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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 1

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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Matthew 1:1-17

This genealogy is quite unlike that in Luke 3. Labored efforts to reconcile the two generally lead to suppositions concerning Levirate marriages in which the issue had two fathers (the legal and the actual), and also to various renditions of the same name, and other devices pressed into service for the purpose of achieving a "harmony"! Perhaps the best, and certainly the simplest, reconciliation of these two lists is to view Matthew’s account as the ancestry of Joseph, and Luke’s genealogy as the record of Mary’s ancestry. Two separate genealogies of Jesus Christ are absolutely necessary in the establishment of the Christ, first as the blood descendant of David, and secondly, as the legal heir to the royal throne of the Hebrews. Matthew shows Christ as the legal heir to the throne by tracing his ancestry down through the royal line of the kings of Israel.

Luke’s genealogy is utterly different, because it is not concerned with title to a throne but with the blood ancestry of Jesus. The only real difficulty in this view is the statement in Luke 3:23 that Joseph is the "son of Heli." R. A. Torrey stated that "Joseph’s name is introduced into this place instead of Mary’s, he being Mary’s husband. Heli was Joseph’s father-in-law; and so Joseph was called "the son of Heli." While Joseph was son-in-law of Heli, he was, according to the flesh, actually the son of Jacob (Matthew 1:16).(F1) This type of double entry was not confusing to the Jews, for a woman’s name did not usually stand in the tables of genealogy. The term "son" as used in such tables actually had three different meanings: (1) son by actual birth; (2) son-in-law; and (3) son by creation, as in the case of Adam (Luke 3:38).

There is no evidence that the names Shealtiel and Zerubbabel in the two lists refer to the same individuals. It would be just as reasonable to suppose that the two Eliakims refer to the same man. The Jews, as do all peoples, used the same names over and over. There are two each of the following names in the Luke account of the 76 generations from Christ to Adam: Cainan, Matthat, Melchi, Levi, Joseph, Mattathias, and Jesus!

The two genealogies of Jesus also clear up another point. The prophecy in Jeremiah 22:30 forbade any descendant of Jechoniah ever to sit upon the throne of David. Therefore, if Jesus had actually been the literal fleshly descendant of "Coniah," as he was called, it would have countermanded his claim upon the throne due to the prophecy, Joseph, Jesus’ foster father, however, could lawfully transfer his right to the throne to his legal son, Jesus Christ! Thus, Jesus was the legal son with right to the throne of David through Jechoniah, and he was the literal blood-son of David through Nathan, the ancestor of Mary, Jesus’ mother. How marvelous are the ways of the Lord. Again, from Torrey, "As we study these two genealogies, we find that so far from constituting a reason for doubting the accuracy of the Bible, they are rather a confirmation of the minutest accuracy of that Book … We need no longer stumble over the fact of there being two genealogies, but discover and rejoice in the deep meaning of the fact that there are two."(F2)

Verses 1-2

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren;

The book of the generation. The true meaning of this appears in a glance at various renditions in some of the versions and translations: "The book of the origin of Jesus Christ"(F3) (Catholic); "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ" (RSV);(F4) "Register of the lineage of Jesus Christ" (Emphatic Diaglott);(F5) "The ancestry of Jesus Christ" (Goodspeed);(F6) "The family tree of Jesus Christ" (Williams);(F7) "The birth roll of Christ" (Moffatt).(F8)

The son of David. Jesus was the literal son of David through Mary, a descendant of Nathan, one of David’s sons, as in Luke’s genealogy. Jesus was the legal son and heir of David through King Solomon as in Matthew’s genealogy. He was also the antitypical son of David in that many parallels exist between the life of our Lord and that of King David. Both were born in Bethlehem. David’s struggle with Goliath answers to Christ’s struggle with Satan. In both cases, it was the enemy’s own weapon which was used to destroy him (Hebrews 2:14). Both David and Christ were sent by their father with a message to the brethren. Both were rejected. David was, in a sense, a mediator between the lines of Israel and the Philistines; Christ is the one Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). Matthew considered it of great importance to identify Jesus Christ as the Son of David, a popular designation for the Messiah; and he does so in the very first verse of his gospel.

