The Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 1:1

  1. Introduction: Origin of Jesus the Messiah (1:1-2:23)
    1. Title (1:1)

This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham:

Notes

1:1

record of the ancestors.—This translates a phrase that is lit. “book of the beginning” (cf. Gen 5:1). As such, 1:1 is an introduction to the genealogy of 1:2-17 rather than a title for the infancy narrative of Matt 1-2, the narrative of Jesus’ life up to the beginning of his ministry (1:1-4:11), or for the Gospel as a whole. Strictly speaking, it seems most likely that this “record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah” introduces the infancy narrative of Matt 1-2. However, when Matthew is read as a literary whole, the key ideas of 1:1 are found throughout this Gospel. Thus, from a literary standpoint, it is difficult to limit the title to the genealogy. Davies and Allison (1988:150) argue from the LXX usage of this expression (Gen 2:4; 5:1) that Matthew’s entire book is involved in this title.

David and of Abraham.—These are key persons in the genealogy that follows this verse (cf. 1:2, 6, 17).

Commentary

While the word “Jesus” in 1:1 is obviously a personal name, the nlt’s “the Messiah” indicates that the Greek Christos [TG, ZG5986] (“Christ,” “Messiah,” “anointed one”; cf. 1:16, 17, 18; 2:4; 11:2; 16:16, 20; 22:42; 23:10; 24:5, 23; 26:63, 68; 27:17, 22) should be viewed as a title that indicates Jesus’ supreme role and office in God’s plan. Both Christos and its Hebrew equivalent (meshiakh) are related to the ceremony of anointing a king or priest for office in recognition of God’s approval (Exod 28:41; 1 Sam 9:15-16; 10:1; 16:3, 12-13; 1 Chr 29:22). In some Old Testament passages the term “the Lord’s anointed” is a title for the divinely endorsed king (1 Sam 24:6; 2 Sam 1:14; Ps 2:2). During intertestamental times, messianic speculation flourished as Israel reflected on the prophetic hope of a restored Davidic monarchy. Messianic hope was tied to Israel’s longing for God’s final judgment of the nations and Israel’s resulting freedom from Gentile domination. In Matthew Christos is a key title that portrays Jesus as the one who fulfills these promises.

When Matthew joins “Son of David, Son of Abraham” to “Messiah,” Jesus’ unique status is even more strongly stressed. “Son of David” is frequently a messianic title (1:1, 6, 17, 20; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30, 31; 21:9, 15; 22:42, 45), drawing from such Old Testament material as 2 Samuel 7:11-16 and Psalm 91. “Son of Abraham” occurs only in 1:1, but Abraham is mentioned elsewhere (1:2, 17; 3:9; 8:11; 22:32) as the proto-typical Israelite whose eminent status in God’s Kingdom is unquestionable. This close connection of Jesus with Abraham may be contrasted with John’s and Jesus’ severance of the Jewish religious leaders from any connection with Abraham (3:9; 8:11). Perhaps Matthew’s stress on Gentiles (e.g., 2:1; 4:15; 8:5; 15:22; 27:54) implies that in Jesus, the promise that all nations would be blessed through Abraham is fulfilled (Gen 12:1-3).

It is obvious even to the casual reader that each of the four Gospels begins uniquely. Mark begins in the most concise fashion and has the reader at the outset of Jesus’ ministry by 1:9. The Johannine prologue (1:1-18) concerning the “Word” who became flesh sets the tone for many of the themes of John’s Gospel. Matthew and Luke alone contain material about Jesus’ infancy and early years, though this material seldom overlaps. All four Gospels do, however, stress the preparatory ministry of John the Baptist before they launch into the ministry of Jesus.

Matthew’s story of the origin of Jesus begins with a title and genealogy (1:1-17) that show who Jesus is. Matthew continues with the account of his miraculous birth (1:18-25), which shows how Jesus entered the world. Matthew then follows with the events surrounding the arrival of the mysterious Magi, Jesus’ sojourn in Egypt, and his return to Nazareth (2:1-23), showing where Jesus lived. This unique Matthean material leads into the shared story of John’s ministry (3:1-12), Jesus’ baptism (3:13-17), and Jesus’ temptation (4:1-11). All this paves the way for the beginning of his ministry (4:12ff) while introducing the reader to such crucial Matthean themes as the sonship of Jesus and his role in fulfilling the Old Testament.

Matthew 1:2-17

  1. Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah (1:2-17; cf. Luke 3:23-38)

2Abraham was the father of Isaac.

Isaac was the father of Jacob.

Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.

3Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).

Perez was the father of Hezron.

Hezron was the father of Ram.

4Ram was the father of Amminadab.

Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.

Nahshon was the father of Salmon.

5Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).

Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).

Obed was the father of Jesse.

6Jesse was the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).

7Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.

Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.

Abijah was the father of Asa.

8Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat.

Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram.

Jehoram was the father of Uzziah.

9Uzziah was the father of Jotham.

Jotham was the father of Ahaz.

Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.

10Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.

Manasseh was the father of Amon.

Amon was the father of Josiah.

11Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).

12After the Babylonian exile:

Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.

Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.

13Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.

Abiud was the father of Eliakim.

Eliakim was the father of Azor.

14Azor was the father of Zadok.

Zadok was the father of Akim.

Akim was the father of Eliud.

15Eliud was the father of Eleazar.

Eleazar was the father of Matthan.

Matthan was the father of Jacob.

16Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.

Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.

17All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.

