The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 1:1-17

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 29, 2013


In this chapter the Evangelist gives the pedigree of our Blessed Lord, which he divides into three series, comprising fourteen generations each. The first series commencing with Abraham and ending with David (vv. 1–6), is composed partly of his patriarchal ancestors, but chiefly of those who exercised the office of Judges among the Jewish people. The second commencing with David, who is repeated as the head of this series, and ending with the Babylonish captivity (7–11), embraces our Redeemer’s kingly ancestors. The third commencing with the deportation of the people to Babylon, after which all independent kingly authority ceased among the Jews, and ending with our Lord, embraces mostly His ducal ancestors. We have next the history of our Lord’s miraculous conception—the Virgin’s pregnancy—the perplexity which it occasioned Joseph, from whom the mysterious operation of the Holy Ghost was hitherto kept secret (18–19)—the consoling assurances of the angel sent to dispel his doubts and calm his apprehensions (20–21)—the Prophecy of Isaias relating to this wonderful conception by a virgin (22–23)—the unhesitating obedience of Joseph (24–25).

Mat 1:1  The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham:

“The book.” This word in its general acceptation, with the Hebrews, means a writing of any kind. Here, it signifies a narrative or catalogue “of the generation” that, is to say, of the genealogy or ancestors “of Jesus Christ.” In this sense it holds the place of Preface or Title to this first chapter. The Hebrew word, Sepher, corresponding to the Greek, Βιβλιος, denotes any writing or narrative. As Moses speaking of the first Adam says (Genesis 5:1), “This is the book of the generation of Adam,” so St. Matthew here employs the same form of language in reference to Christ to convey that He is the second Adam, “the Father of the world to come” (Isaias 9:6); the principle of a second birth more happy and of a more exalted character than that which was derived from the first, who was a type of Christ (Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15) Maldonatus is of opinion that the words form the title of the entire Gospel. According to him “generation” refers not only to the descent, but also to the entire life and actions of Christ as recorded in this Gospel. His opinion is improbable; the words mean, the record or roll of the pedigree of our Lord.

“Of Jesus Christ.” “Jesus,” derived from a Hebrew word signifying “to save” (see v. 21), is the proper name of the Man-God, and denotes his Person and Divinity. “Christ,” derived from a Greek word signifying “to anoint” denotes his office as Prophet, Priest, and King, all of whom were anointed with oil on entering on the peculiar and sacred functions of their office. Our Lord was anointed in virtue of the Hypostatic union, which was a spiritual and essential unction, whereby He was set apart as Prophet, Priest, and King. This was the oil of gladness wherewith He was anointed (Heb. 1:9). In thus referring to the name and office of the Son of God, St. Matthew wishes to arrest the attention of the Jews by conveying to them that he is about giving the history of their long-expected Messiah, which means the Anointed.

“The Son,” that is, the descendant. The Hebrews designated by the name of “son” every one descended from another, no matter how remotely, in a direct line.

“Of David, the son of Abraham.” Those two are mentioned because to them were made the promise in a special way that Christ would be born of them; of Abraham, as head of the race; of David, as head of the family. David is placed first for brevity sake, otherwise the construction should run thus: “The son of Abraham, who was the father of David, from whom Christ was descended” (St. Jerome). Others assign as a reason for this construction that the promises made to David regarding Christ were more recent, and of a more special character, being made, not alone to the Jewish race, but to the family of David. Hence, the Jewish people, including the very babes and sucklings, everywhere style the Messiah as “the son of David” (Matt. 21:15; John 7:42, &c.), pointing to his royal dignity as heir to the throne of David on which He was to sit for ever, “and the Lord God shall give Him the throne of David, His father, and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32). Hence the Prophets everywhere speak of our Lord, as Son of David. In truth, the Son of David, was one of the characteristic names of our Lord. (Isa. 9:7; Jer. 23:5; Ezek. 34:23; Amos 9:11). The promise first made to David on this head is recorded (2 Kings 7:12, &c.), confirmed (Psa. 88:13), and renewed to Solomon (3 Kings 9:5). St. Matthew wishes to convey that all these promises were fulfilled in Christ.

