"Grace is something that comes to us which we don't deserved. Peace is something that happens within us which is not in any way affected by our external circumstance. With grace from above and peace within, who wouldn't have cause for rejoicing?" - Chuck Swindall, LAUGH AGAIN, 37
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Monday, December 27, 2010
First in the order of the Gospels, and in the hearts of many Christians, is the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew is important for a number of reasons:
First, it is the bridge Gospel. It is the Gospel, after 400 years of silence, which carries us from the Old Testament to the New Testament. It is the bridge that carries us from the promise of the Messiah to the fulfillment of Messiah in Jesus Christ. The hope of Israel had arrived in the person of Jesus, and Matthew’s aim is to show that Jesus is the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures. Those Scriptures have been fulfilled.
Second, it records the life of Jesus Christ and His teachings on the Kingdom. It is the teaching Gospel. It is built around five discourses given by the Lord (Matt. 5-7; 10; 13; 18; 24-25). It is impossible to understand the ministry and writings of Paul without knowing the life and ministry of Christ. In fact, there would be no apostle Paul or the Church, the body of Christ, without the historical Christ and the events of His ministry on earth. It is foundational that we understand why He came, was rejected, and why the earthly Kingdom did not come at that period in history, if we are to understand our position and relationship in Christ today.
Third, it is important dispensationally. It reveals that Israel’s hope of the Messiah has arrived in the person of Jesus Christ, and that the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. It clearly teaches that the Kingdom of Heaven was the earthly kingdom which was promised and predicted in the Old Testament. Christ came to fulfill the Law, and He gave the laws of the earthly kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount. It relates the Gospel of the Kingdom and Israel’s need for repentance to enter the Kingdom. Likewise, Matthew clearly reveals that the nation was not ready to receive the King or His Kingdom.
Fourth, Matthew reveals important inter-dispensational principles about the Kingdom of God. This does not deny the coming earthly kingdom, but explains the principles of God’s kingdom. When Christ taught of the coming earthly kingdom, he taught that its foundation was Righteousness (Matt. 5:6, 20); a foundation in all God’s dealing with man, even today. We need to see the dispensational distinctions of the Gospel, but we also need to see the inter-dispensational or continuing principles that are common to all dispensations and the universal Kingdom of God. However, it must be pointed out that these inter-dispensational principles are given within the context of the coming Messianic earthly Kingdom.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Ephesians 1:4 ff
“In love” (1:4). These words have been much debated as to what they modify. The debate is over which verse this prepositional phrase applies, verse 4 or verse 5. [Remember, the verse numbers are not in the original text, but was added later. The verse breakdowns are man made.] In other words, should the verses read: “be holy and blameless before Him in love” (1:4). Or should it be taken as the beginning of verse 5 and be taken to read, “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself.” Translations and commentators are divided. The debate centers upon two views and the arguments of each side have merit. Eadie (Ephesians, 28) correctly says the phrases “position is difficult to assign. Much may be said on either side.”
First view places the phrase “in love” in connection with the phrase “holy and without blame” (KJV, NKJV). This position holds that it fits best with the rhythm and structure of the passage favors this view. Normally the modifying phrases follow the action words in this context (cf. vv. 3, 6, 8-10), however that is not without debate. They point to the fact that the phrase four out of five times follows the clauses it modifies (Eph. 4:2; 15; 16; 5:2). These instances point to human love, not divine love. Thus, it balances out holiness and blamelessness which is affected by love. (See Harold Hoehner, EPHESIANS, 184). This is in keeping with the use of agape, which refers often to human love in Ephesians. However, a major problem with this is that it reduces holiness, blamelessness, and love to the moral level. While the Scriptures are heavy on a moral lifestyle, it is unlikely here in this context. A statement counseling moral behavior would not be appropriate in the eulogy which is designed to honor God and His actions on our behalf.
