The gospel reading at the Divine Liturgy on the Sunday before Christmas, the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ, is the entire first chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. This Gospel of St. Matthew, it begins with the words: Biblos genesios Iesou Christou; the Book of Genesis (or Generation) of Jesus Christ. So Jesus is called Christ in the very first sentence, and then it continues: of Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham. And the genealogy in Matthew’s gospel, which is read in church on the Sunday before Christmas begins with Abraham. Then it says how Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren. Judah begets Phares and Zara of Thamar; Phares begets Esrom; Esrom begets Aram, and then the genealogy continues down to Joseph. But it doesn’t say at the end, “Joseph begat Jesus.” It says, “Joseph, the husband of Mary, from whom Jesus was born.” Actually it says, “The husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ, the Anointed.”
Now, there is also a genealogy in St. Luke’s gospel. Only Matthew and Luke have a genealogy; Mark and John do not. Mark actually begins with the baptism of Jesus, and there’s no genealogy there. It begins with the public ministry, and John’s gospel begins, we might dare to say, in eternity. It begins, “In the beginning,” like the Bible itself: “In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him.” So in the theological gospel of St. John, the coming of Christ, the birth of Christ, it begins in the deity; it begins in eternity, before the creation of the world. Then the Logos, the Word, becomes flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth, which is the heart of the Christian faith.
So in Matthew you have the genealogy and the birth of Christ beginning with Abraham. In Luke, you have an infancy narrative about Jesus, how he was born, you have the Annunciation, it begins with the birth of John the Baptist. And then after Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan in the third chapter of St. Luke’s gospel, then you have Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about 30 years of age, and then it says, “being the son, as was supposed, of Joseph.” Then it says, “of Heli, of Matthat, of Levi, of Melchi, of Jannai,” and then Luke goes from Jesus all the way down to David, all the way down to Abraham, and then all the way down to Adam, and it ends by saying, “the son of Enos, the son of Adam,” and then “the son of God.” Actually, the term “the son” is not in there the whole time except in the beginning; it says, “Jesus, being as was supposed the son of Joseph”; then it just says: “of Heli, of Matthat, of Levi…” and it goes down all the way to “of Adam and of God.”
These two genealogies are part of the two gospels: the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Luke. They’re obviously there for a reason, and it seems that the reason is actually different in Matthew and Luke. We might even dare to call Matthew the Christian Torah. It’s Matthew that really wants to connect Jesus the Christ with the son of David, the son of Abraham, which is what you have in the very first sentence of the gospel: the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham. It’s really concerned about Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel and as the Christ of Israel who then is, of course, the Savior of the entire world.
Luke’s gospel, which is more like a chronicle, more like a narrative… Matthew is like a Torah; Mark is like an Apocalypse—Luke is like a historical chronicle, and then John, of course, is Wisdom literature; it’s theology. But in Luke’s gospel, it seems that the emphasis is to show the more universal character of Jesus, not simply as Israel’s Messiah, but as exactly the Savior and the Lord and the God of the whole world. That is probably why in Luke’s gospel, which begins with Joseph, it ends with God, and to show that it goes back to Adam, the first human being, who is “of God,” created by God. That is to show the universal character of the Christian faith. Generally, that is a characteristic of the Gospel according to St. Luke, where Jesus is the light to the nations, the light of the Gentiles; whereas Matthew is much more the Aramaic and the Torah, the Gospel, so to speak, for and of the Jews.
These two genealogies differ greatly. Matthew’s is shorter. There are 41 names in Matthew’s genealogy; there’s 77 names in Luke. Scholars who study these things even say that they can’t even find some of the names that appear in the Luke genealogy. You look in vain through the Bible, trying to find these names. But the listing of chronicles in the Bible, like in the Old Testament you have books of chronicles, was very very important to determine the identity of peoples and to determine their connection, their organic connection, to the fathers that went before them, and then of course to connect them to God.
And we can say that genealogies generally have two purposes. One is to show the humanity, the human origins, the human continuity, the belonging to certain peoples, nations, fathers, to identify the person humanly. But genealogies are also in the Bible to show the absolute and total unwavering fidelity of God, that God simply made promises, as it says from the epistle reading for the Sunday, from Hebrews, God made his promises, and God does not change his mind. In fact, on Christmas itself, on the Nativity itself, when the gospel book is brought out to be read on the Nativity Liturgy of Christmas, the line will be read from the psalm, “Out of the womb from the morning star have I begotten thee. The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind.” “The Lord has sworn,” as it says in King James, “and he does not repent.” He does not change his mind; he remains faithful.
