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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Matthew 1


The Gospel The term Gospel is compounded of the two Saxon words god, good, and spel, news. It is the good news of a Saviour’s birth, life, and death, sent from God to man. The Greek word ευαγγελιον , evangelium, (whence comes our word evangelist,) has precisely a parallel etymology. The word gospel, from being the name for the subject of the four histories of our Lord, became, almost immediately after their publication, the title of the books themselves. Hence this book is called the Gospel according to Matthew, as being its author.

Verse 1


1. The book Rather a roll or scroll than a book. For when we read the word book in the Bible, or any work of antiquity, we must completely banish all conception of a modern volume from the press, bound in leather, neatly printed on fine paper, cheap, and easy to handle. On the contrary, we must shape in thought a cumbrous roll of linen, papyrus, or parchment, with letters laboriously written with a calamus or reed pen, or a stilus or iron pen, very expensive, and to be read by unrolling successive portions. When rolled up, it was bound round with thongs, called in Latin, lora. The scroll was continuous in length, and was read by unrolling the one end, and rolling up the other end, so as to glide the eye down the open page, as is seen by the illustration on the next page. The Latin word for roll, volumen, (from volvo, to roll,) is the origin of our word volume. When the reading was finished the Romans deposited the roll in a round case or box called scrinium. As comparatively few could possess a book, authors often read their productions in public. And it was important that very valuable documents should be kept in a safe repository. Manuscript copies of the Old Testament were kept in the temple and the synagogues. So also copies of the Gospels and Epistles were preserved in the Christian churches.

When the author produced his book, it was immediately transcribed, and copies were put in circulation among purchasers; others were deposited in the archives of the various churches. The multiplied copies were checks upon each others’ correctness. Of the Gospels and Epistles, numerous copies were circulated in Europe, Asia, and Africa within a century after their first publication. It was therefore impossible that any counterfeit, or any great alteration, should come into existence. The very perfect agreement (with the exception of slight mistakes in copying) of all manuscript copies throughout the world, places beyond all doubt the genuineness of all the four Gospels.

The first two chapters of Matthew are in some degree a sort of separate part or section, giving an account of the royal pedigree and divine birth and infancy of the Saviour. They are so given as to demonstrate, both by miracle and prophecy, that he is the true Messiah, the God-man, the Divine Saviour which was to come.

The book of the generation Strictly, this is the title of the genealogy or pedigree only which now follows. But as in the Old Testament, so here, the pedigree is naturally followed by biographical sketches and narrations. Matthew doubtless gives the genealogy of Joseph; (and so it was only the legal genealogy of Mary and Jesus;) whereas Luke gives the natural descent of Mary. It was customary with the Jews very carefully to preserve their pedigrees or family registers. We see them distributed all through the Old Testament. They were cherished especially from the fact that in some family the Messiah was to be born. So Josephus, who was of priestly family, says: “I give the descent of our family exactly as I find it written in the public records.” So noble a family line as that of the royal David, of course had its records public at Bethlehem, the place of David’s birth; to which place Mary had to go and be enrolled by public authority. Matthew either gives the public record verbatim, or perhaps the family tree with its abridgements and annotations, as kept in Joseph’s home. In the time of the Emperor Domitian, about the close of the first century, all the descendants of David were sought out by royal command. The rumour of their regal descent had rendered the emperor jealous. The descendants of our Lord’s brethren were brought into his presence, and questioned as to their claims of royalty. But as they appeared to be unambitious Christian men, looking only for a heavenly kingdom, the emperor dismissed them in peace.

That the record of David’s royal line was preserved, we are expressly told by Josephus, who says in his autobiography, “I am myself of the royal lineage by my mother.” When Jerusalem was sacked, the genealogical records were completely destroyed; so that it is impossible for the Jews to trace the line of David for any Messiah yet to come. This is a complete refutation of their expectations of that kind.

Jesus Christ The word Jesus is, in Greek form, the same as Joshua in Hebrew, and implies Saviour. Our Lord was so named (Matthew 1:21) by express command of the angel: first, to indicate that he was the Saviour from sin; and second, to show that he was the antitype of Joshua, his type; for as Joshua was leader of Israel, bringing them into the earthly Canaan, Jesus is a Saviour, bringing his people into a heavenly Canaan. So, often in the Bible, names are significant and typical, being divinely and prophetically given for that very purpose. The word Christ is not primarily a proper name, but is a word of royal office. It is derived from the Greek χριω , chrio, to anoint; and is exactly parallel with the Hebrew word Messiah, both signifying anointed. For as the Hebrews anointed kings and priests to their dignity, so kings and priests were called anointed; and so the prophets foretold him who was to come under the royal and priestly title of Anointed, Messiah or CHRISTOS. Under this title he was earnestly waited for by the Jews, and even by the Samaritans, as the Samaritan woman testifies: I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ. John 4:25. Hence our Saviour’s name was Jesus; and his office was to be the Christ, or royal Messiah.

Son of David The word son here, as often elsewhere in Scripture, signifies descendant at any distance of descent. This parentage from David proves even his human royalty. He was by blood a king; by the law of race entitled to be anointed and crowned. He was entitled to expel Herod from his throne, and reign in his stead king of the Jews. Son of Abraham We have remarked in the notice of Matthew, that he wrote more particularly for the Jews. For this reason he traces the Lord’s genealogy to David, the Jewish king, and to Abraham, the founder of the Jewish dispensation. Luke, on the other hand, writing for Gentiles, traces the genealogy up to Adam, the human, and to God, the divine father of ALL. There are many difficulties found by learned men in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. Some of these difficulties arise in reconciling the two; others arise from peculiarities of this genealogy itself. The consideration of the former belong to a commentary upon Luke. The latter we shall briefly notice in our notes upon this chapter.

