Matthew 1:1

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Matthew 1

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

James Kellerman has passed on an interesting story about one of the great minds of the church’s past:

As Thomas Aquinas was approaching Paris, a fellow traveler pointed out the lovely buildings gracing the city. Aquinas was impressed, to be sure, but he sighed and stated that he would rather have the complete Incomplete Commentary on Matthew than be mayor of Paris itself.

Thomas was referring to the Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum, a fragmentary early-5th century commentary on the gospel of Matthew. It is an interesting commentary that is a mixture of fascinating insights and also, at points, questionable theology. It is to be read carefully, to be sure. It was for some time attributed to John Chrysostom but now the author is widely considered to be unknown.

As a lover of books, this story interests me, as does this incomplete manuscript. There is something about an incomplete ancient book that really strikes one with intrigue! Where is the rest of it? Might we ever find it? What might the missing parts say or reveal about the author?

Then a thought occurs to me: what is better than both having the complete Opus imperfectum in Matthaeum AND being mayor of Paris? Simple: having the gospel of Matthew itself! And we do have it! And it is a treasure indeed. The writer of the Opus imperfectum in fact put it well when he wrote this about the book:

This book is a treasury of grace, as it were. For just as in some rich person’s treasury each person could find whatever he desired, so also in this book every soul finds what it needs.[1]

That is true! The gospel of Matthew is a treasure! And here it is! And we are privileged to turn to it and journey through it. We begin at the beginning, with the first fascinating sentence.

The first sentence of Matthew establishes the greatness of Christ Himself.

The first sentence of the New Testament contains words that are very familiar to Christians but that would have been considered powerfully loaded with provocative theological meaning to its first hearers (as, indeed, they should to us as well!). These words exalt the greatness of Jesus Christ in ways both poignant and significant.

1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

We begin with the name, the title, “Jesus Christ.” “‘Christ,’” Craig Blomberg informs us, “is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Meshiach (Messiah), meaning Anointed One.” While, he writes, “there was a great diversity of Jewish messianic expectation in the first century and previous eras,” there was indeed “one common thread” among these and that was “liberation of Israel from its enemies.”[2]

Again, we are accustomed to the words Jesus Christ. Many Messianic Jews, “Completed Jews” they sometimes call themselves, prefer (and some argue quite strongly for) the Hebrew word Messiah instead of Christ. Regardless, the important matter is what lies behind this term. Jesus is the Christ (though Matthew does not include the definite article in this verse), the Messiah, the Anointed One! He is the hope of Israel, indeed, the hope of the world. While the first century Jews who were looking for a Messiah would have thought of a political liberator, perhaps a warrior King, we know, and will see in Matthew, that the victory and liberation that Christ brought and brings is much greater than any merely temporal construct. Jesus is the Anointed One!

He is also, Matthew tells us, “the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Both of these terms evoked powerful images in the minds of first century Jews. They should evoke the same in our own. We will unpack the ideas of covenant and kingship in a bit, but let us note that we may find in these words an allusion to Christ’s threefold office.

The author of the Opus imperfectum argued that in the phrases “the son of David” and “the son of Abraham” we find a reference to what is sometimes called the munus triplex or “the threefold office” of Jesus as prophet, priest, and king. He argued that in Abraham we see a reference to prophet (Gen. 20:7 – “Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live.”) and priest (Gen. 15:9 – “He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’”) and in David a reference to king.

One might feel that finding such a neat and tight theological model in this first verse is a bit forced, but there is an argument to be made here. Abraham did, after all, act the part of both the prophet and priest and David was indeed a king. Regardless of how defined and organized these images would have been or how well they would have been organized, such deeply-rooted images and ideas certainly orbited the picture of Jesus as “son of Abraham” and “son of David.”

Much has been made of the three-fold office throughout Christian history. We can see this, for instance, in the beautiful words of The Hiedelberg Catechism (1563):

Why is he called “Christ,” meaning “anointed”?

Because he has been ordained by God the Father and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit to be:

our chief prophet and teacher

who perfectly reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God for our deliverance;

our only high priest

who has set us free by the one sacrifice of his body,

and who continually pleads our cause with the Father;

and our eternal king

who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and who guards us and keeps us in the freedom he has won for us.

Likewise, consider questions 23-26 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1646/7):

Q23. How is Christ our redeemer?

As our redeemer, Christ is a prophet, priest, and king in both His humiliation and His exaltation.

