The Title. The use of the word εὐαγγέλιον in the sense of a book may be as old as the Teaching of the twelve Apostles (Didache, 8, 11, 15. Vide Sanday, Bampton Lectures, 1893, p. 317, n. 1). The word passed through three stages in the history of its use. First, in the older Greek authors (Hom., Od. ξ, 152, 166), a reward for bringing good tidings: also a thank-offering for good tidings brought (Arist., Eq. 656). Next, in later Greek, the good tidings itself (2 Sam. 18:20, 22, 25, in Sept. In 2 Sam. 4:10, εὐαγγέλια occurs in the earliest sense). This sense pervades the N. T. in reference to the good news of God, the message of salvation. Finally, it came very naturally to denote the books in which the Gospel of Jesus was presented in historic form, as in the Didache and in Justin M., Apol. 1:66, Dial. con. Tryp. 100. In the titles of the Gospels the word retains its second sense, while suggesting the third, εὐαγγ. κατὰ Μ. means the good news as reduced to writing by Μ. κατὰ is not= of, nor κατὰ Ματθαῖον = Ματθαίον, as if the sense were: The book called a "Gospel" written by Matthew. (Vide Fritzsche against this the older view, supported by Kuinoel.)
The genealogy may readily appear to us a most ungenial beginning of the Gospel. A dry list of names! It is the tribute which the Gospel pays to the spirit of Judaism. The Jews set much store by genealogies, and to Jewish Christians the Messiahship of Jesus depended on its being proved that He was a descendant of David. But the matter can hardly be so vital as that. We may distinguish between the question of fact and the question of faith. It may be that Jesus was really descended from David—many things point that way; but even if He were not He might still be the Christ, the fulfiller of Ο. T. ideals, the bringer-in of the highest good, if He possessed the proper spiritual qualifications. What although the Christ were not David's son in the physical sense? He was a priest after the order of Melchisedec, though αγ€ναλέγητο; why not Messiah under the same conditions? He might still be a son of David in the sense in which John the Baptist was Elijah—in spirit and power, realising the ideal of the hero king. The kingdom of prophecy came only in a spiritual sense, why not also the king? The two hang together. Paul was not an apostle in the legitimist sense, not one of the men who had been with Jesus; yet he was a very real apostle.
So might Jesus be a Christ, though not descended from David. St. Paul writes (Gal. 3:29): "If ye be Chrisťs, then are Íe Abraham's seed". So might we say: f Jesus was fit to be the Christ in point of spiritual equipment, then was He of the seed of David. There is no clear evidence in the Gospels that Jesus Himself set value on Davidic descent; there are some things that seem to point the other way: e.g., the question, "Who is my mother?" (Matt. 12:48: Mk. 3:33), and the other, "What think ye of the Christ, whose son is He?" (Matt. 22:42, etpar.) There is reason to believe that, like St. Paul, He would argue from the spiritual to the genealogical, not vice versâ: not Christ because from David, but from David, at least ideally, because Christ on other higher grounds.
Verse 1. βίβλος γενέσεως κ. τ. λ. How much does this heading cover: the whole Gospel, the two first chapters, the whole of the first chapter, or only Matthew 1:1-17? All these views have been held. The first by Euthy. Zigab., who argued: the birth of the God-man was the important point, and involved all the rest; therefore the title covers the whole history named from the most important part (ἀπὸ τοῦ κυριωτέρου μέρους). Some moderns (Ebrard, Keil, etc.) have defended the view on the ground that the corresponding title in O. T. (Genesis 6:9; 11:27, etc.) denotes not merely a genealogical list, but a history of the persons whose genealogy is given. Thus the expression is taken to mean a book on the life of Christ (liber de vita Christi, Maldon.). Against the second view and the third Weiss-Meyer remarks that at Matthew 1:18 a new beginning is made, while Matthew 2:1 runs on as if continuing the same story. The most probable and most generally accepted opinion is that of Calvin, Beza, and Grotius that the expression applies only to Matthew 1:1-17. (Non est haec inscriptio totius libri, sed particulae primae quae velut extra corpus historiae prominet. Grotius.)
ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ. Christ here is not an appellative but a proper name, in accordance with the usage of the Apostolic age. In the body of the evangelistic history the word is not thus used; only in the introductory parts. (vide Mark 1:1; John 1:17.)
υἱοῦ δ., υἱοῦ α. Of David first, because with his name was associated the more specific promise of a Messianic king; of Abraham also, because he was the patriarch of the race and first recipient of the promise. The genealogy goes no further back, because the Gospel is written for the Jews. Euthy. Zig. suggests that David is placed first because he was the better known, as the less remote, as a great prophet and a renowned king. (ἀπὸ τοῦ γνωριμωτέρου μᾶλλον ἀρξάμενος, ἐπὶ τὸν παλαιότερον ἀνῆλθεν.) The word υἱοῦ in both cases applies to Christ. It can refer grammatically to David, as many take it, but the other reference is demanded by the fact that Matthew 1:1 forms the superscription of the following genealogy. So Weiss-Meyer.
Verses 2-16. The genealogy divides into three parts: from Abraham to David (Matthew 1:2-6a); from David to the captivity (Matthew 1:6b-11); from the captivity to Christ. On closer inspection it turns out to be not so dry as it at first appeared. There are touches here and there which import into it an ethical significance, suggesting the idea that it is the work not of a dry-as-dust Jewish genealogist, but of the evangelist; or at least worked over by him in a Christian spirit, if the skeleton was given to his hand. To note these is the chief interest of non-Rabbinical exegesis.
