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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 1

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New TestamentRobertson's Word Pictures

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Verse 1

The Book (βιβλος). There is no article in the Greek, but the following genitives make it definite. It is our word Bible that is here used, the Book as Sir Walter Scott called it as he lay dying. The usual word for book is a diminutive form (βιβλιον), a little book or roll such as we have in Luke 4:17, "The roll of the prophet Isaiah." The pieces of papyrus (παπυρος), our paper, were pasted together to make a roll of varying lengths according to one's needs. Matthew, of course, is not applying the word book to the Old Testament, probably not to his own book, but to "the genealogical table of Jesus Christ" (βιβλος γενεσεως Ιησου Χριστου), "the birth roll of Jesus Christ" Moffatt translates it. We have no means of knowing where the writer obtained the data for this genealogy. It differs radically from that in Luke 3:23-38. One can only give his own theory of the difference. Apparently in Matthew we have the actual genealogy of Joseph which would be the legal pedigree of Jesus according to Jewish custom. In Luke we apparently have the actual genealogy of Mary which would be the real line of Jesus which Luke naturally gives as he is writing for the Gentiles.

Jesus Christ . Both words are used. The first is the name (Ιησους) given by the angel to Mary (Matthew 1:21) which describes the mission of the child. The second was originally a verbal adjective (χριστος) meaning anointed from the verb to anoint (χριω). It was used often in the Septuagint as an adjective like "the anointed priest" (1 Kings 2:10) and then as a substantive to translate the Hebrew word "Messiah" (Μεσσιας). So Andrew said to Simon: "We have found the Messiah, which is, being interpreted, Christ" (John 1:41). In the Gospels it is sometimes "the Anointed One," "the Messiah," but finally just a proper name as here, Jesus Christ. Paul in his later Epistles usually has it "Christ Jesus."

The Son of David, the son of Abraham (υιου Δαυειδ υιου Αβρααμ). Matthew proposes to show that Jesus Christ is on the human side the son of David, as the Messiah was to be, and the son of Abraham, not merely a real Jew and the heir of the promises, but the promise made to Abraham. So Matthew begins his line with Abraham while Luke traces his line back to Adam. The Hebrew and Aramaic often used the word son (βην) for the quality or character, but here the idea is descent. Christians are called sons of God because Christ has bestowed this dignity upon us (Romans 8:14; Romans 9:26; Galatians 3:26; Galatians 4:5-7). Verse 1 is the description of the list in verses Matthew 1:2-17. The names are given in three groups, Abraham to David (Matthew 1:2-6), David to Babylon Removal (Matthew 1:6-11), Jechoniah to Jesus (Matthew 1:12-16). The removal to Babylon (μετοικεσιας Βαβυλωνος) occurs at the end of verse Matthew 1:11, the beginning of verse Matthew 1:12, and twice in the resume in verse Matthew 1:17. This great event is used to mark off the two last divisions from each other. It is a good illustration of the genitive as the case of genus or kind. The Babylon removal could mean either to Babylon or from Babylon or, indeed, the removal of Babylon. But the readers would know the facts from the Old Testament, the removal of the Jews to Babylon. Then verse Matthew 1:17 makes a summary of the three lists, fourteen in each by counting David twice and omitting several, a sort of mnemonic device that is common enough. Matthew does not mean to say that there were only fourteen in actual genealogy. The names of the women (Thamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba the wife of Uriah) are likewise not counted. But it is a most interesting list.

Verse 2

Begat (εγεννησεν). This word comes, like some of the early chapters of Genesis, with regularity through verse 16, until the birth of Jesus is reached when there is a sudden change. The word itself does not always mean immediate parentage, but merely direct descent. In verse Matthew 1:16 we have "Joseph the husband of Mary, from whom was begotten Jesus who is called Christ" (τον Ιωσηφ τον ανδρα Μαριας εξ ης εγεννηθη Ιησους ο λεγομενος Χριστος). The article occurs here each time with the object of "begat," but not with the subject of the verb to distinguish sharply the proper names. In the case of David the King (Matthew 1:6) and Joseph the husband of Mary (Matthew 1:16) the article is repeated. The mention of the brethren of Judah (Matthew 1:2) and of both Phares and Zara (Matthew 1:3) may show that Matthew was not copying a family pedigree but making his own table. All the Greek manuscripts give verse Matthew 1:16 as above save the Ferrar Group of minuscules which are supported by the Sinaitic Syriac Version. Because of this fact Von Soden, whose text Moffatt translates, deliberately prints his text "Jacob begat Jesus" (Ιωσηφ δε εγεννησεν Ιησουν). But the Sinaitic Syriac gives the Virgin Birth of Jesus in Mt Matthew 1:18-25. Hence it is clear that "begat" here in Matthew 1:16 must merely mean line of descent or the text has been tampered with in order to get rid of the Virgin Birth idea, but it was left untouched in Matthew 1:18-25. I have a full discussion of the problem in chapter XIV of Studies in the Text of the New Testament. The evidence as it now stands does not justify changing the text of the Greek uncials to suit the Sinaitic Syriac. The Virgin Birth of Jesus remains in Matthew 1:16. The spelling of these Hebrew names in English is usually according to the Hebrew form, not the Greek. In the Greek itself the Hebrew spelling is often observed in violation of the Greek rules for the ending of words with no consonants save n,r,s. But the list is not spelled consistently in the Greek, now like the Hebrew as in Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, now like the Greek as in Judah, Solomon, Hezekiah, though the Hebrew style prevails.

