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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible

Matthew 1

 

 

Verses 1-25


Genealogy and Birth of Jesus

1-17. Genealogy of Jesus: cp. Luke 3:23. The two genealogies of Jesus, which are constructed on quite different principles, require careful comparison and study, if their purpose and significance are to be understood. In both, the descent of Jesus is traced through Joseph, not Mary, partly because the claim of Jesus to the throne of David could only be established through His foster-father Joseph; partly because, in genealogies, the Jews took no account of female descent. The genealogies are not inspired documents. They are the work of Jewish pedigree-makers who did their best to fill the gaps of records which were frequently fragmentary. They are inserted by the evangelists as honest attempts to ascertain the truth. Their accuracy or inaccuracy does not affect the main point at issue, our Lord's descent, through His legal father Joseph, from David. Joseph's family certainly claimed descent from David, and even the enemies of Jesus admitted the claim (see Matthew 9:27; Matthew 12:23; Matthew 15:22; Matthew 20:30; Matthew 2:19; Matthew 22:42 and parallels). As Jewish families were particularly tenacious of family traditions, and were accustomed to preserve genealogical records, our Lord's Davidic descent through Joseph may be regarded as established. His Davidic descent through Mary is more doubtful, but, on the whole, probable. Luke 1:36, taken alone, might suggest that she belonged to the tribe of Levi, but Luke 1:32 and Luke 1:69 lose much of their point, unless it be supposed that Mary herself was descended from David. The OT. prophecies and the Apostolic Church regarded Christ as descended from David according to the flesh (Romans 1:3; Psalms 132:11; Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5), and if Jesus were born of a virgin, His actual descent could only be upon the mother's side.

Both genealogies reflect current rabbinical ideas about the Messiah's descent. It was disputed, for instance, whether He would be descended from David through Solomon, or whether, owing to the curse on this line (Jeremiah 22:28; Jeremiah 36:30), through another son, Nathan (1 Chronicles 3:5). Accordingly St. Matthew's genealogy traces our Lord's descent through Solomon, St. Luke's through Nathan. Other rabbinical features are the omission of links in the genealogies, especially in St. Matthew, and the artificial arrangement of the names in numerical groups, probably as an aid to the memory. St. Luke's source probably grouped the names in multiples of ten (20 generations from David to the captivity, 20 from the captivity to Christ). This was the commonest method. St. Matthew employs multiples of seven (14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the captivity, 14 from the captivity to Christ). St. Matthew's list is a genealogy only in appearance. It is really an early Jewish-Christian attempt to construct a list of successive heirs to the throne of David, and so to exhibit Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, as the rightful king of Israel. Thus Shealtiel (Salathiel), Matthew 1:12, was not the actual son of Jechoniah, who was childless (Jeremiah 22:28), but the next heir to the crown, and probably for that reason adopted by Jechoniah: see 1 Chronicles 3:17. According to St. Luke, Shealtiel's real father was Neri.

St. Luke's list, on the other hand, aims at being a true genealogy, and that not of Mary, as a few authorities still maintain, but of Joseph: see on Luke 3:23. We are thus faced with the serious difficulty that Joseph's father is called by St. Matthew 'Jacob,' and by St. Luke 'Heli.' Have we here an error made by one or both evangelists? It is, of course, possible, but hardly likely, this being only the second step of the genealogy. Assuming both genealogies to be in this point correct, and taking into account the special character of St. Matthew's list, the statements are best harmonised by supposing that Jacob, the true heir to the throne, being, like Jechoniah, childless, adopted the next male heir Heli, who belonged to the other branch of the family, that, namely, which descended from Nathan. A less probable supposition is that Heli and Jacob were brothers, and that, one of them dying childless, the other took his wife and raised up seed to him by what is called a Levirate marriage: see Deuteronomy 25:6; Matthew 22:23. The point in favour of this view is that the fathers of Heli and Jacob, Matthat and Matthan, have nearly the same name. The point against it is that Matthat and Matthan have different fathers, and so were different persons, unless we again make use of the expedient of a Levirate marriage, or something similar.

