|The Good News According to Matthew|
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Go to Bible: Matthew 1
“a scroll.” For why there are four Gospels, see commentary on Mark 1:1, “gospel.”(top)
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“Rahab.” This is Rahab the Canaanite prostitute (see commentary on Josh. 2:1).(top)
“(by the wife of Uriah)” The parenthesis is the figure of speech epitrechon, a form of parenthesis where the statement is not itself a complete thought (Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible).(top)
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“father.” The Greek is anēr (#435 ἀνήρ), and means “an adult human male.” Anēr is generally assumed to mean “husband” in this verse, but that cannot be the case. For one thing, the list of the three sets of 14 generations that go from Abraham to Christ (vs. 2-16), makes this impossible. If Joseph is the husband of Mary, there would only be 13 generations in the last list of “14 generations.” Also, the Aramaic text reads differently in this verse than it does in verse 19, and in verse 19 Joseph is unmistakably referred to as the “husband” of Mary. The difference in the vocabulary indicates a difference in the relationship.
The Gospel of Matthew contains the genealogy from David to Jesus via his mother Mary. In contrast, the Gospel of Luke contains the genealogy from David to Jesus via his adopted father, Joseph. There has been a lot of controversy about the genealogy of Jesus because at first reading, both Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23 seem to indicate a genealogy that comes through Joseph, which is confusing. For one thing, Joseph ends up with two different fathers, “Jacob” (Matt. 1:16) and “Heli” (Luke 3:23), and Mary, who is the blood link between David and Jesus, ends up having no genealogy in the Bible.
Different scholars have tried to explain how both genealogies can be Joseph’s. For example, some say that Joseph himself was adopted as a child, and thus had both a “natural” genealogy and an “adopted” genealogy. Others say that both genealogies are Joseph’s, but the contradictions between them are simply a matter of poor record keeping in those days. Other scholars assert that both genealogies are about Joseph, but the people in them had multiple names, so that the two genealogies actually refer to the same people. All these theories, and more, have been set forth to explain why Joseph seems to have two genealogies in the Bible, but they all have serious problems, which is why there are so many different theories and why none of them have been widely accepted.
As we study the genealogies, it becomes clear that Luke contains that of Joseph. Luke’s genealogy shows the ancestry of Jesus coming through King David via his son Nathan (Luke 3:31). Nathan, who is not as well known as Solomon, was one of the four children that David fathered by Bathsheba (1 Chron. 3:5). Nothing is known about Nathan’s life except that he did have children and descendants who then multiplied in Israel, and so he is mentioned in Zechariah 12:12 as having a clan. The genealogy in Luke reads in a straightforward manner from God through Adam to Joseph the supposed father of Jesus, ending with Jesus. More evidence that Luke contains Joseph’s genealogy is that Mary is never mentioned, but the name “Joseph” appears in it three times. It often happened in the biblical culture (and modern cultures as well) that children were named after an ancestor (which was why Zechariah’s relatives wanted to name his child after him; Luke 1:59), so the fact that two ancestors in Luke’s genealogy have the name “Joseph,” but none do in the genealogy in Matthew is good support for Luke containing Joseph’s genealogy.
In spite of the fact that Luke seems to give the genealogy of Joseph in a very clear and straightforward manner, some scholars assert that the genealogy in Luke is Mary’s, not Joseph’s. The main reason they say Luke has Mary’s genealogy is that they believe, and rightly so, that Mary should have a genealogy in the Bible. They then assert that because Luke says that Joseph “was thought” to be the father of Jesus (Luke 3:23), Mary is in the genealogy in Luke even though she is never named in it. But the fact is that Mary is not named in Luke, and arbitrarily trying to make Luke contain Mary’s genealogy just so Mary will have a genealogy in the Bible is not the way to solve a biblical problem. Scholars recognize this, which is why that “solution” to the genealogical problem is not widely accepted. It seems clear that if Luke did have Mary’s genealogy, as many believe, that Luke would mention Mary and not have a cryptic statement that Joseph was the supposed father of Jesus. We believe that the Gospel of Luke can be taken at face value, and that it records the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph.
