Commentary for: Matthew 1:18   

Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way: his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they came together was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.

“birth.” The Greek noun is genesis (#1078 γένεσις), and strictly speaking it means “origin, source, or beginning” (Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon). It is from the verb, ginomai (#1096 γίνομαι; pronounced gin'-o-my), which means “to become, to come into existence, begin to be.” We get our English word “genesis” from genesis. Genesis also became used for that which flows from what is begun, hence it was used to express the concept of “nature,” or “natural” (cp. James 1:23; 3:6). Since we usually think of the birth of a person as his or her “beginning,” genesis was used by the Greeks of birth. However, there is a much more accurate Greek verb for “birth,” and that is gennaō (#1080 γεννάω; pronounced ghen-nah'-o), and the nouns associated with it are gennētos (#1084 γεννητός; pronounced ghen-nay-tos', meaning “born”) and gennēsis (#1083 γέννησις; pronounced ghen'-nay-sis; meaning, “a birth”). The two words, genesis and gennēsis, are very similar, which has led to some confusion in Matthew 1:18, because although the earliest and best Greek texts have genēsis, origin, some later manuscripts, have gennēsis, birth.

Textual scholars have concluded that the most original reading of the Greek text of Matthew 1:18 is genesis, meaning, beginning or origin. Bruce Metzger writes:

“Both γένeσις [genesis] and γέννησις [gennēsis] mean “birth,” but the former also means “creation,” “generation,” and “genealogy” (compare 1.1), whereas the latter means more strictly “engendering”…. In the present passage not only do the earlier representatives of several text-types support γένεσις [genesis], but the tendency of copyists would have been to substitute a word of more specialized meaning for one that had been used in a different sense in verse 1, particularly since γέννησις [gennēsis] corresponds more nearly with the verb γεννᾶν [gennan] used so frequently in the previous genealogy.” (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament).

Although the substitution of gennēsis for genesis in some Greek texts (which led to gennēsis being the Greek word in the text from which the King James Version was translated) may have been completely accidental, it might also have been purposeful. Trinitarian scribes may have been uncomfortable with the idea that Jesus’ “origin” was when God impregnated Mary, and so might have substituted what was to them a much clearer word, gennēsis, which would then clearly make the subject of Matthew 1:18 be only Jesus’ birth, not his real “beginning.” The word genesis points to the fact that God impregnating Mary not only led to Jesus’ birth, but was in fact his “origin” or “beginning.” He had been in the mind of God from before the foundation of the world, but did not exist in any form except as part of God’s plan. When God impregnated Mary, Jesus “began” in reality, not just in the mind of God.

It is part of the doctrine of the Trinity, and also the teaching of some other people such as Arians, that Jesus existed in some form before he was physically conceived in Mary. They teach that Jesus existed either as a spirit like God or an angel, or even as a physical being. That is not the case. Jesus was in the mind of God before his birth. He was part of God’s plan, but he did not exist in any other form than that. The theological term, “pre-existence” was coined to support the doctrine of the Trinity and describe Jesus’ state before his birth, but “pre-existence” is not in the Bible and is an invented nonsense term. Things either exist or they don’t; there is no such thing as “pre-existence,” that is, something existing before it exists.

Theologians could use a different term to support Jesus’ existence before his conception in Mary, such as “pre-incarnate,” but they would still have to prove that Jesus existed as the Son of God before he was physically created when God impregnated Mary, But Scripture does not support the claim that Jesus existed before his conception in Mary, and part of that lack of support is that Jesus is called “the Son of God.” Jesus is the Son of God, so He could not exist until God had a Son, and the conception of God’s Son occurred when God impregnated Mary.

There is no other verse of Scripture anywhere that says that Jesus was conceived at any other time or place than when he was conceived in the womb of Mary. Trinitarians say that Jesus was “eternally begotten,” but that is also an invented term and unsupported by Scripture. “Eternally begotten” is a nonsense term and is internally contradictory because by definition, anything “begotten” (i.e., “born”) had a time at which it was born. Nothing eternal is born. If Jesus is eternal, then he was never born. If he was born, then he is not eternal.

Since the Bible clearly calls Jesus the “Son,” and even the only begotten Son, there has to be a time when he was begotten. That being the case, we can search the Scripture and see when Jesus was begotten. When we search, we find that there is only one time when Jesus was conceived, and that was when God impregnated Mary, and only one time when Jesus was “begotten,” and that was when Mary gave birth to Jesus, making Mary the mother of Jesus.

