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Bible Commentaries

John Broadus' Commentary on Matthew

Matthew 1



Verses 1-17

Matthew 1:1-17.
The Genealogy Of Jesus Christ

TRADITIONAL TITLE. Before the middle of the second century, we find the name Gospel already applied to the narratives of our Saviour's life. Justin Martyr says: "The apostles, in the memoirs made by them, which are called Gospels." The Greek word so rendered, which signifies "a good message," "good news," "glad tidings," is found a few times in Matthew and Mark (e. g., Matthew 4:23, Matthew 26:13, Mark 8:35, Mark 16:15) as denoting, in general, the good news of Christ's reign, and of salvation through him; and its subsequent application to our four narratives of Christ's life and teachings was natural and appropriate. The best early authorities for the text give the title in the simple form, Gospel according to Matthew, some of them having only "According to Matthew," where the word "Gospel" is implied, though not expressed. To say "Saint Matthew," a practice which many persons retain from Romanist usage, is useless, if not improper. No one thinks it irreverent to speak of Moses or Isaiah without any such prefix. The peculiar expression of the traditional title, "according to Matthew," implies that the gospel has been reported by different persons under different aspects, and this is the way in which Matthew has presented it. The English word "gospel" has long been supposed (it is so interpreted even in the eleventh century) to be derived from the Anglo-Saxon godspell, signifying good story, good tidings, and to be thus a literal translation of the Greek. But recent etymologists go far to prove, by the comparison of kindred languages, that it is from God and spell, meaning a narrative of God, and so the history of Christ. (See Skeat, "Etym. Dict. and Supplement.")

Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of our Lord. Designing to prove, especially to the Jews, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, he shows at the outset that Jesus is a descendant of David, as it had been predicted that the Messiah would be. In order to establish this fact according to Jewish law, it must be shown that the legal father of Jesus was a descendant of David, as this genealogy does; and to give the argument greater impressiveness, he goes back to trace the descent from Abraham, the father of the Jewish race, to whose "seed" the promise was spoken. (Genesis 17:7; Galatians 3:16) Luke, who had no special reference to the Jews, but wrote for all, gives the genealogy some distance after the beginning of his book, (Luke 3:23) and carries it up to Adam, the father of all men. (As to apparent discrepancies between Matthew and Luke, see below on "Matthew 1:17"). Mark, in his short narrative, gives no genealogy, but simply begins by describing Jesus Christ as "the Son of God" (Mark 1:1). John, wishing to correct errors already rife, when he wrote, as to both the human and the divine nature of our Lord, goes back to his eternal pre-existence as the Word, his divinity and creatorship, and then states his incarnation, showing him to be not merely in appearance but in reality a man. (John 1:1-5, John 1:14) This comparison makes it plain that Matthew's first paragraph, indeed, his opening sentence, strikes the key-note to his treatise, which is throughout a Gospel for the Jews.

