THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Lesson 2: Chapters 1-2
Prologue: The Birth and Infancy of Jesus

Beloved Lord,
Thank you for speaking to us in the words of Sacred Scripture through Your divinely inspired human writers.  You chose to reveal Your truths through these men in words and stories, consigning to them what You wanted written and no more.  As we begin our study of the Gospel of St. Matthew, we ask You, Lord, to send the Holy Spirit to open our minds to understand the works and words of Jesus' ministry recorded by St. Matthew, just as the Holy Spirit opened the minds of St. Matthew and the Apostles to understand the Old Testament Scriptures in the light of the risen Christ, the eternal Word of the living God.  We make our humble petition in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

+ + +

Unless otherwise noted, all Biblical quotations are from the New American Bible translation.
All citations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church are designated CCC.

Time-line

Date Events
587/6 BC Last Davidic king is taken by the Babylonians into exile
587/6 - 164 BC Judah is ruled in turn by the Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks
167 – 164 BC Revolt of the Maccabees
162 – 63 BC period of independence; rule by the Hasmonean priest-kings
(descendants of the Maccabees)
63 BC Roman General Pompey conquers Judah; Romans rename Judah the Roman Province of Judea; Judea is governed by men chosen by Rome
44 BC Julius Caesar is assassinated; the Senate names a triumvirate of Caesar's g-nephew Octavian, Marc Antony, and Lepidus to govern the Republic
47-37 BC Roman ally Herod is appointed governor of the Galilee
37 BC  Roman Senate appoints Herod king of the Jews
31 BC Antony and Cleopatra VII are defeated at the Battle of Actium by Octavian
27 BC Octavian is named Caesar Augustus and appointed ruler for life by the Roman Senate.  It is the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire
3/2 BC Jesus is born in Bethlehem+
1 BC/1 AD King Herod dies and is succeeded by his son Archelaus*
14 AD Caesar Augustus dies and is succeeded by his step-son and heir Tiberius
28 AD John the Baptist and Jesus begin their ministries

+ and *: these dates are based on Luke's testimony that John baptized Jesus in the 15th year of the reign of Roman Emperor Tiberius (as the ancients counted) when Jesus was about 30 years old (Lk 3:1-3, 23).  See the document: Dating the Birth of Jesus and the Bible study Advent of the Messiah Part V.

Chapter 1: The Genealogy and Birth of Jesus Christ

Each of them, both Abraham and David, whether by the promise of the Lord or rank of birth, lived as a worthy predecessor in the line of Jesus Christ as to his existence in flesh.  For the Lord had promised to Abraham, who by right of circumcision was the founding patriarch of the Jewish people, that from his seed all nations would be blessed.  This was realized in Christ, who received his body from the line of Abraham ... So also is David first among the tribe of Judah in the rank of king.  And likewise God promised to this very tribe that the eternal king, Christ the Lord, would be born from the fruit of its womb.  For David was the first king from the tribe of Judah, from which the Son of God received his flesh.
Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew, 1:1

The Prologue of the Gospel of St. Matthew consists of Jesus' genealogy and five stories relating Jesus' birth and childhood.  In this section, St. Matthew presents the Advent of the Messiah as the climax of Israel's history, and presents the events surrounding Jesus' birth and early childhood as a fulfillment of the prophecy of God's holy prophets.  As St. Matthew reveals in 1:17, his genealogy of Jesus (beginning in verse 2) is divided into three parts:

Set #1: 14 generations from Abraham to David

Set #2: 14 generations from David to the Babylonian exile

Set #3: 14 generations from the Babylonian exile to Jesus the Messiah [Christ].

Matthew 1:1-17 ~ The Genealogy of Jesus

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Set I:
2 Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.  3 Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, 4 Ram the father of Amminadab.  Amminadab became the father of Nashon, Nashon the father of Salmon, 5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.  Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth.  Obed became the father of Jesse, 6 Jesse the father of David the king.  David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah. 

Set II:
7 Solomon became the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asaph. 8 Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, Joram the father of Uzziah.  9 Uzziah became the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah.  10 Hezekiah become the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amos, Amos the father of Josiah.  11 Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the Babylonian exile.

Set III:
12 After the Babylonian exile, Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 Zerubbabel the father of Abiud.  Abiud became the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 Azor the father of Zadok. Zadok became the father of Achim, Achim the father of Eliud, 15 Eliud the father of Eleazar.  Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.  Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah [Christ].

17 The total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah [Christ], fourteen generations.

Matthew 1:1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  With the opening two Greek words biblos geneseos, translated "the book of the genealogy" in the NAB, St. Matthew takes the reader back to the very beginning of salvation history, since these first two words can be literally translated "book/scroll of origin/beginning" or "book/scroll of Genesis."(1)  These words only appear together in two other passages in Scripture.  In the Greek Septuagint translation (translated from the Hebrew in c. 250 BC), these words are found in Genesis 2:4 in the passage describing the beginnings of heaven and earth and 5:1 in the Bible's first genealogy, the genealogy of Adam's descendants:

Question: The second use of biblos geneseos begins the first genealogy recorded in Sacred Scripture-the genealogy of the family of Adam.  What is the importance of the genealogies (in Hebrew the toledoth) in Old Testament Scripture and what is the connection to the New Testament? What is the connection to the promise of salvation God made in Genesis 3:15 after the Fall of man?
Answer: The genealogies (in Hebrew the toledoth) in Old Testament Scripture serve as the unbroken physical link to the New Covenant in Jesus of Nazareth.  They provide proof that the promise of mankind's future salvation made in Genesis 3:15 through the "seed of the woman" is fulfilled in Jesus the Christ. 

Question: What does this third use in Scripture of these two words biblos geneseos signify to the Jewish reader, and whose name is linked to the words "book of beginning?
Answer: Salvation history has now reached its climax in Jesus the Christ/Messiah in a new beginning for all humanity.

"Jesus" is the English translation of "Iesous," the Greek form of the Jewish 1st century AD name Jehoshua, "Joshua" (Yahshua in ancient Hebrew), a name which in Hebrew means "Yahweh saves" or "Yahweh is salvation."  St. Matthew will use Jesus' personal name 150 times and the title "Christ," Christos in the Greek, 17 times.  Christos in Greek literally means "one smeared with oil."  The Greeks did not have a word which corresponded to the Hebrew word masiah, "messiah," meaning "the one anointed (by God)," so Christians gave a new meaning to the Greek word christos. Kings, priests and prophets were "anointed" to serve God.  Jesus fulfilled all three holy offices (see CCC 453, 783).

