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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 1

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

Matthew 1:1. The book of the generation (or, birth, the same word in Greek as in Matthew 1:18). Literally, ‘book of birth, birth-book,’ i.e., pedigree, genealogy. The title of the genealogical table, Matthew 1:1-17, not of the whole Gospel, nor of the first two chapters, nor of chap. 1 . Possibly the title of an original (Hebrew) document, used by the Evangelist.

Jesus Christ. This combination is the Gospel in a nutshell, a declaration that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, the great truth, which the following narrative is to establish.

Jesus. The human name (Matthew 1:21) = the Hebrew Joshua (comp. Hebrews 4:8) = the Lord is Helper, Saviour (Exodus 24:13; Numbers 13:16; Nehemiah 7:7). Christ = The Messiah, the Anointed One; the official title. Applied to the three officers of the Old Testament theocracy: prophets (1 Kings 19:16), priests (Leviticus 4:3; Leviticus 5:16; Psalms 105:15), and kings ( 1Sa 24:7 ; 1 Samuel 24:11; Psalms 2:2; Daniel 9:25-26). Here all three offices are combined and perfected. Christ is our Anointed Prophet, Priest, and King. That of ‘King ‘was most prominent in the expectations of the Jews.

The Son of David. ‘David the king,’ Matthew 1:6. From him descended One ‘born King of the Jews’ (Matthew 2:2).

His Son of Abraham. The genealogy is traced back thus far, because ‘to Abraham and his seed were the promises made’ (Galatians 2:16). The Epistle to the Galatians shows the connection of the gospel and the covenant with Abraham. ‘Son ‘here is almost = ‘seed’ there; both refer to Christ.

Verses 1-17

The genealogy of Christ. Two lists of the human ancestors of Christ are given in the New Testament: Matthew, writing for Jewish Christians, begins with Abraham; Luke (Luke 3:23-38), writing for Gentile Christians, goes back to Adam the father of all men (for other points of difference, see on Matthew 1:16). According to his human nature, Christ was the descendant of Abraham, David, and Mary; according to his divine nature He was the eternal and only-begot-ten Son of God, begotten from the essence of the Father. John (John 1:1-18) begins his Gospel by setting forth his divine genealogy. In Him, the God-man, all the ascending aspirations of human nature towards God, and all the descending revelations of God to man meet in perfect harmony. Matthew begins at Abraham: 1 . to prove to Jewish Christians that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah; 2 . to show the connection between the Old and New Testaments through a succession of living persons ending in Jesus Christ, who is the subject of the Gospel and the object of the faith it requires.

Christ is the fulfilment of all the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, the heir of all its blessings and promises, the dividing line and connecting link of ages, the end of the old and the beginning of the new history of mankind. In the long list of his human ancestors, we have a cloud of witnesses, a compend of the history of preparation for the coming of Christ down to the Virgin Mary, in whom culminated the longing and hope of Israel for redemption. It is a history of divine promises and their fulfilment, of human faith and hope for the ‘desire of all nations.’ In the list are named illustrious heroes of faith, but also obscure persons, written in the secret book of God, as well as gross sinners redeemed by grace, which reaches the lowest depths as well as the most exalted heights of society. Matthew’s table is divided into three parts, corresponding to three periods of Jewish preparation for the coming of Christ (see on Matthew 1:17).

Verse 2

Matthew 1:2. Abraham begat Isaac. ‘Begat,’ repeated throughout, makes prominent the idea of a living connection and succession.

Judah, the direct ancestor, is named; his brethren are added, to indicate the connection with the whole covenant nation.

Verse 3

Matthew 1:3. Tamar, a heathen woman, guilty of intentional incest. The Jews and some commentators seek to excuse her, but the stain must be admitted. The mention of this name not only proves the correctness of the genealogy, but tends to humble Jewish pride and exalt the grace of God.

