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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Matthew 1-7, The Life of Jesus, part 4, by Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz


Mathew 1-7
The Life of Jesus


Heading (1:1*)
Detlev Dormeyer, “Mt 1,1 als Überschrift zur Gattung und Christologie des Matthäus-Evangeliums,” in Segbroeck, Four Gospels, 2.1361–83.
Otto Eissfeldt, “Biblos Geneseos,” in Kleine Schriften, vol. 3 (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1966) 458–70.
Mayordomo-Marín, Anfang, 196–365.
John Nolland, “What Kind of Genesis Do We Have in Matt 1.1?” NTS 42 (1996) 463–71.
Stanton, “Matthew.”

For additional literature see below, I A (1:2–2:23).

1:1 Book of the “Genesis” of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.
Verse 1* is a title, recognizable as such by the absence of a verb. Ancient works do not necessarily have to have a title;1 many titles are later additions. The presence of a title in Mark 1:1* may have inspired Matthew to provide a completely different title. It consists of a statement of the kind of book (“genre designation”) in the nominative and a statement of the contents in the genitive. The former refers to the biblical history books as its background, in particular to Gen 2:4* and 5:1* (“This the book of generation …”: αὕτη ἡ βίβλος γενέσεως …), but also to what had already become the customary title of the first book of the Greek Bible: Γένεσις.

The most controversial issue is whether the heading refers to the entire Gospel of Matthew, only to the genealogy,4 or to the prologue. In Greek and Jewish sources βίβλος normally means “book.” The meaning “writing, document, record,” which is also quite conceivable in texts with a Hebrew background, is almost impossible at the beginning of a book.7 Thus as the first word of the book, βίβλος quite clearly indicates that the following title refers to the entire book. It is different, however, with the second word, γένεσις. It appears only here and in 1:18*. It has a broad range of meanings from “origin, birth, generation, manner of birth, becoming” through “being, existence, creation” to “kind, family.” In 1:18* the meaning is clear. There it speaks of the “origin” of Jesus, the story of his “becoming” and his “origin.” Thus βίβλος would lead one to think of the entire book, γένεσις only of the genealogy or only of the birth stories, leaving interpreters with a dilemma.
The inventory of the christological titles (son of David, son of Abraham) speaks for interpreting the verse only as the heading of this genealogy or of the genealogy with the addition of 1:18–25*. Their meaning is illustrated first of all with the genealogy. The two biblical intertexts, Gen 2:4* and 5:1*, are of no direct help. Βίβλος is understood there in a more narrow sense and refers only to a particular section of the book. Γένεσις, on the other hand, designates not only a genealogy but in a broader sense also a story of origin. In these texts, however, there is no title; instead, “this book of generation” either introduces or ends a specific section of the text. Nevertheless, in my judgment βίβλος as the first word of the book’s beginning is a compelling indication for the readers that the title refers to the entire book.
A way out of the dilemma may be to remember that in that day Γένεσις was already established and in general usage as the title of the first book of the Greek Bible. It fits with βίβλος. Matthew then would have used the words of Gen 2:4* and 5:1*, but in substance he would have been referring to the entire book of Genesis. The observation that titles of books in antiquity did not necessarily have to describe the content of the entire book offers another possible solution to the dilemma.10 Then the readers still could have understood γένεσις Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ κτλ. as pars pro toto and the incipit of 1:1*, which would initially refer to the content of the genealogy, as the title of the entire book.
The first readers probably did not need to choose between the two possibilities. Only in the German [and English] translation do I have to do that. I choose the first possible translation, because I think that the readers in any case would have thought of the biblical book of Genesis. Thus the author calls his book that begins by dealing with the “origin” of Jesus Christ as “Book of the Genesis.” What is he trying to say? It is scarcely possible to interpret the title in the sense of a theology of the new creation through Christ. However, the evangelist probably thus gives his book a biblical background and a biblical-like importance. He also writes a “Book of Genesis,” but his book does not have the same content as the biblical book; at issue here is the “genesis of Jesus Christ.”12
As in 1:18*, Mark 1:1*, and frequently in Greek-speaking Christianity, “Jesus Christ is probably a double name. When the evangelist uses Χριστός as a title, as a rule he uses the article. The two attributes “son of David” and “son of Abraham” correspond to the contents of 1:2–17* and 18–25* that here are summarized by titles. “Son of David” means Israel’s Messiah of royal descent. “Son of Abraham” is more unusual, because first of all every Jew is Abraham’s son, and the expression appears not to say anything special about Jesus. Initially the sense of the expression clarifies the genealogy. Then throughout the entire Gospel the two expressions are filled with new dimensions of meaning. Thus at first they are empty (i.e., filled only by tradition) husks of meaning into which one should read the entire Matthean Christology. They are only beginning points for the reading and allusions to what is to come. The story of Jesus that is now going to be told will fill these husks successively with new meaning.

I Prelude (1:2–4:22*)
Burridge, Gospels, 112–95.
Häfner, “Jene Tage.”
Krentz, “Extent.”
Bernard Brandon Scott, “The Birth of the Reader,” Semeia 52 (1990) 83–102.
Scope and Structure

While as a rule earlier scholarship regarded Matthew 1–2 as “prologue,” today the dominant view, following Krentz and others, is that the prologue extends to chap. 4. The greatest difficulty for this newer thesis is that the prologue then would consist of two completely different parts: the birth stories (chaps. 1–2), and the beginning of Jesus’ activity with his baptism and temptation (chaps. 3–4). The evangelist himself minimizes this difficulty of “in those days” in 3:1* by elegantly bridging what according to the traditional view was de facto an intervening period of some thirty years and thus connecting the two parts and framing the activity of the Baptist with an inclusion consisting of 2:22–3:2* and 4:12–17*.2 One must admit, however, that for the readers who orient themselves on the content rather than on formal allusions there is still a “gap.”
Nevertheless, a number of arguments favor expanding the prologue. The clear inclusion of 4:23* and 9:35*, which in this manner is unique in the Gospel of Matthew and which frames the two major sections of the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5–7) and the deeds of the Christ in Israel (chaps. 8–9), makes clear that the evangelist did want to begin a main section with 4:23*. In terms of the history of research, this means the failure of the attempts to organize the Gospel of Matthew into five discourses,3 each of which is preceded by a narrative section—attempts that require a break between the prologue and the first narrative section. As far as the content is concerned, basic elements of the prologue run through all four chapters. The first of these are the fulfillment quotations that are interested in geography (2:6*, 15*, 18*, 23*; 4:15–16*). Externally and internally they reach a goal with 4:15–16*: Galilee, the region where most of Jesus’ activity takes place, and “Galilee of the Gentiles,” where Jesus, after his birth in “Bethlehem, land of Judah” (2:6*) now arrives. Matt 2:5–11*, 13–15*, 19–23*; 3:13*; 4:1*, 12–16* give a compact sequence of the stations of the way of Jesus before his public activity that is of fundamental significance. Second, a series of christological statements also first appears in fulfillment quotations (1:23*; 2:6*, 15*; cf. 1:1*; 3:11–12*, 17*; 4:3*, 6*). They seem initially to be empty pronouncements that the readers will “fill” both from their prior knowledge and from their continuing reading of the Gospel. In this process of reading, the first chapters play an especially important role, since they prepare the readers for what is to come. While “son of David” (1:1*) is further expanded in 1:2–25* and also indirectly by 2:1–12*, “Son of God” (2:15*) remains an empty conceptual husk that is not filled with content until 3:13–4:11*. Thus—not on the narrative surface but on a deeper level—the prologue encompassing four chapters turns out to be a whole that is understandable only as a unit.
Where the prologue ends is not clear. The story of the call of the first disciples at the sea, 4:18–22*, is not anchored in the composition of the prologue. Yet this brief text belongs even less to the following main section that is framed by 4:23* and 9:35*. Compared with the prologue it is an addition of sorts that extends the establishment of Jesus’ activity as it were into the church, much as chap. 10 does with chaps. 5–7 and 8–9. It is not Matthew’s custom to set off his main sections sharply from one another. Instead, he likes to connect them with transitional sections.5 The first such transitional section is 4:18–22*. It constitutes the foundation for the report of chaps. 8–9 and especially for 10:1–4* and at the same time is closely connected to 4:13* (“beside the sea”: παραθαλασσίαν). Jesus’ preaching (4:17*), which immediately precedes the section, corresponds almost exactly to the preaching of John (3:2*) and to the preaching of the disciples (10:7*) and serves as the connecting link among them.
For the readers it is decisively important that the disciples appear in 4:18–22*. They are for the readers the most important figures with whom they identify. From now on—that is, from the beginning of the actual story of Jesus—they, and with them the readers, are “present”; previously they were not. This indicates an important difference between the prologue and the actual story of Jesus.

