Thursday, March 24, 2016

Matthew 2

Another installment from reader David:

in which your humble commentator is confused for the first 17 verses, then gets very excited because he thinks he's starting to see the SHAPE of Matthew's logic vis a vis the selection of proof-texts; but alas, he is thrown into confusion again by the final verse.

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem
2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
This seems like a good way to get your head chopped off. As such, it doesn't pass the sniff test at all. I'm skeptical that anything even remotely like this really happened.
Magi were Priest-Kings. They were very important in Persia, very rich, and very powerful. Herod (a two-bit underling to Augustus) would have been in big do-do if he had attacked them. This would have been like the president of one country visiting the president of another.
 Also, question. Evangelicals are, for the most part, pretty down on astrology, right? Well... why? If you believe the Bible, not only did it work out amazingly well for the Magi, astrology is a tool for knowing when the Messiah has come. That's powerful stuff!
Shouldn't Christian astrology be a thing? Are there warnings against it later in the New Testament, or is it frowned on for mostly cultural reasons, or what?
Yes, Christian astrology should be a thing. The aversion to it is cultural and ignorance for the most part; a desire to avoid the Satanic branch of star study. 

There are several, though, who have taken ancient culture's names and stories from the stars and seen the common thread throughout. "The Gospel in the Stars" by Joseph A. Seiss is one example. Now, he does get a lot wrong, in my opinion, but he gets a lot right too.

The Bible says that God named the stars. He let Adam name the animals, but He named the stars (Psalms 147:4, Isaiah 40:26). The stars do not control us or anything, but they do tell the Redemption Story. They are a Bible for those who don't have the written Word.
3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 
4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.
The modern Jewish answer, for the record, is “Who knows?” More precisely: there's a long-standing teaching that, in each generation, there's one person who COULD be the Messiah – one person who has the potential. And if both he *and the Jews of his generation* are righteous enough, then he'll go from “potential Messiah” to actual Messiah. But he's not required to come from any one specific place.
As with almost all Jewish teachings, this notion isn't universally embraced—and even among the streams of thought that believe this, there's a lot of quibbling about details. But, y'know, welcome to the religious marketplace.
I bet if you trace the origin of that tradition you will find it began sometime after the Jewish leaders killed Jesus. They refused their true Messiah and then had to come up with an excuse for why the biblical Messiah hadn't shown up.
5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’” [Micah 5:2,4]

