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Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Matthew 1 Paternity Gap

It is always true that when an expository message is preached, there is much that could be said that is left unsaid due to time constraints.  Last Sunday’s message is no different.  So here are a few of the things that were not said.

Remember that the genealogy in the first half of Matthew 1 served to demonstrate Christ’s humanity.  His family tree looked much like yours and mine – a wide array of imperfect people, most of whom were characterized by their vices rather than their virtues.  In fact, that was Matthew’s point in relating the genealogy as he did.  We further noted that Matthew offered that genealogy to trace the line from Abraham through David to Jesus, showing the Jesus was the seed promised to Abraham and the rightful heir to the throne of David.

But v16 would seem to throw a wrench into the works: …And Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.  There’s a problem.  Through the whole genealogy, we see “so-and-so was the father of so-and-so.”  That’s a translation of the Greek, which says, “so-and-so beget so-and-so.”  Each time, there’s a father begetting a son.  Until we get to v16.  There’s a gap.  And Jacob beget Joseph, the husband of Mary, from whom Jesus was begotten.  In other words, the pattern of father begets son stops with Joseph.  He doesn’t beget anyone.  Mary begets Jesus. 

This leads to an important question: how can Jesus be considered the son of David and the son of Abraham, and therefore have a right to the throne, if Joseph did not beget Him, if there is a break in the line?   Doesn’t this paternity gap ruin the point that Matthew is making?

This gap has much to do with why the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream.  He said to Joseph in vv20-12, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."   There are two notable things here.  First, the angel addresses Joseph as “son of David,” reminding the reader that Joseph is a direct blood descendent of David, as was just demonstrated in the genealogy.  This connection is key. 

Second, the revelation of the angel serves to do more than put Joseph’s mind at ease.  It serves to prompt him to take Mary as his wife.  The revelation that she has conceived by the Holy Spirit shows Joseph that Mary has not committed adultery, therefore he is still contractually obligated to marry her.  That Joseph understood this to be the angel’s meaning is shown in v24, When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife.  Further, the angel commanded Joseph to call the baby “Jesus.”  V25 records Joseph’s obedience to this command.  That is significant because the naming of a child was the prerogative of the father.  That means that Joseph claimed Jesus as his own.  He would raise the child as his son (Luke 3:23; John 1:45; 6:42).

So how did this remedy the paternity gap in v16?  Joseph’s adoption of Jesus provided for His legal claim to the throne of David.  An adopted son was afforded all the blessings and rights of a natural son – which is why we, as the adopted children of God, are joint heirs with Christ! (Gal 4:7; Rom 8:16-17; Eph 1:3; Titus 3:4-7)

Another good question related to v16: why was the gap necessary?  Christ’s paternity was essential to His mission.  As I pointed out Sunday, only a man who was God and only a God who was a man could save us from our sins.  He had to be a man to be a valid substitute for us (Heb 2:14-17).  And He had to be God in order to pay our infinite debt of sin (Rom 8:3-4).  Therefore, He had to be the Son of God. 

But there is another reason for that gap.  In order to pay the debt of sin, Jesus had to be sinless (Heb 4:14-15; 7:25-28).  He had to be born without the tainting of original sin and He had to actively obey the Father for His entire life.  A human father would have passed on original sin, making Christ’s substitution for us impossible – there would have been no righteousness for Him to impute to us (Rom 5:19; 1 Cor 1:30; Phil 3:8-9; 1 Pe 3:18; 2 Pe 1:1; 1 Jo 2:1).

But what about Mary?  Wasn’t she a sinner?  How could Jesus be born of a woman and not receive a sin nature from her?  This is a good question and one that led the Catholic church to conclude that Mary was sinless.  The problem with this conclusion is three-fold.  First, it does not solve the problem – if Jesus had to have two sinless parents in order to be sinless, then Mary needed to have two sinless parents in order to be sinless.  If you take that to its logical conclusion, Adam and Eve had to be sinless since they were the parents of all the parents that eventually led to the birth of Mary.  Second, it fails to recognize that Scripture gives no indication that Mary was sinless.  Third, and most importantly, it fails to understand how sin is passed down from generation to generation. 

If we take a look at how sin entered the world, we see that Adam is the one who passed original sin on to mankind, not Eve.  We all know that Eve sinned first – she ate of the forbidden fruit and then gave to her husband and he ate (Gen 3:6).  Based on that chronology, we might think that Eve would be recognized as the one through whom sin entered the world.  However, the New Testament shows that this is not the case.  Romans 5:12 tells us that “sin came into the world through one man.” Likewise, in 1 Cor 15:22, we find that “in Adam all die” – that is, by virtue of the human race being born from Adam, all are dead in sin.  We see then that original sin is not passed down from the mother, but through the father.  For that reason, there had to be a paternity gap between Joseph and Jesus.

There are many magnificent aspects of Christ’s birth to meditate on in this season.  As with the atonement, the events surrounding the entry of the Messiah into the world show the manifold wisdom and love of God.  Have you taken time yet to ponder these things in your heart (Luke 2:19, 51)?

Posted by Greg Birdwell

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