Notes

1:2

With this verse, the familiar genealogical pattern “A was the father of B, B was the father of C” begins. As the genealogy proceeds, the pattern is slightly changed in a few places by the addition of certain details (mentioned in the notes below), until it is decisively modified in the description of Jesus’ birth in 1:16. Here in 1:2 the phrase “and his brothers” is added, perhaps as an allusion to the twelve tribes who form the nation of Israel and the pattern for the twelve apostles (Carson 1984:65; cf. 8:11; 19:28). It is important to read 1:2 in light of 1:1. Mention of Abraham concludes 1:1 and begins 1:2, initiating an inclusio that begins with Messiah, David, and Abraham (1:1) and concludes with Abraham, David, and Messiah (1:17). Abraham stands at the decisive point of the origin of the nation of Israel (Gen 12:1ff) and is also at the root of the new people of God (3:9; 8:11). In view of the women mentioned later, it is noteworthy that the matriarchs of Israel are not mentioned here alongside the patriarchs.

Judah.—Prominent among his brothers due to the fact that his tribe bears the scepter (Gen 49:10; cf. Matt 2:6; Heb 7:14).

1:3

Tamar.—Here it is added that Tamar was the mother of Perez, and that Zerah was Perez’s brother. Tamar, the wife of Judah’s son Er, is the first woman mentioned in the genealogy. Genesis 38:6-30 relates the story of her incestuous liaison with her father-in- law Judah after Judah did not fulfill his obligation to provide a levirate husband for her.

1:5

Rahab... Ruth.—Here it is added that Rahab was the mother of Boaz and that Ruth was the mother of Obed. Rahab is well known to readers of the Bible (Josh 2:1-21; 6:17, 22-25; Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25). According to Joshua 2, Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho, protected the Israelite spies due to her fear of the God of Israel. Her family was spared from the destruction of that city and lived among the Israelites. The OT does not indicate that Rahab married Salmon and became the mother of Boaz. The story of Ruth the Moabitess coming to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi and marrying Boaz is told in the book of Ruth. Ruth 4:18-22 is likely a source for Matt 1:3b-6.

1:6

King David.—Here it is added that David was king, which stresses his centrality in Matthew’s genealogy and theology. David is the pivotal person at the end of Matthew’s first set of fourteen generations and at the beginning of the second set. The name Bathsheba does not occur in the verse but is added in the nlt to clarify the Gr. expression that is more lit. translated “the one who had been Uriah’s wife.” This is a curious way to refer to Bathsheba. Perhaps it is a euphemism, or perhaps it calls attention to David’s sin in having Uriah killed in battle. More likely it hints that Solomon’s mother was a Gentile (since Uriah was a Hittite). Second Samuel 11-12 relates the sad story of Bathsheba’s adultery with David, the ensuing intrigue and death of her husband Uriah, the death of her son by David, and finally the birth of Solomon. With the mention of Bathsheba, Matthew has now included in Jesus’ genealogy the names of four women, all of whom were evidently Gentiles with somewhat tawdry pasts.

1:11

exile to Babylon.—Here the brothers of Jehoiachin are mentioned, along with the pivotal event of the exile to Babylon (cf. 1:12, 17). Matthew’s second set of fourteen generations descends from the glories of King David to the shameful rebellion of his successors, which leads to the judgment of God in the Exile.

1:12

Babylonian exile.—The final set of “fourteen” generations pivots on the exile to Babylon and moves from the abyss of the Exile to the apex of the Messiah.

1:13-15

Abiud... Jacob.—The nine people named from Abiud to Jacob in 1:13-15 evidently span a time period of around 500 years, but none of them are mentioned in the OT.

1:16

Joseph, the husband of Mary.—The line of Jesus from prototypical Abraham to royal David now comes down to unpretentious Joseph. In 1:18-2:23 Joseph’s obedient care for his adopted son is stressed, but here in 1:16 he is described only as Mary’s husband. His brief appearance in Matthew underlines his modeling of obedience and his Davidic descent, even as a humble carpenter (1:16, 18, 19, 20, 24; 2:13, 19; 13:55). His wife Mary is not mentioned frequently either (1:16, 18, 20; 2:11; 13:55; 27:56, 61; 28:1).

Mary gave birth to Jesus.—After stating thirty-nine times since 1:2 that A “was the father of” B, Matthew breaks the pattern by describing the birth of Jesus only in terms of his mother. The unique circumstances of Jesus’ birth, to be explained more fully as a miracle in 1:18-25, are expressed here simply by stating that Jesus was born from Mary, the wife of Joseph. The active verb egennēsen [TG, ZG1164] has occurred thirty-nine times in 1:2-16a, but in 1:16b the passive egennēthē occurs so that 1:16b reads “from whom (Mary—the pronoun is fem.) was born Jesus.” Thus the reader is already made aware that the birth of Jesus who is called the Messiah is very different from the previous births in the genealogy and is thereby prepared for the more detailed explanation in 1:18-25.

1:17

fourteen generations.—This verse summarizes the genealogy and clarifies its structure. The genealogy has three movements of fourteen generations: (1) from Abraham to David (1:2-6a), (2) from David to the Exile (1:6b-11), and (3) from the Exile to Jesus the Messiah (1:12-16). Careful readers will note that it is difficult to arrange the genealogy into three groups of fourteen generations, but Matthew was more interested in the symbolism of “fourteen” than in the precision of his scheme. David is the fourteenth person in the genealogy, which matches up with the symbolic number of his name when its consonants in Heb., ‏דוד‎ (dalet-vav-dalet) are added up because ‏ד‎ = 4 (dalet is the fourth letter of the Heb. alphabet), and ‏ו‎ = 6 (vav is the sixth letter). Such addition of the numerical values corresponding to letters in words is called gematria. By using this literary technique, Matthew underlines the importance of Jesus’ Davidic roots and the providence of God through Israel’s history.