Verse 2

2. Begat Isaac His birth is given Genesis 21:2. Jacob Genesis 25:26. Judas and his brethren Genesis 29:0.

And his brethren At several points in the genealogy there are individual matters added, not forming an essential part of the lineage. Such are the clauses and his brethren in this verse; and Zara of Thamar in the third verse; of Rachab in the fifth verse; the king in the sixth verse; and of her that had been the wife of Urias in the same verse. Profound reasons have been sought for these additions, somewhat unnecessarily, by commentators. If we may suppose Matthew to have copied the home genealogy in the family of Joseph, these incidents may easily be supposed to have been freely inserted as interesting allusions to popular points or characters in Jewish sacred history. Certainly no genealogy of that day could have suggested more points of interesting reminiscence than that of this son of David, and putative father of the Messiah. The only difficulty is with the clause concerning Rachab, who, as some have thought, could not, upon chronological grounds, have been identical with the Rahab of Jericho, if she were the wife of Salmon.

But Alford well says; “Those very grounds completely tally with their identity. For Naashon (the father of Salmon) offered his offering at the setting up of the tabernacle (Numbers 7:12) thirty-nine years before the taking of Jericho. So that Salmon would be of mature age at or soon after that event; at which time Rahab was probably young, as her father and mother were living (Joshua 6:23.) Nor is it any objection that Achan, the fourth in descent from Judah by Zara, is contemporary with Salmon, the sixth of the other branch, since the generations in the line of Zara average sixty-nine years, and those in the line of Pharez forty-nine; both within the limits of probability. The difficulty of the interval of 366 years between Rahab and David does not belong to this passage only, but equally to Ruth 4:21-22; and is by no means insuperable, especially when the extreme old age of Jesse, implied in 1 Samuel 17:12, is considered.”

Verse 3

3. Phares and Zara Genesis 38:27. From Pharez to David the genealogy is furnished in Ruth 4:18-22.

We present a comparative catalogue of the names in Matthew, and the Old Testament:

MATTHEW GEN . 5, 10, 11, and Ruth 4:0 1 CHR . 1, 2, 3. Abraham Abram3 Abraham Isaac Isaac Jacob Israel Judas Judah Phares Pharez Esrom Hezron Hezron Aram Ram Ram Aminadab Amminadab Amminadab Naason Nahshon Nahshon Salmon Salmon Salma Booz Boaz Boaz Obed Obed Obed Jesse Jesse Jesse David, 14 David David, 14 Solomon Solomon Roboam Rehoboam Abia Abia Asa Asa Josaphat Jehosaphat Joram Joram Ahazia Joash Amaziah Ozias David Azariah Joatham Jotham Achaz Ahaz Ezekias Hezekiah Manasses Manasseh Amon Amon Josias Josiah , 14 Jehoiakim Jechonias Jeconiah Salathiel Salathiel & Pedaiah Zorobabel Zerubbabel Hananiah Pelatiah & Rephaiah Arnan Abiud Obadiah Eliakim Shechaniah Shemaiah Neariah Azor Elioenai & Azrikam Johanan & Anani Sadoc Acheim Elioud Eleazar Matthan Jacob Joseph Jesus, 14 See an excellent article by Dr. Strong, in the Methodist Quarterly Review, October, 1852, for an investigation of these genealogies.

By comparing these lists, it will be seen that there are three names, Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah, which occur in the Old Testament, (namely, in Chronicles,) which are omitted in Matthew in making out the second of his three fourteens in Matthew 1:17. If these were reckoned, the number would be seventeen. Upon this, we shall remark in our note on that verse.

In the article to which we have referred, Dr. Strong compares the genealogy of Matthew (which we might call the home family tree of Joseph) with those of Luke and Chronicles, in the third fourteen; he finds farther omissions in it; and after elaborately showing the fair agreement of names between the three catalogues of this fourteen, he makes the following statement:

“As the list in the Chronicles ends here, bringing down the lineage some nine generations after Zerubbabel, under whom the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity, that is, to about B.C. 280, we have only the surprisingly short period of about two centuries and a half preceding Christ’s immediate parentage, during which his whole descent is not vouched for by the sacred archives of the Jewish nation.”

Verse 17

17. All the generations The word generations, perhaps, here denotes the links in the recorded genealogical chain. This summation into three nearly equal parts is primarily made to aid the memory. At the same time it marks the three great stages of Jewish history; and shows that Christ’s coming was a great historical epoch. The three periods constitute the morning, the noonday, and the evening of the Jewish history, before Christ. The morning embraces the patriarchal, the Egyptian, and the Mosaic periods. The noonday embraces the monarchy from the glorious days of David and Solomon to its termination in Jechonias. The evening, or period of decline beginning with the captivity and the restoration, embraces the cessation of prophecy and divine communications during the second temple. During this period the Maccabees, or Asmonean princes of the priestly line, defended their country with a splendid secular heroism, and crowned her with independence, until the time of HEROD, surnamed the Great, whose wife Mariamne belonged to that illustrious line. During much of this time the High Priesthood was nearly equal in power to the ancient royalty. But the royal line of David was sunk into obscurity, and flowed along in secret like a noiseless and slender stream in a dense and silent forest. Accordingly the names in both Gospel genealogies, after the cessation of Old Testament records, are found only in the family pedigrees. They are names unknown to history. When the fullness of time came, the angel is sent to a maiden of that line residing in the insignificant and unhistorical village of Nazareth.