Q24. How is Christ a prophet?

As a prophet, Christ reveals the will of God to us for our salvation by His word and Spirit.

Q25. How is Christ a priest?

As a priest, Christ offered Himself up once as a sacrifice for us to satisfy divine justice and to reconcile us to God, and He continually intercedes for us.

Q26. How is Christ a king?

As a king, Christ brings us under His power, rules and defends us, and restrains and conquers all His and all our enemies.

Yes, the first verse of Matthew, the first verse of the New Testament, lays the foundation for the full-flowering of the high theology and picture of Christ that will emerge in the New Testament. But we begin with this: He is the Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

The first sentence of Matthew establishes the greatness of God in Christ.

We also see in the reference to Abraham and David references to the two concepts of covenant and kingship. Concerning covenant, we remember the words of God to Abraham in Genesis 12:

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

In the reference to David we see a reference to a greater King, a coming King, who was promised to David in 2 Samuel 7:

11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”

These two ideas—covenant and kingship—were joined together in an amazing way by Matthew in this first verse. Jesus is the son of Abraham: all the covenant promises made to Abraham are fulfilled in Jesus! He is the blessing to the nations that was promised! And Jesus is the son of David: He is the King above all kings whose throne will never end. He is the “son of David” while also being David’s Lord! He is truly “the man after God’s own heart,” but without sin and in a way that David never could be: for Jesus, being God, has the very heart of God. Frederick Bruner says Matthew’s usage of Abraham and David in the first verse communicates:

…a temporal blessing to David (“forever”) and a spatial promise to Abraham (“for everyone”), a promise meeting Israel’s longing for an eternal David, and a promise meeting the Gentiles’ yearning for a universal Savior. “Son of David” says, “Israel, here is your Messiah!”; “Son of Abraham” says, “Nations, here is your hope!”[3]

That is a beautiful way to put it, and very helpful as well. Yet it is not merely that Christ’s greatness is expressed in Matthew 1:1; so is the greatness of God in Christ, for Christ is confirmation that the Father keeps His covenant promises, that God keeps His word! The Father is magnified in the glory of the Son, and the Son’s glory is the glory of the Father revealed.

But there is something else, something more, and it has to do with the opening phrase of the verse: “The book of the genealogy of…”

Frank Stagg notes that “‘Book of the genealogy’ translates a word which literally means genesis” and believes that “probably Matthew deliberately follows a pattern in Genesis (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1, 11:10, 27).”[4] Frederick Bruner surveys the various interpretations of the presence of the word “genesis” in this first verse, including one translation of the phrase as “Book of the New Genesis wrought by Jesus Christ.” While Bruner feels that “the addition of the verb ‘wrought by’ in our verbless title requires a bit much of the readers’ imagination,” he is sympathetic to Luz’s view that it should read “The Book of the ‘Genesis’ of Jesus Christ” and appears to be sympathetic likewise to Luz’s belief that “Matthew believes that he is writing a new and fresher “Book of Genesis.”[5] This is an amazing thought—Matthew as a new Genesis—but it fits with the picture of Christ that will emerge in the book. Bruner goes on to write that “to Matthew’s mind the deepest beginning in history was not the birth of the world but the birth of the world’s Savior.”

We are accustomed to making this observation about John’s gospel. The first verse of John (“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”) is clearly drawing our minds and hearts back to Genesis 1:1. The point is clear: this Jesus is none other than the Creator God with us, God in flesh. But the same point is made in Matthew 1:1. This Jesus is no mere man, no mere prophet. This Jesus is great in ways that truly boggle the mind and set the heart on fire!

See here the greatness of Jesus! See here the glory of the Father! See here witness of the Spirit! See here the path to life now and everlasting.


[1] Thomas C. Oden, ed., Incomplete Commentary on Matthew (Opus imperfectum). Ancient Christian Texts. Matthew, vol. 1. Trans. By James A. Kellerman. Ser. Eds., Thomas C. Oden and Gerald L. Bray (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), p.2.

[2] Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew. The New American Commentary. Vol.22 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1992), p.52.

[3] Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew. Vol.1. Revised & Expanded Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), p.4-5.

[4] Frank Stagg, “Matthew.” General Articles, Matthew-Mark. The Broadman Bible Commentary. Vol. 8 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1969), p.80.

[5] Frederick Dale Brune, p.4-5.

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