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Matthew 1:17-25

May 16, 2011

Excerpt: 18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about[d]: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet[e] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.”

 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[g] (which means “God with us”).

 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Verse 18 tells us that Jesus was not at all biologically descended from Joseph, his father Jacob, or anyone from the kingly line, including David, unless it was through his mother Mary. Matthew never gives the impression that Mary was herself descended from David. Luke talks about Jesus being from the line of David in Lk. 1:32 and 1:69; however, these could easily be references to Mary’s engagement to Joseph and Jesus consequent relationship with David’s house.

Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of Mary’s relationship to Joseph give the impression that a woman was counted as belonging herself to the lineage of her husband. Of course, this would have to include a woman’s fiancé as well, unless Mary was already living with Joseph before Jesus was born. Matthew 1:25 doesn’t exclude this possibility; it just says they didn’t have sex. This would help explain Matthew 13:55.

The passage never gives the impression that Joseph and Mary lived in Galilee or anywhere besides the Bethlehem area. Notice also that Joseph names Jesus, contrary to the impression (not explicitly stated) given by Luke 1:31. I believe that covers all Matthew 1’s discrepancies with Luke.

Sometimes a big deal is made over the literally meanings of Jesus and Immanuel, that is, that the names mean Jesus was literally the salvation of Yahweh (the name Jesus’ meaning) himself and was himself God with us. Even though the names are obviously meant, according to Matthew (who alone records “Immanuel” as a name given to Jesus), to signify salvation and God’s presence, respectively, the passage says nothing other than that these things would be accomplished through Jesus. Compare 2 Samuel 22:25 (according to BibleGateway’s page for the verse in the NIV, “Jedidiah” mean “loved by the LORD” [Yahweh]).

The virgin birth (at Bethlehem, no less) is one of those few events that Matthew and Luke agree on without the aid of Mark’s account. While it’s interesting, it is not unexpected that such a basic doctrine as the virgin birth might have been so widespread in the Christian community that Matthew and Luke recorded it independently. Remember that the “priority of Mark” is just a theory I subscribe to and is meant to be kept independent of all of my other comments.

For the whole passage about the virgin birth and the name “Immanuel,” Matthew is referencing or quoting from Isaiah 7. I would even argue that Matthew is relying on Isaiah and/or established Christian doctrine for all of the biographical details here. After all, if Mary was living with Joseph since shortly after she got pregnant, I can’t imagine that there would have been any reliable source to consult.

I know that it is argued that Isaiah 7:14 doesn’t say “virgin” in the original Hebrew, but all the (Christian, of course) translations I have consulted—the NIV, the NASB, the ESV, the HCSB, etc.—say “virgin.” The real disagreement seems to be whether the term was “the virgin” or “a virgin.” I would think “the virgin” sounds too definite, with the definite article, to be referring to a birth far off in the future.

In any case, this doesn’t necessarily refer to a virgin birth. It merely says that the mother is a virgin at the time the prophecy was given. Whether she stays one is not addressed. Matthew also never says who called Jesus Immanuel.

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