Mary's sin of unbelief?

Did Mary sin a sin of unbelief ?

Luke 1:18
"And Zacharias said unto the angel,
whereby shall I know this
for I am an old man and my wife well stricken in years ?"

Luke 1:34
"Then said Mary unto the angel,
**how shall this be **
seeing I know not a man ?"

Both verses have similar constructions.
They both question the angel in dismay/disbelief
with respect to their prospects of having a child.
In Zacharias’ case Gabriel ‘dumbs’ him,
“because thou believest not my words (Lk 1:20)”.
Is it correct therefore to say that Mary,
however fleetingly, was also in unbelief
toward God’s announcement via Gabriel,
and therefore in unbelief towards God’s word
which is sin? “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin”
(Rom 14:23). Mary though being given leniency
as opposed to the man Zecharias because of
something to do with her motherhood
(or more simply just because of Jesus) ???

I’m stuck on this…

There’s a profound difference.

On the one hand, Mary doesn’t doubt for a second that what the angel has told her will happen, she simply asks HOW (by what means or method) it will happen.

Zechariah, on the other hand, seems to be asking for some sort of miraculous sign from the angel as proof that what the angel has said will in fact take place. Thus expressing, by his desire for some sort of guarantee or assurance, his doubt that it will happen at all.

Asking ‘how can I KNOW (be sure) that it’s going to happen’ is a whole other thing from simply asking "how will it happen’.

Also, if the early Christian tradition that Mary was a consecrated Virgin, then the question “How could this be, because I do not know man”, makes more sense. Mary is wondering how can this happen with her keeping her vow.

Otherwise the anticipated answer would be obvious - “You see Mary, when the male sperm enter the female zygote…”

Apples and oranges, my friend.

Zecharius said, “HOW can this be; my wife and I are too old”. . .he doubted God’s power. He was sure this COULDN’T happen, scientifically speaking :smiley: and so he came right out with it. . .a challenge: Just HOW is God going to make an old man and old woman, past the age of childbearing, have a son? It isn’t possible!

But Mary’s case was different. Since she was betrothed to Joseph, IF this was going to be a case of a ‘normal’ Jewish marriage, she would have EXPECTED to have sexual relations. Remember, the angel at the time had not said the child would be the Son of God–that came AFTER. No, if Mary had expected to be married and have relations, she would not have said, "how’ but rather, “oh. . .Joseph and I are going to have a SON?”

Instead, she says ‘how.’ She isn’t stupid. . .she knows that ‘a man’ is required, she isn’t asking for biology lessons.

Obviously, Mary (as Tradition tells us) was expecting not to have relations. . . though she was going to be married. That could only indicate that Mary was a professed virgin (and she told the angel that, that she was virgin) and EXPECTED TO REMAIN SO. . .so SINCE she was going to be married, it must have been a marriage to ‘protect’ her (unmarried women in 1st century or so Judea, a country that was occupied by Rome, would have been in great danger of rape and death) and it must have been accepted by the man in question as well.

And that explains Joseph’s later actions. Knowing that Mary was PREGNANT, he knew that marrying her would mean that he would not only be the ‘legal’ father of another man’s child, he would ALSO (and unfairly in his eyes) be considered as having ‘reneged’ on his vow to protect her perpetual virginity. While this would have been permitted him as her husband in theory, in practice, once he had agreed to let her remain virgin, ACCEPTING her decision, by Jewish law he would be looked down on if he ‘changed his mind.’ She would not be blamed so much but HE would be, by those he knew.

Of course if he divorced her quietly, she would have to go away someplace. . .and the talk would die down in time. If he ‘kept her’, there would always be the snide remarks, being looked down on. . .how that must have hurt this innocent man!

So Mary. . .knowing Joseph had agreed to her vow. . . was puzzled. If the angel is telling her that she will conceive–does that mean God is DISREGARDING her --and Joseph’s–Vow? She was sure she was right to vow. . .but now it looked as though God was telling her she was wrong. . .so she was puzzled. How could God tell a virgin she WOULD conceive, unless she was no longer to be a virgin? And so, Mary asks. . .How shall this be? I am a virgin (a vowed virgin). . .I do not (or so I had planned) have relations with a man. . .What do you want from me, dear Lord? Must I deny my vow? Is that your wish? Tell me. . .I will disregard my own dearest wishes if you desire. . .I am the handmaid of the Lord.

