Lenses: Part 3 – He Shall Be Called a “Nazarene”

Two Genealogies – Matthew 1 & Luke 3

For the Hebrew mind of Jesus’ day, knowing a person’s family line was of the utmost importance. Two different Gospel writers – Matthew and Luke – attempt to answer this question. But today, it would appear that these two accounts contradict each other.

Matthew tells of Jesus’ lineage going from Abraham to David, Solomon to the Babylonian captivity, and from the captivity to Jesus. He traces Jesus’ line through King Solomon, proclaiming that Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of Israel.

On the other hand, Luke traces Jesus’ line backwards through King David’s son, Nathan. The contradictions begin to arise when we see that both writers claim that this line is that of Jesus’ supposed earthly father, Joseph. The lines are greatly different, and clearly can’t both be correct. How can this be resolved?

From Babylon to Christ, 14 Generations – Matthew 1:17

The challenges in Jesus’ genealogy are only multiplied by Matthew’s declaration in Matthew 1:17:

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. Matthew 1:17 ESV

The problem is that there are only 13 generations in the final series of Matthew’s account.

First Series Second Series Third Series
Abraham Solomon Shealtiel
Isaac Rehoboam Zerubbabel
Jacob Abijah Abiud
Judah Asaph Eliakim
Perez Jehoshaphat Azor
Hezron Joram Zadok
Ram Uzziah Achim
Amminadab Jotham Eliud
Nahshon Ahaz Eleazar
Salmon Hezekiah Matthan
Boaz Manasseh Jacob
Obed Amos Joseph
Jesse Josiah ?
David Jechoniah Jesus

This isn’t a small matter in the Hebrew mind of Matthew’s day. Numbers always mean something in Hebrew. When Matthew declares that there are 14 generations in each one of these segments, he’s doing this for a very specific reason. The number 14 is very symbolic in Hebrew. It is the numeric value of the name of King David. דוד are the 4th, 6th, and again the 4th numbers respectively in David’s name. If you add 4 + 6 + 4, you get the number 14. This number has tremendous Messianic implications.

When the number 3 is used in Scripture, the Hebrew mind always associates it with the supernatural or the divine (think “Holy! Holy! Holy!” in Isaiah 6). So Matthew’s decision to break up Jesus’ genealogy into 3 different segments of 14, is very telling. He is using a common Hebrew literary device to make a point. He’s declaring to his readers, “Messiah! Messiah! Messiah!” And he’s also declaring that this Messiah is Divine in nature.

But according to nearly all translations of the Gospel of Matthew, we have a real challenge with the final set of three. Matthew claims to have 14 generations listed, but only 13 are actually found. To the Hebrew mind, this would defeat Matthew’s very argument. He would be deliberately claiming that Jesus IS NOT the Messiah by leaving out a generation.

Solution: An Earlier Gospel of Matthew

Early Church fathers all told of a Hebrew Gospel of Matthew:

Irenaeus – disciple of Polycarp and two “generations” removed from the Apostle John:

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrew’s in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.(Against Heresies, 3.1.1)

Origen – Ancient Christian scholar and one of the few who was fluent in both Hebrew and Greek:

Concerning the four Gospels which alone are uncontroverted in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the Gospel according to Matthew, who was at one time a publican and afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ, was written first; and that he composed it in the Hebrew tongue and published it for the coverts from Judaism. The second written was that according to Mark, who wrote it according to the instruction Peter, who, in his General Epistle, acknowledged him as a son, saying, “The church that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son.’ And third, was that according to Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, which he composted for the coverts from the Gentiles, Last of all, that according to John. (Commentary on Matthew 1.1)

Eusebius – Early Church historian:

For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples. Committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those who he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence. (Church History, 3.24.5-6)

Papias – Disciple of the Apostle John, and traditionally considered the scribe who recorded John’s visions from The Revelation

But concerning Matthew he writes as follows: ‘So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted (translated) them as he was able. (Eusebius 3.39.16)

First, we have to understand that most ancient language scholars agree that the “Hebrew” being referred to is a variant on ancient Hebrew, also called, “Aramaic.” And when we look at the Aramaic version of the Gospel of Matthew – the Peshitta – we see an interesting variation.

In all English translations of Matthew, verses 16 and 19 both have the word “husband”:

…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

The Greek translations are all the same. But the Aramaic has a difference that is very important. Verse 16 uses the Aramaic word “gavra”, and verse 19 uses the word “ba’la”. Both words can mean “husband.” But the most commonly used Aramaic term for “husband” is the word, “ba’la”. “Gavra” is most commonly used as “man”, but can also be translated “husband” or “father”. The context always determines the translation.

What is the context of Matthew 1:16: the physical lineage of Jesus. What is the context of Matthew 1:19: the marital relationship between Joseph and Mary.

Common Aramaic interpretation would seem to indicate that “gavra” in verse 16 refers to Mary’s father. But the challenge during the first several centuries after it was written was the unfamiliarity of the Aramaic, and the confusion caused by the reality that Mary’s father’s name was also Joseph. If the translation of the Aramaic Peshitta version of Matthew 1:16 takes this into account, it should read:

…and Jacob the father of Joseph, the father of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

This resolves ALL the previously discussed contradictions. Matthew 1 is Mary’s family line, which has the PHYSICAL descent of Jesus through King Solomon and the rest of the kingly line of David, giving him the right to the throne of Israel. Luke 3 is Joseph’s family line, providing that Jesus is considered a “son of David” by birthright in Jewish culture. The genealogies no longer contradict each other.