1. The book of the generation] RM 'of the genealogy.' The phrase is from Genesis 5:1, and is meant as a title not of the whole Gospel, nor even of the Nativity, but only of the genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17), which the evangelist probably did not compose himself (though this is possible), but derived from an earlier source. Of Jesus Christ] 'Jesus' is the Gk. form of the Heb. 'Joshua,' or 'Jeshua,' meaning 'Jehovah is salvation.' 'Christ' (Chriatos) is properly the Gk. equivalent of the Aramaic 'Messiah,' lit. 'anointed one,' but here used as a proper name. The use of 'Christ' as a proper name began soon after the Ascension, and is common in the Epistles. In the Gospels it occurs only in Matthew 1:1, Matthew 1:16-17, Matthew 1:18; Mark 1:1; John 1:17 and possibly John 17:3. In all other places in the Gospels it should be rendered 'the Christ,' or 'the Messiah.' The use of the word in the sense of 'the Messiah' is unquestionably the earlier one, and the fidelity of the Gospels in preserving it is no small evidence of their trustworthiness. The son of David] a standing title of the Messiah among the rabbis. E.g. it was said, 'The son of David cometh not until that wicked empire (Rome) hath extended itself over the whole earth.' 'If the Israelites shall keep the sabbath even for a single day as they ought, the son of David will come': see Psalms 132 Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5. The poverty of Joseph and Mary is no evidence against their Davidic descent. The great rabbi Hillel, another descendant of David, was even poorer. The Davidic descent of our Lord's family was never questioned in His lifetime even by His enemies, and was so notorious that the descendants of Jude, the Lord's brother, incurred the jealousy of the tyrant Domitian. The son of Abraham] St. Matthew, writing primarily for Jews, carries the genealogy to Abraham and no further. He wishes to show that Jesus is the Messiah of the Jews, born in accordance with the promise made by God to the ancestor of the race (Genesis 12:3, etc.). St. Luke, writing for Gentiles, and emphasising St. Paul's principle that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, carries the genealogy back to Adam.

3 Of Thamar] RV 'Tamar.' Contrary to Jewish custom St. Matthew introduces into his genealogy four women, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Of these, two (Rahab and Ruth) were Gentiles, and three were guilty of gross sins. Their insertion is intended to teach certain spiritual lessons: (1) That Gentiles as well as Jews have their rights in the Messiah, seeing that two of His ancestors were of Gentile blood. (2) That Jewish Christians instead of regarding Gentile converts with contempt, should be proud of them, as their ancestors were of Rahab and Ruth, who, on becoming proselytes, were accounted mothers in Israel. Of Rahab the rabbis said, 'Ten priests, who were also prophets, sprang from her'; and of Ruth, 'It is spoken in prophecy that the six most righteous men of the whole world will spring from her, David, Daniel and his companions, and King Messiah.' (3) That remission of sins, complete restoration to God's favour, and a high and privileged position in the kingdom of grace, are possible for the worst offenders. (4) That Christ did not shrink from the closest contact with sinful humanity. He touched and raised the very nature which had fallen. He assumed our sin-stained flesh, and in assuming cleansed it, and made it the instrument of human redemption.

8. After Joram St. Matthew omits three names, Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah(see 1 Chronicles 3:11-12), some think on account of their descent from the idolatrous Jezebel, but more probably simply to reduce the number of generations to fourteen.

11. After Josias St. Matthew omits Eliakim (2 Kings 23:34). The brethren of Jechoniah (Jehoiachin) are really his uncles, Jehoahaz and Zedekiah, Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, though really the uncle of Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:17. Jeremiah 37:1), is called his 'brother'even in OT. (2 Chronicles 36:10). 12. Jechoniah (Jehoiachin) was probably childless (yet see on Jeremiah 22:30), and adopted Salathiel (Shealtiel) as his heir (see 1 Chronicles 3:17). Shealtiel seems also to have been childless, for although both here and in Ezra 3:2; Nehemiah 12:1; Haggai 1:1, etc., he is said to have had a son Zorobabel (Zerubbabel), this Zerubbabel seems to have been really the son of Shealtiel's brother Pedaiah (1 Chronicles 3:19), who may have married his childless brother's widow according to the Law.

