Then said Mary to the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?…
It is not, commonly, sufficiently seen what an advance these words are upon the angel's previous announcement, and how simply appalling they must have sounded to the trembling listener. There had been nothing as yet which suggested a single step beyond the ordinary course of nature, and mothers are proverbially capable of believing in any the most exalted future for their children; but now words had been spoken which proposed to change the whole tenor of her life and being, and demanded little short of an agony of faith. Nay! may she acquiesce without sin? Her betrothal — what can it mean? — is to be ignored, and her child is to recognize no earthly father. What will the world say, that little world — all the more terrible because it is so little — of society in Nazareth? And how shall she break it to Joseph? And, then, she may remember some dreadful story she has overheard her elders tell in low, stern tones; how some betrothed maiden had been suspected of what she herself was now called upon to brave, and how there had been a trial, and she had been pronounced guilty; and then they had brought her out to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city had stoned her to death: the only way, they said, of putting away evil from among them. And she was conscious that she must brave all this, practically, alone; there was no prophet, in her case, who would make himself responsible for her integrity, and explain it all to the people, and give them a sign, and convince them that it was all from God. The angel there before her might be very real to her, but when he has disappeared and left her — people do not very readily believe in angels' visits to their neighbours; will she ever be quite sure herself?
(E. T. Marshall, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?