The Genealogy of Jesus Christ, 1-17
1:1 This is the record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Mt 1:3–6 = Ruth 4:18–22
Mt 1:7–11 = 1 Chron 3:10–17
The record of the genealogy -. (Mt 1:1-17) This phrase is very similar to ‘book of the genealogy of Adam’, in Gn. 5:1. Another version of the genealogy of Jesus Christ is found in Lk 3:23-38. The many differences between them are sometimes explained by the theory that Matthew gives the ancestry through Joseph, whereas Luke traces it through Mary. This is thought by most scholars to be unlikely. In the words of R.T. France (NBC), ‘probably Luke offers us a ‘physical’ family-tree, while Matthew gives the official throne-succession list (which would not necessarily pass from father to son, but would remain within the family). His concern is with Jesus’ right (through Joseph) to the title ‘King of the Jews’.’ Against the theory that Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy through Mary is the fact that his genealogy consistently focuses on fathers, and the indication that Mary herself was of the tribe of Aaron, and not Judah (she is described as the ‘kinswoman’ of Elizabeth, who herself is said to be ‘from the daughters of Aaron’, Lk 1:5).
Genealogy – Gk. genesis, which is ‘used chiefly in the LXX for toledot, and employed in the same sense in Mt 1:1 (see 1, above). In the other NT occurrences, however, it is used in the sense of ‘birth’ (Mt 1:18; Lk 1:14; Jas 1:23, ‘his natural face’, lit. ‘face of his birth’; Jas 3:6, ‘cycle of nature’, lit. ‘course of birth’).’ (NBD)
‘At the very beginning of the Gospel According to Matthew, we read, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Immediately we are back in the Old Testament, for the very first thing that Matthew can think to tell us about our Lord is that he is of Hebrew descent. And so to know who Jesus Christ is, we must know something about the Hebrew David and Abraham…Or to put it another way, Christianity did not start with the events recorded in the New Testament. The roots of our Christian faith lie deep in the Old Testament.’ (Morna Hooker)
‘The purpose of the Evangelist seems to be, by the genealogy, to show that Jesus, though born of a virgin-mother, was nevertheless legally of Abraham’s seed and a son of the royal house of David.’ (NBD)
According to The Sceptic’s Annotated Bible, this is ‘a boring genealogy like that we are told to avoid in 1 Tim 1:4’. But it is not reasonable to suppose that a teacher like Paul, steeped as he was in the Jewish scriptures with their many genealogies, would reject genealogies per se. It is not absolutely clear what Paul meant ‘myths and endless genealogies, but we are given hints when he says that they lead to ‘meaningless talk’, 1 Tim 1:6; and ‘quarrels and strife’, 1 Tim 6:3-5.
Jesus Christ – ‘For modern readers ‘Christ’ is no more than a ‘surname’ of Jesus, but Matthew clearly uses it here with its full force as a title, ‘Messiah’, the true king of Israel in the line of David, whose coming they eagerly awaited.’ (NBC)
‘Christ’ was used by our Lord only occasionally (Mt 23:8; 23:10; Mk 9:4), and by others only at the close of his earthly ministry (Mt 26:68; 27:17). The full form, ‘Jesus Christ’, was used by the Lord just once (Jn 17:3), and by his followers not at all until after his ascension and the establishment of the church in his name. (JFB)
The son of David, the son of Abraham – ‘It is like a pedigree given in evidence, to prove a title, and make out a claim; the design is to prove that our Lord Jesus is the son of David, and the son of Abraham, and therefore of that nation and family out of which the Messiah was to arise. Abraham and David were, in their day, the great trustees of the promise relating to the Messiah. The promise of the blessing was made to Abraham and his seed, of the dominion to David and his seed; and they who would have an interest in Christ, as the son of Abraham, in whom all the families of the earth are to be blessed, must be faithful, loyal subjects to him as the son of David, by whom all the families of the earth are to be ruled. It was promised to Abraham that Christ should descend from him, (Ge 12:3 22:18) and to David that he should descend from him (2 Sam 7:12; Ps 89:3, etc.; 132:11); and therefore, unless it can be proved that Jesus is a son of David, and a son of Abraham, we cannot admit him to be the Messiah. Now this is here proved from the authentic records of the heralds’ offices. The Jews were very exact in preserving their pedigrees, and there