Verse 5

Matthew 1:5. Rahab. Another heathen woman, a sinner also. Undoubtedly the woman of Jericho (Joshua 2:1; Joshua 6:23; Joshua 6:25). But by heroic faith she rose above her degradation.

Ruth. Still another heathen woman; though personally not criminal, to her also a stain attached according to the Jewish law. The book which bears her name and tells her story is a charming episode of domestic virtue and happiness in the anarchical period of the Judges, when might was right. Its position in the canon is a recognition of the working of God’s grace outside of Israel, and a prophecy of the calling of the Gentiles. Compare the record in Ruth 4:18-22. The long interval between the taking of Jericho and the birth of David ( 366 years according to Ussher), has led to the supposition that some names are omitted here, as is certainly the case in Matthew 1:8-11. But Rahab was probably young at the time Jericho was taken, Boaz old at the time of his marriage, and David was the youngest son of an old man. See further under Matthew 1:17.

Verse 6

Matthew 1:6. David the king. Emphatic as the culminating name of an ascending series. Even here pride is humbled; the wife of a heathen is mentioned, David’s partner in the deepest guilt of his life, but also in his most profound penitence (Psalms 51:0).

The wife of Uriah. ‘Her that had been the wife’ seems to gloss over the guilt.

Verse 8

Matthew 1:8. Between Joram and Uzziah, three names are intentionally omitted: Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah, probably to reduce the number of generations. These three were chosen, either because personally unworthy, or because descendants to the fourth generation from Jezebel, through Athaliah.

Verse 11

Matthew 1:11. Josiah. The next king was Jehoia-kim (2 Kings 24:6; 2 Chronicles 26:8). He was forcibly placed on the throne by the king of Egypt, hence unworthy of mention.

The removal. Spoken of indefinitely, as it extended over a considerable period of time during three successive reigns. The word used does not necessarily imply a forcible removal, the Jews being accustomed to speak of the Captivity in this mild way. The course is downward through these royal generations.

Verse 12

Matthew 1:12. The succeeding list cannot be verified, although we meet with the names of Salathiel (Shealtiel), Zerrubbabel (Ezra 3:2; Nehemiah 12:1; Haggai 1:1) in the Old Testament. ‘In 1 Chronicles 3:19, Zerubbabel is said to have been the son of Pedaiah, brother of Salathiel. Either this may have been a different Zerubbabel, or Salathiel may, according to the law, have raised up seed to his brother’ (Alford).

Verse 13

Matthew 1:13. Abiud. This name is not mentioned among the sons of Zerubbabel in 1 Chronicles 3:19-20. He is supposed by some to be identical with Hananiah (1 Chronicles 3:19); by others with Hodaiah (1 Chronicles 3:24), one of his descendants, who is further supposed to be the Judah of Luke 3:26; all this, however, is conjecture. The downward course reaches its lowest point in the humble carpenter of Nazareth. The promised Saviour was to be ‘a root out of a dry ground’ (Isaiah 53:2).

Verse 16

Matthew 1:16. Joseph, the legal father, whose genealogy is here given. In Luke 3:23, Joseph is called ‘the son of Heli.’ Explanations:

( 1 .) Luke gives the genealogy of Mary, Hell being her father, and the father-in-law of Joseph. This is the most probable view, since the writers of the New Testament assume that Jesus was descended from David through his mother. It involves no positive difficulty, and is in accordance with the prominence given to Mary in the opening chapters of Luke. See notes on Luke 3:23.