Question: What is the significance of St. Matthew's use of the title "Christ" for his Jewish audience?
Answer: It is a royal title signifying Jesus is the promised Davidic Messiah.

St. Matthew delivers a jolting revelation to his Jewish readers with this opening line by announcing that the long-awaited Messiah, who was promised by the prophets to restore the kingdom of David (late 11th century BC – 6th century AD), is none other than Jesus of Nazareth. "Messiah/Christ," a title of the Davidic kings (see 2 Sam 22:51 and Ps 2:2) and "son of David" are the two most prominent titles Matthew uses for Jesus in his Gospel.  The use of these titles applied to Jesus raises the expectation of the Jews that God, in fulfillment of His oath, will re-establish the kingdom of David in a new Davidic Messiah to reign forever over His people: For you said, "My love is established forever; my loyalty will stand as long as the heavens.  I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: I will make your dynasty stand forever and establish your throne through all ages" (Ps 89:3-5, also see Ps 89:27-38; 2 Sam 7:16; 23:5; Is 9:6-7; Jer 23:5-6; Ez 34:23-24; Hos 3:5).

In the next phrase in verse 1, St. Matthew makes the connection between Jesus, King David and Abraham... the son of David, the son of Abraham. 

Question: Why does St. Matthew introduce Jesus Christ as "son of David" before calling Him "son of Abraham," even though Abraham came before David and is the "father" of the Israelites?
Answer: In this way, Matthew focuses attention not on the blood line through Abraham but on King David and God's covenant promises that identify Jesus as the Messianic king foretold by the prophets as David's heir. 

For St. Matthew, the rank of the "Kingdom" through David is greater than the rank of birth through Abraham.  As St. Paul wrote, not every progeny of Abraham was numbered among the people of God (Rom 9:6-7; Gal 3:16); for example Ishmael and his descendants and Abraham's five sons by Keturah and their descendants (Gen 25:1-4).

Verse 2 begins the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth.  Only the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke provide Jesus' genealogy (see Lk 3:23-38).

Question: See St. Luke's genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:23-38.  Compare St. Luke's genealogy with St. Matthew's list; how is Luke's list different? 
Answer: Luke's genealogy begins with Jesus and ends with Adam.  Luke's list of names is the same as Matthew from Abraham to David. Matthew's list continues Jesus' line through David's son Solomon while Luke's list continues through David's son Nathan.  In the list of names from Nathan to Joseph, only two names are the same as in Matthew's list.  These are different genealogies.

It has been the belief of the Church Fathers that Matthew's genealogy reflects Jesus' legal claim to the Davidic thrown through Joseph (who is called "Joseph son of David" by the angel in Matthew 1:20 and identified as of the "house of David in Lk 1:27), while St. Luke's list is Jesus' bloodline through Mary, His mother.  The daughters of Israel who were heiresses were encouraged to marry within their tribal families to preserve inheritance rights over the land allotted to each tribe (Dt 36:1-9).  A tradition which dates to the 2nd century AD identifies Mary as the only child of a Jewish couple named Joachim and Anna who were descendants of David (Protoevangelium of James, 1-9).

Question: Why did St. Matthew begin his list naming David and Abraham?  What did David and Abraham have in common, other than a shared blood line?  See Gen 12:1-3; 17:7; 22:1-18; 2 Sam 7:16; 23:5; 1 Chr 21:14-30; 2 Chr 3:1.
Answer: God formed eternal covenants with both Abraham and David, and both men faced a covenant ordeal that ended in visionary experiences on Mt. Moriah.  Abraham was tested by God when he was commanded to offer "his only beloved son" (theologically significant words) Isaac in sacrifice on Mt. Moriah.  David was also tested concerning his love for his people when his sin resulted in the suffering of his people.  As he stood on Mt. Moriah, David offered God the sacrifice of his life and offered to give up God's promise of an eternal covenant with his descendants if God would spare his people.

In Scripture Mt. Moriah is linked to both the Patriarch Abraham and King David's experiences of covenant ordeal, sacrifice, and divine intervention:

  1. God formed an unconditional covenant with both Abraham and David prior to their visionary experience (Gen 17:7; 2 Sam 7:16; 23:5).
  2. Both men experienced visions and divine intervention on Mt. Moriah (Gen 22:1-18; 2 Sam 24:17; 1 Chr 21:14-30).
  3. Both men passed the test of a covenant ordeal (Gen 22:2; 2 Sam 24:1, 17; 1 Chr 21:17).
  4. The tests of both men involved sacrifice (Gen 22:2; 1 Chr 21:17).
  5. The sons of both men (Isaac and Solomon) had prominent roles in salvation history because of their fathers' visionary experiences (Gen 22:2; 1 Chr 22:1-11).

The eternal promises God made to Abraham of a kingdom, descendants too great to number, and a world-wide blessing had not been fulfilled in the 1st century AD.  Nor had God's promise to David been fulfilled that his kingdom would endure forever with a Davidic heir who would restore Israel. 

Question: How long had it been since a Davidic king ruled an independent Israel/Judah?  See 2 Kng 24:8-12, 15, 17; 25:1-7, 27-29; Jer 52:1-11.
Answer: A Davidic king had not ruled over God's people since the Babylonian conquest in the 6th century BC when the last Davidic king was taken into exile and imprisoned in Babylon.

A Davidic king had not ruled God's people since the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and took the last Davidic king away into exile in 587/6 BC.  The holy prophets had promised that the Davidic Messiah was coming to liberate God's people.  For centuries the people were awaiting for the coming of the promised king as they suffered under the domination of foreign powers.  Since the year 63 BC, they had been dominated by the Romans. Matthew's message is that now (1st century AD) is the time for the covenant promises to David and Abraham to be fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, the promised King of a new, restored Israel.  

