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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 2

Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical CommentaryAlford's Greek Testament Commentary

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Verse 1

1. Βηθ . τῆς Ἰουδ . ] There was another Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun, near the sea of Galilee, Joshua 19:15 . The name Bethlehem-Judah is used, Judges 17:7-9 ; 1 Samuel 17:12 . Another name for our Bethlehem was Ephrath, Genesis 35:19 ; Genesis 48:7 ; or Ephrata, Micah 5:2 . It was six Roman miles to the south of Jerusalem, and was known as ‘the city of David,’ the origin of his family, Ruth 1:1 ; Ruth 1:19 .

ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρώδου ] HEROD THE GREAT, son of Antipater, an Idumean, by an Arabian mother, made king of Judæa on occasion of his having fled to Rome, being driven from his tetrarchy by the pretender Antigonus. (Jos. Antt. xiv. 14. 4.) This title was confirmed to him after the battle of Actium by Octavianus. He sought to strengthen his throne by a series of cruelties and slaughters, putting to death even his wife Mariamne, and his sons Alexander and Aristobulus. His cruelties, and his affectation of Gentile customs, gained for him a hatred among the Jews, which neither his magnificent rebuilding of the temple, nor his liberality in other public works, nor his provident care of the people during a severe famine, could mitigate. He died miserably, five days after he had put to death his son Antipater, in the seventieth year of his age, the thirty-eighth of his reign, and the 750th year of Rome. The events here related took place a short time before his death, but necessarily more than forty days; for he spent the last forty days of his life at Jericho and the baths of Callirrhoe, and therefore would not be found by the magi at Jerusalem. The history of Herod’s reign is contained in Josephus, Antt. books xiv. xvii.

μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν ] Magi from the East; (not ἀπ . ἀνατ . παρεγ .) The absence of the art. after μάγοι is no objection to this interpretation. In fact it could not have been here expressed, because the concrete noun μάγοι is not distributed: as neither could it in such an expression as ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτῳ , Mark 1:23 . In the case of an anarthrous abstract noun, the art. may follow , but may also be omitted, cf. χαρὰ ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ , Romans 14:17 ; the distinction being, that χ . ἡ ἐν πν . ἁγ . would specify, among various kinds of joy, that one , which is ἐν πν . ἁγ ., whereas χ . ἐν πν . ἁγ . merely asserts the fact that the joy is ἐν πν . ἁγ ., without suggesting any comparison with other kinds. De W. remarks, that if ἀπὸ ἀνατ . belonged to παρεγ ., it would probably follow that verb, as ἐξ ὁδοῦ does, ref. Luke. I may add, that παραγίνομαι occurs with a preposition and a substantive twelve times in the N.T., and in no case are they prefixed .

It would be useless to detail all the conjectures to which this history has given rise. From what has been written on the subject it would appear, (1) That ἀνατολαί may mean either Arabia, Persia, Chaldæa , or Parthia, with the provinces adjacent . See Judges 6:3 ; Isaiah 41:2 ; Isaiah 46:11 ; Numbers 23:7 . Philo (leg. ad Caium 34, vol. ii. p. 584) speaks of ἔθνη τὰ ἑῷα καὶ ἡγεμόνες αὐτῶν Παρθυαῖοι . In all these countries there were magi, at least persons who in the wider sense of the word were now known by the name. The words in Mat 2:2 seem to point to some land not very near Judæa, as also the result of Herod’s enquiry as to the date, shewn in ἀπὸ διετοῦς . (2) If we place together ( α ) the prophecy in Numbers 24:17 , which could hardly be unknown to the Eastern astrologers, and ( β ) the assertion of Suetonius (Vesp. c. 4), ‘Percrebuerat Oriente toto vetus et constants opinio, esse in fatis, ut eo tempore Judæa profecti rerum potirentur,’ and Tacitus, Matthew 2:13 , ‘Pluribus persuasio inerat, antiquis sacerdotum literis contineri, eo ipso tempore fore ut valesceret Oriens, profectique Judæa rerum potirentur,’ and ( γ ) the prophecy, also likely to be known in the East, of the seventy weeks in Daniel 9:24 ; we can, I think, be at no loss to understand how any remarkable celestial appearance at this time should have been interpreted as it was. (3) There is no ground for supposing the magi to have been three in number (as first, apparently, by Leo the Great, A.D., 450; “tribus igitur magis in regione Orientis stella novæ claritatis apparuit,” Serm. xxxi. 1, vol. i. p. 112), or to have been kings . The first tradition appears to have arisen from the number of their gifts; the second , from the prophecy in Isaiah 60:3 . (Tertullian seems to deduce it from the similar prophecy in Psalms 72:10 . “Reges Arabum et Saba munera afferent illi: nam et magos reges fere habuit Oriens.” Adv. Jude 1:9 , vol. i. p. 619: adv. Marc. iii. 13, p. 339.)

