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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Matthew 1



Verse 1

The book of the generation - This is the proper title of the chapter. It is the same as to say, “the account of the ancestry or family, or the genealogical table of Jesus Christ.” The phrase is common in Jewish writings. Compare Genesis 5:1. “This is the book of the generations of Adam,” i. e., the genealogical table of the family or descendants of Adam. See also Genesis 6:9. The Jews, moreover, as we do, kept such tables of their own families. and it is probable that this was copied from the record of the family of Joseph.

Jesus - See the notes at Matthew 1:21.

Christ - The word “Christ” is a Greek word, Χριστός Christossignifying “anointed.” The Hebrew word, משׁיח mâshı̂yachsignifying the same is “Messiah.” Hence, Jesus is called either the Messiah, or the Christ, meaning the same thing. The Jews speak of the Messiah; Christians speak of him as the Christ. In ancient times, when kings and priests were set apart to their office, they were anointed with oil, Leviticus 4:3; Leviticus 6:20; Exodus 28:41; Exodus 29:7; 1 Samuel 9:16; 1 Samuel 15:1; 2 Samuel 23:1. To anoint, therefore, means often the same as to consecrate, or to set apart to an office. Hence, those thus set apart are said to be anointed, or to be the anointed of God. It is for this reason that the name is given to the Lord Jesus. Compare the notes at Daniel 9:24. He was set apart by God to be the King, and High Priest, and Prophet of his people. Anointing with oil was, moreover, supposed to be emblematic of the influences of the Holy Spirit; and since God gave him the Spirit without measure John 3:34, so he is especially called “the Anointed of God.”

The Son of David - 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 that 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 Jeremiah 23:5; Psalm 132:10-11, compared with Acts 13:23, and John 7:42.

The son of Abraham - The descendant of Abraham. The promise was made to Abraham also. See Genesis 12:3; Genesis 21:12; compare Hebrews 11:13; Galatians 3:16. The Jews expected that the Messiah would be descended from him; and it was important, therefore, to trace the genealogy up to him also. Though Jesus was of humble birth, yet he was descended from most illustrious ancestors. Abraham, the father of the faithful - “the beauteous model of an Eastern prince,” and David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, the conqueror, the magnificent and victorious leader of the people of God, were both among his ancestors. From these two persons, the most eminent for piety, and the most renowned for their excellencies of all the people of antiquity, sacred or profane, the Lord Jesus was descended; and though his birth and life were humble, yet they who regard an illustrious descent as of value, may find here all that is to be admired in piety, purity, patriotism, splendor, dignity, and renown.

Verses 2-16

These verses contain the genealogy of Jesus. Luke also Luke 3 gives a genealogy of the Messiah. No two passages of Scripture have caused more difficulty than these, and various attempts have been made to explain them. There are two sources of difficulty in these catalogues.

1.Many names that are found in the Old Testament are here omitted; and,

2.The tables of Matthew and Luke appear in many points to be different.

From Adam to Abraham Matthew has mentioned no names, and Luke only has given the record. From Abraham to David the two tables are alike. Of course there is no difficulty in reconciling these two parts of the tables. The difficulty lies in that part of the genealogy from David to Christ. There they are entirely different. They are manifestly different lines. Not only are the names different, but Luke has mentioned, in this part of the genealogy, no less than 42 names, while Matthew has recorded only 27 names.

Various ways have been proposed to explain this difficulty, but it must be admitted that none of them is perfectly satisfactory. It does not comport with the design of these notes to enter minutely into an explanation of the perplexities of these passages. All that can be done is to suggest the various ways in which attempts have been made to explain them.

1. It is remarked that in nothing are mistakes more likely to occur than in such tables. From the similarity of names, and the different names by which the same person is often called, and from many other causes, errors would be more likely to creep into genealogical tables than in other writings. Some of the difficulties may have possibly occurred from this cause.

2. Most interpreters have supposed that Matthew gives the genealogy of Joseph, and Luke that of Mary. They were both descended from David, but in different lines. This solution derives some plausibility from the fact that the promise was made to David, and as Jesus was not the son of Joseph, it was important to show that Mary was also descended from him. But though this solution is plausible, and may be true, yet it wants evidence. It cannot, however, be proved that this was not the design of Luke.