Mary does have a genealogy in the Bible, and it is in the Gospel of Matthew. However, it can seem like Matthew records the genealogy of Joseph. However, if Matthew’s genealogy is about Joseph, then there are some significant problems in the biblical text. One is that Joseph would then have two contradictory genealogies in the Bible while Mary had no genealogy. An even larger problem, however, would a mathematical one. If Joseph is counted as the “husband” of Mary (Matt. 1:16), there are only 13 generations from the carrying away to Babylon to Christ, and not 14 generations, as Matthew 1:17 says there are: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, and from David to the carrying away to Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the carrying away to Babylon to the Christ are fourteen generations.”
The first set of 14 generations, from Abraham to David, are: 1) Abraham, 2) Isaac, 3) Jacob, 4) Judah, 5) Perez, 6) Hezron, 7) Ram, 8) Amminadab, 9) Nahshon, 10) Salmon, 11) Boaz, 12) Obed, 13) Jesse, 14) David.
The second set of 14 generation, from David to the carrying away to Babylon, are:
1) Solomon, 2) Rehoboam, 3) Abijah, 4) Asa, 5) Jehoshaphat, 6) Jehoram, 7) Uzziah, 8) Jotham, 9) Ahaz, 10) Hezekiah, 11) Manasseh, 12) Amon, 13) Josiah, 14) Jeconiah
When it come to the last list of 14 generations, however, if we count the generations as they are translated in most Bibles, there are only 13 generations although Scripture says there are 14 generations. 1) Shealtiel, 2) Zerubbabel, 3) Abiud, 4) Eliakim, 5) Azor, 6) Zadok, 7) Akim, 8) Eliud, 9) Eleazar, 10) Mattan, 11) Jacob, 12) Joseph (the husband of Mary), 13) Jesus.
The problem with the list is obvious and has been pointed out by many commentators: it has only 13 generations, not 14 like Scripture says. Some scholars have tried to solve the problem by doing such things as counting names twice, but that hardly does justice to the text.
It was very important that Matthew portray a pattern of three sets of 14 generations. We know that because if we count the actual generations, there were more than just 42 people (3 times 14) from Abraham to Christ. To make the pattern fit, some people had to be left out of the Matthew’s list. When the genealogy in Matthew is compared with the other genealogies in the Bible, it is clear that there are people missing from Matthew’s genealogy. For example, in Matthew 1:8, between Jehoram and Uzziah, there are actually three unmentioned generations. Jehoram begat Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:25), who begat Joash (also called Jehoash; 2 Kings 11:2, 21), who begat Amaziah (2 Kings 12:21). These three names do not appear in Matthew, and there are some other unmentioned names as well.
Although there are some names missing from Matthew’s list, it was not essential to give every name in a biblical genealogy of kings. Many genealogical lists in the Bible have names missing for various reasons. What was important to Matthew is that he set forth the genealogy of Jesus in a pattern of three sets of fourteen generations from Abraham to Christ. Therefore, to have only 13 names in the last set of 14 tells us something is very wrong. But if we closely examine the list, we see that it does have 14 names, and thus 14 generations if each name represents a generation.
Mary is not usually counted in the list of 14 because she and Joseph are usually thought of as husband and wife and thus in the same generation. However, there is good evidence that “Joseph” is not only the name of Mary’s husband, but also the name of her father as well. That would not be unusual in the biblical culture, because Joseph was a common name. For example, in the Roman Catholic Bible, which includes the Apocrypha, there are 16 different people named Joseph, not counting Mary’s father, who would make 17.
If the “Joseph” in Matthew 1:16 was the father of Mary, not her husband, then there would be 14 generations from Babylon to Christ, just like Scripture says there is: 1) Shealtiel, 2) Zerubbabel, 3) Abiud, 4) Eliakim, 5) Azor, 6) Zadok, 7) Akim, 8) Eliud, 9) Eleazar, 10) Mattan, 11) Jacob, 12) Joseph (the father of Mary), 13) Mary, 14) Jesus.
That Matthew contains Mary’s genealogy and Luke contains Joseph’s genealogy makes sense because Mary’s genealogy in Matthew does not mention Joseph, her husband, who was not part of her genealogy anyway, nor does Joseph’s genealogy in Luke mention Mary, who had nothing to do with his genealogy. In Mary’s genealogy in Matthew, four other women are mentioned, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and “Uriah’s wife,” emphasizing the role that women play in a genealogy. Joseph’s genealogy in Luke does not include any women, but does include two of his ancestors who were also named Joseph.