“The son of Abraham” may either refer to David, who was the descendant of Abraham, or to Christ, who was the son of David and of Abraham. In this latter construction the conjunction, and, is understood. To Abraham and David both were made promises regarding Him. The former construction is preferred by many, inasmuch as it followed, as a matter of course, in the minds of all the Jews, that being the son of David, He should also be a son of Abraham.

From the birth of Abraham to that of Christ there elapsed an interval of about 2004 years; and from the death of David to Christ, a period of 1013 years.

St. Matthew studiously traces the genealogy of Christ to Abraham through a successive series of forty-two, with the view of convincing the Jews that He was their true Messiah, whom they should, therefore, honour and worship. In St. Luke, whose Gospel was written for the use of the Gentiles, our Lord’s pedigree is traced up to Adam, the father of the whole human race. The Gospel of St. Matthew being written for the Jews, the genealogy commences with Abraham, whom the Jews called their father.

Mat 1:2  Abraham begot Isaac. And Isaac begot Jacob. And Jacob begot Judas and his brethren.

“Abraham begot Isaac.” Writing for the Jews, St. Matthew commences the genealogy of Christ with Abraham, in whom they gloried as their father, the founder of their race, to whom they were wont to trace up their genealogies. He was, moreover, the first, after Adam, to whom a promise was made that Christ was to be of his seed. St. Luke’s Gospel being written for the use of the Gentiles, the pedigree of our Lord is traced up to Adam, the father of the entire human race, “Isaac” alone mentioned out of all the other sons of Abraham, as it was of him Christ was born. But in Isaac shall thy seed be called (Gen. 21:12; Rom. 9:7).

“Judas and his brethren.” The brethren of Judas are mentioned, while no similar mention is made of the brethren of Isaac and Jacob; because the Jewish people, whom St. Matthew addresses, were descended from the twelve sons of Jacob, the eleven others as well as Judah, their descendants constituting one and and the same people, of whom Christ was born. These were the twelve pillars of the Jewish people and of the kingdom of Christ.

Mat 1:3  And Judas begot Phares and Zara of Thamar. And Phares begot Esron. And Esron begot Aram.

“Of Thamar.” It is remarked by commentators that all the women mentioned in the genealogy of our Lord were, with the exception of His Immaculate Mother, publicly subject to reproach. One of them being guilty of adultery—Bethsabee; another of incest—Thamar; another, a harlot—Rahab; and the fourth a Gentile—Ruth. Rahab, too, was a Gentile, a native of Jericho. The reason commonly assigned for this is, that being united to their husbands out of the ordinary way, and owing to an unusual combination of circumstances, these women presented a very expressive type of the sinful Gentiles, who were aggregated to the people and Church of God through a new vocation. Other reasons are assigned, viz., that our Lord, having come to save sinners, deigned to have among His ancestors some who were very expressive types of those whom He came to save (St. Jerome). Again, the Evangelist wished to humble the pride of his countrymen by reminding them of the gross sins of their Patriarchs in whom they were wont to glory so much (St. Chrysostom). The first reason seems the more probable. Jacob’s incestuous connexion with Thamar is recorded (Gen. 38). “Phares and Zara,” being twin brothers, are both mentioned, as presenting in the circumstances of their birth an expressive type of the Jews and Gentiles, the mystery of whose vocation is referred to by the Apostle (Rom. 11:25). The same figure was expressed in the birth of Jacob and Esau; but as this latter did not belong to the people of God, having sold his birthright, and thus a type of the reprobate, all mention of him here was, therefore, omitted by the Evangelist.

Mat 1:4  And Aram begot Aminadab. And Aminadab begot Naasson. And Naasson begot Salmon.

“Aminadab.” Lyranus referring to a Jewish tradition, states that this Aminadab was the leader of the tribe of Juda on the egress of the Hebrews from Egypt; the first also to lead the way and to enter into the Red Sea, which miraculously opened a passage for the Israelites. To him the words refer (Cant. 6:1)—“My soul troubled me for the chariots of Aminadab.” He was succeeded by his son Naasson, in the desert.