Verse 18

The birth of Jesus Christ (του [Ιησου] Χριστου η γενεσις). In the Greek Jesus Christ comes before birth as the important matter after Matthew 1:16. It is not certain whether "Jesus" is here a part of the text as it is absent in the old Syriac and the Old Latin while the Washington Codex has only "Christ." The Vatican Codex has "Christ Jesus." But it is plain that the story of the birth of Jesus Christ is to be told briefly as follows, "on this wise" (ουτως), the usual Greek idiom. The oldest and best manuscripts have the same word genealogy (γενεσις) used in Matthew 1:1, not the word for birth (begotten) as in Matthew 1:16 (γεννησις). "It is in fact the word Genesis. The evangelist is about to describe, not the genesis of the heaven and the earth, but the genesis of Him who made the heaven and the earth, and who will yet make a new heaven and a new earth" (Morison).

Betrothed to Joseph (Μνηστευθεισης τω Ιωσηφ). Matthew proceeds to explain his statement in Matthew 1:16 which implied that Joseph, though the legal father of Jesus in the royal line, was not the actual father of Mary's Son. Betrothal with the Jews was a serious matter, not lightly entered into and not lightly broken. The man who betrothed a maiden was legally husband (Genesis 29:21; Deuteronomy 22:23) and "an informal cancelling of betrothal was impossible" (McNeile). Though they did not live together as husband and wife till actual marriage, breach of faithfulness on the part of the betrothed was treated as adultery and punished with death. The New Testament in Braid Scots actually has "mairry't till Joseph" for "betrothed to Joseph." Matthew uses the genitive absolute construction here, a very common Greek idiom.

Of the Holy Ghost (εκ πνευματος αγιου). The discovery that Mary was pregnant was inevitable and it is plain that she had not told Joseph. She "was found with child" (ευρεθη εν γαστρ εχουσα). This way of putting it, the usual Greek idiom, plainly shows that it was the discovery that shocked Joseph. He did not as yet know what Matthew plainly asserts that the Holy Ghost, not Joseph and not any man, was responsible for the pregnancy of Mary. The problem of the Virgin Birth of Jesus has been a disturbing fact to some through all the ages and is today to those who do not believe in the pre-existence of Christ, the Son of God, before his Incarnation on earth. This is the primal fact about the Birth of Christ. The Incarnation of Christ is clearly stated by Paul (2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:5-11; and involved in Colossians 1:15-19) and by John (John 1:14; John 17:5). If one frankly admits the actual pre-existence of Christ and the real Incarnation, he has taken the longest and most difficult step in the matter of the supernatural Birth of Christ. That being true, no merely human birth without the supernatural element can possibly explain the facts. Incarnation is far more than the Indwelling of God by the Holy Spirit in the human heart. To admit real incarnation and also full human birth, both father and mother, creates a greater difficulty than to admit the Virgin Birth of Jesus begotten by the Holy Spirit, as Matthew here says, and born of the Virgin Mary. It is true that only Matthew and Luke tell the story of the supernatural birth of Jesus, though John 1:14 seems to refer to it. Mark has nothing whatever concerning the birth and childhood of Jesus and so cannot be used as a witness on the subject. Both Matthew and Luke present the birth of Jesus as not according to ordinary human birth. Jesus had no human father. There is such a thing in nature as parthenogenesis in the lower orders of life. But that scientific fact has no bearing here. We see here God sending his Son into the world to be the world's Saviour and he gave him a human mother, but not a human father so that Jesus Christ is both Son of God and Son of Man, the God Man. Matthew tells the story of the birth of Jesus from the standpoint of Joseph as Luke gives it from the standpoint of Mary. The two narratives harmonize with each other. One credits these most wonderful of all birth narratives according as he believes in the love and power of Almighty God to do what he wills. There is no miracle with God who has all power and all knowledge. The laws of nature are simply the expression of God's will, but he has not revealed all his will in the laws that we discover. God is Spirit. He is Person. He holds in his own power all life. John 3:16 is called the Little Gospel because it puts briefly the love of God for men in sending his own Son to live and die for us.

