The Birth Narrative (Matthew 1-2)

The Birth Narrative (Matthew 1-2)

The four canonical Gospels begin in diverse ways and each starting point is linked to the essential purpose of that respective Gospel. Matthew’s Gospel begins with a genealogy based in Jewish history, dividing it into four segments, and then flows immediately into details surrounding the family and birth of Jesus Messiah. Matthew, more than any other Gospel, makes explicit the intimate connection that Jesus has with previous Jewish history, expressing a deep sense of fulfillment, and prepares us for the critical role Jesus will play in inaugurating the final and most important segment of that history. Matthew demonstrates great boldness in making these claims towards the end of the 60’s. At the very point when Jewish nationalism is reaching boiling point and eschatological expectations are heightened, Matthew declares that all this ferment within Judaism is misdirected, evidence of rebellion against Yahweh, and ultimately destructive. Jesus as Messiah is the central feature in God’s future for his people and there is a cause-effect relationship between his treatment by Jewish religious leaders and the tragic events culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.

If Matthew’s Gospel has a prologue, i.e., a preparatory section introducing key themes and motifs, it probably is chapters 1-4. In these chapters the writer introduces us to Jesus as Messiah and key character, grounds his narrative in the OT story, indicates God’s protective support of Jesus, recognizes the reality of new revelation from God, speaks about “righteousness” (a key concept), identifies the opposition that Jesus will face (Satan), and describes how Jesus inaugurates his mission with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

The first sentence of Matthew’s narrative really says it all. He identifies Jesus as “the Messiah, son of David, son of Abraam.” These names and titles insert us directly into the worldview within which Matthew’s narrative operates. It is essentially Jewish. But by using the term “Messiah” Matthew asserts (to any Jew who would care to read or listen) that this person Jesus occupies a very special place in God’s plans for the Jewish people and comes to inaugurate a whole new era of blessing for the covenant people in fulfillment of Yahweh’s promises. This word “Messiah” by itself launches us into an eschatological frame of reference that shapes everything that Matthew presents in his story. However, it is an eschatology quite different from that commonly understood among the various sects in first century Judaism.

The first two words of Matthew’s Gospel, “book of origin” (βίβλος γενέσεως),[1] represent the same formula used in Greek Genesis 2:4 (‘this is the book of heaven and earth’s origin” αὕτη ἡ βίβλος γενέσεως οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς) and 5:1 (“this is the book of humans’ origin” αὕτη ἡ βίβλος γενέσεως ἀνθρώπων). In these instances the phrase seems to mean “this is the book of the history/origin of heaven and earth” and “this is the book of the history/origin of human beings” (consider the use of γένεσις in Exodus 6:24-25 describing the ancestral history of some groups in the Levi tribe).  Of course, the name for the Greek translation of the first book in the Hebrew canon was fixed as “Genesis” (Γένεσις) several centuries before Matthew was writing. So on both counts it is probable that Matthew is purposeful in his choice of terms and wants his readers to reflect on the significance of Jesus’ birth in relation to Yahweh’s purposes for the creation of the world and humanity. Perhaps even Matthew would have us consider Jesus’ birth the start of a new creation (cf. Paul’s language in 2 Corinthians 5:17). We need to hear these echoes as we begin this Gospel (cf. John 1:1-3 and the interplay of the Word’s presence and involvement in creation).

We also note that the word γένεσις appears again in v. 18 (“the origin of Jesus Messiah” τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἡ γένεσις). In this context the term plainly means birth/origin. This would suggest that Matthew’s first words should also lead us to consider this narrative as “the book of the birth/origin of Jesus Messiah.”  Matthew also follows his initial verse by a genealogy and γένεσεως certainly can have this significance – “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Messiah.”         Perhaps Matthew intends his readers to keep all three elements (the intertextual resonances with the origin of creation and the name of the first book in the Jewish scriptures, as well as the reference to genealogy) in view as his narrative begins. These words function as the title for the entire narrative, as well as the introduction to the birth narrative of Jesus and the genealogies it contains.

What kind of “book” would Matthew write? Probably a scroll. Larry Hurtado’s recent The Earliest Christian Artifacts[2] gives the quantitative evidence for literary printing materials that have survived from the first and second centuries of our era. Scrolls predominate in the first century. However, in Christian materials the codex soon became predominate and this as early as the second century. If Matthew’s narrative first appeared as a scroll, then this would control to some degree how long his narrative could be, before he would have to split it into two volumes (as Luke-Acts). The earliest unambiguous evidence for a four Gospel codex is Papyrus 45 (Chester Beatty) 45, dated to c.250 CE. All Gospel codices dated to the 2- early 3rd century appear to contain only one Gospel (p52[3] John, p66 John, p77 Matthew, p90 John, p103 Matthew, p104 Matthew)[4]. However, the order of the Gospels in the major codices, with the exception of D, begin with Matthew (A, B).

The three proper names Matthew mentions in 1:1 create a chiasm with respect to the actual outline of the genealogy in 1:2-17/18. Both David and Abraham were recipients of explicit promises from God that were significant messianically for first century Jewish groups and that for Matthew and other NT writers find their fulfillment in Jesus as Messiah. Through Abraham God promised to bless all the families of the earth (Gen. 12ff). Paul sees the gift of the Holy Spirit to Gentile believers as the fulfillment of this promise (Galatians 3:7-14). In the case of David God promises (2 Samuel 7:11-16) to build an eternal dynasty through him and this promise is transformed in the OT prophets into references to the root or branch of David/Jesse who would come and restore salvation to Israel (e.g., Jeremiah 31-33). In both cases God makes covenant promises. In Jesus as Messiah God will make new covenant promises. That Jesus is a descendant from Abraham defines him ethnically as a Jewish person. That Jesus is a descendant of David makes him eligible to fill the Messianic role.

But Matthew also defines Jesus as Messiah. Perhaps this is the most astounding information that Matthew presents in the title to his narrative. In many ways his narrative, as Mark’s Gospel does, seeks to explain how a person executed as a political criminal by the Romans through crucifixion, rejected as a false-messiah by the Jewish religious establishment, and disinterested in restoring Israel’s political fortunes and liberating Israel from Roman subjection, is nevertheless the Messiah of God. Jesus’ presence brought no release for Israel from Roman subjugation; it did not propel Israel into the position of world dominance; Satan remained active. So if these elements that were central to most Israelite messianic expectation had not occurred through Jesus, and Jesus had been executed, how could he be the Messiah God had promised? It did not make sense to many in Israel. As Paul says, “Christ crucified” trips up Jewish people – it promotes apostasy in the view of traditional Jews. They have great difficulty seeing in Jesus their promised Messiah. Yet this is the central claim that Matthew makes. In so doing it makes his writing essentially Jewish, particularly as it is joined with the figures of Abraham and David. When you compare the initial segment in Mark, you note that Jesus is defined as “Messiah, Son of God” [“son” language also in Matt. 2:15; 3:17; 4:3] and the content of his story is “good news.” Maybe for Mark’s purpose this is all the genealogy Jesus needs.

