Sunday, December 13, 2020

The God of Impossible Pregnancies

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Luke 1:26-38, the story of the angel visitation to Mary. Because of this story’s pivotal role in the story of the incarnation, it deserves attention. Because of its familiarity, it deserves close attention. I am quite deliberately looking for those pieces of the story that may have been drowned out over the years.  

If you are following the Narrative Lectionary, you may want to see my article on Matthew 1:18-25 for The Politics of Scripture blog, at

26  Ἐν δὲ τῷ μηνὶ τῷ ἕκτῳ ἀπεστάλη ὁ ἄγγελος Γαβριὴλ ἀπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ εἰς πόλιν τῆς Γαλιλαίας ἧ ὄνομα Ναζαρὲθ 
Yet in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee which [is in] name Nazareth
ἀπεστάλη: API 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed
1. While the term ἄγγελος can simply be translated as “messenger,” the weight of tradition is heavy to keep it as “angel.” In an excellent article, “The Challenge of Christmas” (see link below), John Dominic Crossan says, “Think of angels as ultimate meanings radiantly personified.”

27 πρὸς παρθένον ἐμνηστευμένην ἀνδρὶ ᾧ ὄνομα Ἰωσὴφ ἐξ οἴκου Δαυίδ, καὶ τὸ ὄνομα τῆς παρθένου Μαριάμ. 
to a virgin who was betrothed to a man who is named Joseph out of a house of David, and the name of the virgin [is] Mary.
ἐμνηστευμένην : PerfPPart asf, μνηστεύω espoused (be) to ask in marriage, to woo. In NT only in passive to be asked in marriage, hence, to be betrothed, affianced.
1. Some sources I’ve read say the name Mary is a version of Miriam, meaning “obstinacy” or “rebellious,” while others say Mary means “Bitter” – reflecting the waters of Marah on the Israelites’ journey (Exodus 15:23). What’s in a name? The OT has a long tradition of naming and renaming as an act that affects reality. For a modern version of the same, see a New York Times article about renaming ceremony in India from 2011:
2. Is the connection to David a challenge to Rome, which was skeptical of claims to the Davidic throne? Or, is it a ‘proof’ to Jews, who expect this connection as part of the claim of Jesus as the Messiah? Or both?

28 καὶ εἰσελθὼν πρὸς αὐτὴν εἶπεν, Χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη, ὁ κύριος μετὰ σοῦ. 
And coming to her he said, “Greetings, you who have been graced, the Lord [is] with you.
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἰσελθὼν : AAPart nsm, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter  1a) of men or animals, as into a house or a city 
κεχαριτωμένη: PPPart vsf, χαριτόω, 1) to make graceful  1a) charming, lovely, agreeable  2) to peruse with grace, compass with favor  3) to honor with blessings. Only here and Eph 1:6, not same as Lk. 2:14.
1. Perhaps it would be best not to read Esther 2:1-18 when wondering what it means for a virgin to be “highly graced” or “highly favored.”  Don’t go there.

29  ἡ δὲ ἐπὶ τῷ λόγῳ διεταράχθη καὶ διελογίζετο ποταπὸς εἴη ὁ ἀσπασμὸς 
Yet she was puzzled/troubled at the word and deliberated what manner a salutation this may be.
διεταράχθη: API 3s, διατάσσω, From 1) to arrange, appoint, ordain, prescribe, give order 
διεταράχθη: From διαταράσσω trouble (ταράσσω with διά throughout, prefixed) to stir up throughout; spoken of the mind, etc., to disturb, agitate.
διελογίζετο : IMI 3s, διαλογίζομαι, 1) to bring together different reasons, to reckon up the  reasons, to reason, revolve in one's mind, deliberate  
εἴη: PAOptative 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present.
1. As the definitions show, two excellent online resources differ on the root of the verb διεταράχθη. Is it διατάσσω or διαταράσσω? Does it indicate puzzlement or agitation? I tend to go with in moments like these.
2. Mary’s ‘deliberation’ (διαλογίζομαι, or dia-log) is consonant with her ‘pondering’ in c.2. She is not going into this mindlessly and her statement in v.38 is the result of deliberating what the angel has said.
3. εἴη (“may be”) is a rare presentation of the optative mood, which typically expresses a wish or a desire. I’m not sure yet how to square the ‘agitation’ or ‘puzzlement’ with the mood of desire.

