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Further Thoughts on Matthew, chapter 1

Overview & Structure of the First Chapter of Matthew:
  • An eight word introduction to Matthew's Gospel (Mt. 1:1)
  • a genealogical/theological recounting of God's mercy, justice and faithfulness (Mt. 1:2-16)
  • A summary of God's sovereign act in human history (Mt. 1:17)
  • The birth narrative of Jesus the Messiah (Mt. 1:18-25)
An Eight Word Introduction:

"The account of the genesis of Jesus the Christ, son of David, son of Abraham"

"The book of Genesis.' Matthew's first two Greek words say what they sound - Biblos genesos - 'book of Genesis' - to suggest that to Matthew's mind the deepest beginning in history was not the birth of the world but the birth of the world's Savior."

"Christ' is actually a royal title ... the coming of the Messiah/Christ is still the great hope of the Jewish people. It is Matthew's claim that this Messiah arrived in Jesus of Nazareth."

"The two great baskets of promise in the Hebrew Scriptures are the promise to David of a son who would be a King forever (2 Sam. 7; 1 Chron. 17) and the promise to Abraham of a seed who would be a blessing for everyone (Gen. 12; 18; 22) ..."

The First Thread in Matthew's Genealogy: God's mercy

"Abraham was the father of Isaac, ... And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah."

"One gets the impression that Matthew pored over his OT until he could locate the most questionable liaisons possible in order to insert them into his record and, so, finally to preach the gospel even in his genealogy. This gospel teaches that God can use not only non-Israelite Gentiles, but he can also forgive, overcome, and use Jewish and Gentile sinners (soiled but repentant persons) for his great purposes in history ..."

"Oh, Christ is the kind of person who is not ashamed of sinners - in fact, He even puts them in His family tree! ... Now if the Lord does that here, so ought we to despise no one ... but put ourselves right in the middle of the fight for sinners and help them" ("Sermon on the Day of Mary's Birth," 8 Sept. 1522, Martin Luther).

"The first [portion] of [Matthew's] genealogy celebrates divine mercy. Psalm 89, the David psalm, captures the spirit: 'I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever."

The Second Thread in Matthew's Genealogy: God's justice

"and Solomon the father of Rehoboam ... and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon."

"The second [portion of Matthew's genealogy] plunges into judgment. From the height of Israel's political and spiritual glory under King David, Israel first gradually but then precipitously declines until she falls into the pit of exile, losing her land, temple, kings, and thus, seemingly, almost all of God's promises."

Bruner works under the assumption that Matthew purposefully changed two names in this portion of the genealogy: King Asa to Asaph, the psalmist, and King Amon to Amos, the prophet. This begs the question: why would Matthew do so?

"It is easiest to see why Matthew changed King Asa into the psalmist Asaph and why Matthew changed King Amon into the prophet Amos: in the second line Matthew wants to teach a second, prophetic truth - the truth of judgment ... Asaph, after only David, is the most important psalmist and is the author of Pss 50 and 73-83. Amos is the well-known eighth-century prophet ... Psalmists were the singers of God's praise; prophets, the warners of God's judgment ... Amos is the prophet of social justice par excellence. Economically insensitive worship appals the God of Amos ... Together Asaph and Amos stand for all seers and prophets sent by God to snatch God's people from either too much engagement with the world ... or too little engagement with the world."

"I believe, then, that Matthew changed Asa to Asaph, and Amon to Amos to teach that God not only forgives but also demands."

The Third Thread in Matthew's Genealogy: God's faithfulness to His promise

"And after the deportation to Babylon ... And Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah."

"The third and final series of names leads up again - this time to Jesus the Christ. This line teaches the faithfulness of God. God's middle word is judgment; but judgment is never intended to be (though to unbelief it is in danger of becoming) God's last word. God's last word to our always wavering faith is God's good faith."

"At the end of the second millennium before Christ, around 1,000 BC under King David, God's promises seemed imminent - an era of unprecedented prosperity and possibility, a kind of Edenic millennium, seemed dawning ahead ... But the 500s of the first millennium before Christ were years of horror for Judah - out of the land, away from the temple, by the waters of Babylon, under judgment, the people wept. Yet it was when God seemed most distant and his promises most unreal that he was shaping his climactic series of messianic ancestors. When the people of God thought everything had fallen apart, God started to put everything together again. God brought Jesus the Christ."

"I believe that the main fact for Matthew in his composition of the genealogy was what the genealogy records at the end: God keeps faith ... And between promise and fulfillment God used the ups and downs of Israel beneficently to shape a little theology of the character - of the mercy, judgment, and faithfulness - of God. All God's works begin in mercy, proceed through judgment, and issue in good faith. God is love, but holy love, and, finally, faithful love (chesed)."

"What God does is more important than what humans do."


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