Among all the genealogies in the Old Testament and the two found in the New Testament in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Mathew's genealogy is unique.  St. Matthew manipulates his list of the ancestors of Jesus of Nazareth to produce significant numbers associated with names and generations within his list. 

Matthew's Manipulation of the List of Jesus' Ancestral Line

In sacred Scripture numbers usually have more significance than their quantitative indicators.  More often than not, even when a number is used to indicate a certain quantity, the individual number given may point beyond the numerical value to a symbolic significance.  At other times the number given is not to be taken literally and may represent an approximate value, a symbolic value, or may represent hyperbole-an exaggerated value.  For example, the six day period of Creation may not be literal but may represent a symbolic period of time that was perfected on the seventh day when God rested-7 being one of the four "perfect" numbers.  Or the number of the 144,000 heavenly souls marked with the "seal of the living God" in Revelation chapter 7 may suggest, as Bible scholars both ancient and modern have interpreted it, a number reflecting the symbolic perfection of redeemed man in terms of the "perfect" number 12 which signifies perfection of government in Scripture. 144,000 is the square of 12 X 1000.

In addition to the use of the symbolic significance of different numbers in Scripture, there is the use of the numbers formed by the sum of the letters of words or names, known by the Greek word gematria.  The Jews, Greeks, Romans, and many other ancient peoples used their alphabets for numbers.  The Jews used all 22 letters of their Hebrew alphabet plus 5 finals. The Greeks used a 24 letter alphabet and 3 additional finals.  The Romans only used 6 letters of their alphabet and their combinations to form numbers: I= 1, V = 5, X = 10, L = 50, C = 100, D = 500.  The number 1,000 was formed by two D's (combined back to back to form an M like figure). 

The Apostle John, writing during the time of the first great Roman persecution of Christians, recorded in the Book of Revelation that the number of the Beast was the number of a man and that number was 666 (Rev 13:18). Most ancient MSS (hand-written manuscripts) of the book of Revelation record 666 as the number while others have the number 616.  It is significant that the gematria for Neron Caesar (the Hebrew spelling of the Roman emperor's name in wide use in the 1st century AD) totals 666, while the Greek spelling of Nero Caesar totals 616.(2)

As a Levitical priest, the Apostle Matthew was intimately aware of the symbolic link between letters and numbers.  In verse 17, St. Matthew announces his planned arrangement of Jesus' genealogy based on the number 14: Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

He manipulated the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth to reflect the significance of the Hebrew gematria of King David's name, which was the number 14 (D = 4, V= 6, D= 4; Hebrew was written only in consonants).  There is also the significance of number symbolism in his division of the 3 sets of 14 generations for a total of 42 generations from Abraham to David to Jesus the Messiah.  Matthew's manipulation of the genealogy is reflected in the fact that in Set #2 he dropped the names of the 3 Davidic kings of Judah between Joram/Jehoram and Uzziah by leaving out kings Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah (1 Chr 3:11-12; 2 Chr 24-26:2).  Uzziah wasn't the son of Joram/Jehoram; he was his g-g-grandson.  He also dropped the name of King Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah and father of the last king in the list, Jechoniah, also translated as Jehoiachin (2 Kng 24:6, 8 and 2 Chr 36:8-9).  Jechoniah/Jehoiachin, the eighteenth king of Judah was deported to Babylon in 597 along with his family and ten thousand of his people (see 2 Kng 23:30b-36; 24:6-17; 2 Chr 36:1-13; Jer 22:24-30).  He was succeeded by his uncle, Zedekiah, the third son of Josiah and the last Davidic king of Judah who saw the destruction of his nation by the Babylonians in 587/6 BC, but he is not in the line of descent because his sons and their families were killed by the Babylonians and he died without an heir.  Jechoniah/Jehoiachin, however, was eventually freed from prison and continued to live in Babylon with honor equal to other captive kings, and he was given a daily allowance for himself and his sons (2 Kng 25:27-30; Jer 52:31-34).  His name and information about his life in Babylon has been found in Babylonian records.  Jechoniah/Jehioachin's son, Shealtiel, is the second name in the 3rd Set.  He was the firstborn son of Jechoniah/Jehoiachin according to the list of his sons in 1 Chronicles 3:17-24, but that genealogy continues through Jechoniah/Jehoiachin's third son.

St. Matthew also manipulated the list by doubling the use of the names of both King David in verse 6 (but counting David's name only once) and King Jechoniah/Jehoiachin's name in verses 11 and 12 at the end of Set #2 and the beginning of Set #3, counting the king's name in both sets.  He also added the name of Tamar's other son Zerah (not in the line of descent) to make his list reflect the symbolism he desired in the total number of 86 male names.  But, as St. Matthew declares in verse 17, his goal is to produce 3 sets of 14 generations, which gives a total of 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus of Nazareth. 

Significance of the number 42: It is not a coincidence that the sum of the list of 3 sections of 14 generations is the number 42.  42 divided by 12, the number of the tribes of Israel, yields 3 ½.  The numbers 42 and 3 ½ are prophetic numbers in both the book of Daniel chapter 12 and in the book of Revelation (Rev 11:9, 11; 13:5).  In Scripture the number 42 appears to symbolize a connection to or a conflict between man and the Spirit of God.  The number 42 is the product of 6 times 7.  Seven is one of the "perfect" numbers, signifying fullness and perfection, especially spiritual perfection, and it is the number of the Holy Spirit (i.e., 7 gifts of the Spirit in Is 11:1-2).  However, 6 is the number of man and of man's opposition to God's plan for mankind's salvation (man was created on the 6th day of Creation; Goliath was 6 cubits and a span tall; King Nebuchadnezzar's status was 60 cubits high and 6 cubits wide; the number of the Beast is 666).  

Examples of the symbolic nature of the number 42 can be applied to these passages:

  1. The number of the sum of the knobs, flowers, and branches of the Menorah (Ex 25:31-40).
  2. The deliberately structured 42 stages of the Israelite's journey marking their conflict with the will of God for Israel's future.
  3. The 42 young men who mocked God's choice after the ascension of Elijah and the transfer of his authority to Elisha (2 Kng 2:23-24).
  4.   St. Matthew's genealogy of Jesus is a deliberately structured list of 42 names ending with Jesus' name and reveling that He is both man and God (Mt 1:1-17).
  5. In the Book of Revelation, the number 42 signifies the conflict of the Beast together with his offspring, "the seed of the serpent" (Gen 3:15), that stand in opposition to Christ and the Church for a symbolic forty-two months (Rev 11:2; 13:5). 