Matthew makes a point of using the term “Messiah” (Χριστός christos) in a technical sense. The double expression “Jesus Christ” only occurs in v.1 and in 16:21 (but there is textual variation in this context). According to 1:16 Jesus is “the one called the Messiah,” an expression repeated in 27:17, 22. So obviously christos (Χριστός) has a specific sense. Normally people would not be given this designation. Josephus, in his writings, uses this same expression. Its historical usage in Matt. 16:16 by Peter (and Jesus’ response in v. 20) may be the reason why Matthew employs the double expression in 16:21.

1:2-17 – Genealogy

In his stylized, condensed overview of Jewish history in the form of a genealogy, Matthew places Jesus in the context of God’s historical dealings with His people. He focuses on the beginning with Abraham, the Davidic establishment of the Kingdom, and the disaster of the exile. Matthew does not mention Moses or any of the prophets in his survey. However, he is careful to do several things:

  1. He structures each era into segments of 14 generations (cf. v. 17). This is somewhat stylized in that some generations are omitted in some sections. We find similarly structured definitions of historical eras or ages (αἰών) present in apocalyptic literature. Such conventions speak to the orderly nature of God’s planning for his people, as well as the limitation of current evil. The presumption is that the era of the Messiah is equally ordered by God and will have a specific conclusion – “the end of the age” (ἡ συντελεῖα τοῦ αἰῶνος 28:20), when the Messiah returns a second time, a phrase that is of particular importance to Matthew (13:39,40,49; 24:3 – only elsewhere in NT at Hebrews 9:26 where the plural “ages” (αἰώνων) is used). This is apocalyptic terminology (as in Greek Daniel 8:19; 9:7; 11:35,40; 12:4,7 and the Second Temple, Testament literature Zeb. 9:9; B. 11:3;  Levi 10:2; R.  6:8) and it signifies the end of time, often with the sense of completion. Matthew is careful to state in Jesus’ words that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple will not mark the end (τέλος 24:6).

Some suggest that the number fourteen (generations) is arrived at from the combination of the letters in David’s name – Hebrew d + w + d = 4 + 6 + 4 = 14.  We do know from other Jewish apocalyptic writings of that era that some were intrigued with the patterns of numbers related to chronology and names. Daniel for example talks about seven weeks of years (= 490 years). However, if this is the source of Matthew’s scheme of 14, then he has not made much of it.

2. The contents of the genealogy are found in genealogies in the Greek Old Testament (e.g., 1 Chronicles 1-3), plus records that Matthew must have had access to for the post-exilic period. The fact that Joseph knew he had to return to Bethlehem for purposes of revising the taxation lists (census), indicates that some Jews at the time of Jesus were aware of their family histories.

Normally Jewish genealogies do not mention the mother, yet Matthew incorporates four women into this genealogy. Two are certainly gentiles (Rahab – Joshua 2 and Ruth – Ruth 1-2). Tamar may also be Gentile. Jubilees 41:1-2 and Test. Jud. 10:1-2 say she is “a daughter of Aram.” Judah had married a Canaanite woman, Shua, (Gen.38:2) and Er was their son. Since Uriah was a Hittite (2 Sam. 12:9; 1 Kings 15:5), it is quite probable that Bathsheba too was a Gentile. So one of the reasons for naming these four women might be to indicate how God had incorporated gentile blood into the Messianic ancestry. This in turn indicates God’s intention to incorporate the Gentiles into the Messiah’s new assembly. However, each of these women also have rather irregular relationships with men and yet the progeny of these relationships become integral links in the Messiah’s ancestry. Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. Before she was married, Rahab was a prostitute. Solomon was born through the adultery that David commits with Bathsheba. Given the strange and extraordinary nature of Jesus’ birth through Mary, the inclusion of these women in the genealogy serves to demonstrate how God works his “strange righteousness” even through such irregular relationships.  We hear nothing about Sarah or Rachel.

In the first segment, Matthew is in essential agreement with Luke’s Genealogy (Luke 3:31-34). It ends with David who is described as “the King.” Much of this data is also found in the short genealogy in Ruth 4:18-22. The second segment covers the period from Solomon’s kingship to the exile (metoikesia (μετοικεσία) = deportation, a word only occurring here in the NT). The disaster of deportation is in sharp contrast to the kingship of David that ends the first segment. Jewish people in the first century discussed what God’s purpose might have been in the sixth century BCE deportations. Probably this data is taken from 1 Chronicles 3:10-15. Matthew follows the line of Judaean kings, those that ruled the southern kingdom. Luke traces Jesus’ ancestry not through Solomon, but through Nathan, another of David’s sons (3:31). Also in the third period Matthew diverges from Luke once Zerubbabel is named. Luke has almost twice as many names as Matthew for this segment. However, we have no OT materials that might be considered a source in this third segment so we do not know how complete either is or what system they have chosen in forming this part of their genealogies. The end of the Matthean genealogy is signaled by the use of different wording to describe the offspring of Joseph – “the husband of Mary from whom Jesus, who is called Messiah, was born.” (v.16).

There were various stories circulating in Judaism regarding the paternity of Jesus. We discover these in Rabbinic sources – Jesus Ben Pantera or Ben Pandira, probably a corruption of the Greek term for virgin parthenos – υἱος τῆς παρθένου (b. Sanh. 67a; Origen, Contra Celsum, 1:32-33). Matthew uses a passive verb “was generated, conceived, born” ἐγεννήθη in v. 16 (ἐξ ἧς ἐγεννήθη Ἰησοῦς ὁ λεγόμενος Χριστος “from whom Jesus, the one called Messiah, was born/generated [by…]”) to describe the generation of Jesus, meaning either “be born” or “be conceived.” Usually the father is subject of this verb. All other forms of this verb in vv. 2-16 are active. With a passive form the Greek language usually has an implied or explicit agent. Often in the New Testament when the agent is not named, it is assumed to be divine, i.e., God the Father, Jesus, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. So Matthew in using the passive may be anticipating the story that is about to unfold. He is interested in the legal paternity of Jesus, not the physical paternity. But in fact we have the issue of descent described on two levels – the human ancestry through Joseph into the Davidic line  by adoption, and the divine ancestry through Mary to God. Joseph acknowledges his legal relationship to Jesus by giving him his name. Matthew certainly believed in the virginal conception and birth of Jesus.