Verses 1-12

Verse 2

2. αὐτοῦ τὸν ἀστέρα ] (Much has been said and written on the following note in no friendly spirit; but, for the most part, in entire misunderstanding of its drift and character. It seems to me that the preliminary question for us is, Have we here in the sacred text a miracle, or have we some natural appearance which God in His Providence used as a means of indicating to the magi the birth of His Son? Different minds may feel differently as to the answer to this question: but I submit that it is not for any man to charge another, who is as firm a believer in the facts related in the sacred text as he himself can be, with weakening that belief, because he feels an honest conviction that it is here relating, not a miracle but a natural appearance. It is, of course, the far safer way, as far as reputation is concerned, to introduce miraculous agency wherever possible: but the present Editor aims at truth, not popularity.) This expression of the magi, we have seen his star, does not seem to point to any miraculous appearance , but to something observed in the course of their watching the heavens. We know the magi to have been devoted to astrology: and on comparing the language of our text with this undoubted fact, I confess that it appears to me the most ingenuous way, fairly to take account of that fact in our exegesis, and not to shelter ourselves from an apparent difficulty by the convenient but forced hypothesis of a miracle . Wherever supernatural agency is asserted, or may be reasonably inferred, I shall ever be found foremost to insist on its recognition, and impugn every device of rationalism or semi-rationalism; but it does not therefore follow that I should consent to attempts, however well meant, to introduce miraculous interference where it does not appear to be borne out by the narrative . The principle on which this commentary is conducted, is that of honestly endeavouring to ascertain the sense of the sacred text, without regard to any preconceived systems, and fearless of any possible consequences . And if the scientific or historical researches of others seem to contribute to this, my readers will find them, as far as they have fallen within my observation, made use of for that purpose. Now we learn from astronomical calculations, that a remarkable conjunction of the planets of our system took place a short time before the birth of our Lord. (I may premise, that the whole of the statements in this note have been remarkably confirmed, except in the detail now corrected, “that an ordinary eye would regard them (the planets) as one star of surpassing brightness,” by the Rev. C. Pritchard, in a paper read by him before the Royal Astronomical Society, containing his calculations of the times and nearnesses of the conjunctions, as verified by the Astronomer Royal at Greenwich. The exact days and hours have been inserted below from Mr. Pritchard’s paper.) In the year of Rome 747, on the 20th of May (29th, Pritchard), there was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the 20th degree of the constellation Pisces, close to the first point of Aries, which was the part of the heavens noted in astrological science as that in which the signs denoted the greatest and most noble events. On the 27th of October (29th Sept., Pritchard), in the same year, another conjunction of the same planets took place, in the 16th degree of Pisces: and on the 12th of November (5th Dec., Pritchard), a third, in the 15th degree of the same sign. (Ideler, Handbuch der Chronologie, ii. 329, sqq., also Winer, Realwörterbuch, under ‘Stern der Weisen,’ which see.) Supposing the magi to have seen the first of these conjunctions, they saw it actually in the East; for on the 29th of May it would rise 3½ hours before sunrise (Pritchard). If they then took their journey, and arrived at Jerusalem in a little more than five months (the journey from Babylon took Ezra four months, see Ezr 7:9 ), if they performed the route from Jerusalem to Bethlehem in the evening, as is implied, the December conjunction , in 15° of Pisces, would be before them in the direction of Bethlehem . (“1½ hour east of the meridian at sunset.” Pritchard.) These circumstances would seem to form a remarkable coincidence with the history in our text. They are in no way inconsistent with the word ἀστέρα , which cannot surely (see below) be pressed to its mere literal sense of one single star, but understood in its wider astrological meaning: nor is this explanation of the star directing them to Bethlehem at all repugnant to the plain words of Matthew 2:9-10 , importing its motion from S.E. towards S.W., the direction of Bethlehem. We may further observe, that no part of the text respecting the star, asserts, or even implies, a miracle; and that the very slight apparent inconsistencies with the above explanation are no more than the report of the magi themselves, and the general belief of the age would render unavoidable. If this subservience of the superstitions of astrology to the Divine purposes be objected to, we may answer with Wetstein, ‘Superest igitur ut illos ex regulis artis suæ hoc habuisse existimemus: quæ licet certissime futilis, vana, atque fallax esset, casu tamen aliquando in verum incidere potuit. Admirabilis hinc elucet sapientia Dei, qui hominum erroribus et sceleribus usus Josephum per scelus fratrum in Ægyptum deduxit, regem Babelis per haruspicia et sortes Judæis immisit, (Ezech. Mat 21:21-22 ) et magos hic per astrologiam ad Christum direxit.’