Oh boy! You may wonder: why was verse 3 omitted? Good question! Let me add another: why did Matthew stop at verse 4? And just for good measure, let's ask a THIRD question, though this is for the NIV translators and not for Matthew: why does this text not match your own translation of Micah 5?
Matthew would likely have been quoting from memory since the automatic press had not been invented yet. It is possible he got the gist right but not the exact wording. Those who translated the Bible into English chose to stay true to what Matthew wrote instead of changing it to match Micah.
Here's the NIV version of Micah 5:2:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,though you are small among the clans of Judah...”
The key difference here is “clans of Judah” versus “rulers.” FULL DISCLOSURE:I'm aware that the NIV gives “rulers” as another possible choice in place of “clans.” But I spot-checked with four other translations and all of them read “clan” without any footnotes for alternate renderings. So maybe Matthew's reference is slightly off from the Hebrew original? I couldn't say; you'll have to ask a local New Testament scholar. 
The NIV is my least favorite of the new translations, but honestly there isn't a lot of difference. 
I CAN answer the other two questions. Why did Matthew leave out verse 3? Because it's not a great fit for Jesus. Here's the missing verse:
“Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.”
Seems enigmatic, doesn't it? But actually if you flip back a page, you'll find that Micah 4 talks about Zion as the “woman in labor,” in a passage that's just SUPER fun to read:
“Writhe in agony, Daughter Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you must leave the city to camp in the open field. You will go to Babylon; there you will be rescued. There the Lord will redeem you out of the hand of your enemies.” Is that vivid, or WHAT? (It's Micah 4:10, by the way.)
So when you put all this together, Micah 5 is predicting that the captives from Judah (or rather, their descendants) will be delivered from captivity and “return to join the Israelites.” And of course this DID happen. But the deliverer in question was Cyrus the Great, not Jesus.
Our second question – why did Matthew stop at Micah 5:4? – has a straightforward answer. If he'd gone any further, it would be obvious that this passage is NOT a good Jesus preview. Here's Micah 5:5-6:
“And he will be our peace when the Assyrians invade our land and march through our fortresses. We will raise against them seven shepherds, even eight commanders, who will rule the land of Assyria with the sword, the land of Nimrod with drawn sword. He will deliver us from the Assyrians when they invade our land and march across our borders.”
Aaaand we're back to the Assyrians, I see. This, again, is very hard to apply to Jesus. although it DOES show why so many Jews expected the Messiah to be a military leader.
I keep struggling with the verses Matthew chooses to cite. His claim is that Jesus is the Messiah and, therefore, the Messiah isn't going to free the Jews from foreign oppression. So why cite verses that, when you go back and check their context, undermine your position?
Honestly, this is a mystery and I'm not sure what Matthew's objective is; I'd welcome any thoughts or suggestions. I'm reluctant to conclude that it's JUST sloppy proof-texting, but right now, that's all I've got.
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 
8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
So – is this star visible ONLY to the Magi? Why does Herod need to consult with them specifically? I'm pretty sure he'd have people in his court who could tell him when a new star appeared. Astrology was serious business – omens and portents and prophecies were hugely important in the ancient Greco-Roman world – and a new star would be a BIG deal. Its arrival would be widely observed and discussed.
I think maybe the Jews were not as into stargazing as other nations. 

There are many theories regarding the Star of Bethlehem ranging from only the Magi could see it to it being a comet or supernova. 
My favorite theory is that is was a supernova in the constellation Coma Bernese. I understand the non Greek ancients pictured this as a virgin nursing a baby (the Greeks saw a woman holding her hair). There are records from the time of a new star (likely a supernova) appearing where the baby's head should be starting about 100BC, being its brightest at about the time of Christ's birth, and fading to invisibility by AD100. Some believe this constellation would have appeared directly over Bethlehem at midnight at this point in history, but I don't see exactly how that could be proved. 
Resting over the house itself? No idea. That does lend more weight to the comet theory or "magic," excuse me, "miracle" though. God can do whatever He wants so that's a possibility, but usually He obeys His own laws just tweaking them a bit to accomplish His will.
Also, some believe there were three important conjunctions the year before Christ's birth. Legend says there were two the year Moses was born and that was why Pharaoh chose that year to kill all the baby boys. Three would have alerted the Magi to the arrival of the King. 
As far as how they knew to be looking in the first place, the prophet Daniel became a Magi himself and he gave prophecy that just about labels the very year of Christ's arrival. And they may very well have had copies of the Jewish scriptures and been studying them for hundreds of years.
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
Really, we need to talk about this star. What kind of star behaves like this? What does it mean for a star to be stopped “over a place?” How does one measure what place a star is “over?” How can we say the star is over one particular house and not its neighbor three doors down, for instance?
Again, I'm not being flippant; I really don't understand. When Matthew says the star “went ahead of them,” what does that mean?
Wish I could give you a better answer :-( Would love to know myself.
10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 
11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Why are pagan sorcerers worshiping the Jewish messiah? Why are they the FIRST to worship Jesus? Do they count as the first Christians? Do they come back into the story later? Is there any tradition that suggests that three of the apostles were actually the Magi in disguise, or something? If not, can we start one?
Daniel's prophecy tells us that the Messiah will end the need for sacrifice for sins. Isaiah tells us He paid the price due for all sins and many of the OT prophecies strongly imply that this payment applies to gentiles as well as Jews. Also, the Magi were monotheistic, possibly a corruption of Judaism. So Jesus was their Messiah also.