There is still one important thing to resolve. Most versions translate Matthew 1:16 to say that Joseph was the “husband” of Mary, not the “father” of Mary. However, we believe that “husband” is a mistranslation. The Greek word translated “husband” is aner, and means an adult male. Usually when aner is used with the phrase “of [a woman’s name], such as in “Joseph, the aner of Mary,” it refers to the woman’s husband. But there is good evidence that in this verse aner should be translated “father.” First, translating it “husband” creates a contradiction in the Word of God because then there are not 14 generations from Babylon to Christ. Second, it creates a confusing situation in the Word because both Matthew and Luke then refer to Joseph’s genealogy, such that Joseph ends up with two different fathers.
Thankfully, the Aramaic text of Matthew has good evidence that Matthew 1:16 should read “father.” In the Greek text, both Matthew 1:16 and 1:19 use the word aner (“man” or “husband”). Matthew 1:19 clearly refers to Joseph as the “husband” of Mary because it speaks of Joseph thinking of divorcing her. However, the Aramaic text of Matthew does not use the same word in Matthew 1:16 and 1:19, but has two different words, and thus makes a distinction between the two men. In Matthew 1:16, the Aramaic word is gavra, which means “mighty man,” “father,” or “husband,” while in Matthew 1:19 the word is bala, which is “man” or “husband.” Thus the Aramaic text preserves the truth that there is a difference between the “Joseph” of verse 16, the “mighty man” of Mary, and the “Joseph” of verse 19, the “husband” of Mary.
Once we realize that “Joseph” is the name of both the father and the husband of Mary, the Word of God fits together perfectly. Both the genealogies of Mary and Joseph are in the Bible so that everyone could see they were both descendants of David and thus Jesus was indeed, “the Son of David.” Scripture also shows in other places that both Joseph and Mary are from David (Joseph: Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:27; 2:4. Mary: Acts 2:30; Rom. 1:3). Luke contains the genealogy of Jesus via his adopted father, Joseph, and never mentions Mary, who was not part of Joseph’s genealogy. Matthew contains the genealogy of Jesus through his mother Mary, and never mentions her husband Joseph. Joseph has two ancestors also named Joseph in his genealogy, while four other women are included in Mary’s genealogy. Last but not least, the three sets of fourteen generations mentioned in Matthew are all complete when we realize Joseph in Matthew 1:16 is Mary’s father.
In closing, it should be mentioned that each of the Four Gospels emphasizes a different aspect of Christ’s life. Matthew portrays Jesus as the King, Mark as the Servant, Luke as the Man, and John as the Son of God. Thus it perfectly fits that Matthew traces Jesus’ royal bloodline and emphasizes Abraham who was promised the land and David the king, continuing the royal line down through David’s son Solomon. Luke, on the other hand, emphasizes the human side of Jesus, including being adopted by Joseph, and records his genealogy all the way back to Adam, the first human being.
“Mary.” The first time her name occurs in the NT. Here she is said to be of royal birth, and her father’s (and thus her) line is traced from none other than King David himself. Yet there is another, unspoken truth that needs to be weighed. Her “relative” was Elizabeth, who was a daughter of Aaron, the Priest (Luke 1:5). Elizabeth had to be related to Mary through Mary’s mother, who may have even been the sister of Elizabeth’s father (Edersheim, Life and Times, book II, p. 149). Thus, in Mary we see the meeting of the King and the Priest, Jesus himself being the ultimate fulfillment of those offices.(top)
|Mat 1:17||- (top)|
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ happened this way.” The record of the events surrounding the birth of Christ occurs in Matthew and Luke, and the two Gospels interweave when it comes to the chronology of the events. If you want to read about the birth of Christ in chronological order, it is: Luke 1:5-80; Matt. 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-38; Matt. 2:1-22. Then Matt. 2:23 and Luke 2:39-40 are both summary statements about Jesus growing up in Nazareth.
