Just an observation on the opening of Matthew’s Gospel, the “book of the origin of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.”
Obviously, Matthew wasn’t familiar with the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, or the Definition of Chalcedon, but perhaps we can already see moves in that direction on a literary level in the construction of his genealogy–that is, a literary indication of Christ’s two natures already in this opening chapter. Overreading? Perhaps. But bear with me. 1
First, the Greek passage followed by the ESV:
Βίβλος γενέσεως Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ υἱοῦ Δαυὶδ υἱοῦ Ἀβραάμ.
2 Ἀβραὰμ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰσαάκ, Ἰσαὰκ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰακώβ, Ἰακὼβ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰούδαν καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς αὐτοῦ, 3 Ἰούδας δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Φαρὲς καὶ τὸν Ζάρα ἐκ τῆς Θαμάρ, Φαρὲς δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἑσρώμ, Ἑσρὼμ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἀράμ, 4 Ἀρὰμ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἀμιναδάβ, Ἀμιναδὰβ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ναασσών, Ναασσὼν δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Σαλμών, 5 Σαλμὼν δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Βόες ἐκ τῆς Ῥαχάβ, Βόες δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰωβὴδ ἐκ τῆς Ῥούθ, Ἰωβὴδ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰεσσαί, 6 Ἰεσσαὶ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Δαυὶδ τὸν βασιλέα.
Δαυὶδ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Σολομῶνα ἐκ τῆς τοῦ Οὐρίου, 7 Σολομὼν δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ῥοβοάμ, Ῥοβοὰμ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἀβιά, Ἀβιὰ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἀσάφ, 8 Ἀσὰφ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰωσαφάτ, Ἰωσαφὰτ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰωράμ, Ἰωρὰμ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ὀζίαν, 9 Ὀζίας δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰωαθάμ, Ἰωαθὰμ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἀχάζ, Ἀχὰζ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἑζεκίαν, 10 Ἑζεκίας δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Μανασσῆ, Μανασσῆς δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἀμώς, Ἀμὼς δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰωσίαν, 11 Ἰωσίας δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰεχονίαν καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τῆς μετοικεσίας Βαβυλῶνος.
12 Μετὰ δὲ τὴν μετοικεσίαν Βαβυλῶνος Ἰεχονίας ἐγέννησεν τὸν Σαλαθιήλ, Σαλαθιὴλ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ζοροβαβέλ, 13 Ζοροβαβὲλ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἀβιούδ, Ἀβιοὺδ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἐλιακίμ, Ἐλιακὶμ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἀζώρ, 14 Ἀζὼρ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Σαδώκ, Σαδὼκ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἀχίμ, Ἀχὶμ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἐλιούδ, 15 Ἐλιοὺδ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἐλεάζαρ, Ἐλεάζαρ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ματθάν, Ματθὰν δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰακώβ, 16 Ἰακὼβ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰωσὴφ τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας, ἐξ ἧς ἐγεννήθη Ἰησοῦς ὁ λεγόμενος χριστός.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, andJacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon,5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 andSolomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah,9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 andJosiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father ofShealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
Matthew’s second word is γενέσεως, “genesis,” “origin”: he aims to trace Jesus’ human lineage back through David to Abraham. He picks up the sound and sense of that word with the 3rd singular aorist active indicative verb ἐγέννησεν, “he begat” (< γεννάω, “I beget”), which he then repeats another 38 times for a total of 39, 2 thereby establishing a rhythm, as it were, of the generations of Jesus’ ancestry.
But when he comes to Joseph, the structure changes. For the first time, a woman, Mary, is introduced; and Μαρίας serves as the antecedent for a relative clause whose subject is Jesus, not a human father. The relative pronoun is part of a prepositional phrase, ἐξ ἧς, “from whom,” and indicates that Jesus has Mary as his mother and “source” in some sense (in creedal, doctrinal terms, as the one from whom the Son of God assumes a human nature).
Joseph, on the other hand, unlike every other man mentioned in the passage, is not the subject of ἐγέννησεν. Instead, Jesus, as noted above, is the subject in the relative clause, but now the verb has been changed to the 3rd singular aorist passive indicative of the same verb used 39 times previously (γεννάω): ἐγεννήθη (“he was born”). This change creates a gap. The position of the father, not assigned to Joseph, is temporarily, and mysteriously, omitted. The mother rather than the father is emphasized, and the human father is missing.
Creedally, we know that this is because Jesus was “incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary.” But since the creeds are summaries of the apostolic teaching found in Scripture, we know that Matthew knew it too, even though he hasn’t said so yet.
In verse 18, Matthew reminds us again that he is treating the “genesis” of Jesus (Τοῦ δὲἸησοῦ χριστοῦ ἡ γένεσις οὕτως ἦν). He goes on to say that, before Mary and Joseph “came together,” Mary “was discovered” (passive, εὑρέθη) to be pregnant with a child “from the Holy Spirit” (ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου), where the prepositional phrase indicating his divine origin echoes that used in verse 16 (ἐξ ἧς) to indicate his human origin.
Finally, this phrase is echoed once more in verse 20 in the words of the angel of the Lord to Joseph: Ἰωσὴφ υἱὸς Δαυίδ, μὴ φοβηθῇς παραλαβεῖν Μαρίαν τὴν γυναῖκά σου, τὸ γὰρ ἐν αὐτῇ γεννηθὲν ἐκ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἁγίου (“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit”). In this last instance, we have the same verb (here, actually a participle) of begetting in the passive, as in verse 16, in combination with a prepositional phrase with ἐκ, also as in verse 16, but here in combination they supply the information about the agency of Christ’s begetting so mysteriously absent in the (if I may) pregnant change in construction in that verse.
Is this of any great significance? Perhaps not, but it is, I think, worthwhile noting even small ways in which the New Testament texts point the way toward the later crystallization and formulation of doctrines such as the Trinity and Christology.