In antiquity discussions about preambles or introductions usually took place in the field of rhetoric. According to Aristotle, a preamble (πρόλογος, προοίμιον) should give the hearers of a speech an “indication” (δεῖγμα) of what the speech will be about so that they do not remain ignorant and become confused. One who “puts the beginning in their hands makes it possible for them to follow the speech.” The purpose of a preamble in a speech as well as in drama is to inform people “about the purpose (τέλος) for which the speech is given.” However, there were apparently no general rules about forming preambles.
For the comparison with Matthew the biblical and early Jewish history books are of primary interest. In the Pentateuch Genesis 1–11 is familiar as the primal history prior to the history of Israel, and the historical work of the Chronicler offers in 1 Chronicles 1–9 the genealogies and lists of names preceding the actual history. However, they do not constitute a direct analogy to the Matthean preamble, because the Gospel of Matthew is the basic story of a specific person, Jesus Christ, of which the prologue is also the beginning. Thus an examination of ancient biographies is more rewarding. Relatively seldom, however, do they offer after the title of the book an actual preface in which the author expresses his purpose with an explanation stated in the first person. Most go right into a portrayal of the family, birth, youth, and training that themselves are part of the biography8 and are not, as in Matthew, worked up as a preamble.
Thus within the general framework of preambles the Matthean preamble is to be regarded as a unique creation for which there are, in my opinion, no direct analogies.
Character and Purpose of the Preamble

Of course, the preamble relates first of all the beginning of the story of Jesus. Formally not unlike the beginnings of biographies, it tells of Jesus’ beginnings: his genealogy, important episodes of his birth story, and two decisive events in his development—the meetings with John the Baptist and with the devil. Here the ancient readers will be reminded of biographies, if they were familiar with them. At the same time, however, in all the individual stages of this “biographical beginning” of Jesus they are led into a completely different world than that of the ancient biography—namely, the world of the Bible and Israel’s haggadah with which they are familiar. If they are familiar with ancient biographies, they will notice that important episodes are missing. Nothing is said about the birth of Jesus itself or of childhood stories characteristic of him. Finally, there is no report of the course of Jesus’ education, unless one is to regard the meetings with John the Baptist and the devil as such. The gaps raise the question of the reason for the selection of material.
The striking fulfillment quotations make the readers aware of a second level in the Matthean prologue. The purpose of ancient prologues is to call attention to the purpose (σκόπος) of the entire narrative. The fulfillment quotations indicate who Jesus is: he is “Immanuel” and “Son of God.” Thus the evangelist tells the story of a person who is with his readers and who accompanies them in their present. He tells in his prologue a very striking journey of the child Jesus that leads from the city of David, Bethlehem, to “Galilee of the Gentiles.” At the end of their reading of the entire Gospel the readers will notice that Matthew’s whole story of Jesus will end exactly where the prologue ends, in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (4:12–16*; 28:16–20*). He is the son of David, the promised Messiah of the nation of Israel. His journey will lead him out of Israel: in the prologue, to Egypt, into the desert where the one stands who proclaims that God can awaken children for Abraham even out of stones (3:9*); in the gospel narrative, into experiencing the enmity of Israel’s leaders in Galilee, into the Gentile north (15:21–39*), to Jerusalem, the city of his death, and back to Galilee, the beginning point of his activity as the Risen One. Thus the Matthean prologue narrates not only the beginning of the story of Jesus; it is at the same time the narrative anticipation of the story. It is an anticipated story of Jesus in nuce, and it thus calls attention to the significance of this story of Jesus for the present day.

A The Infancy Narratives (1:2–2:23*)
Allison, New Moses, 140–65.
David R. Bauer, “The Kingship of Jesus in the Matthean Infancy Narrative: A Literary Analysis,” CBQ 57 (1995) 306–23.
Gerhard Binder, Die Aussetzung des Königskindes Kyros und Romulus (Beiträge zur klassischen Philologie 10; Meisenheim: Hain, 1964).
Bloch, “Gestalt.”
Myles M. Bourke, “The Literary Genus of Matthew 1–2,” CBQ 22 (1960) 160–75.
Brown, Birth.
C. H. Cave, “St. Matthew’s Infancy Narrative,” NTS 9 (1962/63) 382–90.
John Dominic Crossan, “Structure & Theology of Matt 1,18–2,23,” Cahiers de Joséphologie 16 (1968) 119–35.
Jean Daniélou, The Infancy Narratives (trans. Rosemary Sheed; New York: Herder & Herder, 1968).
Davis, “Tradition.”
Martin Dibelius, “Jungfrauensohn und Krippenkind,” in Botschaft und Geschichte: Gesammelte Aufsätze (2 vols.; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1953–56) 1.1–78.
Gottfried Erdmann, Die Vorgeschichte des Lukas- und Matthäusevangeliums und Vergils vierte Ekloge (FRLANT 48; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1932) 53–70.
R. T. France, “Scripture, Tradition and History in the Infancy Narratives of Matthew,” in idem and David Wenham, eds., Gospel Perspectives, vol. 2: Studies of History and Tradition in the Four Gospels (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1981) 239–66.
Marco Frenschkowski, “Traum und Traumdeutung im Matthäusevangelium,” JAC 41 (1998) 5–47.
Alexander Globe, “Some Doctrinal Variants in Matthew 1 and Luke 2 and the Authority of the Neutral Text,” CBQ 42 (1980) 52–57.
Robert Gnuse, “Dream Genre in the Matthean Infancy Narratives,” NovT 32 (1990) 97–120.
R. Laurentin, “Approche structrale de Matthieu 1–2,” in Maurice Carrez, Joseph Doré, and Pierre Grelot, eds., De la Tôrah au Messie: Études d’exégèse et d’herméneutique bibliques offertes à Henri Cazelles pour ses 25 années d’enseignement à l’Institut Catholique de Paris (Paris: Desclée, 1981) 383–416.
Mayordomo-Marín, Anfang, 196–365.
Salvador Munoz-Iglesias, “Midrás y Evangelios de la Infancia,” EstEcl 47 (1972) 331–59.
Ernst Nellessen, Das Kind und seine Mutter: Struktur und Verkündigung des 2. Kapitels im Matthäusevangelium (SBS 39; Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1969).
Nolan, Son, passim.
Paul, L’évangile.
Peretto, “Ricerche.”
Rudolf Pesch, “Der Gottessohn im matthäischen Evangelienprolog (Mt 1–2): Beobachtungen zu den Zitationsformeln der Reflexionszitate,” Bib 14 (1967) 395–420.
Idem, “ ‘Er wird Nazoräer heissen’: Messianische Exegese in Mt 1–2,” in Segbroeck, Four Gospels, 2.1385–1401.
Idem, ed., Zur Theologie der Kindheitsgeschichten: Der heutige Stand der Exegese (Schriftenreihe der katholischen Akademie Freiburg; Munich: Schnell & Steiner, 1981).
Heikki Räisänen, Die Mutter Jesu im Neuen Testament (AASF 158; Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1969) 52–76.
Pierre Saintyves, “Le massacre des innocents ou la persécution de l’enfant prédestine,” in Paul Louis Couchoud, ed., Congrès d’histoire du Christianisme: Jubilé Alfred Loisy, vol. 1 (Paris: Rieder, 1928) 229–72.
Jane Schaberg, The Illegitimacy of Jesus: A Feminist Theological Interpretation of the Infancy Narratives (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995).
Kurt Schubert, “Die Kindheitsgeschichten Jesu im Lichte der Religionsgeschichte des Judentums,” Bibliothèque liturgique 45 (1972) 224–40.
Paul Schwarzenau, Das göttliche Kind: Der Mythos vom Neubeginn (Stuttgart: Kreuz, 1984).
Giuseppe Segalla, Una storia annunciata: I racconti dell infanzia in Matteo (Brescia: Morcelliana, 1987).
Soares-Prabhu, Quotations, passim.
Stendahl, “Quis et unde.”
Tatum, “ ‘Origins.’ ”
B. T. Viviano, “The Genres of Matt 1–2: Light from 1 Tim 1:4,” RB 97 (1990) 31–53.
Vögtle, “Genealogie.”
Idem, “Die matthäische Kindheitsgeschichte,” in Didier, Évangile, 153–83.
Idem, Messias und Gottessohn: Herkunft und Sinn der matthäischen Geburts- und Kindheitsgeschichte (Düsseldorf: Patmos, 1971).
Franz Zinniker, Probleme der sogenannten Kindheitsgeschichte bei Matthäus (Freiburg: Paulusverlag, 1972).
The first two chapters of our Gospel consist of two main sections of unequal length. The first main section following the incipit (1:1*), the genealogy, is formally separate from the following three narratives, 1:18–25*; 2:1–12*; 2:13–23*, which belong together as a continuous narrative. Underlying them also is a common grid of motifs, and a number of words appear only or primarily in 1:18–2:23*.10 However, 1:2–17* is also fully integrated into the context. The key word “genesis” (γένεσις) forms an inclusion (1:1*, 18*) around the genealogy. It is strengthened by the son of David concept (1:1*, 20*). The key verb of the genealogy, “bring forth, beget” (γεννάω), is repeated in 2:1*. The genealogy forms a close connection to the title in 1:1* by developing the idea of descent from Abraham and at the same time giving David a prominent place. Thus chaps. 1–2 constitute a unit within which 1:18–2:23* again has a special position.11
What is most notable in 1:18–2:23* is that the birth of Jesus is omitted. In 1:18–25* it is announced; in 2:1* it is presupposed. Thus the narrative cycle of 1:18–2:23* is not complete; the readers know more than the narrator tells. It is therefore by no means his intention to give a complete infancy report; his narrative has a special purpose that our interpretation must demonstrate. We can no longer say what kind of knowledge about Jesus’ birth is presupposed here.
The narratives of 1:18–2:23* appear to have been transmitted as a unit—perhaps orally—in the tradition before Matthew. They belong to the narrative type, widespread in antiquity, of the announcement, persecution, and rescue of the “royal child” (see table 1 below). Especially noteworthy are the points of contact of the entire section 1:18–2:23* with the haggadah of the child Moses, though I do not suggest that the motifs were transferred to the child Jesus. My analysis of the motifs of the individual texts will point out the details.12 In my judgment the thesis that 1:18–2:23* constituted a unit prior to Matthew13 is preferable to the thesis, also frequently advocated, according to which 2:1–23* is a pre-Matthean narrative unit, while the evangelist is responsible for 1:18–25*.14
Contacts with the Lukan Birth Narrative
The contacts with the Lukan birth story are minimal. Common to Matthew and Luke are only certain basic affirmations such as Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and the virgin birth, the chronological association of Jesus’ birth with the reign of Herod (Luke 1:5*, in spite of Luke 2:1*), and the knowledge about Mary’s betrothal to the Davidic Joseph. In addition, there are several agreements between Matt 1:18–25* and Luke 1–2. Common to both evangelists is the tendency to enlist the birth stories in the service of christology. This shows that there must have been certain basic convictions and information that are very old and that existed before the Matthean and Lukan birth narratives. That is not yet to say anything about their historicity.
On the whole, however, the traditions of Matt 1:18–2:23* and of Luke 1:5–2:40* are completely different. It is as if the rule were that what Matthew reports does not appear in Luke and vice versa. Ordinary Bible readers do not see that at first glance, since their “chronology” of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus is determined by the cycle of the church’s Christmas celebration that established the arrival of the “three kings” on the ancient celebration of Epiphany (i.e., on the sixth of January) and thus has the events portrayed in Matthew 2 take place after those of Luke 2. That view is not without difficulties, however, because in many points the two traditions are not only different but irreconcilable. That is true not only for the chronological statements about the birth of Jesus. In Luke, Joseph and Mary live in Nazareth (2:4*). In Matthew, they live in Bethlehem; they go to Nazareth to avoid Archelaus. Luke 2:21–40* can be reconciled with Matt 2:1–15* only when one assumes with parts of the ancient church’s tradition that the magi did not come to Bethlehem until two years later. That neither of the evangelists tries to reconcile the differences must be seen as an indication that the classical assumption of the literary independence of Matthew and Luke is correct.
Table 1. The narrative of the persecuted and rescued royal child as the background of 1:18–2:23*

