The Conception of Prophet Jesus, Son of Mary

Upon a Christian feminist expressing to me her discomfort with the idea of the Virgin Mary delivering a child without having consented to conceive or carry him, I decided to reread the corresponding verses in the Qur’an that describe the conception of Prophet Jesus, son of Mary, since there has already been an instance—the sacrifice of Ishmael—during which consent is present in the Qur’an when it is not present in the Bible. I have tentatively found, to my satisfaction, that this appears to be the case again.

Here are the verses:

Then We sent to her Our Angel, and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned human.

She said, “Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of God.”

He said, “I am only the messenger of your God to give you [news of] a pure boy.”

She said, “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?”

He said, “Thus [it will be]; your God says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.’”

So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place.

(Qur’an 19:17—19:22)

The key is line 18, in which Gabriel discloses, “I am only the messenger of God to give you the news of a pure boy.” Translators seem to disagree on the exact concept of whether Gabriel was delivering the news, or as other translations contend, “sent to bestow a son.” In other words (with either reading) Mary isn’t pregnant yet. The future tense that follows (“Thus it will be”) affirms this interpretation, particularly the last line cited: “So she conceived him,” implying that she had not already.

The impression among Muslims that Gabriel was sent to inform Mary that she is pregnant, and not to inform her that there are plans for her pregnancy, is derived, I hypothesize, from line 21 in which Gabriel proclaims that “it is a matter [already] degreed”—but the pronoun is referring to the plans, not the pregnancy; as these terms are employed in the Qur’an frequently to describe Destiny, there is no reason to believe otherwise.

Of course that does not resolve the lack of explicit consent, which is present when Ibrahim (P) asks his son whether he consents to the sacrifice—the consent here appears instead to be implied—but it is much more comforting than other suggestive excuses (i.e. that God didn’t have to ask because God knew she would consent) that are entirely uncharacteristic with the rest of the Qur’an.

7 thoughts on “The Conception of Prophet Jesus, Son of Mary

  1. Interestingly, from a Jewish perspective, many of the midrashim (supplemental/explanatory material) on the binding of Isaac do emphasize his knowledge of and consent to his sacrifice. They emphasize that he was an adult (37 is the age that gets calculated- in any case, capable of consent), and interpret the phrase “the two walked on together” to mean that they went with the same purpose, even envisioning conversations between the two in which Isaac agrees, and even in one case tells his father to bind him so that he will not jerk in pain and cause the sacrifice to be flawed.

    This is an example that I think I’ve seen used in discussing ways in which the Quor’an frequently includes content that Jewish sources have in the midrashic texts.

  2. Rebecca

    I´m not sure one could say Mary didn´t consent to her pregnancy…
    I just looked up the story in the King James bible, where it says at Luke 1,38: “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”
    For me, that sounds an awful lot like consent, though it tells us nothing about what would have happened if she HADN`T agreed. However, I always liked to believe that God wouldn´t have chosen a woman to be the mother of Jesus who wouldn´t be willing…

    1. That does sound like consent, even more directly than in the Qur’an. I’m not familiar with the Bible so I hadn’t contested her. I’ll cite her the passage. Thanks Rebecca!

  3. Maham

    I was hoping you could elaborate this further, I’m very confused. Either way, if Gabriel is delivering to her the news of her pregnancy is imminent due to destiny, doesn’t that take away her consent anyway? She’s destined to become pregnant whether she likes it or not. I would really appreciate clarification!

  4. Hello, I’m a Christian feminist and I’d like to give my two cents here. I, as both a believer in Jehovah God and in equality, find the question of whether Mary consented the birth of Jesus a bit ridiculous. The Bible teaches that “to Jehovah belong the earth and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1), and this includes humans, of course. Long story short, we are God’s property (not that of a man, nor a woman) and when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are bought with his blood (Acts 20:28). The Bible remarks “you do not belong to yourselves” (1 Corinthians 6:20) We, to God, are not subjects, but objects, and why should He ask to use something that is already His?

    I can’t leave without asking you, does Islam/the Qu’ran teach something like that (humans being God’s property?)

    God bless you.

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