The angel explains. Mary understands. . . this is the fulfilment of the Messiah prophecy. She knows all it will entail. She has no hesitation. . .

Be it done to me according to thy word.

Ah, but, you see, here’s where the precision of the Douay-Rheims really shines, unlike ANY other Catholic version, including the RSV-CE!

Zachary: 18 And Zachary said to the angel: Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.

Mary: 34 And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?

From the online edition of Haydock’s Commentary:

Ver. 18. Whereby shall I know this? Zacharias could not question the Divine Power, but he doubted of what the angel told him. (Witham) — It was customary with the Jews, when they heard that any wonderful event was to take place, to inquire whether the Almighty had manifested his will by any supernatural sign. Zacharias puts this question to the angel, not through any doubt concerning the omnipotence of God, but because what was promised could not be compassed in the natural order of things: for, I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years. (Dionysius)

Ver. 34. How shall this be done? She only asks about the manner. — Because I know not man.[6] This answer, as St. Augustine takes notice, would have been to no purpose, had she not made a vow to God to live always a virgin. (Witham) — Listen to the words of this pure Virgin. The angel tells her she shall conceive; but she insists upon her virginity, holding her purity in higher estimation than the promised dignity. (St. Gregory of Nyssa.) — She did not doubt the truth of what the angel said, (as Calvin impiously maintained) but she wished it might not happen to the prejudice of her vowed virginity. (St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, Ven. Bede, Theophylactus, &c. &c.)

Thanks everyone. I think I ‘get-it’, ie the difference between ‘by what means will I know this?’ versus ‘how/by-what-means will it happen?’

The doubt I read into her question comes from the seeming embedded doubt I read in other question verses such as,

John 6:53
"The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying
How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

Could also say that the Jews were just asking how-by what means-this would happen, except that they ‘strove’, which feels to me like the strivings of doubt at Jesus’ statement.

???

Those versions which translate Mary’s response as “how CAN this be” instead of “how SHALL this be” are faulty and defective here. From what I’ve been told of the Greek, it should be rendered “shall” or “will” but NOT “can”. I could see where someone could perceive Mary as also doubting the angel with such a slipshod rendering.

The RSV-CE got it wrong, and the RSV-2CE ALSO got it wrong!

There is no sin in asking “how” God will accomplish a miracle. There is sin in doubting that God can accomplish it. Both Mary’s and Zacharia’s words might look similar. But God could read their hearts. We have to conclude that Mary’s response was not lacking faith, whereas Zacharia’s response was lacking faith.

Remember too that it is God’s privilege to deal with individuals differently. God chose to punish Zacharia when he questioned fatherhood at his old age. But God chose not to punish Abraham when he asked: Shall a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And even Sarah was not struck dumb when she “laughed.”

  • Westy

Hi, this is my first post so please bear with me!

I share the view that by asking “how?” Mary is enquiring by what means this will come about, not demonstrating unbelief. Neither does she show total belief straight away. Her belief grows in stages. She has been taken by surprise (to put it mildly!) and takes it on board a bit at a time.

When the angel answers Mary’s question, he also tells her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy to reassure her that “with God nothing will be impossible” - a sign of sorts, even though Mary hasn’t explicitly asked for one. And it is only after hearing about Elizabeth that Mary gives her consent - “let it me to be according to your word” - consent that had to be given before the Incarnation could take place.

Take the story on a stage further, and it is Elizabeth who confirms Mary’s pregnancy. Another ‘sign’ of sorts, for how else could Elizabeth have known except through divine inspiration? We are told that Mary went “with haste” to visit Elizabeth and in my view this was to confirm what she had heard from the angel, and not simply an act of charity towards Elizabeth. It is only then that Mary gives voice to the Magnificat in final confirmation of what is happening to her.

For me it is important to treat all these events as a whole. Mary does not at any stage demonstrate unbelief, but her belief grows in stages as she comes to understand what is happening to her.

Hi, this is my first post so please bear with me!

