Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Jesus the Messiah the son of David". Matthew 1:1

Listening to what

Saint Matthew has to say

Damien F. Mackey

In this three-part article we attempt to learn what Matthew the Evangelist himself
had intended with regard to certain challenging aspects of his Gospel.

Part One: The Structure of Matthew’s Gospel

Bernard Sadler started the ball rolling aright when he, in The Structure of Matthew (“For Mary Immaculate, Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, Queen of Evangelists”), sought to learn from Matthew himself what was the Evangelist’s intended structure for his Gospel, as Bernard put it, “to explain the basic structure Matthew used composing his gospel”. Bernard wrote (


The structure of Saint Matthew’s gospel has long remained obscure. Scholars believe that Matthew wrote his gospel in a Semitic language, probably Hebrew. We do not know what his manuscript looked like because the original and any copies that may have been made from it have been lost. A Greek language version was made, some scholars think by Matthew himself, and that too has been lost. But copies of this Greek version, of uncertain degrees of relationship, have come down to us. These early Greek versions seem not to show any structure, and editors since have offered a wide variety of suggestions. The familiar division of the gospel into 28 chapters made in the 13th century and the further division into verses made in the 16th century do not help. They are indispensable today for reference purposes, and are retained here, but they tell us little about the gospel structure.
Understanding the structure of the gospel and how Matthew ordered the various parts to each other and to the whole is important, because unless this structure is correctly understood what Matthew is saying is likely to be misunderstood. Understanding the gospel’s structure will not prevent readers or commentators making errors of interpretation but misunderstanding the structure certainly will not help.
The purpose of this book is threefold: to explain the basic structure Matthew used composing his gospel; to present outlines showing how this basic structure is found throughout the gospel; and to provide a gospel text laid out using those structures.
Basic structure
Now, contrary to modern perceptions, early Greek versions do show the structure—but not the way modern readers expect. Matthew wrote his gospel in paragraphs grouped into larger symmetrical units called chiasms. A chiasm is a passage of several paragraphs (or other units) so written that the last paragraph of the chiasm is linked to the first paragraph, the second-last paragraph is linked to the second paragraph, and so on. It is the linking of paragraphs this way that binds them together as a chiasm. A chiasm usually has a freestanding central paragraph about which the others are arrayed. Chiasm is the only structure Matthew used in his gospel.
The linking of the paragraphs of a chiasm is done by parallelism. Parallelism consists in the repetition of words or phrases. A differently inflected form of a word may be used and occasionally a synonym is used; for example, Matthew uses the word treasures in 6:19 and repeats it in 7:6 as pearls. Sometimes two words are repeated in reverse order to produce what is called inverted parallelism.
There are other kinds of chiasms and other uses of parallelism in Hebrew literature but here we are considering only those Matthew used to shape his gospel. ….
Part Two: Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus Christ
Question:What does Saint Matthew have to say about Our Lord’s Genealogy?
A merely superficial reading of this text (Matthew 1:6-17) will not suffice to unravel its profound meaning.
According to Monsignor John McCarthy, in his Introduction to “The Historical Meaning of the Forty-two Generations in Matthew 1:17” (
For those who study deeply into the Gospel text, Matthew’s prologue, contained in his first two chapters, is one of the most masterful pieces of writing ever presented to human eyes. The genealogy with which this prologue begins displays its full share of wondrous artistry, but so subtle is its turn that many commentators have failed to grasp the logic that it implies. ….
Deep study is indeed required to grasp the logic of it all, because it appears that Matthew has, within his neat triple arrangement of “fourteen generations” (1:17):
“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”.
completely dumped four kings of Judah whose history is written in Kings and Chronicles.
Those familiar with the sequence of the kings of Judah as recorded in Kings and Chronicles will be struck by the fact that Matthew 1 is missing these: Ahaziah; Joash (Jehoash); andAmaziah, three virtually successive kings - Matthew understandably omits the usurping Queen Athaliah before Joash - and later, Jehoiakim. Four in all!
Matthew’s omissions can be seen clearly in this chart, a comparison of him with I Chronicles (
Matthew 1: 6-16
1 Chronicles 3:10-16
Azariah  (Ozias)