Revelation 12
Josephus Ant. 2; Ps.-Philo; Tg. Exod.; Exod. Rab.; Mek. Exod.; Wünsche, Lehrhallen 1.61–80; Ginzberg, Legends 2.245–69
Str-B 1.77–78; Wünsche, Lehrhallen 1.61–80; Ginzberg, Legends 1.186–89
1. Revelation
Pharaoh’s dream (Tg. Exod. 1.15);
Amram’s dream (Josephus);
Miriam’s prophecy

signs in the heaven
2. Interpretation
by scribes (Josephus), by the magicians Jannes/Jambres (Tg. Exod.), by astrologers Exod. Rab. 1.22)
3. Fear
Pharaoh is frightened

Nimrod’s fear
4. Reaction
children killed

Nimrod wants to kill Terah’s son

dragon casts woman to the earth
5. Rescue
Amram’s dream, hiding the basket in the river, Pharaoh’s daughter

Abraham hidden

child taken to heaven
6. Substitute sacrifice
slaughter of the children

killing of many boys

persecution of the woman instead of the child

Herodotus 5.92 Binder, Aussetzung, 150–51
Justinus Epitome 1.37.2 (ed. Otto Seel, Leipzig: Teubner, 1935)
Livius 1.3–6; Binder, Aussetzung, 78–115
1. Revelation
Pythian oracle


Rhea impregnated by Mars; Rhea’s dream
4. Reaction
child is destroyed


eradication of Numitor’s descendants; boys thrown in the Tiber
5. Rescue
child smiles, is returned, hidden in flour box

flight to the mountains

rescued by she-wolf

Suetonius Aug. 94.3
Dio Cassius 45.1–2
Suetonius Nero 36
Aelianus De natura animalium 12.21
1. Revelation
mother and father dream (Dio Cassius); lightning (Suetonius); Atia’s dream (virgin birth?)


(virgin birth?)
3. Fear
senate is frightened
4. Reaction
senate decrees no child to be raised (Suetonius)

killing prominent Romans and children

child is thrown from the tower
5. Rescue
decree is evaded

killing prominent Romans and children

rescued by an eagle; G. raised by a farmer

Sargon I
Zarathustra legend
J. B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1958) 85–86
Herodotus 1.107–22; Justinus Epitome 1.4; Binder, Aussetzung, 17–28
Zardusht-Nama, 4–5, 8–9; Binder, Aussetzung, 193–95; Saintyves, “Massacre,” 257–58
1. Revelation

Mandane’s dream, Astyages’s dream

Dugeda’s (the mother’s) dream, miraculous birth
2. Interpretation

magicians interpret

magicians and their king, Duranserum are unsettled
3. Fear

Astyages is frightened
4. Reaction
abandoned in basket on the Euphrates

Astyages wants to kill the child

attempt to kill the child
5. Rescue
rescued by Akki, the water drawer

disobedient, rescued by shepherds (exposure)

Duranserum’s hand withers
6. Substitute sacrifice

exposure of a dead child
Firdausi, Sha-Nama, 5, 6; Binder, Aussetzung, 176–79
Harivansa, Mahabharata, 56–59; Baghavata Purana, 10.3; Binder, Aussetzung, 207–8
1. Revelation
dream of the dragon king, Sohak
2. Interpretation
interpretation by sages

Kansa warned by Narada
3. Fear
Sohak faints

4. Reaction
persecution of Frêdun

killing all descendants of Devagnis
5. Rescue
rescue by shepherds and the cow, Birmaye

exchange of children, Krishna’s divine insignias disappear
6. Substitute sacrifice

death of the false child

More remote parallels

Cited with author’s name only are Binder, Aussetzung; Saintyves, “Massacre”; Schwarzenau, Kind; and Robert Graves, The Greek Myths (2 vols.; Baltimore: Penguin, 1955).

Perseus (Binder, 132–33; Saintyves, 239–40)
Heracles (Graves 2.84–95).
Apollo (Graves 1.56–57)
Neleus/Peleus (Saintyves, 236–37; Binder, 148–49)
Agathocles (Diodorus Siculus 19.2.2–7)
Dionysus (Schwarzenau, 81–100)
Dorcetus’s daughter (Saintyves, 236)
Arabian Nimrod legend (Binder, 260–61)
Seth-Horus (Plutarch De Iside et Osiride 13)
John the Baptist (Protoevangelium of James 22–23)
Ardashir (Binder, 184–89)
Shapur (Binder, 189–91)
Hormizd (Binder, 191–93)
Genghis Kahn (Saintyves, 242)
Buddha legend (Saintyves, 256; Schwarzenau, 42–50)
Aghata (Binder, 196)
Candrahâsa (Binder, 199–201)
Elakamara Jataka (Binder, 203–4)
Trakan of Gilgit (Binder, 211–13)
Vanaraja (Binder, 213)
Emperor Henry III (Binder, 228–29)
Constantine legend (Binder, 246–47)

1 Genealogy (1:2–17*)
R. Bauckham, “Tamar’s Ancestry and Rahab’s Marriage,” NovT 37 (1995) 313–29.
David R. Bauer, “The Literary and Theological Function of the Genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel,” in Bauer-Powell, Treasures, 129–59.
Renée Bloch, “Juda engendra Pharès et Zara, de Thamar,” in Mélanges bibliques rédigés en l’honneur de André Robert (Paris: Bloud & Gay, 1957) 381–89.
Gabriele Broszio, Genealogia Christi: Die Stammbäume Jesu in der Auslegung der christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten fünf Jahrhunderte (Bochumer Altertums- wissenschaftliches Colloquium 18; Trier: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 1994).
Frankemölle, Jahwebund, 311–18.
Edwin D. Freed, “The Women in Matthew’s Genealogy,” JSNT 29 (1987) 3–19.
John Paul Heil, “The Narrative Role of the Women in Matthew’s Genealogy,” Bib 72 (1991) 538–45.
Rodney T. Hood, “The Genealogies of Jesus,” in Allen Wikgren, ed., Early Christian Origins: Studies in Honor of Harold R. Willoughby (Chicago: Quadrangle, 1961) 1–15.
Jeremias, Jerusalem, 275–302.
Marshall D. Johnson, The Purpose of the Biblical Genealogies, with Special Reference to the Setting of the Genealogies of Jesus (SNTSMS 9; London: Cambridge University Press, 1969).
Chaim Kaplan, “The Generation Schemes in Matthew I:1–17, Luke III:24ff.,” BSac 87 (1930) 465–71.
M. Lambertz, “Die Toledoth in Mt 1,1–17 und Lc 3,23bff,” in Horst Kusch, ed., Festschrift Franz Dornseiff zum 65. Geburtstag (Leipzig: Bibliographisches Institut, 1953) 201–25.
J. Luzarraga, “Lo simbólico de la mujer en la genealogía mateana,” in G. Aranda, C. Basevi, and J. Chapa, eds., Biblia, exegesis y cultura: Estudios en honor del José María Casciaro (Pamplona: EUNSA, 1994) 295–310.
Bruce M. Metzger, “The Text of Matthew 1:16,” in David E. Aune, ed., Studies in the New Testament and Early Christian Literature: Essays in Honor of Allen P. Wikgren (Leiden: Brill, 1972) 16–24.
Gerard Mussies, “Parallels to Matthew’s Version of the Pedigree of Jesus,” in Pieter Willem van der Horst and Gerard Mussies, Studies on the Hellenistic Background of the New Testament (Utrecht: Faculteit der Godgeleerdheid, Rijksuniversiteit te Utrecht, 1990) 49–64.
D. E. Nineham, “The Genealogy in St. Matthew’s Gospel and Its Significance for the Study of the Gospel,” BJRL 58 (1975/76) 421–44.
John Nolland, “A Text-Critical Discussion of Matthew 1:16,” CBQ 58 (1996) 665–73.
Idem, “The Four (Five) Women and Other Annotations in Matthew’s Genealogy,” NTS 43 (1997) 527–39.
E. Pascual, “La Genealogía de Jesús según S. Mateo,” EstBib 23 (1964) 109–49.
M. Petit, “Bethsabé dans la tradition juive jusqu’aux Talmudim,” Judaica 47 (1991) 209–23.
L. Ramlot, “Les généaologies bibliques,” BVC 60 (1964) 53–70.
Franz Schnider and Werner Stenger, “Die Frauen im Stammbaum Jesu nach Mattäus,” BZ NF 23 (1979) 187–96.
Wolfgang Speyer, “Genealogie,” RAC 9 (1976) 1145–1268.
Harmut Stegemann, “ ‘Die des Uria’,” in Gert Jeremias, Heinz-Wolfgang Kuhn, and Harmut Stegemann, eds., Tradition und Glaube: Das frühe Christentum in seiner Umwelt: Festgabe für Karl Georg Kuhn zum 65. Geburtstag (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1971) 246–76.
Anton Vögtle, “ ‘Josias zeugte den Jechonias und seine Brüder’ (Mt 1,11),” in Heinrich Gross and Franz Mussner, eds., Lex tua veritas: Festschrift für Hubert Junker zur Vollendung des siebzigsten Lebensjahres am 8. August 1961 (Trier: Paulinus-Verlag, 1961) 307–13.
Peter Vogt, Der Stammbaum bei den heiligen Evangelisten Matthäus und Lukas: Eine historisch-exegetische Untersuchung (BibS 12/3; Freiburg: Herder, 1907).
Herman C. Waetjen, “The Genealogy as the Key to the Gospel according to Matthew,” JBL 95 (1976) 205–30.
Wim J. C. Weren, “The Five Women in Matthew’s Genealogy,” CBQ 59 (1997) 288–305.
Yair Zakowitch, “Rahab als Mutter des Boas in der Jesus-Genealogie (Matth. I 5),” NovT 17 (1975) 1–5.