“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 genesis, 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:
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).(top)
“husband.” The Greek word is anēr (#435 ἀνήρ), and generally refers to an adult male. It can refer to a man in contrast to a woman (Acts 5:1; 8:12); a man in his role as a husband (Mark 10:12; Luke 2:36; Acts 5:9; thus sometimes the translation “husband” is acceptable); and a man in contrast to a boy (1 Cor. 13:11). Sometimes it was used universally when both men and women were present, “men” being inclusive of men and women because men were more visible in the culture and women were sheltered (Luke 11:31; James 1:20). Similarly, “man” was used in a way equivalent to “someone” or “a person” even if there was no specific need to refer to the sex of the person (Luke 9:38; John 1:30; Rom. 4:8). Matthew 1:19 is a case where culturally “man” (or “husband”) is used because in the conservative Eastern biblical culture to which Joseph and Mary belonged, a betrothal (engagement) was as strong as the marriage, so strong, in fact, that it had to be dissolved by divorce, as this verse makes clear. Thus, in the eyes of the people, Joseph was the “husband” of Mary, even though the two had not yet been through the marriage ceremony. This verse is a case where trying to translate anēr as “fiancée” or “betrothed” causes problems because then the reader is left wondering why a divorce was necessary to break the engagement. It is better to translate the Greek more literally and then learn the biblical culture, which promotes a better understanding of the entire Bible.
“and yet.” From Joseph’s point of view, his betrothed had unfaithfully slept with another man while still out of wedlock. He is now facing his legal options, out of his just nature desiring to fulfill the Law, and yet also desiring not to shame Mary. His options would be to either institute a lawsuit against Mary or issue her a certificate of divorce, dismissing her quietly. According to the Law, if a husband finds his new wife has had premarital sex, she should be stoned (Deut. 22:20-21). Joseph does not seem to be afraid that Mary will be stoned to death, however, instead he wished to save her from “public disgrace.” The reason for this is that by this time, death by stoning could not be accomplished in court (cp. John 18:31: “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death”). As Hendriksen explains: “This law had been modified by so many man-made restrictions that this possibility could be safely dismissed, [yet, instituting a lawsuit] would nevertheless have exposed Mary to public disgrace and scorn, the very thing which Joseph wanted by all means to avoid.” The only other option for Joseph is what is described in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. He could quietly issue her a certificate of divorce because he “found indecency” in her, and Mary could leave him and “become another man’s wife” (Deut. 24:1-2). Joseph wanted to allow her to go quietly and marry whom he presumed to be the man she had slept with. This would preserve her from public disgrace and, technically, fulfill the righteousness of the law prescribed in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.(top)
“Look.” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού). The second-person singular aorist middle imperative of eidon (εἶδον; “to see, to look at, to perceive) is ἰδοῦ (note the special accent mark on the “u”). However, when idou has an acute accent (ἰδού) as it does in this verse and many others in the New Testament, it is used as a demonstrative particle to draw our attention to something. To be strictly literal we would stick with translations that retain the meaning of seeing something (“Look!”; “Behold!”; “See!”). But ἰδού was used more idiomatically than literally, and thus would be heard by anyone listening as an attention grabber appropriate to the context, not a command to actually look at something. We do the same thing in English. If someone is being accused of being somewhere he was not supposed to be, he may well say, “Look, I told you I was home, and I was.” In this case, the man does not expect us to see anything just because he said “Look.” In the same way, idou should be translated in ways that are appropriate to the context. Thus it is best translated “Look” if the context is visual, “Listen” if the context is audible, “Pay attention,” etc. It often introduces something new or unusual, or something that requires special attention. In that light, there are contexts in which “consider” would be an appropriate translation (cp. Matt. 10:16).
As with any exclamation meant to get people’s attention, the force and meaning of the exclamation idou would be expressed by the tone and volume of the way it was spoken. Thus there are times such as here in Matthew 1:20 when “Look!” is clearly meant to forcefully grab our attention—an angel just showed up with a message about the birth of the Messiah, and we had better pay attention. On the other hand there are times when the context dictates that it would have been used with less force but still deep meaning. For example, in Matthew 19:27, Peter is reminding the Lord that he and the other apostles have left everything to follow him. It is a gentle reminder, so a harsh attention grabber such as “Pay attention!” would not be an appropriate translation in that context, but perhaps “consider,” or even “remember” (cp. Matt. 28:20). Often the punctuation associated with idou can help express the meaning, there being a difference in force between, “Look,...” and “Look!”