From Abraham to David From Abraham to Christ was in round Numbers 2:0 years. David was nearly the middle point between these two; so that from Abraham to David was about one thousand years. Yet so long were the lives of the patriarchs, that it required but fourteen generations to fill that 1,000 years; whereas to fill the second thousand, namely, from David to Christ, required twice fourteen, or twenty-eight generations.

From David until the carrying away This period was filled by the monarchy of Israel. Of these kings, three occurring in the Old Testament are omitted by Matthew. Lightfoot has shown that omissions in genealogies often occurred. The most striking instance of such omission is found in Revelation, chap. Matthew 7:5-8, where the tribe of Dan is omitted, probably on account of the idolatrous character of that tribe. It was probably for the double reason of marking the wicked character of these three kings, and to secure the mnemonic number of fourteen, that their names were omitted. Fourteen is twice the sacred number seven. Those who have traced through Scripture the many references to this sacred number seven, will not slight the idea that such a reference here exists.

Unto Christ By counting it will be perceived that in this third period there are not fourteen generations, as mentioned by Matthew, but thirteen. But some early manuscripts of the New Testaments supply an important clause, which seems to have been omitted by the transcribers, which omission exists in the common text. The clause reads thus: Josias begat Joakim and his brethren; and Joakim begat Jechonias about the time of the first Babylonish captivity; and Jechonias begat Selathiel after they were brought to Babylon.

The supply of this clause solves every difficulty. Nor can there be a reasonable doubt that Matthew wrote these words. The authority for them in the early copies of the New Testament is respectable. But the internal argument demonstrates their genuineness. They are required by the facts of the Old Testament history, and they are required in the present passage in order to make sense.

Verse 18


18. Now the birth Having traced the pedigree of the Saviour as the prophesied Son of David, Matthew now proceeds to furnish in the history of his birth the proof of his divine INCARNATION, that is, his embodiment in the flesh. Upon the stock of our sinful humanity is to be grafted a sinless member. From the dust of the earth, by Almighty power, was created the first Adam; by the same Almighty power, in the dust of our humanity, is to be created the second Adam. The doctrine of the Incarnation, as held by the ancient Church, is thus impressively expressed in the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, became of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” This is a beautiful summary of the New Testament doctrine of the personal nature of Jesus the Christ.

On this wise In this manner. This old word wise for manner is now obsolete in ordinary style. It is still used in the words likewise, otherwise, etc. It resembles the word way or ways, but has no etymological connection with it. When as This old English phrase has at the present day dropped the as.

His mother Mary Of Mary, the mother of Jesus, little is said by the evangelists after the narrative of the birth of Jesus. Tradition adds a few points of little historical value. After the childhood of Jesus, she appears at the wedding of Cana; and again in company with his brethren to induce him to retire from the crowds of Galilee to the home of his childhood Nazareth. She appears again at the cross; but not at the resurrection. At Calvary, she was consigned by her dying Son to the care, not of his brethren, but of the beloved disciple John. She is named for the last time in the New Testament (Acts 1:14) as associating with the disciples at Jerusalem after the ascension.

Mary is by tradition said to have died in the year 63. She was claimed by a letter of the General Council of Ephesus, in the fifth century, to have died and been buried at that city, which was the apostolic residence of John during the closing days of his life.