16. Little importance attaches to the reading of the SinaiSyriac version, 'Joseph begat Jesus,' which is certainly not original, lacking, as it does, all MS authority, and contradicting the plain statements of the evangelist (Matthew 1:18-25). Probably the reading comes from an Ebionite version of this Gospel. The Ebionites were an early sect, who, while admitting our Lord's Messiahship, denied His divinity and supernatural birth. Or the error may be due to the mechanical repetition by some scribe of the word 'begat,' which he had already written thirty-eight times.

17. As there are only thirteen generations from the captivity to Christ, probably a name has dropped out.

18-25. Circumstances of the Conception and Birth of Jesus: cp. Luke 1:26-58; Luke 2:1-20. The order of events is (a) Conception of John by Elisabeth, Luke 1:24, (b) Annunciation to Mary at Nazareth six months afterwards, Luke 1:26, (c) Visit of Mary to Elisabeth lasting three months, Luke 1:39, (d) Return of Mary to Nazareth, Luke 1:56; (e) Birth of John, Luke 1:57, (f) Mary is found to be with child, Matthew 1:18, (g) An angel appears to Joseph, Matthew 1:20, (h) Journey to Bethlehem, Luke 2:4, (i) Birth of Jesus, Matthew 1:25; Luke 2:7.

Significance of Christ's Infancy. At first sight it seems unworthy of the Son of God to be conceived and born, and to pass through the stages of human growth. But in truth the interval between God and man is so infinitely great, that the minute difference between infancy and manhood is of no consequence. The marvel is that the Son of God should consent to become man at all; it is no additional marvel that He should become an infant. If it was expedient for the human race which He came to redeem, that He should pass through all the stages of a truly human experience, then the same infinite loving condescension which caused Him to become man would cause Him to be conceived and born. It is a fact admitted by the most sceptical that the human birth of Jesus Christ has appealed to the imagination of mankind, more perhaps than any other event of His life, and has produced permanent effects of the utmost importance (Luke 1:51). (a) It has abolished the once common crime of infanticide by teaching that infant life is sacred. (b) It has raised the dignity of women, and produced in men the feeling of chivalry towards them, which is essentially Christian and was unknown to the ancient world. (c) It has sanctified motherhood and family life. (d) It has placed chastity both in men and women in the forefront of Christian virtues. (e) It has given a new importance to childhood, so that kindness to children and a willingness to conform to the ideal character of childhood, are marks of a true Christian. The human birth of Jesus is thus justified both by its results and by its adaptation to human needs. 'Jesus Christ,' says Irenæus, 'came to save all by means of Himself. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, a child for children, a youth for youths, an elderly man for elderly men, that He might be a perfect Master for all.'

The Incarnation and the Virgin Birth. A difficulty has been felt in our days in accepting the miracle associated with the conception of our Lord. This arises chiefly from the facts that the two Gospels which record it differ to some extent in their accounts, and that the nature of the miracle itself precludes absolute demonstration.