Significant numbers hidden in Matthew's Genealogy

Also notice that Matthew's genealogy begins and ends with David's name:

A. "son of David (1:1)
     B. son of "Abraham" (1:1)
     B2"Abraham became the father ..." (1:2)
A2"David the king" (1:6)
A3"David fathered Solomon" (1:6)
     B3"generations from Abraham to ..." (1:17)
A4"David are fourteen generations and" (1:17)
A5"from David to the Babylonian exile" (1:17)

It is significant that St. Matthew warns his Jewish readers that he has revealed Jesus' genealogy in a pattern format when he writes: The sum of generations is therefore: fourteen from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the Babylonian deportation; and fourteen from the Babylonian deportation to Christ (Mt 1:17)He manipulates the list into 3 sets of 14 generations to create 42 names in the list of the descendants of Abraham to bring attention to the link between the names and the covenant promises made by God to both Abraham. 

Please see handout 2 for this lesson.  Notice that Matthew manipulates the list by counting David only once in Set #1 but Jechoniah twice in Set #3 in order to get 14 generations in the final set.  David's name is the 14th in the first Set and Jesus' name is the 14th in the final set.  If you divide the sets of 14 generations into 7s, Jesus' name is the 7th 7.   There are 27 names total in this final set.  Jews would interpret this number as: 2 is the number of division (Jesus came to divide; see Matthew 10:34-36), times 10 = divine order, plus 7= spiritual perfection.

The total of all the names listed (with repeats and including the women) is 86.  8 is the number of salvation, 80 the number of salvation times divine order (10), and 6 is the number of man.  Is Matthew's hidden message (that Jew reading his genealogy would recognize) that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of David (represented by the number 14) and the King of Kings who has come as a man to fulfill the covenant promised made to Abraham and David, to bring salvation to Israel and to mankind, but because of man's opposition to God, He will suffer in order to bring to fruition God's divine plan for humanity?  In truth, only St. Matthew knows.

It was unusual for women to be named in a genealogical list, and in naming women it is odd that Matthew did not name Abraham's wife Sarah or Isaac's wife Rebekah, or Leah and Rebekah, the mothers of the children of Israel.

Question: How many women are named in St. Matthew's list and what did they have in common?  See Gen 19:36-37; 38:1-30; Josh 2:1-21; 6:22-25; Ruth 1:1-4; 4:13, 17; 2 Sam 11:2-5, 26-27; 12:9-14, 24-25; Mt 1:18.
Answer:

  1. Tamar
  2. Rahab
  3. Ruth
  4. Uriah's wife (Bethsheba)
  5. Mary of Nazareth

Four of the women were in some way involved in a scandalous past:

  1. Tamar posed as a prostitute and slept with her father-in-law to become pregnant
  2. Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute
  3. Ruth was a Moabitess (from a people who were the descendants of an incestuous act)
  4. Bathsheba (he doesn't even name her) was an adulterous wife. 

Perhaps naming these women, all connected to scandal, is a preemptive strike against the scandalous lies that some Jews were circulating about Mary of Nazareth.  If these woman could become the mothers of the leaders of the people of Israel (like Bathsheba's son King Solomon) with important roles to play in God's plan, who were they to say that Mary's son was not destined by God to redeem His people?

The real surprise for the Jews is the list of the descendants of David from King Jechoniah/Jehoiachin to Joseph, a genealogical list that can be found no where else in Scripture.  When one compares the genealogy of Jesus in St. Matthew's Gospel with that of St. Luke, the two lists from King David to Joseph only have two names in common.  It has been thought that St. Matthew's list reflects Jesus' legal claim as an heir of David through His adopted father St. Joseph, while St. Luke's genealogy records his biological claim through Mary.

Matthew 1:16 Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.  Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah.  For a second time Matthew identifies Jesus as the Messiah.

Question: What is different about this last listing from the previous list of names and descendants?  How does St. Matthew identify Jesus?
Answer: St. Matthew does not list Jesus as the son of Joseph; instead Jesus is listed as the son of Mary who was married to Joseph.  St. Matthew is defining Jesus' birth only through Mary.  Joseph is His legal father not his biological father.  He also identifies Jesus by the royal title "Messiah/Christ"

Both lists in Matthew and Luke end with Joseph who was Jesus' legal father.  According to the traditions of the times, legal paternity through adoption, Levirate marriage (Dt 25:5-10), etc., was sufficient to confirm all heredity rights.

The Birth and Early Childhood of Jesus

Behold the strange and wonderful birth of Christ.  It came through a line that included sinners, adulterers and Gentiles.  But such a birth does not soil the honor of Christ, rather, it commends his mercy.
Anonymous author, Incomplete Work on Matthew, Homily I.

Matthew 1:18-25 ~ The Birth of Jesus

18 Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.  When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.  19 Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.  20 Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.  For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.  21 She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, 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 "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means "God is with us."  24 When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took his wife into his home.  25 He had no relations with her until [heos] she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.

In verse 18, St. Matthew uses Jesus' royal title "Messiah/Christ" a fourth time (see 1:1, 16, 17, 18).  There can be no doubt for the reader that Matthew is presenting Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah.

Joseph was betrothed to Mary when he discovered she was pregnant.  A betrothal was not like a modern engagement.  According to the customs of the times, a couple became "betrothed" when the bride price (paid by the groom) and the dowry (paid by the girl's family) were paid and the marriage contract was signed.  The couple did not yet live together until the groom made preparations to bring a wife into his home.  When all preparations were completed, the groom brought the bride to his house and friends and family celebrated in a seven day wedding ceremony (Gen 29:27; Judg 14:12), after which the couple began to live together.  However, in the interim period, they were both legally and morally bound to each other under the specific laws enumerated in the Deuteronomic Code (see Dt 22:23-27).  These laws presupposed that a betrothed couple was already married in a legal sense and any sexual contact between a betrothed woman and another man was equivalent to the sin of adultery and punishable by death for both the betrothed woman and her partner in sin (Ex 20:14; Dt 5:18; Lev 18:20; 20:10; Dt 22:22). 