The immaculate conception of Mary, that is, her sinlessness from birth, is now an article of faith in the Church of Rome. This is not only undeclared in Scripture, but is in contradiction to its most positive doctrines. That all the race have fallen in Adam, with the exception of Christ alone, that all alike are saved by his merits, is the uniform language of Scripture. That Mary is an exception is nowhere intimated. About the fifth century the worship of Mary commenced in the Romish Church; and in the sixth, her festivals began to be generally observed. To such extravagant lengths has this been carried, that, at the present day, at Rome, the religion of Mary has superseded the religion of Jesus. Idolatry in heathendom is hardly surpassed by the Mariolatry of the popedom. The only pretext in Scripture for this worship is the language of the angel, (Luke 1:28,) Blessed art thou among women, etc.; language which is paralleled by the words concerning Jael in Judges 5:24. If we examine all the writings of Paul, they contain no reference to Mary. Neither the Epistles nor Apocalypse of John, to whose care she was intrusted, make any allusion to her. Peter, who was acquainted with her, mentions her not in his letters. Neither in the Epistles nor in the Gospels, is any human being described as offering any invocation to her; nor is any authority given for such a practice. But though, beyond the maternity of the Redeemer, Mary is unrecognized in the scheme of salvation, yet this distinction secures for her our special reverence, as standing eminent among her sex, and alone amid our race. To her belong, not indeed mediation, nor worship, nor invocation, nor omnipresence, nor prayer to aid our souls or bodies, but reverence, as for the one selected by God to be the mother of the Incarnate. Was espoused Contracted in marriage. An espousal among the Jews was nearly as sacred as the marriage vow itself. Though the woman remained at her father’s house until after marriage, yet during that time of espousal before marriage, a violation of the contract by unchastity was equivalent in criminality and in punishment to adultery. To Joseph Of Joseph, the husband of Mary, but little account is given in the Scripture. He was descended from the royal line of David; and hence is addressed by the angel in Matthew 1:20, Joseph, thou son of David. But though of regal descent, he resided in obscurity in the small and not very reputable town of Nazareth. According to the Jewish custom, which requires that every man, however high his rank, should be master of a manual trade, Joseph was a carpenter. That is, this English word is the most obvious translation of the Greek term; although it may be extended to mean a smith or artificer of any kind. Nothing is said of Joseph indicating that he possessed a very marked character. Yet his whole conduct justifies the statement that he was a just man. All his procedures appear simple, pure, obedient to the divine requirements, and faithfully fulfilling the duties of his peculiar relation. Though it is not asserted, yet it is too clearly implied to admit doubt, that JOSEPH died during the childhood of JESUS. Mary, the mother of Jesus, as well as his brethren sometimes appears during the ministry of Jesus, but never JOSEPH. Of the Holy Ghost So that the Lord, being the child of a purely human mother and of a Divine Father, should at once be the Son of man and the Son of God the God-man. This miraculous fact was predicted by the first prophecy that the seed of the WOMAN (and not of the man) should bruise the head of the serpent. Hence the idea of an incarnation, by means of a pure virgin from a divine father, has been adopted into various systems of Paganism. Instances of this are Romulus among the Romans, Melkarth (or Hercules) among the Syrians; and greatest of all, as St. Jerome remarked centuries ago, Boodha among the Hindus. The Latin Church styles Mary the Virgo Deipara, or Virgin God-mother. Mr. Milman remarks that the first Romanist missionaries to the East were dismayed at finding in the stupendous system of Boodhism a Virgo Deipara. Holy Ghost The word ghost is derived from the Saxon word gast, and signifies spirit. Ghostly, in older English, (of which ghastly is a cognate,) signifies spiritual. Holy Ghost is therefore precisely synonymous with Holy Spirit. Inasmuch as the word ghost is almost exclusively applied in the English of the present day to the apparition of a departed human spirit, it would be better perhaps, in case of a new translation, to disuse the word ghost in this connection.

That God is a Spirit is plentifully revealed in Scripture. Yet this Spirit speaks of his Spirit. Genesis 6:3; Genesis 49:21. God sends forth this his Spirit. Proverbs 23:0; Isaiah 42:1. This Spirit thus sent forth is an agent, Acts 8:29; Acts 10:19; and a person, being designated by a personal pronoun. John 15:26. This Spirit is associated with Father and Son in the baptismal command, and, like the other two, has his name or personal appellation. Matthew 28:19. So the same three appear in the apostolical benediction. 2 Corinthians 13:13. Here the Father is the personal source of love, the Son of grace, and the Holy Spirit of communion. Yet God’s spirit must be divine, omnipotent, and eternal. God is universally in Scripture declared to be one. Here, therefore, we find that in some one mysterious respect God is trine, and in some other unfathomable respect he is one. Here, then, we have a three-one, a Triune, a Trinity. This view of the sacred word has been faithfully held by the faithful Christian Church in all ages. Where ever it is denied, rationalism and skepticism are sure gradually to gain the ascendant, and the Gospel life is lost.

The doctrine of the Christian Church in all ages, as derived from the word of God, is thus expressed in our first Article of Faith: “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness: the maker and preserver of all things, visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead, there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

Verse 19

19. Just man Just, not in its severe sense, but in its milder meaning of a fair man, unwilling to inflict unnecessary misery, even in effecting a proper penalty. Make her a public example By the terrible death, namely, by being stoned to death with her accomplice, prescribed in Deuteronomy 22:23-24. Put her away privily By simply a note of dismissal or bill of divorcement, as described in Deuteronomy 24:1.

Verse 20

20. Angel of the Lord During the four hundred years intervening between the Old Testament and the New, prophecy, miracle, inspiration, and angelic appearance had ceased. This interval of cessation and silence was broken by the preparation for the appearance of Jesus the Saviour.

The first phenomenon opening his new dispensation was the appearance of the angel GABRIEL in the temple, announcing to Zechariah the birth of John the Baptist, forerunner of the Messiah. This Epiphany was followed by a profusion of miraculous displays of every variety of nature, preceding the birth, attending the ministry, and following the ascension of the Son of God. Angels appear in their splendour, devils in their malignity; dreams, miracles, and divine operations of various nature surround and attend the sacred person of the Lord. It was a miraculous dispensation, a supernatural epoch, in which the powers of heaven and hell came forth in manifestations extraordinary and unparalleled, and not to be tested by the experience of ordinary ages. It is not for us to say, who live in the common level of human history, that angelic appearances and demoniacal possessions did not transpire during the period in which God’s own Son was incarnate. That greatest of miracles might well imply, and properly be attended by, a retinue of inferior but kindred facts.

The angel of the Lord appeared to our Lord’s ostensible father, to announce the birth of the human Son of God. The word angel signifies messenger, and is chiefly used in Scripture to designate a living spiritual being sent by God to perform some supernatural ministry. It is not true that angels first appear in Scripture at the Babylonish captivity. Angelic appearances to Abraham and to Lot are narrated in Genesis, and to Manoah in Judges. A reference to a concordance will show that the word angel, as a term for a superhuman being, abounds in the Old Testament.