Mat 1:5  And Salmon begot Booz of Rahab. And Booz begot Obed of Ruth. And Obed begot Jesse.

“Rahab.” Being one time a harlot, afterwards became converted (Heb. 11:31). She was a native of Jericho. In consequence of her humanity in concealing the Hebrew explorers, she was saved with her whole house and kindred, and associated with the people of God (Josue 6:25).

“Ruth,” a native of Moab. Our blessed Lord, who came to save all, Jews and Gentiles, deigned, in order to inspire all with confidence in His mercy, and with hopes of forgiveness, to count among His ancestors Gentiles as well as Jews; and it is with this view the Holy Ghost moves the Evangelist to record this fact.

“Booz begot Obed.” Some commentators are of opinion that some generations are omitted here, that the Booz referred to here was not the immediate father of Obed, because between Salmon and Jesse inclusively, only four generations existed, and between them a period of 366 years elapsed, too long a period for four generations to extend over. However, this argument proves nothing, the age of man, for several reasons, being then far greater than at any future period. (Natalis Alexander, Calmet, &c.)

“Jesse.” Reference is made to him in the prophecy of Isaias, which regards our Redeemer, “egredictur virga de radice Jesse” (Isa. 11:1). He was also called, Isai. He was not held in any great consideration among the Jews. Hence, Saul scornfully calls David “the son of Isai” (1 Kings 20:27).

Mat 1:6  And Jesse begot David the king. And David the king begot Solomon, of her that had been the wife of Urias.

“David the King”—the first king among the ancestors of Christ. To him was made the promise of a perpetual kingdom. Our Lord’s Royal dignity is here indicated, as He was heir to “the throne of David his father” (Luke 1:32).

“That had been (the wife) of Urias.” This recalls the memory of David’s sin, and at the same time conveys that God, far from having, in consequence, rescinded His promises to David, had, on the contrary, fulfilled them in her seed, who was his accomplice in guilt. “That had been of Urias” conveys that, having ceased to be Urias’s wife, she was married to David at the time of Solomon’s birth, who was, therefore, the issue of lawful wedlock.

Mat 1:7  And Solomon begot Roboam. And Roboam begot Abia. And Abia begot Asa.
Mat 1:8  And Asa begot Josaphat. And Josaphat begot Joram. And Joram begot Ozias.

 “And Joram begot Ozias.” From the history, or rather from all the catalogues of the kings of Juda in succession (1 Chron3:11, &c.), it is quite certain that three kings who reigned in immediate succession are here passed over by the Evangelist. For, Joram begot Ochozias; Ochozias begot Joas; Joas begot Amasias; who begot Ozias referred to here, also called Azarias. So that Ozias, or Azarias, was not immediately the son, but rather the great grandson of Joram, said to be begotten of of him in accordance with the Jewish custom of designating by the name of son even the remote offspring of a man in a direct line, just as Christ is said to be “the son of David and of Abraham.” Why these three generations were passed over is variously accounted for. It surely could not be on account of their great wickedness. Two of them, Joas and Amasias, were reputed good kings; and Solomon and Manasses, who are mentioned in the genealogy, were worse than even Ochozias. The reason generally assigned by commentators following St. Jerome is, that the Evangelist, having in view, for some mysterious reason of his own, to divide the genealogy of our Lord into three classes, consisting of fourteen generations each (v. 17), passed over these three rather than others, on account of the malediction pronounced by God, through the mouth of the prophet Elias, on the house of Achab (1 Kings 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8), viz., that He would utterly destroy his posterity. Hence, as Joram had married Athalia, the daughter of Achab, his descendants to the fourth generation were expunged by the Evangelist from the catalogue of the ancestors of Christ. Very likely, these names were expunged from the public records St. Matthew had before him. The reason of this omission was, no doubt, understood by those to whom St. Matthew wrote; nor would such omission interfere with the truth of the history. They were not naturally, but civilly, destroyed by such exclusion; just as the tribe of Dan, on account of its wickedness and forbidden commerce with the idolatrous Gentiles, is excluded from the catalogue of the saints numbered out of the tribes of Israel (Rev 7:5–8). No more of those lineally descended from Achab are excluded by the Evangelist, as the malediction of God on the children for their parents’ crimes does not usually, according to the measure of the Law, extend beyond the fourth generation (Exod. 20:5). Athalia, the mother of Ochozias, is called the daughter of Amri, king of Israel (2 Kings 8:26), although only his grand-daughter, in accordance with the Jewish usage already referred to. From other parts of Scripture it is clear that Joram was married to Achab’s daughter (4 Kings 8:18). It was on account of Ochozias being descended from Achab that Jehu slew him (2 Kings 9:27, &c.), in obedience to the Divine command on the subject (2 Kings 9:7). The omission of these three generations does not much affect the design of the Evangelist, which was to show that Christ was descended from David. He would be equally the son of David whether these generations were expressed or omitted.

