Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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MATTHEW - Chapter 1

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Matthew 1

Supplemental Commentary:

Prelude: The Coming of the Savior  1-2

This whole section wherein Jesus is shown by his descent and birth to be the Son of David and the Messianic King, is proper to Matthew.  Luke has a similar prelude at the beginning of his Gospel (Luke 1-2).  But these accounts in the First and the Third Gospel are entirely independent of each other, although in no way contradictory.  Mark begins his Gospel with the preaching of the Baptist, as did the original oral gospel of the Apostles.  We do not know where Matthew received his information for the history of our Lord's Infancy.  Since Luke's account of Christ's birth and childhood very probably has our Lady as its ultimate source, it may be that Matthew's account of these early events is based upon a tradition whose ultimate source is St. Joseph.  (Cf. Matthew's account of the Virgin Birth (1, 18-25) which is entirely from the viewpoint of St. Joseph.)  In any case, the events here narrated are true history and unbelievers lack all objective ground for dismissing them as legendary.

1, 1-17:  Genealogy of Jesus.  Genealogical records, a compendium of one's family history, have always been highly esteemed by all peoples.  This was especially true among the Jews, because these records showed the degree of relationship in marriage, enabled individuals to prove their possible priesthood, and preserved the Messianic hope within the family of David.  The sources for the genealogies were to be found in the Old Testament, the public archives, private documents and tradition.  Matthew's source of information for his list of names from Abraham to Zorobabel (1-12) was the Old Testament.  (Cf. the foot-note reference in the text.)  The following names, Abiud to Jacob (13-15), do not occur in the Old Testament; Matthew must have taken them from oral or written tradition.  For the period from Abraham to David the Evangelist could find only fourteen names in his source, although these are obviously too few for this long period.  This number, however, being thus determined, Matthew gives only fourteen names in each of the next two groups also, although this necessitated the dropping of three names---Ochozias, Joas and Amasias (cf. 4 Kgs. 8, 24; 11, 2; 14, 1)---which should appear between Joram and Ozias.  Likewise the fourteen names (there seem to be only thirteen; cf. below) in the third group are far too few for this period of almost six centuries.  Luke has twenty-three names for this period.  Therefore we are justified in concluding that the Evangelist could not have intended the word, "begot," to have its usual sense here; it seems he meant it rather to signify, "had as a descendant," or "was succeeded by," directly or indirectly, in the royal line.  Luke also gives a list of Christ's ancestors (3, 23-38).  The main differences between these two lists are these: (a) Matthew's list is descending; Luke's, ascending; (b) Luke gives the names from Adam to Abraham; Matthew has no corresponding group; (c) the names from Abraham to David are common to both lists; from David to Salathiel the lists are different; Salathiel and Zorobabel are on both lists; from Zorobabel to Joseph the lists are again different.  Since both lists are inspired, there can be no real contradiction in this apparent discrepancy.

Various theories have been proposed to reconcile these two independent genealogies.  (a) Some scholars suggest that Matthew aims at giving the genealogy of Joseph and Luke that of Mary.  However, this theory is largely abandoned for philological reasons and because it was not customary for Jews to trace their ancestry on the maternal side.  Besides, this theory does not why the divergent lines should have met for two generations in Salathiel and Zorobabel and then have separated again.  (b) According to others, the key is to be sought in the Jewish custom of the "levirate marriage."  This theory was first proposed by Julius Africanus (d. after 240 A.D.) in his Epistle to Aristides (in Eusebius E. H., 1, 7).  In short it is this.  According to Deut. 25, 5-10, when a man died without issue, his brother was to marry the widow and raise up children for his deceased brother.  The firstborn son of this "levirate" or brother-in-law marriage was considered the heir and legal son of the deceased brother.  Hence, according to Julius Africanus, Jacob and Heli were uterine half-brothers, but Jacob of the line of Solomon according to Matthew was the natural father of Joseph, whereas Heli of the line of Nathan according to Luke was the legal father of Joseph; that is, Heli died without issue and his half-brother married the widow.  This theory lacks probability, because there is no proof that the "levirate" law applied to uterine half-brothers, since the purpose of the law was apparently to transmit property in the male line.  Moreover, this same dubious process must be invoked again in order to explain the different fathers of Salathiel---a rather remarkable coincidence.  (c) According to a third theory, Luke gives the actual ancestors of Joseph, while Matthew gives the royal or dynastic table that lists the true heirs to the throne through the centuries even though one line of the dynasty may die out.  The line of Solomon would then cease with Jechonias (cf. Jer. 22, 30), and Salathiel, a descendant of David through Nathan according to Luke, succeeded to the royal rights; Salathiel transmitted these rights to his son Zorobabel and the latter in turn to his son Abiud.  The line of Abiud became extinct with Jacob, whereupon Joseph (or one of his ancestors) of the line of Resa, another son of Zorobabel according to Luke, could lay just claim to the throne of David.  This is merely a theory, of course, since no direct proof can be adduced to verify it.  But it is quite in keeping with the normal human transmission of royal power, and the loose use of the word "begot" both in Matthew and in the Old Testament makes it at least possible.  No serious objection can be raised against it.