It may be remarked that Abarbanel the Jew, who knew nothing of this conjunction, relates it (Maajne haschnah, cited by Münter in Ebrard, Wissensch. Kritik, p. 248) as a tradition, that no conjunction could be of mightier import than that of Jupiter and Saturn, which planets were in conjunction A.M. 2365, before the birth of Moses, in the sign of Pisces; and thence remarks that that sign was the most significant one for the Jews . From this consideration he concludes that the conjunction of these planets in that sign, in his own time (A.D. 1463), betokened the near approach of the birth of the Messiah. And as the Jews did not invent astrology, but learnt it from the Chaldæans, this idea, that a conjunction in Pisces betokened some great event in Judæa, must have prevailed among Chaldæan astrologers. (It is fair to notice the influence on the position maintained in this note of the fact which Mr. Pritchard seems to have substantiated, that the planets did not, during the year B.C. 7, approach each other so as to be mistaken by any eye for one star: indeed not “within double the apparent diameter of the moon.” I submit, that even if this were so, the inference in the note remains as it was. The conjunction of the two planets , complete or incomplete, would be that which would bear astrological significance, not their looking like one star. The two bright planets seen in the east, the two bright planets standing over Bethlehem, these would on each occasion have arrested the attention of the magi; and this appearance would have been denominated by them ὁ ἀστὴρ αὐτοῦ . To object that it is ἀστήρ , not ἄστρον , is surely mere trifling: the appearance could not be called “ ἄστρον , a constellation,” as required by Bp. Wordsworth, who suggests the ingenious solution for all the difficulties of the narrative, that “the star, it is probable, was visible to the magi alone .”)

ἐν τῇ ἀνατ . ] Not ‘ at its rising ,’ in which case we should expect to find αὐτοῦ , if not here, certainly in Matthew 2:9 , but in the East, i.e. either in the Eastern country from which they came , or in the Eastern quarter of the heavens , as above explained. In Matthew 2:9 , ἐν τ . ἀνατ . is opposed to ἐπάνω οὗ ἦν τὸ παιδίον .

προσκυνῆσαι ] To do homage to him, in the Eastern fashion of prostration. ‘Necesse est enim, si in conspectum veneris, venerari te Regem, quod illi προσκυνεῖν vocant.’ Corn. Nep. Conon, 3.

Verse 3

3. ἐταράχθη ] Josephus, Antt. xvii. 2. 4, represents these troubles as raised by the Pharisees, who prophesied a revolution. Ἡρώδῃ μὲν καταπαύσεως ἀρχῆς ὑπὸ Θεοῦ ἐψηφισμένης αὐτῷ τε καὶ γένει τῷ ἀπ ʼ αὐτοῦ . Herod, as a foreigner and usurper, feared one who was born King of the Jews: the people, worn away by seditions and slaughters, feared fresh tumults and wars. There may also be a trace of the popular notion that the times of the Messiah would be ushered in by great tribulations: so Schöttgen, ii. p. 512, from the book Sohar, “quo tempore Sol redemptionis ipsis illucescet, tribulatio post tribulationem et tenebræ post tenebras venient ipsis: dum vero in his versantur, illucescet ipsis Lux Dei S. B.”

πᾶσα Ἱεροσόλυμα ] Here and apparently at ch. Matthew 3:5 , used as a feminine singular. Joseph. Bell. Jude 1:6 .10.1, uses ἑάλω Ἱεροσ .… ἁλοῦσα …, but none of these instances are decisive: an ellipsis of ἡ πόλις being possible.

Verse 4

4. συναγαγών ] i.e. says Lightfoot, he assembled the Sanhedrim . For the Sanhedrim consisting of seventy-one members, and comprising Priests, Levites, and Israelites (Maimonides), under the term ἀρχιερεῖς are contained the two first of these, and under γραμ . τ . λαοῦ the third.

ἀρχ . are most likely the High Priest and those of his race, any who had served the office, and perhaps also the presidents of the twenty-four courses ( 1Ch 24:6 ).