And now we again see 14 generations in the third series of Matthew 1 – from Babylon to Jesus. Matthew rightfully points out that Jesus’ lineage declares “Messiah! Messiah! Messiah!”

Can Anything Good Come From Nazareth?

Matthew continues to write, in the remainder of chapter 1 through chapter 2, of the story of the birth of Jesus. He writes of the coming of the Magi; Herod’s attempt to eliminate the Messiah by murdering every male child under the age of 2; and of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’ flight to Egypt. He culminates the story with this verse:

And He went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: He shall be called a Nazarene. – Matthew 2:23 ESV

This is the climax of the introduction of the life of Jesus. From here, Matthew goes directly into the story of John the Baptist, and Jesus’ ministry. There’s only one problem: it would appear that there is no verse in the entire Hebrew Scriptures that prophesies Jesus’ being called a “Nazarene.”

Nazareth wasn’t even settled during the time the prophets wrote to Israel. The village, located in the Galilee, wasn’t founded until around 200 B.C. It remained a very small village right up through the time of the New Testament Scriptures, never exceeding 500 in population. Which begs a question: how did descendants from two different sons of King David, come to live in such a small village nearly 100 miles from their ancestral home?

The story is one of intrigue and revolution. Around the year 200B.C., the Greeks had completely conquered the area formerly known as Israel. The Greeks were well known for attempts at integrating the people of these subdued nations into a Greek lifestyle. They built Greek schools and theaters, in the belief that the people would become more “Greek” and would be easier to control. But they weren’t prepared for what they encountered after conquering Israel.

After having seen their glorious Temple of Solomon destroyed, Jerusalem conquered, and the people taken into captivity in Babylon, the Israelites were more committed than ever to obeying the Torah and honoring the commandments of God. These commandments kept the people of Israel from being able to mix and adopt the Greek practices, and were a source of contention immediately. According to the Book of 1 Maccabees, Antiochus IV decided that this must stop, and ordered that circumcision of the Hebrew male children was to cease immediately. He authorized the Greek soldiers to inspect any male children, and if they were circumcised, they were to be run through with a sword.

After returning from Babylon, the descendants of King David settled again in Bethlehem, which is a short five miles due south of Jerusalem. They read of the prophecies of the coming Messiah, who they knew would come through them. This created a serious predicament for them. The Messiah would have to be obedient to the Torah, and if he wasn’t circumcised, this could not be true. So a decision was made.

They fled Bethlehem to an area less conspicuous to the Greeks. They journeyed north around 80 miles, and settled a village. And they named that village based upon a Messianic prophecy by Isaiah:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the YHWH shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the YHWH. And his delight shall be in the fear of the YHWH. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. – Isaiah 11:1-5 ESV

The Hebrew word used in Isaiah 11:1 for “branch” is the word, “nezer.” It refers to a specific type of branch. Often in Israel, an olive tree will appear to be dead. But decades later, and often dozens of feet away, a branch will spring from the ground, coming out of the extensive root system of the olive tree that appeared to be dead.

The general Hebrew word for “Branch” is “tsemach,” and is recognized as a title for the Messiah. It is found capitalized four different times in the Hebrew Scriptures to reflect this:

The King (Jeremiah 23:5) – “Behold, the days are coming, declares the YHWH, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

The Judge (Jeremiah 33:15) – In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

The Servant (Zechariah 3:8) – Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch.

The Man (Zechariah 6:12) – And say to him, ‘Thus says the YHWH of hosts, “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place, and he shall build the temple of the YHWH.

When the children of David fled Bethlehem, they did so because of their commitment to remain faithful to the Torah; to honor the commandments; and to ensure that the Messiah would be able to come. They named their village “Nazareth” because they believed God’s promise in Isaiah 11:1 of a “nezer” who would come some time after they fled Bethlehem, and many miles away, but would fulfill the covenant made to their father, David.
They became known throughout Israel for this Messianic belief in their future destiny. In many cases, it was a joke among the rest of Israel. Yet they remained faithful.

And it is in this context that Nathanael makes the following comment after learning from Phillip that a new Messianic figure had arrived, this time coming from Nazareth:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” – John 1:43-46 ESV

And this is also why Matthew concludes his first series of arguments for Jesus’ qualifications to be the Messiah. The prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah – all foretold of a “Branch” who would become the Messiah. And all who read of Jesus coming from Nazareth would have remembered these specific promises.

So What?

When we change our “lenses” by looking at the original historical, cultural, religious, and geographical context of the Scriptures, apparent contradictions simply melt away. We find that the Word of God is true, and we find our faith grow.

Next Blog: The Son of Man

Traditional Biblical scholarship teaches that Jesus’ divinity is described by the term, “Son of God,” while His humanity is described by the term, “Son of Man.” Jesus referred to Himself as the Son of Man seventy times in the Scriptures. John uses the term to describe the resurrected Messiah in the Revelation. What would the Hebrew mind have understood this title to mean? What was Jesus claiming when He called Himself this?

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