The son of Abraham. Jesus was the "son of Abraham" in the following senses: (1) He was the "seed" of promise (Galatians 3:16). (2) He was the legal son and heir through Isaac, son of the free woman, as distinguished from Ishmael, son of the slave woman. (3) He was literally descended from Abraham through Mary and her ancestors. (4) He was the antitype of Isaac. As in the case of David, there are also sharp contrasts between the life of Abraham and that of Christ. Abraham gave up his wife to Abimelech in order to procure his own safety, or so he thought; but Jesus gave himself up to die for his bride, the church (Genesis 20:2 and Ephesians 5:25).

Verse 3

and Judah begat Perez and Zerah of Tamar; and Perez begat Hezron; and Hezron begat Ram;

Of Tamar. Tamar’s name in the Old Testament (Genesis 38) is remembered for her having been twice the daughter-in-law of Judah, and later, by means of a deception, his wife also. It was with reference to her that Onan refused to raise up seed to his brother; and the Roman Catholic superstition concerning birth control is founded on this incident in the life of Onan and Tamar. Paul Blanchard’s comment on this is:

Onan, not wishing to give his brother credit for paternity under the system of Jewish law, "spilled" his seed on the ground, whereupon "God slew him also." If this story has any moral, it is that all men who refuse to marry their brothers’ widows should be killed. Indeed, that was the moral of the original story, since the Levirate law laid down the rule for the Jews that a man inheriting his brother’s cattle and lands should also cohabit with his deceased brother’s wife or wives and raise a direct heir for his brother’s property. Onan’s primary sin was the defiance of a property law of ancient Jews, a law that was abandoned at least 2,000 years ago! … Catholic theologians, lacking any Scriptural authority for their extreme position on birth control, have taken this ancient story of Onan, distorted its meaning by declaring that Jehovah slew Onan for his "coitus interruptus," and inflated this "interpretation" into a whole system of social hygiene for the 20th Century.(F9)

Verse 4

and Ram begat Amminadab; and Amminadab begat Nahshon; and Nahshon begat Salmon; and Salmon begat Boaz of Rahab; and Boaz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse;

Ram. This is the same as "Arni" (Luke 3:33). Also, it should be noted that several names are possibly omitted from this list of generations from Abraham to David. McGarvey pointed out that from the appearance of Rahab in the line, "There are 366 years for the time between this event and the birth of David?(F10)

Obviously, therefore, only the most noted of intervening ancestors are given in the tables. This was, of course, a procedure well known to the Jews and fully acceptable to them in every way. Even the enemies of Christianity never disputed these genealogies during the times when they were available as public records of the Jews.

Rahab … Ruth. Rahab is identified with the woman of that name who was a harlot on the walls of Jericho (Joshua 2:1). Ruth appears in Scripture as one of the sweetest and truest of womankind ever to live upon the earth. She, like Rahab, was a Gentile. The Book of Ruth recounts her remarkable story.

Verse 6

and Jesse begat David the king. And David begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Uriah;

… wife of Uriah. It is a marvel, in the providence of God, that this guilty and unfortunate wife of Uriah the Hittite should have found a place in the Lord’s ancestry; however, her first child was not permitted to live. David’s sin with her constitutes one of the saddest events in the Old Testament. Like the two women in Matthew 1:5, she was presumably a Gentile.

Verse 7

and Solomon begat Rehoboam; and Rehoboam begat Abijah; and Abijah begat Asa; and Asa begat Jehoshaphat; and Jehoshaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Uzziah; and Uzziah begat Jotham; and Jotham begat Ahaz; and Ahaz begat Hezekiah; and Hezekiah begat Manasseh; and Manasseh begat Amon; and Amon begat Josiah; and Josiah begat Jechoniah and his brethren, at the time of the carrying away to Babylon. And after the carrying away to Babylon, Jechoniah begat Shealtiel; and Shealtiel begat Zerubbabel; and Zerubbabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; and Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; and Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

And Joram begat Uzziah. Here are skipped some names in the ancestry, as will be seen by a glance at 2 Kings 8:26 ff. This was a common practice of the keepers of genealogical records in those days.

Verse 17

So all the generations from Abraham unto David are fourteen generations; and from David unto the carrying away to Babylon fourteen generations; and from the carrying away to Babylon unto the Christ fourteen generations.

Fourteen generations. This is an artificial grouping of the names to make possible their easier retention by the memory. It will be noted that Jechoniah is counted twice, being the end of the second grouping and also the beginning of the third and final grouping. McGarvey’s view is typical of many. He said, "Matthew, seeing there were just 14 names in the preceding division, desired for the sake of aiding the memory, to have the same number in the next one."(F11) Matthew had Scriptural precedent for this, to say nothing of his inspiration. Ezra, in giving his own genealogy, omits six names in a single group. This will appear in a comparison of Ezra 7:1-2 with 1 Chronicles 6:6-11.

