My Notes on Matthew 1:18-24

1:18 Now (Greek, “de”) the birth of Jesus was like this: As I noted in my last post on Mt, verse 18 contains the Greek conjunctive “de,” which can have either a contiuative, or a adversative sense. Throughout the genealogy which opens the Gospel the word (often untranslated into English) is used in the continuative sense: “and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah…, and Judah begot…” This repeated usage serves to highlight what is rather obvious to most people already-men beget offspring. This fact, however, comes to a crashing halt in the second part of verse 16: And Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus…” The effect is a jolt. Joseph is not said to have begotten Jesus, instead, his birth is related solely to Our Lady! Obviously, and explanation is needed. That is where the current passage comes in; and why the adverse conjunctive is important. If I may paraphrase the meaning of verse 18: All the others were begotten in that way, but Jesus was born in this way.”

1:18 cont. for after his mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, before they came together, she was found pregnant by the Holy Spirit. “Before they came together” is often taken in a sexual sense by protestants who, by focusing on the word “before” see it as implying latter sexual activity. The Greek word translated as “came together” is sunerchomai, which is used a total of 32 times in the NT, with only one instance of it having sexual connotations (1 Cor 7:5). Here, the meaning of the word is clearly indicated by the word “engaged” (espoused. Greek, mnesteuo) and the disjunctive primary participle eta, which is not translated into English. This participle links the phrase “was engaged to Joseph,” with “before the came together,” while highlighting the two different states. All of this needs to be seen against the backdrop of Jewish marriage custom.

A Jewish marriage began with the engagment or espousal (mnesteuo). At this point the man and woman were considered married, though they continued to live apart. This period could last up to a year, and sexual relations could take place, though they were generally frowned upon at this stage. The marriage was considered completed and “full” when the Groom traveled to the home of the Bride and took her to his home. It is to this action that the word sunerchomai is referring. This action was absolutely necessary for ensuring that Jesus belonged to “the house of David,” and could thus claim to be “son of David.” (For images of the Groom coming to take his bride see Matt 25:1-13; John 3:29-30; John 14:3)

1:19 As a righteous man, Joseph was more interested in “justice, mercy, and fidelity”, rather than the minute observance of the letter of the law (see Matt 23:23-24). He begins contemplating how to handle the situation according to the light he has when, suddenly:

1:20 Behold, suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to yourself Mary, your wife (i.e. complete the wedding ritual as noted above) for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. The dreams of Joseph (he will have several), and the instructions which are given in them, serve to establish Jesus’ claim to Davidic sonship (first dream); protect his life (secon and fourth dreams); and help fulfill prophecy (all the dreams).

The dreams of Joseph reminds us of the great patriarch of the same name whose dreams helped save himself and his family (see the Joseph cycle of stories in Genesis 37-50).

Son of David reminds us of the title given to Jesus in the heading Matthew gave to his genealogy in 1:1. It also reminds us that the current verses under consideration are meant to answer the anomalies raised by the genealogy (see my notes on 1:1-17). The Messiah, (“anointed one”) was to be from the line of David according to prophecy (see 2 Sam 7; Psalms 2, 45, 72, 89, 110, 132; Micah 4-5; Isaiah 7-11; ect). Joseph’s subsequent actions establish Jesus’ legal claim to Davidic sonship.

take to yourself mary: various forms of the word “take” will be used in the infancy narrative in relation to Joseph’s protective action towards mother and child. This action is always connected with the fulfillment of God’s will (see 1:24; 2:13-14; 2:20-21;). Various forms of the word (or related words) will also be used in the passion narrative for Jesus being arrested (e.g. 26:55).

1:21 She shall bring forth a son. You shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who will save his people from their sins. The name Jesus means “Yahweh (God) is salvation.” What is meant by “his people”? This will be a question that the Gospel will have to answer. How will he “save his people from their sins?” Again, this will be answered during the course of the Gospel.

1:22-23 Now all this happened, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son. They shall call him “Immanuel;” which is, being interpreted, “God with us.”

The phrase all this must certainly be taken as referring not only to the events of 1:18-21, but of everything implied by the genealogy as well; for the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, which Matthew quotes, concerns “the house of David” (see Isaiah 7:2, 13, 17). The hub, the focal point, or center of salvation history is the virgin birth of Christ and its purpose: the bodily death and resurrection for our salvation. To put it another way, the focal point is the incarnate Son of God, “who, for us men and our salvation, came down from heaven, was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. He suffered under Pontius Pialte was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose from the dead…” The salvation history that has been and is yet to be gets its meaning only at this point.

God with us is the translation of Immanuel. The fact that the promises made to David and Abraham are being fullfilled in Christ is a sure sign that “El” (God) is “immanu” (“with us”= “im” followed by pronominal suffix). Whenever God promised to be with his people, or individuals chosen for some purpose, it was not merely a statement of divine presence. Rather, it was a promise of divine help through the workings of the divine power. It is only in virtue of this promise and what it means that the other promises of God work, even in the face of human sinfulness. The divine promises are fulfilled because of God’s fidelity, not man’s. No matter how sinful the Davidic kings were, the promise was not nullified. At the end of this Gospel, Jesus will declare himself “Immanuel” by promising “I am with you always;” and he does this in spite of the lack of faith of the Apostle: “They worshipped him, but they doubted” (see MT 28:17-20) Anyone who uses the faults and failings of the Church’s leaders as a pretext for leaving the Church, or for starting a pretending church of their own, have not understood the power of God and his Christ, nor trusted in their promises.

1:24 Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took his wife to himself, and did not know her until she had brought forth her (firstborn) son.

as the angel of the Lord commanded him: Joseph is thus shown to be a model of discipleship. Doing all that is commanded is a major theme of Matthew’s Gospel; indeed, the Gospel will end on that note.
By doing what was commanded of him (finishing the marriage process and naming the child), Joseph becomes the legal father of Jesus, which establishes the latter’s claim to Davidic sonship. brought forth her son is a reminder of the anomaly introduced by the end of the genealogy (see my note on 1:16), which necessitated the narration/explanation given in the verses we have been studying. Some translations, including the one with which I began this post, speak of her “firstborn son.” While this word would, to a certain extent, help emphasize the virgin birth, “firstborn” is almost certainly a scribal error imported into the text from Luke’s Gospel. Firstborn was a legal title given to the first male child in virtue of the fact that he was just that- the first male child. it cannot be taken as implying that such a child had older sisters any more than it can be taken as implying younger siblings, for the title was not dependent on either.

he did not know her until… To know someone is a biblical euphemism for sexual relation. Some people, focusing upon the word “until,” see the passage as implying that sexual relations occurred after the birth of Christ. Such an interpretation overlooks the intentions and aim of the 1:18-24, which is to describe and defend the virgin birth as a fact and a fulfillment of prophecy. “Until” (Greek: heos) should, therefore, be taken in its primary and strongest sense, meaning, “up to the time of” without any bearing, meaning, or implication regarding the future.

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One Response to My Notes on Matthew 1:18-24

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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