In each gospel, Jesus’ earthly ministry is preceded by an account of John the Baptist’s ministry. This formal similarity does not extend to the introductions to the Gospels. Mark 1:1 opens with a simple statement. Luke begins with a first-person preface in which he explains his purpose and methods, followed by a detailed and often poetic account of the miraculous births of John and Jesus (Lk 1:5-2:20) and a brief mention of Jesus’ boyhood trip to the temple (2:21-52). Luke reserves Jesus’ genealogy for ch. 3. John’s prologue (Jn 1:1-18) traces Jesus’ beginnings to eternity and presents the incarnation without referring to his conception and birth.
In each gospel, the introduction anticipates major themes and emphases. In Matthew, the prologue (Mt 1:1-2:23) introduces such themes as the son of David, the fulfillment of prophecy, the supernatural origin of Jesus the Messiah, and the Father’s sovereign protection of his Son in order to bring him to Nazareth and accomplish the divine plan of salvation from sin (see Stonehouse, Witness of Matthew, 123-28).
1A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
4Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
5Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
6and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
7Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
868Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
9Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
10Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah,
11and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12After the exile to Babylon:
Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
13Zerubbabel the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
14Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Eliud,
15Eliud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
16and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
17Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
1 The first two words of Matthew, biblos geneseōs, may be translated “record of the genealogy” (NIV), “record of the origins,” or “record of the history.” The NIV limits this title to the genealogy (1:1-17), the second could serve as a heading for the prologue (1:1-2:23), and the third as a heading for the entire gospel. The expression is found only twice in the LXX. In Genesis 2:4 it refers to the creation account (Ge 2:4-25), and in Genesis 5:1 to the ensuing genealogy. From the latter, it appears possible to follow the NIV (so also Hendriksen; McNeile; France [NICNT]), but because the noun genesis (NIV, “birth”) reappears in Matthew 1:18 (one of only five NT occurrences), it seems likely that the heading in 1:1 extends beyond the genealogy. No occurrence of the expression as a heading for a book-length document has come to light. Therefore we must discount the increasingly 87popular view (Davies, Setting; Gaechter; Hill; Maier) that Matthew means to refer to his entire gospel, “A record of the history of Jesus Christ.” Matthew rather intends his first two chapters to be a coherent and unified “record of the origins of Jesus Christ” (rightly, Blomberg [NAC]).
The designation “Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham” resonates with biblical nuances. (For “Jesus,” see comments at 1:21.) “Christ” is roughly the Greek equivalent to “Messiah” or “Anointed.” In the OT, the term could refer to a variety of people anointed for some special function: priests (Lev 4:3; 6:22), kings (1Sa 16:13; 24:10; 2Sa 19:21; La 4:20), and, metaphorically, the patriarchs (Ps 105:15) and the pagan king Cyrus (Isa 45:1). Already in Hannah’s prayer, “Messiah” parallels “king”: the Lord “will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed” (1Sa 2:10). With the rising number of OT prophecies concerning King David’s line (e.g., 2Sa 7:12-16; cf. Ps 2:2), “Messiah, or “Christ,” became the designation of a figure representing the people of God and bringing in the promised eschatological reign.
In Jesus’ day, Palestine was rife with messianic expectation. Not all of it was coherent, and many Jews expected two different “Messiahs.” But Matthew’s linking of “Christ” and “son of David” leaves no doubt about what he is claiming for Jesus.
In the Gospels, “Christ” is relatively rare (as compared with Paul’s epistles). More important, it almost always appears as a title, strictly equivalent to “the Messiah” (see esp. 16:16). But it was natural for Christians after the resurrection to use “Christ” as a name not less than as a title; increasingly they spoke of “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus” or simply “Christ.” Paul normally treats “Christ,” at least in part, as a name, but it is doubtful whether the titular force ever entirely disappears. Of Matthew’s approximately eighteen occurrences, all are exclusively titular except this one (1:1), probably 1:16, certainly 1:18, and possibly the variant at 16:21. The three uses of “Christ” in the prologue reflect the confessional stance from which Matthew writes. He is a committed Christian who has long since become familiar with the common way of using the word as both title and name. At the same time, it is a mark of Matthew’s concern for historical accuracy that Jesus is not so designated by his contemporaries.
“Son of David” is an important designation in Matthew. Not only does David become a turning point in the genealogy (1:6, 17), but the title recurs throughout the gospel (9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9, 15; 22:42, 45). God swore covenant love to David (Ps 89:28) and promised that one of his immediate descendants would establish the kingdom—even more, that David’s kingdom and throne would endure forever (2Sa 7:12-16). Isaiah foresaw that a “son” would be given, a son with the most extravagant titles:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace:
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
In Jesus’ day, at least some branches of popular Judaism understood “son of David” to be messianic (cf. Ps. Sol. 17:21; for a summary of the complex intertestamental evidence, see Berger, “Die königlichen Messiastraditionen,” esp. 3-9). The theme was important in early Christianity (cf. Lk 1:32, 69; Jn 7:42; Ac 13:23; Ro 1:3; Rev 22:16). God’s promises, 88though long delayed, had not been forgotten; Jesus and his ministry were perceived as God’s fulfillment of covenantal promises now centuries old. The tree of David, hacked off so that only a stump remained, was sprouting a new branch (Isa 11:1).
Jesus is also “son of Abraham.” It could not be otherwise, given that he is son of David. Yet Abraham is mentioned for several important reasons. “Son of Abraham” may have been a recognized messianic title in some branches of Judaism (cf. T. Levi 8:15). The covenant with the Jewish people had first been made with Abraham (Ge 12:1-3; 17:7; 22:18), a connection Paul sees as basic to Christianity (Gal 3:16). More important, Genesis 22:18 had promised that through Abraham’s offspring “all nations” (panta ta ethnē, LXX) would be blessed; so with this allusion to Abraham, Matthew is preparing his readers for the final words of this offspring from Abraham—the commission to make disciples of “all nations” (Mt 28:19, panta ta ethnē). Jesus the Messiah came in fulfillment of the kingdom promises to David and of the Gentile-blessings promised to Abraham (see Mt 3:9; 8:11).