Some have supposed that the Evangelist adopted this genealogy as a whole from some public or private record existing among the Jews. There would be nothing derogatory in this idea, and the document thus adopted would have for us the sanction of inspiration as to its correctness; but it seems more natural to think that Matthew framed the list himself from the Old Testament and the Jewish records. Some of its peculiarities, e. g., the incidental mention of certain females (see below), are best explained as having been introduced by him, with a special design. That the Jews did, in the first century, still possess genealogical records, at least of important families, is shown by various facts. Thus Paul asserted without reserve that he was of the tribe of Benjamin. (Romans 11:1, Philippians 3:5) Josephus ("Life ") gives his own priestly and royal descent for several generations, and adds: "I present the descent of our family as I found it recorded in the public tablets, and to those who try to slander us I wish much joy."This unquestionable evidence made him feel perfectly secure. And in the book against Apion (i. 7) he describes the pains taken by priests residing in Egypt, Babylon, and other foreign countries, to send to Jerusalem properly certified statements as to marriages and births in their families; and declares that after any great war, such as that which had recently occurred, the surviving priests prepared new copies from the old records. The story told by Julius Africanus (Eusebius "Hist." I. 7,13) that Herod burnt the genealogies of the Jews, in order to prevent his own inferiority as an Idumaean from being manifest, conflicts with these and all the other statements on the subject, and certainly cannot be true in its full extent. We are told that Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus, proved from a genealogical table at Jerusalem that he was a descendant of David. ("Bereshith Rahba," f. 98, quoted by Godet, "Com. on Luke," Luke 3:23.) There is also a story that Domitian (A. D. 81-96) ordered all descendants of David to be slain, and certain heretics accused as such the descendants of Jude, a brother of the Saviour, who being summoned before the emperor acknowledged that they were descended from David, but stated that they lived by tilling their little farms, and showed their hands hard with toil, (from which we see, with Weiss, that the family of Jesus were still poor), so that the emperor dismissed them as persons not likely to excite revolution. (Hegesippus in Euseb." Hist." iii. 19, 20.) On the other hand, all this is changed at the present day. The Jewish records have long since completely perished, and no Jew could now prove himself a descendant of David. If one claiming to be the Messiah should now arise, as some Jews still expect, no such evidence could be furnished as that with which Matthew here begins.

Matthew 1:1. The opening words signify either, Book of the generation, i. e., descent-book, pedigree, genealogy, thus referring only to Matthew 1:2-17, (compare Genesis 5:1, Genesis 11:27) or, Book upon the birth, referring to the whole account of the birth of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Matthew 2. (Compare the use of the same term in Matthew 1:18, there rendered 'birth'). The choice between these two meanings of the phrase must remain a matter of doubt, and is of no real importance. The view of some that "book of the generation" here denotes a history in general (as perhaps in Genesis 25:19; Genesis 37:2), must pretty certainly be rejected. Jesus, the same as Joshua (see on "Matthew 1:21"), is our Lord's private or personal name; Christ is his official name, being a translation into Greek of the Hebrew word 'Messiah,' which signifies 'anointed' and with the article, 'the anointed one.' (Compare 1 Samuel 24:6, 1 Samuel 24:10, Psalms 2:2, Psalms 105:15, Isaiah 45:1, Daniel 9:25-26, John 1:20, John 1:25, John 1:41, John 4:25, John 4:29, Acts 4:26) It appears in the Gospels as a proper name only here, together with Matthew 1:16, Matthew 1:18, and probably Matthew 16:21 (compare also Matthew 1:16, and Matthew 27:17); Mark 1:1; John 1:17, John 17:3. Everywhere else in the Gospels it denotes the promised Messiah or anointed one, sometimes without reference to Jesus at all, but usually applied to him either by direct assertion or by implication. When not a proper name it commonly has the article, 'the Christ,' which is often omitted in Common English Version (see on "Matthew 2:4"). In John 1:41, John 4:25, we find Messias, a Greek form of Messiah. Whether Jesus was the Messiah, was during his ministry an open question, and the Evangelists do not, in their history of him, assume it as then settled. But after his ascension the apostles would naturally take this for granted in their expressions, and accordingly 'Christ' or 'Jesus Christ,' is very often used in the Acts and Epistles as a proper name. In like manner Matthew, Mark, and John, in writing their Gospels, use the same now familiar expression in the introduction, though in the body of their narrative they speak according to the state of the question when the events occurred. In John 16:21 we may see a special reason, as there pointed out. And so Jesus himself, in John 17:3, when praying in the presence of his disciples at the close of his ministry, speaks as taking his Messiahship for granted; as in Mark 9:41, 'because ye are Christ's,' he is anticipating the future conviction of his followers. Son of Abraham may be in apposition either with 'David' or with 'Jesus Christ,' the Greek being ambiguous, like the English. But either sense involves what the other would express, and so both amount to the same thing: in Jesus were fulfilled the prophecies that the Messiah should descend from David and from Abraham.

