Notes Matthew chapter 1
© copyright 1997 drs Gijs van den Brink
1:1. A record of the genealogy. Literally ‘book of origin’. It may mean ‘book of history’ (cf. Gen 2:4; 6:9; 37:2) and then means the whole gospel of Matthew. But since all written texts are called ‘books’ this can also mean ‘genealogy’ (cf. Gen 5:1; 10:1), and is then related to Matt 1:12-17.
Jesus Christ. ‘Jesus’ (Gr. Isous) is the Greek form of the Hebrew Jesjua, an abbreviated form of Jehosjua, which means ‘the Lord is salvation’. ‘Christ’ (Gk. Christos), the anointed, is Greek for the Hebrew masjiach, the Messiah, about whom the OT had prophesied, and whom Israel expected. Jesus is the personal name and Christ the official name or title.
The son of David. The Messiah was to be of the lineage of David, which had received the promise of an everlasting kingdom (2 Sam 7:12-13; Isa 9:6). This name speaks primarily of salvation for Israel.
The son of Abraham. Jesus was descended from Abraham, as was David (vv. 2-16). Abraham was the first to receive a Messianic promise. This spoke of salvation for the nations (Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18).
2. Vv. 2-6a: the ascending line from Abraham to the kingly rule of David.
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the patriarchs of Israel. That the brothers are mentioned only in vv. 2 and 11 is apparently due to the turning-points in history which took place here. By the mentioning of the brothers in v. 2 we are reminded of the fact that the blessing no longer rests on one person, but on all twelve sons of Jacob. Judah and his brothers comprise the origin of the house of Israel, the Twelve Tribes (Matt 10:6; 19:28). In this list Matthew summarizes the history of Israel (see v.17).
3. Whose mother was Tamar. Apart from Jesus’ mother, four women are mentioned in the genealogy: Tamar (v.3), Rahab (v.5), Ruth (v.5), and Bathsheba (v.6). It was quite unusual for women to be mentioned in a Jewish genealogy. Furthermore it is extraordinary here that so many prominent women are passed over, e.g., Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel, who get an important place in Jewish literature. On the other hand, three non-Jewish women are mentioned, Tamar (Gen 38), Rahab (Josh 2), and Ruth, while Bathsheba is described as the wife of Uriah (a Hittite! 2 Sam 11). All this indicates that Matthew wants to show that the nations may share in the Messiah’s Redemption (cf. v.1, son of Abraham).
4-5. Salmon … Rahab. That Salmon married Rahab is to be found only here in the Bible.
Ruth was a Moabite woman. She belonged therefore to a people forbidden by the Law to enter the House of the Lord until the tenth generation (Deut 23:3-6). Nevertheless, among her descendants Solomon built the Temple and Jesus Christ the New Temple (Matt 16:18).
6. Vv.6b-11: the descending line from the kingship of David to the exile.
King David. That David is called king so emphatically draws attention to the fact that the genealogy is a confirmation of Jesus’ claim to the throne of David, so long unoccupied.
Uriah’s wife. see commentary v.3.
8. Jehoram the father of Uzziah. Between Jehoram and Uzziah (also called Azariah, cf. 2 Kings 15:1,6,8,17,23,27 with 2 Kings 15:13,30,32,34), three generations have been passed over: Ahaziah, Joash and Amaziah (1 Chron 3:11). Such omissions are often made in genealogies to simplify them (cf. Ezra 7:3 with 1 Chron 6:6 ff). Cf. commentary v.17.
11. Josiah the father of Jeconiah. One generation has been passed over between Josiah and Jeconiah: Jehoiakim (see 1 Chron 3:15-16). This has traditionally been the case, see 1 Ezra 1:32, LXX (Septuagint). Or was Jehoiakim originally entered in v.11 and Jehoiachin (= Jeconiah, 2 Kings 24:6 ff) in v.12 , and has a translator identified the two? We find the same confusion in the Septuagint, where Jeconiah is also called Joakeim. With Jeconiah (= Jehoiachin= Coniah) the worthiness of the royal house of David came to an end (Jer 22:24-30). After him and his unknown brothers all descendants of David are unknown and unimportant people.
12. Vv.12-17. The way back to the kingship of Jesus.
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. In Hag 1:1 Zerubbabel has been called the son of Shealtiel. Here too a generation seems to have been passed over: Pedaiah (1 Chron 3:18).
The genealogies given by Matthew and Luke seem to coincide with Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, Luke 3:27. This can be explained in the light of a leviratical marriage, but it is more likely that we are concerned here with two different persons of the same name.
13. The connection with the OT ceases with Zerubbabel, but because the Jews carefully preserved the genealogies, especially those of the royal line, the course of our list is undoubtedly based on authentic genealogical tables of the house of David. Cf. Luke 2:4-5, where it is said that Joseph must register in the city of David, Bethlehem. Jesus’ Davidic descent has never been doubted by His opponents.