For additional literature see above, I A (1:2–2:23).

2 Abraham begat Isaac,
Isaac begat Jacob,
Jacob begat Judah and his brothers,
3 Judah begat Perez and Zerah by Tamar
Perez begat Hezron,
Hezron begat Aram,
4 Aram begat Aminadab,
Aminadab begat Nahshon,
Nahshon begat Salmon,
5 Salmon begat Boaz by Rahab,
Boaz begat Obed by Ruth,
Obed begat Jesse,
6 Jesse begat David the king.
David begat Solomon by the (wife) of Uriah,
7 Solomon begat Rehoboam,
Rehoboam begat Abijah,
Abijah begat Asaph,
8 Asaph begat Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat begat Joram,
Joram begat Uzziah,
9 Uzziah begat Jotham,
Jotham begat Ahaz,
Ahaz begat Hezekiah,
10 Hezekiah begat Manasseh,
Manasseh begat Amos,
Amos begat Josiah,
11 Josiah begat Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 After the deportation to Babylon Jechoniah begat Shealtiel,
Shealtiel begat Zerubbabel,
13 Zerubbabel begat Abiud,
Abiud begat Eliakim,
Eliakim begat Azor,
14 Azor begat Zadok,
Zadok begat Achim,
Achim begat Eliud,
15 Eliud begat Eleazar,
Eleazar begat Matthan,
Matthan begat Jacob,
16 Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary from whom Jesus who is called the Christ was begotten.
17 Thus all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
The genealogy consists of a long series of monotone, short main clauses. The key to its arrangement is v. 17*, which gives the readers a point of view for what they have read. It consists of three groups of fourteen generations. If we follow v. 17*, there are fourteen generations from Abraham through David. From Solomon through Jechoniah there are another fourteen generations, but from Shealtiel to Jesus there are only thirteen. Does that mean that Jechoniah or David is to be counted twice? Yet the suggestion that we should do this only with Jechoniah at the beginning of the third group of fourteen but not with David at the beginning of the second is awkward. If we count David and Jechoniah twice, we would have fifteen generations in the middle section. Thus the arrangement given in v. 17* does not add up.
Extra comments are added to the monotone genealogy. They mention women (vv. 3*, 5a*, b*, 6b*; cf. 16*), brothers (vv. 2c*, 11*), David as king (v. 6a*), and the exile twice (vv. 11–12*). Most unusual is the reference to Mary in v. 16*, because the construction changes: suddenly “beget” (γεννάω) is constructed in the passive voice. In addition, Χριστός is added to Jesus (as in 1:1*). This is the high point of the list of generations.
The genealogy, a frequent genre in biblical as well as Hellenistic sources, is formally a list of Abraham’s descendants. It thus connects immediately with and develops “son of Abraham” in v. 1*. However, it is at the same time—that is what v. 1* led the readers to expect—Jesus’ ancestral line. Thus the list of descendants reached its expected climax in the more detailed v. 16*. It is “an unusual hybrid.”21 At several places it is expanded with the addition of information, as is not at all unusual in biblical genealogical lists. It belongs to the type of the so-called linear genealogical lists (without branches!) that in antiquity often functioned to give legitimation.23 It may have served that function in the church before Matthew: Jesus is descended from the progenitor Abraham through Israel’s royal dynasty. He is not only an authentic Jew; he is a descendant of David.
The comments that are added remind the readers of the important episodes of biblical history with which they are familiar. Here they become a shorthand summary of Israel’s history.
Redaction and Tradition
Many interpreters regard the evangelist Matthew as the author of this genealogy. It is probable, however, that it was already at his disposal—a conclusion supported by the following arguments. First, the names do not always agree with the evangelist’s Bible, the LXX. Second, there is no convincing reason why Matthew would have omitted the three kings in the middle section in view of the mistakes that remain in the fourteen-schema. The omission fits better the thesis that Matthew was not a scribe and that he did not have a complete Bible available to him.26 In all probability the three kings were omitted accidentally at some point, that is, because two of the names sounded alike. Matthew may have noticed that the genealogy he had contains something like three times fourteen members and held to that in v. 17*. Matthew may be responsible for the concluding v. 17* and thus the schema of the three-times-fourteen generations.28 Do the various additions in the genealogy come from his hand? The reference to the brothers of Joseph and Jehoiakim makes no more sense in terms of Matthean interpretation than does the reference to Zerah alongside Perez. The (single) mention of the royal title with David and the (double) emphasized reference to the Babylonian exile could be related to the Matthean schematic of v. 17*.30 Matthew is most likely responsible for the inclusion of the ancestral women Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, although this thesis can be justified only by claiming that his theology may be read creatively. In the much-debated v. 16*, at most the addition “the one called Christ” (ὁ λεγόμενος Χριστός) can be attributed to Matthew. The passive “was begotten” (ἐγεννήθη), which reflects the belief in the virgin birth, remains uncertain. Whether at some point in an early stage of the tradition the genealogy assumed that Joseph was the biological father is more than uncertain.
In all probability the genealogy comes from a Greek-speaking Jewish Christianity that was influenced by the LXX but that did not directly use it in composing the genealogy.34 In view of the good genealogical traditions in particular of the Jewish priests and in view of the fact that descent from a Davidic family has occasionally been claimed,36 we may not in principle be skeptical toward the historicity of such genealogies. However, too much speaks against the historicity of this genealogy for us to take it seriously: the extensive disagreement with the Lukan genealogy of Luke 3:23–38* that has occasioned a great deal of reflection from the earliest times, in particular that even the name of Jesus’ grandfather does not appear to be firmly established, as well as the far too few generations for the time between the exile and Joseph.

The genealogy puts the readers back into the world of the Bible. The monotonously repeated “begat” is characteristic of biblical genealogies (Gen 5:3–32*; 11:10–28*; Ruth 4:18–22*; 1 Chr 1–9). The history of Israel passes before their eyes in concentrated form. Thus the genesis of Jesus Christ begins with the history of Israel: it continues that history and includes it as its beginning. Its point of departure is Abraham. The genealogy first of all elucidates what “son of Abraham” means. Jesus the Messiah is an Israelite, Abraham’s descendant. He is a descendant of the patriarchs. That is not a banality; it is part of God’s plan in history. The genealogy also elucidates Jesus’ Davidic sonship. Jesus is David’s descendant and thus a Messiah of royal descent. That is why v. 6* also emphasizes David as king and then lets the kings on David’s throne with whom the readers were familiar pass before their eyes. Thus the genealogy puts Jesus at the center of Israel’s history. He is Abraham’s son and royal Messiah and thus the bearer of all of Israel’s messianic hopes in accordance with God’s plan. This is the fundamental affirmation of the genealogy.
The rest of the Matthean story will expand, accentuate, and change this fundamental affirmation. In the following chapter Jesus will already come into conflict with Herod, the nation’s reigning king. Later chapters will show that Jesus’ royal rule is different from that ordinarily found with kings. Jesus, the son of David, is the Messiah who heals—the one who bears the weaknesses and illnesses of his people (8:17*).38 In 21:5* he will enter Jerusalem as the “meek” king who is different. Thus with the genealogy Matthew establishes a basis for an important theme of his Gospel: Jesus, the son of David, is Israel’s Messiah.
It is not as easy to follow the theme of Abrahamic sonship. The empty place created by v. 1* is initially filled: Abraham is the forefather of the nation of Israel; Israel’s special history begins in the Bible with him.39 Thus Jesus is an Israelite. The proclamation of the Baptist will strike a counternote here: God can awaken children of Abraham even from stones (3:9*).40 Unlike “son of David,” the term “son of Abraham” does not directly disclose a Matthean theme. Nevertheless, that with the Matthean story of Jesus his Abrahamic sonship is also deepened, expanded, and changed will indirectly become clear from the journey and the fate of Abraham’s son, Jesus, in Israel.
Thus far we have considered the message of the “main axis” of the genealogy. Now we will turn to the various narrative expansions that interrupt the monotony of the “begetting.” Do they provide further clues for interpretation?
■ 2–3*, 11–12* It is difficult to explain the reference to “brothers” that appears twice, with Judah and with Jechoniah. In v. 2* an indirect reference to the other sons of Jacob is understandable, because they are the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. Also understandable is the reference to Zerah in v. 3*, since according to Gen 38:27–30* he is the twin brother of Perez. The reference to the brothers of Jechoniah, who are not mentioned in the Bible, remains puzzling.41 It is also unclear why in vv. 11–12* the Babylonian exile is so emphasized even though it does not properly fit the schema of the three-times-fourteen generations. It was necessary to mention it, because the purpose of the genealogy is not only to give information about Jesus’ ancestors and to legitimate Jesus as the Messiah but at the same time to recall the entire history of the people of God, Israel.