Matthew 1:2. Among the sons of Jacob, Judas, or Judah, is singled out, because he is the one from whom David and Jesus were descended; but his brethren are also mentioned by the Evangelist, perhaps simply because it was common to speak of the twelve patriarchs and the twelve tribes all together (Acts 7:8-9); or, it may be, with the design of reminding his readers that all the other tribes were of the same descent as Judah, and thus all were interested in the Messiah.

Many of the names in this list are, in the Common English Version, more or less different in form from the corresponding names in our version of the Old Testament, and throughout the New Testament the same thing frequently occurs. The New Testament writers have usually employed that form of a name which was already familiar to their readers, who were generally accustomed, Jews as well as Gentiles, to read, not the original Hebrew of the Old Testament—for the Hebrew proper was then little used in conversation (the Aramaic having largely supplanted it)—but the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. The authors of that translation often failed to express the Hebrew names in Greek as exactly as they might have done. Besides, the Greek language is in some respects less able to express Hebrew words than the English is, particularly in respect to the letter h, which abounds in Hebrew names, and which the Greek cannot represent at all except at the beginning of a word, or in the combinations ch, th, ph. Accordingly, Noah was written Noe (Matthew 24:37), Korah written Core, (Judges 1:11) and Elisha became Eliseus. (Luke 4:27) It thus appears that not only have the names in our version of the New Testament undergone a two-fold change,—presenting us the English form of the common Greek form of the Hebrew words—but the difference is increased by the fact that in our version of the Old Testament, rendered directly from the Hebrew, we have the name often more exactly expressed than could be done in Greek. The writers of the New Testament gave their readers the form of the names that they were all familiar with in reading the Septuagint; so that they had the same form in both Testaments. And this result will be secured for English readers, if in the New Testament we should put into English letters not the Greek form of the name as there given, but the Hebrew form as it occurs in the Old Testament. Then the reader of our version, like the reader in the apostle's days, will find the name in the same form throughout his Bible, and will thus feel that it is the same name. There must be a few exceptions; as, for example, it would hardly be proper to write our Saviour's name Joshua, though we should thus be much more vividly reminded of the origin and associations of the name; and it is probably best to retain the Greek form, Judas, for the traitor disciple, and employ Judah for the patriarch and others, and Jude for the writer of the Epistle. But in general, the Hebrew forms can be used in the New Testament without difficulty or impropriety.

Matthew 1:3-5, Commentators have always noticed that while this genealogy, according to custom, gives only the names of the men, it turns aside to make incidental mention of four women—Thamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah—of whom three were polluted by shameful wickedness, and the fourth was by birth a heathen. This appears to have been done simply because each of the four became a mother of the Messianic line in an irregular and extraordinary way, as in recounting a long list of names one is very apt to mention anything unusual that attaches to this or that individual. The mystical meanings which some find in the introduction of these names, cannot be accepted by a sober judgment; and the notion (Lange) that Tamar, for example, really acted under the impulse of a fanatical faith, "being resolved at all hazards to become one of the mothers of God's chosen race, "is a particularly wild fancy.—The introduction of both Phares and Zara, while throughout the list only one person is usually given, is probably due to the fact that Tamar their mother has been mentioned, (compare 1 Chronicles 2:4) and that she bore them both at one birth.—There is no sufficient reason to question that the Rahab here mentioned is the famous woman of Jericho; nor that she had pursued the disgraceful calling commonly supposed.—The length of time between Sahnon and David makes it likely that some names have been here omitted (as also in Ruth 4:21 f., and 1 Chronicles 2:11), most probably between Obed and Jesse; but this is not certain, as the general chronology of that period is doubtful, and the parents in some cases may have been advanced in years when the children were born.

Matthew 1:6. David the king is thus signalized, probably as being the first of this line who attained that dignity, and he to whom the promise was made of a seed that should reign forever. In the second sentence of this verse, 'the king' in the common text is a mere addition from the first sentence, wanting in several of the best early documents.