What is going on here?
Was Saint Matthew the Evangelist mathematically deficient, somewhat like the schoolboy whose ‘sum of all fears’ is actually the fear of all sums?
Even a mathematical dope, however, can probably manage to ‘doctor’ basic figures in order to arrive at a pre-determined number!
Monsignor McCarthy, when discussing Fr. Raymond Brown’s attempted resolution of this textual difficulty, begins by asking the same question:
Could Matthew count? Raymond Brown, reading Matthew's genealogy from the viewpoint of a modern reader, does not plainly see fourteen generations in each of the three sets of names, but by using ingenuity he can "salvage Matthew's reputation as a mathematician." He cautions, for one thing, that we should not expect too much logic in Matthew's reasoning, since omissions are frequently made in tribal genealogies "for reasons that do not seem logical to the Western scientific mind" (pp. 82-84). ….
On the face of things - or, as Monsignor McCarthy puts it, “reading Matthew's genealogy from the viewpoint of a modern reader” - what Saint Matthew may seem to have done would be like, say, a horse owner whose nag had come fourth in the Melbourne Cup, who later decided to re-write the story by completely ignoring any reference to the first three winners (trifecta), so that his horse now came in ‘first’. We however, believing the Scriptures to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, cannot simply leave it at that: a supposed problem of the sacred writer’s own making. Though this is apparently where the more liberally-minded commentators are prepared to leave matters in the case of a scriptural difficulty that it is beyond their wisdom to solve; thereby, as Monsignor McCarthy writes with reference to Fr. Brown, leaving things “in a very precarious state”. We had discussed previously a similar case: that of Fr. D. Dumm writing on “Tobit” for The Jerome Biblical Commentary, who, being unable to make any sense of the geography of the book, had had to conclude that:
“[The angel] Raphael knows the journey of life far better than the route to Media!”
See also my:
A Common Sense Geography of the Book of Tobit
As with Fr. Dumm, so with Fr. Brown, there is a failure to attempt to “salvage” the sacred text. Rightly, therefore, does Monsignor McCarthy proceed to suggest:
Brown's reasoning leaves a big problem. In the light of the deficiencies that he sees in Matthew's counting, how can one seriously believe that Matthew really shows by his 3 x 14 pattern that "God planned from the beginning and with precision the Messiah's origins" …? What kind of precision is this? And what could the number fourteen seriously mean in the message of Matthew? Brown believes that for Matthew fourteen was, indeed, "the magic number" …, but he cannot surmise what that number was supposed to mean. He knows of no special symbolism attached to the number fourteen, and, therefore, he cannot grasp at all the point that Matthew is trying to make. So, rather than "salvage" Matthew's reputation as a theologian, Brown leaves Matthew's theology of 3 x 14 generations in a very precarious state.
Monsignor McCarthy will, like Bernard Sadler in Part One above, seek to determine what Matthew himself is saying. Thus: “Let us look at the plain message of the text of Mt 1:17”. Contrary to what Fr. Brown had imagined: “Matthew is not plainly saying that there were fourteen immediatebiological generations in each period. In fact, when in his opening verse Matthew speaks of Jesus as "Son of David, son of Abraham," he is setting up a definition of terms which enlarges the notion of a generation”.
The Evangelist’s ways are not our ways - not how we might operate in a modern context. Accordingly, Monsignor McCarthy will allow Matthew to speak for himself:
Just as Matthew can use the word 'son' to mean any descendant in the direct line, so can he use the word 'begot' to mean any ancestor in the direct line. Therefore, he does not err in saying in the second set of names that "Joram [Jehoram] begot Oziah [Uzziah]" (Mt 1:8), even though there were three immediate biological generations in between. Matthew is saying that there were fourteen undisqualified generations in each period of time, and his point has force as long as there is a discernible reason for omitting some of the immediate generations in keeping with the purpose of his writing.
This brings us to that exceedingly interesting matter of the “discernible reason for omitting some of the immediate generations”. For, how to justify bundling out of a genealogical list two such mighty Judaean kings as Jehoash and Amaziah? Between them they occupied the throne of Jerusalem for about three quarters of a century! Well, say some liberals, Matthew was using faulty king lists. No, say some conservatives, those omitted kings of Judah were very evil, and that is why Matthew had chosen to ignore them. But, can that really be the case?
2 Kings 12:2: “Jehoash did what was right in the eyes of the Lordall the years Jehoiada the priest instructed him”.