was a providence in it, for the clearing up of the descent of the Messiah from the fathers; and since his coming that nation is so dispersed and confounded that it is a question whether any person in the world can legally prove himself to be a son of Abraham; however, it is certain that none can prove himself to either a son of Aaron or a son of David, so that the priestly and kingly office must either be given up, as lost for ever, or be lodged in the hands of our Lord Jesus. Christ is here first called the son of David, because under that title he was commonly spoken of, and expected, among the Jews. They who owned him to be the Christ, called him the son of David, ch. Mt 15:22; 20:31; 21:15. Thus, therefore, the evangelist undertakes to make out, that he is not only a son of David, but that son of David on whose shoulders the government was to be; not only a son of Abraham, but that son of Abraham who was to be the father of many nations.’ (M. Henry)
‘In calling Christ the son of David, and the son of Abraham, he shows that God is faithful to his promise, and will make good every word that he has spoken; and this. 1. Though the performance be long deferred. When God promised Abraham a son, who should be the great blessing of the world, perhaps he expected it should be his immediate son; but it proved to be one at the distance of forty-two generations, and about 2000 years: so long before can God foretel what shall be done, and so long after, sometimes, does God fulfil what has been promised. Note, Delays of promised mercies, though they exercise our patience, do not weaken God’s promise. 2. Though it begin to be despaired of. This son of David, and son of Abraham, who was to be the glory of his Father’s house, was born when the seed of Abraham was a despised people, recently become tributary to the Roman yoke, and when the house of David was buried in obscurity; for Christ was to be a root out of a dry ground. Note, God’s time for the performance of his promises is when it labours under the greatest improbabilities.’ (M. Henry)
The son of David – Cf. Mt 12:23; 15:22; 21:9; Mk 10:48; 12:35; Jn 7:42; Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 5:5.
‘The word son, among the Jews, had a great variety of significations. It means, literally, a son; then a grandson; a descendant; an adopted son; a disciple, or one who is an object of tender affection-one who is to us as a son. In this place it means a descendant of David; or one who was of the family of David. It was important to trace the genealogy of Jesus up to David, because the promise had been made that the Messiah should be of his family, and all the Jews expected it would be so. It would be impossible, therefore, to convince a Jew that Jesus was the Messiah, unless it could be shown that he was descended from David. See Jer 23:5; Ps 132:10,11; compared with Acts 13:23; Jn 7:42.’ (Barnes)
‘The name “Jesus” is from the Greek (and Latin) for the Hebrew “Jeshua” (Joshua), which means “the Lord is salvation.” “Christ” is from the Greek for the Hebrew Meshiah (Messiah), meaning “anointed one.” son of David was a highly popular messianic title of the times. The genealogy is here traced through Joseph, Jesus’ legal (though not natural) father, and it establishes his claim and right to the throne of David. (Mt 1:6) The genealogy in Lk 3:23-38 is evidently that of Mary, though some believe it is also Joseph’s, by assuming that Matthan (Mt 1:15) and Matthat (Lk 3:24) were the same person and Jacob (Mt 1:16) and Heli (Lk 3:23) were brothers (one being Joseph’s father and the other his uncle).’ (Ryrie)
1:2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 1:3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah (by Tamar), Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 1:4 Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 1:5 Salmon the father of Boaz (by Rahab), Boaz the father of Obed (by Ruth), Obed the father of Jesse, 1:6 and Jesse the father of David the king.
This genealogy includes four OT women (plus Mary, Mt 1:16): Tamar, (Mt 1:3) Rahab, (Mt 1:5) Ruth, (Mt 1:5) and Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother. (Mt 1:6) The mention of four mothers in vv3-6 is remarkable. Each was probably non-Jewish, and in each case there was something unusual or even scandalous. It has been suggested that Matthew wished to demonstrate precedent and scriptural support for the unusual circumstances of Jesus’ birth. He may even be bearing in mind his own background as a former social outcast.