Commentary

After mentioning the Messiah, David, and Abraham in his title (1:1), Matthew uses a chiastic pattern in his genealogy to mention Abraham (1:2), David (1:6), and the Messiah (1:16). The structure of the genealogy is made clear by its summary in 1:17. It traces fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the exile in Babylon, and fourteen generations from the Exile to the Messiah. Modern readers should beware a tendency to dismiss the genealogy as a boring, irrelevant way to begin a book about Jesus. If Jesus is to be Messiah, he must be connected to David and Abraham, as 1:1 affirms, and the genealogy develops this connection. However, it is clear from 1:17 and from a comparison with Luke 3:23-38 that the genealogy does not purport to be an exhaustive or chronologically exact record of Jesus’ family tree. While genuine historical information is provided, the purpose is primarily theological, not chronological.

The three sections of the genealogy pivot on King David and the exile to Babylon. David represents one of the highest points of the Old Testament narrative, and the Exile represents one of the lowest points. It is likely that in Jesus, the Son of David, Matthew saw one who would restore a new Israel from an exile even more deplorable than the one in Babylon. Matthew had evidently chosen fourteen generations to structure his genealogy because David is the fourteenth name in the genealogy and fourteen is the numerical value of David in Hebrew (see note on 1:17). Matthew’s use of this gematria stresses the centrality of David in Jesus’ background as well as the centrality of David the great’s even greater son, Jesus, for Matthew’s readers.

In the “fourteen” generations from Abraham to King David, Matthew demonstrates Jesus’ sonship and aligns Jesus as Messiah with the historical outworking of the promise of God. In the “fourteen” generations from David to the Exile, Matthew recounts the decline of Israel under the judgment of God. And in the “fourteen” generations from the Exile to the Messiah, Matthew traces the faithful purpose of God in fulfilling his promise despite the rebellion of his people.

Three issues in the genealogy call for more extended discussion: (1) the discrepancy with the number fourteen, (2) the reason why Matthew included the women in the genealogy, and (3) the relation of Matthew’s genealogy to Luke’s.


The Number Fourteen.

The table on the following page displays the discrepancy in the use of the number fourteen. It shows that only the second set of “fourteen” generations actually has fourteen. The first and third sets actually have thirteen generations.

Scholars have responded to this discrepancy in different fashions. One can come up with three sets of fourteen names in the following way. The first set of fourteen runs from Abraham to David (1:2-6a). The second set runs from Solomon to Jeconiah (1:6b-12). The third set runs either from Shealtiel to Jesus (including Mary) or from Jeconiah to Jesus (excluding Mary; 1:12-16). The first option for the third set is more plausible, since Jeconiah has already been counted once as the last name in the second set. Brown (1993:82) notes that there are indeed fourteen names in the first set, so perhaps Matthew intended that Abraham (1:2) be viewed as a generation. But this will not work in the third set, where the first name (Jeconiah) represents the last generation of the second set. But all this may be irrelevant, since Matthew is speaking of generations (1:17), not names.

The Three “Fourteens” of Matthew’s Genealogy

Matthew 1:1-6a

Matthew 1:6b-11

Matthew 1:12-16

1. Abraham-Isaac

David-Solomon

Jeconiah-Shealtiel

2. Isaac-Jacob

Solomon-Rehoboam

Shealtiel-Zerubbabel

3. Jacob-Judah

Rehoboam-Abijah

Zerubbabel-Abiud

4. Judah-Perez

Abijah-Asa

Abiud-Eliakim

5. Perez-Hezron

Asa-Jehoshaphat

Eliakim-Azor

6. Hezron-Ram

Jehoshaphat-Jehoram

Azor-Zadok

7. Ram-Amminadab

Jehoram-Uzziah

Zadok-Akim

8. Amminadab-Nahshon

Uzziah-Jotham

Akim-Eliud

9. Nahshon-Salmon

Jotham-Ahaz

Eliud-Eleazar

10. Salmon-Boaz

Ahaz-Hezekiah

Eleazar-Matthan

11. Boaz-Obed

Hezekiah-Manasseh

Matthan-Jacob

12. Obed-Jesse

Manasseh-Amon

Jacob-Joseph

13. Jesse-David

Amon-Josiah

Joseph (Mary)

14.

Josiah-Jehoiachin

 

Blomberg (1992:53) remarks that ancient literary convention often alternated between inclusive (first and third sets) and exclusive (second set) reckoning. If this is true, the shift between thirteen and fourteen is understandable. It has been suggested that names were omitted due to errors in the transmission of the text, but there is no manuscript evidence for any such omissions. Gundry (1994:19) solves the problem in the third set by suggesting that Matthew counts Joseph and Mary as separate generations, but this breaks the literary pattern in 1:16 and seems to count the “non-generation” of Jesus by Joseph as a generation. There are also numerous other suggestions, all of which are even less convincing.