Mat 1:9  And Ozias begot Joatham. And Joatham begot Achaz. And Achaz begot Ezechias.
Mat 1:10  And Ezechias begot Manasses. And Manasses begot Amon. And Amon begot Josias.
Mat 1:11  And Josias begot Jechonias and his brethren in the transmigration of Babylon.

“Josias begot Jechonias and his brethren.” This verse presents some difficulties—1st, because of the four sons of Josias mentioned (1 Chron 3:15; 2 Kings 23:30, 31), viz., Johanan, the first-born; the second, Joakim; the third, Sedecias; the fourth, Sellum,” there is none called Jechonias; and Jechonias, the father of Salathiel, had no brethren; he had but one brother, Sedecias. There would also seem to be wanting, as the text stands, some one generation of the thrice fourteen (v. 17), in either the second or third of the series. The question is, in case there be an omission of one generation, to which series, second, or third, is the omission to be referred.

Various solutions have been given by commentators to these difficulties. It is held by many commentators that the “Jechonias” mentioned in the text is the same as Joakim, the second son of Josias, who was appointed king after Joachaz, by Pharao Nechao, king of Egypt. (2 Kings 23:34; St. Ambrose, in Lucam; St. Jerome, in Matth.; Irenæus Lib. Hor. iii., &c.) After Josias was slain at Mageddo (2 Kings 24), his son Sellum, reckoned as his fourth son, although Sedecias was younger, mounted the throne immediately under the name of Joachaz, as appears from Jeremias (Jer 22:11), where, writing at the time that Joachim, the successor of Joachaz, was reigning, the Prophet says—“Thus saith the Lord to Sellum, son of Josias, king of Juda, who reigneth instead of his father … in the place to which I have removed him, there shall he die,” &c. Sellum, who went by the name of Joachaz, also, died in Egypt, whither Pharao Nechao transported him. (2 Kings 24)

Sellum is placed last, or “the fourth” among the sons of Josias (1 Chron 3:15), on account of the short duration of his reign, which lasted only three months. He was succeeded by Joachim, who reigned eleven years. Joachim was succeeded, though not immediately, by his brother Sedecias, who is reckoned as the “third” son of Josias, although, in point of years, the youngest. That he was younger than Sellum is clear from this, viz., that Sellum was twenty-three years when he began to reign (2 Kings 23:31); and after an interval of more than eleven years, during which the reign of Joachim lasted, Sedecias, on mounting the throne, was only twenty-one years (2 Kings 24:18). That Sellum or Joachaz was also younger than Joachim is also clear, as the latter was twenty-five years after the deposition of Joachaz, who was only twenty-three years and three months before (2 Kings 23:31). Hence, Joachaz is not to be confounded with Johanan, the first-born of Josias, who, it is generally supposed, either died before his father, or from some cause or other never ascended the throne. The advocates of the exposition now given, say that this Joachim is the Jechonias here referred to by St. Matthew, “Jechonias and his brethren.” These expositions supply the omission of one generation, which, it is generally admitted, occurs here, thus; “And Jechonias begot Jechonias, and Jechonias begot Salathiel.” So that the Jechonias who is said to have begotten Salathiel in the text (v. 12), is not the son, but the grandson of Josias.