1.  The book of the origin is a Hebrew expression meaning "the document showing the genealogy."  V.1  is therefore the title not of the whole Gospel or even of the whole first chapter but only of 2-17.  Still, in this first verse Matthew presents the thesis of his whole Gospel: that Jesus is the Messias.  For "the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring" (Gal. 3, 16; cf. Gen. 12, 3; 22, 18).  And all orthodox Jews at the time of our Lord held that the Messias would be a descendent of David (cf. Matt. 22, 41 f and parallels; John 7, 4) and Son of David had become a Messianic title (Matt. 9, 27; 12, 23).    3-6.  The only women mentioned in the list are Thamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bethsabee, the former wife of Urias.  There is a note of humility in recalling among the ancestors of Christ Thamar, Rahab and Bethsabee whose lives were not always exemplary.  Rahab and Ruth were not native Israelites; perhaps one reason why the Evangelist mentions them here is to signfiy the call of the Genitles, who "will come from the east and from the west and will feast with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven" (8, 11).  There is no record in the Old Testament of the marriage of Salmon and Rahab.   11.  Josias begot Jechonias is also the reading of the oldest Greek manuscripts; but several Greek manuscripts read: Josias begot Joakim and Joakim begot Jechonias.  This latter reading is rejected by all the textural critics as a later correction of some copyist, but it may possibly represent the original reading.  According to our text Jechonias must be counted twice to get the required fourteen names in each group, or the Jechonias of 11 must be considered as standing for "Joakim."   16.  The Evangelist words this sentence very carefully to show that Joseph was only the legal and not the actual father of Jesus.

1, 18-25:  The Virgin Birth.    18. The origin of Christ: His conception and birth.  Betrothed: much more than our "engaged" but less than "married."  The Jewish marriage ceremony consisted of two parts: the first was the sealing of the marriage contract whereby the bridegroom gave a certain sum of money, "the purchase price," to the father of the bride, and the bride received her dowry, usually equal to "the purchase price," from her father; the second ceremony, separated by several months (usually a year) from the first, was the solemn, formal induction of the bride into the bridegroom's house, the blessing of fruitfulness invoked upon the consummation of their union, and the joyful wedding feast.  Between the two ceremonies the bride was said to be betrothed.  But since the first ceremony effected a valid, though unconsummated, marriage, even before the second ceremony the bride and bridegroom were spoken of as husband and wife (19 f), and any unfaithfulness on the part of the bride during this period was considered adultery and punishable with death (cf. Deut. 22, 23 f).  Before they came together: before the second ceremony had taken place.  She was found to be with child: Joseph learned of her pregnancy either by his own observation or by being informed of the fact through Mary or one of her relatives; the peculiar passive construction used by the Evangelist would favor the latter opinion.  The words by the Holy Spirit were added by the Evangelist to forestall any wrong ideas on the part of the readers: Joseph himself apparently did not know of the supernatural character of the conception until the mystery was revealed to him by the angel.   19.  A just man: one who conscientiously observed the Law; hence this does not give the reason why he did not wish to expose her to reproach; but his desire to save her from public shame and punishment flowed from his conviction of her innocence.  Therefore he was minded, made up his mind, decided, to separate from her legally but quietly, by giving her a bill of divorce (cf. Deut. 24, 1) before two witnesses in private without stating the motive.    20.  Joseph, son of David: the angel thus addresses him to recall to him his dignity and to signify that through him the son of his virginal wife and therefore his son before the law, would also be a son of David.  To take one's wife to oneself was the technical term for the performance of the second part of the marriage ceremony (cf. Deut. 20, 7).   21.  He shall save his people from their sins: the angel alludes to the meaning of the name Jesus, "The Lord is salvation."    22.  The citation of a prophecy fulfilled is one of the characteristics of the First Gospel (see Introduction), and serves to show the intimate connection between the Old and the New Testament.  St. Matthew wishes to demonstrate that the facts which he narrates have their cause in the free will of God who, disposing the events according to a pre-established plan, revealed at times to the prophets, thus brought them into actuality.  The coincidence, then, between the prophecy which announces the fact and the fulfillment of the same is not by chance but depends on the providential disposition of God.    23.   The prophecy referred to is that of Isa. 7, 14, pronounced at a time of calamity for Juda when Achaz, the head of the House of David, refused to ask God for a sign.  The Greek translator of the Aramaic Gospel of St. Matthew does not follow the Septuagint exactly in his version of these words of Isaias, yet both independently render the Hebrew word almah as parthenos, virgin (in the strict sense).  And they shall call: in the Septuagint: "And thou shalt call"; in the Hebrew (according to the Massoretic Text): "And she shall call."  But the meaning of all three variants is substantially the same.  Emmanuel; which is, interpreted, "God with us."  The Gospel understands the name as meaning not merely, "God is with us by His aid," but "God is with us personally by His Incarnation."    25.  On the meaning of this verse see the note to the text.  In Luke 1, 31 the angel Gabriel tells Mary to call her Son's name Jesus; here Joseph called his name Jesus: the Old Testament shows that both the father and the mother had the privilege of naming the child.

