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The Gospel of Matthew: Chapter 1

translation and commentary by Bro. Sam Amos, fms

 

1The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.

2Abraham fathered Isaac, who fathered Jacob, who fathered Judah and his brothers. 3Judah fathered Perez and Zerah with Tamar. Phares fathered Hezron, who fathered Ram, 4who fathered Amminadab, who fathered Nahshon, who fathered Salmon, 5who fathered Boaz with Rahab. Boaz fathered Obed with Ruth. Obed fathered Jesse, 6who fathered David the King, who fathered Solomon with the wife of Uriah.

7Solomon fathered Rehoboam, who fathered Abijah, who fathered Asaph, 8who fathered Jehoshephat, who fathered Joram, who fathered Uzziah, 9who fathered Jotham, who fathered Ahaz, who fathered Hezekiah, 10who fathered Manasseh, who fathered Amos, who fathered Josiah, 11who fathered Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the Babylonian Exile.

12After the Babylonian Exile, Jechoniah fathered Shealtiel, who fathered Zerubbabel, 13who fathered Abiud, who fathered Eliakim, who fathered Azor, 14who fathered Zadok, who fathered Achim, who fathered Eliud, 15who fathered Eleazar, who fathered Matthan, who fathered Jacob, 16who fathered Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called the Christ.

17There were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian Exile, and fourteen generations from the Babylonian Exile to Christ.    

18This is how Jesus Christ was born: When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19Her fiancé Joseph was upright, but did not want to put her to shame, so he decided to quietly break off their engagement. 20This was his intention when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to accept Mary as your wife, for she has conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you will name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. 22All of this will come to pass so that which the Lord spoke through the prophet might be fulfilled:

23"Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel, which means God-with-us.”

24After Joseph awoke, he did as the angel had instructed, and accepted Mary as his wife. 25He did not sleep with her until she had given birth to the child, her first born son, and he named him Jesus.

 

CHAPTER 1 COMMENTARY

1: genealogy: In Greek, the word for genealogy is the same as the word for creation and origin: genesis. By using this word, Mt is referencing the beginning of the OT.

Christ: This is not Jesus’ last name. It is a title. Christos is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word messiah, both of which mean anointed one. Saying “Jesus Christ,” is equivalent to saying “Jesus the Messiah.”

Son of David: The Psalms and Prophets in the OT said that the messiah would be a descendent of David. (2 Sam 7, Ps 89, Is 9:1-6, Jer 23:1-8, Ez 34, etc.)

Son of Abraham: Mt presents Jesus as the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham to bless all the nations of the world through him (Gen 12:3). Jesus, a descendent of Abraham, will be the savior of the world.

2: Abraham fathered Isaac… A long list of ancestors can seem like a boring way to start a story, but Mt purposely begins his Gospel this way. It again references the OT, which includes many genealogies and censuses (e.g. Gen 5, Num 1, 1 Chron 1-8, Ezra 2). These served as a way to highlight the continuity of the people of Israel and God’s persistent fidelity through many generations. Mt is also able to recap the whole story of the OT by mentioning some of its most important figures: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, Zerubbabel, etc.

Mt’s genealogy should not be read as a historically accurate record. At any rate, parts of it do not match relavant OT genealogies (e.g. compare Mt 1:7-11 to 1 Chron 3:10-16). Rather, it should be seen as a literary device he uses to communicate important ideas.

3-6: Tamar… Rahab… Ruth… [Bathsheba] the wife of Uriah: OT genealogies usually only include male ancestors, but Mt mentions these four female ancestors of Jesus (not counting Mary). He does this for two reasons. The first is that while Mt consistently emphasizes Jesus’ Jewish identity, he always adds details to include Gentiles as well. These four women were not Israelites: Tamar and Rahab were Canaanites, Ruth was a Moabite, and Bathsheba was presumably a Hittite like her husband Uriah. The second reason for their inclusion is that each of them became mothers in an unusual way: Tamar tricked Judah into sleeping with her to have a child (Gen 38); Rahab the prostitute joined the people of Israel after helping them capture Jericho (Josh 6); Ruth was a refugee who came to the land of Judah before marrying Boaz (Ruth 1-4); and Bathsheba bore Solomon to David after he had murdered her first husband, Uriah (2 Sam 11-12). Mt is reminding us that God can move his plan forward in surprising ways, and foreshadowing Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth.  

17: fourteen generations: The number fourteen is symbolic of David. In Hebrew, as in Latin and Greek, letters have numeric values. David is spelled DVD in Hebrew.  This is equivalent to 4,6,4, which add up to 14. By breaking the genealogy into three blocks of fourteen, Mt is re-emphasizing Jesus’ Davidic descent. (A letter-number reference like this is called a gematria, and they were very common in ancient Judaism and early Christianity.)

19: upright: The implication here is the Joseph is concerned with normal Jewish morality, which meant following the Scriptures. He would have naturally assumed Mary had been unfaithful to him. Deuteronomy 22:13-21 said an unfaithful woman could be stoned. This was not the practice in the first century, but Mary still could have faced a humiliating public trial. Wishing to spare her this, Joseph decided to quietly separate from her. 

20: dream: Joseph, like his namesake in Genesis, is guided by God through dreams.

21: you will name him: In first century Jewish culture, for a man to name a child was to publicly acknowledge him as his own. Once Joseph did that, Jesus would be considered his son, regardless of his biological paternity.

As the Messiah comes in to the world, both Mary and Joseph have roles to play, which they are free to accept or reject. In Luke’s birth narrative, which is written from Mary’s perspective, Mary must agree to become the mother of the Messiah (Lk 1:38). In Matthew’s, which is written from Joseph’s point of view, Joseph must agree to accept the Messiah as his son in order to fulfill the promise that the Messiah would be of David’s line.

Jesus: The Greek form of the name Joshua, which means, “the Lord saves.”

23: Behold: Mt is quoting Isaiah 7:14. This is the first time he is explicitly quoting the OT, which he will do about sixty times throughout his gospel, more than any other evangelist.

virgin: In the original Hebrew text of this passage, the word used means “young woman,” with no implication of virginity. Mt is quoting the LXX, which renders the word as parthenos, which can mean young woman or virgin in Greek. In the original context of this prophecy, Isaiah was promising the birth of an heir to King Ahaz during a precarious time in his reign, which was fulfilled through the birth of his son Hezekiah. Mt is not unaware of this, nor is he trying to twist a prophetic passage taken out of context to fit his purposes. Rather, he is operating under the assumption that, since God guides history, events in the past could foreshadow and echo into the future. The same viewpoint is expressed by other NT authors (cf. Rom 5:14 and and 1 Pet 3:20-21). God’s promises can be fulfilled over and over again, each time in a deeper and fuller way.     

25: until: Catholics have traditionally believed that Mary remained a virgin throughout her entire life. Verse 25 seems to contradict this, but the original Greek text can also be validly translated as, “He did not sleep with her during the time she was pregnant,” with no implication that he began sleeping with her after the pregnancy. Mt does not say that Mary remained perpetually virgin, but strictly speaking he does not contradict the idea either.