Matthew ends the genealogy by defining Jesus as “the one who is called Messiah.”[5] This takes us back to 1:1 where Matthew had described his narrative as “the book of the history/birth/genealogy of Jesus Messiah.”[6] Is christos (Χριστός) ever a name in Matthew or always is it to be regarded as a title? Note that in v. 17 it plainly is read as a title “until the Messiah/christos.” However, what about v. 18 “This is how the birth of Jesus Messiah came about.” I think that if we translate christos/Χριστός as Messiah and do not transliterate it as “Christ,” then we will discern the proper sense of this word whenever it does occur in Matthew’s Gospel (17x).[7] The double term only occurs in Matthew at 1:1, 18; (at 16:20, 21 textual variants occur and so we do not know for sure what Matthew wrote). So the double name only occurs in the text surrounding the genealogy in Matthew. But what is Matthew affirming about Jesus to his readers by using this title? For Jewish people the term “Messiah” had particular significance, but non-Jewish people would have no context whereby to understand the significance of a title that meant “anointed.”

Verse 17 then summarizes the information given in the genealogy emphasizing the connection between Abraham, David and the deportation to Babylon and the Messiah. While each segment historically was not exactly fourteen generations, we must ask what Matthew seeks to communicate through this imposed structure? We should note that Matthew summarizes frequently in his narrative and this is the first of many instances. It signals the ending and beginning of narrative sequences.

Both Jewish and Hellenistic narratives about important people often begin with genealogical information. Perhaps Matthew is communicating that Jesus came at just the right time. It should not have been a surprise that the Messiah came when he did, given how God had acted previously at specific times in Israel’s history. The quest of the Magi may also be linked to this. Why were they looking for the Messiah’s star at that time? Galatians 4:4 – Jesus arrived “when the fullness of time came.” Those who linked their lives with the Messiah, appropriated the Messiah’s heritage.

Matthew shows that the Christian movement grows out of the Israelite/Jewish theological tradition and history. In fact it is the culmination of it and the divinely created conclusion to it. People cannot understand what Yahweh was doing in Jesus as Messiah, if they are unwilling to read and understand the Old Testament. Yahweh’s plan to create a people for himself begins in the first chapters of Genesis. The story enters its final chapter in terms of human history when Jesus comes as Messiah. He represents the most significant part of God’s plan. We must remember that the Jewish Scriptures became the Christian Scriptures before any of the New Testament was written. So Matthew is laying claim to this sacred tradition as Christian. But in doing so, he is doing nothing different from Jesus or Paul (cf. Romans 1:1-7; 16:25-27) and is plainly offering an interpretation of these Jewish Scriptures that is at odds with that promoted by other Jewish sects of his day.

1:18-2:23 – The Birth and Infancy of Jesus

The narrative about Jesus’ birth and early years comprises several smaller units:

1:18-25 – revelations to Joseph and the birth and naming of Jesus;

2:1-12 – the visit of the Magi when Jesus is about two years old;

2:13-18 – Joseph’s escape to Egypt and Herod’s slaughter of children in Bethlehem;

2:19-23 — Herod’s death and Joseph’s return to Palestine and settlement in Nazareth.

The primary action in these sections is between Joseph, an angel of the Lord, and Herod. Three times (1:20; 2:13,19) an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph “in a dream” and gives specific instructions concerning the birth of the child and its protection from Herod’s plot to kill it. Once a message of warning is given to the Magi “in a dream” (2:12), but Matthew does not mention an angel. So God is very engaged in the advent activities to protect Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus, and the Magi.

We might consider why these four stories were selected by Matthew for inclusion in his narrative. Luke’s Gospel indicates that other stories were circulating (e.g., shepherds, parallels with John’s birth, etc.). If the author knew of these stories, then his selection of these four must in his view be more pertinent to his purposes than other stories of Jesus’ birth and early years. Perhaps the linkage between specific OT prophecies and these events is the critical issue. Or perhaps he is emphasizing the opposition to Jesus entrenched in Jewish leadership circles, as well as parallels with prior Jewish leaders, e.g., Moses. Or he may be emphasizing that Herod, despite any pretensions he might have, is certainly not the Messiah.

In the OT the divine agent who leads Israel through the Wilderness is the “angel/messenger of Yahweh/Lord[8]” (Mt.1:20). The Psalmist declares that “the angel of Yahweh encamps around those that fear him.” This heavenly agent also announces special births in Genesis 16:7 and Judges 13:3. We also meet this figure in Matthew 28:2 at the empty tomb, again delivering a message that explains and encourages.

In both Jewish and Hellenistic culture divine messages were believed to come through dreams or visions. In the OT God speaks to pagan rulers such as Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar in dreams, and then sends a Jewish prophet to interpret the significance of these dreams. Consider also Job 33:15-17. In the case of Joseph and his dreams, Yahweh sends a heavenly agent to do the explaining.

The parallels between this account of Jesus’ birth and infancy and the stories of Moses’ birth are quite striking (cf. Josephus Antiquities 2:205ff). We do not know how widespread these ideas about Moses were at the time when Matthew was writing, but Josephus seems to assume they are accepted elements of Moses’ story. If this is the case, then Jewish people hearing or reading Matthew’s narrative would be struck by the parallels and be led to ask whether Jesus is in fact a new Moses. God forecasts to Moses’ father the birth of the child, his role in delivering Israel, and assurance that Pharaoh’s attempts to kill all new-born male Hebrew children would not destroy Moses.

Within this section we also find the first set of formula quotations (1:22-3; 2:5b-6, 15b-c, 17-18 and 23b). Each narrative segment contains one and assures the reader that these events are unfolding precisely as God intended. He is not caught by surprise or thwarted by human wickedness. There is a significant juxtaposition of new divine revelation in dreams, with previous divine revelation in Scripture, but they are implicitly coherent. These quotations:

  1. explain Jesus’ birth as a virgin birth and his significance is defined in the name “Emmanuel” (1:23 = Isaiah 7:14). It is unclear whether this quotation is part of the angel’s message or an editorial comment by the writer;
  2. explain the place where the Messiah is born as Bethlehem (2:5b-6 = Micah 5:2) and his role to “shepherd God’s people, Israel”;
  3. explain the escape to Egypt (2:15b-c = Hosea 11:1);
  4. explain the killing of the infants in Bethlehem (2:17-18 = Jeremiah 31:15);
  5. explain the reference to Jesus being a ‘Nazōraios’ (2:23b = ?? Judges 13:5,7; Isaiah 11:1; 53:2).