γρ . consisted of the teachers and interpreters of the Divine law, the νομικοί and νομοδιδάσκαλοι of St. Luke. But the πρεσβύτεροι τοῦ λαοῦ are usually mentioned with these two classes as making up the Sanhedrim. See ch. Matthew 16:21 ; Matthew 26:3 ; Matthew 26:59 . Possibly on this occasion the ἀρχ . and γρ . only were summoned, the question being one of Scripture learning. “ ἀρχιερεῖς , ” says Bp. Wordsworth, “is a word suggestive of the confusion now introduced into the nomination to the office of High Priest, when the true High Priest came from heaven to ‘purify the sons of Levi’ ( Mal 3:3 ).” Instead of one High Priest for life, there were many, made and unmade in rapid succession. As Spanheim says, Dub. Evan. ii. 37, “ ἀρχιερωσύνη confusa, Christo exhibito. Summum sacerdotium pessime habitum, Herodis et Romanorum licentia.”

γεννᾶται ] The present tense is often used indefinitely of subjects of prophecy, e.g. ὁ ἐρχόμενος , ch. Matthew 11:3 : Hebrews 10:37 ; ἔρχεται , in an expression exactly parallel to this, John 7:42 .

Verse 6

6. καὶ σύ ] This is a free paraphrase of the prophecy in Micah 5:2 . It must be remembered that though the words are the answer of the Sanhedrim to Herod, and not a citation of the prophet by the Evangelist, yet they are adopted by the latter as correct. Lightfoot renders the Hebrew, ‘parvum est ut sis inter chiliadas,’ and adds, that the Chaldee paraphrast, who may possibly have been present at this very council, renders the words ‘intra pauxillum es ut præficiaris.’

γῆ Ἰούδα ] γῆ need not be supposed to be put for πόλις : the district may be intended, as described in Matthew 2:16 .

ἡγεμόσιν ] or χιλιάσιν (LXX). The tribes were divided into chiliads, and the names of the chiliads inscribed in the public records of their respective cities. In Jdg 6:15 Gideon says ἰδοὺ ἡ χιλιάς μου ἠσθένησεν ἐν Μανασσῇ , on which R. Kimchi (cited by Lightfoot) annotates, “Some understand Alphi to mean ‘my father,’ as if it were Alluph, whose signification is ‘prince or lord.’ ” And thus, it appears, did the Sanhedrim understand the word (which is the same) in Micah 5:2 . The word באלפי , without points, may mean either בְּאַלְפֵי , ἐν χιλιάσιν , or בְּאַלֻּפֵי , ἐν ἡγεμόσιν .

ἐκ σοῦ γὰρ ἐξ . ] It has been remarked that the singular Latin expression, which occurs both in Tacitus and Suetonius (see the passages above in note on μάγοι ἀπ . ἀν .) ‘ Judæa profecti ,’ may have been derived from these words of the LXX.

Verse 7

7. ἠκρίβωσεν ] ascertained accurately.

φαινομένου ] lit. the time (or, duration: perhaps as an element in his calculation of age) of the star which appeared: φ . being the part. pres., referred back to the time when they saw the star . The position of φ . between the art. and its subst. forbids such renderings as ‘ the time when the star appeared .’

Verse 8

8. πορευθέντες ἐλθών ] The pleonastic use of these words, common as a Hebraism in the N.T. (see reff.), is also idiomatic in English; and it may be remarked, that although not strictly needed in the sentences where they occur, their insertion always gives fulness and accuracy to the meaning.

Verse 9

9. ] On this see note on Matthew 2:2 .

ἐπάνω οὗ ἦν (elliptic for τόπου οὗ ἦν ) τὸ π . may mean, ‘ over that part of Bethlehem where the young child was ,’ which they might have ascertained by enquiry. Or it may even mean, ‘over the whole town of Bethlehem.’ If it is to be understood as standing over the house , and thus indicating to the magi the position of the object of their search , the whole incident must be regarded as miraculous. But this is not necessarily implied, even if the words of the text be literally understood; and in a matter like astronomy, where popular language is so universally broad, and the Scriptures so generally use popular language, it is surely not the letter, but the spirit of the narrative with which we are concerned.