We should keep these obscurities in mind as we turn now to the most important addition to the genealogy, the mention of the four ancestral mothers in vv. 3*, 5*, and 6*. They should warn us against wanting to see in them in all circumstances a single uniform meaning. The choice is unusual. The great Jewish female figures are missing: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel. Is there a common denominator of just these four women?
There are essentially three suggested interpretations that compete with one another:
1. Were the women inserted into the genealogy as sinners as a demonstration of God’s grace? The idea is appealing with Bathsheba, since the expression “the (wife) of Uriah” naturally makes one think primarily of her adultery. However, this is impossible for Ruth, who according to the OT and Jewish tradition is without blame. This interpretation is also difficult for Rahab according to Jewish witnesses; she is celebrated as a prototype of a proselyte and as an instrument of God’s Spirit.43 Tamar is also exonerated and for Philo is simply a symbol of virtue. Even with Bathsheba the Jewish texts are more interested in David’s sin than in Bathsheba’s sin.45 This interpretation must be rejected.
2. A divine irregularity is a common denominator among the four women. God’s saving activity sometimes takes unexpected turns. This interpretation would permit a connection to the virgin Mary, with whom the irregularity reached a peak, and it can hardly be refuted as long as it does not go beyond the general idea of God’s providential activity. It becomes difficult, however, when one tries to define the “irregularity” more narrowly. It can lie, for example, in the special nature of the relationship of the women to their partners. But are Ruth’s marriage, Bathsheba’s adultery, and even Mary’s betrothal at all comparable? There has also been an effort to understand all of these women as instruments of the Holy Spirit, but the Jewish sources are either late or nonexistent.47 Also speaking against this interpretation is the variety among the assumed irregularities or the general and abstract nature of the common denominator. The only thing that remains is that God triumphs in a surprising way over human impediments or the “surprising newness” of God’s activity with all five women.49 Some have claimed that the advantage of this interpretation is that one can posit a relationship between the four women and the fifth woman, Mary.51 But is that really necessary? Verse 16* is formulated in a completely different way from vv. 3*, 5–6*, because the stereotypical active “begat” ends and is replaced by the passive “was begotten.” The readers will naturally understand “from Mary” in v. 16* in terms of the virgin birth. That in any case eliminates Mary as a parallel to the other four women.
3. A third suggestion is that all four women are non-Jews. Tamar is usually, but not always, regarded in the Jewish tradition as a proselyte.53 Ruth is a Moabitess, Rahab a resident of Canaanite Jericho. There are no reports about Bathsheba. Is that why she is cited not by name but as the wife of Uriah, who, as is well known, was a Hittite (2 Sam 11:3*)? That is conceivable, but it is by no means the most obvious idea that the readers would associate with the name Uriah. Thus this sense is clear only with Ruth and Rahab. With Tamar it is quite possible, and for Bathsheba it may be possible. One can hardly posit a relationship here to Mary.
In spite of a degree of uncertainty, I regard the third interpretation of the four ancestral mothers as the best choice, and I prefer it to the alternative of different interpretations of the individual women. A unified interpretation is suggested by the “provocative” choice of the four women: since it is not Israel’s well-known ancestral mothers but completely different women who are named, the readers expect an unusual message. The fourfold identical “begotten … from …” (ἐγέννησεν … ἐκ τῆς …) also speaks for a unified interpretation. Thus the women give the genealogy a universalistic undertone. That the son of David, Israel’s Messiah, brings salvation for the Gentiles is a hidden message. That suggests then a further clue for the interpretation of the “son of Abraham” in 1:1* that looks to be so simple and yet is so unusual—a term that may be clearer for the readers after they have read the genealogy. One is to think not only of Abraham as Israel’s father but also of the broad Jewish tradition that sees Abraham as the father of the proselytes.56 The movement of Israel’s salvation to the Gentiles, a dominant theme of the Gospel of Matthew, is already declared in its opening text.
■ 16* The final member of the genealogy is longer than all the others. It is thus fitting for “the Christ”57 with whom the genealogy has now arrived at its conclusion and climax. It is only for his sake that the evangelist has recapitulated Israel’s history in the genealogy. The passive “was begotten” and the reference to Mary let the readers think of the virgin birth with which they are familiar. How Mary’s son belongs in Joseph’s genealogy is still an open question. The next section, 1:18–25*, will answer that question.
■ 17* The narrator’s final comment gives the genealogy another key for the readers: it consists of three-times-fourteen generations. This additional observation is necessary, because the readers would probably not have counted the generations on their own initiative.58 With this number they probably associate the idea of the divine plan that lies over the history of Israel that leads to Jesus.
It is not unusual that the number of generations in genealogies is a round number or that it is noted, but the material does not suggest any firm scheme of interpretation. Even over the number fourteen we can only hazard conjectures. The gematric number of the Hebrew name David is fourteen, but do the Greek-speaking readers of the Gospel of Matthew know that? A rabbinic parallel suggests that Matthew may have been inspired by the lunar phases and perhaps associated the fourteen generations from Abraham to David with the time of the waxing of the moon, the fourteen from David to the exile with the time of its waning, and the fourteen to Jesus again with the time of its waxing. But that is very uncertain. The church fathers see in the three-times-fourteen generations a reference to the Trinity or to the six ages of the world.61 Only in quite general terms are the apocalyptic parallels on the division of the history of the world into ten weeks (1 Enoch 93; 91), into twelve ages (2 Bar. 53–74), or the rabbinic tradition about the great world week of seven times one thousand years relevant for understanding our text. These conceptions also presuppose the idea of a divine plan in history.
History of Interpretation

1. The church’s interpretation was concerned with the difficulties created by the Matthean and Lukan genealogies. Two problems stood out: (a) Why, or to what degree, is the genealogy of Jesus, the son of a virgin, also the genealogy of Joseph? (b) How are the differences between Jesus’ two NT genealogies to be explained?
a. Since Justin, Jesus’ Davidic descent has been guaranteed with the claim that Mary was also of Davidic descent. Since Mary’s virgin birth was usually taken for granted, one had to look for reasons why in the Gospels it is Joseph’s genealogy rather than Mary’s that is recorded. Not until the fifteenth century does Alphonsus Tostatus concede that the genealogy may have said something about Jesus’ descent in Matthew’s day, “but today it no longer proves anything.”66 That “Joseph’s genealogy” demonstrated the Davidic descent because in any case he was Jesus’ legal father is an idea that is foreign to the interpretation of the ancient church.
b. The interpretation of the ancient church has explained the difference between the two genealogies in different ways. According to Tertullian, Matthew offers Mary’s genealogy, while Luke offers Joseph’s. The suggestion of Julius Africanus, reported by Eusebius (Hist. eccl. 1.7), came to be dominant. According to this view Matthew offers Jesus’ “natural” genealogy, while Luke offers his “legal” genealogy. The differences came about when in the case of childlessness a levirate marriage was contracted, and one evangelist mentions the natural father, the other the legal father. Compared with this thesis, other attempts, such as Augustine’s reference to adoption as another possible form of legal paternity,68 did not become popular. In the sixteenth century Protestants, in a reversal of Africanus’s idea, represented the view that Luke offers the natural and Matthew the legal genealogy. Generally speaking, however, one can see no significant confessional difference on this point.
2. Christologically, for the church fathers the genealogy refers to Jesus’ humanity.
The beginning of the Gospel of Matthew (1:1*) speaks of the birth of Jesus the human being, not of the generation of divinity, which is inexpressible.70 The genealogy is then to be read in light of the first verse. That Jesus the Son of God definitely had shady ancestors—John Chrysostom mentions here not only the women as sinners but also Judah the whoremonger and David, who begat Solomon in adultery—shows the greatness of the miracle of God’s incarnation. This insight was already sharpened soteriologically in the ancient church: Christ, who knew no sin, “assumed the form of sinful man and was born of the lineage of Solomon whose sins are a matter of record.” The exegesis of the Reformation then especially emphasized this aspect.73
By contrast, the message of the “main axis” of the genealogy remains somewhat overshadowed in the interpretation of the ancient church—namely, that Jesus was born not merely as a human being but as an Israelite from David’s royal family. If Jesus’ Jewishness is expressly mentioned at all, it is in the Pauline perspective of Gal 3:8*: Abraham is the father not only of the Jews but of all nations.74
3. Modern historical criticism of the genealogies has its predecessors in ancient anti-Christian polemics.
Celsus already rejected the genealogies as fictions. Still influential today is the observation of the apostate emperor Julian that not even the name of Jesus’ grandfather was known for certain.77 Porphyry’s criticism of the genealogies had a great influence. In the modern period the genealogies have been used as an argument against the virgin birth.79 Although the argument is widespread, it has no solid basis. It is supported neither by the evangelist Matthew nor by the Sinaitic Syriac and is only perhaps supported by a pre-Matthean stage of the tradition for which there is no longer any tradition-historical proof.
The history of interpretation illustrates the difficulties that the genealogies cause not just for today. The abundance of names and the fictive character induced interpreters to offer constructions and apologies that diverted attention from the concern of the text. Luther illustrates the difficulties that one had always had with the many unfamiliar names: “It looks like a useless, unnecessary writing in which he has reviewed the names of the dear fathers, since we know absolutely nothing about them, and it is of no help to us at all.” A poem by Friedrich von Sallet (ca. 1835) in which we feel almost too much at home impressively illustrates the contrast between the living genealogical thinking of the Jews and the earliest Jewish Christians:

He was a son, he was a son, he was a son—
This one begat that one, this one begat that one, this one begat that one—
It drags thus along with the same dull lyric
Until my head is spinning with dead names.

Family trees, crudely patched together
by the weak minds of simpletons, if not by a scornful hand,
for young squires, to benefit simple women
so that they not believe beneath their station.

I tear you out. What is this barren leaf doing
in the holy book full of the splendor of fresh palms?
What difference does it make whether Harry begat Conrad
all the way down to him who made the world free?

It is no accident that hardly anyone preaches on this text today. The history of interpretation shows how it almost always led to difficulties whenever one tried to deal with its historical statements. In any case it forces us to distinguish between its linguistic form and its theological concern. Jesus is son of David, that is, sent to Israel by God as his Anointed One; and at the same time he is Abraham’s son, because through him, the Israelite, God wants to speak to the entire Gentile world. That is the message of this text. Today we will have to do without its linguistic expression—that is, the genealogy—because scholarship, probably in this case with finality, has recognized that it is a fiction.
Nevertheless, it is important to consider how seriously the church’s interpretation of all ages had tried to understand it as a piece of history. A basic affirmation of Christian faith is contained here—the knowledge that Jesus is a human, historical figure. That is why—thus says Irenaeus—Matthew begins his Gospel with Jesus’ human descent, and that is why, he continues, interpreting the human person as the symbol of the evangelist Matthew, “a humble and meek man is kept up through the whole Gospel.” Matthew would probably add to this ecclesiastical interpretation that Jesus is not just any human being; he is a member of the nation of Israel, its Messiah in whom the history of Israel has reached its goal.