That leads us to another proof that Jesus did not exist before his conception in the womb of Mary: for Jesus to be the “begotten Son,” there had to be a mother. If Jesus was “eternally begotten,” or born at any other time besides when Mary gave birth to him, who gave birth to him? Jesus cannot be “eternally begotten,” or even begotten as the first of God’s creation if no one gave birth to him. “Begotten” means “born,” and if no one gave birth to him, then he was never “begotten.” But then who would be the mother that gave birth to him before Mary? There is no such mother-being and no such birth in Scripture.

It would be possible for God to create Jesus without there being a mother, just as He created the heavens and earth out of nothing. However, that would make Jesus the first being of God’s creation. Matthew 1:18 is very clear: the origin “of Jesus Christ happened this way:” God impregnated Mary who later gave birth to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

“by the Holy Spirit.” The Greek reads literally, “of Holy Spirit,” which in this context is the genitive of origin, thus the translation “by.” Mary was impregnated “by” or “from” God. “The Holy Spirit” is the name for God that emphasizes His power in operation. God is called “the Holy Spirit” in a number of verses in the NT, including Matthew 1:20; 12:32; and Hebrews 9:8.

The Bible has many names that refer to our One God, who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of the Hebrew names for God are: Yahweh, Elohim, El, Elyon, Adonai, and Shaddai. In the New Testament He is referred to as Theos (God). Furthermore, the attributes that are used as names for God include: “the Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:18; Rev 1:8. Greek is pantokrator); “the Ancient of Days” (Dan. 7:9,13, 22); “the Blessed” (Mark 14:61); “Father” (Ps. 68:5; Eph. 1:2); “Judge” (Judg. 11:27); “King” (Ps. 5:2; 47:6; 1 Tim. 1:17); “Lord of hosts” (1 Sam. 1:11; 17:45); “the Mighty One” (Gen. 49:24; Ps. 132:2; Isa. 1:24); and “the Rock” (Deut. 32:18; Isa. 30:29; Hab. 1:12). Moreover, God is holy (Isa. 6:3; John 17:11), so He was also known as “the Holy,” which is usually translated in English Bibles as “the Holy One” (2 Kings 19:22; Job 6:10; Ps. 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Isa. 1:4; 29:23; Luke 1:49; John 17:11). Sometimes “Spirit” is combined with “holy,” and God is called “the Holy Spirit,” pneuma hagion. In fact, holiness and “spirit” are so essential to God that it would be strange if “the Holy Spirit” were not one of His names. Thus, in Acts 5:3, Peter told Ananias, “You have lied to the Holy Spirit,” whom he identified in Acts 5:4 as “God.”

Every name of God emphasizes a different aspect of His character. Calling God “the Ancient of Days” magnifies His age and timelessness; calling him “the Blessed” magnifies the blessings He gives and receives; calling Him “the Rock” magnifies His stability and invulnerability. Similarly, since “spirit” is used of invisible power, when God is called “the Spirit,” or “the Holy Spirit,” it emphasizes His invisible power at work. The Gospels say that Mary was impregnated by “the Holy Spirit,” (Matt. 1:18, 20; Luke 1:35), because that name emphasized God’s power at work. That “the Holy Spirit” is a name for God and not a separate being is why Jesus is always called “the Son of God” and never “the Son of the Holy Spirit.” There is no reason to make “the Holy Spirit” into a separate “Person.” We do not make any of the rest of God’s names into other “Persons,” and the Jews never made “the Spirit” in the Old Testament into another person. There is one God, and He has many names. Every use of “the Holy Spirit” can be explained as being a name for God without once making “the Holy Spirit” into another “Person” [we must, however, differentiate between “the Holy Spirit,” which is another name for God, and “the holy spirit,” which is the gift of God’s nature that He gives to believers; cp. Acts 2:38). [For more information on the uses of “Holy Spirit”, see Appendix 6: Usages of ‘Spirit’].

Here in Matthew 1:18 there is not a definite article before “Holy Spirit.” The preposition ek is before the phrase. In Greek, if a preposition precedes a noun, the noun can be definite without specifically adding the definite article; the subject and context are the final arbiter. Daniel Wallace writes in Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (p. 247): “There is no need for the article to be used to make the object of a preposition definite.” A. T. Robertson writes: “...the article is not the only means of showing that a word is definite. ...The context and history of the phrase in question must decide. ...[As for prepositional phrases], these were also considered definite enough without the article.” Robertson then cites some examples that use ek (Grammar of the Greek New Testament, pp. 790-792).


Commentary for: Matthew 1:18