Most believe the Shepherds mentioned in Luke were actually the first to worship Christ, but, yeah, I guess you could call the two groups the first Christians:-)

Unfortunately we never here from the Magi again. I don't think even secular history says anything about them. There are a couple of fictional works and legends with them as the main characters. Magi as disciples could be a cool story :-)

And though tradition says there were three, we really don't know that. There were three types of gifts, but the number of Magi is never really stated. There may have been quite and army showing up at Herod's doorstep here.
12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
The Escape to Egypt
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,
15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” [Hosea 11:1]
Hosea 11:1-2:
“1 When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.”
Again: you go ONE verse farther on and it's clearly not about Jesus – “my son” would here be the Jewish people as a whole, it seems. Maybe this IS just sloppy proof-texting.
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Shades of Moses, again.
17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.” [Jer. 31:15]
I just had an insight! I think Matthew is DELIBERATELY picking passages that talk about the return from the Babylonian Captivity, because, yes, this one does too (Jeremiah 31:16-17: “Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,” declares the Lord. “They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your descendants.”).
So now I've got a thread to pull at. My first thought is that Matthew's arguing that the Jews of his age are being held in captivity by... well, by... well, gosh. Hm. It's hard to find anything going on in Jesus' day that would finish that sentence appropriately.
The Jews of that time were being oppressed by a force far more brutal, far more cruel than Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria combined. 


Maybe it's a different kind of parallel. Matthew has spent a fair amount of time linking Jesus to Moses; maybe he's also trying to link Jesus to Cyrus? (Again, remember that Cyrus delivered the Jews from the Captivity. Though honestly, that's a pretty Judeocentric way to look at events. It's more accurate to say that Cyrus conquered Babylon and eventually allowed all the captive peoples – not just the Jews – to go home.)
It is Judeocentric, but I bet the others countries worded it just as self centered.
But even this is difficult, because so many of the references so far have been to Assyria, not Babylon.
But still! I have a THEORY now: Matthew is picking his scriptural references in order to tell SOME kind of story, make SOME kind of connection. Maybe it's linking Jesus to Cyrus, maybe it's something else, but to tell SOME kind of I'll have to keep an eye on this and see if Matthew's citations *do* suggest that he's trying to link Jesus to Cyrus. Failing that, maybe there's some other story I can piece together from his scriptural references.
You have hit the nail on the head and worded it in a way I couldn't form; "Matthew is arguing that the Jews of his age are being held in captivity by..." Sin. 

And they need a Messiah that is Moses and Cyrus combined to rescue them. 

And the truth is that every human is under this same captivity and in need of a Savior.
The Return to Nazareth
19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt
Joseph can hardly get a good night's sleep, can he?
20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee,
See? Every time he lies down his head! Every time! Also: did the angel from verse 20 give him a bum steer, or what? “Wait, you BELIEVED me when I said you could go home?! You beautiful, gullible man! That's just ADORABLE. But listen, your family is in mortal danger here, and I mean it for real this time. My advice: keep walkin', chump.”
Luke's version of Jesus birth tells us Mary and Joseph were originally from Nazareth. They went to Bethlehem because of the tax commanded by Augustus. So here they were "returning" to Judah, but to Jerusalem, likely to provide Jesus with the better educational opportunities. But God wanted them back where they started from. They probably had extended family there, it was a small village, old friends, etc. Much more the kind of life God wanted His Son raised in.
23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Here's an interesting fact: the NIV doesn't cite ANY verse here, which suggests that Matthew doesn't HAVE a verse to cite. I certainly can't think of one. Is he really just straight making this up? Help a brother out? 

The NIV doesn't have the reference because no one can find it! 

We just don't really know what in the world Matthew is talking about. There is no scripture in the OT that says this. Wikipedia.