It may be candidly admitted that the miraculous conception of Jesus has not the same evidence for it as the other miracles, and that if it were affirmed of any ordinary man it could not be believed. But Jesus was not an ordinary man. He was one who, according to credible testimony, worked many miracles, including the raising of the dead, and concluded an absolutely unexampled career by rising from the dead and ascending into heaven. The miraculous manner in which Jesus left this earth thus removes all theoretical difficulty from the miracle by which He is said to have entered it. The main question to be considered is: Do the existing narratives show signs of having proceeded from the only two persons who can have known anything about the matter, viz. Joseph and Mary? Certainly they do. St. Matthew's Gospel regards the matter entirely from Joseph's point of view. It is Joseph who discovers the condition of Mary (Matthew 1:18), and is doubtful what course to pursue (Matthew 1:19). It is to Joseph that the angel appears to announce the miraculous conception of Jesus (Matthew 1:20), and again to bid him flee into Egypt (Matthew 2:13), and to return (Matthew 2:19). St. Luke's narrative, on the other hand, reflects entirely the point of view of Mary. It is to Mary that Gabriel appears (Luke 1:26). A full account is given of her visit to Elisabeth (Luke 1:39). The mother's memory appears in the mention of the swaddling clothes and of the manger (Luke 2:7), and in the words, 'But Mary kept all these sayings and pondered them in her heart' (Luke 2:19), and again, 'Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also' (Luke 2:35). St. Luke's account is much fuller than St. Matthew's, and this is easily accounted for. When St. Luke was collecting his materials in Palestine, Mary was probably still alive, whereas Joseph (St. Matthew's authority) had long been dead, and his account had probably passed through several hands before it reached the evangelist. The historical character of both narratives is shown by their freedom from the extravagant features which mark the apocryphal Gospels, and by their essential agreement, in spite of the fact that they are absolutely independent. It is true that St. Matthew seems to represent Bethlehem rather than Nazareth as the original home of Joseph and Mary, though he does not actually say so. On the other hand, St. Luke seems ignorant of the flight into Egypt, and passes straight from the presentation in the Temple to the return to Nazareth. But these are only instances of one imperfect account supplementing another, not of radical inconsistencies. Both accounts agree as to the two main points, Christ's birth of a virgin and His birth at Bethlehem.

Granting the fact of a real Incarnation, the Virgin Birth would seem to be the most reverent and fitting way of bringing it about. Since natural generation invariably gives rise to a new person, it was plainly unsuitable to the case of Jesus, at whose conception no new person came into existence, but the already existing Son of God entered upon a new human experience. Moreover, natural generation having been generally associated, especially by the Jews, with sin, it was not desirable that the moral miracle of a sinless human nature should be marked by the physical miracle of a miraculous conception. The last appeal, and perhaps to many minds the only possible appeal, is that of the argument derived from' cause and effect.' Look at the stupendous fact—Jesus. The miracle of the NT., the miracle of the ages is not the Resurrection, but Jesus Himself. The phenomena of His life and character, the incomprehensibility of His person, seem to demand uniqueness and mystery in His birth. To abandon the Virgin Birth because of the difficulties of a few would be to throw greater difficulties in the way of the many. The doctrine has always been regarded as an integral part of the faith. It appears in the earliest form of the Apostles' Creed (100 a.d.).

18. Was espoused] BV 'had been betrothed.' Betrothal was almost equivalent to marriage, and could not be broken off without a formal divorce: cp. on John 8:3 and Deuteronomy 22:23, Deuteronomy 22:24. she was found] viz. by her husband. Of the Holy Ghost] Both here and in Luke 1:35 the miracle of the conception is ascribed emphatically to the 'Holy' Spirit, to mark the fact that Jesus was conceived sinless, and in a manner the most sacred imaginable. 'The Holy Spirit sanctifled the flesh which it united with the Word. Not only was the “new departure in human life” which began with the birth of the Second Adam fitly preceded by a directly creative act, but the new humanity was consecrated at the moment of its conception by the overshadowing of the Divine Spirit' (Swete). The expression 'Holy Ghost' is especially characteristic of the NT., where it occurs over 80 times. In the Gk. OT. (LXX) it occurs only twice. The Jews did not regard the Spirit as personal, hence Mary must have understood the words of the angel, 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee,' as identical in meaning with, 'The power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.' Not so the evangelists, to whom 'the Holy Ghost' had become practically a proper name, and as such was used without the article.

19. A just man] i.e. a good or righteous man: here, in particular, a kind or humane man, because although he felt bound to divorce her, he wished to do so as privately as possible, and without assigning any reason. A Jewish husband could divorce his wife if she did not please him, simply by giving her a bill of divorce in the presence of witnesses, without specifying the true cause. The legal penalty for Mary's supposed fault was stoning (John 8:5).