Verses 2-6a. καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς αὐτοῦ. This is not necessary to the genealogical line, but added to say by the way that He who belonged to the tribe of Judah belonged also to all the tribes of Israel. (Weiss, Matthäusevang.).
Verse 3. τὸν φαρὲς καὶ τὸν ζαρὰ: Zerah added to Perez the continuator of the line, to suggest that it was by a special providence that the latter was first born (Genesis 38:27-30). The evangelist is on the outlook for the unusual or preternatural in history as prelude to the crowning marvel of the virgin birth (Gradus futurus ad credendum partum e virgine. Grot.).—ἐκ τῆς θάμαρ. Mention of the mother wholly unnecessary and unusual from a genealogical point of view, and in this case one would say, primâ facie, impolitic, reminding of a hardly readable story (Genesis 38:13-26). It is the first of four references to mothers in the ancestry of Jesus, concerning whom one might have expected the genealogy to observe discreet silence: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba; three of them sinful women, and one, Ruth, a foreigner. Why are they mentioned? By way of defence against sinister misconstruction of the birth of Jesus? So Wetstein: Ut tacitæ Judaeorum objectioni occurreretur. Doubtless there is a mental reference to that birth under some aspect, but it is not likely that the evangelist would condescend to apologise before the bar of unbelief, even though he might find means of doing so in the Jewish habit of glorying over the misdeeds of ancestors (Wetstein). Much more probable is the opinion of the Fathers, who found in these names a foreshadowing of the gracious character of the Gospel of Jesus, as it were the Gospel in the genealogy. Schanz follows the Fathers, except that he thinks they have over-emphasised the sinful element. He finds in the mention of the four women a hint of God's grace in Christ to the sinful and miserable: Rahab and Bathsheba representing the one, Tamar and Ruth the other. This view commends itself to many interpreters both Catholic and Protestant. Others prefer to bring the four cases under the category of the extraordinary exemplified by the case of Perez and Zerah. These women all became mothers in the line of Christ's ancestry by special providence (Weiss-Meyer). Doubtless this is at least part of the moral. Nicholson (New Comm.) thinks that the introduction of Tamar and Ruth is sufficiently explained by Ruth 4:11-12, viewed as Messianic; of Rahab by her connection with the earlier Jesus (Joshua), and of Bathsheba because she was the mother of a second line culminating in Christ, as Ruth of a first culminating in David.
Verse 6a. τὸν δαβὶδ τὸν βασιλέα, David the King, the title being added to distinguish him from the rest. It serves the same purpose as if David had been written in large letters. At length we arrive at the great royal name! The materials for the first part of the genealogy are taken from Ruth 4:18-22, and 1 Chronicles 2:5-15.
Verses 6b-10, ἐκ τῆς τοῦ οὐρίου, vide above. The chief feature in this second division of the genealogical table is the omission of three kings between Joram and Uzziah (Matthew 1:8), viz., Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah. How is the omission to be explained? By inadvertence, or by intention, and if the latter, in what view? Jerome favoured the second alternative, and suggested two reasons for the intentional omission—a wish to bring out the number fourteen (Matthew 1:17) in the second part of the genealogy, and a desire to brand the kings passed over with the stamp of theocratic illegality. In effect, manipulation with a presentable excuse. But the excuse would justify other omissions, e.g., Ahaz and Manasseh, who, were as great offenders as any. One can, indeed, imagine the evangelist desiring to exemplify the severity of the Gospel as well as its grace in the construction of the list—to say in effect: God resisteth the proud, but He giveth grace to the lowly, and even the low. The hypothesis of manipulation in the interest of symbolic numbers can stand on its own basis without any pretext. It is not to be supposed that the evangelist was at all concerned to make sure that no link in the line was omitted. His one concern would be to make sure that no name appeared that did not belong to the line. He can hardly have imagined that his list was complete from beginning to end. Thus Nahshon (Matthew 1:4) was the head of the tribe of Judah at the Exodus (Numbers 1:7), yet between Hezron and him only two names occur—four names for 400 years. Each name or generation represents a century, in accordance with Genesis 15:13-16. The genealogist may have had this passage in view, but he must have known that the actual succession embraced more links than four (vide Schanz on Matthew 1:4). The hypothesis of inadvertence or error in consulting the text of the O. T., favoured by some modern commentators, is not to be summarily negatived on the ground of an a priori theory of inerrancy. It is possible that in reading 1 Chronicles 3:11 in the Sept the eye leapt from ὀχοζίας to ὀζίας, and so led to omission of it and the two following names. (ἀζαρίας, not ὀζίας, is the reading in Sept, but Weiss assumes that the latter, Azariah's original name, must have stood in the copy used by the constructor of the genealogy.) The explanation, however, is conjectural. No certainty, indeed, is attainable on the matter. As a curiosity in the history of exegesis may be mentioned Chrysostom's mode of dealing with this point. Having propounded several problems regarding the genealogy, the omission of the three kings included, he leaves this one unsolved on the plea that he must not explain everything to his hearers lest they become listless (ἵνα μὴ ἀναπέσητε, Hom. 4.). Schanz praises the prudence of the sly Greek orator.