And if there is one thing about the God—the true God that we Christians believe is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, of Christ himself, whose Son Jesus is, the Creator of heaven and earth and the only God that exists—it is his absolute fidelity, his absolute faithfulness to his people. There is that wonderful early Christian hymn that I just love to quote every time I get a chance. It’s in 2 Timothy, where it says:
If we have died with him, we will live with him. If we have suffered patiently with him, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. But if we are faithless, he remains faithful, because he cannot deny himself.
And this is what we have in these genealogies: that conviction that God speaks his word, makes his promise, doesn’t change his mind, and however faithless we are, he remains faithful to us, his creation, his creatures, his beloved. Even unto death, even through death, even unto hell, he remains faithful to us. The ultimate act of the fidelity of God to his creation and to his people Israel for the sake of the salvation of the whole creation is the sending into the world of his Son, the one that he begets, the begotten of God, the one that has no human father, whose Father is God and whose mother is Mary, the espoused, betrothed wife, legal wife, of Joseph.
Let’s leave the genealogy in Luke, and let’s examine this genealogy in the Gospel according to St. Matthew that we hear in church on Sunday at the Divine Liturgy on the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ, before Christmas. “It is the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham.” Now, why David and Abraham? It seems that that’s the main point of Matthew’s genealogy, to show that literally, humanly speaking, Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, because God promised to Abraham that of his seed all the families of the earth will be blessed. St. Paul points out in his letter to [the] Galatians that that term, sperma, is singular—one seed, one child. Certainly the Gospel—all the four gospels; Luke, for example in the Magnificat of Mary, in the infancy narrative, he stresses that point, that God is faithful to his promise to Abraham and to his seed forever.
So Jesus has to be connected to Abraham, but he also has to be connected to David, because David the King, whose city was Jerusalem, the prophecy was that David, who was born in Bethlehem, that the governor over the people of Israel forever, the anointed king whose kingdom would have no end, is the son of David; he comes from the house of David. You know, the psalm says to David: “I will place one of your sons upon the throne, and of his kingdom will be no end.” That line, which is used in holy Scripture in the gospels is also part of the Christian creed, the Nicene Creed, that Jesus Christ is raised and glorified, risen from the dead, and of his kingdom there will be no end. We will hear that in these infancy narratives, because the one Jesus who is born is born to be the King, and the King of Israel, and that’s what they’re going to put on his cross when he dies, that he is Israel’s King and he’s born to be king. But as it’s often pointed out, the One who is born to be King, of whose kingdom will have no end, is also the only One who is born in this world to die. He came into the world to take upon himself the sin of the world and to be crucified, in order to prove that he is the King and to establish his kingship, his kingdom. It’s the Gospel of the kingdom in Luke.
So here we have in Matthew this genealogy that begins with Abraham. Now, the genealogy in Matthew is divided up into 14 generations each. However, as scholars, like Raymond E. Brown in his wonderful book called The Birth of the Messiah points out—he has a chapter called “Could Matthew Count?” because some of them, they’re not 14; there’s 13, and the selection of the names seems, at least at first glance, to be arbitrary, and certainly there were more generations than 14. But it seems that the purpose of the 14 is that 14 was, well, to use Fr. Brown’s expression, the magic number. 14, as a matter of fact, in Kabbalistic Judaism, it was the numerical number for David. It stands for David.
So you have these 14 generations, and they are connected up until the time of the exile in Babylon, from Abraham to David, 14. And then it says from David to the exile into Babylon, 14. Then from the return, carrying away into Babylon until Jesus Christ, until the Christ—and it uses the term “Christ” there—14. So this three-times-14, it’s like a theological point is being made that you have these three eras: from Abraham to David, from David to the exile, and then from the exile unto Christ. That’s how the genealogy is set up, and this has theological, biblical meaning to show that this was the fidelity of God in these sections until Christ himself is born. Jesus is born from Mary.
