Apologetics Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew

Matthew 1:1-16

The historical record of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:

2Abraham fathered Isaac,

Isaac fathered Jacob,

Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers,

3Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar,

Perez fathered Hezron,

Hezron fathered Aram,

4Aram fathered Amminadab,

Amminadab fathered Nahshon,

Nahshon fathered Salmon,

5Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab,

Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth,

Obed fathered Jesse,

6and Jesse fathered King David.

Then David fathered Solomon by Uriah’s wife,

7Solomon fathered Rehoboam,

Rehoboam fathered Abijah,

Abijah fathered Asa,

8Asa fathered Jehoshaphat,

Jehoshaphat fathered Joram,

Joram fathered Uzziah,

9Uzziah fathered Jotham,

Jotham fathered Ahaz,

Ahaz fathered Hezekiah,

10Hezekiah fathered Manasseh,

Manasseh fathered Amon,

Amon fathered Josiah,

11and Josiah fathered Jechoniah and his brothers

at the time of the exile to Babylon.

12Then after the exile to Babylon

Jechoniah fathered Shealtiel,

Shealtiel fathered Zerubbabel,

13Zerubbabel fathered Abiud,

Abiud fathered Eliakim,

Eliakim fathered Azor,

14Azor fathered Zadok,

Zadok fathered Achim,

Achim fathered Eliud,

15Eliud fathered Eleazar,

Eleazar fathered Matthan,

Matthan fathered Jacob,

16and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary,

who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah.

The historical record of Jesus Christ (1:1): To modern eyes, such a detailed genealogy as this, spanning many centuries, might seem contrived. Did the Jews really track their ancestry so carefully? Knowledge of genealogies was important in ancient times, and played an especially significant role in Israel. The OT reveals that the Jews kept extensive genealogies, which served generally as a record of a family’s descendants, but their significance extended beyond simply knowing family ties. Genealogies established a person’s heritage, inheritance, legitimacy, and rights, ensuring that property went to the right person (cf. Johnson 1988).

Matthew likely drew upon some OT genealogies (e.g., Gen 4:17-18; 5:3-32; 10:1-32; 46:8-27; 1 Chr 1:34; 2:1-15; 3:1-24; Ruth 4:12-22; Nolland 1996, 115-22, suggests that he studied the Genesis genealogies and patterned his own after them), and he uses similar wording (cf. Matt 1:2: Abraam egennēsen ton Isaak with 2 Chr 1:34 LXX: egennēsen Abraam ton Isaak). For the listing of individuals after Zerubbabel, when the OT ceases, Matthew probably used records that have since been lost. Historical sources such as Josephus indicate that extensive genealogical records were extant during the first century, and that records for some political and priestly families’ were kept in the temple (e.g., Josephus, Life 6; Against Apion 1.28-56). Later rabbinic tradition tried to establish the descent from David of a near contemporary to Jesus, Rabbi Hillel, through a genealogical scroll that was purportedly found in Jerusalem (Genesis Rabbah 98:8; j. Ta‘anit 4:2). The official extrabiblical genealogies were lost with the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem in AD 70, yet private genealogies were retained elsewhere.

Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham (1:1): Messiah’s lineage was of particular importance. Matthew’s Jewish audience would have caught the significance of the heading with Jesus’ name and ancestry. The expressions “Son of David” and “Son of Abraham” stand in apposition to “Jesus Christ,” indicating that both titles are a further explanation of Jesus’ identity.

Commonly a person had a single personal name, which often carried religious or social significance. Matthew wrote about “Jesus” (Gk Iēsous), which is his historical, commonly used name. The name is Yeshua in Hebrew (“Yahweh saves”; cf. Neh 7:7), a shortened form of Joshua (yehoshua), “Yahweh is salvation” (Exod 24:13), and will come to have profound notions of salvation associated with it in Jesus (cf. 1:21; cf. also Gerhardsson 1999, 16-17).

“Christ” (Gk Christos) is a title derived from the Hebrew mashiach (“anointed”), which harks back to David as the anointed king of Israel. The term came to be associated with the promise of an “anointed one” who would be Israel’s light of hope. God had promised David through the prophet Nathan that David’s house and throne would be established forever (2 Sam 7:11b-16), a promise that is now seen as fulfilled in Jesus as the Anointed One, or Messiah.

Son of David is an important expression in Matthew’s Gospel (9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15; 22:42, 45). Matthew uses the name of the great king 17 times, more than any other NT book. King David was the revered conquering warrior of Israel’s history. “Son of David” expresses a promised figure who would perpetuate David’s throne, thereby pointing to Messiah’s lineage and royal expectation (see 2 Sam 7:11b-16). The title alludes to the messianic hope of a restored kingdom that was seen to be a fulfillment of the divine promise to David.

But Jesus is also the “son of Abraham.” In tracing the ancestry not only to David, but also to Abraham, Matthew holds a light of hope to the entire world. The covenant God made with Abraham established Israel as a chosen people, but it also was a promise that his line would bless all nations (Gen 12:1-3; 22:18; see, e.g., Carroll 2000, 17-34; Erickson 2000, 35-51).

The pattern Matthew uses in detailing his genealogy gives clues to Jesus’ identity and ministry. He establishes the basic pattern in the first listing: “Abraham fathered Isaac” (1:2). This is in line with the typical OT wording, such as in the LXX rendering of 1 Chronicles 1:34: “Abraham fathered Isaac.” Throughout the rest of the genealogy the same pattern occurs 40 times, using the active voice of the verb gennaō, rendered “fathered” in the HCSB. This expression emphasizes the human descent of each generation, which paves the way for a dramatic change of construction in 1:16 where the passive voice occurs, by which Matthew will point to the divine origin of Jesus.

The ancestry of Jesus serves as an important key to interpreting Matthew’s writing. Matthew emphasizes the way in which Jesus’ ministry brought fulfillment of God’s covenant to the people of Israel (e.g., 10:6; 15:24), but also fulfillment of God’s promise to bring hope to all peoples (cf. 21:43; 28:19). This theme of promise to all nations becomes increasingly pronounced in Matthew’s Gospel, and will come to a climax in the concluding Great Commission (cf. 28:18-20).