18 December 2012

Matthew 1:18-25

"Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit." (v. 18)


The Greek word 'genesis' reappears in the first verse of this reading, this time with the sense of 'birth'. This passage is of a piece with yesterday's reading as Matthew continues to make his case that Jesus is to be understood as "the son of David" (v. 20).

The inclusion of the four women in the genealogy has the effect of lessening any surprise that there is an hint of sexual scandal around this 'genesis'. An engagement was a contractual arrangement taken as seriously as marriage; the suspicion that is implied is that Mary is an adulteress with all the stigma and punishment that that might have brought.

Matthew states twice that Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus (verses 18 and 25) and twice that the conception is through the agency of the Holy Spirit (verses 18 and 20). The point is further emphasised with the 'fulfilment' quotation (verses 22-23) from Isaiah 7:14. Although those who now read an English Bible will find that Isaiah prophesied the pregnancy of a "young woman", Matthew appears to have been thinking of the Greek version which uses the word 'parthenos'. The now somewhat dated English term 'maiden' captures the sense of 'parthenos'.

Though Joseph is not Jesus' biological father, Jesus is the Son of David. Joseph (whose Davidic ancestry is underlined in verse 20) effectively adopts the child by taking Mary into his home and (later) by naming him. That these actions are in response to a message received through a dream introduces us to another feature of Matthew's nativity narrative. Dreams are the way in which God communicates throughout chapter 2.

To Ponder

  • This is a story that is light on detail and we can only imagine what others perceived to be happening. Does it cause you to question any of your attitudes to the lifestyles and/or relationships of others? If so, what are they?
  • Does God still communicate through dreams? How would you respond to someone who made life-changing decisions on the basis of what they remembered from their sleeping hours?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..