Verse 11

11. μετὰ Μαρίας ] No stress must be laid on the omission of Joseph here. In the parallel account as regarded the shepherds, in Luke 2:16 , he is mentioned. I would rather regard the omission here as indicating a simple matter of fact , and contributing to shew the truthfulness of the narrative: that Joseph happened not to be present at the time. If the meaning of τὴν οἰκίαν is to be pressed (as in a matter of detail I think it should), it will confirm the idea that Joseph and Mary, probably under the idea that the child was to be brought up at Bethlehem, dwelt there some time after the Nativity. Epiphanius supposes that Mary was at this time on a visit to her kindred at Bethlehem (possibly at a passover) as much as two years after our Lord’s birth. (Hærr. xx. xxx. 29, Leviticus 8:0 , vol. i. pp. 48, 154, 430.) But if Mary had kindred at Bethlehem, how could she be so ill-provided with lodging, and have (as is implied in Luk 2:7 ) sought accommodation at an inn? And the supposition of two years having elapsed, derived probably from the διετοῦς of Matthew 2:16 , will involve us in considerable difficulty. There seems to be no reason why the magi may not have come within the forty days before the Purification, which itself may have taken place in the interval between their departure and Herod’s discovery that they had mocked him. No objection can be raised to this view from the ἀπὸ διετοῦς of Matthew 2:16 : see note there. The general idea is, that the Purification was previous to the visit of the magi. Being persuaded of the historic reality of these narratives of Matt. and Luke, we shall find no difficulty in also believing that, were we acquainted with all the events as they happened, their reconcilement would be an easy matter; whereas now the two independent accounts, from not being aware of, seem to exclude one another. This will often be the case in ordinary life; e.g. in the giving of evidence. And nothing can more satisfactorily shew the veracity and independence of the narrators, where their testimony to the main facts, as in the present case, is consentient. (I must caution the reader against the misunderstanding of these last remarks in Bishop Ellicott’s Lectures on the Life of our Lord, p. 70, note 4; and indeed of my own views as regards apparently irreconcilable narrative in the Gospels, generally throughout his notes to that work.)

θησαυρούς ] chests or bales , in which the gifts were carried during their journey. The ancient Fathers were fond of tracing in the gifts symbolical meanings: ὡς βασιλεῖ τὸν χρυσόν , ὡς δὲ τεθνηξομένῳ τὴν σμύρναν , ὡς δὲ θεῷ τὸν λιβανωτόν . Origen, ag. Celsus, i. 60, vol. i. p. 375, and similarly Irenæus, iii. 9. 2, p. 184: χρυσὸν αὐτῷ γεννηθέντι βασιλείας σύμβολον προσεκόμισαν οἱ μάγοι . (Clem. Alex [10] Pæd. ii. 8 (63), p. 206 [11] .) We cannot conclude from these gifts that the magi came from Arabia , as they were common to all the East. Strabo says, xvi. p. 1129, Wets [12] ., that the best frankincense comes from the borders of Persia.

[10] Alex. Clement of Alexandria, fl. 194

[11] By these symbols are designated the portions of two ancient MSS., discernible (as also are fragments of Ulphilas’ gothic version) under the later writing of a volume known as the Codex Carolinus in the Ducal Library at Wolfenbüttel. P (GUELPHERBYTANUS A) contains fragments of each of the Gospels. Q (GUELPH. B) fragments of Luke and John. Both are probably of the sixth century . They were edited by F. A. Knittel in 1762; and, more thoroughly, by Tischendorf in 1860 [1869], Monumenta Sacra, vol. iii. [vi.]

[12] Wetstein.

Verse 13

13. ἐγερθεὶς παρ . ] Arise and take with thee; not, ‘ When thou hast arisen ( in the morning ), take .’ The command was immediate; and Joseph made no delay. He must be understood, on account of νυκτός below, as having arisen the same night and departed forthwith. The words ἐγερθεὶς παρέλαβεν are also used in Matthew 2:20-21 , where no haste is necessarily implied. Egypt, as near , as a Roman province and independent of Herod , and much inhabited by Jews , was an easy and convenient refuge.

τοῦ ἀπολ . is not a Hebraism, but pure Greek, implying the purpose . See Soph. Trach. 57, and Hermann’s note. Bernhardy, Syntax, p. 357, notices that it is rarely found in earlier Greek writers, but more common as we advance to the middle and later Attic. A few instances occur in Xenophon, more in Demosthenes, and abundance in after-writers. See on the usage, Winer, edn. 6, § 44. 4. b.

Verses 13-23


Verse 15

15. ἐξ Αἰγύπτου ] This citation shews the almost universal application in the N.T. of the prophetic writings to the expected Messiah, as the general antitype of all the events of the typical dispensation. We shall have occasion to remark the same again and again in the course of the Gospels. It seems to have been a received axiom of interpretation (which has, by its adoption in the N.T., received the sanction of the Holy Spirit Himself, and now stands for our guidance), that the subject of all allusions, the represented in all parables and dark sayings, was He who was to come, or the circumstances attendant on His advent and reign.

The words are written in Hosea of the children of Israel , and are rendered from the Hebrew.

A similar expression with regard to Israel is found in Exodus 4:22-23 .

ἵνα must not be explained away; it never denotes the event or mere result, but always the purpose .