When Mary was discovered to be with child, she was in a precarious position.  If Joseph repudiated her, no other "righteous" Jewish man would marry her and she would be ridiculed and shunned by the community.  It is unlikely that at this time in history she would have been executed, as under the Mosaic Law.  Under Roman occupation a man or woman could only be executed under Roman law.  The Romans held the power over life and death in the territories under their control.(4)

Matthew 1:19 Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.

There are two theories as to why Joseph decided to divorce Mary.  One theory is that Joseph already knew the child she carried was the Messiah and did not feel he was worthy enough to be given the honor of fathering the Messiah-king.  The second theory is that he believed Mary had committed adultery but wanted to spare the ridicule of the community by setting her aside without publically charging her in the Jewish Law Court.  The key to understanding the passage is answered by this question-

Question: How would a Jew define the term "righteous man"?
Answer: For a Jew, and for Joseph, a "righteous man" was a man who lived in strict obedience to the Law. 

As a "righteous man," Joseph could not marry someone who appeared to have so grossly violated the Law of Moses.  The only way Joseph could be released from the obligation to take Mary as his wife was by an act of repudiation.

An answer to Joseph's dilemma came to him in a dream when the Angel of the Lord revealed God's plan to Joseph: Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.  For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.  21 She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."  Notice that the angel acknowledges Joseph as an heir of King David. 

The angel's announcement follows the same pattern as the announcement of other special births of sons in the Bible.  In the Old Testament the pattern is found in the births of: Isaac in Gen 17:19, Solomon in 1 Chr 22:9-10, Josiah in 1Kng 13:3, and the virgin's son in Is 7:14-17.  In the New Testament the pattern is present in the announcement of the birth of Jesus in Mt 1:20-21 and Lk 1:31-33.  Each of these birth announcements follows this pattern:

  1. The announcement begins with the word "behold"
  2. The child's name
  3. The child's identity

Question: God's revelation to Joseph in a dream recalls the dreams of what hero of the Old Testament who had the same name? See Gen 37:5-11:19.
Answer: Joseph son of Jacob also received communication from God in dreams.

Question: What three significant statements did the angel make to reassure Joseph that he should take Mary as his wife?
Answer:

  1. Joseph was to finalize his marriage with Mary by taking her into his home.
  2. Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
  3. Joseph was to name the child Jesus.

Matthew 1:21 She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." According to the customs of the times, if a man named a child born from his wife or a woman he had been intimate with, he was declaring the child legally his.  The angel's command leaves no doubt in Joseph's mind that he is to be the child's legal human father.  The Hebrew name he is commanded to give the child is Jehoshua (Joshua), which means "Yahweh saves"-the angel made a word play on the name by stating "because he will save his people from their sins," and the name subtly identifies Jesus with the Divine Name, Yahweh; it is a connection that will not become clear until later. 

Question: How does the angel defines the Messiah's mission as spiritual and not political?
Answer: Jesus will be born to save mankind from their sins not from Roman oppression.

Question: What other Biblical hero from the Old Testament bore the same name and what was his mission in God's plan of salvation history?
Answer:  Joshua was the leader of the children of Israel who took them across the divide of the Jordan River and successfully led the Israelites in the conquest of the Promised Land of Canaan.

Question: How will Jesus/Joshua's spiritual mission be similar to the mission of the first Joshua?
Answer: Jesus' mission was to bring salvation to mankind, leading redeemed man across the great divide between life and death and into the Promised Land of Heaven.

Matthew 1:22  All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:

This is the first of St. Matthew's ten "fulfillment" formula statements (ten is the number of divine order) which begin "this was to fulfill ..." and are followed by a quote from the Old Testament passage or by an allusion to a combination of several passages in one quotation.

Fulfillment statements:

Question: What purpose do the ten "fulfillment" statements serve in St. Matthew's Gospel?
Answer: They show that everything God did in the Old Testament was part of His divine plan in preparation for the Advent of the Messiah.

In the Book of Deuteronomy Moses defined the true prophet as one whose words were fulfilled (Dt 18:20-22).  St. Matthew's message is that God has announced his divine plan through His prophets and now that plan was being fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah.  In his first "fulfillment" statement in 1:23, St. Matthew quotes from the in the Book of the prophet Isaiah 7:14: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means "God is with us." Notice that the prophecy follows the three part birth pattern announcement.  Matthew has established the blood line of the human Jesus in his genealogy, but he wants his readers to understand Jesus is more than a mere human when he writes: For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her; in other words, "by the Holy Spirit without human seed" (see Lateran Council of 649) and He is the "God with us" foretold by the prophet Isaiah. 

Please read the Isaiah passage in context in Isaiah 7:1-16.  In Isaiah chapter 7, God commanded Isaiah to take his little son Shear-jashub (whose name means "a remnant will return") and to go out to meet King Ahaz of Judah (735-715 BC).  He was to tell the king not be afraid of his enemies (the kings of Aram and Israel) because God was going to save the royal house of David from its oppressors.  However, the prophet also gave the king the warning that unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm (Is 7:9b). Then, the Lord told Ahaz through His prophet to ask for a miraculous "sign" as proof of God's favor, but Ahaz refused to ask.  His refusal suggests that he would rather depend on the might of his Assyrian ally to help him fight his enemies than upon God.  In response, Isaiah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gave the king a sign of the preservation of Judah coupled with the fulfillment of God's promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 that his throne would last forever, saying: Therefore, the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel [emphasis added]Then, turning to his own little son the prophet told the king that before his little son knew good from bad that the lands of his enemies would be deserted. 

The Isaiah prophecy is the first of the approximately 65 times St. Matthew will quote the Old Testament in his Gospel.  This prophecy, Matthew says, has been fulfilled in Mary and Jesus.  Mary is the virgin, the specific woman prophesied by Isaiah, who has born "God with us!".(3)   She is also "the woman" promised by God to bear the son without the seed of a man who will defeat Satan and bring salvation to mankind in Genesis 3:15.  St. Irenaeus ( martyred c. 198/200 AD) compared the Virgin Mary to the virgin Eve: Being obedient she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race ... The knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by Mary's obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith ... Comparing her with Eve, they call Mary "the Mother of the living" and frequently claim: "Death through Eve, life through Mary" (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3, 22, 4).