Rahab…Ruth – ‘Women did not need to be recorded in ancient genealogies, but Matthew includes four women (Mt 1:3, 5-6), three of them Gentiles (Ge 38:6; Jos 2:1; Ruth 1:4) and the other also a Gentile or at least the wife of a Gentile (2 Sam 11:3) -even though he omits the matriarchs prominent in Jewish tradition, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel. Thus he hints from the Old Testament that God has always planned missions to all peoples.’ (Mt 28:19) (NT Background Cmty)
1:6b David was the father of Solomon (by the wife of Uriah), 1:7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, 1:8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, Joram the father of Uzziah, 1:9 Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 1:10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, 1:11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
‘Three of the kings of Judah (Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah) are omitted (as is Jehoiakim in v11) to keep the number of generations to fourteen. The list is in any case selective, since the thirteen generations after the exile cover 600 years.’ (NBC)
‘Abridgment is the general rule in biblical genealogies. Thus, for example, Mt 1:8 omits three names between King Joram and Ozias (Uzziah), Ahaziah, (2 Kings 8:25) Joash (2 Kings 12:1) and Amaziah. (2 Kings 14:1) In Mt 1:11 Matthew omits Jehoiakim. (2 Kings 23:34) Matthews goal is to reduce the genealogies to a memorable three sets of fourteen individuals, for fourteen is the number of David1, D = 4, V or Hebrew waw = 6 and the last D = 4, for a total of 14.’ (Hard Sayings of the Bible)
Uzziah the father of Jotham – Here is an example of the abridgement just mentioned. According 1 Chron 3:11f there were three generations between Uzziah and Jotham. These were Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah.
David was the father of Solomon (by the wife of Uriah) – ‘The New Testament book of Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus that deliberately highlights some of the more scandalous moments in the Davidic line, including that “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.” By saying “wife of Uriah” instead of “Bathsheba,” the genealogy underscores David’s adultery rather than his kingly glory.’ (Cameron B. R. Howard)
Jeconiah = Jehoiachin, king of Judah, ‘who was taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 B.C. In the Heb., Jeremiah contracted “Jeconiah” to “Coniah.” (Jer 22:24,28 37:1) A curse was pronounced on Coniah that none of his descendants would prosper sitting on the throne of David. Had our Lord been the natural son of Joseph, he could not have been successful on the throne of David because of this curse. But since he came through Mary’s lineage, he was not affected by this curse.’ (Ryrie)
1:12 After the deportation to Babylon, Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 1:13 Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, Abiud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, 1:14 Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, Achim the father of Eliud, 1:15 Eliud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, 1:16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
The exile of Babylon – The exile of the people of Judah in Babylon is normally counted from 597 BC, when the armies of Nebuchadnezzar first took captives.
What about the curse of Jeconiah (Jer 22:24-30)?
22:30 The LORD says,
“Enroll this man in the register as though he were childless.
Enroll him as a man who will not enjoy success during his lifetime.
For none of his sons will succeed in occupying the throne of David
or ever succeed in ruling over Judah.”
This is startling, since Jeconiah has seven sons (1 Chron 3:17). But the point is that none of his descendants would inherit the throne. This does not invalidate Jesus’ claim to the throne, in Matthew’s eyes, because this Evangelist is emphasising our Lord’s legal, rather than physical, title (so Osborne, Wilkins and others).
Joseph, the husband of Mary –
By whom is feminine in the Gk., showing that Jesus was not the physical son of Joseph. ‘The word is feminine singular, indicating clearly that Jesus was born of Mary only and not of Mary and Joseph. It is one of the strongest evidences for Jesus’ virgin birth.’ (Ryrie)
‘Matthew 1:16 and 18 make it clear that Jesus Christ’s birth was different from that of any other Jewish boy named in the genealogy. Matthew pointed out that Joseph did not “beget” Jesus Christ. Rather, Joseph was the “husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”‘ (Wiersbe)
The point of Matthew’s genealogy is to trace Jesus’ legal (not physical) line of descent.
The uniqueness of Jesus’ birth. ‘Matthew 1:16 and 18 make it clear that Jesus Christ’s birth was different from that of any other Jewish boy named in the genealogy. Matthew pointed out that Joseph did not “beget” Jesus Christ. Rather, Joseph was the “husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”‘ (Wiersbe)
Moffat’s translation of this verse attracted severe criticism in its day: “Joseph (to whom the virgin Mary was betrothed), the father of Jesus…,”
1:17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to Christ, fourteen generations.