30 καὶ εἶπεν ὁ ἄγγελος αὐτῇ, Μὴ φοβοῦ, Μαριάμ, εὗρες γὰρ χάριν παρὰ τῷ 
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afeared, Mary, for you found grace with the God.”
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εὗρες: AAI 2s, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with  1a) after searching, to find a thing sought  1b) without previous search, to find (by chance)
φοβοῦ:  PPI 2s, φοβέω, to strike with fear, scare, frighten. Middle or passive as here, to be put in fear, take fright.
1. I use “be afeared” instead of “be afraid” for φοβοῦ because the verb is not “is” with “afraid” as the adjective. The verb is a passive form of fearing.
2. The noun χάριν is typically translated as ‘grace,’ but is familiar in this story as ‘favor.’ It has the same root as the participle κεχαριτωμένη, “you who have been graced” in v.28.

31 καὶ ἰδοὺ συλλήμψῃ ἐν γαστρὶ καὶ τέξῃ υἱόν, καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ 
And behold you shall conceive in belly and shall produce a son, and shall call the name of him Jesus.
ἰδοὺ: AMImpv εἶδον 1) to see 2) a particle serving to call attention, "behold!".
συλλήμψῃ: FMI 2s, συλλαμβάνω, 1) to seize, take: one as prisoner 2) to
conceive, of a woman
τέξῃ: FMI 2s, τίκτω, 1) to bring forth, bear, produce (fruit from the seed)  1a) of a woman giving birth
καλέσεις: FAI 2s, καλέω, 1) to call  1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice  1b) to invite  2) to call i.e. to name, by name
1. It is intriguing that “conceive” and “produce” are in the future middle voice. Comments … go!

32 οὗτος ἔσται μέγας καὶ υἱὸς ὑψίστου κληθήσεται, καὶ δώσει αὐτῷ κύριος ὁ θεὸς τὸν θρόνον Δαυὶδ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ, 
Who shall be great and shall be called a son of highest, and Lord the God shall give to him the throne of his father David,
ἔσται : FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
κληθήσεται: FPI 3s, καλέω, 1) to call  1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice  1b) to invite  2) to call i.e. to name, by name
δώσει : FAI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone  2a) of one's own accord to give one something, to his advantage
1. The title υἱὸς ὑψίστου “Son of Highest” is capitalized in some manuscripts.

33 καὶ βασιλεύσει ἐπὶ τὸν οἶκον Ἰακὼβ εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, καὶ τῆς βασιλείας αὐτοῦ οὐκ ἔσται τέλος. 
And he shall reign over the house of Jacob into the ages, and the reign of him will not end.”
βασιλεύσει: FAI 3s, βασιλεύω, 1) to be king, to exercise kingly power, to reign  ἔσται: FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1a) of the governor of a province
1. I would like to use “empire” for βασιλείας, per Warren Carter’s argument that many of the Gospels’ words regarding Jesus were borrowed from Roman imperial language. But, the close connection between the verb βασιλεύσει and the noun βασιλείας is too much to pass up, so I’m going with “reign” for both.
2. Per a cursory use of the search engine, the phrase “house of Jacob” appears 21 times in the OT, 9 of them in Isaiah (including 2x in that Advent favorite Isaiah chapter 2) and all but 3 of them in the prophets.

34 εἶπεν δὲ Μαριὰμ πρὸς τὸν ἄγγελον, Πῶς ἔσται τοῦτο, ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω
Yet Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I do not know/ am not knowing a man?”
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἔσται: FMI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
γινώσκω: PAI 1s, γινώσκω, 1) to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel  1a) to become known  2) to know, understand, perceive, have knowledge of  2a) to understand  2b) to know  3) Jewish idiom for sexual intercourse between a man and a woman
1. The verb γινώσκω “to know” is present tense, not past tense.