Yet it is no doubt true that there are names for the angels, which appear for the first time, in the Scriptures, after the captivity. These names may have been matters of a later revelation to the Jews. Or the Persians may have retained, traditionally, a primitive revelation of their names. Or, more probably than either supposition, the names were of human origin; but being of significant meaning, these angelic beings, when appearing to human eyes, adapt themselves to the human conception by adopting the human significant name appropriate to themselves. It cannot be supposed that these angels retain these human names in the spiritual world. As they adapt themselves to human form, and speak with a human voice, so do they identify themselves to human acquaintance by some familiar yet descriptive appellation. So the angel appearing to Zechariah (Luke 1:19) says: “I am Gabriel that stands in the presence of God.” And in the 26th verse, this same Gabriel is named as announcing to Mary the approaching birth of the Messiah. Now this Gabriel appears in Daniel 8:16, to explain the vision of the ram and he goat; and what is still more striking, he interprets to Daniel (Daniel 9:21-27) the vision of the seventy weeks. Thus the same Gabriel announces the most striking prediction of the Messiah to Daniel, of the harbinger of the Messiah to Zechariah, and of the incarnation of the Messiah to Mary. And the very appropriate appellation by which he declares himself to men is “God’s strong one,” for such is the import of the name.

No systematical view is given us of the angel worlds. No reverence or worship of them is required or justified. Human fancies among Jewish, Mohammedan, and some imaginative Christian writers, have constructed schemes and systems and worlds of angelology. But the references of Scripture to this class, or series of classes of beings, are incidental and reserved. The inference is that we have ordinarily little to do with them.

Self-sufficient philosophers, like Strauss, have announced that the age for the belief in such superior beings is past. Natural philosophy has shown that the natural operations of the world are effected by natural forces, and the demand for such beings is crowded out of existence. As truly might they say that the exact forces of nature exclude all voluntary agents, human as well as superhuman. Nor can any philosophy prove that there are no personal intelligent beings in the universe superior in rank or power to man. On the contrary, the opinion is improbable even to absurdity, that the vast interval between little, finite man and the infinite One is entirely vacant, and filled by no living, intelligent occupants. Hence the existence of systems of beings of angelic rank is perpetually reasonable, and can never be superseded in any age by any advance of philosophy.

In a dream Though dreams are usually the vain vagaries of our sleeping hours, which no sensible man usually regards, yet God has often made them the means of communicating warnings and directions. God, who made the mind, can shape its conceptions in sleep, as well as in wakefulness, to present supernatural information. Dreams were, however, considered by the Jews as an inferior sort of revelation. We may add that while an angel appeared in open sight both to Zechariah and to Mary to announce the illustrious births, and that angel no less than Gabriel, “that stands in the presence of God,” to Joseph, as of inferior importance, appears an unnamed angel in a dream.

Thou son of David A man simple in character, but illustrious by descent. It was absolutely essential that Mary should be a daughter of David, in order that Jesus might be truly of the seed of David according to the flesh. And it was important, though not essential, that Joseph should be of the line of David, in order that Christ should also seem, by his reputed father, a son of David, to the eyes of men.

That Messiah should be son, that is, descendant, of David, was so clearly and abundantly revealed in Old Testament prophecy as to be a settled point in Jewish theology. The Chaldee paraphrase, (which was the free translation of the Old Testament books, prepared after the return from the captivity, as the received expositor of Scripture, and read in the public service,) when it comes to the passage, (Isaiah 11:1,) “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse,” etc., construes it thus: “A king shall come out of the sons of Jesse, and the Messiah out of his son’s sons.” And that this Davidic origin was the doctrine of the learned Jews in the Saviour’s day, is evident from Mark 12:35: “Say the scribes that Christ is the son of David.” And so Matthew 22:42: “What think ye of Christ, whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David.”

That Jesus was reputed to be, according to this doctrine, the son of David, is plentifully evident. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be taxed, “because they were of the house and lineage of David.” Luke 2:11. The blind men of Jericho cried: “Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on us.” The multitudes at the capital cry: “Hosanna to the son of David.” And the heading of his genealogy is: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David.” Matthew 1:1. And hence the angel of the annunciation is sent (Luke 1:22) to a virgin of the house of David. And of her offspring he promises, (Luke 1:32,) the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David.

Is of the Holy Ghost It is part of the impurity of our depraved nature, that the subject of our own origin by birth should suggest other than pure thoughts. But the divine law hath established that through all nature a new life should be produced only from the method of double parentage. When therefore from a single human parent a new human person takes origin, a miracle of surpassing power, over and above nature, is performed, it may be truly believed to take place only “of the Holy Ghost.”

This phrase is not to be so understood as to imply that the Holy Ghost is the father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In Luke the angel declares to Mary; “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” By this we are to understand simply that divine power was imparted to the human person of the virgin, from which a being of perfect holiness should be conceived and born, blending the divine and the human natures. From this whole matter all but the truly impious and profane will banish every impure and gross thought. Even in the most minute conceptions that our minds, in their trains of meditation, may be called upon to frame, our reverence will compel us to think of this one holy conception and birth with a purity and an awe suitable to the real sacredness and grandeur of so supernatural a fact and being.