The second view says it goes with verse 5, as today’s major translations (NASB, NIV, TEV, RSV) connect it with “having predestined us.” This is more likely in the context. In the context of verse 4 and 5, the phrase seems to point to divine motive, i.e. God acted in love. His love is what motivated God to foreordain believers to position of sonship by adoption. The view is more natural. “Love is implied in predestination.” (Eadie, 30). By it modifying predestination it shows the motivating factor in the choice of God as His love, nor ours. As Chafer says, “His love is the dominating motive in all that he does. For this reason it is probably correct to relate the phrase ‘in love’ which occurs at the end of verse 4 with the beginning of verse 5. It is in love that He predestinated us.” (Lewis Sperry Chafer, EPHESIANS, 39). This may be considered redundant for predestination in itself indicates love. However, it brings out this truth openly, so there can be no question as the motivating factor that stands behind our predestination. Paul is not leaving it to chance, but making sure that God’s love is recognized in the process of His choice. “The reference to love implies that God’s purpose originates in and is controlled by His love; it is not an arbitrary exercise of power” reports Best (EPHESIANS, 16).
It may be normal for the modifying phrases to follow the action words, but that is disputed in this section in verses 4, 8, 10. The structure of this long Greek sentence (1:3-14) broken down in English (sentence structure of the NASB) shows a pattern of prepositions before the action words.
- Sentence 1
Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places]in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.
- Sentence 2
In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed in the Beloved.
- Sentence 3
In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished on us.
- Sentence 4
In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His kind intention which he purpose in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, [that is,] the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.
- Sentence 5
In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestinated according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praises of His glory.
- Sentence 6
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of the truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s (own) possession, to the praise of His glory.
It is noted that this long sentence is a list of the blessings God grants to us. There is a clear pattern. Each sentence begins with the Greek preposition in (ev), after the first initial propositional sentence is before the action. In each case the preposition is locative, stating at the beginning of each sentence the sphere in which the following action is taken. It helps place the emphasis on what it should be: God. In each case it is the emphasis is on the action of God and not our doing or work. This to me is the best way to structure these “in” phrases in this context.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
(Last of a series on Matthew 1:18-25)
Joseph action was that of obedience, for he was an obedient man. Joseph replaced his plan with faithful obedience to the Word of God. He did not ask for confirmation; he did not need to, for the Word had been given, the action needed was obedience. There is no need for additional guidance when the Word clearly tells us what to do. The need is only to obey. In spite of the fact of what people may think and say, Joseph acted in confident faith that he was doing the will of God. “Joseph…did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife” (1:24). He places his willingness to obey above his own honor. To take Mary as his wife, it would be naturally assumed by others that Mary had been unfaithful, or that they violated their vows before marriage. The child would be early fueling speculation. Mary and Joseph elect to take on disgrace, embarrassment, and humiliation to maintain the blessedness of God’s call.
He made the Child his own. Two things are marked in the text: First, he made Mary his wife. Second, he named the son Jesus. Both actions completed the legal “adoption” of Jesus as Joseph’s son.
Not only was Joseph a righteous and obedient man, he was also one of great restraint and self discipline. He “did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn son” (1:25). The couple had no sexual contact until after the birth of Christ. The euphemism of “know” is common in the Bible for the sexual contact. “Mary was to be a virgin not only at the point of conception but also at the point of giving birth” (Nolland, MATTHEW, 103). The reason for the abstinence is not explained; except it takes away any doubt and confirms the conception was supernatural in origin. It also makes clear that perpetual virginity is not taught in this statement, or in Scripture. They enjoyed and had a sexual relationship after the birth of Christ is clearly indicated. The facts are that Mary and Joseph had other children (Mark 6:2-3, Matthew 12:46; 13:54-56). There were at least four half brothers and two half sisters. They are half brothers and sisters because Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father. These are not Jesus’ nephews and nieces, nor are they Joseph’s children from another marriage, as some would suggest. Luke 2:7 says Jesus was her “firstborn” son, indicating there were other sons after this birth. Perpetual virginity violates the clear meaning of Scripture. It is clear that Mary and Joseph entered fully into married life after the birth of Jesus. These brothers and sisters were not virgin born. Matthew clearly states that the virginity of Mary was limited. It was “till” the birth of Christ. To hold to the perpetual virginity is wrong scripturally. It is wrong morally, because it downgrades the dignity of marriage. It is wrong doctrinally because it deifies Mary.
Matthew simply records the fact of the birth, not the details. The continuance of Joseph’s obedience is seen in the fact that “he called his name Jesus.” A name above all names. He is the God-man—the Savor. His humanity is seen in his genealogy. His Deity is seen in the virgin birth. Gaebelein notes:
If Matthew 1:1-17 were all that could be said of His birth, He might then have had a legal right to the throne, but He could never have been He who was to redeem and save from sin. But, the second half before us shows Him to be truly the long promised One, the One of whom Moses and the prophets spake, to whom all the past manifestations of God in the earth and the types, pointed. (MATTHEW, 27).
