Please read this interesting passage:
And relate in the Book, Mary, when she withdrew herself from her people to a place in the east. 19:16
So she took a barrier to separate her from them. Then We sent to her Our Spirit, and that appeared for her as a man full-grown.” 19:17
Here we will observe why this divine spirit (‘Our spirit’) that was ‘sent’ to Mary – that ‘appeared for her’ as ‘a full-grown man’ who ‘gave her a pure son’ (19:17-19) – refers to a real, mortal man.
To better understand a text like this, we need to keep in mind the unique literary style of the Quran as a scripture that is laced with allegories, similes and idioms.
Take the word ‘sent’ as an example. Since God is not bound in space or time, here the word ‘sent’ cannot literally mean ‘sent from a specific place or dispatched at a specific moment’. Rather it implies actualization of a potential (i.e. ‘a divine word’) for an addressee, through a natural process involving a cause and effect chain (cf. 4:171). When God ‘sends’ something to someone, He actually endows her with it through a spontaneous course, rather than directly transferring it from somewhere.
Now, it is important to observe that the divine spirit (‘Our spirit’) that was ‘sent’ to Mary through a male human form (19:17) actually parallels the divine spirit that is re-mentioned in the phrase ‘We breathed into her of Our spirit’ as a reference to Mary’s conception of Jesus (21:91). Note the same words ‘Our spirit’ in both instances. However, again, this expression ‘breathed into … of Our spirit’ in 21:91, contrary to popular belief, is not exclusive to Jesus since the Quran uses the same expression ‘breathed into … of Our spirit’ in three other places with reference to the creation of man in general (15:29, 32:9, 38:72), thus making it clear that God ‘breathes of His spirit’ into every human. One may postulate that the word ‘spirit’ in these occasions refers to a set of highly organized information, buried deep in the essence of matter.
In other words, the ‘spirit’ that was ‘sent’ to Mary through a man parallels the ‘spirit’ that was ‘breathed into her’ on her conception of Jesus. And this ‘spirit’ in turn parallels the ‘spirit’ that is ‘breathed into’ every woman on her conception of a child and is ‘sent’ to her, obviously, through a man prior to her pregnancy.
The above interactive explanation also clarifies the phrase ‘appeared for her’ (tamaththala laha), which is very different from ‘appeared to her’. Sharing common root with mith’l (resemblance) and mathal (bodily form; cf. mathal of Jesus, 3:59), the verb ‘tamaththala’ means ‘it presented itself in a different form’1. Evidently, here, it implies the representation of the ‘spirit’ through a physical carrier, i.e. a mortal man, actualized via a natural, evolutionary process involving a long cause and effect chain. Thus the whole narrative is about a real life experience of Mary with a real man. Not about any illusory vision of an angelic mirage (also cf. Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:26-38).
This ‘spirit’, which one may figure as ‘a set of highly organized information’ (such as the information stored in DNA), in fact approaches every woman through ‘a full-grown man’ prior to her conception of a child.
As noted elsewhere, this understanding that Mary underwent an actual spousal relationship with a real, mortal man is confirmed by the Quran in many ways.
The ‘spirit’ that was ‘sent’ to Mary through ‘a full-grown man’ (19:17) actually parallels the ‘spirit’ that was ‘breathed into her’ on her conception of Jesus (21:91). And this ‘spirit’ in turn parallels the ‘spirit’ that is ‘breathed into’ every woman on her conception of a child (15:29, 32:9, 38:72) and is ‘sent’ to her, obviously, through ‘a full-grown man’.
In other words, this is the same ‘spirit’ – which one may figure as a set of highly organized information, buried deep in the essence of matter (such as the information stored in DNA) – which approaches every woman, and is transferred into her, through a man prior to her pregnancy. Note: Often mistranslated as ‘angel’, the actual word used in 19:17 is ‘spirit’.
Thus, the ‘spirit’-bearing man who gave Mary a pure son was NOT a mysterious angel, but a real, mortal man.
Further reading: Does the Quran really support the Virgin Birth of Jesus?
1 The Qur’an: An Encyclopedia