‘Not every generation needs to be listed in a genealogy, as is the case here. Why the division into three groups of 14? Possibly because the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters in the name David (the focal point of this genealogy) equals 14. The repetition of Jeconiah in verse 12 makes the fourteenth name in the last grouping.’ (Ryrie)
Fourteen [generations] from the exile to the Christ – There appear to be only thirteen generations in this last division. According to Mounce, ‘Schweizer is probably correct in his observation that, since ancient reckoning always included the first and last elements of a series, the sequence should be (1) Abraham to David, (2) David to Josiah (the last free king), (3) Jeconiah (the first king of the captivity) to Jesus (p. 23). This would place fourteen generations in each division.’
‘The Matthean genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1:2–17), which repeatedly emphasizes the “exile to Babylon” as a major turning point in its tripartite, fourteen-generation structure (Mt 1:11, 12, 17), suggests apparently that the entirety of the final fourteen generations “from the exile to Babylon to the Messiah” is characterized as a period of “exile” in some sense.’ (J.M. Scott, art. ‘Exile’, DJG 2nd ed.)
‘That there should be difficulty in these genealogies is not surprising, considering,
- the want of sufficient materials of comparison;
- the double or triple names given to the same persons;
- the intermediate names omitted;
- the name of sons given to those who were only in the direct line of descent, and of brothers to those who were only collaterally related;
- the Levirate law, by which one is called the son, not of his actual, but of his Levirate father (see Deut 25:5-6; Lk 20:28).
From these causes great perplexity and much discussion have arisen, nor is it possible to solve every difficulty. So much, however, is clear as to make it “evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda” (Heb 7:14), and was “the Seed of the woman” “who should bruise the Serpent’s head.”…To a Jewish Christian how delightful it must have been, and to any unprejudiced Jew how conciliatory, to find themselves, in the very first section of this Gospel, so entirely at home, and to see even the more external lines of their ancient economy converging upon Jesus of Nazareth as its proper goal.’ (JFB, numbering added)
The Birth of Jesus Christ, 18-25
Although many English versions identify this section as being about ‘the birth of Jesus’, the nativity itself is mentioned only in passing. And, by the time of the visit of the Magi, Jesus is described as a ‘child’. So we must look for other emphases in Matthew’s narrative, and the following notes will attempt to point these out.
According to Harper’s Bible Commentary, this account fits the genre of annunciations stories, a genre found regularly in the Bible. ‘They serve not to record historical fact but to interpret the role a child is destined to play in salvation history and to emphasize that that role is initiated by God. The appearance of an angel and the announcement of the child’s future destiny form the core of the genre. Usually there is some impediment to the birth, e.g., sterility or old age. The situation here is that Mary has become pregnant between her betrothal and the consummation of the marriage, with the apparent suggestion of illegitimacy.’
1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way. While his mother Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
The birth of Jesus Christ happened this way – It is noticeable, however, that, unlike Luke, Matthew does not describe Jesus’ birth. In fact, Matthew does not use the usual word for ‘birth’ (gennesis γεννησις), but the same word that he uses in v1 for Jesus’ ‘genealogy’ (genesis γένεσις). The main point of this section, then, would seem to be the vindication of Jesus as the (adopted) son of Joseph, and therefore the rightful heir of the throne of David.
Additionally, Matthew’s purpose here seems to be to answer the calumny that Jesus was an illegitimate child of Mary, and to defend the action of Joseph.
Matthew’s account, then, focuses on the circumstances of the conception and naming of Jesus very much from Joseph’s perspective. Of course, Mary had also received an angelic visitor, Lk 1:26-35.
