We are all familiar with these chapters, so familiar that I suspect we often read them or hear them read without paying a lot of attention—if we read these chapters at all. It is as if we go on automatic pilot when we they come up. However, there is a great deal going on in them.
Verses 1-16: It is clear that Matthew is not giving an exact genealogy. For example, he tells us that there were fourteen generations between each of the three important events in Israel’s history—from Abraham, to David, to the Babylonian captivity, to the coming of Christ: three groups of fourteen generations each, culminating in the birth of Jesus. But if we compare this genealogy to the other genealogies in the Old Testament we can see that they disagree. Why would Matthew knowingly give us a genealogy that differs from what we find in other scripture? (Notice that Ezra does something similar: he omits six generations of priests from his genealogy. Compare Ezra 7:1-5 to 1 Chronicles 6:3-15.)
Notice also that Matthew says that there are fourteen generations in each of the three groups (verses 17-18), but he puts only thirteen in the last group. It is unlikely that Matthew didn’t know that he had only thirteen in that group, so how do you explain that oddity? What might Matthew have intended readers to infer as the fourteenth name?
Perhaps the most surprising of all is that, though genealogies in the Bible rarely mention women, this one mentions four: Tamar (spelled “Thamar” here, verse 3), Rahab (verse 5, spelled “Rachab”), Ruth (verse 5), and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah (spelled “Urias,” verse 6). Why would Matthew mention these women? What are the stories about these women? Do those stories have anything to do with the story of Mary and Joseph? If Matthew’s audience is the Jews, why might he include these particular women in the genealogy?
Verse 1: By using the phrase “book of the genealogy [“generation” in the King James translation],” Matthew deliberately imitates passages such as Genesis 2:4 and 5:1. Why? What is he trying to tell us about what follows?
Look back at some of the genealogies in the Old Testament. They take their names from the first person in the genealogical list, the oldest grandfather. (See, for example, Genesis 5:1.) But this genealogy takes its name from the last person in the genealogy. So what?
Why does Matthew say “Jesus Christ” rather than “Jesus the Christ”? The word Christ means “anointed one” or “messiah.” Why omit the definite article? How does the use of the word change without it? What does that change tell us about what Matthew is doing?
Why does Matthew begin this genealogy with a prologue, “the son of David, the son of Abraham”? What would “son of David” have meant to Matthew’s contemporaries? What would “son of Abraham” have meant?
Why does this genealogy begin with Abraham rather than Adam?
In Jewish thinking at the time of Jesus, the “number” of David’s name is fourteen. (Jewish numerologists added up the number values of the consonants in names and believed that those numbers were significant. The Hebrew letter that we transliterate as “d” is the fourth letter in the Hebrew alphabet and the letter that we transliterate as “v” is the sixth letter, so the number of David’s name is 4+6+4, fourteen.) Does that tell us anything about why Matthew has constructed his genealogy as he has?
Verse 5: Who is this Rahab / Rachab? It doesn’t seem that she can be the Rahab of Joshua 2 unless the chronology is seriously misaligned, for Boaz and Ruth lived about 200 years after Joshua. If that is the person Matthew has in mind (and most commentators think it is), what does that tell us about what Matthew is doing?
Verse 6: Why is David’s name followed by “the king”? Would there have been any doubt about which David Matthew had in mind?
Verse 16: According to Matthew, how is Joseph important? We would expect a genealogy to say “And Joseph begat Jesus,” but this one doesn’t. Notice that Matthew switches to the passive voice in describing Jesus’ birth. Why is it important that we know that Jesus’ birth was not like the births of ordinary mortals?
Verses 18-19: What does “espoused” (verse 18) mean? What does “privily” (verse 19) mean? At least ideally, Jewish divorce law, unlike the laws and customs of other people at the time, who it seems allowed men merely to get rid of an unwanted wife, required that divorce be formal: a man wishing to divorce his wife (to do so, he had to find “some uncleanness in her” or “something indecent about her”—Deuteronomy 24:1), had to give her a document nullifying their marriage contract. She was then free to remarry. What does this story tell us about Joseph’s character? Why do you think that Matthew focuses on Joseph but Luke says very little about him?
Betrothal usually took place when a girl was about twelve or thirteen and was solemnized in marriage about a year later (Donald A. Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary, vol 33A: Matthew 1-13 [Dallas, TX: Word, 1993], 17).
Verse 19: Does “being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example” mean that he was obedient to the law but didn’t want to make an example of her” or does it mean “since he was a just man, he didn’t want to make an example of her”? What would the concept of righteousness or justice have meant to Matthew’s audience?
Verse 20: Is it significant that Joseph is a dreamer, like Joseph of old? Is the meaning of Joseph’s name significant to the story, “to take away my reproach”? Why does the angel emphasize that Joseph is a son of David?
Verse 21: The angel says that Mary’s child’s name should be “Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins” (verse 21). How does the fact that he will save us explain his name? If the child is to be named “Jesus,” then why does verse 23 say his name will be “Emmanuel”? (Verse 23 quotes Isaiah 7:14.)
