The Importance of Greek in the Matthean Genealogies

the manuscript of the New Testament; the first...

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We have all been there. We set out to read through the Scriptures and we come to the beginning of the New Testament. We get excited because within the next several books is the account of our Savior and the atonement he provided. Then our excitement is dashed upon the rocks as we encounter Matthew chapter one where 42 generations stare at us as if the whole book of Numbers was recounted at the beginning of the New Testament. Some of us labor through these first 16 verses as though they were a great pack upon our back on our Pilgrim journey, and others simply skip these verses with the notion that it is irrelevant. Yet it is in those verses that Matthew proclaims right out of the gate what it is he is going to preach – that this man Jesus the Christ is the foretold Messiah and heir to the Davidic throne. You may ask, “How do you pull that from 42 genealogies?”

I postulate that the reason for our lack of understanding the significance of these genealogies is two-fold. 1) We are so far removed from the 1st Century that we forget why genealogies are important (especially to Jews) and 2) many of our modern translations of this passage incorrectly translate the Greek. Below is a comparison of the Greek and two popular translations of Scripture for Matthew 1:15-16 (the NASB and ESV respectively).

Ἐλιοὺδ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἐλεάζαρ, Ἐλεάζαρ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ματθάν, Ματθὰν δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰακώβ, Ἰακὼβ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰωσὴφ τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας, ἐξ ἧς ἐγεννήθη Ἰησοῦς ὁ λεγόμενος χριστός.

and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mar, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. (ESV)

Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Jospeh the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. (NASB)

I have taken the liberty to underline the specific Greek word I am about to address and underline the phrase that the English translations have put in its place. This word is the key to the genealogies and really brings the genealogy of Christ to significant meaning rather than a simple recitation of Christ’s lineage back to David.

The word that you see underlined in the Greek comes from the root γεννάω which is used for “beget, bring forth, generations.” The whole genealogy of this chapter is replete with this single word. Translated it would create the phrase “so and so begot so and so, etc,” rather than “the father of”. Why is this important? Because men do the begetting and women do the bearing in the procreation process. Hence, when it comes to Mary in verse 16, it states literally, “…the husband of Mary, out of whom Jesus, who is called Christ, was begotten.” The passive there, ‘was begotten,’ is pointing to something quite significant. Here Matthew is not just merely reciting the lineage of Christ, rather he is screaming to his Jewish audience that Jesus was not begotten by Joseph, rather Jesus was begotten by the Holy Spirit as he goes on to state in verse 18.

You don’t see that in the English translation because in an effort to make the reading more comfortable or natural for an American audience the translators have done away with the significance of what is said by Matthew. What is absolutely lost in many of our translations these days is the importance of how something is said and not merely what is said. This is why a study of the original languages is absolutely crucial to sound exegesis of Scripture. When Scripture is read as it was written, the significance of phrasing and word usages is highlighted, thus when we communicate Scripture we are able to articulately bring out what the author originally intended to communicate.

As future Bible Scholars, this is the challenge for my generation. We must not take the easy way out and simply think that knowledge of the English text is enough. The Gospel is so precious and supremely necessary that diligent work must be done to adequately understand Scripture as it is communicated in the original language in order that we can articulately communicate the truth.

Cornelius Van Til and Belief in God

Cornelius Van Til

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Cornelius van Til was a Christian Philosopher, Presuppositional Apologist and Reformed Theologian born in Grootegast, The Netherlands, in 1895. If you are not familiar with him, I highly suggest reading his works such as The Defense of the Faith, A Christian Theory of Knowledge  or even his biography Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman. Further, Presuppositional Apologetics (also referred to as Reformed Apologetics) may seem very foreign to you, but it is the apologetic school that believes that Faith in God is the only basis for rational thought. This approach emphasizes the presentation of Christianity as revealed – based on the authoritative revelation of God in Scripture and in Jesus Christ. Its most common forms find absolute and certain proof of Christianity in the absolute and certain character of the knowledge that God has and that He has revealed to humanity. (For further reading about apologetic systems read Ken Boa and Robert Bowman’s Faith Has Its Reasons)

I recently read his pamphlet Why I Believe in God and was greatly encouraged by his sound defense of his believe in the existence of God. In his speech he not only accurate states the position of the non-believer, but also hints that Christians themselves have not done the best job preaching Christ. Here is what he says:

We were so anxious not to offend you that we offended our own God. But we dare no longer present our God to you as smaller or less exacting than He really is. He wants to be presented as the All-Conditioner, as the emplacement on which even those who deny Him must stand.

And again he says:

The fact that so many people are placed before a full exposition of the evidence for God’s existence and yet do not believe in Him has greatly discouraged us. We have therefore adopted measures of despair. Anxious to win your good will, we have again compromised our God. Noting the fact that men do not see, we have conceded that what they ought to see is hard to see. In our great concern to win men we have allowed that the evidence for God’s existence is only probably compelling. And from that fatal confession we have gone on step further down to the point where we have admitted or virtually admitted that it is not really compelling at all. And so we fall back upon our testimony instead of argument. After all, we say, God is not found at the end of an argument; He is found in our hearts. So we simply testify to men that once we were dead, and now we are alive, that once we were blind and that now we see, and give up all intellectual argument.

I highly encourage you to take some time to read through his argument Why I Believe in God and to evaluate your current efforts in ‘apologetics’. May we not be so conscious of not offending man that we lose sight of offending God. Do not be discouraged brothers and sisters. It is through the Bible that God speaks to those he has called. We are mere vessels for His use. May we seek to honor God and His word by setting forth to study it and speaking it in a logical manner in order that we may be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us. (1 Peter 3:15)