Matthew 1:8. Between Joram and Uzziah, three names are omitted, Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah (2 Kings 8:24; 1 Chronicles 3:11; 2 Chronicles 22:1, 2 Chronicles 22:11, 2 Chronicles 24:27). This was probably done to secure symmetry, by bringing the number of names in each discourse to fourteen (see on "Matthew 1:17"); and these particular persons might naturally be selected for omission, because they were immediate descendants of Ahab and Jezebel.

Matthew 1:11-12. Here also a name has been omitted, that of Jehoiakim, who was the son of Josiah, and father of Jehoiachin, or Jeconiah. (2 Kings 23:34, 2 Kings 24:6) As in Matthew 1:8, we may suppose one name to have been purposely omitted by the Evangelist, and this particular person to have been chosen because in his reign occurred the events which led to the captivity. As to the further difficulty on which some have insisted, that while we read here of Jechonias and his brethren, in 1 Chronicles 3:16, but one brother of his is mentioned,—it is enough to recall the familiar fact that genealogical lists such as that very often omit some of a man's children, mentioning only those which belonged to the line of succession, or which there was some special reason for including; and so there might very well have been other brothers known from genealogies existing in Matthew's time, but whom the compiler of Chronicles had no occasion to include in his list.—The expression, the time they were carried away to Babylon—or, the removal, mar. of Rev. Ver.,—is of course not to be pressed as involving an exact coincidence of the two events, but to be understood in the more general way, which is natural in such cases Josiah died some years before the removal to Babylon. (2 Chronicles 36) This great event was really a forcible transportation, but the Evangelist uses the milder term 'removal' or 'migration,' which was frequently employed in the familiar Greek translation of the Old Testament, and would be less painful to the Jewish readers he had especially in view.(1)—In making Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, the Evangelist agrees with Ezra 3:2, Ezra 5:2, Nehemiah 12:1; Haggai 1:1, Haggai 2:2, while 1 Chronicles 3:19, makes him the son of Pedaiah, a brother of Shealtiel. The explanations of this discrepancy which have been proposed are hardly satisfactory. It is not surprising that there should be some slight differences in these lists of names which, with our imperfect information, we are now unable to explain. A nervous solicitude to explain at all hazards, is uncalled for and unbecoming.

Matthew 1:13. The nine names from Abiud to Jacob (Matthew 1:15) are not elsewhere mentioned, as they belong to the period subsequent to the close of the Old Testament records, the "interbiblical" period. They were doubtless taken from some public or private genealogy, such as would cause the Evangelist's Jewish readers to receive them without gainsaying. The number of names being scarcely proportioned to the time over which they extend, some have thought that here also a few names may have been omitted, as in Matthew 1:8, Matthew 1:11.

Matthew 1:16. The Evangelist does not connect Joseph and Jesus as father and son; but altogether departs from the usual phraseology of the genealogy, so as to indicate the peculiarity of the Saviour's birth. The name Jesus (i.e., Joshua, see on "Matthew 1:21"), being common among the Jews, (compare Colossians 4:11, Acts 13:6) the person here meant is distinguished as Jesus who is—or, the one—called Christ, (so in Matthew 27:17, Matthew 27:22, and compare"Simon, the one called Peter," in Matthew 4:18; Matthew 10:2.)