However one handles this problem, Carson’s point (1984:68) is noteworthy: “The symbolic value of the sets of fourteen is of more significance than their precise breakdown.” Matthew certainly knew basic arithmetic, but Matthew’s literary conventions are ancient, not modern. By modern standards, Matthew’s linear genealogy is artificial because it is not exhaustive. Matthew has omitted three names found in 1 Chronicles 3:10-14 between Solomon and Josiah, and other omissions can also be noted (Brown 1993:82-84). But it is not that Matthew has erred, since he did not intend to work exhaustively and precisely. The fact that David is the fourteenth name in the genealogy, along with the symbolic significance of fourteen as the numerical value of David’s name, explains the artificiality of the genealogy.

The Women in Matthew’s Genealogy.

A second feature of the genealogy that calls for comment is the inclusion of the women. It is generally acknowledged that women are seldom included in Jewish genealogies, which are usually patrilineal. (For some exceptions, see Gen 11:29; 22:20-24; 35:22-26; 1 Chr 2:18-21, 24, 34, 46-49; 7:24.)

Since the days of the church fathers, it has been proposed that Matthew includes the women as prototypical sinners whom Jesus came to save. Thus, the women take their place in the narrative alongside the Magi, the Roman centurion, the Canaanite woman, and others in Matthew who bear testimony to the grace of God. A similar view has it that all these women were guilty of scandalous sexual union. To be sure, Tamar and especially Rahab were guilty of heinous sins, but this does not seem to be the case with Ruth and Bathsheba. The Old Testament account of Bathsheba’s adultery with David (2 Sam 11) appears to characterize her as the passive victim of his aggression. Ruth’s contact with Boaz at night (Ruth 3:7-15) is not a steamy scene of seduction but involves a marriage proposal to a kinsman as enjoined in the Old Testament. Another problem here concerns Matthew’s intent in listing these women alongside Mary, whose virtuous character is stressed. Unless Matthew intended these women to contrast with Mary, it makes little sense to mention them.

Another popular approach to this question asserts that all these women were Gentiles who typify Matthew’s intent to stress that the gospel is for all the nations. This is repeatedly shown in the narrative and in a climactic manner at the conclusion to the book. Tamar and Rahab were Canaanites. Ruth was a Moabite, and Bathsheba was evidently a Hittite like her husband Uriah. Against this, it is argued that Jewish tradition generally viewed these women as virtuous proselytes. But their Gentile origins are not thereby denied, and this would make them even better prototypes of Matthew’s stress on Gentile mission. The problem of relating these women to Mary remains, however. If this view is adopted, it must be assumed that Matthew intended for these women to neither be contrasted with Mary nor considered typical of her.

Blomberg (1991), interacting with Schaberg (1987) and Horsley (1989), argues that all these women bore illegitimate children and thus paved the way for the suspicion that Jesus was also illegitimately conceived by Mary. Thus Matthew 1-2 implies that God liberates people from the stigma of illegitimacy through the virgin birth of the Messiah. This view has the strength of tying these four women to Mary with a common thread, something lacking in the preceding views. But the view can only presume that the prostitute Rahab had an illegitimate child, since the Old Testament is silent on this. Furthermore, Ruth’s union with Boaz seems to be legitimate. In these two cases, only the suspicion of illegitimacy can be implied.

It appears that Matthew’s inclusion of four noteworthy or even notorious women in his genealogy has not yet been satisfactorily explained. Certain elements of all the views have merit. Perhaps all that can be said is that the presence of these women in the genealogy implies Matthew’s stress on the universal world mission of the gospel and his later focus on genuine piety. God’s grace in Jesus the Messiah reaches beyond Israel to Gentiles, beyond men to women, beyond the self- righteous to sinners. In saving his people from their sins, Jesus is not bound by race, gender, or even scandal.

Matthew’s Genealogy and Luke’s.

A third area of discussion in Matthew’s genealogy concerns its relationship to Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3:23-38). My discussion will first compare and contrast the genealogies and then turn to the theological issues. While Matthew’s genealogy selectively and thus somewhat artificially traces Jesus’ ancestors from Abraham on, Luke more comprehensively covers this ground from Jesus all the way back to Adam. There are over sixty persons mentioned by Luke who are not mentioned by Matthew. Luke has twenty-one pre-Abrahamic generations and fourteen generations between Abraham and David (one more than Matthew’s “fourteen”). Between David and Shealtiel, Luke has twenty-one generations to Matthew’s fifteen. From Shealtiel to Jesus, Luke has twenty generations to Matthew’s twelve. The syntax of the genealogies differs in that Matthew follows the “A was the father of B” pattern, while Luke utilizes the genitive of relationship: “A was the son of B.” Context differs as well: Matthew places his genealogy at the outset of his Gospel, while Luke sandwiches his between his accounts of Jesus’ baptism and temptation. Matthew’s 3 x 14 structure is a transparent feature of his genealogy, but there is a great deal of debate over the possibility of an 11 x 7 structure for Luke’s.

A major difference occurs in Matthew 1:6 and Luke 3:31, where Matthew puts Solomon after David and Luke puts Nathan after David. From this point, the genealogies diverge totally until they converge briefly with Shealtiel and Zerubbabel in Matthew 1:12 and Luke 3:27. Then they diverge again until Joseph in Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23. In other words, the genealogies converge in Matthew 1:2-6 and Luke 3:32-34 (with one difference); Matthew 1:12 and Luke 3:27; and Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23. But they diverge much more often: in Matthew 1:3 and Luke 3:33; Matthew 1:6-16 and Luke 3:24-31 (with one agreement). Between Abraham and Jesus, Luke has 56 generations, and only 12 of these converge with Matthew’s 42 generations. Convergence occurs during the premonarchial period, divergence elsewhere.

