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Luke 1:31 records the angel telling Mary, "you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus." Mary's question in reply shows mystification or surprise; it's clear she understands this is impossible in normal terms.

Yet when I read the statement, I don't see a need to assume anything will happen immediately or that there will be a "virgin birth". I think it would be natural to conclude she'll bear a child, our Messiah, in the course of marriage.

Why did Mary understand the significance?

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You're certainly omitting the immediate context. See, especially, Luke 1:34-35. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jan 14 '13 at 17:03
    
I omitted it in the sense of not quoting fully, but I don't see your point as applied to my question. Can you help further? –  Smandoli Jan 14 '13 at 17:09
    
When you say Mary's question in reply shows mystification or surprise," which verse are you referring to? –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jan 14 '13 at 18:41
    
@H3br3wHamm3r81 surely v34? –  Jack Douglas Jan 14 '13 at 18:43
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We know from verse 34 that Mary does understand Gabriel's message to mean she would have a miraculous conception, as you allude to in your question:

34And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” Luke 1, ESV

But it is not clear from the preceeding text how Mary knows that, as you say.

I think it is helpful to bear in mind here that although Luke aims "to write an orderly account", that does not mean he will necessarily aim to include every detail of every event: this is still a narrative, and the intent is that the reader would "have certainty concerning the things you have been taught" rather than a detailed timeline of events.

It is of course possible that other words were exchanged between Gabriel and Mary that he does not report, or that something about the tone or manner of his words or his expression made Mary understand his meaning, or indeed that she was simply directly given insight and understanding at the right time: but Luke chooses not to tell us because he has left no ambiguity about the facts he is concerned with communicating.

The miraculous nature of Jesus conception is in contrast with the 'less-miraculous' nature of John's conception that is interwoven in the narrative: Luke is trying very hard to tell us something about the nature of the child to be born, and not so much about Mary and what she knew and when.

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Well reasoned and well said. +1 –  Smandoli Jan 14 '13 at 18:28
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