14-15. Unknown persons from a time when David’s line was weak and threatened. But this too was a sign that the time was drawing near when the divine child would be born, that is, He who would not appear as the son of a mighty king but as the insignificant rejected son of an unknown maiden (see v.23).
16. Joseph the husband of Mary. This expression is carefully chosen. Together with the confirmation of Jesus’ juridical claim to the sonship of David, Matthew avoids giving the impression that Joseph was His natural father. The wording is a preparation for the virgin birth, described in vv.18-25. In a Jewish genealogical table the fathers are more important than the mothers. But Mary is a woman who has earned, more than any man in the whole human race, a place in this list.
17. Thus there were fourteen generations. The genealogical table purports to be a schematic summary of the history of Israel. This was not unusual, cf. Gen 5:1 ff, 11:10 ff. Above all a schematic rendering facilities memorisation. Matthew divides the table into three sections, each of fourteen names. To attain this a number of names have been omitted, and Jeconiah is counted in both the second and third sections.
Apparently Matthew wishes to emphasise by means of this outline that these three periods in the history of Israel are of equal importance. The first period displays an ascending line from Abraham to the kingship of David. The second, a descending line from David to the exile. The third, the way back to the kingship of Jesus.
18. Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph. Among the Jews betrothal was a legally determined contract (in contrast to Roman and modern law) which could only be dissolved by a bill of divorcement. In law Mary was Joseph’s wife and Joseph was Mary’s husband. They are referred to at that time too as man and wife (vv.20 and 24). During the time of betrothal the girl remained at her parents’ home. Living together and a marriage relationship in the sexual sense begins only after the marriage ceremony. Before this had taken place, Mary was found to be pregnant.
She was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Matthew mentions explicitly that Mary was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit of God was at work at the creation of the world (Gen 1:1-2), so do we see this creative power at work now in Mary’s body (cf. v.20) at the beginning of the re-creation of the world.
19. Joseph … was a righteous man. When Joseph noticed that Mary was pregnant, he must have thought that she had been unfaithful. For this reason he did not want to marry her. But because he was an honest and just man (‘righteous’ in the general sense of the word), he did not want to bring disgrace upon her by making a public official complaint (cf. Deut 22:23,24).
Although infidelity must be punished by death, according to the law, Joseph preferred to arrange the divorce quietly. He preferred mercy to his rights. He is even prepared to take the blame, for in Mary’s surroundings one would, of course, suspect Joseph of being the father of Mary’s child.
20. An angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him a message which must have been difficult to believe if Mary had told him it. In a dream he saw an angel. God’s ways of revealing Himself include visions and dreams (cf. Num 12:6; Acts 2:17). But not all dreams contain revelations from the Lord God (cf. Eccles 5:2,6; Deut 13:1-5). It is remarkable that in Joseph’s dreams an angel spoke to him (1:20; 2:13,19), whereas this was not so in the case of the heathen wife of Pilate nor the Wise Men from the East (Matt 27:19 and 2:12).
Son of David. Joseph was greeted by the angel as ‘son of David’, as a sign that the promise given to the house of David is referred to (Isa 7:13).
21. You are to give him the name Jesus. The name the angel Gabriel had already handed down to Mary (Luke 1:31).
The child must be called Jesus because his name explained his ministry. He would be the Saviour and redeem the people. The redemption does not begin with liberation from external enemies (the prevailing view among the Jews) but by liberation from the power of sin.
22. To fulfill. Literally ‘that it might be fulfilled’: a typical Matthean expression (2:15,17,23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:56; 27:9). We conclude that in v.22 it is not the angel who is speaking but Matthew. We find a similar interpolation between the giving and carrying out of an order in 21:4. ‘Fulfil’ is used here in the sense of ‘realization of a prophecy or promise’.
23. The manner of Jesus’ birth was a fulfilment of the Immanuel prophecy of Isa 7:14.
Virgin. The Hebrew word used for virgin in Isa 7 is ‘alm(h), a mature girl (of marrigeable age), usually unmarried. The LXX (the Greek translation of the OT) removes all doubt by translating it as parthenos (‘maiden’, ‘virgin’).
They will call him Immanuel. Immanuel means ‘God with us’. In Jesus, God is among us. The birth of this divine child (cf. Isa 9:5-6) is a sign for, but at the same time an accusation of, the house of David as well (Isa 7:13-14): God’s substitute, the divine Redeemer, would be born of a nameless woman of low estate (cf. vv.14-15).
24. Joseph… took Mary home as his wife: i.e., they began living together.
25. But he had no union with her, i.e. he had no intercourse with her. It is understandable that Joseph had had no sexual relationship with his wife before she had given birth to her divine child, but it is a false conclusion (because of the word ‘until’) to draw that they never had a relationship of this kind. Indeed, brothers and sisters of Jesus’ are mentioned (Matt 12:46; 13:55-56 and John 7:3ff).