The best explanation I could find was;

"First, Matthew does not say 'prophet,' singular. He says 'prophets,' plural. It could be that Matthew was referring to several Old Testament references to the despised character of Jesus (i.e., Psalm 22:6, 13, 69:10, Isaiah 49:7, 53:3, Micah 5:1). Nazareth held the Roman garrison for the northern areas of Galilee.1 Therefore, the Jews would have little to do with this place and largely despised it. Perhaps this is why it says in John 1:46, "And Nathanael said to him, 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?' Philip said to him, 'Come and see.'" So, it could be a reference not to an actual location, but the maligned character of the Messiah even as Nazareth was maligned for housing the Roman garrison, and Matthew was using it in reference to the implied hatred of Christ." Source

Just don't know on this one.  
(I'm having lots of fun though. Your insights are exciting:-)

So, what is the Jewish take on universal sin? 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Suetonius' biography of Augustus.

From reader David:
"Below, I've given you selected excerpts from Suetonius' biography of Augustus. A Christian audience will note the many, MANY parallels to Matthew 2. So here's my question for you: what do you think these parallels mean?

I considered the possibility that Suetonius cribbed from Matthew, but rejected it in part because Suetonius famously refers to Jesus as "Chrestus." This implies that he's heard of Jesus' name but hasn't seen the name written down.

So instead I think this reveals that Matthew and Suetonius are part of the same Mediterranean culture -- really we might say the same Greco-Roman culture -- and so each biographer, when he wanted to establish that his subject was a Very Big Deal, reached into the standard bag o' tricks that was common to their culture, and pulled out similar stories.

Is that your take on it too, or what would you say? (My, Betty's, notes below. #1)

Quotes follow, with my notes in brackets.

“Having reached this point, it will not be out of place to add an account of the omens which occurred before he was born, on the very day of his birth, and afterwards, from which it was possible to anticipate and perceive his future greatness and uninterrupted good fortune...
According to Julius Marathus, a few months before Augustus was born a portent was generally observed at Rome, which gave warning that nature was pregnant with a king for the Roman people; thereupon the senate in consternation decreed that no male child born that year should be reared; but those whose wives were with child saw to it that the decree was not filed in the treasury, since each one appropriated the prediction to his own family. [Emphasis mine. Also: Massacre of the Innocents averted! But notice how similar this story is.]

The day he was born the conspiracy of Catiline was before the House, and Octavius [Augustus' father] came late because of his wife's confinement; then Publius Nigidius, as everyone knows, learning the reason for his tardiness and being informed also of the hour of the birth, declared that the ruler of the world had been born. [Emphasis added, but wow!]

Later, when Octavius was leading an army through remote parts of Thrace, and in the grove of Father Liber consulted the priests about his son with barbarian rites, they made the same prediction... [and] the very next night he dreamt that his son appeared to him in a guise more majestic than that of mortal man, with the thunderbolt, scepter, and insignia of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, wearing a crown begirt with rays and mounted upon a laurel-wreathed chariot drawn by twelve horses of surpassing whiteness. [If the idea of Augustus as a god-who-is-also-a-man sounds suspiciously Christian, remember that Augustus was deified after he died. Quite a few emperors received that honor posthumously, which led to some grade-A gallows humor: Vespasian, on his deathbed, is reported to have said, “Dammit. I think I'm becoming a god.”] #2

As soon as he began to talk, it chanced that the frogs were making a great noise at his grandfather's country place; he bade them be silent, and they say that since then no frog has ever croaked there. [Augustus can command nature!]

While in retirement at Apollonia, Augustus mounted with Agrippa to the studio of the astrologer Theogenes. Agrippa was the first to try his fortune, and when a great and almost incredible career was predicted for him, Augustus persisted in concealing the time of his birth and in refusing to disclose it, through diffidence and fear that he might be found to be less eminent. When he at last gave it unwillingly and hesitatingly, and only after many requests, Theogenes sprang up and threw himself at his feet.”"

As, always, thank you for writing David. 

Until the Age of Unenlightenment it was accepted that Matthew was written by the disciple of Christ about AD 50. One fact I learned recently was that Roman tax collectors (Matthew's job before becoming a disciple) were required to learn a type of shorthand so they could take word-for-word transcripts of long tax meetings.  This would mean that the sermons and events in Matthew may very well be written from his own notes taken at the time they happened. 