2 Birth, Endangerment, and Rescue of the Messianic Child (1:18–2:23*)
2.1 Immanuel (1:18–25*)
Dale C. Allison, “Divorce, Celibacy and Joseph (Matt 1.18–25 and 19.1–12),” JSNT 49 (1993) 3–10.
Robert G. Bratcher, “A Study of Isaiah 7:14,” Bible Translator 9 (1958) 97–126.
Ingo Broer, “Die Bedeutung der ‘Jungfrauengeburt’ im Matthäusevangelium,” BibLeb 12 (1971) 248–60.
Raymond E. Brown, et al., Mary in the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978) 83–97.
Hans von Campenhausen, “Die Jungfrauengeburt in der Theologie der alten Kirche,” in Urchristliches und Altkirchliches (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1979) 63–161.
J. Massyngberde Ford, “Mary’s Virginitas Post-Partum and Jewish Law,” Bib 54 (1973) 269–72.
Frankemölle, Jahwebund, 12–21.
Iosephus M. Germano, “Nova et Vetera in pericope de sancto Ioseph (Mt 1,18–25),” VD 46 (1968) 351–60.
Idem, “ ‘Et non cognoscebat eam donec …,’ ” Marianum 35 (1973) 184–240.
Michael Krämer, “Die Menschwerdung Jesu Christi nach Matthäus (Matt 1),” Bib 45 (1964) 1–50.
David D. Kupp, Matthew’s Emmanuel: Divine Presence and God’s People in the First Gospel (SNTSMS 90; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 157–75.
Samuel T. Lachs, “Studies in the Semitic Background to the Gospel of Matthew,” JQR 17 (1977) 195–217.
Xavier Léon-Dufour, “L’annonce à Joseph,” in Études d’Évangile (Paris: Seuil, 1965) 69–86.
Gerard Mussies, “Joseph’s Dream (Matt 1:18–23) and Comparable Stories,” in Pieter Willem van der Horst and Gerard Mussies, Studies on the Hellenistic Background of the New Testament (Utrecht: Faculteit der Godgeleerdheid, Rijksuniversiteit te Utrecht, 1990) 86–95.
Rudolf Pesch, “Eine alttestamentliche Ausführungsformel im Matthäus-Evangelium: Redaktionsgeschichtliche und exegetische Beobachtungen,” BZ NF 10 (1966) 220–45; NF 11 (1967) 79–95.
Johannes Heinrich Raatschen, “Empfangen durch den Heiligen Geist: Überlegungen zu Mt 1,18–25,” ThBei 11 (1980) 262–77.
Martin Rösel, “Die Jungfrauengeburt des endzeitlichen Immanuel,” Jahrbuch für biblische Theologie 6 (1991) 135–51.
Antonio M. Sicari, “ ‘Joseph iustus’ (Matteo 1,19): La storia dell’interpretazione e le nuove prospettive,” Cahiers de Joséphologie 19 (1971) 62–83.
Franco Sottocornola, “Tradition and the Doubt of St. Joseph concerning Mary’s Virginity,” Marianum 19 (1957) 127–41.
Ceslaus Spicq, “ ‘Joseph, son mari, étant juste …’ (Mt 1,19),” RB 71 (1964) 206–14.
Alfred Suhl, “Der Davidsohn im Matthäus-Evangelium,” ZNW 59 (1968) 62–68.
Angelo Tosato, “Joseph Being a Just Man (Matt 1:19),” CBQ 41 (1979) 547–51.
Wolfgang Trilling, Die Christusverkündigung in den synoptischen Evangelien: Beispiele gattungsgemässer Auslegung (Munich: Kösel, 1969) 13–39.
Anton Vögtle, “Mt 1,25 und die virginitas B. M. Virginis post partum,” ThQ 147 (1967) 28–39.
Addison G. Wright, “The Literary Genre Midrash,” CBQ 28 (1966) 105–38, 417–57.
Dieter Zeller, “Die Ankündigung der Geburt—Wandlungen einer Gattung,” in Pesch, Theologie, 27–48.

For additional literature see above, I A on 1:2–2:23.

