Matthew and His PrologueSeptember 27th, 2011 by Oleg Kostyuk
by Oleg Kostyuk
Today, I would like to take a look at the prologue of the Gospel of Matthew. Prologue is a word of Greek origin, which simply means “introduction.” Normally all texts include an introduction. The same can be said about the Gospels: they also have introductions, which sometimes also called the prologues.
The first few verses of the Gospels are very important and should not be overlooked. I believe that the reader who misunderstands the beginning almost inevitably misunderstands the conclusion. Let us look at the prologues of the Gospels.
The first book that we find when we open the New Testament is the Gospel of Matthew. It is truly intriguing that Matthew starts his Gospel with a long list of names. He starts with the ancestry of Jesus. It is also called the genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17). In order to analyze all the details of Matthew’s prologue we need to write a book, but on Cross Connection we will focus on the most notable and fascinating of them.
It is believed that Matthew wrote his Gospel to a Jewish audience. This is true because the author refers to the Old Testament or Jewish Scripture often. Matthew also uses many analogies from the Old Testament. Why do you think the genealogy of Jesus is the very first thing Matthew writes about? There is no other book in the Bible that starts like that, besides 1 Chronicles in the Old Testament.
Matthew’s goal was to vindicate Jesus’ origin. It was believed by some Jews that Jesus was an illegitimate child. In fact, Origen, an early Christian theologian, in his work Against Celsus writes that there was a certain Jew who stated that when Mary “was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera” (Origen, Against Celsus, 1.32). In the early Jewish writings, such as the Talmud, there are also a few references to Jesus being the son of Pantera (Tosefta Hullin 2:24; Qohelet Rabbah 1:8(3)). It is highly probable that this is the view that Matthew tried to fight against.
That is why, the author himself, continuing his story of how Jesus was born, clearly states that even Joseph thought Mary was unfaithful to him (Matthew 1:19). And then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and he changed his mind. In the opening verses Matthew intentionally mentions that Jesus comes from kingly lineage. But, what is even more significant is that there were women in the lineage of Jesus who had scandalous reputations and were non-Jews: Tamar (1:3), Rahab (1:5), Ruth (1:5), and the wife of Uriah (1:6).
Tamar was married to Judah’s son, Er, but he died. According to Jewish custom, the brother-in-law is responsible for providing an heir. But Onan, her brother-in-law, even though had sexual relationships with her, rejected his responsibility concerning her. (see Genesis 38:1-30). Onan also died. Judah was afraid of giving to her his younger son, Shelah. So, Tamar pretended to be a prostitute in order to have a child from Judah, her father-in-law. When Judah discovered he was deceived by his daughter-in-law, he did not get angry. On the contrary, he said: “She (Tamar) has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son” (Genesis 38:26).
Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute. Nevertheless, she hid two Jewish spies and saved their lives (Joshua 2:1-21). She was considered as a righteous woman in the Jewish tradition. According to Jewish Haggadah (Jewish oral tradition) Rahab was the ancestress of eight prophets, among them Jeremiah. (Meg. 14b). But, most importantly, she was the ancestress of the Kings David and Solomon.
There is an entire book in the Bible that is devoted to Ruth, who, despite being a Gentile and offering herself to Boaz (Ruth 3:1-17), was considered to be righteous and was the great-grandmother of the great King David.
Matthew does not give the name of the fourth woman. Instead, he states that she was the wife of Uriah who was a gentile. But the Scripture clearly states that Uriah was righteous and faithful to David and God (2 Samuel 11:1-27). David committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and in order to hide his sin he sent Uriah to the front of the battlefield where he was killed. Even though Bathsheba was not a Gentile, her husband was. That is why she could also be identified as the one related to the Gentiles.
If you look carefully, you will notice there are two main characteristics that are shared by all four women: (1) they were Gentiles or were married to Gentiles and (2) they had scandalous aspects in their lives. Nevertheless, all four of them are listed in the genealogy of the kings. There is one more thought on these four women who were related to Gentiles. This connection directly communicates the message that there is a place for anybody among God’s chosen people.
Auguste Rodin, French sculptor, beautifully illustrated this message in his sculptures: The Hand of God and The Hand of the Devil. In The Hand of the Devil a beautiful small female figure is struggling to be released from a force that is oppressive and evil. In TheHand of God the sculptor portrays a stone, from which a newborn creature appears. God is willing to create a beautiful person from you if you are willing. In the hand of the Devil you are always perfect and there is no need to become better, but it is very difficult to break free.
The main message of Matthew chapter 1 is very encouraging: No matter what life you have lived, there is a place for you in the Kingdom of Jesus.