35 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ ἄγγελος εἶπεν αὐτῇ, Πνεῦμα ἅγιον ἐπελεύσεταιἐπὶ σέ, καὶ δύναμις ὑψίστου ἐπισκιάσει σοι: διὸ καὶ τὸ γεννώμενον ἅγιον κληθήσεται, υἱὸς θεοῦ. 
And having answered the angel said to her, “A holy spirit will come to you, and a power of highest will overshadow to you; and wherefore the one which is born will be called holy, a son of God.
OR: … the holy one which is born shall be called a son of God. (The comma was added later and is not in some mss.)
ἀποκριθεὶς: APPart nsm, ἀποκρίνομαι, 1) to give an answer to a question proposed, to answer 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐπελεύσεταιἐπὶ : FMI 3s, ἐπέρχομαι, 1) to come to arrive  1a) of time, come on, be at hand, be future 
Is it ironic that a verb which references the future is in the future tense?
ἐπισκιάσει : FAI 3s, ἐπισκιάζω, 1) to throw a shadow upon, to envelop in a shadow, to overshadow   From a vaporous cloud that casts a shadow the word is transferred to  a shining cloud surrounding and enveloping persons with brightness.
γεννώμενον : PPPart nsm, γεννάω, 1) of men who fathered children  1a) to be born  1b) to be begotten  1b1) of women giving birth to children 
κληθήσεται: FPI 3s, καλέω, 1) to call  1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice  1b) to invite  2) to call i.e. to name, by name

36 καὶ ἰδοὺ Ἐλισάβετ ἡ συγγενίς σου καὶ αὐτὴ συνείληφεν υἱὸν ἐν γήρει αὐτῆς, καὶ οὗτος μὴν ἕκτος ἐστὶν αὐτῇ τῇ καλουμένῃ στείρᾳ:
And behold Elisabeth the relative of you also her has conceived a son in her old age, and this is six month for she who was called barren;
ἰδοὺ: AMImpv εἶδον 1) to see 2) a particle serving to call attention, "behold!".
συνείληφεν : PerfAI 3s, συλλαμβάνω, 1) to seize, take: one as prisoner  2) to conceive, of a woman
ἐστὶν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
καλουμένῃ : PPPart dsf, καλέω, 1) to call  1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice  1b) to invite  2) to call i.e. to name, by name 
1. I like how the angel responds to Mary’s use of the future form of ‘to be,’ ἔσται, in her question about an impossible pregnancy, with a present form of ‘to be,’ ἐστὶν, to point to Elizabeth’s already in situ form of an impossible pregnancy.
2. The reference to Elizabeth’s aged (the word γήρει has to be the root of gerontology, yes?) pregnancy is an echo of Sarah’s experience as well as Hannah’s. Perhaps the angel is reminding Mary that she stands in a tradition of impossible pregnancies.

 37 ὅτι οὐκ ἀδυνατήσει παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ πᾶν ῥῆμα
For with God any word will not be impossible.
ἀδυνατήσει : FAI 3s, ἀ-δυνατέω, 1) impossible  1a) not to have strength, power, or ability, to be weak  1b) can not be done, to be impossible
Per οὐ πᾶν ῥῆμα nothing; In Luk 1:37, every declaration of God is not impossible, that is to say no declaration is impossible, compare Gen 18:14. οὐ no,not; πᾶν every; ῥῆμα word, declaration, statement.
1. Luke uses ῥῆμα, “word,” 18 times, 9 of them in cc.1-2.
2. In Genesis 18, an angel visits Abraham and Sarah to announce that she will have a child. Sarah laughs. The angel responds: μὴ ἀδυνατεῖ παρὰ τῷ θεῷ ῥῆμα, “a word may not be impossible with God.” Again, an echo of God’s way with impossible pregnancies.

38 εἶπεν δὲ Μαριάμ, Ἰδοὺ ἡ δούλη κυρίου: γένοιτό μοι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου.  καὶ ἀπῆλθεν ἀπ' αὐτῆς ὁ ἄγγελος.
Yet Mary said, “Behold the servant of the Lord: May it become to me according to the word of you.” And the angel departed from her.
ἰδοὺ: AMImpv εἶδον 1) to see 2) a particle serving to call attention, "behold!".
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
γένοιτό: AMOptative, 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being  2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen 
1. Again, the optative mood, as in v.29.

Here is the link to “The Challenge of Christmas”, by John Dominic Crossan:


  1. Ok- regards to conceive and bear a child in the future middle... because conception is not a momentary thing but a 10 month long bringing to fruition and the bearing of a child is not just the birthing but the parenting as well in many ways. It is the one time and also ongoing in the future movement of the language, I think.
    Either way- this was read in 2017 in the middle of the #metoo movement by a female pastor and it hurt and was scary and was eye opening- because Mary had a choice and she gave consent. Thank you for relating (and not) to Esther and the choices of a woman who was "favored". You do good work and I review your page every week since my Greek is not great, but it keeps it alive and maybe is making it better the way I try to read along and ask questions of myself. Thank you.


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