Verse 16

16. ] Josephus makes no mention of this slaughter; nor is it likely that he would have done. Probably no great number of children perished in so small a place as Bethlehem and its neighbourhood. The modern objections to this narrative may be answered best by remembering the monstrous character of this tyrant, of whom Josephus asserts (Antt. xvii. 6. 5), μέλαινα χολὴ αὐτὸν ᾕρει ἐπὶ πᾶσιν ἐξαγριαίνουσα .

Herod had marked the way to his throne, and his reign itself, with blood; had murdered his wife and three sons (the last just about this time); and was likely enough, in blind fury, to have made no enquiries, but given the savage order at once.

Besides, there might have been a reason for not making enquiry, but rather taking the course he did, which was sure, as he thought, to answer the end, without divulging the purpose. The word λάθρα in Mat 2:7 seems to favour this view. Macrobius (Saturnalia, ii. 4) relates an anecdote of Augustus: ‘Cum audisset inter pueros quos in Syria Herodes rex Judæorum intra bimatum jussit interfici, filium quoque ejus occisum, ait, Melius est Herodis porcum esse ( τὸν ὕν ?) quam filium ( τὸν υἱόν ?).’ But Macrobius wrote in the fifth century, and the words ‘intra bimatum’ look very like a quotation from our narrative. Besides, the anecdote shews great ignorance of the chronology of Herod’s reign. Antipater, the last put to death of his sons, was of full age at his execution. See Ellicott’s note, Lectures, p. 78.

ἐνεπαίχθη ] ‘Loquitur Matth. ex sensu et opinione Herodis.’ (Calvin.)

ἀπὸ διετοῦς ] i.e. παιδίου , not χρόνου . This expression must not be taken as any very certain indication of the time when the star did actually appear. The addition καὶ κατωτέρω implies that there was uncertainty in Herod’s mind as to the age pointed out; and if so, why might not the jealous tyrant, although he had accurately ascertained the date of the star’s appearing, have taken a range of time extending before as well as after it, the more surely to attain his point?

τοῖς ὁρίοις αὐτῆς will betoken, as Meyer, the insulated houses, and hamlets, which belonged to the territory of Bethlehem.

Verse 17

17. τὸ ῥηθ . διὰ Ἱερ . ] Apparently, an accommodation of the prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15 , which was originally written of the Babylonish captivity. We must not draw any fanciful distinction between τότε ἐπληρώθη and ἵνα πληρωθῇ , but rather seek our explanation in the acknowledged system of prophetic interpretation among the Jews, still extant in their Rabbinical books, and now sanctioned to us by N.T. usage; at the same time remembering, for our caution, how little even now we understand of the full bearing of prophetic and typical words and acts. None of the expressions of this prophecy must be closely and literally pressed. The link of connexion seems to be Rachel’s sepulchre , which (Genesis 35:19 ; see also 1Sa 10:2 ) was ‘ in the way to Bethlehem; ’ and from that circumstance, perhaps, the inhabitants of that place are called her children . We must also take into account the close relation between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, which had long subsisted. Ramah was six miles to the north of Jerusalem, in the tribe of Benjamin (Jeremiah 40:1 ; “Er-Ram, marked by the village and green patch on its summit, the most conspicuous object from a distance in the approach to Jerusalem from the South, is certainly ‘Ramah of Benjamin.’ ” Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 213); so that neither must this part of the prophecy be strictly taken.

Verse 20

20. τεθνήκασιν γάρ ] The plural here is not merely idiomatic, nor, as Wordsw., “for lenity and forbearance, in speaking of the dead;” but perhaps a citation from Exodus 4:19 , where the same words are spoken to Moses ( ζητεῖν τὴν ψυχήν ═ בִּקֵּשׁ נֶפֶשׁ ): or, as Meyer, betokening, not the number, but the category. Cf. Soph. Œd. Col. 966. Herod the Great died of a dreadful disease at Jericho, in the seventieth year of his age, and the thirty-eighth of his reign, A.U.C. 750. Jos. B. J. i. 33. 8.

Verse 22

22. ἀκούσας δέ ] ARCHELAUS was the son of Herod by Malthace, a Samaritan woman: he was brought up at Rome (Jos. B. J. i. 31. 1); succeeded his father, but never had the title of king, only that of Ethnarch, with the government of Idumæa, Judæa, and Samaria, the rest of his father’s dominions being divided between his brothers Philip and Antipas. (Jos. Antt. xvii. 11. 4.) But, (1) very likely the word βασιλεύω is here used in the wider meaning: (2) Archelaus did, in the beginning of his reign, give out and regard himself as king: τὸ πλῆθος … εὐχαριστεῖ … τῆς πρὸς αὐτὸν θεραπείας ὡς πρὸς βέβαιον ἤδη βασιλέα (Jos. B. J. ii. 1.1): (3) in ch. Matthew 14:9 , Herod the Tetrarch is called ὁ βασιλεύς .

