The book of the generation of Jesus Christ,
the son of David, the son of Abraham (KJV).
A. What Matthew 1:1 is saying -
The first verse of the New Testament is often glossed over by readers as they move on toward other "more exciting" passages. Actually Matthew 1:1 contains some of the most awesome statements in all of the Bible. This verse deserves its place as "first" in our New Testament. Readers should clearly understand the significance of this verse before they read on in the New Testament.
Matthew begins with a declaration about Jesus. He announces three essential things about him – things that he wants every reader to know:
1. He is "Christ" – This is powerful news! The Ryrie Study Bible Expanded Edition tells us: "Christ is from the Greek for the Hebrew Meshiah (Messiah), meaning anointed one" p. 1,459.
The reference to the word "anointed" carries with it the connotation of one who is consecrated to a high office: that of king (1 Samuel 16:1, 13) or priest (Leviticus 8:12) or prophet of God (1 Kings 19:16). The writings of the New Testament show that Jesus has been anointed by God himself (Acts 10:38). God has anointed him to fulfill all three roles: he is king, high priest and prophet of God.
2. Jesus is the "son of David" – This is further good news! The true Messiah would be a descendent of King David (2 Samuel 7:16). He would inherit the throne of his father David and reign forever over the house of Israel (Luke 1:32). Matthew is declaring that as the son of David, Jesus is the anointed one for whom they had waited. Note the New Bible Commentary:
Christ, literally "anointed", was the title of the Messianic King of Israel. David was the greatest of the kings of Israel with whom a covenant was made that his son would sit on his throne...
(NBC, p. 817, Eerdmans).
3. Jesus is the "son of Abraham" – This too is powerful news! Abraham was the progenitor of the people of Israel. God made a great covenant with Abraham in which he promised that through him and his descendents all nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3, 22:18). The Messiah would be the key descendent through whom this blessing of the nations would ultimately be accomplished (Galatians 3:14).
In summary, Matthew is declaring that Jesus is the Messiah - "anointed" to be king, priest and prophet of God. He is the son of David – ultimate heir to the throne of king David; the son of Abraham – Abraham's key descendent through whom God would bless the nations.
"The book of the generation of Jesus Christ..." The Greek word being translated "generation" (AV, ASV, et al) or "genealogy" (NIV, NRSV, et al) is actually genesis. It is translated as "genealogy" with the assumption that the phrase is a heading (introduction) to the "genealogy" of Jesus which follows in verses 1-17.
It should be noted, however, that the word "genesis" can carry the concept of "beginning" or "coming into being." Note again the New Bible Commentary:
"The book of the genealogy means literally 'the book of the genesis' of Jesus Christ" (NBC, p. 817, Eerdmans).
Hence, Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich (p. 154) carries the possibility (quoting Zahn) that the phrase: "constitutes the superscription of the whole gospel." In that view, Matthew is talking about the "genesis" of Jesus – that is the record of how he came to be. That view is supported by the use of the same word "genesis" in the LXX regarding the "genesis" of the "heavens and the earth when they were created" (Genesis 2:4). Hence, Matthew at the outset of his writing announces that he is setting forth the "genesis" of Jesus. It is the story of how Jesus came to be. (For more on that view note Anthony Buzzard's "The Begetting, Coming into Existence of the Son of God" under "Further Study" later in this commentary.)
B. What Matthew 1:1 is not saying -
Matthew 1:1 is not announcing Jesus as being "God" come to earth as a human being. That is a post-biblical concept and unknown to Matthew. He is writing many years after Jesus had been taken up into heaven. Matthew had no reason to begin his writing cryptically or to "pull any punches" regarding who Jesus is at the time he was writing. If the first Christians believed Jesus to be God, this would be "the" time for Matthew to express that to his readers. However, he makes no such indication at the beginning of his writing or at any other point in this book. The identifications he does make regarding Jesus, run sharply contrary to the post-biblical concept of Jesus being God:
1. Jesus is the "Anointed One" – the Christ – the Messiah.
God is not anointed by anyone. To be "Christ" by definition indicates one is not God.
2. Jesus is the "son of David" –
God is not David's son. To be a son of David means by definition that one is not God.
3. Jesus is the "son of Abraham" –
God is not Abraham's son. To be a son of Abraham by definition means one is not God.
The term "genesis" as discussed above also clearly indicates that Jesus is not God. If it is translated the "generation" or "genealogy" of Jesus it proves him to not be God because God has no ancestors and no genealogy to trace.
If the term "genesis" is translated "beginning" or "coming into existence," then it still conclusively proves that Jesus is not God. God has no beginning - he has always existed.
Matthew uses or implies various terms related to Jesus in Matthew 1:1. Following is a count of the total number of times those words are used related to Jesus in his writing overall.
Number of Occurances*
Words identifying Jesus
The number of times that the word "Christ" (Messiah or anointed) is used with reference to Jesus.
The number times words occur identifying Jesus as the "son of David."
The number of times the word "king" is used with reference to Jesus.
The number of times that Jesus is called a "prophet."
The number of times the words "son of Abraham" are used with reference to Jesus.
*Based on the NIV. Exact count may vary depending on the translation used, and/or the understanding of the reference intended in certain cases.
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The Begetting, Coming into Existence, of the Son of God
by Anthony Buzzard