Anyway, to your questions:

#1 Suetonius wrote his biographies a good 70 years after Matthew wrote his Book (AD 121), about 90 years after Jesus walked the earth. Even if Suetonius never read the word "Christ," he obviously had heard of Him. By this time in history the Christians have already suffered Nero's persecution (due at least in part to growing so fast the Emporer felt threatened), so Christ's story was likely enough a part of the culture (transmitted orally) to be the source Suetonius unconsciously drew from. Like a game of Telephone, the details (including the names of the major players) had simply become skewed over time. 

So, yes Suetonius drew from his culture to create his story, but that culture had already been shaped by Matthew's and Luke's rendition of the Christmas Story.

#2 Actually, it was quite normal for kings throughout history to claim deity for themselves or their ancestors. It made the people easier to rule. So the deification of Augustus was only unusual, in historical context, by it happening after his death. Christ's own claim is in the same vein, of course, except He was not the ruler of any physical kingdom. It is unusual for a commoner to claim deity. Jesus backed up His claim with a multitude of miracles recorded by eyewitnesses (i.e. Matthew who had the skills necessary to make transcripts of the events as they happened) and prophecies that came true to the letter (Matthew 24).

Let's see,

Thursday Hubby bought a piano at a thrift store for me and brought it home.

Friday lunch with Dad and Mom Linda.

Saturday a long drive up to Tahoe. Enjoyed watching people trying to get up the embankment so they could play in the snow. Then a fun climb around the rocks by the lake.

Lunch, then home to meet the friends who wanted my old piano. It has some broken strings, is out of tune, and needs cleaning. He is a professional piano repairman and their homeschooled daughter wants to learn the trade. My old piano will be ideal for this job! So glad it went to a good home instead of having to be hauled to the dump.

Nice service Sunday.

Yesterday the older boys and I halped a friend pack up and get ready to move back east today. She has lived in this house for 27 years, so there was a good deal to deal with. She sold the house to her grandson, so we didn't have to clear the whole thing out, but it was quite a job to get her belongings ready to go. My phone app says I walked 10,000 steps and I only wore it at her house.

So, things are quiet here in blog land, but not here at home.

Been taking some time off writing to decide what direction I want to go, too.

I know this kind of post isn't what makes a successful blog, but at the moment I don't care. doing my own thing.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Matthew 1

Today we have a guest post. I hope you enjoy :-)

"Hi, folks. I'm David; I'm reading the New Testament for the first time, and Betty is graciously allowing me to post my thoughts and impressions as I go along.

I'm trying to give you an honest look at what an unbeliever thinks when he encounters the gospel for the first time, so in some ways, this will be a scripture study from Mars. Some of what I say will be ignorant. Some will be idiosyncratic. But much of it will, I hope, be insightful -- the kind of thing that only an outsider can spot.

Where I find things to praise, I'll praise them (see my comment on Matt 1:17 below, for instance); where I find things that don't seem to match up, I'll point that out too. And I'm always happy to answer any questions that a reader might have. Now let's get this show on the road.


1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

Right away, this tells me that Matthew is writing to a Jewish audience, and may not even think that Jesus is for gentiles. How can I tell? Because the genealogy goes back to Abraham, not Adam. 

Before we plunge into the begats, let me say this about 'em: I appreciate what Matthew is trying to do on a literary level (see my note to verse 17 for details -- I really am very impressed with what he's done here), but the very fact that he's DOING something literary suggests to me that we should be very cautious about taking his genealogy literally.

As we'll see, Matthew needed to recite a certain number of generations between Abraham and Jesus, and he needed to break them up into evenly divided periods that were linked to significant people or events. If we were looking at ANY other genealogy and we knew it was produced under constraints like that... I mean, very few people would say, "That sounds like an accurate document. We should take its claims at face value." And I would guess that Matthew's audience appreciated the literary/scriptural points that Matthew was making, but didn't take the genealogy as literal truth. 

