Morris, Leon. The Gospel according to Matthew. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992.
“I. The Birth and Infancy of Jesus, 1:1-2:23” pp. 18-49.
Morris observes the distinction between a Gospel, which is the story of Jesus in particular focused on some aspect of his life and work, and a biography, which would contain considerably less focus. The emphasis in the introductory passage is that the story is about “Jesus Christ. He does not use the full name Jesus Christ very often; indeed this is the only place where it certainly occurs in this Gospel (Morris 1992, 19). Morris notes that the term “Christ” is not often used of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew uses the term “son of David” more times than any other New Testament author, indicating the role of Jesus as the Messianic King (Morris 1992, 20). He also introduces Jesus as the “son of Abraham”, indicating the role of Israel as the recipients of God’s promises.
The genealogy in Matthew 1:2-17 is a sign of the interest the Jews would have in the records of descent. This genealogy is arranged differently from Luke’s account. “Some commentators suggest that Matthew gives us the genealogy of Joseph (the legal father) and Luke that of Mary (the actual line). This is unlikely, for genealogies were not reckoned through the mother (though, of course, we must reckon with the fact that we have no information about what would happen when there was no human father). . . The best suggestion is that Matthew’s list represents the legal descendants of David, those who would actually have reigned had the kingdom continued, while Luke gives the descendants of David in the line to which Joseph belonged” (Morris 1992, 22). For a reason which Morris admits is unclear, Matthew groups the genealogy into three groups of fourteen, though he does have to omit some steps. The term “father” used may speak of any descendant, so Matthew is apparently not trying to say that he is being absolutely comprehensive. Some have suggested that “the numbers indicated by the letters of the Hebrew word for David add up to fourteen. . . “ (Morris 1992, 23). Morris walks through the genealogy, identifying some of the more likely omissions.
Unlike Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, Matthew tells it from Joseph’s standpoint (Morris 1992, 26). The cultural expectation would have been for Joseph to divorce Mary upon the discovery of her pregnancy. Counter to this expectation, Joseph obeyed the angelic message. He will complete the marriage and take responsibility for Mary and for her son (Morris 1992, 29). The name given by the angelic messenger is that of the one who will save his people. The importance given to Jesus’ name emphasizes his role as savior rather than as king (Morris 1992, 30). Morris goes on to discuss the importance of Matthew’s references to various prophecies, showing that the life and work of Jesus is a fulfillment of God’s promises.
In chapter 2 of the Gospel Matthew gives details emphasizing God’s protection of Jesus. The narrative of the Magi has often been compared to legends about the infancy of Moses, suggesting that Matthew is trying to depict Jesus as greater than Moses. Morris considers this unlikely. “It is much more probable that he started from what he knew had happened . . . and brought forward passages from Scripture to show that all was in accordance with prophecy than that the prophecy led to the creation of beautiful stories that lacked factual information” (Morris 1992, 34). There are clear motifs of Jesus being the one born as a savior for all nations and who is greater than the earthly kings. The location of Jesus’ birth is specifically the Judaean Bethlehem, not the one identified in Galilee in Joshua chapter 19. It was in the time of Herod the King, not merely the tetrarch (Morris 1992, 35). Morris briefly dismisses certainty of the traditions that there were three wise men, that they were kings, and that they would have come from Babylon. Those factors are purely speculative in nature (Morris 1992, 36). The Magi announced to Herod that the newborn was already the king, a message which would have disturbed Herod considerably (Morris 1992, 37). Morris observes that the Herod’s assembly of priestly and scribal experts is a sign of Matthew’s Jewish perspective. “Matthew has more references to high priests (25) and to scribes (22) than anyone else in the New Testament” (Morris 1992, 37). The Jewish leaders understood that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. Matthew shows that this knowledge was readily available. The difficulty was in believing that Jesus was that Messiah (Morris 1992, 38). The identity of the phenomenon the Magi saw in the sky is unclear. Matthew’s text indicates it was clear to the Magi but it does not seem to have been noticed by others (Morris 1992, 40).
After the departure of the Magi, Joseph is warned of danger in a dream. No information is given aside from the fact that Joseph obediently takes Mary and Jesus, going to hide in Egypt, a common place to seek out safety (Morris 1992, 42). While Jesus is in Egypt, Matthew tells us of a slaughter of small children. The slaughter is not spoken of elsewhere in the historical record. Morris does not find this to be a problem. “It may fairly be countered that Herod’s declining years were so full of bloodshed that an incident of this kind might well have gone unreported in our sources. Bethlehem was a small place and may well have had no more than twenty or so boys below the age of two years” (Morris 1992, 44). Matthew again interprets these events as a fulfillment of prophecy (Morris 1992, 46). Upon the death of Herod, Joseph received yet another angelic message saying to return to Israel. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus return not to Bethlehem but to Nazareth, which was possibly where Joseph and Mary were from (Luke 1:26-27; 2:4) (Morris 1992, 48). Again, Matthew views this as a fulfillment of prophecy.