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
I spent part of the day with one of the highest rated critical commentary on Matthew. Reading Critical Commentaries are not easy, they are mostly technical and boring, but it is necessary and I must say there is some value to a student of the Word. However, in reading them you must read with care. Critical Scholars have certain tendencies that one should be aware of as he reads. I have found:
- Some have “a priori” denial of the historical reliability of the Biblical record.
- Some have “a priori” denial of the supernatural based upon rationalism and naturalism to explain the supernatural.
- Some downgrade tradition and church history as mostly superstition.
- Some make light of or deny the authority of Scripture. They reject inerrancy and question the Divine inspiration of Scripture.
Not all critical scholars have these prejudices in whole or part, but generally they have some part of these tendencies. One needs to be aware and read with a watchful eye to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Some hold that verse 22 is not Matthew speaking, but a continuation of what the angel speaks. However, that view is not well accepted. Most hold that Matthew interjects an amplification of prophecy. The Holy Spirit guided him to interject these words. The quotation interrupts the story, but at the same time it is central to the story. The Holy Spirit often does this throughout Matthew’s Gospel (2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 13:35; 21:4; 27:9; cp. 26:56). The Spirit’s purpose is to have Matthew show the Jews that the event fulfilled Old Testament prophecy.
Matthew had a high view of Scripture. To him it was the Word of God, not simply a man’s word or tradition. He declares it was “spoken by the Lord.” The prepositions Matthew uses are important. He uses the word hupo (by) to denote the ultimate agent. Next, he used the word dia (by or through) to indicate intermediate agent through which God spoke. Thus, the Lord spoke “through the prophet.” We dare not compromise this view of Divine Inspiration. The Word is “God breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). Matthew is careful to distinguish the source from the intermediate agent through whom He gave the prophecy. God is the source. It comes from Him through the instrument of His choice. In this case, it was the prophet Isaiah. Matthew is affirming the divine nature of the Old Testament, and the doctrine of the inspiration and revelation of the Word of God.
Matthew clearly declares that Jesus is the fulfillment of what God spoke through Isaiah. This is the first of a quotation formula that is distinctive of Matthew (2:15, 17. 23; 4:14-16; 8:17; 12:17-21; 13:35; 21:4-5; 17:9-10; 26:54, 56). The birth of Christ is a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, which Matthew quotes. It is the prophecy of the Virgin Birth. The Virgin birth is defined as “the conception of Christ…without a human father and thus contrary to the course of nature. It was not the opening of Mary’s womb, as in the case of Elizabeth, but the activating of it apart from a human male being, and after the conception took place the course of pregnancy and birth was normal.” (Charles Ryrie, BIBLICAL THEOLOGY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, 41-42.)
No doctrine has been attacked with more vehemence. The liberal claims that Isaiah never intended the prophecy to refer to the virgin birth, that it is a perversion by Matthew. Therefore as faithful students we must examine the Word and ask: Did Matthew misinterpret Isaiah? The clear answer is NO for the following reasons:
The Hebrew word almah and its use in the Old Testament. It is universally agreed that the Hebrew word almah, means no less than a young woman of marriageable age. The question is, does it mean or include the idea of virginity? Niessen shows that the etymology of the Hebrew word shows “no etymological evidence” to the claim that the word can “refer to a young married woman or an unmarried woman who has had intercourse.” (Richard Niessen, “The Virginity of the ‘Almah’ in Isaiah 7:14,” BIB-SAC, April 1980, 135). He goes on to show virginity can be seen in every passage in which the word refers to a young woman in Scripture. Even the liberal G.B Gray admits it means a young women, above the age of childhood and sexual immaturity and that “it is naturally in actual usage applied to women who were as a matter of fact certainly (Gen. 24:43, Ex. 2:8), or probably virgins.” (G.B. Gray, A CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL COMMENTARY ON THE BOOK ISAIAH, 126-127.)
Matthew quotes the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible (LXX) which uses the Greek word parthenos, a word that unquestionably means virgin. It is interesting that the Jews when they made a Greek translation of their Bible they chose this Greek word over another word (veavis, meaning young women) that could have been used. This indicates that the Jews themselves saw the passage as speaking of the coming Messiah. Matthew’s intended meaning of virgin cannot be questioned, for it is the standard meaning of the Greek word, and the context supports that meaning (1:18, 20, 25).