Verse 18

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.

The Virgin Birth: Christ was born of Mary without the aid of the natural processes of generation. This is a prominent and essential teaching of the Christian religion. To give up the doctrine of the virgin birth is to sacrifice the integrity of the gospel authors, the convictions of the apostolic church, and the entire premise of supernatural religion as revealed in the Holy Bible. Apart from Jesus Christ, the virgin birth seems difficult to believe; however, considered with reference to his own blessed Person, the miracle of his birth appears less as a marvel and more as a necessity. The great miracle of the New Testament is not the virgin birth, or walking on the water, or the resurrection of Christ, but JESUS CHRIST HIMSELF! The phenomenon of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, not only admits but demands just such an entry into this world of human life as that revealed in the virgin birth. "The Word" (John 1:1) has existed from all eternity, but the marvel is that he should consent to become a man at all, not that he should pass through the processes of conception and birth as well. Furthermore, in normal procreation, the union of a man and a woman always produces a NEW LIFE. Christ’s life was not new but had existed from before the beginning of the creation. In truth, it can hardly be imagined just HOW God could enter the world of human life in any other way than that depicted in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ conception in the womb of the virgin Mary is not more wonderful, really, than any other conception; it is merely different. In fact, it is unique; but it was not more difficult on the part of God for this to happen than for any other baby to he born. Wonderful benefits accrue to mankind as a result of the virgin birth. His birth accomplished the following: (1) It honored and elevated womanhood to a place of dignity, honor, and respect, hitherto unknown on earth. (2) It virtually destroyed infanticide by revealing the sanctity of embryonic life. (3) It has emphasized absolute chastity as one of the highest virtues in both men and women. (4) It has glorified motherhood as a state of purity and honor every whit as righteous and desirable as virginity. Concerning the infancy of Jesus Christ, Spurgeon said:

Is he not rightly called Wonderful? Infinite and an infant! Eternal, yet born of a woman! Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman’s breast! Supporting the universe, yet needing to be carried on a mother’s arm! King of Angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph! Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter’s despised son! Wonderful art thou, O Jesus! And that shall be thy name forever?(F12)

Betrothed … before they came together. In those times, betrothal was legally equivalent to marriage, and adultery during the period of waiting was punishable by death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). That this law was still practiced in the day of Christ is shown by John 8:5.

By the Holy Spirit. Matthew leaves no room for misunderstanding of this important point. Mary’s conception was the work of the Holy Spirit of God and must therefore be understood as the most holy and sacred occurrence that can possibly be imagined!

Verse 19

And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.

As Joseph thought on these things, his desire was to show mercy to one who appeared, in his eyes, to be guilty of sin. The noble character of Joseph who desired to shield Mary under those circumstances is most commendable. He was of a different kind from those in the present day who delight to expose what they fancy to be the sins of others. In Joseph was fulfilled the word of the Lord which declares that "He that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter" (Proverbs 11:13).

Verse 20

But when he thought on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.

An angel of the Lord This is perhaps the same angel whose name is given in Luke 1:19; Luke 1:26; if so, he is Gabriel. The existence of angels affords no difficulty for Christians. The Scriptures abound with the deeds of angels. Angels announced the birth of Christ, ministered to Jesus in the wilderness of temptations, strengthened him in the garden of Gethsemane, and escorted him to glory. Angels appeared and spoke at his resurrection (Matthew 28:5), at his ascension (Acts 1:11), to Cornelius (Acts 10:3), to Philip (Acts 8:26), and to Peter (Acts 12:7). The scholarly Robert Milligan summarizes the functions of angels as follows: (1) to frustrate the wiles of Satan (Judges 1:6); (2) to punish wicked men (Genesis 19:1-26; 2 Kings 19:35; Acts 12:23); (3) to preside over the councils of princes and governments (Daniel 10:20-21; Daniel 11:1; Daniel 12:1); (4) to aid providentially in bringing men to repentance (Acts 10:1-8); (5) to take care of living saints (Hebrews 1:14; 2 Kings 6:15-23; Psalms 34:7; Psalms 91:11; Daniel 3:25-28; Daniel 6:22; Matthew 18:10; Acts 5:19; Acts 12:7); (6) to comfort dying saints and to bear their souls home to glory (Luke 16:22).(F13)

To Milligan’s six works assigned to angels, we may add a seventh if we include the work of angels in keeping God’s "little book," the New Testament, available or "open" to humanity (Revelation 10).

