Questions for Bible study groups
- What did the gospel writers mean when they used the term ‘angel’? Who or what was an angel?
- How does a person receive a message from God?
- What does it mean to say ‘the story is not about what happened to Mary, but about who Jesus is’?
In brief: The angel Gabriel brought a message to Mary of Nazareth, an unmarried Galilean peasant girl, asking her to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah.
What happened at the Annunciation?
19th century photograph of a Bedouin girl
The story opens with a bold but simple statement. In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel came to the small town (not a city as Luke calls it) of Nazareth and visited a young woman who was engaged to marry a man called Joseph; he was of the house of the great King David, and her name was Mary.
These two young people were promised to each other, but not yet married. This meant Mary was still living with her parents, in a modest home in a small, backward village. They were obscure, unimportant people, known only to their relatives and friends. Had the angel not approached Mary, or if she had baulked at the angel’s request, no-one would ever have heard of them.
Who or what was an ‘angel’?
An image probably jumps to mind of a white-clad, winged young man. This is the way that angels are traditionally portrayed, and we are so used to this that we find it difficult to imagine Mary and the Angel as anything other than two separate figures facing each other in a simply furnished room.
But what did the writers of the gospels mean when they used the term ‘angel’?
They were speaking of a message from God. It could come in a dream, or as an overpowering premonition, or as a vision. However it appeared, it was powerful enough to shake the person to their foundations: the person who received/saw the Angel/message was convinced they had received a message directly from God – it was, in fact, God-given.
This is what Mary experienced.
Read the blue text at the end of this page.