Matthew 1:17. THREE SETS OF FOURTEEN. The gathering of this long list of names into three groups of fourteen each appears to have been partly for the sake of aiding the memory, and partly in order to indicate the three great periods of the history, viz: from Abraham, the father of the nation, to "David the king" (see on "Matthew 1:6"), from David to the destruction of the monarchy at the removal to Babylon, and from that event to the coming of Messiah. These three periods are distinguished in many ways; among others by the form of government, which was in the successive periods a Theocracy, a Monarchy, and a Hierarchy, or government by the priests, this being for the most part the form after the return from the captivity. Finding that the names from Abraham to David amount to fourteen, the Evangelist omits some in the second period (see on "Matthew 1:8; Mat_1:11"), and perhaps in the third also (see on "Matthew 1:13"), so as to leave each of these periods the same number as the first. This happened to be twice the sacred number seven, so that the whole list of names is divided into three sets of two sevens each. Similarly a Rabbinical writer says: "From Abraham to Solomon are fifteen generations, and then the moon was at the full; from Solomon to Zedekiah are again fifteen generations, and then the moon was eclipsed, and Zedekiah's eyes were put out." The omission of some names presents no difficulty, being occasionally found in Old Testament lists likewise." It was a common practice with the Jews to distribute genealogies into divisions, each containing some favourite or mystical number, and in order to this, generations were either repeated or left out. Thus in Philo the generations from Adam to Moses are divided into two decades (sets of ten), one hebdomad (set of seven), by the repetition of Abraham. But in a Samaritan poem the very same series is divided into two decades only, by the omission of six of the least important names.(Smith's Dictionary Art. Genealogy of Jesus.;) We are told that the Arabians now abbreviate their genealogies in the same manner, and give the descent by a few prominent names. So, in fact, often do the English, or any other people; the object being, in such cases, not to furnish a complete list of one's ancestors, but simply to establish the descent from a certain line. Where such omissions are made in the Scripture genealogies, the usual term "begot" (or, as in Luke "son of") is retained, and must of course be then understood not literally, but as denoting progenitorship or descent in general, a sense very common in the language of Scripture, and common throughout the East, both in ancient and modern times. (Compare Matthew 1:1) Matthew's three fourteens have been variously made out by expositors. It seems best either to count from Abraham to David, from David again to Josiah, and from Jechoniah to Jesus, or, from Abraham to David, from Solomon to Jechoniah, as representing the time of the removal, and from Jechoniah again to Jesus. The fact that either of these modes of reckoning (and, indeed, one or two others) may be plausibly supported, concurs with the omission of some names to show that the Evangelist did not design this division to be pressed with literal exactness, but only to be taken In a certain general way, for purposes such as those above suggested.

The Genealogies Of Matthew And Luke

There is an obvious discrepancy between the two genealogies, (compare Luke 3:28 ff.) which has always attracted attention, and to explain which, we find various theories suggested. Most scholars at the present day are divided between two of these, and either of them is sufficiently probable to set aside objection to the credibility of the Evangelists on the ground of the discrepancy. The two genealogies diverge after David, Matthew's passing down through Solomon, and Luke's (which is stated in the opposite order), through Nathan, and they do not afterwards agree, unless it may possibly be in the case of Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, as these two names and I occur together in both lists.

Matthew 1:1. One explanation supposes that, while Matthew gives the genealogy of Joseph, the reputed and legal father of Jesus, Luke really gives that of Mary, but simply puts her husband's name instead of hers, because it was not customary for a woman's name to appear in a genealogy, but that of her husband instead. This is a mere supposition, of course, but it is a perfectly possible and reasonable one, and it has the great advantage of showing that Jesus was not only a descendant of David legally, through his reputed father, but also actually, through his mother. There is good reason besides to believe, (Luke 1:32; Acts 2:30; Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8) that Mary was herself a descendant of David, as held by Justin Martyr,(1) Irenaeus, Tertullian, and other Fathers. The fact that Elisabeth, the wife of a priest, was Mary's "kinswoman," (Luke 1:36, the term denotes relationship, but without indicating its degree) is no proof that Mary was not of the tribe of Judah, since persons of the different tribes sometimes intermarried; indeed the earliest known Elisabeth, Aaron's wife, appears to have been of the tribe of Judah. (Exodus 6:23, Numbers 2:3) This theory would accord with the special characteristics and manifest design of the two Gospels. Matthew, who wrote especially for Jews, gives the legal descent of Jesus from David, through Joseph, it being a rule of the Rabbins that "the descent on the father's side only shall be called a descent; the descent by the mother is not called any descent." Luke, who wrote without any special reference to the Jews, for general circulation, gives the real descent from David. In like manner Matthew mentions the angelic appearance to Joseph; Luke thus to Mary. This explanation is adopted substantially, by Luther, Lightfoot, Bengel, Olahausen, Ebrard, Wieseler, Bleek (in part), Lange, Robinson, Alexander, Godet, Weiss. Andrews hesitates. (See a valuable discussion by Warfield in the "Presb. Review," Vol. II, p. 388-397).

