[Table of Contents]
[Previous] [Next]
Word Pictures in the New Testament
(Matthew: Chapter 2)

2:1 {Now when Jesus was born} (\tou de Iēsou gennēthentos\). The
fact of the birth of Jesus is stated by the genitive absolute
construction (first aorist passive participle of the same verb
\gennaō\ used twice already of the birth of Jesus, 1:16,20, and
used in the genealogy, 1:2-16)
. Matthew does not propose to
give biographic details of the supernatural birth of Jesus,
wonderful as it was and disbelieved as it is by some today who
actually deny that Jesus was born at all or ever lived, men who
talk of the Jesus Myth, the Christ Myth, etc. "The main purpose
is to show the reception given by the world to the new-born
Messianic King. Homage from afar, hostility at home;
foreshadowing the fortunes of the new faith: reception by the
Gentiles, rejection by the Jews" (Bruce).

{In Bethlehem of Judea} (\en Bēthleem tēs Ioudaias\). There was a
Bethlehem in Galilee seven miles northwest of Nazareth (Josephus,
_Antiquities_ XIX. 15)
. This Bethlehem (house of bread, the name
of Judah was the scene of Ruth's life with Boaz (Ru
1:1f.; Mt. 1:5)
and the home of David, descendant of Ruth and
ancestor of Jesus (Mt. 1:5). David was born here and anointed
king by Samuel (1Sa 17:12). The town came to be called the city
of David (Lu 2:11). Jesus, who was born in this House of Bread
called himself the Bread of Life (Joh 6:35), the true Manna
from heaven. Matthew assumes the knowledge of the details of the
birth of Jesus in Bethlehem which are given in Lu 2:1-7 or did
not consider them germane to his purpose. Joseph and Mary went to
Bethlehem from Nazareth because it was the original family home
for both of them. The first enrolment by the Emperor Augustus as
the papyri show was by families (\kat' oikian\). Possibly Joseph
had delayed the journey for some reason till now it approached
the time for the birth of the child.

{In the days of Herod the King} (\en hēmerais Hērōidou tou
. This is the only date for the birth of Christ given
by Matthew. Luke gives a more precise date in his Gospel (Lu
, the time of the first enrolment by Augustus and while
Cyrenius was ruler of Syria. More will be said of Luke's date
when we come to his Gospel. We know from Matthew that Jesus was
born while Herod was king, the Herod sometimes called Herod the
Great. Josephus makes it plain that Herod died B.C. 4. He was
first Governor of Galilee, but had been king of Judaea since B.C.
40 (by Antony and Octavius). I call him "Herod the Great Pervert"
in _Some Minor Characters in the New Testament_. He was great in
sin and in cruelty and had won the favour of the Emperor. The
story in Josephus is a tragedy. It is not made plain by Matthew
how long before the death of Herod Jesus was born. Our
traditional date A.D. 1, is certainly wrong as Matthew shows. It
seems plain that the birth of Jesus cannot be put later than B.C.
5. The data supplied by Luke probably call for B.C. 6 or 7.

{Wise men from the east} (\magoi apo anatolōn\). The etymology of
\Magi\ is quite uncertain. It may come from the same
Indo-European root as _(megas) magnus_, though some find it of
Babylonian origin. Herodotus speaks of a tribe of Magi among the
Medians. Among the Persians there was a priestly caste of Magi
like the Chaldeans in Babylon (Da 1:4). Daniel was head of such
an order (Da 2:48). It is the same word as our "magician" and
it sometimes carried that idea as in the case of Simon Magus (Ac
and of Elymas Barjesus (Ac 13:6,8). But here in
Matthew the idea seems to be rather that of astrologers. Babylon
was the home of astrology, but we only know that the men were
from the east whether Arabia, Babylon, Persia, or elsewhere. The
notion that they were kings arose from an interpretation of Is
60:3; Re 21:24. The idea that they were three in number is due
to the mention of three kinds of gifts (gold, frankincense,
, but that is no proof at all. Legend has added to the
story that the names were Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior as in
_Ben Hur_ and also that they represent Shem, Ham, and Japhet. A
casket in the Cologne Cathedral actually is supposed to contain
the skulls of these three Magi. The word for east (\apo
means "from the risings" of the sun.