I share the view that by asking “how?” Mary is enquiring by what means this will come about, not demonstrating unbelief. Neither does she show total belief straight away. Her belief grows in stages. She has been taken by surprise (to put it mildly!) and takes it on board a bit at a time.

When the angel answers Mary’s question, he also tells her about Elizabeth’s pregnancy to reassure her that “with God nothing will be impossible” - a sign of sorts, even though Mary hasn’t explicitly asked for one. And it is only after hearing about Elizabeth that Mary gives her consent - “let it me to be according to your word” - consent that had to be given before the Incarnation could take place.

Take the story on a stage further, and it is Elizabeth who confirms Mary’s pregnancy. Another ‘sign’ of sorts, for how else could Elizabeth have known except through divine inspiration? We are told that Mary went “with haste” to visit Elizabeth and in my view this was to confirm what she had heard from the angel, and not simply an act of charity towards Elizabeth. It is only then that Mary gives voice to the Magnificat in final confirmation of what is happening to her.

For me it is important to treat all these events as a whole. Mary does not at any stage demonstrate unbelief, but her belief grows in stages as she comes to understand what is happening to her.

Yeah, yeah, we heard you the first time!!! :wink:

Welcome to the Forums, Clare! Hope you enjoy your stay!

The original question of Henning was very perceptive and I do not think it has been answered.

Let me stress for us it is a case of faith seeking understandimg. We believe Mary is sinless from the very moment of her conception.

Mary’s question is considered just a query about how will it happen, while Zacharias is punished for asking what seems a very similar question.

Perhaps it shows God’s freedom to do what he likes. Also although the words appear very similar only God know what is in a person’s heart.

However it really does seem that Zacharias was treated harshly.

To ask an angel, “How shall I know this”? Are you serious?!?

If an angel revealed something to you, would your first question be, “Are you lying?”

But, to answer the question - Zechariah asked for a sign. The angel gave him a sign. He would be mute until the prophecy of Gabriel came true.

Be careful what you ask for. Sometimes you get it. :wink:

NotWorthy

Discernment is important.

If a being claiming to be an angel spoke to me I might wonder if I was dreaming or had imbibed too much. I might also wonder if the angel was a good spirit or from the devil. I think it would be vital to make sure the spirit was an angel from God. Thus to questin would be appropriate.

And prove what? Zechariah is in the room next to the Holy of Holies. I would imagine he thought it was the next to last place a demon could go. But Gabriel had been there before. As a matter of fact, Gabriel’s last sighting was in the very same settting.

No where does Luke hint that Zechariah suspects this being is anything other than an angel.

It’s worth pointing out that God chose to punish Zechariah and not to punish Mary. That alone should make it clear that the disbelief of Zechariah was not repeated in Mary’s case. The very fact that the two incidents are placed so close together in Luke, with “similar” questions and very different outcomes, appears to be an inspired non-accident.

We have God’s own testimony that Zechariah did not believe. We have no such testimony, just 16 lines later, that Mary did not believe. The most obvious inference is that Mary’s question, unlike that of Zechariah, was not one of disbelief.

VociMile,

Thank you for your reply, which has brought forward this very interesting thread.

You wrote:

We have God’s own testimony that Zechariah did not believe. We have no such testimony, just 16 lines later, that Mary did not believe. The most obvious inference is that Mary’s question, unlike that of Zechariah, was not one of disbelief.

We do not have God’s testimony. In both cases an angel spoke.

Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” (NAB, Luk 1:18-21).

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (NAB, Luk 1:34,35).

As was said before both Mary and Zachariah used essentially the same words - *How shall I know this?, How can this be…?
πῶς ἔσται τοῦτο, (κατὰ τί γνώσομαι τοῦτο;. *

Again as I said before the different treatment was due to God’s choice. Grace is a gratuitous gift of God. Perhaps God knew the inner motives, not expressed by Luke, of Mary and Zachariah.

Thus this thread considers the immediate concern, but aslso, as discussed by St Paul, the way God is free to choose the lowly and put down the mighty.

No, no, no. “Whereby” = “by what sign shall I know that this will come to pass”. “How” = "what is the process by which this will come to pass. Zacharias query implies lack of faith (i.e., he wanted a sign). The Blessed Virgin’s query merely indicates curiosity.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.