These genealogies and their relationship to each other raise some theological questions, beginning with historicity. Both genealogies have their individual historical problems, and additional problems arise when they are compared. People are mentioned in the genealogies who do not turn up in the Old Testament or anywhere else that we know of. And people in one genealogy do not match up with people in the other. At this point, one’s overall theological perspective informs exegesis. Scholars who are skeptical of the historical accuracy of the Gospels tend to deprecate the historicity of the genealogies and totally despair of ever reaching anything approaching a solution to the problems. Such scholars see the genealogies as theological constructions with dubious historical moorings. There are, of course, others who prefer to remain in ignorance of the difficulties while proclaiming a faith that does not wish to be confused by facts. However, there is good reason to accept the historical reliability of the Gospels, and those who are committed to this (see Blomberg 1987) point to solutions that are plausible, though not totally satisfying. It is the faith commitment of the individual scholar that is decisive. The problem is that there is simply insufficient information for convincing conclusions to be reached.

Another line of theological discussion is the question of the differences in the genealogies and their respective purposes. It has been argued by many older commentators (e.g., Broadus 1886:6; though disputed by Barnes 1868:2 and Calvin 1972:54-55) that Matthew gives Joseph’s genealogy, while Luke gives Mary’s. While it is possible that Mary was a descendant of David (Luke 1:32), she is not mentioned in the genealogy. Rather Joseph is (Luke 3:23). This theory arises not from reading Luke but as an expedient to relieve a difficulty (Carson 1984:64).

Another approach sees both genealogies as Joseph’s, but with the nuance that Matthew provides Joseph’s royal succession to the throne and Luke provides his real genealogy. In this approach, Joseph’s real father was Heli (Luke 3:23), and Jacob (Matt 1:16) was Heli’s full brother, who died without an heir. Heli carried out a levirate marriage (Deut 25:5-10) with Jacob’s widow. But this theory raises many other questions too numerous to be discussed here.

When all is said and done, it is clear that the overall theological perspective of the interpreter is decisive. Evangelicals must admit that there are insuperable difficulties in fully resolving all the problems in the genealogies. But this does not amount to rejecting biblical authority and accuracy. While there is not sufficient evidence to solve the difficulties, there is likewise insufficient evidence to falsify the biblical record. No doubt, both genealogies are based on traditions available to Matthew and Luke, which they passed on in good faith (Albright and Mann 1971:5-6). Matthew and Luke had distinct purposes in composing their genealogies, and neither of their intentions was to exhaustively summarize the biological lineage of Jesus (Brown 1993:85). With this in mind, many of the difficulties are more understandable. Difficulties aside, both Matthew and Luke affirm Jesus’ Abrahamic and Davidic ancestry, as well as his miraculous conception by the virgin Mary.

Another area of theological concern is the respective purposes of the genealogies in their literary contexts. Matthew used his genealogy primarily for Christological purposes, to demonstrate the Abrahamic and Davidic ancestry of Jesus the Messiah while showing him to be the fulfillment of God’s promises. Additionally, the presence of the women (who are probably all Gentiles) hints at Matthew’s agenda for universal mission to all the nations.

The situation is quite different for Luke’s genealogy, which occurs not at the beginning of his gospel but between his accounts of Jesus’ baptism and temptation. It seems significant that both the preceding baptism pericope and following temptation pericope stress the divine sonship of Jesus. At the baptism, the Father affirmed this unique sonship (3:22), and at the temptation the devil unsuccessfully tested it (4:3, 9). The genealogy, tracing Jesus back to Adam and to God himself (3:38), leads one to the same conclusion: Jesus is the Son of God. The first Adam was also a son of God, but he failed under satanic testing. Endued with the Spirit (3:22; 4:1, 14, 18), the second Adam is victorious over Satan. Thus at the beginning of his ministry Jesus is viewed as the representative person for all human beings (Marshall 1978:161). Luke mentions Abraham and David, just as Matthew does, but Luke’s purpose is not to relate Jesus to Abraham and David. Rather, it is to relate all mankind to the God of Abraham, of David, and, preeminently, of Jesus.

Matthew 1:18-25

  1. Birth of Jesus the Messiah (1:18-25)

18This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

20As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, Jesus means “The Lord saves.” for he will save his people from their sins.”

22All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:


23“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!

She will give birth to a son,

and they will call him Immanuel,

which means ‘God is with us.’”


24When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Notes

1:18

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born.—The verb in this rendering is based on the word genesis [TG, ZG1161], which occurred previously in 1:1.

Mary, was engaged... she became pregnant.—Two details provided in 1:18 are crucial for understanding Joseph’s dilemma in 1:19. Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before their marriage was consummated she was discovered to be pregnant. Engagement or betrothal frequently occurred when girls were twelve years old. When the groom had completed his obligations to the bride’s father according to the marriage contract, the bride came under the authority of her husband, though she did not necessarily move to her husband’s house at that time. Evidently, the situation in 1:18 involved all but the final stage of the process (cf. 25:1-12 and Brown 1993:123-124). Joseph had become engaged to Mary and had assumed authority over her. He was already her husband, but planned to divorce Mary because of the apparent unfaithfulness (1:21; cf. Deut 22:23-24).

while she was still a virgin.—Lit., before she and Joseph “came together” sexually, she became pregnant from the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 1:34-35).

through the power of the Holy Spirit.—The Holy Spirit is mentioned here for the first time in Matthew. The Spirit is involved in Jesus’ conception (cf. 1:20), empowerment (3:16; 12:18, 28), and leading (4:1). In Jesus’ view, the OT Scriptures came from the Spirit (22:43). John spoke of the day when Jesus would baptize in the Spirit (3:11), and Jesus promised his disciples that the Spirit would supply their testimony during persecution (10:20). They were mandated to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (28:19).