There is, however, no evidence in Scripture that Joakim, the second son of Josias ever bore the name of Jechonias. Hence, Maldonatus rejecting the former solution, hazards a conjecture of his own. Setting out with the general admission, that there has been some error, or rather omission in this passage, arising from the transcription of copyists, he says the omission should be supplied in a manner most in accordance with the truthful catalogue of the ancestors of our Lord given in the Old Testament; and, consequently, he supplies it in this way: “Josias begot Joakim and his brethren, and Joakim begot Joachin, also called Jechonias” (1 Chron 3:16; Jer. 24:1); and Jechonias begot Salathiel (v. 12).

Others adopt different other hypotheses. Patrizzi adopts the opinion of Harduin, who maintains that by the Jechonias first referred to, “Jechonias and his brethren” is meant Johanan, the first-born of Josias, who is supposed by almost all other expositors never to have ascended the throne. It is hard to say which of the suppositions is the more probable solution of the difficulty. As regards the first solution already given, it might be conjectured that as Joachin, the son of Joachim, was called Jechonias, so might Joachim himself have borne the same name which might be common to both. This, however, is merely conjectural (see v. 17).

There is also much diversity of opinion in explaining in which of the series, second or third, one generation of the thrice fourteen (v. 17) is wanting. Those who hold that it is wanting in the second series, maintain that Jechonias mentioned in v. 12 as father of Salathiel, commences the third series. Hence, the second commencing with Solomon and ending with Josias inclusively, contains only thirteen generations. Those who say it is wanting in the third series, maintain that Jechonias, father of Salathiel, belongs to the second series; and they prefer this arrangement, because, according to their ideas, St. Matthew, in dividing our Redeemer’s lineage into thrice fourteen generations, had in view to note the threefold condition of the Jewish people under judges, who chiefly constituted the first series; under tings, who constituted the second; and dukes, who constituted the third. Hence, Jechonias and his brethren, kings of Juda, should be ranked in the second series. But, it may be said in reply, that the throe sons of Josias who reigned, were only the mere creatures of the kings of Egypt and Babylon, who made and unmade them at pleasure; and hence they could hardly be said to reign at all. Moreover, all who belong to any one of the three series, need not be necessarily of the same denomination. In the first series, were found men who were not judges, Abraham, Isaac, &c.

Others maintain, that even taking the text as it stands, without supposing any error whatever on the part of copyists, still fourteen generations (the word “generation” meaning the persons, or ancestors of Christ, of whom a catalogue is now given) may be reckoned. Of these expositors some, among whom is Harduin, say that David, who closes the first series, is to be twice repeated, as is indicated in v. 17. For, he is made as much the head of the second series, although closing the first, as Abraham is of the first; while, as regards the close of the second series, what is repeated is not Jechonias, but “the Babylonish captivity.” Hence Jechonias should be reckoned in the third series. Others say, with St. Augustine (de cons. Evangel.) that Jechonias, and not David, should be repeated twice, as ending the second, and commencing the third series, which closes with our Lord.

“In the transmigration of Babylon.” “In” means, about, or, on the eve of, because Josias was dead some years before the Jewish people were carried away captive to Babylon; “transmigration” means carried away captive. There was a threefold transmigration (Jer. 52:28–30; 2 Kings 25); the first, under Joachim, the son of Josias, in the beginning of Nabuchodonosor’s reign; the second, under Joachin, son of Joachim, in the eighteenth year of Nabuchodonosor’s reign; the third, under Sodecias, in the twenty-third year of Nabuchodonosor. This last deportation, which included almost the whole people, was effected by Nabuzardan, the general of Nabuchodonosor.