‘The story of the birth of Jesus is filled with the surprise and excitement that one might expect when God begins to act in fulfillment of the promise and preparation of the past. In particular, it portrays the wonderful mixing of the miraculous and the ordinary, the divine and the human.’ (WBC)
‘There may be an element of apologetic in Matthew’s stress on Joseph’s surprise, his abstention from intercourse, the angel’s explanation of Jesus’ divine origin, and the scriptural grounds for a virgin birth, due perhaps to an early form of the later Jewish charge that Jesus birth was illegitimate. But the account reads primarily as if designed for a Christian readership, who wanted to know more precisely how Mary’s marriage to Joseph related to the miraculous conception of Jesus, and who would find the same delight that Matthew himself found in tracing in this the detailed fulfilment of prophecy.’ (France)
‘The situation described in these verses is Joseph’s legal engagement to Mary. If typical Jewish custom were followed, she may well have been still a young teenager. Joseph may have been considerably older. Engagement in ancient Judaism was legally binding and required divorce if it were to be broken, but sexual relations and living together under one roof were not permitted until after the marriage ceremony. Joseph could therefore be spoken of already as Mary’s husband, but Matthew emphasizes this was “before they came together.”‘ (Blomberg)
Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph – Such betrothal usually took place at the age of 12 or 13, with marriage itself following a year later. ‘Mary would have probably been between the ages of twelve and fourteen (sixteen at the oldest), Joseph perhaps between eighteen and twenty; their parents likely arranged their marriage, with Mary and Joseph’s consent. Premarital privacy between betrothed persons was permitted in Judea but apparently frowned upon in Galilee, so Mary and Joseph may well not have had any time alone together at this point.’ (IVP Background Commentary)
‘Joseph appears as a very real person, confronted with an understandable dilemma. Yet this righteous man, of such little significance to the narrative on the one hand and such great significance on the other (bestowing Davidic descent upon Jesus), receives a revelation to which he is submissive and obedient.’ (WBC)
Before they came together – before they left their respective parental homes and before sexual relations began. ‘Although “before they lived together” is a legitimate translation of the Greek prin ē synelthein autous, given the context, the equally legitimate “before they had sexual relations” is also implied.’ (DJG [2nd ed.], art. Birth of Jesus’)
With child through the Holy Spirit – See also v20. This expression does not demand, but is surely consistent with, a virginal conception.
‘We do not have here the pagan notion of a god having sexual relations with a woman but rather of the creative power of God at work within Mary in order to accomplish his purposes.’ (WBC)
1:19 Because Joseph, her husband to be, was a righteous man, and because he did not want to disgrace her, he intended to divorce her privately.
Because or ‘although’, in which case the sense would be, ‘Although Joseph was a righteous man and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace…’ Joseph’s righteousness would have led him to want to be obedient to the law, which required the stoning in the case of adultery. (Deut 22:20-21, 23-24, but not thought to have been insisted on in NT times) But he was clear that he must divorce one so clearly guilty. In kindness, he chose private divorce proceedings.
‘So we should read this as Joseph both being an obedient, observant Jew—but also being a man of compassion and care.’ (Ian Paul)
Her husband – ‘Although Joseph and Mary were not yet married, so sacred was the year of engagement, or betrothal, that they were by custom considered as if married (cf. Gen 29:21; Deut 22:23-30). Consequently, Joseph’s only recourse seemed to be to “put her away,” which meant to give her a bill of divorce, a certificate saying, in effect, “This woman is not my wife; I am not her husband”.’ (see Hos 2:2) (Ryrie)
A righteous man – Matthew ‘affirms, against any possible misinterpretations of the virgin birth, that Joseph controlled himself, practicing sexual restraint. By calling Joseph righteous (Mt 1:19) Matthew invites us to learn from Joseph’s character about fidelity, discipline and preferring God’s honor above our own. This paragraph assumes the principles of sexual fidelity and discipline that both Jesus and his Jewish contemporaries demanded. (see Mt 5:27-30) Like most first-century Jewish people, Joseph was faithful to his future spouse in advance, awaiting marriage, and he expected the same in return. So clearly does Matthew want his audience to understand that this was part of Joseph’s character that he points out that even once he and Mary were married, they refrained from marital relations until Jesus’ birth (Mt 1:25). This would have taken considerable self-control; in many Middle Eastern societies observers simply assume that “if a man and woman are alone together for more than twenty minutes they have had intercourse” (Delaney 1987:41). The self-control of this young couple challenges those today who doubt their ability to control their passions.’ (Keener)
Kenneth E. Bailey (Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes) asks what it means for Joseph to be described as ‘righteous’ (just). He would have held God’s law in high esteem. Knowing that he himself was not responsible, he might have invoked Deut 22:23, which requires the stoning of both parties in the pregnancy. But, for him, ‘righteousness’ meant going beyond the just requirements of the law. He invoked, instead, the spirit of Isa 42:1-6 – ‘Justice, as understood by this special servant of God, is neither “retributive justice” (you harm me and I will see that you are harmed) nor is it “equal application of law” (I pay my taxes and so must you), but here justice means compassion for the weak and exhausted…Joseph looked beyond the penalties of the law in order to reach out with tenderness to a young woman who was no doubt bruised and exhausted.’