Matthew characterizes Joseph as being just (in the sense of acting in accord with the covenant/Law of Moses), gracious, deliberate. He is contracted to be married to Mary. While not yet co-habiting, legally they were considered married (Deut. 22:23-27) and so divorce and widowhood were potential implications of this state. In v. 19 Joseph is called Mary’s “husband (ὁ ἀνὴρ αὐτῆς).” During the period of betrothal the woman was the responsibility of her father. Note the initial statements about the role of the Holy Spirit (vv. 18, 20).

The word translated “came together,” i.e., became sexually intimate (v.18), may also have the sense of “set up house together.” It indicates that no sexual relations had yet occurred between Joseph and Mary. It is Mary’s pregnancy in this period prior to sexual relations with Joseph that creates the problem. Because he respected the Law of Moses, Joseph considered divorce to be the necessary and ‘right’ (dikaios δίκαιος) action. Joseph could do this in a very public way, using methods of public trial to accuse Mary and seek redress through divorce. This would make Mary an ‘example’ (deigmatisai δειγματίσαι)[9]. Or, it seems he could write the bill of divorce himself, have it signed by two or three witnesses (lathrai λάθρᾳ = quietly). After[10] he had reflected (enthymēthentos ἐνθυμηθέντος)[11] on these options, an angel of the Lord appears to him. Given other uses in Matthew’s Gospel (9:4; 12:25) there may be the sense that Joseph’s thoughts were leading him in a wrong direction and so God sends the heavenly messenger to get Joseph moving in the right direction.

Mary is described (v. 18b) as “being pregnant from Holy Spirit.” This language is repeated in the quotation from Isaiah in v. 23. Whether Joseph knew about the role of the Spirit in this process is unclear from the narrative, but it is a reasonable presumption that Mary, as the pregnancy is discovered, would be called upon to give explanation. Regardless, Matthew wants his readers to be well aware of this reality. Matthew does not go into details about the role of the Spirit in this process. For God to be involved in a miraculous birth is well known from the OT (cf. Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac). But in those cases the normal processes of human procreation are employed. Here, the role of the Spirit seems to suggest an abnormal process, with no other human agent involved. [Cf. the role of the Spirit in world creation as described in Genesis 1:2]

Joseph is identified as a Davidid by the angel – Joseph, son of David. This is what the genealogy has just revealed. The angel’s message acknowledges the ‘fear’ Joseph was experiencing at the prospect of consummating the betrothal to Mary. He tells Joseph “to take Mary home,” i.e., complete the marriage arrangements, and he does in v. 24, confirming his obedience.  This same verb (paralambanein παραλαμβάνειν) occurs also at 1:24; 2:13, 14, 20, 21 (as well as many other times in Matthew). Again it serves to link these stories together. The angel affirms that Mary’s pregnancy is a divine act – “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”[12] Again the Holy Spirit is named as source of this conception and since the participle is passive but no agent is made explicit, perhaps again we have a divine passive structure (cf. v. 18). The angel also reveals the gender of the child, what name Joseph will give to the child, and why this child is so special (v. 21). I think the angel’s message to Joseph includes vv. 20b -23, i.e., the quotation from Isaiah. If this is the case, then not all of the OT texts cited as fulfillment texts originate with the writer of this Gospel.

God often in Scripture assigns names to people, that have some etymological significance.[13] This example is unique in that the meaning of the name relates to the future action of this person.[14]  The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. It is related to Hebrew words meaning salvation or save. This relates then directly to the child’s prophesied role – “he will save his people from their sins” (v.21).[15] Right from the beginning Matthew makes clear that the deliverance Jesus Messiah brings is a spiritual deliverance (reference to sins), not a political or military deliverance. At the last Passover meal Jesus says that his blood is “poured out for the forgiveness of sins.” How Jews in the first century understood the nature of divine forgiveness is not clear. God could forgive and did, but on what basis, other than general covenant relationship, is not specified. Forgiveness of sins is a key part of John the Baptist’s message to Israel. The only reference [16]in specifically pre-Christian literature where forgiveness of sins is a Messianic activity occurs in 11QMelch. 2:6-8 (a document among the Dead Sea Scrolls):

He will proclaim liberty for them, to free them from [the debt] of all their iniquities. And this will [happen] in the first week of the jubilee which follows the ni[ne] jubilees. And the day [of atonem]ent is the end of the tenth jubilee in which atonement will be made for all the sons of {God} and for the men of the lot of Melchizedek.

The salvation or deliverance Jesus will bring applies to “his people,” i.e., Jewish people, among whom he finds his identity and purpose, but we cannot ignore the fact that the outcome of his mission will affect all nations (28:19-20). Perhaps this expression “his people” carries within it a double element, one of which relates to the inclusion of non-Jewish people within his activities as “his people.”

The first formula quotation is unexpectedly placed prior to its literal fulfillment.[17] The previous directives from the angel, when completed, will fulfill this prophecy. The simple reading of the text would lead us to assume that this statement of fulfillment and the prophecy that follows were part of the angel’s message to Joseph, although not all would agree. Only here and in 2:15 does the phrase “by the Lord” modify “that which was spoken.” Perhaps this emphasizes the coherence between the message given by the angel of the Lord and the prophecy spoken to Isaiah “by the Lord” centuries earlier. The Septuagint (Greek) text of Isaiah 7:14 is:

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and shall bear a son and you (singular) will call his name Emmanuel. (my translation)

ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν, καὶ καλέσεις [Matt. καλέσουσιν] τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἐμμανουήλ

The primary change is in the verb “you shall call” to “they shall call.” Perhaps Matthew alters the text in order to remove any contradiction regarding the previous naming instruction and also to remove the naming function from Mary, which the singular would require her to do. Or, perhaps Matthew anticipates that the nations will recognize in Jesus their “Emmanuel.”  The wording of this oracle indicates that the virgin “will be pregnant” while a virgin. The Greek word parthenos παρθένος normally would signify a young woman who is still a virgin, i.e., never engaged in sexual activity (BDAG).[18] The corresponding Hebrew word ‘almâ does not necessarily imply a woman who is a virgin, but it can be applied to a woman who was a virgin. This is the only context in the LXX where this Greek noun translates this Hebrew noun. So παρθένος is part of the Isaiah text and not a term chosen by Matthew for his narrative.

The oracle as given in Isaiah 7 relates to Ahaz and the birth of a son to him and heir to the throne (a Davidid). There is no evidence from Jewish sources prior to Jesus that this text was ever given a messianic interpretation. How it became connected with Jesus and the events surrounding his birth remains a mystery. My opinion would be that Joseph and Mary shared their experiences of heavenly visions and these became known to the early Christian community. Jesus himself may also have reinforced this understanding among his followers (cf. Luke 24:45-49).