Confraternity Bible:

Genealogy of Jesus  1* The book of the origin of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham.  2 Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob, Jacob begot Judas and his brethren.  3 Judas begot Phares and Zara of Thamar, Phares begot Esron, Esron begot Aram.  4 And Aram begot Aminadab, Aminadab begot Naasson, Naasson begot Salmon.

5 Salmon begot Booz of Rahab.  Booz begot Obed of Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, Jesse begot David the king.  6 And David the king begot Solomon of the former wife of Urias.

7 Solomon begot Roboam, Roboam begot Abia, Abia begot Asa.  8 And Asa begot Josaphat, Josaphat begot Joram, Joram begot Ozias.  9 And Ozias begot Joatham, Joatham begot Achaz, Achaz begot Ezechias.  10 And Ezechias begot Manasses, Manasses begot Amon, Amon begot Josias.  11 And Josias begot Jechonias and his brethren at the time of the carrying away to Babylon.

12 And after the carrying away to Babylon Jechonias begot Salathiel, Salathiel begot Zorobabel.  13 And Zorobabel begot Abiud, Abiud begot Eliachim, Eliachim begot Azor.  14 And Azor begot Sadoc, Sadoc begot Achim, Achim begot Eliud.  15 And Eliud begot Eleazar, Eleazar begot Mathan, Mathan begot Jacob.  16* And Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, and of her was born Jesus who is the Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the carrying away to Babylon fourteen generations; and from the carrying away to Babylon to Christ fourteen generations.

The Virgin Birth  18 Now the origin of Christ was in this wise.  When Mary his mother had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.  19* But Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wishing to expose her to reproach, was minded to put her away privately.  20 But while he thought on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Do not be afraid, Joseph, son of David, to take to thee Mary thy wife, for that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit.  21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins."  22 Now all this came to pass that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled,
23* "Behold the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son; and they shall call his name Emmanuel"; 
which is, interpreted, "God with us." 24 So Joseph, arising from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him, and took unto him his wife.  25* And he did not know her till she brought forth her firstborn son.  And he called his name Jesus.


1: Jesus is the Greek and Latin form of the late Hebrew and Aramaic name Jeshua, meaning "The Lord is salvation."  Christ: in v. 17 and elsewhere, a title, from the Greek Christos, which translates the Hebrew Mashiah, "Anointed One," specially applied to the expected representative of God on earth.

16: The genealogy is that of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus.  Mary also belonged to the house of David.  This is not affirmed in the Gospels, but it is presupposed by such texts as Rom. 1, 3; 2 Tim. 2, 8. It is also the affirmation of tradition.

19: Supposing only a natural explanation of her condition, Joseph, as just, might not proceed to marriage before the law, while his conviction of her innocence made him unwilling to expose her to reproach. Private divorce without a stated reason seemed the only solution; cf. Deut. 24, 1.

23: Isa. 7, 14.  This and many other citations from the Old Testament are thus set off from the rest of the text because of their importance, though they are not poetic in form.

25: Till: the word may mark a point of time up to which a state, an action or inaction continues, without implying any change thereafter; see Ps. 109, 1; Matt. 12, 20; 1 Tim. 4, 13.  Firstborn: does not imply that Mary ever bore another child.  Among the Jews this title belonged to an only child (if a son) to mark his rights and duties under the Law (Ex. 13, 2; Num. 8, 17).  Popular language also applies it thus, as shown by the Greek inscription on a Hebrew tomb of this same time period.  Thus the apostolic doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity is in no way denied by these words.