Both Isaiah and Matthew identify the son born of the virgin by the title "Immanuel," in Hebrew "God with us."

Question: How does Jesus affirm that He is "God with us" at the end of St. Matthew's Gospel in Matthew 28:20?
Answer: After His Resurrection He will promise His disciples: And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. 

Matthew 1:24 When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took his wife into his home.  25 He had no relations with her until [heos] she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.  The angel's message confirmed for Joseph that Mary was going to give birth of the promised Messiah, and he demonstrated his obedience to God by immediately taking Mary into his home. 

In verse 25 Matthew states that Joseph had no physical relations with Mary prior to the birth of Jesus; however, there has been some confusion over this verse concerning the perpetual virginity of Mary of Nazareth.  The Greek word heos is often translated as the modern word "until."  In this passage the word heos does not mean that St. Joseph had sexual relations with Mary after Jesus' birth.  On the contrary, he did not have intimate relations with her before the birth of Jesus and that condition continued after Jesus' birth. 

The Greek word heos, and the Hebrew word 'ad in the Hebrew translation of the Old Testament, do not have the same sense of meaning as our use of the word "until."  We usually understand the word "until" to mean a certain act did not take place for a period of time and then after that time the act did take place.  This is not the way the word heos is used in the Bible.  Instead, the word can mean an act did not take place for a period of time and then continued to not take place; heos is used as an adverb of continuance (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, # 2193, page 268).  Here are some examples from the Old Testament Septuagint (Greek) translation and from the New Testament where heos is used in this way:

It has always been a teaching of the Church that the "brothers and sisters" of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels are the children of Joseph by a previous marriage.  It is a dogma (truth) of the Catholic Church that Jesus' birth "did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it" (CCC 499).

The Church expresses the perpetual virginity of Mary of Nazareth in 3 parts: in her virginal conception of Jesus; in giving birth to Jesus and in her continuing virginity after His birth:

 

The usage of this triple formula to express the fullness of this mystery of faith became standard with St. Augustine [354-430AD], St. Peter Chrysologus [c. 400-450AD], and Pope St. Leo the Great [440-461AD].  See CCC # 496-507; 964.

CCC499: The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man.  In fact, Christ's birth "did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it."   And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the "Ever-virgin."

For a list of the four "Marian Dogmas" of the Church see Documents/Mary on the website.

Note: The so called "brothers" of Jesus mentioned in Scripture are His kinsmen.  In Hebrew there was no designation for siblings, or half-brothers, or step-brothers.  The Greek word used to designate Jesus' "brothers," adelphos, is the same word used for Jewish kinsmen, for "brothers" like the Apostles St. James and John Zebedee and all "brothers" in the faith (i.e., see Acts 1:14, 16; 2:29, 37).

Chapter 2

 

Matthew 2:1-12 ~ The Magi Seek the Christ Child

1 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage."  3 When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  4 Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  5 They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: 6 And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel."

7 Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star's appearance. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage."  9 After their audience with the king they set out.  And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.  10 They were overjoyed at seeing the star, 11 and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

Matthew 2:1-2 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2 saying, "Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." 

Question: What was the significance of the town of Bethlehem, located about 5 miles from Jerusalem?  See 1 Sam 6:1, 10-13; Mic 5:1.
Answer: It was the birthplace of David and where the prophet Samuel anointed David as God's Messiah and the future King of Israel. Matthew's announcement that Jesus was born in Bethlehem establishes Jesus as the "new David," in fulfillment of the prophecy of the prophet Micah.

At the time Jesus was born, Judah was a vassal state of the Romans and ruled by a Roman ally, an Idumaean (descendant of Esau, Jacob/Israel's elder brother) named Herod.  The Idumaeans had been force to convert to the Old Covenant faith a century earlier, during the reign of Judah's Hasmonean king, John Hyrcanus I.(5)  Herod's father (Antipater) had formed an alliance with the Romans when he was the advisor to Hasmonean king Hyrcanus II.  When the Romans deposed Hyrcanus II, Antipater was given the office of epitropos (overseer) of Judea in 47 BC.  Antipater's sons were educated in Rome, and his eldest son, Herod, as a young adult, found a power patron in the Roman counsel Marc Antony.  With his father's influence and Antony's backing, when Herod was 25 years old he was appointed the Roman governor of the Galilee (47-37 BC).  In 37 BC, with Antony's support, he was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate.  He solidified his claim to the thrown by forcing the Jewish princess Mariamme to marry him.   After Antony's defeat by Octavian at the Battle of Actium (31 BC) and subsequent death, Herod deftly managed to shift his alliance to Octavian (Augustus Caesar) and retain his Judean throne. 

... behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem ... In profane Greek, the word Magi [magos ] was applied to members of the Persian priestly caste who possessed occult knowledge reveled in the movement of the stars and planets.  It was a common belief in ancient times among Gentile peoples that the stars determined the destiny of men and the appearance of certain celestial phenomena signaled the birth or death of kings.  The "wise men" who traveled from the "east" had observed a new star that they believed was the fulfillment of a Jewish prophecy that foretold the birth of a new Jewish king.  The Jews lived in exile in Persia for 70 years after the Babylonian conquest.  It is possible that during that time the prophecies of the Messiah-the promised Davidic king- became known to the Persians and they connected those prophecies to the new star they followed to Judah.  This could not have been an ordinary star or planet because it did not rise and set like ordinary stars but led them on their journey from the east.

Matthew's telling of the story of the Magi recalls several Old Testament prophecies:

The prophecy that involved a future king and a "star" in Scripture was the prophecy of Aramaean prophet Balaam prior to the conquest of Canaan:  I see him, though not now; I behold him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel, that shall smite the brows of Moab, and the skulls of all the Shuthites, till Edom is dispossessed, and no fugitive is left in Seir.  Israel shall do valiantly, and Jacob shall overcome his foes.  This was a prophecy that was fulfilled in the kingship of David, but many Church Fathers believed that the star in this prophecy is also fulfilled in Christ just as He is the "staff from Israel" (Is 11:1). 

The Magi innocently decide the best place to find the new king is in the household of the current King of Judah.

