Introduction to Matthew
The author of the Gospel According to Matthew was one of the original twelve disciples chosen by Jesus (Matthew 9:9; 10:3). He does not identify himself as the author, but the uniform tradition of the early church attributes it to him, and there is no reason not to accept him as the author.
Matthew had been a publican, or tax collector, before Jesus called him. This profession was considered sinful by the Jews, since the publicans often exacted heavy taxes from the Rome subjects, keeping the excess for themselves. Matthew, however, was different. He had evidently become a disciple of John the Baptist (Acts 1:21-22), and was immediately ready to follow Jesus when He called him (Mark 2:14-17). Mark identifies Matthew as also going by the name of Levi, but both authors give his name as Matthew in their respective lists of the twelve (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18).
Matthew undoubtedly wrote his gospel primarily for the Jews to whom he first ministered, as is evident not only from the genealogy of Jesus that he gives in Matthew 1:1-17 but also from the numerous citations from the Old Testament. Matthew especially refers to the Old Testament Messianic prophecies as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:22-23; 2:5-6; 3:3).
The time of writing was considerably after the time of Christ’s resurrection (compare Matthew 28:15) but obviously before the A.D. 70 destruction of Jerusalem as predicted in Matthew 24:2. A controversy still exists among scholars as to whether Matthew or Mark was the first gospel record of the life of Christ.
Matthew describes twenty miracles (out of thirty-five passages in the gospels describing miracles) and twenty-one parables of Jesus (out of fifty-one passages dealing with parables in the gospels). He uses the term “kingdom of heaven” thirty-two times, whereas Mark and Luke use only “kingdom of God.” Matthew is the only gospel author who mentions the future “church” (Matthew 16:18; 18:17).
Whether or not Matthew’s gospel was the first one written down, as many scholars believe, it has always been placed first in the New Testament canon, and is probably the most widely read of all the New Testament books (with the possible exception of John). With its genealogy in the first chapter, it obviously would form the most natural transition, at least to the Jewish mind, from the old covenant to the new covenant.
1:1 The book. Compare this with “the book of the generations of Adam” (Genesis 5:1), the only other place in the Bible where this phrase is found. This seems symbolic. The Old Testament describes the effect of the first Adam on the human race, whereas the New Testament deals with the “second Adam” and His work for mankind.
1:1 generation. This word (Greek genesis) is obviously the word from which we get the title of the first book of the Bible. It is used only this once in the New Testament (the very first verse) except for James 3:6, where it is translated “nature.” However, it is used in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament as the translation of toledoth (“generations”), which is the key word in identifying the different original documents from which Moses compiled Genesis (see notes on Genesis 2:4 and 5:1).
1:1 Jesus Christ. A few skeptics have questioned the historical existence of Jesus Christ, arguing that the only references to Him are in Christian sources, and these are biased. The fact is, however, that Christ has been mentioned by several secular writers of the time, including Tacitus (a Roman historian), Josephus (the Jewish historian), Suetonius (another Roman historian), Pliny the Younger (a Roman magistrate), Lucian the Cynic (a Greek satirist), and Celsus (a pagan philosopher). There is no doubt whatever that He really lived and that the Christian religion was established on the strong belief that He died for our sins and then defeated death by His bodily resurrection.
1:1 the son. The use of “son” in this opening verse of the New Testament reminds us that God had promised a very special son to both David and Abraham (II Samuel 7:12-16: Genesis 22:18). Note also the promise of Isaiah 9:6.
1:3 Thamar. It is significant that four women are mentioned in this royal genealogy of Jesus—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah (Matthew 1:3,5-6). All four were special trophies of God’s grace. Tamar may have been a Canaanite who posed as a harlot to seduce Judah (Genesis 38:13-18); Rahab was also a Canaanite and had been a prostitute (Joshua 2:1); Ruth was a Moabitess (Ruth 1:4), a member of a nation committed to idolatry and opposition to the people of God; and a Hittite woman, Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, committed adultery with King David (II Samuel 11:2-5). All of these women could, by the law, have been excommunicated from Israel, executed, or both. God, however, not only redeemed them, bringing them to saving faith in Him, but even included (and mentioned) them in the human genealogy of the royal line leading to Jesus.