Many translations of the English Bible (cp. NIV, NRSV, HCSB) omit the word, usually on the logic that it is based on an underlying Semitic expression and does not bring meaning to the subject. We disagree, and note that BDAG says that it is “frequently omitted in translation, but with some loss of meaning.” In fact, we agree with Bullinger (Figures of Speech Used in the Bible) that it is the figure asterismos (“indicating;” related to “asterisk”), and calls attention to the subject. This can be seen by simply noting that it is not used in every speech or before every interesting or important event, but is carefully placed and when it does occur it always is appropriate.
“favorably accept.” At this point Joseph would naturally have presumed his wife had been unfaithful. Since Joseph was “righteous” (Matt 1:19), he would be obligated to put her away and not take her to himself after she had been “defiled” (Deut. 24:4; See commentary on Matt. 1:19; “and yet”). In this context the angel appears and tells Joseph not to fear to paralambanō (#3880 παραλαμβάνω) his wife. This word is usually translated “take” or “receive,” but can also have the meaning of accept favorably: “Sometimes the emphasis lies not so much on receiving or taking over, as on the fact that the word implies agreement or approval, accept” (BDAG). Hence, the angel is assuring Joseph that he may accept his wife, not fearing any defilement. Additionally, the word would come with the strong connotation of “taking to one’s self” or receiving Mary into his house (as in Matt 1:24).
“the Holy Spirit.” “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. In this case, there is not a definite article before “Holy Spirit” due to the preposition ek is before the phrase making the definite article unnecessary. [For more information on the uses of “Holy Spirit”, see Appendix 6: Usages of ‘Spirit’](top)
“Jesus.” The angel would have spoken to Joseph in Hebrew or Aramaic because the phraseology is Semitic (G. Osborne, Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), and the name “Jesus” means “Yahweh is salvation.” The angel explains the name “Jesus” by saying, “for, he will save his people from their sins.” “Jesus” is the same name in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, as “Joshua” in the Old Testament, something that has caused some confusion in some modern versions. For example, in the King James Version in Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8, the Old Testament man Joshua is mistakenly called “Jesus.” Joshua was one of the types of Christ in the Old Testament and there are some profound parallels between Joshua and Jesus.
“it is he.” This is emphatic in the Greek; “he” is put as the very last word in the sentence for emphasis. That would only be confusing in English, so we would have to use capital letters or bold letters. We might say, “Because HE will save his people from their sins.” We place a little more emphasis on it by saying, “it is he,” (cp. NASB).
“sins.” In this context, to be saved from sin is multifaceted. The major emphasis is a metonymy of effect, where “sin” is put for the effect of sin, i.e., the consequences of sin, which is death. In saving people from their sin, Jesus saves people from everlasting death. Jesus Christ came to give people everlasting life, as Scripture attests in many places. Also, however, Jesus saves people from sin in many other ways, including changing their life so that they do not continually live in sin and its consequences, and forgiving sin so people do not have the weight of sin on their shoulders. [For more on sin, what it is and what it does, see commentary on 1 John 1:7, “sin”].(top)
“with the result that.” The Greek reads hina plerōthē (ἵνα πληρωθῇ), which is the conjunction hina followed by the verb for “fulfilled” in the subjunctive mood. Although the conjunction hina can have several different meanings, in general it either introduces a purpose clause (“so that,” “in order that”) or a result clause (“with the result that,” “resulting in”). The fact that the hina can be translated either way leaves the door wide open to the theology of the translator. If the translators believe that God is totally in control of what people do and the events of history, then they use “so that” or “in order that.” Thus the BBE (Bible in Basic English) says, “Now all this took place so that the word of the Lord by the prophet might come true.” In other words according to that translation, the events surrounding the birth of Christ happened the way they did “so that,” or for the purpose of, fulfilling the Old Testament prophecy. But we do not believe that is the correct way to think about history and man’s freewill decisions.
To us, God works with our free will and in history such that what we do by our free will fulfills what He foretold. No person is forced to act in such a way that Scripture is fulfilled, rather God is so knowledgeable and skillful that what happens fulfills what He has written, not the opposite. God is so skillful and knowledgeable that what happens results in His Word being fulfilled, not that He writes and then forces events to occur “so that” His Word is fulfilled.