The interpretation of “Emmanuel” as “God with us”[19] comes from Isaiah 8:8, 10. Matthew will pick up this concept several times through his narrative, particularly in 18:20 and 28:20 (cf. 17:17). What are we to make of this name and its implications for our understanding of Jesus? Does Matthew want us to equate Jesus with Yahweh? We can perhaps substantiate this as we consider the God-like actions of Jesus in the narrative, the worship that is attributed to him, and statements such as 18:20, which imply a spiritual presence that supersedes any mere physical reality. Matthew twice has indicated that Jesus’ birth comes through the action of the Holy Spirit. Whose ‘son’ is born (v. 23)? Is it Yahweh’s, who is mentioned in v. 22? However, some suggest that such a powerful Christological statement at the beginning of the narrative is unwarranted. Matthew has a high Christology, but it is cumulative, it is proposed. So some would argue for a more general sense such as “God is with us,” indicating an eschatological promise being fulfilled in Jesus. However, in just a few chapters, at Jesus’ baptism, God speaks and identifies Jesus as “my son, the beloved one” (3:17) and who is the ‘Lord’ whose way John prepares (3:3)? We must remember that Matthew is writing in the mid-60’s of the first century and we have already had the early Church making profound claims for Jesus as evident in Paul’s writings (i.e., Phil. 2:5-11). Regardless of your final decision about this question, Matthew by using this material is asserting that everything about Jesus comes from God and is entirely in accord with God’s character and plan. Matthew is quite clear that the idea for the Messiah’s virgin birth is God’s. Probably it is related to the issue of fallen humanity – the need to distinguish between the first and second Adam, as Paul argues in Romans 5.

Matthew (vv. 24-25) emphasizes Joseph’s obedience to the angel’s commands and his commitment to understanding God’s purposes for his son and his significance. The verb “having arisen” (ἐγερθείς) describes Joseph’s obedient actions also in 2:13-14, 20-21, both times in response to the angel’s command. That Joseph had no sexual relations with Mary until the child was born is stated clearly. However, from other indications in the Gospel narrative, Mary later had other children with Joseph (cf. 13:55) – at least four brothers and additional sisters (not named). At the risk of sounding blunt, in my view there is no basis in Matthew, Mark or Luke’s narrative for the concept of Mary’s perpetual virginity.

The Magi and Herod (2:1-12)

Herod is Herod the Great, the one who rebuilt the temple and who died in 4 B.C. after ruling Israel as a Roman client king for 33 years (37-4 BC). As Nolland summarizes:

He was a figure of heroic proportions, whose rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple represented a major feat of ancient architecture, but whose rule was tyrannical, ruthless and cruel.[20]

This means that Jesus’ birth happened before 4 B.C. If Herod killed infants two years of age and younger in an attempt to murder the baby Jesus, and if the Magi had to travel to Jerusalem for some time ‘from the east’, then Jesus was perhaps born around 6 B.C. At this point Herod’s rebuilding of the temple precinct would have been in full swing, with the new temple precinct itself probably dedicated five to ten years previously.

How does Matthew characterize Herod? He calls him ‘the king’ several times (vv. 1, 3, 9). It is only implied that he is king of the Jews because he is resident in Jerusalem (v. 3). We get a sense of his ruthlessness as he schemes to kill the infant Jesus, first through the Magi and then, when God prevents that from happening, through the slaughter of young babies in and around Bethlehem. Matthew also implies that Herod has some awareness about the messianic expectations within Judaism. He knows about prophecies related to this figure and realizes that they are found within the Jewish scriptures. If Herod knows that Jesus has messianic claims, then why does he seek to kill him? Is this merely a political act, the removal of someone who according to Jewish prophesy would sit upon the throne of David, the one that Herod thought he possessed? Had Herod attempted to appropriate to himself the messianic mantle by rebuilding the temple, i.e., acting like a new Solomon? Is it part of his political scheme to position himself as the new David? Herod the king died, but there was no resurrection for him.

The Magi originate in the “East” (ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν v. 1), a very general geographical indicator which could be Arabia, Babylon or Persia. While the term μάγοι has various connotations in antiquity, including a member of the priestly caste of the Medes and Persians (Zoroastrians) who were known for their ability to interpret dreams, magician, deceiver, astrologer, or oriental sage. In Matthew’s story, given their connection with the star and its interpretation, they probably are astrologers. Presumably, they are Gentiles, but we do have some instances of Jews who are named Magi in the NT (Acts 8:9-24: Simon; Acts 13:6-11; Elymas; Josephus Antiquities 20.142: Atomus). If they are Gentile, then Matthew may be emphasizing that the best spiritual leadership among the Gentiles comes and does homage to the newborn Messiah, even though Jewish leadership rejects him (i.e., Herod). Non-Jewish diviners recognize that God is doing something special at that time. Jewish tradition held Balaam to be a Magos (Philo. Moses 1.276), a prophet for the Gentiles who also gave the prophecy about the star and the scepter (Numbers 23:7; Balaam was ἐξ ὀρέων ἀπ’ ἀνατολῶν LXX). In Numbers 24:7 Balaam prophecies that “a star will come forth (ἀνατελεῖ ἄστρον) out of Israel.”[21] They come to Jerusalem[22] because they have seen the star of “the king of the Jews/Judeans” (v. 2)[23] and Jerusalem was the throne city of the Jewish king. The occurrence of celestial phenomenon coincident with the birth of a king is known in the Greco-Roman world. Tacitus, the Roman historian, says that “when a brilliant comet now appeared…people speculated on Nero’s successor as though Nero were already dethroned” (Ann. 14.22). In the Roman world there was expectation of a world-ruler who would come from Judea (Tacitus Hist. 5.13[24]; Suetonius Vespasian 4[25]).

We could translate the first part of v. 2 in two different ways:

“where is the newborn king of the Jews”

“where is the one who has been born as king of the Jews”

Given the position of the participle before the phrase “king of the Jews,” I think the first is more probably Matthew’s intent, with the participle functioning as an adjective. The use of the verb tektein τέκτειν links this statement back to the prophecy about Mary’s giving birth (v. 21)

The Magi say they have seen “his star at its rising.” Points of the compass normally do not have the article (as in v. 1).[26] So presumably the sense is more linked to the rising of the star. Perhaps this language reflects that used in Numbers 24:17 of a star rising out of Jacob. In Balaam’s prophecy the star is the ruler; it does not signal the ruler. However, this might be a splitting of hairs. Qumran documents indicate that Numbers 24:17 was understood to be a reference to a priestly Messiah (CD 7:18-26).[27] As well there is a similar interpretation in Testament of Levi 18.3.[28] This text in Numbers was certainly at the center of a lot of speculation at the turn of the era.