2:2 {For we saw his star in the east} (\eidomen gar autou ton
astera en tēi anatolēi\)
. This does not mean that they saw the
star which was in the east. That would make them go east to
follow it instead of west from the east. The words "in the east"
are probably to be taken with "we saw" i.e. we were in the east
when we saw it, or still more probably "we saw his star at its
rising" or "when it rose" as Moffatt puts it. The singular form
here (\tēi anatolēi\) does sometimes mean "east" (Re 21:13),
though the plural is more common as in Mt 2:1. In Lu 1:78 the
singular means dawn as the verb (\aneteilen\) does in Mt 4:16
(Septuagint). The Magi ask where is the one born king of the
Jews. They claim that they had seen his star, either a miracle or
a combination of bright stars or a comet. These men may have been
Jewish proselytes and may have known of the Messianic hope, for
even Vergil had caught a vision of it. The whole world was on
tiptoe of expectancy for something. Moulton (_Journal of
Theological Studies_, 1902, p. 524)
"refers to the Magian belief
that a star could be the _fravashi_, the counterpart or angel
(cf. Mt 18:10) of a great man" (McNeile). They came to worship
the newly born king of the Jews. Seneca (_Epistle_ 58) tells of
Magians who came to Athens with sacrifices to Plato after his
death. They had their own way of concluding that the star which
they had seen pointed to the birth of this Messianic king. Cicero
(_De Divin_. i. 47) "refers to the constellation from which, on
the birthnight of Alexander, Magians foretold that the destroyer
of Asia was born" (McNeile). Alford is positive that no miracle
is intended by the report of the Magi or by Matthew in his
narrative. But one must be allowed to say that the birth of
Jesus, if really God's only Son who has become Incarnate, is the
greatest of all miracles. Even the methods of astrologers need
not disturb those who are sure of this fact.

2:3 {He was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him} (\etarachthē
kai pāsa Ierosoluma met' autou\)
. Those familiar with the story
of Herod the Great in Josephus can well understand the meaning of
these words. Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and
jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne (Aristobulus and
, Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once
his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne
(Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus. He
had made will after will and was now in a fatal illness and fury
over the question of the Magi. He showed his excitement and the
whole city was upset because the people knew only too well what
he could do when in a rage over the disturbance of his plans.
"The foreigner and usurper feared a rival, and the tyrant feared
the rival would be welcome" (Bruce). Herod was a hated Idumaean.

2:4 {He inquired of them where the Christ should be born}
(\epunthaneto par' autōn pou ho Christos gennātai\). The
prophetic present (\gennātai\) is given, the very words of Herod
retained by Matthew's report. The imperfect tense (epunthaneto)
suggests that Herod inquired repeatedly, probably of one and
another of the leaders gathered together, both Sadducees (chief
and Pharisees (scribes). McNeile doubts, like Holtzmann,
if Herod actually called together all the Sanhedrin and probably
"he could easily ask the question of a single scribe," because he
had begun his reign with a massacre of the Sanhedrin (Josephus,
_Ant_. XIV. ix. 4)
. But that was thirty years ago and Herod was
desperately in earnest to learn what the Jews really expected
about the coming of "the Messiah." Still Herod probably got
together not the Sanhedrin since "elders" are not mentioned, but
leaders among the chief priests and scribes, not a formal meeting
but a free assembly for conference. He had evidently heard of
this expected king and he would swallow plenty of pride to be
able to compass the defeat of these hopes.

2:5 {And they said unto him} (\hoi de eipan autōi\). Whether the
ecclesiastics had to search their scriptures or not, they give
the answer that is in accord with the common Jewish opinion that
the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem and of the seed of David
(Joh 7:42). So they quote Mic 5:2, "a free paraphrase" Alford
calls it, for it is not precisely like the Hebrew text or like
the Septuagint. It may have come from a collection of
_testimonia_ with which J. Rendel Harris has made the world
familiar. He had consulted the experts and now he has their
answer. Bethlehem of Judah is the place. The use of the perfect
passive indicative (\gegraptai\) is the common form in quoting
scripture. It stands written. {Shall be shepherd} (\poimanei\).
The Authorized Version had "shall rule," but "shepherd" is
correct. "Homer calls kings 'the shepherds of the people'"
(Vincent). In Heb 13:20 Jesus is called "the great shepherd of
the sheep." Jesus calls himself "the good shepherd" (Joh
. Peter calls Christ "the chief shepherd" (1Pe 2:25).
"The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be their
shepherd" (Re 7:17). Jesus told Peter to "shepherd" the lambs
(Joh 21:16). Our word pastor means shepherd.

2:7 {Then Herod privily called the wise men} (\tote Hērōidēs
lathrai kalesas tous magous\)
. He had manifestly not told members
of the Sanhedrin why he was concerned about the Messiah. So he
conceals his motives to the Magi. And yet he "learned of them
carefully" (\ekribōsen\), "learned exactly" or "accurately." He
was anxious to see if the Jewish prophecy of the birthplace of
the Messiah agreed with the indications of the star to the Magi.
He kept to himself his purpose. The time of the appearing star
(\ton chronon tou phainomenou asteros\) is not "the time when the
star appeared," but the age of the star's appearance.

2:8 {Sent them to Bethlehem and said} (\pempsas autous eis
Bēthleem eipen\)
. Simultaneous aorist participle, "sending said."
They were to "search out accurately" (\exetasate akribōs\)
concerning the child. Then "bring me word, that I also may come
and worship him." The deceit of Herod seemed plausible enough and
might have succeeded but for God's intervention to protect His
Son from the jealous rage of Herod.

2:9 {Went before them} (\proēgen autous\). Imperfect tense, kept
on in front of them, not as a guide to the town since they now
knew that, but to the place where the child was, the inn
according to Lu 2:7. Justin Martyr says that it was in a cave.
The stall where the cattle and donkeys stayed may have been
beneath the inn in the side of the hill.

