In Luke 1, we read very similar accounts of two births foretold. In the first, the angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth will bear a son to be named John. In the second, Mary is told by Gabriel that she will conceive a son, Jesus. Both seem to respond in a similar manner to the angel. Compare:
18Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."
34"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
Luke 1:18, 34 (NIV)
In response to Zechariah, the angel silences him until the time of John's birth; but in response to Mary the angel addresses her question by giving an explanation that the Spirit will overshadow her. What would account for the disparate reactions by the angel Gabriel to their questions?
Their responses seem similar and I don't believe it's possible to examine the language and come with the phrasing that leads to the rebuke. His mirrors Gen 15:8 which is not received as harshly.
In comparison with Mary's response while hers seems more technical ("How is this going to happen?" - which perhaps implies a belief in something supernatural happening since she's about to be married) whereas Zechariah's response is a request for a sign (of which there are several Old Testament examples which do not receive as harsh a response). Zechariah's response does seem to question the integrity of the messenger though.
But beyond the "don't irritate and angel of the Lord" possibilities, I think one has to look beyond the form of his response and assume more information about the quality of the response is involved than that which Luke gives. Obviously in the framework of Luke's work and thought God is omnipotent, omniscient and just and this characteristic is to be presumed to be in effect through his messengers.
Zechariah didn't trust God, Mary did.Tweet