He had in mind to divorce her quietly – Betrothal was so solemn that it could be broken only by divorce. ‘Jewish and Roman law both demanded that a man divorce his wife if she were guilty of adultery…Further, Joseph had another reason to divorce her. Because others would assume that Joseph himself must have gotten her pregnant unless he divorced her, his reputation was at stake for the rest of his life. Under these circumstances, Joseph would be righteous in divorcing Mary; to fail to do so would violate law and custom, would bring enduring reproach on his household and would constitute embracing as wife one who had betrayed him in the worst manner conceivable in his culture.’ (Keener)
‘When he discovers Mary’s pregnancy, he naturally assumes that she has been unfaithful to him. He is called a “righteous” man, which for Matthew does not imply sinless perfection but regularly refers to one who is law-abiding, upright in character, and generally obedient and faithful to God’s commandments. Here Joseph’s righteousness leads him to want to spare Mary the disgrace of public divorce and censure and the legal proceedings for a suspected adulteress. Jewish laws typically required a man to divorce an adulterous wife, but Joseph proposes to divorce her “quietly,” which is perhaps better translated “privately” (Goodspeed), in the sense of a settlement out of court.’ (Blomberg)
‘Joseph could have profited by divorcing Mary publicly. By taking her to court, Joseph could have impounded her dowry-the total assets she brought into the marriage-and perhaps recouped the bride price if he had paid one at betrothal.’ (Keener)
How Joseph must have agonised! He loved Mary, and wanted her to be his wife. He thought her trustworthy, and yet had been unfaithful! He was a man of principle, who viewed the marriage vow with utmost seriousness. But he was also kindhearted. He might have made an accusation of adultery that would have led to a public trial before a magistrate, but preferred instead to consider a private divorce that would have been before two witnesses.
‘A woman with a child, divorced for such infidelity, would be hard pressed ever to find another husband, leaving her without means of support if her parents died.’ (IVP Background Commentary)
‘Joseph had a difficult decision to make. Being a righteous man, he did not want to go against God’s laws. To marry Mary would have been an admission of guilt when he was not guilty. To have a public divorce would have exposed Mary to public disgrace, and apparently Joseph’s compassion would not allow him to expose her to public humiliation. Therefore, he chose the option to have a private divorce before two witnesses and dismiss her quietly. This way he could keep his reputation, while still showing compassion.’ (Life Application)
‘The nativity is not often drawn into discussions of divorce in Matt 5 and 19. Our text seems to teach that a decision to divorce can in some cases be a form of righteousness, even in a Gospel that so counterculturally protects marriage against divorce. Later, a certain Joseph-like “first-righteousness” may even be solicited in the expression, unique to Matthew, in which Jesus forbids divorce “except in a case of unchastity” (Mt 5:32; cf. Mt 19:9–10), probably meaning that in some cases a disciple should divorce. It is remarkable that the problem of divorce appears as early as the Gospel’s first story.’ (Bruner)
1:20 When he had contemplated this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 1:21 She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
When he had contemplated this – Bailey says that the word translated ‘considered’ (enthymēomai) can also mean ‘to become angry’. This would have been a very natural reaction, in the circumstances.
The implication seems to be that he had made up his mind to divorce Mary quietly. But then the angel of the Lord intervened.
An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream – Revelatory dreams occur in three main parts of the Bible: Genesis 20-41; Daniel 1-7; Matthew 1-2.
There are a number of details in the birth narratives that could only have been known by one or two people. A good case can be made for supposing that Matthew draws particularly on material derived from Joseph, whereas Luke’s account relies on Mary’s testimony.
“Joseph son of David” – The marriage was necessary to establish Jesus’ legal Davidic lineage. ‘Jesus, the legal son of Joseph, as he shall become through Joseph’s obedience, is therefore reckoned as of Davidic descent with the concomitant note of eschatological fulfillment.’ (WBC)
‘To the ancient world there would be no inconsistency here, for adoption provided one with ancestors as assuredly as did biological descent.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)
“Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” – ‘The protestations of innocence that Mary had doubtless made to Joseph were now seen indeed to be true.’ (WBC) Even though his own concerns had been allayed, husband and wife would still have to face malicious rumour and gossip.