3. It has been said also that Joseph was the legal son and heir of Heli, though the real son of Jacob, and that thus the two lines terminated in him. This was the explanation suggested by most of the Christian fathers, and on the whole is the most satisfactory. It was a law of the Jews that if a man died without children, his brother should marry his widow. Thus the two lines might have been intermingled, According to this solution, which was first proposed by Africanus, Matthan, descended from Solomon, married Estha, of whom was born Jacob. After Matthan‘s death, Matthat being of the same tribe, but of another family, married his widow, and of this marriage Heli was born. Jacob and Heli were therefore children of the same mother. Heli dying without children, his brother Jacob married his widow, and begat Joseph, who was thus the legal son of Heli. This is agreeable to the account in the two evangelists. Matthew says that Jacob begat Joseph; Luke says that Joseph was the son of Heli, i. e., was his legal heir, or was reckoned in law to be his son. This can be seen by the plan on the next page, showing the nature of the connection.

Though these solutions may not seem to be entirely satisfactory, yet there are two additional considerations which should set the matter at rest, and lead to the conclusion that the narratives are not really inconsistent.

1. No difficulty was ever found, or alleged, in regard to them, by any of the early enemies of Christianity. There is no evidence that they ever adduced them as containing a contradiction. Many of those enemies were acute, learned, and able; and they show by their writings that they were not indisposed to detect all the errors that could possibly be found in the sacred narrative. Now it is to be remembered that the Jews were fully competent to show that these tables were incorrect, if they were really so; and it is clear that they were fully disposed, if possible, to do it. The fact, therefore, that it is not done, is clear evidence that they thought it to be correct. The same may be said of the acute pagans who wrote against Christianity. None of them have called in question the correctness of these tables. This is full proof that, in a time when it was easy to understand these tables, they were believed to be correct.

2. The evangelists are not responsible for the correctness of these tables. They are responsible only for what was their real and professed object to do. What was that object? It was to prove to the satisfaction of the Jews that Jesus was descended from David, and therefore that there was no argument from his ancestry that he was not the promised Messiah. Now to make this out, it was not necessary, nor would it have conduced to their argument, to have formed a new table of genealogy. All that could be done was to go to the family records - to the public tables, and copy them as they were actually kept, and show that, according to the records of the nation, Jesus was descended from David. This, among the Jews, would be full and decided testimony in the case. And this was doubtless done. In the same way, the records of a family among us, as they are kept by the family, are proof in courts of justice now of the birth, names, etc., of individuals. Nor is it necessary or proper for a court to call them in question or to attempt to correct them. So, the tables here are good evidence to the only point that the writers wished to establish: that is, to show to the Jews that Jesus of Nazareth was descended from David. The only inquiry which can now be fairly made is whether they copied those tables correctly. It is clear that no man can prove that they did not so copy them, and therefore that no one can adduce them as an argument against the correctness of the New Testament.

Verse 17

So all the generations … - This division of the names in the genealogical tables was doubtless adopted for the purpose of aiding the memory. It was common among the Jews; and other similar instances are preserved. The Jews were destitute of books besides the Old Testament, and they had but few copies of that among them, and those chiefly in their synagogues. They would therefore naturally devise plans to keep up the remembrance of the principal facts in their history. One method of doing this was to divide the tables of genealogy into portions of equal length, to be committed to memory. This greatly facilitated the remembrance of the names. A man who wished to commit to memory the names of a regiment of soldiers would naturally divide it into companies and platoons, and this would greatly facilitate his work. This was doubtless the reason in the case before us. And, though it is not strictly accurate, yet it was the Jewish way of keeping their records, and answered their purpose. There were three leading persons and events that nearly, or quite, divided their history into equal portions: Abraham, David, and the Babylonian captivity. From one to the other was about 14 generations, and by omitting a few names it was sufficiently accurate to be made a general guide or directory in recalling the principal events in their history.

In counting these divisions, however, it will be seen that there is some difficulty in making out the number 14 in each division. This may be explained in the following manner: In the first division, Abraham is the first and David the last, making 14 altogether. In the second series, David would naturally be placed first, and the 14 was completed in Josiah, about the time of the captivity, as sufficiently near for the purpose of convenient computation, 2 Chronicles 35. In the third division Josiah would naturally be placed first, and the number was completed in Joseph; so that David and Josiah would be reckoned twice. This may be shown by the following table of the names:

d First


d AbrahamDavidJosias


d IsaacSolomonJechonias


d JacobRoboamSalathiel


d JudasAbiaZorobabel


d PharesAsaAbiud


d EsromJosaphatEliakim


d AramJoramAzor


d AminadabOziasSadoc


d NaassonJoathamAchim


d SalmonAchazEliud


d BoazEzekiasEleazar


d ObedManassesMatthan


d JesseAmonJacob


d DavidJosiasJoseph


d 141414



Carrying away into Babylon - This refers to the captivity of Jerusalem, and the removal of the Jews to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, 588 years before Christ. See 2 Chronicles 36. Josiah was king when these calamities began to come upon the Jews, but the exact time of the 70 years of captivity did not commence until the 11th year of Zedekiah‘s reign, or 32 years after the death of Josiah. Babylon was situated on the Euphrates, and was encompassed with walls which were about 60 miles in circuit, 87 feet broad, and 350 feet high, and the city was entered by 100 brass gates - 25 on each side. It was the capital of a vast empire, and the Jews remained there for 70 years. See Barnes‘ notes at Isaiah 13.

Verse 18

Now the birth of Jesus Christ - The circumstances attending his birth.

Was on this wise - In this manner.

Espoused - Betrothed, or engaged to be married. There was commonly an interval of ten or twevle months, among the Jews, between the contract of marriage and the celebration of the nuptials (see Genesis 24:55; Judges 14:8; Deuteronomy 20:7), yet such was the nature of this engagement, that unfaithfulness to each other was deemed adultery. See Deuteronomy 22:25, Deuteronomy 22:28.

With child by the Holy Ghost - See the note at Luke 1:35.

Verse 19

Her husband - The word in the original does not imply that they were married. It means here the man to whom she was espoused.

A just man - Justice consists in rendering to every man his own. Yet this is evidently not the character intended to be given here of Joseph. The meaning is that he was kind, tender, merciful; that he was so attached to Mary that he was not willing that she should be exposed to public shame. He sought, therefore, secretly to dissolve the connection, and to restore her to her friends without the punishment commonly inflicted on adultery. The word just has not unfrequently this meaning of mildness, or mercy. See 1 John 1:9; compare Cicero, De Fin. 5,23.

A public example - To expose her to public shame or infamy. Adultery has always been considered a crime of a very heinous nature. In Egypt, it was punished by cutting off the nose of the adulteress; in Persia, the nose and ears were cut off; in Judea, the punishment was death by stoning, Leviticus 20:10; Ezekiel 16:38, Ezekiel 16:40; John 8:5. This punishment was also inflicted where the person was not married, but betrothed, Deuteronomy 21:23-24. In this case, therefore, the regular punishment would have been death in this painful and ignominious manner. Yet Joseph was a religious man - mild and tender; and he was not willing to complain of her to the magistrate, and expose her to death, but sought to avoid the shame, and to put her away privately.

Put her away privily - The law of Moses gave the husband the power of divorce, Deuteronomy 24:1. It was customary in a bill of divorce to specify the causes for which the divorce was made, and witnesses were also present to testify to the divorce. But in this case, it seems, Joseph resolved to put her away without specifying the cause; for he was not willing to make her a public example. This is the meaning here of “privily.” Both to Joseph and Mary this must have been a great trial. Joseph was ardently attached to her, but her character was likely to be ruined, and he deemed it proper to separate her from him. Mary was innocent, but Joseph was not yet satisfied of her innocence. We may learn from this to put our trust in God. He will defend the innocent. Mary was in danger of being exposed to shame. Had she been connected with a cruel, passionate, and violent man, she would have died in disgrace. But God had so ordered it that she was betrothed to a man mild, amiable, and tender: and in due time Joseph was apprised of the truth in the case, and took his faithful and beloved wife to his bosom. Thus, our only aim should be to preserve a conscience void of offence, and God will guard our reputation. We may be assailed by slander; circumstances may be against us; but in due time God will take care to vindicate our character and save us from ruin. See Psalm 37:5-6.

Verse 20

He thought on these things - He did not act hastily. He did not take the course which the law would have permitted him to do, if he had been hasty, violent, or unjust. It was a case deeply affecting his happiness, his character, and the reputation and character of his chosen companion. God will guide the thoughtful and the anxious. And when we have looked patiently at a perplexed subject, and know not what to do, then God, as in the case of Joseph, will interpose to lead us and direct our way. Psalm 25:9.

The angel of the Lord - The word “angel” literally means a messenger. It is applied chiefly in the Scriptures to those invisible holy beings who have not fallen into sin: who live in heaven (1 Timothy 5:21; compare Jude 1:6); and who are sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation. See the Hebrews 1:13-14 notes, and Daniel 9:21 note. The word is sometimes applied to men, as messengers Luke 7:24; Luke 9:52; James 2:25; to the winds Psalm 104:4; to the pestilence Psalm 78:49; or to whatever is appointed to make known or to execute the will of God. It is commonly applied, however, to the unfallen, happy spirits that are in heaven, whose dignity and pleasure it is to do the will of God. Various ways were employed by them in making known the will of God, by dreams, visions, assuming a human appearance, etc.