Matthew 1:2. Most of the Fathers, and many recent writers (as Winer, Meyer), hold that both Gospels give the genealogy of Joseph, and then attempt in various ways to remove the discrepancy, or pass it by as irreconcilable. The best explanation upon this view is that recently offered by Lord Hervey, viz.: the hypothesis that Matthew gives the line of succession to the throne, and that upon a failure of the direct line, Joseph became the next heir; while Luke gives Joseph's private genealogy, as a descendant of David by a younger line, which at this point supplied the failure in the older branch, and furnished the heir to the throne. This theory is ably advocated in Lord Hervey's volume on the Genealogies, and his article in Smith's "Dict.," "Genealogy of Jesus Christ," and is now quite popular with English writers, as Mill, Alford, Wordsworth, Ellicott, Westcott, Fairbairn, Farrar. It is altogether possible, and when presented in detail has several striking points; yet the former explanation is believed to be in some respects preferable. We are little concerned to show which of them is best, and under no obligation to prove that either of them is certainly correct; for we are not attempting to establish from the Genealogies the credibility of Matthew's Gospel. When the object is simply to refute an objection to that credibility, founded on an apparent discrepancy between two statements, it is sufficient to present any hypothetical explanation of the difficulty which is possible. If the explanation be altogether reasonable and probable, so much the better. And if there be two, or several, possible explanations, these reinforce each other in removing the ground for objection, and it is not necessary to choose between them.

The names Shealtiel and Zerubbabel in the genealogies need not be supposed to represent the same persons. There are various instances in the Old Testament lists, of a striking similarity between several names in lines that are unquestionably distinct.

Homiletical And Practical

Besides the value of this genealogy, to the Jews and to us, in showing that Jesus was a descendant of David, as it had been predicted that the Messiah would be,—the apparently barren list of names might suggest much thought to a mind familiar with the Old Testament. During all this long period, the providential arrangements were going on, which prepared for the coming of the "seed" promised to Abraham. Every person in this genealogy—the wicked as well as the devout, even the woman of stained character—formed a link in the chain of providences. Through all the troubled centuries, through all the national changes, whether reigning in splendour, or dethroned and in captivity, or afterwards subsiding into insignificance under the rule of the high priests or of Herod, the appointed line was preserved; until among the rude population of an obscure village, are found the hard-working carpenter and the poor maiden, who are chosen to rear the seed of Abraham, the son of David.

Matthew 1:1. Christ, as (1) the son of Abraham, (Galatians 3:16) (2) the son of David. The Jews are the only race of mankind that can trace their origin in authentic history to a single ancestor. Matthew 1:2 ff. The Old Testament history, (1) a history of Providence, (2) a history of Redemption; each finding its climax and consummation in Christ. Matthew 1:3-5. The divine sovereignty and condescension, in causing the Saviour to spring from a line containing some persons so unworthy of the honour, and who reflected so little credit on their descendants. And a rebuke to that excessive pride of ancestry, to which the Jews were so prone, and which is so common among mankind in general. Chrys.: "He teaches us also hereby, never to hide our face at our forefathers' wickedness, but to seek after one thing alone, even virtue." Matthew 1:7 ff. Bad men linked to good men, (1) as descendants of the good, (2) as ancestors of the good. Matthew 1:11. The removal to Babylon, as a step in the preparation for Messiah. Matthew 1:17. The three great periods of Jewish history before Christ, as all preparing in various ways for his coming and his work.


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Bibliography Information
Broadus, John. "Commentary on Matthew 1:4". "John Broadus' Commentary on Matthew". 1886.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, July 25th, 2017
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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