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.

The Necessity of Mortification

John Owen (1616-1683)

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“…but if by the Spirit you are putting to death (mortifying) the deeds of the body, you will live.” – Romans 8:13

I am currently working my way through John Owen’s work on The Mortification of Sin in the Believers Life. The first section he deals with why mortification is even necessary in the life of the believer with Romans 8:13 as the key verse. At te end of each section he gives summary statements that are profitable to commit to memory. I wanted to share them with you in order that a) they might assist you in your growth in the faith and b) that it might inspire you to read John Owen’s work and be the better for it.

The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.

The mortification of indwelling sin remaining in our mortal bodies, that it may not have life and power to bring forth the works or deeds of the flesh is the constant duty of believers.

The vigor, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh.

Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.

May these be of great benefit to you in reminding you to stay strong in the fight against the flesh. May the Lord grant you victory in the coming week.

Soli Deo Gloria

Why Catechism: An Introduction

1563's edition.

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What do Zion’s children know these days? How steeped are they in the solid joys and lasting treasure that rightfully belong to them as heirs of the kingdom? We may be saving up for their college or material inheritance, but are we passing on the inheritance of the faith? Do we greet the Lord’s Day as a gift of communion with the Triune God as we taste the powers of the age to come and soak up the water of life together with the saints? Do we use it as a day to be swept into the new creation, or as just another day on the calendar of this passing age? At a time when we’ve put so much emphasis on new programs, strategies, and techniques for spiritual and numerical growth, we need desperately to recover the neglected practice of catechesis in Christian homes and churches. – Michael Horton, “Trees or Tumbleweeds”, Modern Reformation Magazine, pg 12.

If you are like me and grew up in the church, you probably remember your Sunday School classes growing up. Further, upon recollection, you may notice that there was a tendency to paint the accounts of Scripture in a more ‘fairytale’ sort of fashion. Hence, when you grew up and entered your teen years and encountered life’s problems, the stories probably did little for you in the way of solidifying your faith at those times.

Today, the church in America faces a tremendous problem among its young people. Hordes of young people are leaving the church when they hit high school or college. The root of the issue is that they have not been properly brought up in the faith. Essentially, the church has failed to “Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching”, “commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”, and “contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all.” (2 Timothy 1:13, 2:2; Jude 3)

Further, it appears that a minimalist approach has been taken towards the education of both new believers and children in the church. Rarely is the question asked “how much should I teach”, but rather “how little do I need to teach” is often the preferred question. All too often the retention of the happiness of members is emphasized to the detriment of diligent theological teaching. Not only do clergy give into this, but those in the pew as well. Quite often the attitude toward disciplined theological learning is one of disinterest or reluctance. They either believe it benefits them nothing in their everyday life (though nothing could be farther from the truth) or they believe that diligent theological education is out of their reach and only for ministers. Unfortunately this is not a new problem for the church. During his pastorate at Kidderminster in 17th Century England, Richard Baxter charged his congregation with this:

Were you but as willing to get the knowledge of God and heavenly things as you are to know how to work in your trade, you would have set yourself to it before this day, and you would have spared no cost or pains till you had got it. But you account seven years little enough to learn your trade, and will not bestow one day in seven in diligent learning the matters of your salvation.

It may be argued that it is natural to place so much time into learning a trade for by that trade you earn your living, while theological learning is beneficial to those who seek to make a living out it. Yet, theology is not a matter of making a living, it is a matter of God making dead men live. J.I. Packer pointed out the extreme importance of this when he wrote,

If we do not preach about sin and God’s judgment on it, we cannot present Christ as Saviour from sin and the wrath of God. And if we are silent about these things, and preach a Christ who saves only from self and the sorrows of this world, we are not preaching the Christ of the Bible. We are in effect bearing false witness and preaching a false Christ. Our message is ‘another gospel, which is not another’. Such preaching may soothe some, but it will help nobody; for a Christ who is not seen and sought as a Saviour from sin will not be found to save from self or from anything else. (pg 164, A Quest for Godliness by J.I. Packer)

It is of utmost importance that the Church begin passing on the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3) We must not waste another moment to begin this great work. This is where the catechism comes into play. In conjunction with Scripture, a catechism sets to teaching doctrine in a Question and Answer format equipping the believer with not only the theological knowledge, but its Scriptural basis. These catechisms start with the condition of Man and move through Scripture to topics such as: God, Sin, Christ, Christ’s Atonement and the Church. Through repetition and diligent instruction catechism are often memorized and become a common basis of fellowship among believers.

I believe that the route of Catechesis is the surest route of succesful teaching of the Scriptures and Doctrine to children and new and old believers alike. With the catechism, there is no big production or heavy emphasis on entertainment which can be hindrances more than aids to teaching; it is the believer and their Bible communing with God and learning the particulars of their Salvation. I know that this word ‘catechism’ immediately brings the Roman Catholic Church to mind, but in the coming weeks I shall dispel that notion from your thinking. I am afraid that the church, having stepped away from a formal instruction in faith, has subjected generations of believers to a view of God and Scripture that is man centered and self-promoting because after all, it is all about ‘what Scripture says to you’.

For the next four weeks I will write a series of posts regarding this very topic and why it is vital to church stability and maturity. First we will cover the current theological laziness of the church. Second, I will write on the importance of doctrinal knowledge. Third, I will cover the language of the faith and its necessity to the Christian outside of pastoral ministry. Finally, I will cover samples of the Heidelberg catechism to demonstrate its depth and ease of use in the church.

Below you will find the three most common catechisms of the reformed faith. Take some time, read them over, and dwell on the simplicity of their structure yet the complexity which they teach. These will come of great use in the coming weeks.

The Heidelberg Catechism

The Westminster Larger Catechism

The Westminster Shorter Catechism