18 Now the origin of Jesus Christ was like this: When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be pregnant by the Holy Spirit. 19/ Her husband Joseph, who was just and who did not want to shame her, resolved to dismiss her secretly. 20/ But after he had thought about this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mariam2 your wife to yourself. What is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21/ She will bear a son, and you shall give him the name ‘Jesus’, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22/ That all happened in order to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin will become pregnant and will bear a son, and they will give him the name ‘Immanuel,’ ” which is translated “God is with us.” 24/ When Joseph awakened from sleep he did as the angel had commanded him and took his wife. 25/ And he did not know her until she bore a son, and he gave him the name Jesus.
Analysis Structure and Form
This story is told as prosaically and matter-of-factly as one could imagine. One immediately notices how different the style is from that of the lovely legend of Luke 2:1–20*. After the title statement in v. 18a* that takes up the theme of 1:1*, v. 18b* states the presupposition, Mary’s miraculous pregnancy. The participial style indicates that Matthew is not yet telling the story; he is merely naming its presuppositions. Verse 19* introduces in the nominative the story’s main person, Joseph, the righteous man. Now the story actually begins. In v. 20* the angel appears as a decisive person (“behold!”), predicts the birth of Jesus, and interprets his name. The angel’s announcement, which after the previous brevity is rather long, leads to the fulfillment quotation. Formally, this is a narrator’s commentary that is notable for mentioning a second time the pregnancy, the birth of the son and his name, but this time it is a different name. In v. 24* the narrative continues and is concluded with a few brief, stereotypical sentences. Joseph’s obedience is portrayed, whereby Joseph does exactly what the angel has commanded. Here the formulations in vv. 20–21* and in vv. 24–25* are almost literally identical.
Verse 18a* connects our narrative with the incipit of 1:1*, skipping over 1:2–17*. From the preceding genealogy it takes up the thread of v. 16*. It is closely connected to 2:13–23* by means of the dream motif and the related vocabulary (“angel of the Lord” [ἄγγελος κυρίου], “appear” [φαίνομαι], “by a dream” [κατʼ ὄναρ], “rising up” [ἐγερθείς]) as well as the same sovereign actor, Joseph, the key word “take” (παραλαμβάνω; 2 + 3 times), and the fulfillment quotations. The connection with the immediately following magi pericope, on the other hand, is relatively loose.
Although it deals with the virgin birth, the story is not a description of the birth, nor is it a legend. One can see how free of tension the story is by the fact that already in v. 18* it anticipates the actual point, the word of the angel. It concentrates completely on the person of Joseph, as does 2:13–23*, but unlike 2:1–12*. Three times the expressions τίκτω … υἱόν (“bear … son”) and καλέω … ὄνομα (“call … name”) indicate that the announcement of Jesus’ birth and the giving and interpreting of the name is the central concern. The word of the angel and the scripture quotation lead to a preponderance of christological instruction. Thus this text uses material that is only intimated and that the readers are assumed to know in order to establish certain doctrinal accents. In that sense, the interpreters who describe this text as a “christological midrash” are making an accurate observation. However, this story is not a midrash in the sense of the genre “midrash.”7
Current scholars increasingly tend to regard the entire pericope as redactional, in which case Matthew would simply have used traditional motifs. The opposing thesis is that Matthew more or less strongly reworked a traditional story. The decision between these options is not easy.
1. The vocabulary suggests a thorough but not complete Matthean reworking of the pericope. As in Matthew 2, here also the number of distinctive Mattheanisms is much larger than on average in the Gospel.
2. Since v. 18a* refers back to v. 1* and takes up the language of v. 16*, it could well be redactional.
3. Unlike most of the other fulfillment quotations in Matthew, the fulfillment quotation from Isa 7:14*, a verse quoted nowhere else in the NT,10 corresponds almost literally to the LXX. “They will call” (καλέσουσιν) instead of “you will call” (καλέσεις) may be determined by the context: “one”—that is, the church—will call Jesus Immanuel. Thus we must assume that not only the introductory formula in v. 22* but also the quotation itself could come from Matthew, who as a rule quotes the OT according to the LXX text when he is not following a source.
4. Pesch in particular calls attention to the close parallels between this text and 21:1–7*.11 Both texts are determined by the so-called fulfillment formula, a Matthean expression that in language influenced by the OT describes the exact fulfilling or carrying out of a divine command (vv. 24–25*; cf. 21:6–7* and 26:19*; 28:15*).
5. The fulfillment quotation in vv. 22–23* can easily be removed from the context. What remains then is a compact pericope containing the giving of the name. However, there are numerous links between the quotation and the text of the rest of the pericope (“to have in [the] womb” [ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχειν], vv. 18*, 23*; “she will bear a son” [τέξεται υἱόν], vv. 21*, 23*; cf. 25*; “to call the name” [καλεῖν τὸ ὄνομα], vv. 21*, 23*, 25*).
6. The points of contact in language and content with the dream stories of 2:12–15*, 19–23* are numerous and suggest Matthean redaction.
7. In its language the form of vv. 20–21* follows a schema of the “birth announcement” already shaped by the OT.13 The most important parallels are the announcements to Hagar in Gen 16:7–12*, to Abraham in Gen 17:19*, to Samson’s mother in Judg 13:3–5*, and to Ahaz in Isa 7:14*.14 The parallels show that the present form of the text is influenced by the LXX. Although that reflects Matthew’s style, it permits no compelling conclusions about the author.
Conclusion: Matthew has thoroughly reworked the pericope and may have put it in writing for the first time. The fulfillment quotation of vv. 22–23* and the connection with the genealogy in v. 18a* come from him. Above all, the doubled scope of the twofold naming (#5 above), but also the points of contact with the contents of Matthew 2 (#6 above) and the scattered non-Matthean formulations (see n. 9 above) suggest that he had before him not only individual motifs but a story about naming the child, Jesus. That this story belonged to a pre-Matthean oral cycle of stories in which Joseph played a central role is probable.
Development of the Tradition
One can hardly say anything with certainty. The interpretation of the name Jesus, reminiscent of Ps 129:8* LXX, is not precise; יְהֹושֻׁעַ means “Yahweh is help.” Presumably in a Greek-speaking milieu one knew that the name Jesus had something to do with God’s help.16 In addition, occasionally there are related statements associated with the announcements of the births of important figures in the history of Israel. In the present form of the text the virgin birth is not the scope but a relatively unemphasized presupposition of the story. It is therefore improbable that it was added at a later stage of the tradition to an earlier story that originally told only of the announcement of the birth of the Messiah to his father, Joseph.18 In this case the virgin birth would probably have been given greater emphasis. It is not likely that the story was originally formulated in Aramaic.
The motifs point in different directions. The combination of divine sonship and Spirit (v. 18*) is an early Christian idea (Rom 1:4*; Mark 1:9–11*). But what is special in our text is its connection with the virgin birth. Births without the participation of a human father appear often in Hellenistic and especially in Egyptian reports of the divine generation of kings, heroes, philosophers, and so on. From a history-of-religions perspective it is difficult to know how much such ideas had also penetrated Judaism. In his interpretation of the story of the wives of the patriarchs, Philo speaks of a virginal begetting by God, although admittedly he interprets the patriarchal wives allegorically as virtues and associates God as a husband not with an actual virgin but with the idea of virginity (Cher. 40–52). The idea of a sexual procreation by God is foreign to him here as it is to almost all Jews. A Jewish legend closely related to Matt 1:18–20* is that of the virginal birth of Melchizedek in 2 Enoch 71.1–23. The husband of the mother Sopanima, Noah’s brother Nir, plays the same role as does Joseph: he wants to cast out (divorce) his apparently unfaithful wife. There are also parallels with Jewish legends about the birth of Moses. Jochebed, the mother of Moses, is 120 years old when her youth is restored to her and she conceives Moses (b. B. Batra 120a). However, there is no suggestion of a virgin birth here. Other Jewish parallels are even further removed from Matthew 1.
There are statements about the birth of Moses that are close parallels to the entire pericope. According to Josephus, the exemplary righteous man Amram is told by God in a dream about the future of Moses.26 According to another tradition, he divorces his wife but when reproached by Miriam takes her back. In this context it is said of Moses that he will save Israel.28 These parallels are all the more important when one considers that Matthew 2 also demonstrates a close relationship with the Moses haggadah. Beyond these common elements, it is influenced by the specifically biblical motif of the “birth announcement” that contains the topoi angelic appearance, message, giving of the name (with a prediction or an explanation).
Conclusion: This story is nourished by various traditions of which, along with the OT “birth announcement” and the legend of the birth of Melchizedek, the different variations of the Moses haggadah are the most important. They can only partially be harmonized with our text, however; we cannot assume that a birth legend of Moses was directly transferred to Jesus. The association with the idea of a virgin birth (for which there is no evidence in Palestinian Judaism) points to a Hellenistic Jewish church as the milieu of the tradition. In its details, however, it remains unclear where and to what degree the idea of virgin birth had been introduced to Greek-speaking Judaism.
In view of the numerous parallels, it is hopeless to ask about the historicity. For this story, which so strongly follows traditional schemas, we do not need to assume that it contains information from the circle of Jesus’ family. Nor are the signs favorable for the historicity of the virgin birth, which in the NT is transmitted only by Matthew and Luke. Although it is one of the numerous agreements between our pericope and the Lukan infancy narratives,31 it appears very little in the entire NT. It is probably part of the attempt of Jewish Christian communities to bear witness to the Jesus who was appointed by God as Son according to the Spirit (Rom 1:4*) in a way that was analogous to other ancient stories in the form of an infancy narrative. The virgin birth then is a means of confessing faith and has no historical background.
■ 18* The title clause of v. 18a* connects with v. 1* and explains v. 16*. Thus the evangelist connects our pericope with 1:2–17* as an “enlarged footnote to the crucial point in the genealogy.”32 This pericope is not merely a footnote, however; it is an independent, indeed fundamental, narrative. Verse 18b* states the situation. The evangelist provides only the most essential information. The reference to the generation by the Spirit, which anticipates what is to come and thus removes the tension, presupposes a certain knowledge on the part of the readers. They already know what Joseph will not learn until v. 20*. But the anticipation is no mere literary fluff; it is thoroughly artistic. The already informed readers know what is important in this story, and they are waiting until Joseph also finally learns it.
Joseph and Mary are betrothed; that is, from a legal point of view they are bound to one another. A betrothal can be dissolved only with a bill of divorce. The betrothed woman lives with her parents and does not yet have sexual relations with her bridegroom.34 “To come together” (συνελθεῖν) most likely refers to her move to the bridegroom’s house that takes place at the wedding.
■ 19* With v. 19* Joseph moves to center stage. Why he wanted to divorce Mary is a matter of great controversy. Many have asked whether Joseph knew about Mary’s pregnancy by the Spirit before the angel’s announcement. If he knew nothing about it, then the most natural conclusion is that he wanted to divorce his bride because he suspected her of adultery.36 If, however, he already knew about the special character of Mary’s pregnancy, one must assume that he did not want to take Mary to himself, because he was afraid to touch her who had been made sacred by God. In exegetical reflections on the question religious feelings often play a major role.38 Today the battle lines—with notable exceptions—still run along confessional boundaries, while opinions were divided in the ancient church.40
Verse 20* offers the most important support for the second, “Catholic” hypothesis: “Do not fear to take Mary …”: Joseph is afraid to touch Mary, because she belongs to God. Δειγματίζω is not an insurmountable difficulty for this hypothesis. Although the common meaning “to expose,” “make an example of” fits the first interpretation better, δειγματίζω might also mean “to examine” or neutrally “to make public.”43 The decisive difficulty for this theme is that it has the angel say things to Joseph in v. 20* that he already knows, and it does so precisely in those parts of v. 20* that are not determined by the OT “birth announcement.” Thus the first, “Protestant” hypothesis is more probable.44 Joseph, the righteous Jew, can either pursue the legally prescribed trial for adultery or he can draw up a bill of divorce.46 Of course, it is not possible to do the latter “in secret” either, since two witnesses are required for a bill of divorce, but it does attract less attention. Furthermore, Matthew does not describe the scene in the interest of a realistic portrayal. The question whether the divorced Mary would not be held in contempt at the very latest when she gives birth to her child does not bother him at all, just as he does not worry about the issue often raised by interpreters whether the two betrothed persons had not talked to each other.
Joseph’s “righteousness” consists either in that he follows the appropriate halakah and divorces his bride, or in that he does not want to shame Mary the suspected adulteress by subjecting her to a trial for adultery—thus in his kindness and gentleness.48
The connection between the two participles “being just” (δίκαιος ὤν) and “not wishing” (μὴ θέλων) with a simple “and” (καί) speaks for the second possibility, but probably Matthew does not see an alternative here, since it is self-evident for him that Joseph interprets the law in the sense of the love commandment and thus joins the series of the righteous persons that reaches from Abel (23:35*) and the OT righteous men (13:17*) through Jesus (27:19*, 24*) to those whom the final judgment will show to be doers of the commandments of Jesus (13:43*; 25:46*).
■ 20* Joseph has a dream, and in the dream an angel appears to him. Throughout the Bible the dream is a medium of revelation.50 The appearance of the angel is not described; the entire emphasis is on the message. Joseph is addressed as a son of David; as was already implied in v. 18a*, Matthew is interested in elucidating the grafting of the virgin’s son onto the stock of David. In substance, “to take” (παραλαμβάνειν) refers to the wedding. The reference to the Holy Spirit, known already from v. 18*, is repeated. We are to think here of God’s creative intervention by the Spirit and not of the (Greek neuter, Hebrew feminine) Spirit as Mary’s sexual partner.52
■ 21* The angel’s announcement reaches its peak in the command in v. 21* about giving the name, the scope of the traditional story. This provisional high point of the story makes a christological messianic statement. It first speaks of Jesus’ meaning in the context of Jewish expectation: that the Messiah will be the savior of his people is a common Jewish hope. The statement, however, that he will save the people “from their sins” is unusual as a Jewish hope.53 This reflects the Christian experiences with Jesus. Matthew in particular has a special interest in the forgiveness of sins that happens through Jesus and continues to be effective in the church. As it does through the Gospel of Matthew, “people” (λάος) here means the OT people of God, Israel. Thus the evangelist indicates, as he had already done in the genealogy and will do again in 2:2*, that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah.
■ 22* However, the high point of our story does not come until the narrator’s commentary in vv. 22–23* that interprets the entire story. The introductory formula to this the first Matthean fulfillment quotation is especially solemn. It does not entirely conform to the normal schema. The unusual “all” (ὅλον) suggests that Matthew does not bring the quotation merely for the sake of the name Immanuel; he finds the entire story of the birth announcement in the prophetic word. As will be the case later in 2:15*, the speaker of the quotation is God the Lord himself. That may initially suggest to the readers that God stands behind the prophet’s word as well as behind the word of his angel. With a second reading of the Gospel the readers will notice the similarity to 2:15*: the Son is mentioned in both quotations; the readers are being prepared for the claim that the virgin’s son is the Son of God.58 Thus for Matthew this verse is not merely an explanatory footnote to the genealogy; it also suggests new christological themes that will be developed in the Gospel.
■ 23* To the reader’s surprise, there is still another name for Jesus that “they” will give him. Since there is nothing in the context to which the third person plural can refer, the readers will think of themselves here. For them Jesus will be Immanuel. Since Immanuel is neither a name of Jesus nor a common title, this naming is unusual. Since the Greek-speaking readers of the Gospel must also know what this word means, the translation gives “Immanuel” additional emphasis. Allusions to “God-with-us” run through the entire Gospel (e.g., 17:17*; 18:20*; 26:29*).59 Above all, with the last verse of his Gospel (“I am with you always until the end of the world,” 28:20*) Matthew has created an inclusion that marks out a basic theme: the presence of the exalted Lord with his church establishes him as Immanuel, as God with us. Thus the Jewish Christian Matthew has put his story of Jesus in an extremely high christological perspective. Although he did not identify Jesus with God, he probably implied that for him Jesus is the form in which God will be present with his people and later with all nations.
The “all” (ὅλον) in v. 22* already indicated that although the Immanuel name is the most important, it is not the only motif in the quotation from Isa 7:14* that is important for Matthew. The prophetic word is fulfilled in the entire infancy narrative. The virgin birth is also part of that word. Based on the context, παρθένος is certainly to be understood as “virgin,” although that understanding is not necessary based on the meaning of the prophetic word. The MT reads עַלְמָה, meaning “young woman.” Although the interpretation of Isa 7:14* continues to be a matter of controversy, Isaiah was clearly thinking neither of a virgin birth nor of a Messiah who would be born centuries later. Thus the quotation has been reinterpreted on the basis of the LXX text that, in contrast to Aquila and Theodotion (νεᾶνις), reads παρθένος. The meaning of this unusual LXX translation is unclear.
■ 24–25* The concluding verses portray the fulfillment of the heavenly command by Joseph. In v. 24* Matthew makes use of the OT-styled “fulfillment formula” to emphasize Joseph as an exemplary righteous man. That Joseph had no sexual relations with Mary before Jesus’ birth corresponds to a common topos in Hellenism in connection with the birth of divine men. There the basic idea is that relations with a woman who was considered worthy of sexual intercourse with higher beings is unseemly. With Matthew, however, there is no suggestion of such ideas. He is interested rather in the idea of obedience:63 the righteous Joseph also fulfills the prediction of Isa 7:14* in that Mary will give birth to a son as a virgin.