Question: What was Herod's reaction to their request to see the newborn King of the Jews?
Answer: Herod was understandably shaken and called in the chief priests and scribes to tell him what Sacred Scripture recorded about the birth of the Messiah.

If Herod was at all familiar with the Balaam prophecy, he would be shaken.  According to the Law of Moses, only an Israelite could rule Israel (Dt 17:14-15) and Herod was an Idumaean, a descendant of Esau of Edom, who was regarded by most Jews as a false king.  The Balaam prophecy predicts that Edom will be dispossessed.

Question: What do the chief priests and scribes tell Herod?  See Mic 5:1.
Answer: They tell him the prophecy of Micah that the Messiah will be born in the city of King David, in Bethlehem; and like David, He will "shepherd" His people.

That the prophecy describes the Messiah as the "shepherd" of His people is significant.  God told the 6th century BC prophet Ezekiel to prophecy against the "shepherds" of Israel, the chief priests who failed to lead the people in righteousness.  In Ezekiel 34:10-31, Yahweh promised to come against Israel's priests who had "scattered the flock" and  I myself will look after and tend my sheep ... bringing them back from foreign lands where they have been scattered (Ez 34:11-16).  The prophecy continues: I will appoint one shepherd over them to pasture them, my servant David; he shall pasture them and be their shepherd (Ez 34:23).

Question: What was Herod's response to the report of the priests and scribes?
Answer: He questioned the Magi to determine when they first saw the star, and pretending that he also wanted to do homage to the new king, he asked the Magi to let him know what they discovered in Bethlehem.

Question: Where did the Magi find Jesus?  Was the location different from where Jesus was born according to St. Luke?  See Lk 2:6-7.
Answer: They discovered the child Jesus (not the infant) living with Joseph and Mary in a house in Bethlehem and not in a stable.

There is no discrepancy between Matthew's account and Luke's story of the birth of Jesus.  At least a year had passed since Jesus was born, and the Holy Family had moved from their temporary shelter into a house in the village.

Question: What gifts did the Magi give the Christ-child, and what was the theological significance of the gifts brought by these men?
Answer: They prostrated themselves in worship, giving the Christ-child the gifts of gold (a gift fit for a king), frankincense (incense used in worship and offered by priests), and myrrh (an aromatic spice produced from the gum resin of certain bushes or trees used in the preparation of the dead).  The Magi were the first Gentiles to respond to God's call to the Gentile nations to come to salvation through Christ Jesus.  The story of the Gentile Magi who sought out the Christ as opposed to Herod's chief priests who made no effort to find Him is a precursor to the rejection of Jesus by His own people and the acceptance of Jesus' message of salvation by the Gentiles. 

Bethlehem was a little village about five miles from Jerusalem where the herds of the Tamid lambs for the daily sacrifice were kept in the fields between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  How perfect that Jesus, the "Living bread" should be born and laid in a feeding troth in the village whose name meant "house/place of bread" (Lk 2:16).

Question: What warning did the angel give the Magi?
Answer: The angel told them not to go to Herod but to return home by another route.

Matthew 2:13-15 ~ The Holy Family's Flight to Egypt

13 When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, and take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.  Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him."  14 Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.  15 He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, "Out of Egypt I called my son." 

Again, Joseph was immediately obedient to the angel's message in his dream.  Verse 15 is the third fulfillment formula statement in Matthew's Gospel.  The fulfillment statement is a quote from Hosea 11:1 and an allusion to Exodus 4:22-23 when Yahweh told Moses to tell the Pharaoh that Israel is God's "first-born son" and to "let my son go that he may serve me," identifying Jesus with the nation of Israel and the story of the Exodus.

Question: In referring to this passage in Exodus, Matthew is showing the parallel between Jesus' life and the life of Israel, the covenant people of God.  What will be the parallel between the birth of the nation of Israel in the Exodus out of Egypt and Jesus' Messianic mission?
Answer: The children of Israel were reborn on the Exodus out of Egypt.  They were transformed from a slave people who served the Egyptian Pharaoh to a free nation created to serve Yahweh their great King. Jesus has come to lead a new exodus out of slavery to sin, to create a new Israel and a reborn people to serve Christ the King of the everlasting Kingdom of God.

It was not unusual for the angel to command Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt.  The nation of Egypt was a traditional place of refuge in the Bible:

Travel to Egypt by the ancient roads from Bethlehem to the Wadi el-Arish, "River of Egypt" (1Kng 8:65; Jdt 1:9), took about 3-4 days for the c. 100 mile journey (Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, Jesus and Paul: Parallel Lives, page 14).  The expensive gifts of the Magi probably provided for the funds they needed for the journey and establishing a life in Egypt.

Matthew 2:16-18 ~ The Massacre of the Infants

16 When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious.  He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.  17 Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: "A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more."

Herod had good administrative skills that pleased the Romans, but during the last ten years of his life his growing paranoia made him mentally unstable.  He was insanely in love with his wife Mariamme, but suspicions that she may have been unfaithful led him to murder her.  Increasing suspicions of plots against him caused him to also execute his three eldest sons and his mother-in-law.  St. Matthew's account of the murder of the boy babies and children up to age two in Bethlehem and the other towns surrounding Jerusalem by Herod's orders is entirely consistent with the king's character.

Verse 17 is another of the ten fulfillment statements found in the Gospel of Matthew.  St. Matthew is quoting from Jeremiah 31:15 where Jeremiah speaks of the lamentation in Ramah.  In the 6th century BC the Babylonians, after destroying Jerusalem and the Temple, rounded up the population of Judah and assembled the people at Ramah before deporting them eastward into Babylon.  The tomb of the matriarch Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob/Israel was at Ramah, and Jeremiah depicts the wailing in anguish of the people in the deportation as mother Rachel weeping for the the loss of her children Israel.  Ramah is just outside Bethlehem on the road to Jerusalem.  The comparison is to the wailing of the mothers of the innocent children slain by Herod's soldiers.

In chapter two, St. Matthew presents Jesus not only as a "new David" but also as a "new Moses."