( 2 .) Both are genealogies of Joseph. This assumes one, or perhaps two, levirate marriages in the family of Joseph. (A levirate marriage was one in which a man wedded the widow of his elder brother, the children being; legally reckoned as descendants of the first husband: comp. Deuteronomy 25:5-6; Matthew 22:24, and parallel passages.) It is supposed that Jacob (Matthew) and Heli (Luke) were brothers or half-brothers, one of whom died without issue, the other marrying the childless wife. If brothers, Matthan (Matthew) and Matthat (Luke) refer to the same person. The objection to the whole theory is, that Jewish usage would insert in the genealogy not the name of the second husband (the real father), but only that of the first husband who died childless. The theory that Jacob and Heli were brothers compels us to assume an identity which is opposed rather than favored by the similarity of the names: Matthan and Matthat. The theory that they were half-brothers assumes a second levirate marriage in the case of Matthan and Matthat. Besides the double difficulty thus created, there is no evidence that the levirate usage applied to half-brothers. The view that the names Matthan and Matthat refer to the same person, involves the cousinship of Joseph and Mary, which is nowhere alluded to. According to another hypothesis, the royal ancestry of Joseph is given by Matthew, a descent from David through private persons is traced by Luke. This implies inaccuracy in one or the other.

Of whom was born. The form here changes in accordance with the miraculous conception and birth of Jesus.

Verse 17

Matthew 1:17. Fourteen generations. There were exactly fourteen generations from Abraham to David; the two other series are made to correspond. But to make out the second and third series, one name must be counted twice. We prefer to repeat that of David, and close the second series with Josiah, since Jeconiah and his brethren are only indefinitely included in it; the third then begins with Jeconiah and ends with Christ. Thus:














David David













Josiah Jeconiah













JESUS Meyer counts Jeconiah twice, since he belongs to the period before and during the Captivity. Others, with less reason, repeat the name of Josiah; others make no repetition, but reckon the third series from Shealtiel to Christ, including the name of Mary, which seems forced.

In a nation where few books and records existed, such genealogical tables would be put into a form easy to be remembered. Hence, the omissions and the divisions which cover the three periods of Israelitish history. The numbers here involved, two, three, and seven, had a symbolical significance among the Jews, but this symbolism is not the prominent reason for the arrangement. It has been noticed that the forty-two generations correspond with the forty-two years of the wandering in the wilderness. Thus Jesus is the sacred heir of the ancient world; as heir of the blessing, the Prophet of the world; as heir of the sufferings entailed by the curse, its atoning High Priest; as heir of the promise, its King.

Verse 18

Matthew 1:18. The birth of Jesus Christ. Same word as in Matthew 1:1 (‘generation’). Here it means ‘origin.’ The more usual word implies a ‘begetting’; the choice of this word indicates something peculiar in this birth, as does the form: ‘Abraham begat Isaac,’ etc., etc.; ‘the birth of Jesus Christ, however, was in this wise.’ ‘For,’ in the next clause, implies: there is need of a particular account, for the circumstances were peculiar. The best critics, however, omit the word.

His Mother Mary having been betrothed to Joseph. ‘Betrothed,’ not yet ‘espoused.’ The betrothal was previous to the discovery. After betrothal unfaithfulness on the part of the woman was deemed adultery.

Before they came together, lived together in one house as man and wife.

She was found. Perhaps by herself according to the revelation made to her (Luke 1:26 ff.). If this verse points to a time after her return from visiting Elizabeth (see notes on Luke 1:39 ff.), her condition would soon be apparent.

Of the Holy Ghost. A statement of fact, not a part of the discovery, or Joseph would not have been perplexed. The Third Person of the Trinity is meant. Comp. Luke 1:35. ‘Conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary,’ is an article not only in our Apostles’ creed, but in nearly all other creeds of the ancient Church. On the other hand, neither the Scriptures nor the early Church know anything of the supernatural, immaculate conception of Mary. Christ is the sole, the absolute exception to the universal rule of sinfulness; a miracle in history.