‘In view of the whole Gospel story, their acceptance of God’s call unquestionably cost them dearly at times: as the recipients of slander and gossip, in lingering confusion as to when and how Jesus would fulfill what was announced of him, and ultimately Mary’s deep grief at seeing Jesus crucified—plus her added difficulties of not (fully) understanding that Jesus was to be raised from the dead or the saving significance of his death until some time after the resurrection.’ (DBT, art. ‘Virgin Birth’)
‘The story of Jesus’ birth in Matthew’s gospel is seen through the eyes of Joseph; in Luke’s gospel, we see it through Mary’s. No attempt is made to bring them into line. The central fact is the same; but instead of Luke’s picture of an excited Galilean girl, learning that she is to give birth to God’s Messiah, Matthew shows us the more sober Joseph, discovering that his fiancée is pregnant. The only point where the two stories come close is when the angel says to Joseph, as Gabriel said to Mary, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ That is an important word for us, too, as we read the accounts of Jesus’ birth.’ (Wright)
“What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” – This underlines Joseph’s and Mary’s passivity in the matter: the initiative and action was all God’s. ‘Jesus was conceived when God took off the glove of nature and touched Mary with his naked finger. Thus, Jesus did not evolve up and out of history.’ (C.S. Lewis)
‘The angel explains to Joseph that Mary has not been unfaithful and that her child has been supernaturally conceived. He reminds Joseph of his messianic lineage by calling him “son of David.” He commands Joseph not only not to divorce Mary but to go ahead and marry her. The child will therefore legally be Joseph’s son and thus legally son of David.’ (Blomberg)
This passage is strongly Trinitarian. God the Father reveals himself through his Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
‘In Judaism the Holy Spirit was supremely the one who revealed God’s will to the prophets: he was equally at work in the creation of the world. What is more, re-creation was seen to be the Spirit’s work, as the marvelous story of the valley of dry bones makes so clear, Ezek 37. And Isaiah had predicted long ago that when the coming great deliverer was born the Spirit of the Lord would “rest” or “remain” upon him, Isa 11:2. So know the Spirit finds a perfect vehicle through whom to reveal God and re-create broken humanity.’ (Green)
The idea of a virgin both has no precedence in ancient Jewish literature. Pagan concepts of the gods coming down and having intercourse with women are very wide of the mark. Indeed, ‘in contrast to the promiscuous stories of Greek mythology in which male offspring appear as by-products of liaisons between the gods and earthly women, the virgin birth as God’s creative work in no way compromises or offends his holiness or his supreme lordship over all creation. The virgin birth is the revelation of a holy God through his equally righteous Son.’ (EDBT)
“You will name him Jesus” – ‘Joshua’, a common enough name. But the underlying meaning, ‘The Lord saves’ is invested with unique significance in the description which immediately follows.
“He will save his people from their sins” – Cf. Psa 130:8.
To ‘save’ can mean to deliver from various kinds of trouble. The common Jewish expectation would have been of the destruction of their enemies. But here the significance of the name is made clear by the addition of ‘from their sins’.
‘His people will be in the first instance the Jews (Matthew uses this term laos particularly for the chosen race), but the man who wrote Mt 28:19 must have expected a wider application ultimately.’ (France)
The significant thing here is not the name itself (Jesus, ‘Jehovah saves’, was a common enough name) but the statement that ‘he will save his people from their sins’. Matthew’s assumption is similar to that in Mk 1:3 – the coming of Jesus is the Lord himself coming to his temple. (Macleod, The Person of Christ, p34)
1:22 This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: 1:23 “Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.”
No less than ten times Matthew introduces an aspect of the birth or life of Jesus with the kind of formula that is found in this verse. Mt 1:22-23; 2:5-6; 15,17-18,23; 4:14-16; 8:17; 12:17-21; 21:4-5; 27:9-10. This indicates a very high view of Scripture.
This is, no doubt, a comment on the part of the Evangelist, rather than a continuation of the angelic message. Note Matthew’s role as a teacher: he does not just relate the story; he also explains its meaning.