In a dream - This was a common way of making known the will of God to the ancient prophets and people of God, Genesis 20:3; Genesis 30:1, Genesis 30:11, Genesis 30:24; Genesis 37:5; Genesis 41:1; 1 Kings 3:5; Daniel 7:1; Job 4:13-15; compare my notes at Isaiah. In what way it was ascertained that these dreams were from God cannot now be ascertained, It is sufficient for us to know that in this way many of the prophecies were communicated, and to remark that there is no evidence that we are to put reliance on our dreams. Dreams are wild, irregular movements of the mind when it is unshackled by reason, and it is mere superstition to suppose that God now makes known His will in this way.

Son of David - Descendant of David. See Matthew 1:1. The angel put him in mind of his relation to David perhaps to prepare him for the intelligence that Mary was to be the mother of the Messiah - the promised heir of David.

Fear not - Do not hesitate, or have any apprehensions about her virtue and purity. Do not fear that she will be unworthy of you, or will disgrace you.

To take unto thee Mary thy wife - To take her as thy wife; to recognize her as such, and to treat her as such.

For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost - Is the direct creation of divine power. A body was thus prepared pure and holy, and free from the corruption of sin, in order that he might be qualified for his great work the offering of a pure sacrifice to God. As this was necessary in order to the great work which he came to perform, Joseph is directed by an angel to receive her as pure and virtuous, and as every way worthy of his love. Compare the notes at Hebrews 10:5.

Verse 21

His name Jesus - The name Jesus is the same as Saviour. It is derived from the verb signifying to save, In Hebrew it is the same as Joshua. In two places in the New Testament it is used where it means Joshua, the leader of the Jews into Canaan, and in our translation the name Joshua should have been retained, Acts 7:45; Hebrews 4:8. It was a very common name among the Jews.

He shall save - This expresses the same as the name, and on this account the name was given to him. He saves people by dying to redeem them; by giving the Holy Spirit to renew them John 16:7-8; by His power in enabling them to overcome their spiritual enemies, in defending them from danger, in guiding them in the path of duty, in sustaining them in trials and in death; and He will raise them up at the last day, and exalt them to a world of purity and love.

His people - Those whom the Father has given to him. The Jews were called the people of God because he had chosen them to himself, and regarded them as His special and beloved people, separate from all the nations of the earth. Christians are called the people of Christ because it was the purpose of the Father to give them to him Isaiah 53:11; John 6:37; and because in due time he came to redeem them to himself, Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 1:2.

From their sins - This was the great business of Jesus in coming and dying. It was not to save people in their sins, but from their sins. Sinners could not be happy in heaven. It would be a place of wretchedness to the guilty. The design of Jesus was, therefore, to save them from sin; and from this we may learn:

1. That Jesus had a design in coming into the world. He came to save his people; and that design will surely be accomplished. It is impossible that in any part of it he should fail.

2. We have no evidence that we are his people unless we are saved from the power and dominion of sin. A mere profession of being His people will not answer. Unless we give up our sins; unless we renounce the pride, pomp, and pleasure of the world, we have no evidence that we are the children of God. It is impossible that we should be Christians if we indulge in sin and live in the practice of any known iniquity. See 1 John 3:7-8.

3. That all professing Christians should feel that there is no salvation unless it is from sin, and that they can never be admitted to a holy heaven hereafter unless they are made pure, by the blood of Jesus, here.

Verse 22

Now all this was done - The prophecy here quoted is recorded in Isaiah 7:14. See the notes at that passage. The prophecy was delivered about 740 years before Christ, in the reign of Ahaz, king of Judah. The land of Judea was threatened with an invasion by the united armies of Syria and Israel, under the command of Rezin and Pekah. Ahaz was alarmed, and seems to have contemplated calling in aid from Assyria to defend him. Isaiah was directed, in his consternation, to go to Ahaz, and tell him to ask a sign from God Isaiah 7:10-11; that is, to look to God rather than to Assyria for aid. This he refused to do. He had not confidence in God, but feared that the land would be overrun by the armies of Syria Matthew 1:12, and relied only on the aid which he hoped to receive from Assyria. Isaiah answered that, in these circumstances, the Lord would himself give a sign, or a pledge, that the land should be delivered. The sign was, that a virgin should have a son, and that before that son would arrive to years of discretion, the land would be forsaken by these hostile kings. The prophecy was therefore designed originally to signify to Ahaz that the land would certainly be delivered from its calamities and dangers, and that the deliverance would not be long delayed. The land of Syria and Israel, united now in confederation, would be deprived of both their kings, and thus the land of Judah would be freed from the threatening danger. This appears to be the literal fulfillment of the passage in Isaiah.