Verse 21

21. Thou shalt call his name Jesus We have already remarked, in our note on Matthew 1:1, that the name JESUS is equivalent in Greek to the Hebrew name of JOSHUA, who was his type, as being the deliverer of Israel into the promised land. The original name of Joshua was Hoshea, and Moses (doubtless by divine inspiration) changed his name to Joshua, in order to make it signify the salvation of God. Numbers 13:16. Thus the name was given to indicate the reality of the thing. The reality was that Joshua should be God’s saviour of Israel from their enemies, and their establisher in Canaan. As antitype to this, the same name is given, by the same divine direction, to the Lord our Saviour, because he shall save his people from their sins. As Joshua is redeemer of Israel from their enemies, and their establisher in Canaan, so Jesus is the Redeemer of believers from their sins, and their establisher in the heavenly Canaan. Whence we have the typical parallels:

Redeemer. The Redeemed. The Evil. The Result. Joshua Israel Enemies Canaan. Jesus Believers Sins Heavenly Canaan. We here also see Scripture instances in which the name is divinely imposed to signify the reality of the thing. The name of Jesus signifies saviour, and is given because he IS Saviour; from which we shall in the proper place infer that he is called Emmanuel, (Matthew 1:23,) signifying God with us, because he truly IS God manifest in the flesh. So that we may forcibly maintain against the doctrine of the mere humanity of Christ the sublime truth of the Incarnation.

For he shall save his people from their sins From these words it is plain that however the Jews may have expected a political Messiah to save the nation from the Romans, the angel promised a Jesus, who should save his people from their sins. Modern neologists, who maintain that Jesus started at first with the purpose of forming a temporal kingdom, are contradicted by the very earliest declarations in the Gospels to the contrary.

Verse 22

22. Now all this was done All this includes the whole narrative (from Matthew 1:18) of the events of the miraculous birth. That it might be fulfilled But did the entire train of events take place in order to fulfil that one prophecy? To obviate so absurd a meaning some learned men have shown that the phrase might be translated: All this was done SO THAT it was fulfilled. But the present translation leads to no absurd result. All these things did transpire, in order, among other and more direct purposes, to the fulfilment of that prophecy, inasmuch as the fulfilment of that prophecy was at the same time the accomplishment of the Incarnation of the Redeemer, and the verification of the divine prediction. Nor is there any predestinarian fatalism in all this. God predicts what he foresees that men will freely do; and then men do freely in turn fulfil what God predicts, and so unconsciously act in order to verify God’s veracity. Moreover there is no fatalism in supposing that God has high plans, which he does with infinite wisdom carry out through the free, unnecessitated, unpredestinated, though foreseen wills of men. Such is his inconceivable wisdom, that he can so place free agents in a free system of probation, that whichever way they freely turn they will but further his great generic plans and verify his foreknowledge. So that it may in a right sense be true that all things are done by free agents, in order to so desirable an end as to fulfil the divine foresight.

Verse 23

23. Behold, a virgin Isaiah 7:14. This memorable prophecy was delivered by Isaiah, under the following circumstances: Ahaz, king of Judah, was invaded by the combined hosts of the kings of Israel and of Syria. He was reduced to the last extremity. Jehovah then sent Isaiah the prophet to offer him a SIGN that God would bring deliverance. The object of the command was to bring Ahaz to repose his faith in Jehovah. But though the prophet offered him a sign either in heaven or in earth, yet the idolatrous king refused to accept any sign. Whereupon the prophet, rebuking the king for wearying God, declares that God will give a sign, whether the king ask it or not, and whether it should be to him a sign or not. That sign is the standing sign for Israel for all ages, the future MESSIAH. As that Messiah should come, so Judah should be preserved until his coming. And when he should be born of the virgin, he should not grow to years of intelligence in a shorter time than would be required to sweep away those two invading kings from their power.

The words of the prophet, in our translation, are as follows: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call him Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.”

To this we will append the elegant and exact version of Bishop Lowth: And Jehovah spake yet again to Ahaz, saying:

Ask thee a SIGN from Jehovah thy God:

Go deep to the grave, or high to the heaven above.

And Ahaz said: I will not ask; neither will I tempt Jehovah.

And he said: Hear ye now, O house of David:

Is it a small thing for you to weary men,

That you should weary my God also?

Therefore Jehovah himself shall give you a sign:

Behold, the virgin conceiveth, and beareth a son;

And she shall call his name Immanuel.

Butter and honey shall he eat,

When he shall know to refuse what is evil, and to choose what is good:

For before this child shall know

To refuse the evil, and to choose the good;

The land shall become desolate,

By whose two kings thou art distressed.

Upon this memorable passage we remark:

1 . The word virgin has, in the original Hebrew, the definite article the, THE virgin. This implies that a particular and known virgin is predicted, (specially recognized by the mind of the prophet,)* who, though a virgin, should bring forth an Immanuel; that is, a God-with-us, a God-man. Now we have already remarked (on Matthew 1:18) that a Virgo Deipara is truly predicted in the first promise in Eden; and that the expectation was familiar to the ancient world. Melkarth, so near as in Syria, was fabled to be such a god-man. The virgin, then, of Isaiah, was THE virgin of prophetic foresight. 2. The tenses of the Hebrew in this passage are not all future.