1:19

decided to break the engagement.—Joseph’s plan to quietly divorce Mary (see nlt mg) is explained here. The plan emanated from Joseph’s character as a just man who did not want to publicly disgrace Mary. This seems to mean that though Joseph was a law-abiding man, he did not want to use the law in all its rigor against Mary. Instead, he planned a quiet divorce. If this interpretation is correct, Joseph becomes something of a model of one whose high standards were balanced with compassion. (For Matthew’s approach to righteousness as obedience to the law, see 3:15; 5:6, 10, 20, 45; 6:1, 33; 9:13; 10:41; 12:37; 13:17, 43, 49; 20:4; 21:32; 23:28, 29, 35, 37; 25:46; 27:19. For general discussion of righteousness in Matthew see Przybylski 1980.)

1:20

an angel of the Lord appeared to him.—Joseph’s plans were suddenly changed by the angelic visitation and revelation. Revelation in dreams was not uncommon in the OT (Gen 37:5-7; Job 33:15-17; Dan 2; 7) or in Matthew (1:25; 2:12, 13, 19, 22; 27:19). Since Joseph was called a son of David by the angel, the story of Jesus’ birth is thereby tied to the genealogy and Jesus’ Davidic roots. This is the only time in Matthew that “son of David” does not refer to Jesus. Joseph was commanded not to fear taking Mary as his wife because her pregnancy was induced by the Holy Spirit. Joseph finally knew what the narrator told the reader in 1:18. What follows shows how well Joseph heeded this command.

1:21

she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus.—The angel’s annunciation to Joseph continues. Mary will bear a son whom Joseph will name Jesus, because of the son’s mission to save his people from their sins. This angelic annunciation has a form common to other biblical birth announcements (Gen 16:11; 17:19; Luke 1:13, 30). The name “Jesus” fits the predicted mission of this son. It is a Gr. form of the OT name Joshua, and was a common name among Jews. It was popularly related to the Heb. verb “to save” and understood to mean “Yahweh saves.” By naming Mary’s son, Joseph was accepting legal paternity. By naming him Jesus, Joseph was making a statement about Jesus’ redemptive mission: “he will save his people from their sins.” A similar play on words (paronomasia) with a personal name occurs with Simon Peter in 16:18 (cf. 1 Sam 25:25).

“Jesus” is the appropriate name for Mary’s son because as Messiah he will fulfill the eschatological hopes of the OT by “saving his people from their sins” (cf. Ps 130:8). Salvation in Matthew can refer to deliverance from physical danger, illness, and death (8:25; 9:21-22; 24:22). But salvation from sins is the focus of the angel’s announcement. In Matthew, sins are confessed by those whom John baptizes and forgiven by Jesus (3:6; 9:2, 5, 6; 12:31; 26:28). Forgiveness is accomplished by Jesus’ gift of himself as a ransom for sinners in sacrificial death, as exemplified in the elements of the Last Supper (20:28; 26:26-30). It is perhaps significant that the allusion to Psalm 130:8 substitutes “his people” for “Israel.” Jesus’ saving ministry creates a division within Israel. Those who admit they are sick come to Jesus as their physician, but most Israelites will not admit their sickness (9:9-12). Thus Jesus begins to build his church (16:18-19), “a nation that will produce [the Kingdom’s] fruit” (21:43). Israel as a nation is not abandoned, but only those Jews who will repent and turn to Jesus the Messiah will receive the forgiveness of their sins and experience all of the OT eschatological blessings (19:28-30).

1:22

fulfill the Lord’s message.—There is some question as to whether the angel’s announcement to Joseph continues in 1:22 or whether it concludes in 1:21, with 1:22 beginning Matthew’s explanation of the prophetic significance of the situation. Most likely the latter is the case. Whoever the speaker is, it is crucial to grasp the meaning of the fulfillment concept mentioned in 1:22. Note the discussions of this concept in the Introduction (pp. 13-17) and in the following commentary on 1:18-25.

1:23

The virgin will conceive a child!—Through the centuries there has been a great deal of discussion concerning the Gr. and Heb. words for “virgin” in Isa 7:14 and Matt 1:23. The Gr. word in Matt 1:23 is parthenos [TG, ZG4221], while the Heb. word in Isa 7:14 is ʾalmah [TH, ZH5959], which refers to a young woman who is old enough to be married. The reference in Isaiah is not to a virgin birth in its immediate historical setting, as the context makes clear. However, the LXX uses the term parthenos (virgin) to translate the Heb. word. Matthew followed this. There has never been any debate about what Matthew intended; his wording makes it absolutely clear that he was describing a female with no sexual experience. The debate has been over the term Isaiah used, as to whether it means “virgin” or “young woman” (see Walker 2005:45).

Isaiah 7:14 is cited as the text “fulfilled” by Mary’s virginal conception of Jesus. The nature of the fulfillment of Isa 7:14 has produced a great deal of discussion. Some take the view that Isa 7:14 is a direct prediction of the virgin birth of Jesus. Others believe that Matthew saw in the historical circumstances of Isa 7:14 a type of the virgin birth of Jesus. An extended discussion of this passage with an argument for the latter view will be found in the following commentary section.