Verses 18-25

The circumstances preceding the Nativity; Mary, doubted by her betrothed husband; his design of putting her away privately; her vindication by means of a dream; Joseph’s faith; the name in accordance with prophecy; the actual birth. As the sinless second Adam, and as the Saviour of men, Jesus could not come into the world by ordinary human generation, but by a new creative act of God, or the supernatural agency of the Holy Ghost. Sin is propagated by generation, the active agency of man; and what is born of the flesh is flesh. God formed the first Adam of the mother earth, the Holy Ghost formed the second Adam out of the flesh of a pure virgin. Even the heathen had a dim conception that the ideal of the race could not be realized without supernatural generations of sages and heroes from a pure virgin (Buddha, Zoroaster, Romulus, Pythagoras, Plato). The heathen myths are carnal anticipations of the mystery of the Incarnation.

Verse 19

Matthew 1:19. Joseph, according to the Jewish law, her husband. Comp. Matthew 1:20; Genesis 29:21; Deuteronomy 22:24.

A just man, a man of uprightness. His conduct does not compel us to accept the sense: a kind man. He was influenced by justice. Mary had possibly told him of the revelation made to her: he was just in giving her a hearing, and then, in consequence, in not wishing to make her a public example. At the same time, justice led him, as a Jew, to the intention of putting her away, though privately. The former phrase is the more remarkable, since such Justice is rarely exercised to one in the situation of Mary. So high a regard for the honor and reputation of a woman is most rare in Eastern countries. Mary’s strong faith may have influenced him also.

Not willing expresses the mere wish; was minded, the intention; a distinction not always recognized in discussing this passage.

Privately. In the conflict between his sense of right and his regard for Mary, he chose the middle way of private divorce. The eternal Son of God exposed himself, at his very entrance into the world, to the suspicion of illegitimacy! One chosen to be His mother was suspected of un-faithfulness by her husband! The two kinds of divorce among the Jews. The private divorce here spoken of consisted in giving the wife a bill of divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-3; Matthew 19:8). without assigning a reason for it. The public divorce would have involved the charge of adultery, and consequent punishment, stoning to death. By preferring the former, Joseph exhibited not only kindness but self-sacrifice, since her condition, when publicly known, would be reckoned his disgrace.

Verse 20

Matthew 1:20. But while he thought on these things. As ‘a just man,’ he was pained and grieved, yet not having entirely lost confidence in her, he thought the matter over; then came the deliverance from doubt. An honest doubter will obtain light, but not he who gives way to passion. Man’s extremity, God’s opportunity.

An angel of the Lord. Gabriel had appeared to Mary; here the angel is not named. Angels, who are ‘ministering spirits,’ appeared to reveal God’s will before the coming of Christ. Since the full revelation of the One Great Mediator, the necessity for their appearance has ceased. The phrase, ‘The angel of the Lord,’ in the Old Testament, often refers to the Second Person of the Trinity, but this is certainly not the case here, where the definite article is not used. The revelations to Joseph in the Old Testament, and Joseph in the New, were always made in dreams. ‘The announcement was made to Mary openly, for in Mary’s case faith and concurrence of will were necessary; the communication was of a higher kind, and referred to a thing future’ (Alford).

Thou Son of David. A fitting title in view of the communication to be made.

Fear not, either for yourself or for her.

Mary thy wife. He is reminded that she is legally his wife.

Begotten, rather than ‘conceived,’ since Joseph is referred not so much to Mary’s state as to its cause.

Matthew 1:21. Jesus. Comp. Matthew 1:1.

For it is he, alone, that shall save his people. Joseph, probably, understood this as referring to the Jews; but the phrase, from their sins, spiritualizes the people as well as the salvation. Not temporal deliverance, nor mere legal justification, but actual salvation from sin as a polluting power in our nature. In the revelation to Mary the glory of Messiah is spoken of; here his saving power; not because she needed salvation less than Joseph, but because he was troubled by doubts regarding her, and now he is told that what he in his doubt deemed sin was the means of salvation from sin. The words ‘He ‘and ‘from their sins,’ are emphatic, pointing to the office and work of the Messiah. ‘His people’ has no special emphasis; they are those whom He saves from their sins. If men are not being saved from sin they have no evidence that they are of his people; if, however, in seeming tenderness of conscience, they are ever forgetting the Saviour in the thought of their sins, then they lose the force of this ante-natal gospel, this Divine statement, that He who was born of Mary, the Person who lived in Judea, and He alone, can and does save us from our sins.