“Yahweh.” “Yahweh” is the personal name of God, and a rabbinic abbreviation for it appears in the Hebrew manuscript of Matthew as well as in the verses of the Old Testament that Matthew quoted. There is evidence that Matthew wrote his Gospel in Hebrew and used the name Yahweh, so we have put it in the REV [See commentary on Matthew 3:3).(top)
Quoted from Isaiah 7:14. This quotation is closer to the Septuagint than the Hebrew text. The word in the Hebrew text which gets translated “virgin” means “young woman,” not specifically “virgin.” Thus, Isaiah 7 spoke of a “young woman” being pregnant, and furthermore, at that very time, not more than 700 years later: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread [Syria and Israel] will be deserted” (Isa. 7:14-16; and historically, Syria and Israel were both shortly attacked by Assyria and conquered).
The prophecy and imminent fulfillment of Isaiah 7 during Isaiah’s time is why even very spiritual Jews like Joseph and Mary were not expecting a virgin birth. When the angel told Mary that she was going to give birth to the Messiah, she was very surprised that it was going to be a virgin birth. She said to the angel, “How will this be, seeing I am not knowing [not currently having sex with] a man” (Luke 1:34).
When the Hebrew text was translated into Greek about 250 BC, making the version we know as the Septuagint, the translators translated the Hebrew word almah (#05959 עַלְמָה), “young woman,” as parthenos (#3933 παρθένος). The Hebrew word almah refers to a “young woman” but not necessarily a virgin. Similarly, there is good evidence in the Greek literature that the word parthenos does not specifically refer to the virginity of the woman or man. Rather it refers more to their age as being young (parthenos with the masculine pronoun refers to a young man). The Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon gives references when parthenos was used of young married women. Also, some scholars say that if strictly “virgin” was meant, then parthenois would have been used instead of parthenos (see note in The Source New Testament by A. Nyland). That the Septuagint read parthenos in Isaiah 7:14, but the Jewish people did not think their Messiah would be born of a virgin, is quite conclusive evidence that the word parthenos did not have to refer to a virgin, even though it could refer to one.
Mary was certainly a young woman, thus an almah and a parthenos, and she was also a virgin. We know she was a virgin, not from the meaning of the word parthenos, but from the clear statements in both Matthew and Luke, and Mary is referred to as a parthenos in both Matthew and Luke.
Many commentators have written about Isaiah 7:14 and how the vocabulary and the context are not about a virgin birth but about a birth that would occur in Isaiah’s time, and that is true. Easily available commentaries include J. P. Lange’s Commentary and the commentary on the Old Testament by Keil and Delitzsch. English versions such as the Revised Standard Version read “young woman” instead of “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14, and that is the proper way to translate the Hebrew text (other versions that read “young woman” include: BBE, CJB, NAB, NET, NJB, NRSV, RSV, The Complete Bible: An American Translation; and the Moffatt Bible).
We can tell from Matthew that the prophecy in Isaiah, which referred to a young woman, had a second fulfillment in Jesus Christ. We must remember that it is God who prophetically tells the future, and God can shape His prophecies so that they fit multiple situations, even if unbelievers or over-zealous Christians deny a double fulfillment. Interestingly, unbelievers usually agree that the prophecy was fulfilled in Isaiah’s time and deny the fulfillment in Matthew, while over-zealous Christians deny the fulfillment in Isaiah’s time and invent reasons why the only fulfillment is with the birth of Christ.
When it comes to Isaiah 7:14, it is like Hosea 11:1 in that it involved two fulfillments. What we should be aware of when it comes to prophecies that are fulfilled twice, is that once it is fulfilled the first time, the only way people can see a second fulfillment is if God tells them about it, like He does with Isaiah 7:14 or Hosea 11:1. A good, but technical treatment of Isaiah 7:14 is in The Bible Translator, July 1958, “A Study of Isaiah 7:14,” by Robert G. Bratcher.
It fits perfectly within the scope and purpose of the Book of Isaiah that the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 would have a second fulfillment in the birth of Jesus Christ, because Isaiah and his children are specifically said to be “signs” (Isa. 8:18). Just as the prophet Isaiah foretold the birth of a son who would be born in his own time and be associated with the deliverance of Judah, so the prophecy also was fulfilled by a son who would be born centuries later who was associated with the ultimate deliverance of Judah.
As the New Testament makes clear in Matthew and Luke, Mary was impregnated by God. In fact, the very reason Isaiah is quoted in this context is because it is the second and ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah. That is why Matthew 1:22 opens with, “Now all this happened to fulfill” the words of Isaiah. If Mary’s having a son did not fulfill Isaiah, then it would not have been appropriate to quote it as Matthew quoted it. Matthew 1:22 shows that Mary’s being impregnated by God fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. [For more clarity on Matt. 1:23, see commentary on Isaiah 7:14].