In the ninth year of his government Archelaus was dethroned, οὐ μόνον Ἰουδαίοις , ἀλλά καὶ Σαμαρεῦσι χρησάμενος ὠμῶς , πρεσβευσαμένων ἑκατέρων κατ ʼ αὐτοῦ πρὸς Καίσαρα , … φυγαδεύεται μὲν εἰς Βιένναν , πόλις τῆς Γαλατίας … i.e. Vienne, in Gaul. (ibid. ii. 7. 3.)

ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς τ . μ . τ . Γαλ . ] This account gives rise to some difficulty as compared with St. Luke’s history. It would certainly, on a first view, appear that this Evangelist was not aware that Nazareth had been before this the abode of Joseph and Mary. And it is no real objection to this, that he elsewhere calls Nazareth τὴν πατρίδα αὐτοῦ , ch. Matthew 13:54 ; Matthew 13:57 . It is perhaps just possible that St. Matthew, writing for Jews, although well aware of the previous circumstances, may not have given them a place in his history, but made the birth at Bethlehem the prominent point, seeing that his account begins at the birth (ch. Mat 1:18 ), and does not localize what took place before it, which is merely inserted as subservient to that great leading event. If this view be correct, all we could expect is, that his narrative would contain nothing inconsistent with the facts related in Luke; which we find to be the case. I should prefer, however, believing, as more consistent, in foro conscientiæ , with the fair interpretation of our text, that St. Matthew himself was not aware of the events related in Luke 1:2 , and wrote under the impression that Bethlehem was the original dwelling-place of Joseph and Mary. Certainly, had we only his Gospel , this inference from it would universally be made.

ἀνεχώρησεν must not be pressed (as Wordsw., a [13] .) into the service of reconciling the two accounts by being rendered ‘ returned; ’ for the same word is used ( Mat 2:14 ) of the journey to Egypt.

[13] alii = some cursive mss.

Verse 23

23. ὅπως πληρωθῇ ] These words refer to the divine purpose in the event, not to that of Joseph in bringing it about.

τὸ ῥηθὲν δ . τ . πρ . ] These words are no where verbatim to be found, nor is this asserted by the Evangelist; but that the sense of the prophets is such. In searching for such sense, the following hypotheses have been made none of them satisfactory: (1) Euthymius says, ποῖοι προφῆται τοῦτο εἶπον , μὴ ζητήσῃς · οὐχ εὑρήσεις γάρ · διότι πολλὰ τῶν προφητικῶν βιβλίων ἀπώλοντο , τὰ μὲν ἐν ταῖς αἰχμαλωσίαις , τὰ δὲ καὶ ἐξ ἀμελείας τῶν Ἑβραίων , τινὰ δὲ καὶ ἐκ κακουργίας . So also Chrys., Theophyl., Le Clerc, &c. But the expression διὰ τ . πρ . seems to have a wider bearing than is thus implied. (2) The general sense of the prophets is, that Christ should be a despised person, as the inhabitants of Nazareth were ( Joh 1:47 ). So Michaelis, Paulus, Rosenm., Kuin., Olsh., &c. But surely this part of the Messiah’s prophetic character is not general or prominent enough, in the absence of any direct verbal connexion with the word in our text, to found such an interpretation on: nor, on the other hand, does it appear that an inhabitant of Nazareth, as such, was despised; only that the obscurity of the town was, both by Nathanael and the Jews, contrasted with our Lord’s claims. (3) The Nazarites of old were men holy and consecrated to God; e.g. Samson ( Jdg 13:5 ), Samuel ( 1Sa 1:11 ), and to this the words are referred by Tert [14] , Jerome, Erasm., Beza, Calvin, Grot., Wets [15] ., a [16] . But ( α ) our Lord did not (like John the Baptist) lead a life in accordance with the Nazarite vow, but drank wine, &c., and set himself in marked contrast with John in this very particular (ch. Mat 11:18-19 ); and ( β ) the word for Nazarite is Ναζίρ (Judges 13:5 [17] ), or Ναζειραῖος (ib. and Matthew 16:18 [18] , Lam 4:7 ), whereas this, denoting an inhabitant of Nazareth , is Ναζωραῖος always in the N.T., except in Mark (Mark 1:24 ; Mark 10:47 ; Mark 14:67 ; Mar 16:6 ), and Luke 4:43 (Luke 18:37 ; Luk 24:19 v. r.), where it is Ναζαρηνός . (4) There may be an allusion to נֵצֶר , a branch, by which name our Lord is called in Isaiah 11:1 , and from which word it appears that the name Nazareth is probably derived. So ‘ eruditi Hebræi ,’ in Jerome on Isaiah 11:1 , and Pisc., Casaub., Fritz., De Wette, &c. But this word is only used in the place cited; and in by far the more precise prophecies of the Branch, Zechariah 3:8 ; Zechariah 6:12 ; Jeremiah 23:5 ; Jeremiah 33:15 , and Isaiah 4:2 , the word צֶמַח is used. I leave it, therefore, as an unsolved difficulty.