Patrizzi (De Genere Christ. Dissert. ix.) maintains that the words, “in the transmigration of Babylon,” are not to be connected with the word “begot,” since Josias was dead before the transmigration or deportation of the Jews to Babylon, which occurred in the reign of his sons; but that there is an ellipsis in the passage, the word τους (“those who were”) being omitted. Hence, the words mean, “Josias begot Jechonias and his brethren (those who were), in the transmigration of Babylon.” The captivity is by no means to be confounded with the transmigration. For, St. Matthew says, “after the transmigration,” which, surely, cannot mean the term of seventy years’ captivity (Jer. 25:11; Dan. 9:2), since it was during the captivity, and not after it, “Jechonias begot Salathiel,” when the triple deportation of the people to Babylon had been completed. “The transmigration,” or carrying away, which embraces the triple “transmigration,” is referred to as a remarkable epoch in Jewish history to close the second series with. Under the sons of Josias, the carrying away began and was completed. Not so the period of captivity embracing seventy years, during which some of those belonging to the third series were born.

Mat 1:12  And after the transmigration of Babylon, Jechonias begot Salathiel. And Salathiel begot Zorobabel.

“After the transmigration of Babylon” was completed, and during the seventy years’ captivity, or of their detention at Babylon.

“Jechonias begot Salathiel.” This, most likely, happened after the death of Nabuchodonosor, when his son, Evilmerodach, ascending the throne, brought forth Jechonias from prison and bestowed on him kingly honours (2 Kings 25:27; Jer. 52:31). Had he a son at the time of his captivity, Nabuchodonosor would have appointed this son, rather than his uncle, Sedecias, to succeed him on the throne. It was, therefore, during the captivity he begot Salathiel. The curse of sterility pronounced by God against Jechonias (Jer. 22:30) had only reference to the exclusion of his children from “the throne of David” (Jer. 22:30). For, reference is made in v. 28 to his seed, who “would be cast on a land they knew not.” While after his captivity his uncle, Sedecias, reigned in his stead, none of his sons, Salathiel and Asir (1 Chron 3:17) ever saw the land of Juda. Under Zorobabel, his grandson, the Jews returned to their country.

The promise regarding our Lord sitting on the throne of David had reference only to His spiritual kingdom, of which there was to be no end.

“Salathiel begot Zorobabel.” In 1 Chron 3:19 it is said, “Of Phadaia were born Zorobabel and Semei.” It is most probable that the Zorobabel spoken of by St. Matthew is a different person altogether from him of whom there is mention in Paralipomenon. For, the list of the posterity of both is quite different in St. Matthew and Paralipomenon. St. Matthew describes Abiud as the son of Zorobabel; in Paralipomenon, there is no mention whatever of him. Hence, there is no contradiction between St. Matthew and Paralipomenon; since in the catalogue furnished by the writer in this latter book there is no mention whatsoever made of the sons of Zorobabel, Abiud or Reza, spoken of in the catalogue of St. Matthew here and Luke (Lk 3:27).

Mat 1:13  And Zorobabel begot Abiud. And Abiud begot Eliacim. And Eliacim begot Azor.
Mat 1:14  And Azor begot Sadoc. And Sadoc begot Achim. And Achim begot Eliud.
Mat 1:15  And Eliud begot Eleazar. And Eleazar begot Mathan. And Mathan begot Jacob.
Mat 1:16  And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

