Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Gospel Blog: Matthew 1

Quick note: at the beginning of a new book, I'll begin by sharing the theme of the book. Every post will then contain a brief summary of the covered passage followed by detailed thoughts. See also Blogging the Gospels: An Introduction for a clearer understanding of the purpose of this series and the perspective I will bring to each post.

The Book of Matthew
Matthew wrote his gospel primarily for a Jewish audience, wanting to convince his readers that Jesus was sent from God as the Messiah.

Summary of Matthew 1
Jesus descended directly from Abraham and David. The virgin, Mary, became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. At first Joseph wants to call off the wedding, but after a visit from an angel, decides to marry Mary after all.

Detailed Thoughts about Matthew 1
In the first part of the chapter, Matthew shows that there were 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 generations from David to the Babylonian exile, and 14 generations from exile to Jesus. Looks like Matthew is going “all in” at the very beginning. He enumerates how Jesus is not only a direct descendant from Abraham and David, but uses the numbers to show a kind of mystical order and method to his birth. In other words he is saying: Take a look at this, people. 14-14-14. BOOM.

Subsequent verses reveal this theme of Jesus being the Messiah of the Jewish nation:
  • v 18: Joseph was also from the line of David
  • v 21: Jesus will save his people from their sins
  • v 22-23: Immanuel (God with us) prophecy is fulfilled
In the second part of the chapter, Mary becomes pregnant “by the Holy Spirit.” Joseph is described as a “good man who didn’t want to embarrass Mary,” and therefore he calls off the wedding. He obviously thought, as anyone would, that she either fooled around, OR (perhaps?) that he had gotten her pregnant himself. Was it normal for engaged couples to sleep together, or was it the custom to wait until marriage? This is where knowledge of history is important if one really wants to understand the Bible.

It’s interesting to me that the Old Testament prophesies a virgin conceiving and giving birth. From my understanding of the Old Testament, women were generally looked upon as less than men and often unclean. The Messiah had to come from a woman who was “pure.” One can see already how radical Jesus’ teachings would be! He would be challenging cultural norms and religious traditions, yet at the same time fulfilling the OT prophesies in a paradoxical way.

A new perspective I must bring to the reading is the realization that these words were written many, many years after Jesus was born and died. Matthew (was he even the author?) was writing to persuade, and my critical mind wonders how many facts he skewed to make his historical account about Jesus match the OT prophesies. In order to be honest, I have to admit that possibility.

Still, the story is powerful. Just the name Immanuel is powerful: God is with us. I’m looking forward to observing what happens next.

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