Isaiah 7:14 looks beyond any immediate or partial fulfillment. Alexander tells us that, “as to the form of the expression, it will only be necessary further to remark that “harah’ (shall conceive) is not a verb or participle, but a famine adjective, signifying that the object is described as present to the Prophets view.” (J.A. Alexander, THE PROPHECIES OF ISAIAH, 1:172.) The indication is that the prophet was looking forward to the fulfillment, and expressing it as a present reality. It is clear that a normal conception could not satisfy the technical meaning of the verse. The prophecy is address to the house of David, and “you” is plural, not singular. This was to be a NATIONAL sign, not a personal one. This speaks to the future and indicates this passage is Messianic, since it is national in scope. This does not omit the possible partial fulfillment or a foreshadowing of it in the time of the prophet. Many have concluded, “it is best to see a partial, proleptic fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in his time, with the complete and more glorious fulfillment in Jesus’ own birth.” (Craig L. Blomberg, NAC: MATTHEW, 60.) However, there is no unity in who partially fulfilled the passage—Ahaz’s wife or Isaiah’s. While the definite article suggests a particular woman, the context does not identify the women. The only particular woman that we can identify is Mary.
The Jews saw a deeper meaning to the Isaiah text than some immediate partial fulfillment. They came to identify the fulfillment with one who was coming who would be the true “Emmanuel,” who would bring in the golden age of judgment and righteousness. Hagner notes, “The promised son of Isa. 7:14 thus became readily identifiable as that son of David who would bring the expected kingdom of security, righteousness, and justice.” (Hagner, WBC: MATTHEW, 1:20.) Thus, Matthew is using the Jews own view of the passage, and saying, this has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ’s birth.
A rule of interpretation is to choose the clear over the obscure. Matthew and the LXX leaves no doubt that Isaiah is speaking of the virgin birth of the Messiah. This is seen by the use of the Greek word parthenos, which is the restrictive word for virgin. It can only mean virgin and nothing else. He also used the article to show that one particular virgin is in mind: Mary. She is “the” virgin. What may have been obscure or unclear in Isaiah is clear in Matthew. The birth of Jesus is the only one with the credentials to fulfill the prophecy. He is the only one with the divine-human nature fulfilling the prophecy of “God with us.” He is the visible image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15).
The distortion of Isaiah 7:14 is a denial of the integrity of the Scriptures. Douglas Connelly notes: “Those who reject the virgin conception because it seems embarrassing in our scientific age have thrown away their confidence in the Bible as the truth of God.” (Douglas Connelly, MARY: WHAT THE BIBLE REALLY SAYS 39.) Both Matthew and Isaiah was directed by the Holy Spirit of God (2 Peter 1:21).
The prophecy continues to state that this child will be called Immanuel. Notice the text says; “they shall call his name Emmanuel.” Emmanuel is not to be his given name; rather it will be an identifying name. It describes what He is. The word Immanuel means “God with us” (John 1:14, 18). It indicates Christ’s humanity; the one Above us came down to be With us (cp. Phil. 2:7-8). Matthew here is confirming Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 8:8.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Joseph was a thoughtful compassionate man. He had determined his course of action, but he had not yet carried it out. The text reads, “But while he thought about these things…” (1:20). The Greek word enthumethentos (pondered, or thought) is an aorist passive participle, thus the dream occurred not “while,” but “after” he had pondered and arrived at his course of action.
Joseph’s conclusion was based on inadequate information. He is planning an action upon assumption, not upon the facts—always dangerous to do. God intervened before such an action could be taken. God is free to change our plans, for He is Sovereign. God intervened by an angelic visitation during his sleep. The word dream is onar, meaning a vision while sleeping, distinction from a vision while one is awake. This word occurs only in Matthew where six dreams occur (Matt 1:20; 2:12-13, 19, 22; 27:19), of which Joseph has four of them. The Wise men have one. The event surrounding the birth is the major event where dreams are used. France says, “The point of their concentration in these chapters is to emphasize the initiative of God in guiding Joseph’s actions through this crucial period” (NICNT: MATTHEW, 52). The only occurrence outside the nativity narrative is that given to Pilate’s wife at the trail of Jesus. These dreams gave either warning or guidance. All this happen before the cross, thus we are on Old Testament ground. Dreams were often used as means of divine revelation in the Old Testament (Gen. 37:5-7, 9; Dan. 2:7, Job 33:15-17). The New Testament (New Covenant) did not come into existence before the cross. God does not reveal truth through dreams today, rather truth is completely revealed today by the Holy Spirit through the written Word of God. There is no indication of onar after the end of the Old Testament era.
