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Commentary: Matthew 1:1-17

May 16, 2011
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I think the first thing I will do is start a commentary on the New Testament Gospels. It’s important to note the term “New Testament,” because there are other Gospels besides these. I think, however, that the case for the four New Testament ones–Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John–being the earliest is strong. I think the case for Mark being the earliest of these four is impressive, as well. A sufficient time lapse between the New Testament Gospels, or even just Mark, and any of the others does not bode well for their authenticity. And what exactly accounts for John’s great divergence from the other three, much more similar Gospels, called the Synoptic Gospels, is an interesting factor in the study about the dating, the authenticity, and the credibility of John.

I’m actually not going to start with Mark and the whole “priority of Mark” debate. I think that’s too technical and time-consuming for me to get into without having done much recent study on it. So let’s start with Matthew 1:1. Yes, I’m going with that because it’s the “first book” in the standard English New Testament.

Here’s Matthew 1:1-17 in the New International Version of 2011 (although I don’t know of any differences that other versions might have for this passage):

1 This is the genealogy[a] of Jesus the Messiah[b] the son of David, the son of Abraham: 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4 Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, 7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asa, 8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram, Jehoram the father of Uzziah, 9 Uzziah the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah[c] and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon. 12 After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Elihud, 15 Elihud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah. 17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

My thanks to Bible Gateway for offering this for free, by the way. Matthew 1:1-17 needs to be compared with Luke 3:23-38. But there are two problems in Matthew’s text alone that needs to be commented on: There are forty names, starting with Abraham and ending in Mary’s husband Joseph. So counting Jesus as one of the generations, as is no doubt intended, we only get forty-one generations.

The first strange reason for this is that David is counted twice in verse 17. Counting David in the second group of fourteen (regardless of who all is in the fourteen, which I’ll talk about later) puts Josiah as the fourteenth person, which makes sense, since his generation is supposed to be ending. On to Jeconiah, whose generation comes after the “exile to Babylon,” which is weird. Notice also that verse 17 didn’t say “forty-two”; it said three sets of fourteen. So the only thing that’s problematic here is that the term “from David” includes David, but the term “from the exile” does not include the generation of Josiah. In other words, Josiah is not double-counted, like David. It’s more of a language shift than a mathematical problem. Of course, we could just not count Jesus as part of the last group, but then we’d have another language shift, because both David and Josiah are counted as part of their groups.

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