Immanuel.—See Isa 7:14; 8:8, 10.

1:24

he did as the angel of the Lord commanded.—Joseph is a model of quiet obedience (Bruner 1987:35-36) to three angelic revelations in Matt 1-2 (cf. 2:13-15, 19-21). He got up and did exactly as he was told without hesitation or question. Given his previous plan (1:19), this is nothing less than remarkable and compares with Mary’s humble obedience in Luke 1:38.

1:25

he did not have sexual relations with her.—Joseph took Mary to his house as his wife, yet (Matthew adds another detail to underline Jesus’ miraculous birth) Joseph had no sexual relations with Mary (lit., “he was not knowing Mary”) before Jesus was born. This statement does not affirm the perpetual virginity of Mary, because she had other children (cf. 12:46; 13:55, 56; Mark 3:31-32; 6:3; Luke 8:19-20; John 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14). Mary is best honored as a model believer if she is given the normal role of wife and mother (Bruner 1987:36-40).

Commentary

Matthew announced that he was giving a record of the birth of the Messiah (1:1), and he provided an overview of the Messiah’s Abrahamic and Davidic ancestry (1:1-17). Now that the Messiah has been firmly rooted in the context of redemptive history, Matthew goes on to provide the specifics of his birth. The miraculous birth of Jesus, hinted at in 1:16, is now explained. Matthew 1:18-25 is a commentary on 1:16. In the following commentary, two major matters will be discussed: Matthew’s use of Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew’s understanding of fulfillment.


Matthew’s Use of Isaiah 7:14.

At the heart of this passage on the miraculous birth of Jesus is the citation of Isaiah 7:14 in Matthew 1:23. According to Isaiah 7, King Ahaz of Judah was under threat of attack by the kings of Aram and Israel. But God promised Ahaz that the threatened attack would not take place, and invited him to ask for a sign to that effect. Ahaz refused, but God supplied a sign anyway: “the virgin will give birth to a child.” Matthew’s citation of this passage has given rise to three major interpretive approaches, which may be categorized as typological, predictive, and multiple fulfillment.

The typological view stresses the immediacy of the sign to Ahaz (Isa 7:14a, 16) and the possible fulfillments of Isaiah 7:14 in the near future of the Old Testament context (Isa 8:3-4, 8, 10, 18). Thus, Isaiah 7:14 is viewed as a sign to Ahaz that was fulfilled during his days, and Matthew sees in the passage a historical pattern that comes to fulfillment with the birth of Jesus. A young woman in Isaiah’s day conceived a significant son who served as a sign of deliverance from Syria to Ahaz and the house of David (Isa 7:2, 13). But much more significantly, a young woman in Matthew’s day who was literally a virgin conceived, by the Spirit, a Son of ultimate significance to the house of David, the nation of Israel, and to all the nations of the earth. In Isaiah’s day, the son was a token of divine presence and deliverance. In Matthew’s day, the Son was himself “God with us,” the deliverer of his people (Barnes 1868:7-8; Broadus 1886:12).

The predictive view takes Isaiah 7:14 as foreseeing the eventual miraculous birth of the Messiah from a woman who was literally a virgin. Matthew interpreted this predictive prophecy literally and viewed it as predicting the birth of Jesus alone. Thus, the prophecy transcends the contemporary difficulties facing King Ahaz and points to a sign in the future. Nevertheless, the overwhelming significance of the sign transcends its temporal distance. Proponents of this view (e.g., Barbieri 1983:20; Calvin 1972:65-69; Carson 1984:78-79; Fowler 1968:38-42; Hendriksen 1973:134-141) argue that the normal birth of a son from a young woman (as required in the typological view) would have little or no force as a sign to King Ahaz. Additionally, they believe that only the predictive view does justice to the son’s name being “Immanuel” (meaning “God with us”).

The strength of the typological view is its focus on the historical context of the original prophecy, and the strength of the predictive view is its focus on the New Testament fulfillment. The third view, multiple fulfillment, attempts to draw from both of these strengths. In this approach, the prophecy foresees not only a partial fulfillment in the days of Ahaz but also a climactic fulfillment in New Testament times (Blomberg 1992:59-60; Gundry 1982:24-25; Toussaint 1980:44-46). The human prophet Isaiah may not have fully grasped this, but after all, the prophecy is the Lord’s, and Isaiah is merely the messenger. Such a sensus plenior (fuller meaning) was intended by the divine author if not fully understood by the human author.

One should hesitate to be dogmatic on this matter since each position has its credible advocates and arguments. However, the typological view seems best for several reasons. First, there are the weaknesses of the other views. The multiple fulfillment view introduces an unwarranted distinction between what the prophet predicted and what God intended to reveal by the text. Additionally, the double fulfillment view assumes that the esoteric connection between the near and far fulfillments of the prophecy is available only to one who is divinely inspired. But if the Christological significance of the Old Testament is accessible only from such a revelatory stance, the organic unity of the Bible is compromised and made inaccessible to ordinary believers (cf. Luke 24:27, 44-45; John 5:39). Instead of this view, which posits enigmatic double entendre and subsequent divine inspiration to recognize it, it is much better to assert a typological connection in which the Old Testament historical events contain theological motifs that anticipate the Christ-event when seen with Christian hindsight. Such hindsight is not limited to those who wrote the New Testament but is available to all who will search the historical events and theological motifs of the Old Testament. The dynamic that connects Isaiah 7:14 to Matthew 1:23 is not two levels of foresight, one on the surface of the text and the other beneath it. Rather, Matthew read the events of the Old Testament from a Christian perspective and from a belief in divine providence. Thus, he discovered events and motifs that come to climactic fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah, who is David’s son, a descendant of Abraham.