Verse 22

Matthew 1:22. But all this hath come to pass. An explanation of the Evangelist, who everywhere points to the fulfilment of prophecy.

That, i.e., ‘in order that.’ The event fulfilled God’s purpose as predicted, and therefore took place. The prophecy depends on the fact as purposed in the Divine mind.

Fulfilled. This word has its usual sense here as applied to prophecy.

By the Lord, who spoke through the Prophet, i.e., Isaiah (Isaiah 7:14). The writing followed the speaking.

Verse 23

Matthew 1:23. The virgin, not a virgin. The prophetic spirit of Isaiah had in view a particular virgin, the mother of the true Emmanuel. The quotation is but slightly varied from the text of the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, in common use among the Jews at that time. All the variations are merely in form. Evidently the Evangelist considered these occurrences to be the first complete fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah. There had probably been a previous fulfilment in the days of Ahaz, viz., a sign given to him respecting the temporal deliverance of the kingdom of Judah. Some refer it to the wife of the prophet. But a higher reference is clearly involved. The language of the prophet (Isaiah 7:13) indicates something more important, and what then occurred presents in many points a type of what is now spoken of. The Old and New Testaments are related to each other as type and antitype, prophecy and fulfilment, preparation and consummation. The New Testament writers do not, however, use the Scriptures by way of accommodation; whenever a passage is explained by them as having a second fulfilment, as in the present case, that fulfilment is in accordance with the first, only fuller, broader, more spiritual. Whether the prophets themselves were conscious of this fuller sense is immaterial; for our passage tells of what ‘was spoken by the Lord through the prophet’

Which is, being interpreted. This indicates that the whole explanation is that of the Evangelist, not of the angel.

God with us. Applied to Christ in the highest and most glorious sense: God incarnate among us, He is still Immanuel, God with us; once He came among men and identified himself with them; now He saves men and identifies them with Himself.

Verse 24

Matthew 1:24. Then Joseph

did. He believed, therefore he obeyed. Thus early in the Gospel is obedience represented as the fruit of faith.

Verse 25

Matthew 1:25. Knew her not. A Hebrew form for conjugal cohabitation; comp. Luke 1:36.

A son. The words answering to ‘her ‘and ‘first-born ‘are omitted by some of the best authorities. They may, however, have been left out to support the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. In Luke 2:7, the phrase is genuine beyond a doubt. It does not of itself prove that Mary had other children, nor does till of necessity imply this. Yet Matthew, with the whole history of Christ before him, would scarcely have used the expression, had he held the Roman Catholic notion of the perpetual virginity. It would have been easy to assert that by saying: he never knew her. Many Protestant commentators suppose that the genealogy of David found its end in Christ, and that Mary could not have given birth to children after having become the mother of the Saviour of the world. But this is a matter of sentiment rather than a conviction based on evidence. ‘The brethren of our Lord’ are frequently mentioned (four by name, besides sisters), in close connection with Mary, and apparently as members of her household. They are nowhere called his cousins, as some claim them to have been. They were probably either the children of Joseph by a former wife (the view of some Greek fathers), or the children of Joseph and Mary (as now held by many Protestant commentators). To the first view the genealogy of Joseph seems an insuperable objection; for the oldest son by the former marriage would have been his legal heir, and the genealogy out of place. The question, however, is complicated with other exegetical difficulties and doctrinal prejudices. The virginity of Mary up to the birth of Jesus is here the main point. The whole subject is fully discussed by Lange and Schaff in the English edition of Lange’s Commentary, Matthew, pp. 255 - 260 .

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Matthew 1". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/matthew-1.html. 1879-90.
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