Verse 23: Why does Matthew end this part of his story with a quotation from Isaiah?
“Joseph . . . took unto him his wife” tells us that Joseph hastens the second part of the wedding formalities, the marriage itself. He could either put her away quietly, his original plan, or he could marry her quickly to make it less likely that she would be looked down on by others.
Verses 1-4: Luke is the only writer who begins his gospel by telling us why he is writing it. Why does he do that? Luke recognizes that have written their narratives of Jesus’ life. Is he criticizing those narratives by deciding to write his own? If he is, what is the criticism? He says that he will “set down an account,” emphasizing that it will be an orderly one: “set forth in order a declaration.” Is that emphasis part of his criticism? Originally what we call the books of Luke and Acts were one book. Is his inclusion of what happened after Jesus death and resurrection part of his criticism?
Verse 3: Luke may be implicitly criticizing writers, like Mark, who begin with Jesus’ ministry rather than with his birth. What might Luke think is wrong with ignoring Jesus’ birth when bearing witness of who Jesus was and is?
We don’t know who Theophilos was, but in Greek the phrase “most excellent” is a title, comparable to “your honor” in our culture, so he was probably a civil official of some kind.
Verses 5-25: Why does Luke begin with John the Baptist’s birth rather than with Jesus’ birth? Notice the parallels between his description of the two births: the parents are introduced (verses 5-7 and 26-27), an angel appears to announce the birth (verses 8-23 and 28-30), a sign is given (verses 18-20 and 34-38), and a woman who has had no children becomes pregnant miraculously (verses 24-25 and 42). Why has Luke taken so much care to make these two stories parallel?
Zacharias was chosen to burn incense on the incense altar, the holiest place in the temple, just outside the Holy of Holies. Since the priests making the offering were chosen by lot and there were only two times a year when any particular group (“course”) of priests was eligible, the chances of this happening at all were slim; the chances of it happening to the same person twice in his lifetime were nil. Why do you think that the Lord chose that occasion to make the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth? What did the burning incense represent? Is that relevant to understanding this event?
Do you think that John was a Nazarite (verse 15)? (Read about the Nazarites in your Bible Dictionary.) If so, what are your reasons for thinking he was? If he was a Nazarite, what does that say about his life and mission?
How does Gabriel describe John the Baptist’s mission in verse 17? How does his mortal mission relate to his post-mortal mission?
Joseph Smith tells us that Gabriel, the angel who made these announcements, is Noah (History of the Church 3:386). Why is it significant that Noah / Gabriel make these announcements? Does 1 Peter 3:20-22 suggest any reasons for Gabriel being the one to make the announcements?
How does this story compare to the story of Abraham and Sarah and the birth of Isaac? What is the significance of that comparison?
Verses 26-38: What do you make of Gabriel’s address to Mary in verse 28? How ought we to think of her? Compare Mary’s response to the angel to Zacharias’s response. What do their responses tell you about each?
Gabriel describes Jesus’ mission in verses 32-33. Do they describe both his mortal ministry and the ministry that will begin with his Second Coming? How in each case?
Given your reading of the Old Testament, can you explain the importance of the themes of Mary’s hymn in verses 50-54? What do those themes have to do with the birth that she is expecting?
Verses 57-66: Zacharias’s name means “whom Jehovah remembers” and John’s name means “favored by Jehovah.” Does the meaning of those names tell us anything about why the angel told Zacharias to name the child John and why the family and friends wanted to name him after his father? How would the family have understood the name Zacharias to be meaningful in this case? How have we seen Zacharias remembered by the Lord in our reading for this week? How is the name John meaningful in this case? In what way was John favored by the Lord?
Verses 67-80: What does Zacharias tell us about Jesus in his blessing of John? How does what he says about Jesus reflect what we saw the prophets of the Old Testament saying? Zacharias specifically says that Jesus has come to make it possible for Israel to perform the mercy that was promised and to remember the covenant. Reread Exodus 19:5-6 to recall the promise of the covenant. Given that promise, what does Zacharias foresee Jesus restoring? The Greek word translated “serve” in verse 74 specifically refers to temple service. What do you make of the fact that the priest who has been serving in the temple is prophesying that Jesus will come and make temple service possible? Given the first-century controversy concerning the authority of the high priest of the temple, how might many have understood Zecharias’s prophecy? How might we understand it?
What does Zacharias tell us about John in this blessing? Why does Zacharias call Jesus “the dayspring,” in other words, the dawn? Be sure to consider the connection between verses 78 and 79.
Does Herod’s decree (Matthew 2:16) perhaps explain why John was raised in the desert? Did his decree extend to children beyond Bethlehem? Some have speculated that John was raised by Essenes or a similar group. If John were raised by such a group, what might that suggest about his family’s relation to the temple and its priesthood? (Remember who the Zadokites, i.e. Saduccees, were and what some of the disputes were in Israel at the time.) Why might it be appropriate that the forerunner of the Savior be raised among those who felt that way about the high priest of the temple?
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