαβεῖν ἐν γαστρὶ καὶ τεκεῖν υἱόν, Euthymius Zigabenus.

Οὐ ΓΙΝΏΣΚΩ] comp. Matthew 1:18; Genesis 19:8; Jdg 11:39; Numbers 31:17, since I have sexual intercourse with no man. In this sense the pure maiden knows no man. As, however, she is betrothed, Luke 1:27, her reply shows that she has understood the promise of the angel rightly as soon to be fulfilled, and not to be referred to her impending marriage with Joseph, but as independent of the marriage that was soon to take place. The ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω is thus simply the confession of the immaculate virgin conscience, and not (a misunderstanding, which Mary’s very betrothal ought to have precluded) the vow of perpetual virginity (Augustine, de virgin. 4, Gregory of Nyssa, Grotius, Jansen, Maldonatus, Bisping, and others), or the resolution to that effect (Schegg).

πνεῦμα ἅγιον] In accordance with the nature of a proper name, without the article. Moreover, see on Matthew 1:18ἘΠΕΛΕΎΣΕΤΑΙ ἘΠῚ ΣΈ] will descend upon thee (Acts 1:8). This, as well as ἐπισκιάσει σοι, will overshadow thee (Acts 5:15), is—the former without figure, the latter figuratively—a designation of the connection producing the pregnancy, which, however, is not conceived of in the form of copulation, for which the words are euphemistic expressions (Paulus, von Ammon, and older commentators), or yet under the notion of a bird which covers its eggs (Theophylact, comp. Grotius).[23] Certainly the expressions are correlates of ΓΙΝΏΣΚΩ, but as regards the effect, not as regards the form, since ἐπελεύσ. expresses simply the descent of the Spirit, and ἘΠΙΣΚΙΆΣ. the manifestation of divine power associated therewith in the form of a cloud (after the manner of the Old Testament theophanies, Exodus 40:34; Numbers 9:15; 1 Kings 8:10; comp. also Luke 9:34). Augustine and other Fathers have quite mistakenly laid stress in ἐπισκ. on the notion of coolness (in contrast to procreation in lust); comp. ΣΚΙΆΖΕΙΝ ΤῸ ΚΑῦΜΑ in Alciphr. iii. 2.

ΔΎΝΑΜΙς ὙΨΊΣΤΟΥ] without the article: power of the Highest will overshadow thee, will be that, which shall overshadow thee. This will set in in immediate consequence (καί) of the πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἐπελεύσεται ἐπὶ σέ. Strict dogmatic expositors, such as Theophylact, Calovius, have rightly (comp. Luke 24:49) distinguished between the Holy Spirit and the power of the Highest, but in doing so have already imported more precise definitions from the dogmatic system by explaining the power of the Highest of the Song of Solomon of God, who with His majesty filled the body that had been formed by the Holy Spirit, and thus have, by a more precise description of the formation of the body, broken in upon the delicate veil which the mouth of the angel had breathed over the mystery.[24]

τὸ γεννώμενον ἅγιον] the holy thing that is being begotten shall (after His birth) be called Son of God. Most interpreters take τὸ γεννώμενον as that which is to be born (comp. Luke 1:13), which view, moreover, has drawn after it the old addition ἐκ σοῦ from Matthew 1:16. But the context which immediately precedes points only to the begetting (Bengel, Bleek); and to this also points the neuter, which applies to the embryo (comp. on Matthew 1:20, and see Fritzsche, ad Aristoph. Thesm. 564), as well as the parallel Matthew 1:20. The subject, we may add, is τὸ ἅγιον, not ΤῸ ΓΕΝΝΏΜ. (Kuinoel: “proles veneranda” = ΤῸ ΓΕΝΝΏΜ. ΤῸ ἍΓΙΟΝ), as also Bornemann assumes, when he (comp. de Wette) takes ἍΓΙΟΝ predicatively: “proles tua, cum divina sit.” Not as holy, but as begotten by God’s power (διό), is the fruit of Mary called the Son of God. Hofmann, Schriftbew. I. p. 117, explains: it shall be called holy, Song of Solomon of God, so that those two appellations are to correspond to the two members of the preceding promise. So already Tertullian, as also Bengel and Bleek. But the asyndetic form, in which υἱὸς Θεοῦ would be subjoined, tells against this view all the more, that we should of necessity, in direct accordance with what precedes (ΚΑῚ ΔΎΝΑΜΙς Κ.Τ.Λ.), expect ΚΑῚ ΥἹῸς ΘΕΟῦ, especially after the verb, where no reader could anticipate a second predicate without καί. Comp. Justin, c. Tryph. 100: διὸ καὶ τὸ γεννώμενον ἐξ αὐτῆς ἅγιόν ἐστιν υἱὸς Θεοῦ.

[22] This question is only appropriate to the virgin heart as a question of doubt on the ground of conscious impossibility, and not as an actual wish to learn the how (τὸν τρόπον τοῦ πράγματος, Theophylact); comp. already Augustine: “inquirendo dixit, non desperando,” whereas the meaning of the question of Zacharias, ver. 18, is the converse.

[23] Approved also by Delitzsch, bibl. Psychol. p. 116 f., and Bleek. But this conception is here very much out of place, and is not implied even in מְרַחֶפֶת, Genesis 1:2, which, besides, has nothing to do with the passage before us.

[24] Calovius: “Supervenit Spiritus non quidem σπερματικῶς sed δημιουργικῶς, guttulas sanguineas Mariae, e quibus concipienda caro Domini, sanctificando, easdem foecundas reddendo, et ex iisdem corpus humanum efformando.” Justin, Apol. I. 33, already rightly gives the simple thought of the chaste and delicate representation: κυοφορῆσαι παρθένον οὖσαν πεποίηκε. Schleiermacher, L. J. p. 62, erroneously affirms that the representation of Luke admits the possibility of Jesus being thought of as conceived with the participation of Joseph. It absolutely excludes any such notion.34. How shall this be?] Mary does not doubt the fact as Zacharias had done; she only enquires as to the mode of accomplishment. The village maiden amid her humble daily duties shews a more ready faith in a far more startling message than the aged priest in the Holy Place amid the Incense.Luke 1:34. Πῶς, how) This How is not inconsistent with faith, as Luke 1:45 proves.[8]—οὐ γινώσκω, I know not) The present is here used for [in accordance with and in reference to] the very moment of the conception, which was still future. She gathers from the words of the angel himself, that she is not about to know man. Ἐπεὶ, seeing that, is categorical [absolute]. Mary understood that this promise is being now given to her as one immediately about to be fulfilled, without respect to the consummation of her espousals. A woman is also said to know a man, Numbers 31:17; Jdg 9:39.

[8] The difference between her and Zacharias, Luke 1:18; lay not in the words but in the spirit.—ED. and TRANSL.
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