1:8 begat. At this point, “begat” should be understood in an ancestral, rather than immediate paternal, sense. Three names have been omitted between Jehoram and Uzziah—Ahaziah, Joash and Amaziah (II Chronicles 22:1,11; 24:1,27). The apparent reason for doing this was as a memory device, having three groups of fourteen generations from Abraham to Christ (Matthew 1:17). Some have attempted to justify placing gaps of several thousand years in the genealogies of Genesis 11 on the basis of this three-generation gap in Matthew’s genealogy. Such reasoning is indefensible, however, because Matthew’s short gap is easily filled in from other Scriptures (see also I Chronicles 3:11,12). The only basis for the arbitrarily assumed huge gaps in Genesis is the supposed need to conform to the secular chronologies proposed by evolutionary archaeologists.
1:11 begat. Jehoiakim is omitted here between Josiah and Jeconiah (II Chronicles 36:4), who is also called Coniah and Jehoiachin. See note on Matthew 1:8.
1:11 Jechonias. It was Jeconiah whose sins caused God to cut his seed off from ever sitting on David’s throne (Jeremiah 22:24-30). Yet God had also promised that David would “never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel” (Jeremiah 33:17). Thus, Jeconiah’s royal line of descendants is listed here to show the legal right of Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, to David’s throne (Matthew 1:16), even though neither Joseph nor any others of Jeconiah’s seed could ever have the spiritual right to the throne. That right must be carried through Mary’s ancestry (see note on Luke 3:23).
1:16 of whom. Note that Matthew was careful here not to say that Joseph “begat” Christ, departing from the formula used for the other ancestors of Jesus. Thus, Matthew shows that Jesus had the legal right to the throne of David, since Joseph was his foster father. The spiritual right to be king of Israel had to come from David by another route altogether.
1:16 Christ. The name “Christ,” meaning “anointed,” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew messiah. Christ was not part of Jesus’ name (though He is frequently called Jesus Christ), but His title. He is Jesus the Christ, properly speaking.
1:18 espoused. According to Jewish law at the time, the espousal was almost equivalent to marriage, except for the consummation, and could be dissolved only by a legal divorce. Infidelity during that period on the part of the bride might even be punishable by death (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Joseph, however, was a “just man” (Matthew 1:19), who loved Mary, and was unwilling to have her humiliated even by a public divorce.
1:18 before they came together. The miracle of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus was not His virgin birth, for it was a normal human birth in every way, but rather His miraculous conception. This was the woman’s seed (Genesis 3:15), the “new thing in the earth” (Jeremiah 31:22) and the prophesied virgin conception of Isaiah 7:14. It is explicitly recorded here in Matthew 1:18-25, and also in Luke 1:26-38, then further implied in John 1:14, Galatians 4:4 and other Scriptures.
1:21 his name. This is the first of 144 references to the “name” or “names” of Christ. The word (Greek noma) occurs only about 95 times in the New Testament in reference to all other names. His name is indeed “above every name” even in this respect (Philippians 2:9).
1:21 JESUS. The Hebrew for “JESUS” is Yehoshua, meaning “Jehovah saves.” The name also may be contracted simply to Yeshua, which is the Hebrew word for “salvation,” frequently used in the Old Testament. It is also equivalent to “Joshua.” Appropriately, this is the first use of “save” in the New Testament.
1:23 a virgin. This is a quotation from Isaiah 7:14, the great prophecy of the virgin birth. The Greek word for “virgin” is parthenos, which never has any other meaning. The Hebrew word is almah, and there has been some unjustified controversy as to whether this word also has only this meaning. Its quotation here by Matthew using parthenos, guided by divine inspiration, settles this question. Isaiah prophesied the virgin birth (or better, the miraculous conception) of Jesus, and Matthew records the fulfillment.
1:25 knew her not. Mary remained a virgin after her marriage to Joseph until after the birth of Jesus. Later, however, she did have other sons (Matthew 12:46).