“Who is called,” which, by a Hebrew idiom, signifies, who is in reality “Christ,” that is, the Anointed, or the Messiah. As an exposition of the interpretations and hypotheses advanced for the purpose of explaining the apparent discrepancies between the genealogies of our Lord given here by St. Matthew and by Luke (Lk 3:23–38), might render inconveniently diffusive the commentary on this chapter, already sufficiently protracted on other points, we shall content ourselves here with merely noting the chief interpretations on this subject, reserving a fuller exposition for the commentary on Luke 3. It may not be amiss here to observe, that whatever may be the difficulties to be found in any of the leading opinions at this remote period of time (and they are very great, whichever hypothesis we adopt), a strong extrinsic proof of the genuineness of both genealogies is found in the fact, that the genealogies of Matthew and Luke have never been objected to by the Jews of their day, whether believers or unbelievers, who had every opportunity of knowing the state of the case, and many of whom would gladly charge the Evangelists with inaccuracy or inconsistency, if such really existed. And this proof is the more convincing, if it be borne in mind, that the Jews were always remarkable for paying the greatest attention to genealogies, particularly where there was question of direct descent from the most illustrious of their ancestors; and moreover, that they would naturally watch with jealous care, that no mistake should occur, and no false allegation be allowed to pass unchallenged, in the case of the ancestors of the Messiah especially, and of His descent from David, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham, to whom the promises regarding Him were made. Notwithstanding this strong extrinsic argument, there have not been wanting at all periods of the Church, from Celsus, in the second century, to Strauss in our own day, enemies of the Christian name, to urge the inaccuracy or inconsistency of the two genealogies, as an objection to the veracity or inspiration of the New Testament. If it were not a matter perfectly certain at the time, that by tracing the genealogy of Joseph, St. Matthew at the same time gave the genealogy of the Blessed Virgin, the Jews, for whom he wrote, and who had before them the genealogical tables, since lost, which would clearly show Joseph and Mary to be of the same tribe and closely united in the same family, would certainly have urged as an objection that he promised to give the genealogy of Jesus Christ, from Abraham and David, and only gave that of Joseph, whom, in the very passage, he declares not to be the father of Jesus Christ. This would clearly show Joseph and Mary to be of the same tribe and family, and that by giving the genealogy of Joseph, the Evangelist gave that of Mary also, the only earthly parent of Jesus Christ. The Evangelist’s reason for giving the genealogy of Joseph, rather than that of Mary, is found in the fact, that it was not usual among the Jews to trace genealogies through the female line (St. Jerome). Even in the case of Judith, it is given through the male line (Judith 8:1), and St. Matthew writing for the Jews would naturally conform to their custom. Moreover, among the Jews, the genealogy of the mother was not considered the true one, but only that of the father. Now, St. Joseph passed externally for the father of Jesus Christ; and if Joseph was not shown to be of the house of David, the unbelieving Jews (for St. Matthew wrote for the Jewish people, believers and unbelievers) would regard the account of our Saviour’s miraculous conception, as a mere fabrication, and would maintain that Christ was not descended from David, and, therefore, had no claims to be considered the promised Messiah. Now, the above probable hypothesis, which explains the reticence of the Jews, utterly unaccountable, save in the supposition, that by giving the pedigree of Joseph, St. Matthew gave that of Mary also, receives confirmation from the fact that the Blessed Virgin would appear to have no brothers. For, neither in tradition nor in SS. Scripture do we find mention of any such near connexions of our Lord, as we should naturally expect if they existed, the more so, as we have reference made to the immediate female relative of the Blessed Virgin (John 19:25). This again leads us to believe that the Blessed Virgin was an heiress; for, contrary to what was customary in the case of women, she went to Bethlehem with. St. Joseph to be registered (Luke 2:5). She must, therefore, have an inheritance, and should, consequently, in accordance with the Jewish law, (Num. 36:8) marry a kinsman, in order that the inheritance should not pass out of the tribe or family. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin must, therefore, be of the same family; and by giving the genealogy of St. Joseph, St. Matthew gives that of the Blessed Virgin also.

The difficulty, however, still remains, regarding the two genealogies, between which there are but few points of agreement. One traces our Lord’s descent downwards from Abraham; the other, upwards to Adam. The number of generations in St. Luke is 77; in St. Matthew, 42. They are even far greater in the former than in the latter from the point of contact in David. The one mentions Jacob, as the father of Joseph; the other Heli, &c., &c. Both would seem to give the genealogy of Joseph; but as this could not by any means regard natural descent; hence, various interpretations are advanced to reconcile their apparent discrepancy. There are two leading interpretations, considered the most probable. According to the first, St. Matthew gives the natural genealogy of St. Joseph; St. Luke, that of the Blessed Virgin. In this interpretation, when St. Luke speaks of Joseph as the son of Heli (τοῦ Ηελι), he means the son-in-law, married to the Blessed Virgin, the daughter of Heli, who must, therefore, be identified with Joachim, whom tradition represents as the father of the Blessed Virgin. This would easily account for the difference of numbers of generations in both. This interpretation, however, has against it, its novelty; it was unknown until the fifteenth century, and whatever may be said in regard to a few of the Fathers cited in favour of it (Irenæus, Origen, Tertullian, and Athanasius), it cannot be questioned that the weight of authority is in favour of the leading interpretation to be referred to, in the second place. It moreover traces our Lord’s pedigree to Nathan, and not to Solomon, to whose family the promises were made (2 Sam 7:12–16). Again, the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph being most probably nearly related by the father’s side (since the Evangelist could not attain his object with the Jews in giving any other than the paternal genealogy), they would surely coincide before reaching the third or fourth generation, and it is hard to conceive how so wide a divergence as that given in the gospels could exist between them. Again, the grammatical construction in St. Luke’s Gospel would be fatal to this interpretation, and the insertion of a parenthesis, besides being arbitrary and dangerous in principle, when there is question of interpreting the Word of God, would not much mend matters. Finally, the Virgin’s name is not at all introduced by St. Luke, who professes to give the genealogy of our Lord through St. Joseph.

