Matthew Introduction and 1:1-17
Who wrote the book? The apostle Matthew, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, is almost universally acknowledged, historically, to have written the book. While the book doesn’t specifically say who wrote it, there can be no reasonable doubt that Matthew was its penman.
When was the book written? There is much debate on this question and on this question of all of the gospel accounts. Some say as early as 38 A.D., while others suggest a much later date, 70 A.D.. The question is not likely to be settled soon. Conservative scholars generally believe that Matthew was one of the first accounts of the gospel written and that would agree with the content. Since the gospel was extended first to the Jewish people (Romans 1:16), it would stand to reason that written accounts of the life of Jesus would naturally follow that order.
Where was the book written? This is also unknown. Tradition states it was written in Rome, however, that would seem to be out of character with those to whom it was addressed. Somewhere in Palestine would be more in harmony with its character. If it was written early, then this would most likely be the place; if late, then some other location.
Why and to whom was the book written? To provide for the Jewish Christian an account of the life of Christ. The book of Matthew tells the story of the King and His kingdom. More than any other book of the New Testament, Matthew makes reference to the coming kingdom of the Christ. The genealogical record at the beginning of the book establishes Jesus’ earthly royal blood line and the story of His birth establishes His heavenly royalty. As Matthew guides us through the life of Jesus he points out more than any other author the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. In this regard, Matthew has a distinct Jewish flavor. Tradition states that Matthew was written in Hebrew originally, but this lacks textual support.
Matthew 1:1-17 – Genealogy of Jesus Christ
Vs. 1 – Matthew begins with a summary of the genealogical record. Jesus is the son of David and Abraham. Here, Jesus is linked both to God’s promises to Abraham and to the royal line of David. The prophecies that Matthew so often cite show that Jesus indeed fulfilled the promise made to Abraham that all nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Matthew also intends to show that Jesus was truly of royal lineage and worthy of the title placed over the cross, “the King of the Jews.” Like Peter on the day of Pentecost, Matthew seeks to convict the Jewish mind of crucifying their Messiah and thus sinning against God. If he can accomplish this, then, like those in Acts 2, they will cry out “what must we do.”
Vss. 2-6 – The first section of genealogy takes us from Abraham to David. Matthew doesn’t merely mention the genealogy proper. He reminds us of some key women that were involved in the seed-line. Mention is made of Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth directly, and to Bathsheba indirectly.
Why mention these women? Some have suggested that it was due to the fact that Mary’s pregnancy was suspect. Such argue that Joseph himself had doubts (Matthew 1:19). However, Matthew explains clearly what the circumstances were and that Joseph’s conscience was assuaged by the angel’s revelation. Hence, why would Matthew need further explanation by appealing (albeit, indirectly) to sordid circumstances of the past?
It seems more likely that Matthew was seeking to break down prejudicial Jewish assumptions regarding societal norms, particularly in regard to women. Christianity had success among them in places (Acts 16:13). And Christianity has always sought to elevate woman to her proper place as God’s creation. The men of the day saw women as chattel to be married and divorced as they pleased. Jesus’ message of the gospel, however, recognized their value and brought them to a place of equality among men (Galatians 3:28).
The mention of these women also assured the reader that, while one might commit terrible sins in one’s life, that there was forgiveness and inclusion for the penitent. Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba were all guilty of sexual sins. Many of the women mentioned in the gospel were also so guilty. In Jesus, however, we find, upon repentance, a willingness to forgive and accept those whom society has completely written off.
Finally, that these women were involved in some way with gentiles also seems to be part of Matthew’s object. The gospel was to the Jews first, but also to the gentiles (Romans 1:16). Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (the wife of Uriah, he says) all had intimate dealings with gentile people. The gospel isn’t merely for the pure-blood Jew and Matthew reminds us that the pure-blood Jew wasn’t so “pure.” It is from these three thoughts that we conclude that Matthew’s purpose in mentioning these women appears to be an effort at breaking down prejudicial walls that would prevent a Jewish person from believing and accepting the gospel.
Vss. 7-11 – Matthew enumerates the kings of Israel both good and wicked. Without going into detail regarding their lives, the Jewish mind would have been reminded of Hezekiah and Josiah as reformers and perhaps thought of Jesus in a similar vein. Verse 11 ends with Babylonian captivity, another reminder of Israel’s sinful past.
Vss. 12-17 – Of course when Matthew gets to Joseph, he makes it clear that he was the husband of Mary and that it was of her that Jesus was born lest anyone should get the mistaken impression that Joseph sired Jesus.
The use of the number “fourteen” in verse 17 doesn’t appear to have any particular significance. This may have merely been a memory aid for the Jewish Christian who sought to present Jesus’ case to other Jews by virtue of the genealogy. The discussion of genealogy among the Jews was evidently a popular enough activity that Paul had to warn Titus and Timothy against getting bogged down into such matters (1 Timothy 1:4, Titus 3:9). The genealogy Matthew uses here serves to overcome a hurdle in the Jewish mind. That hurdle having been overcome, Matthew proceeds to the story of Jesus birth.