Hengstenberg renders it thus: “Behold THE virgin has conceived and bears a son, and she calls his name Immanuel.” All this shows that Hengstenberg’s view of prophetic vision is correct. The powerful conceptions of the prophet’s mind become as a present reality. His mind’s eye sees the panorama of future objects and events now standing and moving before him. Time is dropped out of the account. 3. This explains what to many commentators has been a great difficulty in the following verse, Isaiah 7:16.

Before this ideal child, beheld in vision as now being born, is able to know good from evil, these two invading kings shall disappear. Isaiah takes the growth of the infant, conceptually present, as the measure of the continuance of the invading kings. That Immanuel, the predicted seed of the woman, the prophet sees as already being born; he is being fed on nourishing food, namely, butter and honey, to bring him to early maturity; but in a briefer period than his growth to intelligence shall require, these invading kings shall be overthrown, and Israel be rescued. Thus was the Messiah, yet to be born, a sign, not indeed to unwilling Ahaz, but to Israel, of her speedy deliverance and permanent preservation. Well and wisely, therefore, does the inspired evangelist, now that the Messiah is born, adduce this prophecy to show its fulfilment in him. The amount of the whole is, that the spirit of prophecy availed itself of the occasion of Ahaz’s unbelief, to utter and leave on record a striking prediction of the Incarnation.

(*Prof. Nordheimer, in his Hebrew Grammar, gives the following rule of syntax in regard to the Hebrew article: “The article is subjectively prefixed to a common noun by way of emphasis, and to point it out as one which, although neither previously or subsequently described, is still viewed as definite in the mind of the writer.” In Biblical Repository, October, 1841, Prof. Nordheimer showed the express application of the rule to this passage.)

They shall call his name Emmanuel This name they are directed by God to give him; and there could be no reason with God to select this name but because (as noted on Matthew 1:21) its meaning denoted a reality. The person bears the name because he is what the name signifies. As the Lord was called Jesus, saviour, because he is Saviour; and as he is called Christ, anointed, because he is the Anointed, so is he called Emmanuel, God-with-us, because he is God with us. He is God with man; he is Divinity with humanity. And he is called God with us because he is virgin-born, for the prophet conjoins these two facts as antecedent and result. That is, because he has only a human mother, and so a divine Father, therefore he is in name, and thereby in reality, God with us. No Jewish or Unitarian gloss can evade this. It demonstrates that Messiah is by birth, God with us; and therefore that he is so by person, by nature, and by substance.

Verse 25

25. Till she had brought forth her firstborn son These words assert the virginity of the mother of the Lord until the time of his birth. According to the Creed, “He was born of the virgin Mary.” They are also understood by many to imply that she was subsequently the mother of other children than Jesus. On the other hand, the perpetual virginity of the blessed mother is a standard doctrine in the Roman Church, and is generally maintained by the older writers of the Christian Church. With many this opinion is mainly grounded upon what they consider the demands of our “pious feelings.” It may be doubted, however, whether this pious feeling is not rather ecclesiastical and sentimental than Scriptural and truly spiritual.

The proof that Mary was the mother of subsequent children, is derived, so far as this passage is concerned, both from the word until, and the words her firstborn. From the word until, the implication is inferred that her virginity continued not after her maternity. And this we apprehend is the usual sense of the word until and its corresponding term in most languages. When we affirm a certain state of things until a given point, we naturally imply a change after that point. Yet not necessarily. We may intend our affirmation to cover the time previous to the point, without pretending to affirm, imply, or even know what took place after that point. Examples of this, quoted by Bishop Pearson on the Creed, are Genesis 28:15; Deu 34:6 ; 1 Samuel 15:35; 2 Samuel 6:23; Matthew 28:20. The conclusion of this argument therefore fairly is, I think, that there is a decided probability, although no full certainty, that the evangelist meant to imply the birth of subsequent children. As to the word firstborn, it is affirmed by Pearson and others that the word is in the Old Testament properly applied to the only born. That is, it is applied to any child whose birth has been preceded by no other, whether succeeded by any or not. The Mosaic law prescribed the sanctification of the “firstborn.” Exodus 12:2. And this firstborn was still so called, whether succeeded by subsequent children or not. This is undoubtedly true. But still it may be questioned whether a subsequent historian would style that child the firstborn where there was notoriously no second born. The evangelist could, I think, do so only by transferring himself, as it were, to the time of the birth, when the future contingency was unknown. Therefore, the balance of the argument upon this point also leaves an implication against the perpetual virginity of the blessed mother. This question is connected with the further discussion of the question concerning the brethren of the Lord. Upon that point see our note upon Matthew 13:55.

In closing our notes upon this chapter, we offer the following remarks:

1 . The style of the evangelist is eminently prosaic and plain. There is not the slightest tinge of poetry in the whole narrative. There is nothing of the fabulous or mythical strain. He narrates the most wonderful events without the slightest wonder. The whole tone of the style is purely historical, as plain and level as if it detailed the most ordinary events of life.

2 . Matthew, thus far, gives neither date nor place. The persons are named without formal introduction. All are assumed to be familiar to his readers. As if writing to Jewish Christians, to whom all the facts, persons, and places are well known, he appears to write rather as if to verify and record than to inform.

3 . In his first two chapters, Matthew so plans his narrative as, by blending fact with prophecy, to prove the Messiahship of Jesus. He is careful to inform us that these events took place for the purpose (in addition to all their other purposes) of fulfilling the predictions of the prophets of the Old Testament. The New Testament is born of the Old. The Gospel is contained in the law. The old dispensation is but a preparation for the new. He who is the true Jew is bound to be the believing Christian.