Nor should they have, because ***SPOILER ALERT*** the genealogy doesn't actually establish that Jesus is of the line of David. I'll go into more depth at verse 16, but here's the deal: if you read closely, Jesus isn't shown to have any blood relationship to David at all. Follow along with me.

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

In this genealogy, we can safely say that fathers are important, right? Everything here is going through the male bloodline.

3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,

Still going through the male bloodline. Lotta fathers and sons here.

4 Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,

Guess what? Male bloodline.

5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,

More fathers and sons.

6 and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,

As an aside: isn't it weird that, if David hadn't murdered Uriah and slept with Bathsheba -- not in that order, either! -- there would be no Solomon the Wise and therefore no First Temple? What are we supposed to make of that? Also: why do we call him Solomon the Wise, given all the idol-worshiping he did later in his career? These are questions that I never thought to ask in Hebrew school.

They can, of course, have faithful answers. *All* the questions that I raise have faithful answers, I'm pretty sure. But they're still worth asking, and asking vigorously. 

7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,

Anyway: male bloodline here again. We're now into the House of David, by the way; how is membership in that house being transmitted? Is it... father-to-son?

8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,

Yes! I think it IS!

9 Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,

OK, you get my point. I'll let the rest of the begats pass without comment, except to say that Joseph is descended from a SUSPICIOUSLY large number of kings for a guy who ends up as a carpenter. I mean, gosh, it's almost as if genealogies are a literary device meant to say "Hey! Reader! Pay attention to this person! He's a big deal," but aren't meant to be literally true.

(I'm an equal-opportunity skeptic on this point, by the way; when I'm reading ANY historical document and come across a genealogy, I trust it juuuuust about as far as I can throw it. Now, that mistrust isn't TOTAL; but the classic function of a genealogy is to *legitimate a ruler* -- it's not to convey true information about his family tree and his legal claim to the throne. Let me put it this way: there was at least one Byzantine emperor who started life as a peasant, rose to the throne, and founded a dynasty [Basil I; pretty interesting guy]. I bet you a penny that his descendants put out genealogies showing their impeccable noble bloodlines, because that's what genealogies ARE. That's what they DO. They're propaganda.)

10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,Manasseh the father of Amon, Amon the father of Josiah,
11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12 After the exile to Babylon: Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor,
14 Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Akim, Akim the father of Elihud,
15 Elihud the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob,
16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

Did you catch the subtle bait-and-switch? From verse 7 on down, membership in the House of David is transmitted *by the father, to the son*, without exception. Then we come to verse 16 and we get: "Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah." It's meant to imply that Joseph is Jesus' father, but of course, Matthew is about to say this isn't true at all. 

By Matthew's account, Joseph is more of a stepfather, which-- let me put it this way: would we say that Jesus is descended from Joseph? No. Or, again: I have a stepmother. Would we say that I'm descended from her? To ask the question is to answer it. 

*So how can we say that Jesus is descended from David?* Is this a famous problem for people who want an infallible New Testament? I feel like it has to be, right? We're on Page One here, and the author just said "Here's how Jesus is descended from David," *then didn't show it*. Surely books have been written on this?

17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

Matthew is a smart cookie. And more than that, he's able to make a very deft and subtle allusion here. Why do I say this? Because, for Sabbath-related reasons, 7 is an important number in the Old Testament; when you encounter 7 or its multiples, your ears should perk up and you should start looking for subtext re: how good and refreshing the Sabbath is. 

Here, Matthew's claim that "from Abraham to the Messiah" there are 42 generations -- which is 7 x 6 -- does two things.

First, it's a parallel to the Exodus -- the Israelites stayed at 42 named places in the wilderness. 

Second, it invites the reader to EXTEND that parallel and apply it to Jesus. That is, just as Moses has to die before the Israelites can inherit the land of milk and honey (though, OK, "inherit" is perhaps not the right word) -- but the point is, what Matthew is implying here is that: 1) the Israelites, or I suppose the Christians, are about to enter a divinely-ordained time of rest or peace, a better or easier world; and 2) a prophet had to die in order to make that happen. 