Verse 19

A Righteous Man (δικαιος). Or just, not benignant or merciful. The same adjective is used of Zacharias and Elizabeth (Luke 1:6) and Simeon (Luke 2:25). "An upright man," the Braid Scots has it. He had the Jewish conscientiousness for the observance of the law which would have been death by stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23). Though Joseph was upright, he would not do that. "As a good Jew he would have shown his zeal if he had branded her with public disgrace" (McNeile).

And yet not willing (κα μη θελων). So we must understand κα here, "and yet." Matthew makes a distinction here between "willing" (θελων) and "wishing" (εβουληθη), that between purpose (θελω) and desire (βουλομα) a distinction not always drawn, though present here. It was not his purpose to "make her a public example" (δειγματισα), from the root (δεικνυμ to show), a rare word (Colossians 2:15). The Latin Vulgate has it traducere, the Old Latin divulgare, Wycliff pupplische (publish), Tyndale defame, Moffatt disgrace, Braid Scots "Be i the mooth o' the public." The substantive (δειγματισμος) occurs on the Rosetta Stone in the sense of "verification." There are a few instances of the verb in the papyri though the meaning is not clear (Moulton and Milligan's Vocabulary). The compound form appears (παραδειγματιζω) in Hebrews 6:6 and there are earlier instances of this compound than of the uncompounded, curiously enough. But new examples of the simple verb, like the substantive, may yet be found. The papyri examples mean to furnish a sample (P Tebt. 5.75), to make trial of (P Ryl. I. 28.32). The substantive means exposure in (P Ryl. I. 28.70). At any rate it is clear that Joseph "was minded to put her away privily." He could give her a bill of divorcement (απολυσα), the γητ laid down in the Mishna, without a public trial. He had to give her the writ (γητ) and pay the fine (Deuteronomy 24:1). So he proposed to do this privately (λαθρα) to avoid all the scandal possible. One is obliged to respect and sympathize with the motives of Joseph for he evidently loved Mary and was appalled to find her untrue to him as he supposed. It is impossible to think of Joseph as the actual father of Jesus according to the narrative of Matthew without saying that Matthew has tried by legend to cover up the illegitimate birth of Jesus. The Talmud openly charges this sin against Mary. Joseph had "a short but tragic struggle between his legal conscience and his love" (McNeile).

Verse 20

An angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream (αγγελος κυριου κατ' οναρ εφανη αυτω). This expression (αγγελος κυριου) is without the article in the New Testament except when, as in Matthew 1:24, there is reference to the angel previously mentioned. Sometimes in the Old Testament Jehovah Himself is represented by this phrase. Surely Joseph needed God's help if ever man did. If Jesus was really God's Son, Joseph was entitled to know this supreme fact that he might be just to both Mary and her Child. It was in a dream, but the message was distinct and decisive for Joseph. He is called "Son of David" as had been shown by Matthew in Matthew 1:16. Mary is called his "wife" (την γυναικα σου). He is told "not to become afraid" (ingressive first aorist passive subjunctive in prohibition, (μη φοβηθηις), "to take to his side" (παραλαβειν, ingressive aorist active infinitive) her whom he had planned (ενθυμηθεντος, genitive absolute again, from εν and θυμος) to send away with a writ of divorce. He had pondered and had planned as best he knew, but now God had called a halt and he had to decide whether he was willing to shelter Mary by marrying her and, if necessary, take upon himself whatever stigma might attach to her. Joseph was told that the child was begotten of the Holy Spirit and thus that Mary was innocent of any sin. But who would believe it now if he told it of her? Mary knew the truth and had not told him because she could not expect him to believe it.

Verse 21

Thou shalt call his name Jesus (Καλεσιες το ονομα αυτου Ιησουν). The rabbis named six whose names were given before birth: "Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, Solomon, Josiah, and the name of the Messiah, whom may the Holy One, blessed be His name, bring in our day." The angel puts it up to Joseph as the putative father to name the child. "Jesus is the same as Joshua, a contraction of Jehoshuah (Numbers 13:16; 1 Chronicles 7:27), signifying in Hebrew, 'Jehovah is helper,' or 'Help of Jehovah'" (Broadus). So Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua (Hebrews 4:8). He is another Joshua to lead the true people of God into the Promised Land. The name itself was common enough as Josephus shows. Jehovah is Salvation as seen in Joshua for the Hebrews and in Jesus for all believers. "The meaning of the name, therefore, finds expression in the title Saviour applied to our Lord (Luke 1:47; Luke 2:11; John 4:42)" (Vincent). He will save (σωσε) his people from their sins and so be their Saviour (Σωτηρ). He will be prophet, priest, and king, but "Saviour" sums it all up in one word. The explanation is carried out in the promise, "for he is the one who (αυτος) will save (σωσε with a play on the name Jesus) his people from their sins." Paul will later explain that by the covenant people, the children of promise, God means the spiritual Israel, all who believe whether Jews or Gentiles. This wonderful word touches the very heart of the mission and message of the Messiah. Jesus himself will show that the kingdom of heaven includes all those and only those who have the reign of God in their hearts and lives.