Matthew has added a new scope to the traditional story of the naming of Jesus. Of greatest importance to him is that Jesus is Immanuel. He thus calls attention from the very beginning to the reality of the life of the church “with” which Jesus always will be until the end of the world (28:20*). Thus from the first Matthew breaches a purely historical dimension of his story of Jesus. Jesus is not a figure of the past; he is the one who accompanies and carries his church. Our pericope and the final pericope 28:16–20* have a reciprocal relationship. If the concern of 28:16–20* is that the risen one is none other than the earthly one and that being a Christian means to keep the commandments of the earthly Jesus, 1:18–25* makes clear that the earthly one is none other than the exalted one who is “with” his community. At the same time the Gospel of Matthew contains at the beginning a clear reference to the grace that occurs through Jesus Christ—and that is important with this Gospel of law and commandments.
This main scope of the Matthean narrative does not exclude secondary perspectives. It has an ethical secondary scope: the figure of the righteous Joseph and his obedience. It is also important as a story, because in it an OT prediction is fulfilled. To that extent, but only to that extent, the virgin birth is also important. It further explicates the “grafting of Jesus onto the family of David”65 that was left open in 1:16*: Jesus is descended from David—one must exaggerate here—in spite of the virgin birth about which the community knows. These are all secondary perspectives that were important to the evangelist even though they were not his central concern. They show how such a story can contain many levels.
History of Interpretation

The history of the interpretation and influence of this section offers examples of how a text’s influence has not corresponded to its intention. Historically, secondary points came to have a greater effect than the main point. New situations caused its actual message to recede into the background. The history of interpretation is still important, however, because many of its questions also concern us.
1. The quotation from Isa 7:14* became a central point in the Christian-Jewish dialogue or in the Christian polemic against Judaism, against which the Jews for centuries could hardly defend themselves.
An example of the controversy about Isa 7:14* comes from Calvin, from whom one especially would not expect such tones: “What kind of urge to falsehood.… Deservedly they are Christ’s foes whom God maddens with the spirit of giddiness and strikes down in a stupor.… The Jews by their intemperate attitude have exposed, not themselves only, but the sacred mysteries of God to mockery.” We should not only regard the quotation, an example of many one could cite, as a vulgar polemic in the style of the times; we should also recognize that historically such dealings with the Jews on the theological level have had devastating consequences. Luther said that he would gladly pay one hundred guilders to the “obstinate, damned Jews” if Isa 7:14* really means “young woman” and not “virgin.”68 He owes the money. The synagogue has usually interpreted Isa 7:14* as a reference to Hezekiah,69 an interpretation that today continues to be part of the discussion and is at least right in thinking of a contemporary figure. However, the traditional Christian interpretation that Isa 7:14* refers to the Messiah, Jesus, is untenable as historical exegesis. Matt 1:22–23* confronts the church paradigmatically with the problem of the hermeneutic of the OT.
Thus at our text one can speak no longer of a fulfillment of OT predictions by God but only of the early Christian belief in this fulfillment. Instead of God’s activity in history leading to Jesus, there is—to overstate the case—the belief in that activity. Instead of Bible words that the church uses triumphantly against Judaism, there is perplexity. The church’s interpretation of Matt 1:22–23* is proof of Christian sin, and it is precisely as such that it is relevant. For us a mystery lies over God’s faithfulness to himself to which 1:22–23* in the final analysis wanted to call attention. It is a mystery that cannot be superficially decoded with individual proof texts.
2. A second point in the history of interpretation especially concerns Catholic exegesis: Matt 1:25* still plays a role in the discussion about Mary’s perpetual virginity even after the birth of Jesus.
Does v. 25* assume that Joseph no longer had sexual relations with Mary after the birth of Jesus? The question was already hotly debated in the ancient church.70 Mary’s perpetual virginity was rejected by the Arians Eunomius and Eudoxius and especially by Helvidius, whom Jerome combated in a brilliant polemical document. Behind his polemic stands not only a mariological interest but also a monk’s interest in virginity (cf. esp. vv. 18–22*). The most important argument for the possibility of a virginitas post partum is a philological argument: Ἕως does not necessarily imply that after the time indicated something changed. That is indisputable, and it can also be demonstrated in Matthew. On the other hand, the other two arguments are hardly tenable—that γινώσκειν refers not to sexual intercourse but to knowing Mary’s mystery, and that the imperfect ἐγίνωσκεν implies Mary’s perpetual virginity. As with the question of Jesus’ “brothers,”75 the Catholic thesis of the perpetual virginity cannot be conclusively refuted exegetically, but the overwhelming probability suggests that the idea was foreign to Matthew. Since a perpetual virginity of Mary would have been most unusual for his readers, Matthew would have had to state it expressis verbis.
In sum, although it is indisputable that “until she bore a son” does not exclude the possibility of a continuing virginity for Mary, Matthew did not need to exclude this possibility, since it was totally foreign to him.
3. Above all, the virgin birth itself has engaged the history of interpretation. The difficulties have been different in different times. While (a) in the ancient church the concern was to incorporate the virgin birth into the overarching christological design of the two-natures doctrine, (b) in the modern period there has been the basic criticism of the virgin birth itself, especially in the Protestant discussion but also recently in the Catholic discussion.78
a. What is the case nowhere in the NT comes to be taken for granted in the ancient church: the virgin birth is connected with the idea of preexistence and incarnation. In the Eastern tradition the virgin birth, incorporated into preexistence christology, initially had a primarily antidocetic scope. Later it becomes an honorific statement not about Jesus but about Mary. Mary is honored—“Mother of God” (θεοτόκος)—by becoming the vehicle of the birth of the preexistent Son of God. The accents are different in the Western tradition, where the question about sin, concupiscence, and the Savior’s sinlessness becomes the context for statements about the virgin birth.
The connection of the virgin birth with the doctrine of the Trinity posed a special problem. The coexistence of virgin birth and preexistence was often interpreted in terms of the two-natures doctrine: Matthew 1 then portrays the birth of the human being, while John 1 portrays the birth of the God Jesus. The virgin birth refers especially to Christ’s human nature.
Based on the doctrine of the Trinity it is difficult to determine how one is to understand the participation of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ begetting. The Holy Spirit cannot and may not be Jesus’ father; thus it is also emphasized that Christ was “created” not by the substantia but by the virtus of the Holy Spirit. Christ is a creatura of the Spirit. Later the Holy Spirit can then be designated as causa efficiens. In the framework of the “works of the Trinity” the birth of Christ is seen in a special way as the work of the Holy Spirit, because for human beings it is the greatest gift and benefit since the work of the Spirit is to bestow gifts on human beings and to make them alive. And that takes place through the birth of Christ.84 People also knew that the reference to the creative agency of the Holy Spirit does not “explain” the birth of Christ: “Believe! Believe strongly! Do not question. Neither Gabriel nor Matthew was able to say how this happened.”
b. Apart from a few Jewish Christian and Gnostic groups of the first centuries, the virgin birth has been widely contested only since the early nineteenth century. The rationalist H. E. G. Paulus still completely trusts the “Nazarethan family record” that Matthew had before him, because it supplements the Lukan birth story well from another perspective. A half century later, however, for Bruno Bauer the irreconcilable contradictions between the two birth stories are a certainty, and he takes it upon himself “to restore the marriage from which Jesus came as what it was—as a marriage that had already been consummated.”88 Schleiermacher’s “criticism” of the “ecclesiastical formulae concerning the Person of Christ” was influential. He rejected the virgin birth both in terms of the genealogies and because it does not provide a sufficient basis for Jesus’ sinlessness. To be consistent not only would one have to maintain Mary’s sinlessness; “the same affirmation must be made … about the mother of Mary and so right back through the generations.” Since then, the virgin birth has been maintained as a fact that “is accessible only to faith,”90 avoided as difficult, interpreted as a sign,92 or rejected as a pseudo-explanation of the miracle of the incarnation.
Those who, in view of the amount of Hellenistic parallel material and in view of its weak witness in the NT, regard the virgin birth—as I do—as quite improbable must think about how much the truth of the message of the text Matt 1:18–25* depends on the factuality of the virgin birth. Matthew makes the task easier and at the same time more difficult. He of course believed in the virgin birth, which he had received from his tradition, but it is not the main scope of this text. Closely connected to the virgin birth are only the secondary concerns of the text: Joseph’s obedience and especially the proof text from Isa 7:14*.
How the originally pagan virgin birth motif was transferred to Jesus is a question for the pre-Matthean tradition. Since we can no longer precisely reconstruct the reasons and experiences there that led to it, however, we can also no longer discuss with certainty the legitimacy of this transferal in the context of that time. What is clear is only that the relationship between sexuality and sin that so strongly characterized the interpretation in the Western churches hardly led to this transferal. On this point the tension between the text and the history of its interpretation challenges us to think critically about our own tradition.
For Matthew the virgin birth is not the central content of his faith; it is rather a conceptual basis for expressing how Jesus is “Immanuel.” This basis is important, however, because it helps him think very concretely about this “God with us” as a real action of God in history and not simply as an abstract conviction. From that perspective the virgin birth is not merely a secondary idea.
Luz, U. (2007). Matthew 1–7: a commentary on Matthew 1–7. (H. Koester, Hrsg.) (Rev. ed., S. 67–100). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.


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