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Analysis of Matthew 1:18-25

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Gospel of Matthew

Chapter 1:18-25

NIV Translation

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.


Matthew 1:18-25 gives the narrative of Joseph learning about Mary’s pregnancy and his reluctance and his eventual acceptance of Jesus as his son. The story begins with the background of Joseph and Mary’s engagement, which at the time was a fully binding agreement among a couple. During their engagement, following tradition, the two lived separately, as they were unmarried. Joesph soon learns that Mary had become pregnant. Fearing the worst, public humiliation among the Jewish community in Nazareth, Joseph planned on quietly divorcing her to keep his image well. After deciding to divorce Mary, he was approached by and angel that told him to accept Mary as his wife because she is virgin, and was impregnated through the power of God. The angle also instructed Joseph to name the child Jesus, which in Greek means “Lord Saves.” During an aside, Matthew explains that this was all to fulfill what had been predicted by the prophet, in reference to Isaiah. With the reassurance that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Joseph decided to remain engaged with Mary and took her as his wife officially and gave him the name of Jesus.

In Reading Matthew, the author David E. Garland makes the case for five theological themes that are highlighted through verses 18-25. First, Jesus has dual paternity; he is the son of the line of David and the son of God. Righteousness within the Jewish community of Nazareth and in the eyes of God is also a key theme in the story of Joseph’s acceptance of Jesus as his son. Thirdly, the name of Jesus, or Immanuel, is a name chosen by God because of his vocation that he will lead. Fourthly, the fulfillment of the Scripture, found in the Old Testament, prophesying Jesus’s birth is foundational in understanding the meaning of his conception, purpose, and lineage. Finally, the Holy Spirit is introduced to the readers of Matthew with the amazing power of the virginal conception of Mary. Garland is correct in discerning the five theological themes that Matthew 1:18-25 focuses on is the power of the Holy Spirit, the fulfillment of God’s plan, God acting through Jesus as the savior of humanity, the duality of Jesus’ paternity, and Joseph’s righteousness as a servant of God in compliance with St. Paul’s concept of dikaiosynē.


Verse 18 introduces readers of Matthew’s Gospel to the amazing and awe-inspiring power of the Holy Spirit: “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” The timing of the conception of Jesus came at an inconvenient time for both Mary and Joseph. Traditional marriages in Jewish culture at the time had a two step process; a betrothal, where the teenage woman would live with her parents, and then the ceremonial marriage. With no consummation of the marriage during their betrothal, where Mary was not living with Joseph, it would have been impossible for Mary to be pregnant. Although not explained in the Matthew account of the birth of Jesus, the Lukan account, in Luke 1:35, explains that the Holy Spirit overwhelmed Mary with such a divine presence that the mere act of conception is one that transcends “blasphemous” sexual act between Mary and God. This transcendence is seen in the overturning of Joseph’s decision to divorce Mary when he was informed of her pregnancy. The Holy Sprit acts an insurance that God’s plan of Jesus, Immanuel, will come and save humanity from it’s sins. A crucial part of the introduction of Jesus as the Messiah is ensuring that Joseph, of the Davidic lineage, is the human paternal figure on Earth.

The birth of the Messiah is the fulfillment of prophecy and God’s plan of Jesus as Immanuel, with Joseph as the earthly father. In verses 1:22-23, Matthew is directly quoting Isaiah 7:14 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.” Based on the historical and cultural background of Nazareth and the community that Joseph was apart of, theologians can assume that Joseph was a man who studied the Torah, which means he would be unfamiliar with any of the books that we know of today in the Old Testament after Deuteronomy. This means that the writings of the prophets, such as Isaiah, would not be under consideration upon the realization that his wife would be pregnant before consummation of their marriage. But in accordance with the Scripture and by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary conceived Jesus as a virgin.

The name Jesus, in Matthew 1:21, is from the Greek translation of Iēsous. Both these names mean, “YHWH is salvation,” also understood as “Lord saves,” or Immanuel. This name infers that Jesus is God, the Lord and YHWH himself. The omnipotent connotation of YHWH, found through God, the Holy Spirit, and now Jesus, can be found in Exodus 3 when God appears to Moses, through the burning bush, and declares himself as “I am.” Jesus’s name says clearly that he “I am”, “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) through his divinity. His divinity is seen through his name because only God alone can forgive one of their sins, and his name says that he, the Lord, saves. As Isaiah had prophesied in Isaiah 7:14b “… will call him Immanuel,” the savior was named “Lord saves,” a fulfillment



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