“Look!” The Greek word is idou (#2400 ἰδού), and it is used to get our attention. Although the literal meaning of idou relates to visual perception (seeing), it was used idiomatically, and thus should be translated in ways appropriate to the context, such as “look,” “listen,” “pay attention,” “consider,” “remember,” etc. Many translations of the English Bible (cp. NIV, NRSV, HCSB) do not translate idou, but in doing so miss the meaning that it is bringing to the context. See commentary on Matthew 1:20 (“Look!).
“Immanuel.” One of the names of Jesus Christ is “Immanuel,” which can be translated as, “God with us” or “God is with us.” We know that God was with us in Jesus Christ, and Jesus himself said that if one had seen him, he had seen the Father. Names are often symbolic, the meaning of the name importing some characteristic that God wants us to know. When Jesus is called the Lion of Judah, the Lamb, or the tent peg (Zech. 10:4), God is importing characteristics about Jesus that He wants us to know. When it comes to Immanuel, God wants us to know that through Jesus Christ, God was with us. Not with us literally, but acting powerfully through His Son, just as 2 Corinthians 5:19 indicates: “That God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.” It is important to read exactly what was written: God was in Christ, not God was Christ.
Symbolism in names can be seen throughout the Bible, it is not something that is unique to Jesus Christ. Many people were given names that would cause great problems if they were believed literally. Are we to believe that Bithiah, a daughter of Pharaoh, was the sister of Jesus because her name is “daughter of Yahweh?” Are we to believe that Eliab was the real Messiah since his name means “My God [is my] father?” Of course not. It would be a great mistake to claim that the meaning of a name proves a literal truth. We know that Jesus’ name is very significant—it communicates the truth that, as the Son of God and as the image of God, God is with us in Jesus, but the name does not make Jesus God.
[For more information on Jesus being the fully human Son of God and not being “God the Son,” see Appendix 10, “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.” For more on “the Holy Spirit” being one of the designations for God the Father and “the holy spirit” being the gift of God’s nature, see Appendix 11, “What is the Holy Spirit?” For more on a name being significant but not necessarily a literal truth, see Graeser, Lynn, and Schoenheit, One God & One Lord, also, A. Buzzard and C. Hunting, The Doctrine of the Trinity; Patrick Navas, Divine Truth or Human Tradition; D. Snedeker, Our Heavenly Father Has No Equals].
(which translated, means, “God with us”). The parenthesis is the figure of speech epitrechon, a form of parenthesis where the statement is not itself a complete thought (Bullinger, Figures of Speech).
“took to himself.” The word is paralambanō (#3880 παραλαμβάνω), and here the emphasis is on Joseph receiving Mary into his home, taking her as his wife. However, see also the commentary on Matthew 1:20; “favorably accept”. The phrase, “and took to himself his wife” does not mean that Joseph married Mary that very morning. It simply means that he immediately started the process by which he would be married.(top)
“know her.” Matthew 1:24 says Joseph took Mary home as his wife, but Matthew 1:25 makes it clear that he did not have sexual intercourse with her until after Jesus was born. Mary’s being pregnant would not have stopped her from having sexual intercourse, so why would they have waited until after Jesus was born? Before we answer that question, we need to be sure we correctly understand what this verse is saying.
In both Hebrew and Greek, the word “know” was a common idiom for having sexual intercourse (cp. Gen. 4:1), even including rape (Gen. 19:5; Judg. 19:25). Other idioms for sexual intercourse include, “go into” (2 Sam. 3:7), and “go near; approach” (Exod. 19:15), “be with” someone (2 Sam. 13:20), “uncover the nakedness” (Lev. 18:12); and sometimes “see the nakedness” (Lev. 20:17).