In the second interpretation, it is maintained that in both Matthew and Luke we have the genealogy of St. Joseph—as, indeed, the words of the text itself expressly state—in the former, his natural; in the latter, his legal genealogy. This legal relationship arose under the Levirate law, resulting from a peculiar enactment of the law of Moses (Deut. 25:5) “When brethren dwell together, and one of them dieth without children … his brother shall take her and raise up seed to his brother: and the first son he shall have of her, he shall call by his name, that his name be not abolished out of Israel.” The application of this law to the case of Joseph is founded on the authority of Julius Africanus, who lived in the third century, and says he had it from the relations of our Lord himself. His statement is this: Estha, the mother of Heli and Jacob, was married successively to Mathan and Melchi; of the former, she begat Jacob; of the latter, Heli. Jacob and Heli were, therefore, uterine brothers, having the same mother, but not the same father (Eusebius Hist. Eccles. Lib. 7). Now, Heli having died childless, Jacob married his widow, and had for issue, Joseph, who was the natural son of Jacob, but the legal son of Heli. As Mathan and Melchi, to whom Estha was successively married, need not be at all related, it is no wonder that the two genealogies branch off very divergently without meeting again save in Zorobabel and Salathiel, till they reach David, through Solomon on the one side, and Nathan on the other. This interpretation is commonly adopted by the Fathers. As both genealogies, the natural and legal, were regarded of the greatest importance among the Jews, it is no wonder the Evangelists give both. The interpretation of Africanus, however, as it stands, unless there be some error in transcription by copyists, does not well accord with the text of St. Luke, in which Heli is given, not as son of Melchi, who is two generations in advance, but of Mathat. But be the difficulties in removing the discrepancies in both genealogies what they may, at this remote period, the Jews, who had the best means of knowing accurately the date of the case, saw none; otherwise, they would have at once objected, which is a clear proof that no such discrepancy really existed.

Mat 1:17  So all the generations from Abraham to David, are fourteen generations. And from David to the transmigration of Babylon, are fourteen generations: and from the transmigration of Babylon to Christ are fourteen generations.

 If we begin by counting Abraham, and end with Christ, we have but 41 generations; hence, apparently, a name must be repeated or supplied to make up the three fourteens, or 42. By putting David at the end of the first series and beginning of the second, we shall have: Abraham, 1—David, 14; David, 1—Josias, 14; Jechonias, 1—Christ, 14. The repetition of David’s name is suggested by the Evangelist himself: “From Abraham to David … From David to the transmigration,” &c., making David the head of the second fourteen, and therefore to be counted as much as Abraham is of the first. There were in reality more than three fourteens, but for some mysterious reason of his own, St. Matthew, who omitted some generations (see v. 8), wishes to divide the entire into three fourteens, according to the catalogue of names expressed by himself. Many Catholic and Protestant writers, and among the rest Harduin, who is a great authority in chronological matters, adopt this mode of computation. If we suppose a generation omitted, then a different division is made: Abraham, 1—David 14; Solomon, 1—Joachim, 14; Jechonias, 1—Christ, 14.


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