2 Kings 14:3: “[Amaziah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not as his father David had done. In everything he followed the example of his father Joash”.
Why, then, does Matthew’s Genealogy include the likes of Jehoram (Joram), and Ahaz (Achaz), for instance, about whom Kings and Chronicles have nothing whatsoever favourable to say?
2 Chronicles 21:6 “[Jehoram] followed the ways of the kings of Israel, as Ahab’s family had done, because his wife was Ahab’s daughter. So he did what the Lord considered evil”.
2 Kings 16:2-4 “Unlike David his father, [Ahaz] did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He followed the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, engaging in the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites”.
Monsignor McCarthy, wisely basing himself upon the Fathers, seems to have come up with a plausible explanation for why these particular kings were omitted from the genealogy, and why the name of the wicked Jehoram, for instance, was genealogically preserved:
Regarding the second set of "fourteen" generations, we read that "Joram begot Oziah" (Mt 1:18). But we know that Joram was actually the great-great-grandfather of Oziah, because Oziah is another name for Azariah (cf. 2 Chr 26:1; 2 Kg [4 Kg] 14:21), and in 1 Chr 3:11-12 we read: "and Joram begot Ochoziah, from whom sprang Joas, and his son Amasiah begot Azariah." Hence, Matthew omits the generations of Ochoziah, Joas, and Amasiah from his list, and the judgments given in the Old Testament upon these people may tell us why.
St. Jerome 3 sees a reason in the fact that Joram married Athalia, the daughter of Jezebel of Sidon, who drew him deeper and deeper into the practices of idolatry, and that the three generations of sons succeeding him continued in the worship of idols. In the very first of the Ten Commandments given by God through Moses on Mount Sinai it was stated: "Thou shalt not have foreign gods before me. ... Thou shalt not adore or serve them. I am the Lord thy God, powerful and jealous, visiting the iniquity of fathers upon their children unto the third and fourth generation of those that hate me, and showing mercy unto thousands to those that love me and keep my commandments" (Ex 20:3-6). Now Solomon was a sinner and an idolater (1 Kg f3 Kg] 11: 7-8), but he had a good man for his father and was therefore not punished in his own generation (1 Kg [3 Kg] 11:12).
St. Augustine 4 points out that the same was true of Joram, who had Josaphat for his father, and therefore did not have his name removed from Matthew's genealogy (cf. 2 Chr 21:7).
St. John Chrysostom 5 adds the further reason that the Lord had ordered the house of Ahab to be extirpated from the face of the earth (2 Kg [4 Kg] 9:8), and the three kings eliminated by Matthew were, as descendants of Athalia, of the seed of Ahab. Jehu eradicated the worship of Baal from Israel, but he did not forsake the golden calves in Bethel and Dan. Nevertheless, the Lord said to him: "Because you have diligently performed what was right and pleasing in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab in keeping with everything that was in my heart, your children shall sit upon the throne of Israel unto the fourth generation (2 Kg [4 Kg] 10:28-31). So it is interesting to note that while these generations of Jehu were inserted into the royal lineage of Israel, the three generations of Ahab were taken out of the genealogy of Jesus by the judgment of God through the inspired pen of St. Matthew.
[End of quote]
A Further Note on Matthew 1:17
Further to my:
The" Toledoths" of Genesis
Matthew 1:1 has an apparent toledôt: “This is the genealogy[a] of Jesus the Messiah”, supposedly the only one in the New Testament, that may seem at first to contradict the thesis of P.J. Wiseman thattoledôt are colophon endings, rather than headings. Though it does conform nicely with his argument that toledôt refer to "ancestors" not "descendants".
But the Gospel of Matthew is, like so many other Bible books, chiastically structured, with the first division coming at 1:17 according to Bernard Sadler’s (Part One above) findings. In other words Matthew 1:1 chiastically connects with 1:17. And, guess what, "generations" is mentioned 4 times in 1:17. So this latter may be our actual colophon, whereas 1:1 is a link to this (perhaps Wiseman's 'catch-line' theory).
Perhaps, more importantly, 1:1 constitutes the title,in the way that Genesis 1:1 does
It may open up a whole new field for study.
Part Three: The Zechariah Problem (Matthew 27:9)
Monsignor John McCarthy and Bernard Sadler were thorough and convincing in their respective studies of the Gospel of Matthew.
Here I shall be much more tentative as I propose what I think could possibly be a solution, albeit a controversial one, to why Saint Matthew would have attributed to the prophet Jeremiah words that we actually find in the book of the prophet Zechariah.
Put simply, I intend to argue that Zechariah was Jeremiah.
Now, here is the Zechariah problem as set out by D. Miller and E. Lyons at Apologetics Press:

Who was Matthew Quoting?

…. After reporting in his gospel account about Judas’ suicide and the purchase of the potter’s field, Matthew quoted from the prophets as he had done many times prior to chapter 27. He wrote: “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me’ ” (27:9-10).
For centuries, these two verses have been contemplated by Christians and criticized by skeptics. The alleged problem with this passage, as one modern-day critic noted, is that “this is not a quote from Jeremiah, but a misquote of Zechariah” (Wells, 2001). Skeptics purport that Matthew misused Zechariah 11:12-13, and then mistakenly attributed the quotation to Jeremiah. Sadly, even some Christians have advocated this idea (see Cukrowski, et al., 2002, p. 40). What can be said of the matter? ….
Miller and Lyons then go on to provide their answer to this difficulty.
My short-cut solution to it on the other hand, that Zechariah was Jeremiah, would seem to be disqualified immediately on chronological grounds. Whereas we last hear of Jeremiah (qua Jeremiah) as an exile in Egypt, where he is generally thought to have died around 570 BC, Zechariah’s time of prophesying – {the Book of Zechariah} - is specifically dated some 50 years later than that (520-518 BC).
However, the“Darius” referred to in Zechariah 1:1: “In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Zechariah”, generally thought to have been Darius the Great, actually fits much better as a previous king given the early stage of the restoration (Zechariah 4:9): “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple …”.Compare this with what happened in “the second year”, again, of Cyrus (Ezra 3:8, 10):
In the second month of the second year after their arrival at the house of God in Jerusalem, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak and the rest of the people (the priests and the Levites and all who had returned from the captivity to Jerusalem) began the work.
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord ….
Common denominators are: second year (with month); Zerubbabel; and foundation of Temple. That a Darius (namely, Darius the Mede) can also be this Cyrus of the Book of Ezra has been well argued by many, usually by those who would take Daniel 6:28 to intend only the one king: “So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, even [not “and”] the reign of Cyrus the Persian”. The Hebrew waw explicative function allows for such an interpretation. James Jordan, moreover, has connected Darius the Mede with Cyrus by chiasmus (The Handwriting on the Wall, ch. 12: And I, previously, had identified the great world-ruling “King Ahasuerus” of the Book of Esther also with Darius the Mede of the Book of Daniel:
Taking away any chronological impediment now opens the way for the prophet Jeremiah to be Zechariah. It actually brings to completion the prophet Jeremiah who, appointed by God (1:10) “over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant,” had so far (as Jeremiah) seemingly done little by way of ‘building and planting’.
Moreover, according to Jewish tradition, Zechariah was ‘possessed’ of the spirit of Jeremiah ( “[Zechariah] leans avowedly on the authority of the older prophets, and copies their expressions. Jeremiah especially seems to have been his favorite; and hence the Jewish saying that "the spirit of Jeremiah dwelt in Zechariah”."
Again, both Jeremiah (29:10) and Zechariah (1:12) refer to the “70 years” of punishment.
For those interested in reading further on this, and how the genealogy of Zechariah may tell us more about the origins of Jeremiah, see my:
A Case for Multi-identifying the Prophet Jeremiah

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