Might be fulfilled - It is more difficult to know in what sense this could be said to be fulfilled in the birth of Christ. To understand this, it may be remarked that the word “fulfilled” is used in the Scriptures and in other writings in many senses, of which the following are some:

1. When a thing is clearly predicted, and comes to pass, as the destruction of Babylon, foretold in Isaiah 13:19-22; and of Jerusalem, in Psalm 14:3 was at first spoken of a particular race of wicked men.” Yet it is applicable to others, and in this sense may be said to have been fulfilled. See Romans 3:10. In this use of the word fulfilled, it means, not that the passage was at first intended to apply to this particular thing, but that the words aptly or appropriately express the thing spoken of, and way be applied to it. We may say the same of this which was said of another thing, and thus the words express both, or are fulfilled. The writers of the New Testament seem occasionally to have used the word in this sense.

Verse 23

Behold, a virgin shall be with child - Matthew clearly understands this as applying literally to a virgin. Compare Luke 1:34. It thus implies that the conception of Christ was miraculous, or that the body of the Messiah was created directly by the power of God, agreeably to the declaration in Hebrews 10:5; “Wherefore, when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me.”

And they shall call his name Emmanuel - That is, his name shall be so called. See the notes at Isaiah 7:14. The word “Immanuel” is a Hebrew word, צמנוּאל ‛immânû'êlcf. Ἐμμανουήλ Emmanouēland literally means “God with us.” Matthew doubtless understands it as denoting that the Messiah was really “God with us,” or that the divine nature was united with the human. He does not affirm that this was its meaning when used in reference to the child to whom it was first applied, but this is its signification as applicable to the Messiah. It was suitably expressive of his character; and in this sense it was fulfilled. When first used by Isaiah, it denoted simply that the birth of the child was a sign that God was with the Jews to deliver them. The Hebrews often incorporated the name of Yahweh, or God, into their proper names. Thus, Isaiah means “the salvation of Yah;” Eleazer, “help of God:” Eli, “my God,” etc. But Matthew evidently intends more than was denoted by the simple use of such names. He had just given an account of the miraculous conception of Jesus: of his being begotten by the Holy Spirit. God was therefore his Father. He was divine as well as human. His appropriate name, therefore, was “God with us.” And though the mere use of such a name would not prove that he had a divine nature, yet as Matthew uses it, and meant evidently to apply it, it does prove that Jesus was more than a man; that he was God as well as man. And it is this which gives glory to the plan of redemption. It is this which is the wonder of angels. It is this which makes the plan so vast, so grand, so full of instruction and comfort to Christians. See Philemon 2:6-8. It is this which sheds such peace and joy into the sinner‘s heart; which gives him such security of salvation, and which renders the condescension of God in the work of redemption so great and his character so lovely.

“Till God in human flesh I see,

My thoughts no comfort find,

The holy, just, and sacred Three

Are terror to my mind.

But if immanuel‘s face appears,

My hope, my joy, begins.

His grace removes my slavish fears.

His blood removes my sins.”

For a full examination of the passage, see Barnes‘ notes at Isaiah 7:14.

Verse 24

Being raised from sleep - Having fully awoke.

Did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him - That is, he took Mary to wife. Probably this was done immediately, since he was now convinced of her innocence, and, by delay, he would not leave any ground of suspicion that he had not confidence in her.

Verse 25

Knew her not - The doctrine of the virginity of Mary before the birth of Jesus is a doctrine of the Scriptures, and is very important to be believed. But the Bible does not affirm that she had no children afterward. Indeed, all the accounts in the New Testament lead us to suppose that she did have them. See the notes at Matthew 13:55-56. The language here evidently implies that she lived as the wife of Joseph after the birth of Jesus.

Her first-born son - Her oldest son, or the one who had the privilege of birthright by the law. This does not of necessity imply that she had other children, though it seems probable. It was the name given to the son which was born first, whether there were others or not.

His name Jesus - This was given by divine appointment, Matthew 1:21. It was conferred upon him on the eighth day, at the time of his circumcision, Luke 2:21.


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Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 1:4". "Barnes' Notes on the New Testament". 1870.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, July 22nd, 2017
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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