The intent of the Magi in locating the “newborn King of the Jews” is to “do obeisance.” The verb προσκυνεῖν in Matthew can mean show reverence towards (4:9,10) and seems to suggest worship when used with Jesus (14:33; 28:9,17). Whether it has this sense here is uncertain. In Matthew’s Gospel it means generally to show respect towards by genuflecting. Perhaps there is some ambiguity in its usage here.

How Herod hears about the Magi’s arrival is not stated, but we know from Josephus that he had his spies. Because he interprets the Magi’s quest as having Messianic significance and potential threat to his position, he requires the Jewish experts in the Scriptures – the chief priests and scribes of the people – to tell him where these Scriptures said that the Messiah would be born. They do not hesitate to identify Bethlehem, based upon Micah 5:2. However, the text that Matthew uses is not equivalent to the LXX or the Hebrew text. There seems to be some material inserted from 2 Samuel 5:2, particularly the last clause about the one “who will shepherd my people Israel.” So we seem to have a conflation of two texts from Micah 5 and 2 Samuel 5. Composite or merged quotations are said “to be few and far between in rabbinic sources,”[29] but they are frequent in Mark’s Gospel. Matthew perhaps interprets the OT materials here rather than quotes. However, he does not take advantage of the additional information in Micah 5:2ff that would strengthen his case. Perhaps he thought readers or listeners would take time to reflect upon the larger context of Micah 5 and 2 Samuel 5 because of his citation of portions from these texts. The terminology of leadership and shepherding links well with the prior statements that the infant Jesus will save his people from their sins. While claiming 2 Samuel as a prophetic source sounds odd to us today, within the Jewish scriptures the books from Joshua to 2 Kings are called the “Former Prophets.”

Herod summons the Magi ‘secretly’, intending to learn accurately the time when the star appeared. Why is Herod so concerned about an accurate determination of time? He sent them to Bethlehem, based upon the information he received from the chief priests and scribes. The location of the child at a specific home in Bethlehem is what Herod wants to learn. He professes a desire to do obeisance (as the Magi subsequently do), but the continuation of the story puts a very different slant on Herod’s motives. The star moves ahead and locates itself “over the place where the child was” (v. 9). It is only 6 miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and Herod had one of his palace fortresses about 2-3 kilometers from Bethlehem. The Magi, seeing the star’s position, were filled with great joy. Matthew uses a very emphatic form here to underline the magnitude of their joy. Could Herod see the star also?

No mention of Joseph occurs in vv. 11-12, rather Mary is the centre of attention. She and the child are “in the house” in Bethlehem, indicating that time has passed since the birth in the animal enclosure. The actions of the Magi towards the child are defined as “worship” and “make an offering, offering to him gifts.” The gifts, given their value as luxury items, reflect the dignity and status they ascribe to this child and the role for which he was born.

Vv. 13-15 are part of the Magi episode, connected by v.13 – “when they had gone away,” using the same verb from v. 12 (anechōrēsan ἀνεχώρησαν). God cares for the new child again through the angel of the Lord who appears to Joseph in a dream. Matthew uses the first of many historic presents (phainetai φαίνεται, v. 13) here. Matthew infrequently keeps these verb tense-forms found in the Markan material, but often creates his own. Another occurs in v. 19, again following a genitive absolute construction and incorporating the action of an angel. Whether these verb forms mark a new segment or rather emphasize the action is disputed.

The flight to Egypt is a common motif in the OT. The best known of these cases would be Abraham and then the family of Jacob during the famine period, leading to Israel’s captivity in Egypt. Jeremiah flees to Egypt after the destruction of Jerusalem. So Egypt is both a place of refuge and a place of slavery. The angel does not tell Joseph how long the period in Egypt will be, but does promise that when it is time to return, he will let Joseph know. The rationale for staying in Egypt is clearly expressed in v. 13 – Herod will seek to destroy the child. Perhaps Matthew intends this threat to be a forecasting of the threat of crucifixion that emerges towards the end of Jesus’ ministry (the verb apolusai (ἀπολύσαι) also appears in 27:20). Just as the Magi “went away into their country” at the command of the angel, so Joseph “went away into Egypt” (v. 14; cf. v. 22 and 4:12-13). The speed of his obedience is indicated by the fact that he leaves “during night.” Perhaps also there is a sense of secrecy in the action.

We encounter another quotation introduced by the fulfillment formula in v. 15. It is Herod’s death that triggers the next set of events, but before this occurs, Matthew will go back and narrate the slaughter of the infants by Herod in Bethlehem. The quotation is from Hosea 11:1, but does not seem to be Septuagintal in wording. One of the key reasons for Jesus’ refuge in Egypt is so that he would follow in the footsteps of Israel in a typological sense. This quotation focuses on the fact of his coming out of Egypt, not his descent into Egypt.

LXX:   and out of Egypt I have called his children/offspring  καὶ ἐξ Αἰγύπτου μετεκάλεσα τὰ τέκνα αὐτοῦ

Matt:    out of Egypt I called my son ἐξ Αἰγύπτου ἐκάλεσα τὸν υἱόν μου

Aquila: and out of Egypt I called my son  καὶ ἀπὸ Αἱγύπτου ἐκάλεσα τὸν υἱόν μου

Aquila (first century literal Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures) and Matthew’s renderings agree with the Hebrew text.[30]

There is also some hint of this messianic stay in Egypt in Numbers 24:8 (LXX reads “God led him out of Egypt” (8) after “A man will come forth from his seed” (7)), which precedes the star and scepter prophecy (Num. 24:17-18). Now Matthew must have known that the Hosea prophecy related in basic form to Israel. He could read. So we must understand the prophetic note about the Messiah in this text in relation to the Messiah’s typological repetition of Israel’s experience and that in some sense the Messiah incorporates within himself all that Israel represents (i.e., corporate son of man figure in Daniel 7).

Also, this quotation provides us with the first occasion when Matthew affirms that the child is “God’s son” (i.e., my son). Given that Matthew does not quote the LXX version, which does not have this text, it would seem that he is being deliberate in his connection of this terminology “my son” with Jesus. Of course, although the Old Greek translation of Hos 11:1 has τὰ τέκνα αὐτοῦ “his offspring,” referring to the people of Israel, we do know that in the Old Greek translation of Exodus, Yahweh calls Israel “my firstborn son.” So there may be some intertextual influences occurring as the writer seeks to bring the OT texts into a more explicit relationship with Jesus and his role in Israel.  In chapters 3-4 Jesus’ role as son of God will be emphasized even more. Here we see Matthew’s Christology emerging. The singular form in the Hebrew text suits Matthew’s purposes, as does the term υἱός.