Verse 21

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins.

This was not an unusual name among the Jews, the name appearing both as Jesus and as Joshua. The word "Christ" means Messiah; hence, in the confession of faith, the believer affirms that he believes that "Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God," as did Peter in Matthew 16:16. In all ordinary cases, parents do not name their children before they are born, seeing that the question of their sex is not determined until after birth; however, an angel of the Lord announced Jesus’ name along with the news of his conception!

Verses 22-23

Now all this came to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Behold the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel; which is, being interpreted, God with us.

The question of whether Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14) fully understood this as applying to the virgin birth of Christ is irrelevant. God’s great prophets did not always know the true meaning of the words God gave them. Peter did not know the full meaning of what he prophesied on Pentecost (Acts 2:38-39); and a miracle was required later (Acts 10) to convince Peter that the Gentiles should be permitted entry into the church. See 1 Peter 1:11-12. In this verse, Matthew uses for the first time an expression found ten times in his gospel and nowhere else in the New Testament, "that it might be fulfilled, etc." That the virgin birth is clearly included in Isaiah’s prophecy is certain. Matthew declares it IN. The fact that the rabbis and Pharisees had overlooked it is only an indication of spiritual blindness on their part. This beautiful prophecy not only reveals the virgin birth but also sets forth the dual nature of Christ. His name means "God with us!" but his diet is that of a man, "butter and honey"; Here, then, is the GOD-MAN in prophecy!

Verses 24-25

And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took unto him his wife and knew her not till she had brought forth a son; and he called his name JESUS.

This verse has a bearing on the so-called doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity. Mary’s virginity BEFORE the birth of Christ is a valid Christian doctrine, bearing the seal of the Holy Spirit, the testimony of the apostles, and Christ, and commending itself to the redeemed of all ages; but her so-called virginity AFTER the birth of Christ is a monstrous superstition, without Scriptural sanction, indeed opposed to the New Testament, and refuted by several urgent considerations both practical and theological. It is here stated that Joseph knew her not "till" she had brought forth a son. This implies that the relationship of Joseph to his wife Mary, after the birth of Christ, was altogether that of any normal husband and wife. Indeed, how else should the other sons of Mary have been born? Matthew 13:55 gives the names of four of Jesus’ brothers and even mentions his sisters. It is no refutation of these facts to quibble about other possible uses of the word "till" or the word "brothers"! The mere fact that a word CAN have other meanings does not prove that it DOES have any other meaning than the obvious and ordinary meaning implicit in the terse language of Matthew’s gospel. Catholic commentaries, and even the footnotes in their New Testament, cast eager reflections against the ordinary meaning of these passages; but, concerning all such insinuations against the truth, men need only to remember that God’s word is not vitiated by such quibbles.

As reflecting further light on the question of Mary’s virginity, whether perpetual or not, the statement in Luke 2:7 is also pertinent. "She brought forth her FIRSTBORN son, etc." This terminology also suggests that Mary bore other sons, otherwise Christ should have been called her "only" son. The sacred Scriptures make the truth quite plain. Christ is called the "only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18) and the "firstborn son" of Mary! (Luke 2:7). It takes a very unskilled and naive student of the Bible to suppose that the Holy Spirit actually meant that Christ was the "only begotten son of Mary" as well as the "only begotten of the Father"; and that the Holy Spirit merely used the wrong word in referring to him as the "firstborn" of Mary!

The entire superstition regarding the perpetual virginity of Mary is actually founded on a misunderstanding, a groundless assumption, namely, that the perpetual virginity of Mary, even if it could be proved, would add the slightest luster to the crown of Mary’s glory. It would do no such thing. The Bible does not elevate virginity as a state above Christian motherhood. To suppose Mary’s virginity throughout her life would be to suppose that she defrauded Joseph her husband, contrary to the conjugal duty owed to him (1 Corinthians 7:2-3). We cannot believe that Mary did this. A Christian mother is every whit as holy as any virgin, perpetual or not. For holiness, no celibate, male or female, can compare with Christian parents. As Paul expressed it, "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled" (Hebrews 13:4 KJV). Then why pretend that the marriage bed IS defiled and strive to "protect" the virgin Mary from such man-imputed defilement?

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Matthew 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/matthew-1.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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