This is very neatly done, and requires you to be intimately familiar with the Bible and its Jewish interpretation. Kudos to Matthew. 

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 

Matthew doesn't explain what the Holy Spirit is; he just throws it in there like everyone will know about it. This is really interesting!

/I/ certainly don't know what's meant by Holy Spirit. I mean, I'm aware that it's a THING in Christian theology, but Matthew is writing before there *is* an established Christian theology, right? So his audience can't possibly be thinking in modern Christian terms. It'll be interesting to trace the idea of the Holy Ghost throughout the NT and see when -- or whether -- its identity is developed more fully.

19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

In a moment, Matthew is going to cite a prophecy that says the son-born-of-a-virgin is supposed to be called Immanuel. The discrepancy doesn't bother me too much; as the text helpfully points out, Immanuel means "God with us." So as long as you buy into the premise that Jesus = God, the kid could have any name (no seriously, ANY name) and the prophecy would still be fulfilled.

I do, however, think the prophecy is inapplicable to Jesus on other grounds. See my note to v. 23.

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 
23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). [The citation here is Isaiah 7:14.]

Let's fact-check this! In fact, I plan to go back and check EVERY Old Testament citation that Matthew or any other author makes; I'm going to read it in context (which means at least reading the full chapter that it's in, and sometimes reading a couple of chapters back or ahead of the citation). Then I'll circle back to the New Testament reference, and see if -- now that I grasp it in context -- it can really be taken as a Jesus preview. 

How does *this* citation fare? Not well. When we go back and read Isaiah 7 (and I invite you to do that yourself! Don't just take my word for it.) -- but when we read Isaiah 7, can we fairly say that Immanuel is a good match for Jesus? I would say no, and here's why.

Let's start by asking: what's Immanuel's life story? Does it fit neatly with Jesus? 

(N.B. This next quote smooshes together Isaiah 7:14 to 7:22, and again I would urge you to check the source material for yourself to make sure I'm being fair.) 

"The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right," which would be fairly early in his lifetime; also, note the food because it comes up again later. "For before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. The Lord will bring on you and your people... the king of Assyria. In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the Euphrates River—the king of Assyria—to shave your head and private parts, and to cut off your beard also." Which is a fantastic verse, but also not even a little bit applicable to Jesus' lifetime.

Anyway, Isaiah continues by explaining that some Jews will remain on the land, and God will provide for them: "In that day, a person will keep alive a young cow and two goats. And because of the abundance of the milk they give, there will be curds to eat. All who remain in the land will eat curds and honey." Note that it's the same phrase as before, which is a strong clue that, yes, Immanuel is meant to be living during and after the Assyrian conquest.

Full disclosure: I had a long and fun discussion with Betty about this, and she disagrees with me (surprise!). We agreed that my reading was more natural than hers, but also that a reasonable person could arrive at her alternative reading. 

But really, I think the only reason you would ever go LOOKING for that reading is if you needed to harmonize it with a difficult piece of scripture like, say, Matthew 1:23. The simplest conclusion here is that Matthew is misusing scripture to bolster his claims about Jesus. 

That doesn't make the claims wrong; we're part of the way through one chapter of one book. It's way too early to tell. And it also doesn't make Matthew some kind of horrible monster. It just means he did some sloppy proof-texting -- and what evangelical HASN'T used a proof-text in an argument, then later went, "Oooh, wait. Oh boy, when I actually consider the context, that was... not a good verse to use."? It's just that Matthew's ended up getting canonized. 

That said: I'm already pretty leery of the claim that the Bible is perfect and the NT and OT fit together as one seamless whole. This doesn't help.

Anyway, onward and upward! We're on the home stretch here.

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 

Y'know, come to think of it, when the Bible introduces the concept of angels, it ALSO never really defines what they are. Huh.

25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

I have to say, this narrative is REALLY concerned to make sure you understand that Mary was TOTALLY a virgin who was DEFINITELY pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and she and Joseph for SURE didn't have sex. I think it protests too much, is-- is what I'm gettin' at here. Kinda makes you raise your eyebrows.