4 . Matthew gives no dates, but his mention of historical names, such as Herod and Archelaus, enables us to fix, with some approach to accuracy, the time of our Lord’s birth. The following extract, from Prof. Robinson’s English Harmony of the New Testament, furnishes the best statement upon this point:

“The precise year of our Lord’s birth is uncertain. Several data, however, exist, by which an approximation may be made, sufficiently accurate to show that our present Christian era is not entirely correct.

“1. According to Matthew 2:1-6, Jesus was born during the lifetime of Herod the Great, and not long before his death. Herod died in the year of Rome (A.U.) 750 just before the passover; see Josephus, Ant., b. 17, ch. 8, sec. 1; ib., b.17, ch. 9, sec. 3. This has been verified by calculating the eclipse of the moon, which happened just before his death; (Jos., Ant., b. 17, ch. 6, sec. 4. Ideler, Handb. of Chronol., vol. ii, p. 391 sq.) If now we make an allowance of time for the purification, the visit of the Magi, the flight into Egypt, and the remaining there till Herod was dead, for all of which not less than six months can well be required, it follows that the birth of Christ cannot in any case be fixed later than the autumn of A.U. 749.

“2. Another note of time occurs in Luke 3:1-2, where John the Baptist is said to have entered upon his ministry in the fifteenth year of Tiberius; and again in Luke 3:23, where Jesus is said to have been ‘about thirty years of age’ at his baptism. Now if both John and Jesus, as is quite probable, entered upon their ministry at the age of thirty, in accordance with the Levitical custom, (Numbers 4:3; Numbers 4:35; Numbers 4:39; Numbers 4:43; Numbers 4:47,) then by reckoning back thirty years we may ascertain the year of John’s birth, and of course also that of Jesus. Augustus died Aug. 29, A.U. 767; and was succeeded by Tiberius, who had already been associated with him in the government for at least two years, and probably three. If now we reckon from the death of Augustus, the fifteenth year of Tiberius commenced Aug. 29, A.U. 781; and going back thirty years, we find that John must have been born not earlier than August, A.U. 751, and our Lord of course not earlier than A.U. 752, a result disagreeing with that obtained from Matthew by three years. If, on the other hand, we reckon from the time when Tiberius was admitted as co-regent of the empire, which is shown to have been certainly as early as A.U. 765, and probably in A.U. 764; then the fifteenth year of Tiberius began in A.U. 778, and it follows that John may have been born in A.U. 748, and our Lord in A.U. 749. In this way the results obtained from Matthew and Luke are more nearly coincident.

“3. A third note of time is derived from John 2:20: ‘Forty and six years was this temple in building.’ Josephus says in one place that Herod began to build the temple in the eighteenth year of his reign, while in another he specifies the fifteenth year. (Ant., b. 15, ch. 11, sec. 1; Wars, b. 1, ch. 21, sec. 1.) He also assigns the length of Herod’s reign at thirty-seven or thirty-four years; according as he reckons from his appointment by the Romans, or from the death of Antigoinus. (Ant., b. 17, ch. 8, sec. 1; Wars, b. 1, ch. 33, sec. 8.) Herod was first declared king of Judea in A.U. 714; (Jos., Ant., b. 14, ch. 14, sec. 4, 5; Wars, b. 1, ch. 14, see. 4; comp. Ant., b. 14, ch. 16, sec. 4. Ideler, Handb. of Chronicles, 2: 390;) hence the eighteenth year of his reign, when Herod began to rebuild the temple, would coincide with A.U. 732; and our Lord’s first passover, in the forty-seventh year following, would fall in A.U. 779 . If now our Lord at that time was thirty and a half years of age, as is probable, this would carry back the year of his birth to the autumn of A.U. 748.

“4. Further, according to a tradition preserved by the Latin Fathers of the first five centuries, our Lord’s death took place during the consulate of the two Gemini, C. Rubellius and C. Fufius; that is, in A.U. 782, So Tertullian, Lactantius, Augustine, etc. See Tertull. adv. Jud., sec. 8; Augustin. de Civ. Dei, 18:54.) If now the duration of his ministry was three and a half years, then, as before, the year of his birth would be carried back to the autumn of A.U. 748.

“5. Some modern writers, taking into account the abode in Egypt, and also the ‘two years’ of Matthew 2:16, have supposed that Jesus must have been from two to three years old at Herod’s death, and hence they assume that he was born in A.U. 747. The same year, A.U. 747, is also fixed upon as the date of Christ’s birth by those who regard the star in the east as having been the conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. which occurred in that year. So Keppler, Munter, Ideler, Handb. of Chronol., Berlin, 1826.

“From all these data it would appear, that while our Lord’s birth cannot have taken place later than A.U. 749, it may nevertheless have occurred one or two years earlier.

“The present Christian era, which was fixed by the abbot Dionysius Exiguus in the sixth century, assumes the year of Christ’s birth as coincident with A.U. 754. It follows then, from the preceding statements, that this our common era begins in any case more than four years too late; that is, from four to five years, at the least, after the actual birth of Christ. This era was first used in historical works by the venerable Bede, early in the eighth century; and was not long after introduced in public transactions by the Frank kings Pepin and Charlemagne.”

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 1". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.