Verse16 picks up the Magi’s action in v. 12, as they ignore Herod’s request. Herod is angered because he considers he has been duped or deceived (empaizō ἐμπαίζω – mocked – cf. 27:3, 24 when Jesus is mocked; cf. Jeremiah 10:15). Herod’s response was to become “very angry” (thumoō θυμόω – frequent in LXX but only found here in NT). Herod’s fury is documented by Josephus and often it resulted in the death of specific people. He used indiscriminate killing to remove threats to his kingly power. Estimates of the population of Bethlehem at that time would suggest that probably no more than twenty children were involved. However horrific this is, it was certainly within the range of what we know about Herod’s ruthlessness. Rachel’s tomb was in the region around Bethlehem and this prepares us for the formula quotation that comes in v. 17. The decision to kill infants two years and under is related back to 2:7 and the accurate information given about the star by the Magi.

In vv. 17-18, because the prophecy is fulfilled by someone who has no intent that his actions are done to fulfill scripture (i.e., Herod; consider also Judas (26:14-16, 47-50; 27:2-10)), Matthew introduces the quotation with τότε= then, rather than ἵνα = in order that or ὅπως = so that, as he normally does. He also names the prophet he is quoting – Jeremiah. The quotation is from Jeremiah 31(38Hebrew):15. Only Matthew in the NT mentions Jeremiah by name (2:17; 16:14; 27:9). The Jeremiah text laments the exile and captivity of Israelites, even as it anticipates the return and the establishment of a new covenant (31:31). Perhaps Matthew is regarding the time in Egypt similarly as an exile for Jesus. The death of infants would similarly reflect the tragic circumstances of the first exile. The text seems to be closer to the Hebrew text we have, than to the LXX.

Matthew concludes his narrative about Jesus’ birth and infancy (2:19-23) by describing Joseph’s return from Egypt with his family and their decision to settle in Nazareth. The reference to the death of Herod in v. 15 is picked up, indicating that the time in Egypt is ending. The angelic messenger returns in a dream to Joseph, just as he had promised (v. 13). The use once again of the genitive absolute with idou (ἰδού)[31] follows the pattern we have seen in 1:20; 2:1, and 13, indicating something surprising. As well, at 1:20 and 2:13 it is used in conjunction with the angel’s appearance in a dream. Matthew also uses the historic present phainetai (φαίνεται) in v. 19 as he had in v.13, perhaps adding a sense of drama. Further repetition occurs in the angel’s words as the same expressions used in v. 13 recur. However, this time the journey is “to the land of Israel.” The plural “those seeking” is surprising since Herod is the only one who specifically had this motive. However, Matthew may be including the ones who carried out Herod’s command. There may also be an echo here of the language God uses to tell Moses to return from Midian to Egypt (Exodus 4:19-20) where we read “all those who were seeking your life are dead.” Joseph’s obedience mirrors the angel’s instructions almost word-for-word (v. 21).

When Herod died, his kingdom was divided into several sections. Archelaus, one of Herod’s sons, was assigned to be Tetrarch of Judea, Samaria and Idumea. Josephus says that he began his rule by slaughtering 3,000 people, in an attempt to quell a disturbance at Passover in the Temple precinct.[32] Joseph had good reason to fear that Archelaus would react just as his father had done.[33] Philip was Tetrarch of Trachonitis and Herod Antipas was Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. If Judea was ruled out, then where in Palestine should Joseph settle? Again God intervenes to solve the problem and directs him to “the regions of Galilee.” He settles “in a city called Nazareth.” The language of v. 22b parallels that used in v. 12. It seems from the verbal phrase ἐκεῖ ἀπελθεῖν (to return/go back there) that Joseph heard about the actions of Archelaus before he left Egypt. His fear then kept him from entering Judea at all. After receiving the angel’s instruction, he journeyed to Nazareth, avoiding Judea. Although Matthew calls Nazareth a πόλις, we should not think he was confused or mistaken because in popular language the words πόλις and κώμη (village, town) were often loosely applied. Archeological remains would suggest that Nazareth had a population of about 500 at this time.[34]

Matthew ends this segment with another formula quotation. The introduction to the quotation is different from the previous examples in that the word ‘prophet’ is plural and there is no participle ‘saying’, but rather the conjunction ὅτι (that). This might suggest that Matthew is being a little less definitive as to source. In fact he may not be quoting but making a general summary that this idea was expressed in the prophets, but not specifically stated in any one.

It is difficult to discern what is being claimed here. Some argue that Matthew is suggesting Jesus was a Nazarite, as Samuel or Samson, both of whose births occurred in unusual situations. Allison and Davis seek to connect this idea with the claim that Jesus is ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ. In the double Greek tradition of Judges, when the A text reads Ναζαραῖος θεοῦ, the B text reads ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ. They point to a text such as Mark 1:24 where again these two ideas occur together, but in relation to Jesus. They also link this with Isaiah 4:3 “He will be called holy”, suggesting that “Nazirite” = holy, following the description of the “Branch of the Lord” in Isaiah 4:2. Nolland suggests that this is a ‘tortuous journey’ of exegesis. We should note that Matthew does not seem to make any use of the category of Nazorite in application to Jesus in his narrative. Nor does he alone among the four gospels ever call Jesus “the holy one of God” (he has no equivalent to Mark 1:24).

An alternative is to see reference to the Hebrew word nsr meaning branch or sprout and sometimes applied to the messiah. If this is the case, then Isaiah 11:1 might be the reference – “There will come forth from the stump of Jesse and from his roots a sprout (neser) will blossom.” This is a messianic text and one that would support Matthew’s previous references to Jesus’ Messianic role. Perhaps we should see some integration between Isaiah 4:2-3 and Isaiah 11:1 as providing the background to Matthew’s citation.

In each of the formula quotations in Matthew 2 we have place references:  Bethlehem, city of David; Egypt, place of bondage; Ramah, linked with the exile. This might encourage us to see a reference to Nazareth in the final reference. These places bring forward key events in Israel’s history and link Jesus in another subtle way with the whole sweep of Jewish history.

What does Matthew then emphasize in this inaugural section of his narrative?