There is no definite article (the) in the text, so it is not “the angel of the Lord” (a pre-incarnate visit of Christ), but “an angel of the Lord” that appears to Joseph. The Jews considered a message that is brought by angels was considered it was authoritative. The angels’ sole function is only to bring revelation to Joseph. Observe that the angel addresses Joseph as a ‘son of David,’ clearly indicating that he was a member of the royal line. It is a title of dignity and royalty. This ties “to the preceding genealogy” and “maintains interest in the theme of the Davidic Messiah,” (D.A. Carson, Matthew, 75) indicating the strong Jewish emphasis of this Gospel.
The message of the angel to Joseph was personal and direct. It can be simply outlined as:
Notice the balance between instruction and reason. God does not give instructions without reasons. In divine guidance one can rest assured that God never instructs us to do something without a reason or purpose behind it, although the reason or purpose is not always immediately evident. Faith realizes this truth and acts upon it.
The instruction is for Joseph to marry Mary. He is not to be afraid, but to “take” her as his wife. The word “take” is the Greek word paralabein, and is an aorist active infinitive, indicating to take to one’s side. It is used of taking one into a man’s home as his wife (J. Nolland, NIGTC: MATTHEW, 97). This is no doubt a reference to the third step of marriage, which is to take the bride to his home to complete the marriage. This summons Joseph to faith, however, in this case faith is not blind. The reason is that Mary was not unfaithful to him. Rather the child is a product of the Holy Spirit’s power. Mary had no sexual involvement in the conception. Mary is not unclean, for the conception was a miracle. She is still a virgin.
Next, he was instruction is to “call His name Jesus” (Matt. 1:21). The angel reveals that Mary will bring forth a son. He is to be named Jesus. In the text, it is a future indicative, serving as an imperative or command. The reason this child is to be name Jesus is because “he will save His people from their sins.” The name Jesus means, “Jehovah saves” or “Jehovah is salvation.” The word “He” is empathic, meaning it is He, and He alone who shall save His people (cf. Acts 4:12).He is the agent of salvation. His name indicates His primary and fundamental work in His first coming. This is dispensationally important. The word “people” here is laon, and used only of Jews in distinction to Gentiles. The personal pronoun (his) points to Jesus as a member of the Jewish race. The Jewish character of the Matthew’s Gospel is again evident. The Jews looked for not only a political Messiah, but also a redeemer from sin. Jesus is the fulfillment of that promised one who would be the redeemer of Israel. Before He could inaugurate the Kingdom, He had to provide the means of salvation. Thus, the offer of the Kingdom comes after the Cross (Acts 3:19-21), not before it. We read of no clear offer of the Kingdom before the cross, although it was “at hand.”
Monday, December 6, 2010
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Sunday, December 5, 2010
A Study of Matthew 1:19
The focus now shifts from the pregnancy of Mary, to the reaction of Joseph. It was during the anticipation of marriage that Joseph learned the fact that Mary was with child. It is clear that at this point, “Mary had absolutely no means of proving her spotlessness to Joseph or to any other person in Nazareth,” stresses Lenski (Acts, 41-42). Upon hearing the news, it must have been a shock and great disappointment to Joseph. When he learns of Mary’s condition, he knew nothing of how this conception transpired. There is no indication that Mary told of the announcement of the angel. The passive “was found” (heurethe) in verse 18 has the sense of “proved to be,” indicating Joseph became aware of the condition of Mary when it became evident. At this point, his thinking would have been naturally the same as you or I would think—she had been unfaithful. We can only imagine what went through his mind: His intense hurt, sorrow, and anger.
In verse 19, we see a state of his ambivalence. Ambivalence is “the co-existence of opposite and conflicting feelings.” (American College Dictionary, 40). This is reflected in our text and brought out in two phrases, which reflect a tension between the two feelings.