Question: What comparisons can be drawn between the story of Moses' early childhood and Jesus' early childhood?
Answer:                                                 

MOSES JESUS
An evil king/Pharaoh tried to kill him as a baby (Ex 1:22). King Herod tried to kill baby Jesus (Mt 2:16).
He was hidden from the evil king/Pharaoh (Ex 2:2). An angel said to hide the child from the evil King Herod (Mt 2:13).
Moses was sent from Goshen into Egypt to preserve his life (Ex 2:3-4). Jesus was sent into Egypt from Judea to preserve His life (Mt 2:13-15).
He was saved by his mother, his sister Miriam, and Pharaoh's daughter. Jesus was saved and by His mother, Mary, and his foster father, Joseph.
Pharaoh's daughter adopted Moses (Ex 2:10). Joseph adopted Jesus (Mt 1:25).
Moses became a prince of Egypt (Ex 2:10). Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Is 9:5; Mt 28:18; Lk 2:14).
There is a long period of silence from childhood to adulthood. There is a long period of silence from childhood to adulthood.
Moses had a secret identity = son of a slave. Messianic secret = Jesus the Son of God.

See the complete chart on the Typology of Moses and Jesus in the Charts/Typology section.

Matthew 2:19-23 ~ The Holy Family Returns from Egypt

19 When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead." 21 He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.  22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there.  And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee.  23 He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazorean."

Question: When Herod died, the angel appeared to Joseph a third time and told him to return to his homeland.  Again, Joseph was obedient, but he did not return to Bethlehem for what two reasons?
Answer: He feared Herod's son Archelaus and the angel told him to go the Nazareth in the Galilee.

When Herod died, the Romans honored Herod's will and appointed his son Archelaus to rule from Jerusalem as enthnarch over the regions of Judea, Samaria, and Idumaea, while Herod's son Herod Antipas became tetrarch of the Galilee and Perea.  Archelaus was every bit as cunning and cruel as his father but with none of his father's administrative skills.  He ruled Judea for only about 2 years before the Romans removed him and made Judea a Roman province administrated by a Roman procurator under the Roman governor of Syria.

Verse 23 is the fourth fulfillment formula statement in Matthew's Gospel, but this passage has mystified Biblical scholars since there is no clear text in the Old Testament which states the Messiah would be called a Nazorean.  However, unlike the other quotes, which refer to what is spoken by "the prophet," this passage does not refer to a single prophet but to "what had been spoken through the prophets," plural; and therefore, Matthew may not be referring to a single text but to a larger theme in the prophetic texts.  He may also be making a word-play on the Hebrew word netzer, which means "branch" and may be the root word for Nazareth in Hebrew, which is Nazara/Nasrat. Netzer, "branch" is a Messianic title, most notably in the prophetic passage in Isaiah 11:1: But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud [netzer] shall blossom.

Questions for group discussion:
St. Joseph was described as a "righteous" man (Mt 1:19). Under the definition of "righteousness" in the Old Testament, a man or woman was "righteous" when they submitted in obedience to the will of God for their lives according to the Laws of the Sinai covenant. What is the definition of the "righteous" New Covenant Christian? Is the definition different from the Old Covenant believer? If so, how? See Mt 25:37-40; 1 Jn 3:4-9.

Endnotes:

1. Biblos is the Greek word for "book/scroll" and geneseos is the word for "origin" or "beginning;"  thus the Greek title for the first Bible book is the Greek word for "origin," which we translate as Genesis.

2. In the symbolism of numbers in Scripture, 6 is the number of the beasts and of man (both created on the 6th day).  6 is also the symbolic number of man's rebellious nature resisting God's sovereignty and authority.  3 is the number of perfect completion for the Jews, and for Christians the number 3 symbolized the perfection of the Godhead = Trinity.  8 is the number of salvation and redemption.  It is the number of Christ, of rebirth, of the resurrection, and of the Second Coming of Jesus as Righteous judge and Bridegroom.  The gematria of the name Jesus in Greek (the language of the Old Testament) is 888:  a trinity of eights, the fullness of salvation!  As a matter of fact, every name identifying the second person of the Trinity is a multiple of 8 in Greek: Jesus Christ = 1480 (8 x 185); Lord = 800 (8 x 100); Savior = 1,408 (8 sq. x 32); Emmanuel = 25,600 (8 cubed x 50); Messiah = 656 (8 x 82); Son 880 (8 x110). 

3. Pope Pius VI officially condemned any interpretation of that denied the Messianic sense of Isaiah 7:14 (Divina, 1779).

4. This was why it was necessary for the Jewish member of the Sanhedrin (Law court) who condemned Jesus to death to bring him to the Roman governor Pilate in order to find Jesus guilty under Roman law and condemn Him to death by crucifixion (Mt 27:1-2).  It is also how the Jews set a trap for Jesus in the case of the adulterous woman in John 8:1-11. If Jesus didn't condemn her, then He was not obedient to the Law of Moses and they could use His failure to uphold the Law against Him to undermine His influence with the Jewish people.  However, if He did condemn her to death by stoning, they could have brought charges against him to the Romans for usurping Roman authority (Jn 8:6).  Jesus cleverly avoided their trap.

5. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC.  The Southern Kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in 587/6 BC.  After the Persians allowed the Judahites to return from exile and to rebuild their Temple, Judah remained a vassal state of the Persians and later the Greek kingdoms of the Egyptians and Syrians until the Maccabean revolt.  Judah enjoyed a brief c. hundred years of independence from 164-63 BC, ruled by the descendants of the Maccabees, the Hasmoneans, a family of high priests and kings descended from Mattathias, the father of Judas Maccabeus.  When the Romans were invited to help settle a succession dispute between two Hasmonean princes, the Romans settled the dispute by conquered Judah and making the Judah a vassal state of Rome.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson (* indicated Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation)

Mt 1:16

437

Mt 2:2

439*, 528

Mt 1:18-25

497*

Mt 2:4-6

528*

Mt 1:20

333*, 437, 486*, 497

Mt 2:11

724*

Mt 1:21

430, 437, 452, 1507*, 1864, 2666*, 2812

Mt 2:13-18

530*

Mt 1:23

497, 744

2:13

333*

Mt 2:1-12

486*

2:15

530*

Mt 2:1

528

2:19

333

Gen 3:15

70*, 410*, 489*

Gen 5:1

2331, 2335*