The predictive view has its problems with relevance to the immediate historical context, and the original context must be primary in any sound exegesis. It seems clear from Isaiah 7:15-17 that the son to be born signals the demise of Ahaz’s enemies, for they will be forsaken before the son comes to the age of moral discretion. It is difficult, if not impossible, to relate this to the birth of Jesus several hundred years later. It is sometimes argued that only a miraculous event such as Jesus’ virgin birth could have value as a “sign,” but a study of Isaiah’s use of this word elsewhere (Isa 7:11, 14; 8:18; 19:20; 20:3; 37:30; 38:7, 22; 55:13; 66:19) shows that this is not always the case. Additionally, such a study shows that signs in Isaiah are contemporaneous with the time frame of the prophecy, not distantly removed from it. This would indicate that signs in Isaiah are “present persuaders,” not “future confirmation” (contra Carson 1984:79). Even more problematic to the predictive view, it is doubtful that Isaiah 7:14 should even be translated as a prediction of the future, since it is a verbless clause, and such clauses are normally translated as present or past tense, depending on the context (Walton 1987:290-291). Thus, the translation should likely be “a young woman is pregnant, and is about to bear a son.”

Though some believe that Isaiah 7:14 describes the birth of Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isa 8:3-4, 10, 18), Walton (1987:289-297; cf. Willis 1978:1-18 for a similar approach) has argued plausibly that Isaiah 7:14 originally described the coming birth of a son to a nameless young woman in Ahaz’ harem. Perhaps this son was Hezekiah himself, a common Jewish view, but this is conjecture. The issue is not who the child was but what the child signified. The point is that even though times were bad at the moment, judgment would soon fall on the enemies Pekah and Rezin. Thus, the young woman should give her son the name Immanuel, since God was still with his people and would deliver them.

When Matthew, as a disciple of Jesus the Messiah, read Isaiah 7, Isaiah’s prophecy came to new significance. Matthew did not create the virgin birth narrative as an imaginative midrash on Isaiah 7. Neither did he view Isaiah 7 as an intended prediction of Jesus’ virgin birth. Rather, he saw the motifs of the oracle of Isaiah 7, particularly its stress upon the house of David (Isa 7:2, 13; 9:7), a young girl giving birth to a son (Isa 7:14-16; 8:3-4), and the presence of God with his people (Isa 7:14; 8:8, 10), in light of the miraculous birth of the Messiah. Matthew was obviously aware of these Isaianic motifs, as well as Isaiah’s specific future predictions of the Messiah in the following context (Isa 9:1-7, cf. Matt 4:15-16. Isa 11:1-5, cf. Matt 2:23?; 3:16. Isa 42:1-4, cf. Matt 12:18-21). The motifs of Isaiah 7-8 anticipated and thus supported the message of Jesus the Messiah as Matthew understood it and wished to communicate it. In Jesus the Messiah, the house of David was culminated. Mary’s virginal conception of Jesus the Messiah amounted to an infinitely greater sign to Israel. And Jesus the Messiah was himself God with the nation of Israel.

Though the preceding extended discussion is necessary for this crux interpretum, it runs the risk of causing the reader to “miss the forest for the trees.” Whatever position one takes on the matter of Matthew’s characteristic understanding of the Old Testament, one must not miss the most crucial matter, that Mary’s son Jesus is Immanuel, God-with-us. This was Matthew’s main concern here, and there is a risk of missing it if attention is given only to the preceding controversy. Matthew’s Christian Jewish community would evidently already know the Hebrew name Immanuel (Gr. Emmanouēl [TG, ZG1842]), but for added emphasis Matthew also translated the meaning into Greek: “God is with us.” This “name” is more of a title signifying the character and mission of Jesus as God with his people to save them from their sins. It is not just that God is present in Jesus to help his people (Hill 1972:80). Judging from the implications of his previous material (1:1, 16, 18, 20) and his overall high Christology (e.g., 3:17; 11:27; 28:18-20), it is likely that Matthew intended this in the fullest sense: Jesus as God’s Son is also God himself with his people, effecting their deliverance. This is the ultimate manifestation of God’s presence, and the significance of Isaiah’s Immanuel, though great in itself, pales in comparison to it.

That Jesus is God with his people is a recurring theme in Matthew. Jesus was with his disciples when the storm struck and he saved them from it (8:23-27). He was with them as they were received or rejected while preaching his Kingdom (10:25, 40; 17:17). He would be with them as they solemnly handled intractable offenders in his new community (18:15-20). He is so identified with their experiences that he views them as his own (25:40, 45). In fact, the final reference to the Immanuel theme concludes the gospel and creates an inclusio enveloping the entire Gospel with this motif. As the church obeys its mandate to disciple all the nations, Jesus promises to continue his presence with the church all the days until the end of the age (28:18-20).


Summary.

Matthew 1 has two major sections: the genealogy and the virginal conception story. This chapter reveals who Jesus is and what he has come to do. He is the Messiah, son of David and son of Abraham. In fulfillment of God’s plan for redemptive history, he has come as the “with-us God” (Bruner 1987:28) who will save his people from their sins. In Matthew 1, then, we have in seed form the two doctrines that are widely acknowledged to be Matthew’s chief concerns, Christology and ecclesiology.