First, “being a just man.” The word just is the Greek word dikaios meaning one obedient to the commands of God; an upright and law abiding man; a man of character and integrity. It refers to the inward condition of the heart, as well as, his outward conduct. Marriage had now become unthinkable to his mind. He was unable in good conscience go ahead with the marriage. The relationship had to be terminated. Jewish law required a man to divorce an adulterous wife (Deut. 24:1), in which he would have been expected to make a public example of her. This would have made Mary an object of public humiliation. Under the Old Testament Law, the penalty was stoning (Deut.13-21), but the Romans did away which such a penalty, so that divorce was the normal response.
Second, Joseph was a man of discretion. Not wanting to make her a public example, he was minded to put her away secretly. Being made a public example meant putting her to public shame, and thus a disgrace. Joseph was unwilling to put her to public shame (same word as Colossians 2:15: “make a public spectacle”). By putting her away secretly reveals his compassion, love, and concern for Mary. He wrestled with the conflict between his sense of justice and love. He tempered his sense of justice with mercy. While wanting to be obedient to the Law, he wanted to do it with compassion. Joseph had a choice as to how he was going to do it. He could have done it in a public forum, and asked for a trial to see if the unfaithfulness was by force or consent. That was his right. This meant public exposure of Mary as being unfaithful. He acted not on the side of his rights, but compassion. He was “minded” not to put her to open shame by trail, but divorce her secretly. This was simply done by handing her a letter of divorce privately in the presence of two witnesses (Num. 5:11-13). He was “not wanting” to do otherwise. This brings forth the emotional element that leads to his determination and action. It is vital to understand that the element of emotion did not lead to bypassing the Law (cf. Lev. 20:10), rather, it lead to carrying it out with compassion and discretion. This is a good lesson for us to learn. Turner reminds us that “Joseph becomes something of a model of one whose high standards are balanced with compassion” (Turner, BECNT: Matthew, 65). May we be such men!
Saturday, December 4, 2010
[The next few post we will be centering our studies on Matthew1:18-25.]
A Study of Matthew 1:18
Matthew 1:18-25 begins telling us how the birth of Christ happened, as shown by the Greek idiom, “was as follows.” The word birth is the Greek word geneseos, meaning origin, and suggests that the genealogy [biblos geneseos] now reaches its goal. The goal was to present the Jesus as the Messiah. France argues that the reading “Tou de Christon” of the early Latin and Syria version is a better rendering here, and translates the first phrase: “The Messiah’s origin was like this” [Matthew, 46 fn 13]. This certainly ties in well with the purpose of Matthew, which is to show that the Messiah has came and it was Jesus.
Matthew centers his account on Joseph’s perspective, in contrast to Luke which gives Mary’s perspective. He sets the occasion of Messiah’s coming with the anticipation of a wedding. We learn:
First, Mary and Joseph are “betrothed.’ The Greek is mnesteutheises, meaning betrothed, a pledge to be married. We today would think of it as an engagement, however, that does not fully convey the situation. It was more like marriage itself, but not consummated. In the days of Christ, there were three parts to a marriage: engagement, betrothal, and marriage.
- Engagement usually took place early while the couple was still children, or even infants. It was made between the parents of the children. It was an agreement by the parents that the two would be married when they grew up. Barclay notes, “it was often made without the couple involved ever having seen each other. Marriage was held to be far too serious a step to be left to the dictates of human passion and the human heart.” [DBS: Matthew, 1:9] This is not to say that romantic attraction was entirely unknown, as evidence by Jacob (Gen. 29:20), Dinah (Gen. 34:3), Michal (1 Sam. 18:20) and others. Mary and Joseph were well beyond the engagement step, although Scripture reveals nothing about Mary and Joseph’s engagement and how it came to be.
- Betrothal was the ratification of the engagement. It was like marriage, in that it could only be broken by divorce. In the case of the death of the man, the girl would be considered a widow. It, like marriage, required faithfulness. Violation was an act of adultery and could result in death of the offender (Deut. 22:23-25). At this time in history, “betrothal called for a solemn oral commitment in the presence of witnesses with an added pledge of a piece of money or a written pledge that would conclude with a benediction. Another kind of betrothal, cohabitation, was strongly disapproved by the rabbis” [ISBE, 3:263].It was equivalent to a civil contract of marriage and legally binding. The betrothal was sacred; Mary was the betrothed wife of Joseph. However, there was no consummation of the marriage. Instead there was an interval elapsed between betrothal and the final ceremony of marriage. It could be short, anywhere from a few weeks up to a year. Afterward the interval, the bride was led from her paternal home to that of the husband for the formal marriage.