Verse 23, together with the promise of the continuing presence of Jesus in Mt 28:20, form a framework for the entire Gospel.
The wording here ‘accurately expresses the evangelist’s and the early Church’s view of the Scriptures as stemming from God and mediated to human beings by the agency of prophets.’ (WBC)
“The virgin will conceive” – ‘Although the Hebrew of Isa 7:14 does not use the technical term for ‘virgin’ b’tula, neither does it use the normal word for ‘woman’ or ‘wife’, which we might have expected. Instead, the unusual term ‘alma for ‘young woman’ is used, someone sexually mature but not necessarily married, which the Greek translation (the Septuagint, LXX), translates parthenos. It is this term that Matthew uses, which our ETs rightly translate ‘virgin’.’ (Ian Paul)
“They will call him” – ‘They’ are those whom he has saved from their sins.
‘“‘Immanuel’…God with us” – ‘What a claim, right at the outset of the Gospel! It is so ultimate, so exclusive. It does not fit with the pluralist idea that each of us is getting through to God in his or her own way. No, says Matthew. God has got through to us in his way. And Jesus is no mere teacher, no guru, no Muhammad or Gandhi. He is “God with us.” That is the essential claim on which Christianity is built. It is a claim that cannot be abandoned without abandoning the faith in its entirety.’ (Green)
‘Behold at once the deepest mystery and the richest mercy. By the light of nature we see the eternal as a God above us: by the light of the law we see him as a God against us; but, by the light of the gospel, we see him as a God with us, reconciled to us, at peace with us, interested for us, interceding in our behalf. Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift! (Hughes, in The Bible Illustrator)
1:24 When Joseph awoke from sleep he did what the angel of the Lord told him. He took his wife, 1:25 but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he named Jesus.
‘Much later rabbinic tradition charges that Mary slept with another man, but Joseph’s marrying her (Mt 1:24) demonstrates that he did not believe this was the case.’ (IVP NT Background Commentary)
‘Joseph values commitment to God above his own honor, another principle Matthew articulates elsewhere. (compare Mt 7:21-27 23:5-11) When God reveals the truth to Joseph, he immediately believes and obeys God’s will, unbelievable as the truth would seem without a deep trust in God’s power. (compare Lk 1:37) (By contrast, many unmarried men today refuse to take responsibility even when they are the father!) Joseph trusted God enough to obey him. Yet such obedience was costly. Because Joseph married Mary, outsiders would assume that he had gotten Mary pregnant before the wedding. Joseph would remain an object of shame in a society dominated by the value of honor. This was a stressful way to begin a marriage! By waiting to have intercourse, (Mt 1:25) hence failing to provide the bloody sheet that would prove Mary’s virginity on the wedding night, (Deut 22:15) Mary and Joseph also chose to embrace shame to preserve the sanctity of God’s call. Joseph’s obedience to God cost him the right to value his own reputation.’ (Keener)
‘Matthew presents Joseph as a human being of remarkable spiritual stature. He possessed the boldness, daring, courage and strength of character to stand up against his entire community and take Mary as his wife. He did so in spite of forces that no doubt wanted her stoned. His vision of justice stayed his hand. In short he was able to reprocess his anger into grace.’ (Bailey)
‘His action revealed four admirable qualities: (1) righteousness, (Mt 1:19) (2) discretion and sensitivity, (Mt 1:19) (3) responsiveness to God, (Mt 1:24) and (4) self-discipline.’ (Mt 1:25) (Life Application)
He had no union with her until she gave birth to a son – A Jewish marriage would normally be consummated on the first night of the seven-day wedding. ‘The grammatical construction translated “until” strongly suggests (but does not prove) that Mary and Joseph proceeded to have normal sexual relations after Jesus’ birth.’ (Blomberg)
Whom he named Jesus – This indicates Joseph’s formal adoption of Jesus and establishes the latter’s Davidic lineage. ‘The fact that Jesus is adopted by Joseph in no way makes Jesus’ Davidic lineage questionable. In Jewish circles a child became a man’s son not so much by physical procreation itself as by acknowledgment on the part of the man.’ (DJG)
In fact, this whole account focuses on Joseph as the legal father of Jesus, and tends to confirm that the genealogy offered by Matthew follows David’s (rather than Mary’s) line.