Joseph and the Birth of Isaac in Matthew 1 -- By: Richard J. Erickson

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 10:1 (NA 2000)
Article: Joseph and the Birth of Isaac in Matthew 1
Author: Richard J. Erickson

Joseph and the Birth of Isaac in Matthew 1

Richard J. Erickson

Fuller Theological Seminary

The Matthean genealogy of Jesus (1:1-17) unambiguously presents Jesus—with equal emphasis—as Son of Abraham and Son of David, and of course as Messiah. The messianic Son-of-David theme is carried out explicitly in the accompanying pericope devoted to both the annunciation to Joseph and the birth of Jesus (1:18-25), but the Son-of-Abraham motif puzzlingly vanishes from view there. The cumulative weight, however, of an array of intertextual allusions to the OT story of Abraham, culminating in a direct quotation of Gen 17:19, constitutes in 1:18-25 an implicit appeal to the theme of the birth of Isaac and to the way in which the blessing of Abraham is to come to the nations of the world. Matthew of course immediately capitalizes on this theme in chap. 2 with the visit of the Magi, as well as in numerous other ways throughout the Gospel. But the implied reader sees it already expressed in chap. 1, emphasized there all the more, precisely because it is conveyed implicitly.

Key Words: Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, birth, Gentile, blessing


That the NT portrays Jesus both as the Son of God and as the Son of David, designations carrying heavy christological freight for first-century readers, is clear to anyone who reads it. Less often and less emphatically, but no less explicitly, Jesus is also depicted in the NT as the Son of Abraham, both in the Gospels (Matt 1:2) and elsewhere (Gal 3:16).

N. Calvert lists three reasons why it is important that Jesus is seen as the Son of Abraham: it means he is a Jew, physically descended from Abraham; it means that through him the blessing of Abraham now comes to humanity; and it means that, while Abraham originates Israelite history, Jesus culminates it (Matt 1:17).1 Of course, Jesus’

physical descendance from Abraham—even if not exactly through Joseph’s line—does indeed make him Jewish, though Paul and in a sense even John the Baptist redefine the house of Abraham in terms of faith rather than of blood (e.g., Rom 4:11-16; Luke 3:7-8 par.). Likewise, Jesus is indeed understood as the culmination of Israel’s history—and of its religion—not only in Matt 1:17, but in other NT texts as well (e.g., in the Epistle...

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