- There marriage vows were spoken and the formal legal document signed, followed by the washing of hands and the benediction. Thus, the marriage supper began and continued until the bride was led to the bridal chamber.
It is believed that Mary was in her early to mid teens when she was betrothed. Traditionally both bride and groom were young, with the groom being older than his bride. The rabbis established a minimum age of 12 for girls and 13 for boys for betrothal [Wm. Coleman, Today’s Handbook of Bible Times and Customs, 87]. We have no way of knowing how young or old Mary and Joseph were at the time. However, seeing that Joseph seems not to be alive by the time of Christ’s ministry, for he is not mentioned after the childhood of Jesus, he may have been somewhat older. Evidence for Mary being quite young is seen in the tradition that she lived until the later part of the first century.
Second, it was during the betrothal that Joseph found out the news that Mary was with child. This is stressed by the aorist passive participle, which indicates the fact of the betrothal which had transpired at a prior time. It is clear that this took place “before they came together.” This phrase refers both to domestic and sexual union. Mary was still a virgin. The text clearly indicates that they were not living together as husband and wife, the consummation of the marriage had not yet occurred.
Third, it was a supernatural conception “of the Holy Ghost.” The Greek construction is interesting, for it literally reads “of Holy Spirit” (ek pneumatos hagion). Bullinger makes a point to demonstrate that when the Greek article is not used, it refers not to the person of the Holy Spirit, “but always to the gifts and operations” of the Holy Spirit [The Giver and the Gifts, 26]. In other words, she was found with child by the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit, not by the person of the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 1:35). This guards against what is commonly found in mythology, where a god co-habits with a human to produce an offspring. We must NEVER get the idea that this conception was a result of a personal physical union between Mary and the third person of the Godhead. The text negates such an idea. There was no co-habitation between the two. Rather, it was the power of intervention by the Holy Spirit that produced this event. Matthew here speaks of the creative work by the Holy Spirit, not a sexual act. Noland calls this “a unique miracle of God, not simply another miracle of God.” [NIGTC: Matthew, 98].
MacLeod is correct when he writes, “no new person came into existence at the conception of Jesus—in this, Jesus’ birth differs from all others. Rather, an eternal, pre-existent person, the second person of the Triune God, chose to come down into our human race and be born one of us” [“The Virginal Conception of our Lord in Matthew 1:18-25,” Emmaus Journal, Sum. 1999, 3]. The process was simply to introduce the pre-existent one into Mary’s womb, not create a new life, thus, there was no need for sexual contact for Mary to conceive.
From D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: "The whole essence of Christianity is to say that God deals with man and blesses man only in and through Christ Jesus. Everything comes from God to us through Him" (God's Way of Reconciliation, p.118.) Bless the name of the Lord!
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
TRANSITION & CORNELIUS
The episode concerning Cornelius is vital to the transition and change seen in the book of Acts. It has been called “one of the great turning points in the history of the church.” As Saul (Paul) was not you typical Jewish convert, so Cornelius is not your typical Gentile convert in the salvation experience. While he is devout and God fearing, he is not a proselyte. He is completely Gentile, yet respected the God of Israel. I see the purpose as twofold:
- To provide a confirmation to the Jewish remnant that God is opening a door to the Gentiles apart from Israel. Up to this point, the Gospel had been preached only to Jews (Acts 11:19).
- The setting up a defense for a ministry to the Gentiles by the Apostle Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. It is Peter that defends Paul before the council based upon the Cornelius experience (Acts 15:7-11).
It is something that Peter does not do on his own, he could not understand it. Like Paul’s conversion, this move was directed by God through a special revelation. But once Peter experiences it, it becomes the high water mark for Peter’s defense of the mission of Paul at the Jerusalem Council. The conversion of Cornelius must be seen as the first step toward an acceptance and endorsement of Paul and his call as the Apostle to the Gentiles. Witherington observes, “It is one of the purposes of Luke’s historical writing in Acts to show how people like Theophilus had and should come to be involved in a religious phenomenon which began as a Jewish messianic movement.” The conversion and the commission of Paul is the reason for this event; Cornelius is the needed step toward the reality of salvation to the Gentiles without becoming proselytes. The clear order is Paul’s conversion and then Cornelius’s salvation. This order was needed to convince Israel that Paul’s “no distinction” ministry was valid.