20. The angel] RV 'an angel.' In St. Luke the angel who appears to Zachariah and Mary is named (Luke 1:19, Luke 1:26), and the same angel (Gabriel) is to be understood here. In other passages of the NT. angels appear and speak: at the Resurrection, Matthew 28:5 at the Ascension, A Matthew 1:11 to Peter in prison, Matthew 5:19, Matthew 12:7 to Philip, Matthew 8:26 to Cornelius, Matthew 10:3. There is no real reason to question the actual existence of angels. Why should man be the highest being in the universe?

21. JESUS] see on Matthew 1:1. For he shall save] more exactly, 'for it is He that shall save.' 'Saving from sin' includes two processes: (1) atonement for sin, and (2) sanctification. Both are works of Christ. The natural atonement for sin is penitence; but inasmuch as human penitence is imperfect, and our very repentance requires to be repented of, the aid of a Divine Helper is required. Christ bears the weight of our sins, sorrows for them with a sorrow that is adequate, and gives us grace to repent of them in a manner acceptable to God. As we live the life of faith in Christ our penitence continually becomes deeper, and one day it will be perfect, and God will accept it as adequate. In the meantime God pardons us by anticipation. Sanctification, i.e. the putting away of sin and growth in virtue and holiness, is another most important work of redemption, and no one can safely assure himself of the divine pardon unless he is advancing in the Christian virtues. The faith which does not manifest itself in works is no true faith in Christ. His people] primarily, of course, the Jews; but the Gentiles are also Israel, 'the Israel of God' (Galatians 6:16).

22. That it might be fulfilled, etc.] It is characteristic of St. Matthew, though not, of course, peculiar to him, to regard the events of Christ's life as taking place in order to fulfil God's gracious promises in the OT. made through the prophets. This particular phrase occurs 10 times in St. Matthew, and nowhere else in the NT.: see Intro.

23. Behold, a virgin] RV 'the virgin': see on Isaiah 7:14. It does not appear that the Jews regarded the passage as Messianic; but St. Matthew, writing for Christians, applies it to the Messiah, in accordance with the rabbinical maxim, 'All the prophets prophesied only of the days of the Messiah.' St. Matthew quotes the passage as a prophecy not of the Virgin Birth, but of the giving to our Lord of a name expressing His divinity. He was called 'Jesus' (i.e. 'God is Salvation') to fulfil the prophecy which assigned to Him the name 'Emmanuel' ('God with us'). There is no indication that the evangelist, who was acquainted with Hebrew, attached importance to the word 'virgin' in this passage. In the Heb. it is 'almah, i.e. 'a young woman,' not necessarily a virgin. The LXX, however, renders it parthenos, i.e. 'virgin,' and hence many have incorrectly supposed that Isaiah prophesied the Virgin Birth.

Emmanuel] i.e. 'God with us.' This is a descriptive title rather than a name. It was never borne by our Lord, but He received instead a name ('Jesus') which expressed its meaning, and thus the prophecy was fulfilled. In the mind of Isaiah the title Emmanuel indicated that the bearer of it would deliver Israel from all their enemies. In the mind of the evangelist, who believed in the Incarnation (see especially Matthew 27:19), it meant that in Jesus God assumed human nature to save the children of men, and to dwell with and in them for ever (Matthew 27:20).

25. And knew her not till] Some have thought that the evangelist means to imply that after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary lived together as man and wife, and that children were born to them. This may have been the case, but the words of the evangelist here are not meant to imply it. They simply affirm in the strongest manner that Joseph had nothing whatever to do with the conception and birth of Jesus, and are not intended to give information as to what happened afterwards. For the probable relationship to our Lord of His 'brethren,' see on Matthew 12:50.

Her firstborn son] RV 'a son.' 'Firstborn' is interpolated from Luke 2:7, q.v.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Matthew 1:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/matthew-1.html. 1909.


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Thursday, September 21st, 2017
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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