The Hebrew word “know” that is used idiomatically for sexual intercourse is the common word yada (#03045 ידע), which is used well over 800 times in the Old Testament. Its first use in the Bible for sexual intercourse is Genesis 4:1, and it is used many other times that way (cp. Gen. 4:1, 17, 25; 19:8; 24:16; Judges 11:39; 19:25; 1 Sam. 1:19; 1 Kings 1:4). In the Greek New Testament, the word “know” is the common word ginōskō (#1097 γινώσκω), which occurs more than 200 times and is used of “knowing” someone sexually in Matthew 1:25 and Luke 1:34. The association between sex and “knowing” was most likely made because modesty and sexual privacy are normal parts of our humanity, so if we become sexually intimate with someone, we “know” them in a unique and personal way. Interestingly, through the ages, spies have used the special connection and intimacy that comes with “knowing” someone sexually to get to know other things about them, including top-secret information, because knowing a person sexually often leads to intimate knowledge in other areas as well.
From a lexical viewpoint, “knowing” someone sexually, which involves intimate and experiential knowledge, is quite close to the ordinary semantic range of the word “know,” which includes thorough or experiential knowledge as well as just intellectual knowledge. For example, when the Bible says that Jesus “knew” no sin (2 Cor. 5:21 KJV), it is not that he did not have intellectual knowledge of sin, but rather that he had no experiential knowledge of sin. Similarly, when Romans 3:17 says the wicked have not “known” the way of peace, it is not saying that the wicked do not know what peace is, but they have not experienced it. It is possible that “know” as an idiom for sexual intercourse came into the Greek language after the Greeks conquered Israel and Egypt, because “know” is used for sexual intercourse from the time of Alexander the Great down. In any case, “know” shows up as an idiom for sexual intercourse in the writings of Greek authors such as Menander of Athens, Hiraclides, Plutarch, and the apocryphal book of Judith (Thayer; BDAG; EDNT).
It has been suggested by at least one theologian that “know” refers to sexual intercourse that results in conception, but that is not accurate, something that can be seen by studying the Hebrew and Greek writings and lexicons. In the OT, verses such as Genesis 19:8 and Judges 19:25 clearly make a separation between sexual “knowing” and conception. Similarly, in the New Testament in Luke 1:34, when the angel tells Mary she will be pregnant, she replies, “How will this be, since I am not knowing a man” (literal translation). In Luke 1:34, the verb “know” is present tense, active voice, which indicates action that is currently going on in the present. Thus, when Mary told the angel she was not “knowing” a man, she was saying she was not actively having sex at the time, in her case, because she was not married. It is clear from Mary’s statement to the angel that she did not think “know” included conception. Furthermore, verses such as Genesis 4:1, 17 and 4:25, show that the “knowing” and the conception were two separate events because the verses say that the husbands “knew” their wives and also say they “conceived.” If “know” included conception, then adding the phrase “and she conceived” would have been inappropriate.
The question remains as to why Joseph did not have sexual intercourse with Mary until after Jesus was born, and the answer is both simple and profound. He wanted there to be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Jesus was not his child. Today we track pregnancies with a precise knowledge of when the baby will be born, and women who have only been pregnant for a couple of months speak of their “due date” months away. In our world of precise due dates and DNA paternity testing, Joseph could prove he was not Jesus’ father. However, things were much less clear in the ancient world. For example, Sarah Pomeroy notes that the exact period of gestation was not known in ancient times, and she writes, “Some Romans believed that children could be born seven to ten months after conception, but that eight month babies were not possible” (Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves; Shocken Books, New York. 1975, p. 168). There was just no way Joseph could conclusively prove that he was not Jesus’ father if he had sexual intercourse with Mary before Jesus was born. In fact, the uncertainty about paternity was one reason kings did not let women leave their harems, even if they were no longer interested in them, and why David wanted his first wife Michal to be in his harem even though he had other wives and she had married another man during the years David was running from Saul (2 Sam. 3:13-15). If a woman who had been with a king had a baby, it could be set forth as an heir of the king without there being a way to disprove the claim. And even if the paternity was unlikely, no king wanted to take the risk of having a possible heir and rival out causing trouble.
Joseph was a godly and honorable man, and did not want to cast any doubt on the fact that God was the father of the Lord Jesus Christ, so he and Mary restrained their passions and acted in the best interests of God and Jesus, waiting until after Jesus was born to have sexual intercourse. Matthew 1:25 makes it clear that the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was indeed a virgin birth, one of the great miracles in history, and because Joseph and Mary waited to have sex, we can be sure that God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
[For more on the idiomatic sense of “know,” see commentary on Gen. 3:22. For more on the idiomatic sense of other words such as “remember,” see commentary on Luke 23:42].(top)