Sunday, December 25, 2011

Gospel of Matthew 1-2 - A New Hope

Matthew 1-2

We start the New Testament (NT) with the Gospel of Matthew.  This book seems to be a 'cliff notes' of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew born of a virgin mother, baptized by John the Baptist who then considers himself to be the son of the God of Moses.

I have to admit that the book didn't start out well for me.  A long list of begats is no way to draw in the reader.  And the end result is ultimately irrelevant!  So what if Joseph is a decedent of Abraham?  He has no blood ties to Jesus and is fairly unnecessary to the story other then to add a small amount of drama.  We should have gotten MARY'S lineage!

The Holy Ghost impregnates a teenager before her betrothed gets a chance.  Joseph is not happy but plays along.

Once Mary gets pregnant, the story kicks off and it's quite a tale.  Wise men on a quest, a jealous king, a family on the run.  We're off to an exciting start!
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  1. Bruce,

    A reading of Matthew (in comparison with the other Gospels) shows a particular emphasis on Jesus being the fulfillment of Old Testament religion. It also shows a special emphasis on Jewish customs and the Judaism of Jesus' day.
    As a result, most scholars think Matthew's point in putting the genealogy at the beginning is to show that Jesus is Jewish. It's pretty dry to us, but there are still plenty of cultures around the world where genealogies are very important in establishing a person's identity.

    To see what I mean, compare this genealogy with the one in Luke 3 (which probably traces Jesus' lineage through Mary instead of Joseph). Luke, who emphasizes the universal relevance of Jesus' life to all people groups, goes all the way back to Adam, the forefather of us all. Matthew, on the other hand, structures it in such a way so as to emphasize Jesus' relationship with Abraham and David. Having finished the Old Testament, you know that they're kind of a big deal for the Jewish people. Because Matthew is probably writing to a predominantly Jewish audience, he is going out of his way to show that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David and the fulfillment of the Abrahamic line. That would've been a major selling point for them.

  2. Seems the lineage, "Yahweh begat Jesus" would have been enough, unless the writer of Mathew and his readers didn't believe that Jesus was his son.

  3. I'm guessing it's only because the male lineage is important to the Jewish faith. Women rarely mattered. This of course changes with the coming of Jesus but as you said Christian, Matthew was just establishing Jesus' jewish lineage.
    I still find it strange that Joseph's bloodline is even considered. It would be best just to ignore it and as Chasia says, "Yahweh begat Jesus".

    The other option of course is that Mary was pregnant by some other human and Joseph created a cover story to hide it instead of having her killed as was custom.

    The supernatural occurrence often has a simple natural answer if take the time to look for it.

  4. Women did rarely matter. But notice how Matthew includes four women in Jesus' lineage - and, if you can remember who they all are, you'll know that none of them are even somewhat reputable, "decent" women. And notice that women, whose testimony was considered inferior in the Roman judicial system, were allowed to be the first witnesses of the resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10, etc.). So Matthew (and the early church) were particularly and uniquely pro-women in a context where that was not the case.

    And, pardon me for pointing it out, but I detect a little bit of "chronological snobbery" in the assumption that ancient peoples were too simple-minded (i.e., dumb) to know about the reproductive system. They were fully aware of where babies came from, even when the mother was an adolescent girl. The Gospels even record events where people insinuate that Jesus was a bastard. In John 8:41, the Jews who had superficially believed in Jesus, assert that they (emphatic in the original Greek) were not born illegitimately. The grammar of the Greek sentence indicates that this was a subtle dig at Jesus. In other words, it's not like claiming a virgin birth was taken at face value. Even though Mary had married Joseph, some people still suspected that he was some kind of love child. Yet the Gospels are still confident enough to include this and not cover it up - as if they were confident enough in the virgin birth not to be afraid of opposing claims.

    I do agree that claims to the supernatural can often be explained by logic and science. However, it's illogical to dismiss the virgin birth as categorically impossible just because it's a rather unique and marvelous event (that, of course, being the point).

  5. @Chasia,

    You're putting Matthew in a pretty tough position. If he comes out and says, "Yahweh begat Jesus," most people would be skeptical - "really? Like it's that simple? I'd expect a little more evidence for that claim." But, on the other hand, when Matthew does go into detail and show the very human side of Jesus' lineage, you still get suspicious of him. Ironically, if you read Matthew's first few chapters, I think you get a pretty good idea who he thought Jesus' Father was, and it isn't Joseph.

    So, how could Matthew have written in a way to satisfy you?

  6. Don't get me wrong Christian. I understand why Matthew included the begets. It's just that Joseph's lineage is irrelevant.
    As for evidence for the claim that Jesus is the son of a god, well, let's just say that so, far the Bible hasn't given me anything yet. ;-)

    I appreciate your input. Please continue!

  7. Genealogy isn't irrelevant if you want to establish that Jesus is of the House of David (patrilineal descendant) and therefore fulfills God's promise to David. However it looks like Matthew both wanted and did not want a patrilineal descent.

    A few oddities in the genealogy. First Rahab is not listed as the mother of Boaz in the Old Testament. Jewish midrash describes her as an ancestor of a few prophets (but not David) though it is possible different stories about her were around. Second Matthew makes a big thing about 14/14/14; however, his genealogy omits several kings to make 14. Also the third listing of 14 only has 13.

    Matthew does seem to be working through a checklist of prophecies (some of which seem to be about Israel [calling son out of Egypt] rather than the messiah]. The last one in chapter 2, he shall be called a Nazarene, seems to have no precedent.

  8. @Christian, If Mathew wanted to fulfill prophesy of Jesus is a decedent of David, he would merely have to state that one biological parent was the descendant of David, which he did not do.

  9. There's a reason I use the moniker "Confused."

    Perhaps I've missed something, maybe someone can explain it to me. If Jesus is the offspring of God, how is Joseph's lineage in any way relevant? Being the offspring of God would mean that Joseph is not his father. For all intents and purposes, wouldn't that mean Jesus was illegitimate as concerns the lineage of Joseph and David?

    By the by, if Mary is married to Joseph, and God is impregnating her, wouldn't that mean that God has committed adultery? Or rather that Mary has committed adultery? Aren't there commandments against taking another mans wife? Did she fail to scream loud enough to be heard by others in the village? And how do we know she was a virgin when she gave birth? After all, she was pregnant! That said, weren't there social constructs for consummating the marriage? If they hadn't consummated the marriage, where Joseph and Mary actually married? And if Mary had a child with God, and was not married to him, wouldn't that mean she was having a child out of wedlock? isn't that a bad thing by Christian values? Of course, if they hadn't consummated the marriage, and they were living together, wouldn't that constitute living in sin?

    None of this makes any sense, hence I am 'Confused.'