2:10 {They rejoiced with exceeding great joy} (\echarēsan charan
megalēn sphodra\)
. Second aorist passive indicative with cognate
accusative. Their joy was due to the success of the search.

2:11 {Opening their treasures} (\anoixantes tous thēsaurous
. Here "treasures" means "caskets" from the verb
(\tithēmi\), receptacle for valuables. In the ancient writers it
meant "treasury" as in 1Macc. 3:29. So a "storehouse" as in Mt
13:52. Then it means the things laid up in store, treasure in
heaven (Mt 6:20), in Christ (Col 2:3). In their "caskets" the
Magi had gold, frankincense, and myrrh, all found at that time in
Arabia, though gold was found in Babylon and elsewhere.

2:12 {Warned in a dream} (\chrēmatisthentes kat' onar\). The verb
means to transact business (\chrēmatizō\) from \chrēma\, and that
from \chraomai\, to use. Then to consult, to deliberate, to make
answer as of magistrates or an oracle, to instruct, to admonish.
In the Septuagint and the New Testament it occurs with the idea
of being warned by God and also in the papyri (Deissmann, _Bible
Studies_, p. 122)
. Wycliff puts it here: "An answer taken in

2:15 {Until the death of Herod} (\heōs tēs teleutēs Hērōidou\).
The Magi had been warned in a dream not to report to Herod and
now Joseph was warned in a dream to take Mary and the child along
(\mellei zētein tou apolesai\ gives a vivid picture of the
purpose of Herod in these three verbs)
. In Egypt Joseph was to
keep Mary and Jesus till the death of Herod the monster. Matthew
quotes Ho 11:1 to show that this was in fulfilment of God's
purpose to call his Son out of Egypt. He may have quoted again
from a collection of _testimonia_ rather than from the
Septuagint. There is a Jewish tradition in the Talmud that Jesus
"brought with him magic arts out of Egypt in an incision on his
body" (_Shabb_. 104b). "This attempt to ascribe the Lord's
miracles to Satanic agency seems to be independent of Matthew,
and may have been known to him, so that one object of his account
may have been to combat it" (McNeile).

2:16 {Slew all the male children that were in Bethlehem}
(\aneilen pantas tous paidas tous en Bēthleem\). The flight of
Joseph was justified, for Herod was violently enraged (\ethumōthē
that he had been mocked by the Magi, deluded in fact
(\enepaichthē\). Vulgate _illusus esset_. Herod did not know, of
course, how old the child was, but he took no chances and
included all the little boys (\tous paidas\, masculine article)
in Bethlehem two years old and under, perhaps fifteen or twenty.
It is no surprise that Josephus makes no note of this small item
in Herod's chamber of horrors. It was another fulfilment of the
prophecy in Jer 31:15. The quotation (2:18) seems to be from
the Septuagint. It was originally written of the Babylonian
captivity but it has a striking illustration in this case also.
Macrobius (_Sat_. II. iv. II) notes that Augustus said that it
was better to be Herod's sow (\hus\) than his son (\huios\), for
the sow had a better chance of life.

2:20 {For they are dead} (\tethnēkasin\). Only Herod had sought
to kill the young child, but it is a general statement of a
particular fact as is common with people who say: "They say." The
idiom may be suggested by Ex 4:19: "For all are dead that
sought thy life."

2:22 {Warned in a dream} (\chrēmatistheis kat' onar\). He was
already afraid to go to Judea because Archelaus was reigning
(ruling, not technically king, \basileuei\). In a fret at last
before his death Herod had changed his will again and put
Archelaus, the worst of his living sons, in the place of Antipas.
So Joseph went to Galilee. Matthew has had nothing about the
previous dwelling of Joseph and Mary in Nazareth. We learn that
from Luke who tells nothing of the flight into Egypt. The two
narratives supplement one another and are in no sense

2:23 {Should be called a Nazarene} (\Nazōraios klēthēsetai\).
Matthew says "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the
prophets" (\dia tōn prophētōn\). It is the plural and no single
prophecy exists which says that the Messiah was to be called a
Nazarene. It may be that this term of contempt (Joh 1:46; 7:52)
is what is meant, and that several prophecies are to be combined
like Ps. 22:6,8; 69:11,19; Isa 53:2,3,4. The name Nazareth
means a shoot or branch, but it is by no means certain that
Matthew has this in mind. It is best to confess that we do not
know. See Broadus on Matthew for the various theories. But,
despised as Nazareth was at that time, Jesus has exalted its
fame. The lowly Nazarene he was at first, but it is our glory to
be the followers of the Nazarene. Bruce says that "in this case,
therefore, we certainly know that the historic fact suggested the
prophetic reference, instead of the prophecy creating the
history." The parallels drawn by Matthew between the history of
Israel and the birth and infancy of Jesus are not mere fancy.
History repeats itself and writers of history find frequent
parallels. Surely Matthew is not beyond the bounds of reason or
of fact in illustrating in his own way the birth and infancy of
Jesus by the Providence of God in the history of Israel.

[Table of Contents]
[Previous] [Next]
Word Pictures in the New Testament
(Matthew: Chapter 2)