From their sins (απο των αμαρτιων αυτων). Both sins of omission and of commission. The substantive (αμαρτια) is from the verb (αμαρτανειν) and means missing the mark as with an arrow. How often the best of us fall short and fail to score. Jesus will save us away from (απο) as well as out of (εξ) our sins. They will be cast into oblivion and he will cover them up out of sight.

Verse 22

That it may be fulfilled (ινα πληρωθη). Alford says that "it is impossible to interpret ινα in any other sense than in order that." That was the old notion, but modern grammarians recognize the non-final use of this particle in the Koine and even the consecutive like the Latin ut. Some even argue for a causal use. If the context called for result, one need not hesitate to say so as in Mark 11:28; John 9:36; 1 John 1:9; Revelation 9:20; Revelation 13:13. See discussion in my Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, pp. 997-9. All the same it is purpose here, God's purpose, Matthew reports the angel as saying, spoken "by (υπο, immediate agent) the Lord through (δια, intermediate agent) the prophet."

"All this has happened" (τουτο δε ολον γεγονεν, present perfect indicative), stands on record as historical fact. But the Virgin Birth of Jesus is not due to this interpretation of Isaiah 7:14. It is not necessary to maintain (Broadus) that Isaiah himself saw anything more in his prophecy than that a woman then a virgin, would bear a son and that in the course of a few years Ahaz would be delivered from the king of Syria and Israel by the coming of the Assyrians. This historical illustration finds its richest fulfilment in the birth of Jesus from Mary. "Words of themselves are empty. They are useful only as vessels to convey things from mind to mind" (Morison). The Hebrew word for young woman is translated by virgin (παρθενος), but it is not necessary to conclude that Isaiah himself contemplated the supernatural birth of Jesus. We do not have to say that the idea of the Virgin Birth of Jesus came from Jewish sources. Certainly it did not come from the pagan myths so foreign to this environment, atmosphere and spirit. It is far simpler to admit the supernatural fact than try to explain the invention of the idea as a myth to justify the deification of Jesus. The birth, life, and death of Jesus throw a flood of light on the Old Testament narrative and prophecies for the early Christians. In Matthew and John in particular we often see "that the events of Christ's life were divinely ordered for the express purpose of fulfilling the Old Testament" (McNeile). See Matthew 2:15; Matthew 2:23; Matthew 4:14-17; Matthew 8:17; Matthew 12:17-21; Matthew 13:25; Matthew 21:4; John 12:38; John 13:18; John 19:24; John 19:28; John 19:36.

Verse 23

They shall call (καλεσουσιν). Men, people, will call his name Immanuel, God with us. "The interest of the evangelist, as of all New Testament writers, in prophecy, was purely religious" (Bruce). But surely the language of Isaiah has had marvellous illustration in the Incarnation of Christ. This is Matthew's explanation of the meaning of Immanuel, a descriptive appellation of Jesus Christ and more than a mere motto designation. God's help, Jesus=the Help of God, is thus seen. One day Jesus will say to Philip: "He that has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).

Verse 24

Took unto him his wife (παρελαβεν την γυναικα αυτου). The angel had told him not to be afraid to "take to his side" Mary his wife (Matthew 1:20). So when he awoke from his sleep he promptly obeyed the angel and "took his wife home" (Moffatt). One can only imagine the relief and joy of Mary when Joseph nobly rose to his high duty toward her. I have tried to sketch Mary's problems in Mary the Mother of Jesus: Her Problems and Her Glory.

Verse 25

And knew her not (κα ουκ εγινωσκεν αυτην). Note the imperfect tense, continuous or linear action. Joseph lived in continence with Mary till the birth of Jesus. Matthew does not say that Mary bore no other children than Jesus. "Her firstborn" is not genuine here, but is a part of the text in Luke 2:7. The perpetual virginity of Mary is not taught here. Jesus had brothers and sisters and the natural meaning is that they were younger children of Joseph and Mary and not children of Joseph by a previous marriage. So Joseph "called his name Jesus" as the angel had directed and the child was born in wedlock. Joseph showed that he was an upright man in a most difficult situation.

Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Matthew 1". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/matthew-1.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.
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