[14] Tertullian , 200

[15] Wetstein.

[16] alii = some cursive mss.

[17] The CODEX VATICANUS, No. 1209 in the Vatican Library at Rome; and proved, by the old catalogues, to have been there from the foundation of the library in the 16th century. It was apparently, from internal evidence, copied in Egypt. It is on vellum, and contains the Old and New Testaments. In the latter, it is deficient from Heb 9:14 to the end of the Epistle; it does not contain the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon; nor the Apocalypse. An edition of this celebrated codex, undertaken as long ago as 1828 by Cardinal Angelo Mai, has since his death been published at Rome. The defects of this edition are such, that it can hardly be ranked higher in usefulness than a tolerably complete collation, entirely untrustworthy in those places where it differs from former collations in representing the MS. as agreeing with the received text. An 8vo edition of the N.T. portion, newly revised by Vercellone, was published at Rome in 1859 (referred to as ‘Verc’): and of course superseded the English reprint of the 1st edition. Even in this 2nd edition there were imperfections which rendered it necessary to have recourse to the MS. itself, and to the partial collations made in former times. These are (1) that of Bartolocci (under the name of Giulio de St. Anastasia), once librarian at the Vatican, made in 1669, and preserved in manuscript in the Imperial Library (MSS. Gr. Suppl. 53) at Paris (referred to as ‘Blc’); (2) that of Birch (‘Bch’), published in various readings to the Acts and Epistles, Copenhagen, 1798, Apocalypse, 1800, Gospels, 1801; (3) that made for the great Bentley (‘Btly’), by the Abbate Mico, published in Ford’s Appendix to Woide’s edition of the Codex Alexandrinus, 1799 (it was made on the margin of a copy of Cephalæus’ Greek Testament, Argentorati, 1524, still amongst Bentley’s books in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge); (4) notes of alterations by the original scribe and other correctors. These notes were procured for Bentley by the Abbé de Stosch, and were till lately supposed to be lost. They were made by the Abbate Rulotta (‘Rl’), and are preserved amongst Bentley’s papers in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge (B. 17. 20) 1 . The Codex has been occasionally consulted for the verification of certain readings by Tregelles, Tischendorf, and others. A list of readings examined at Rome by the present editor (Feb. 1861), and by the Rev. E. C. Cure, Fellow of Merton College, Oxford (April 1862), will be found at the end of these prolegomena. A description, with an engraving from a photograph of a portion of a page, is given in Burgon’s “Letters from Rome,” London 1861. This most important MS. was probably written in the fourth century (Hug, Tischendorf, al.).

[18] The MS. referred to by this symbol is that commonly called the Alexandrine, or CODEX ALEXANDRINUS. It once belonged to Cyrillus Lucaris, patriarch of Alexandria and then of Constantinople, who in the year 1628 presented it to our King Charles I. It is now in the British Museum. It is on parchment in four volumes, of which three contain the Old, and one the New Testament, with the Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. This fourth volume is exhibited open in a glass case. It will be seen by the letters in the inner margin of this edition, that the first 24 chapters of Matthew are wanting in it, its first leaf commencing ὁ νυμφίος , ch. Matthew 25:6 : as also the leaves containing ἵνα , John 6:50 , to καὶ σύ , John 8:52 . It is generally agreed that it was written at Alexandria; it does not, however, in the Gospels , represent that commonly known as the Alexandrine text, but approaches much more nearly to the Constantinopolitan, or generally received text. The New Testament, according to its text, was edited, in uncial types cast to imitate those of the MS., by Woide, London, 1786, the Old Testament by Baber, London, 1819: and its N.T. text has now been edited in common type by Mr. B. H. Cowper, London, 1861. The date of this MS. has been variously assigned, but it is now pretty generally agreed to be the fifth century .

Bibliographical Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Matthew 2". Alford's Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hac/matthew-2.html. 1863-1878.
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