  1. Jesus is the Messiah and God takes care to look after him – son of God ontologically and obediently.
  2. The Messiah’s life follows the pattern of Israel’s history – Jesus/Israel typology.
  3. Human and Israelite history are about to enter their final stage, which precedes the second coming of this Messiah.
  4. God has a program he is following and human sin cannot destroy it.
  5. God revealed the essence of his program in the Old Testament and the birth and nativity of Jesus can be associated with specific prophecies found in those sacred writings. None of God’s covenant promises will fail.
  6. The opposition to the Messiah and his mission emerges at his birth.

[1] Examples of this use of βίβλος (scroll) or cognates within Judaism to introduce a book/scroll in connection with a genealogy are quite frequent. Consider Nahum 1:1 (“An oracle concerning Nineveh. Book (βιβλίον) of the vision of Nahum of Elkosh”); Tobit 1:1; Baruch 1:1; 2 Esdras 1:1-3.

[2] Larry Hurtado. The Earliest Christian Artifacts. Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 2006), 45ff.

[3] ‘p52’ means ‘papyrus #52’ in the catalogue of papyri that contain New Testament Greek texts.

[4] Ibid., 72.

[5] The same expression occurs at Matthew 27:17, 22 in the trial scene with Pilate.

[6] Josephus (Antiquities 20.200) describes James as “the brother of Jesus who is called Messiah (Ἰησοῦ τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ).

[7] Additional occurrences are found in 2:4 (title); 11:2(title); 16:16 (title); 16:20 (title), 21 (Jesus Messiah – but a variant reading just has Jesus); 22:42 (title); 23:10 (title); 24:5(title),23(title); 26:63(title), 68(title); 27:17(title), 22(title).

[8] The Greek term κύριος (Lord) translates the proper name of God (Yahweh) in the Greek translation of the Old Testament.

[9] A rare word only occurring here in the Synoptics and elsewhere in the NT only at Colossians 2:15. Basic sense is to bring to public notice.

[10] Matthew uses an aorist passive genitive absolute construction here, as he does only elsewhere in 2:1, 13, 19. This serves to link these stories together. These are good examples by which to discern how the action of the aorist participle is related to the main verb. Note how NIV renders each by a temporal clause “After….”

[11] This term is unique to Matthew. The compound dienthymeomai διενθυμέομαι occurs in Acts 10:19 – Peter ponders the vision on the rooftop. In LXX it refers to God pondering destruction (Gen. 6:6, 7; Isaiah 10:7; Lam. 2:17) or human beings entertaining wicked thoughts (Joshua 7:21; Isaiah 37:29; Wisdom 3:14). It signifies that a person is processing information by thinking carefully about it. Cf. Matthew 9:4:12:25 where Jesus challenges religious leaders who are thinking evil thoughts.

[12] Compare similar angelic messages in Genesis 16:11 “you are pregnant and you will bear a son and you will call his Ismael, because….” σὺ ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχεις καὶ τέξῃ υἱὸν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Ἰσμαήλ, ὅτι… . Compare also Genesis 17:19; Isaiah 7:14.

[13] God’s statement re the servant in Isaiah 43:1 “I have called you by name, you are mine.”

[14] Of course, birth oracles will often define that future role, but not the assigned name per se.

[15] Forgiveness of sins in Matthew’s Gospel – 9:6,8; 18:12-35; 26:28.

[16] It is also mentioned in the Targum to Isaiah 53:4, 6-7, but the date of this material is quite uncertain.

[17] Usually in Matthew’s narrative such fulfillment statements come at the end of the narrative section as an editorial comment. Here it is part of the angel’s message and so has to occur within the scope of his message. This also occurs at 21:4-5 where it is linked with a statement by Jesus in the discourse.

[18] Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich (BDAG), Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 777.

[19] Basic motif in the historical books of the OT – God with us is a covenant formulation.

[20] John Nolland, 108.

[21] Perhaps the appearance of the Magi is in itself a fulfillment of prophecy as given in Isaiah 60:3-6 – “those from Sheba who will come, who will bring to Jerusalem the wealth of the nations, gold and silver, as the glory of the Lord rises upon her” (cf. Psalm 72:10-11).

[22] The verb paraginomai παραγίνομαι occurs here and at 3:1 where John the Baptist is introduced and 3:13 where Jesus is introduced.

[23] In the NT the title “King of the Jews” only occurs on the lips of Gentiles. Jews use the expression “King of Israel.” Cf. the Passion narrative. In Josephus Herod the Great is called the King of the Jews (Antiquities 15.373; 16:311).

[24] “There was a firm persuasion that in the ancient records of their priests was contained a prediction of how at this very time the East was to grow powerful, and rulers, coming from Judaea, were to acquire universal empire. These mysterious prophecies had pointed to Vespasian and Titus.”

[25] “There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judaea to rule the world. This prediction, referring to the Emperor of Rome, as afterwards appeared from the event, the people of Judaea took to themselves.”

[26] Blass-Debrunner-Funk, Grammar of New Testament Greek, §253.5, but there are some exceptions to this.

[27] “And the star is the Interpreter of the law who will come to Damascus as is written: Num 24:13 ‘A star moves out of Jacob, and a scepter arises out of Israel’. The scepter is the prince of the whole congregation and when he rises he will destroy all the sons of Seth.”

[28] The Jewish messianic revolutionary Bar Kosiva changed his name to Bar Kochba, ‘son of the star’.

[29] Allison and Davies, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Matthew. Vol. 1 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988), 242. cf. Fitzmyer, The Semitic Background of the New Testament, p. 60-89.

[30] What this agreement between Matthew’s text and Aquila’s translation means is debated. Unfortunately the manuscript from Wadi Muraba’at of the Twelve Minor Prophets does not contain any materials from Hosea. However, we might speculate that the writer of Matthew (or his community) had a scroll of the Twelve that shared characteristics with this revised text, that seems to adapt the LXX text more closely to the emerging MT’s Hebrew textual tradition.

[31] The adverbial interjection occurs frequently in Matthew, but specifically in 1:20, 23; 2:1, 9, 13, 19, and usually is associated with a divine revelation. Perhaps we might render it “astonishingly, you won’t believe this but.”

[32] Josephus, Antiquities 17.213-217

[33] Eventually things got so bad that the Jewish leaders complained to Caesar and Archelaus was exiled to Gaul in 6.CE Josephus Antiquities 17.342-44. The Romans appointed their own governor at that point.

[34] The proper name of this town occurs in Matthew in three different forms: Ναζαρέτ (2:23); Ναζαρά  (4:13 ); Ναζαρέθ (21:11). However there are textual variations in each context. The adjectival form Ναζαρηνός occurs in Mark and Luke; Ναζωραῖος occurs in Matthew, Luke-Acts and John.