Now, when we look at this genealogy, we see that it begins with Abraham begetting Isaac, Isaac begetting Jacob, Jacob begetting Judah and his brethren. This begetting is important, because the Greek word there, geneo, it has a double meaning. When it is applied to the man, it’s the man who begets. When it’s used for a woman, then it means born. So sometimes people say about Jesus that he was born from the Father before all ages, and as God is born of the Virgin Mary on earth as a human being, but that’s not totally accurate. Biblically, and in the Nicene Creed, it should be that Jesus was begotten of the Father before all ages and born from Mary in time. The Son of God is not born; he’s begotten from the Father. But he’s not begotten of Mary; he’s born of Mary, and there’s no human man who begets him, who is the father of [him].
As a matter of fact, in the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament, whereas the King James will say, “Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob…” in the RSV it will say, “Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac was the father of Jacob…” and then when you get to the end of it, it would say, “And Matthan was the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who was called the Christ.” So it specifically does not say that Joseph was the father of Jesus. He did not beget Jesus; Jesus is begotten of God, and if you asked the question, “Well, if Jesus’ Father is God, when did God beget him?” and the answer of ancient Christianity would be, as it says in the Nicene Creed, he was begotten of the Father before all ages. In other words, Jesus is begotten of God in eternity, and then he is born on earth in human form from Mary in the days of Herod the king and so on, as Luke will give the kind of more of the historical setting in which Jesus was born: the taxation and so on.
Looking at this genealogy further, in Matthew, we have to notice that in the Matthew genealogy it goes from Abraham and then to David the King. Then it goes from David to Solomon and Rehoboam and so on, and then down to the Babylonian exile: Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away in Babylon. Then after Babylon it goes down to Joseph.
In this genealogy, you have all these various names, and these names also have a very particular meaning, that some of these names all have to relate to God himself: God is faithful, God’s promise, God is good, and so on. I could give you some of them. I won’t, but if you would look up the meaning of some of these names, you would see that they are names that have to do with the fidelity of God to these people. But when you look at this list, you also realize that not all of these people were holy people. On the Sundays of the Forefathers and Fathers before Christmas, the Orthodox Church liturgy sings about those who were faithful, those who did worship God, those who did keep the commandments, those who did prophesy in his name. You have the names of all those holy people, the worthy people without whom were not made perfected, who were not perfected without us, which means without the coming of Christ.
But in the genealogy, the names are not just of holy people. They are filled with people there who were not very holy, not very faithful, not keeping the law of God. Even many of the people who end up, so to speak, all right, who are faithful in the sense that they remained faithful to Yahweh—God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—they themselves are often very sinful people, adulterous people, murderous people, people who are not always keeping the commandments of God. If you check through the Bible, you will see that that his definitely the case.
One of the very interesting features of the genealogy according to St. Matthew—and this feature is obviously there for very important theological and doctrinal reasons—is that you have the names of four women in the genealogy. You don’t only have the names of the men who begat, who were the fathers of, but you have the names of four mothers. It’s very interesting and important for us to see who those four women were, because not a one of them was a Jew. They were not of Israel. And the way that they gave birth to their child, who was part of the genealogy down to Jesus, the ancestor of Jesus in his humanity, is sometimes very less than edifying, at least in the terms of the laws of God and the teachings of God for his people.
First of all, we should mention Judah, who gives the name finally to the city. In Judah, God is finally known; his name is great in Israel. You have Israel and Judah ending up as that double-kingdom, with Judah being the son of Jacob, through whom the Jesus genealogy goes. Jacob, who had his name changed to Israel, he had twelve sons, but it is through Judah that the genealogy continues, not the other eleven. And then how does Judah become the begetter of Perez, who then is the father of Hezron, in order that the genealogy would continue? Well, this is in the book of Genesis, the 38th chapter of Genesis, and it’s an incredible story.
The story is that a woman, whose name was Tamar, was married to one of Jacob’s sons, named Er—E-r, Er. You could read about this in the 38th chapter of Genesis, and you really should. So Judah’s son, Er, takes as his wife this Tamar. Er is so wicked that God kills him. God just slays Er for his wickedness. So Er is known in Genesis for how bad he was, for how wicked and evil he was, to the point where God just destroys him. I’ll read to you exactly what it says here in the Bible. It says:
Judah took a wife for his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord slew him.
So then, according to the practice, Judah takes this widowed daughter-in-law of his and gives her to another one of his sons. It’s written in Genesis:
Then Judah said to Onan (which was another of his sons): Go into your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her and raise up offspring for your brother.
That was the so-called Levirate tradition, that if a man died, his brother was to take up his wife and raise up seed to her so that she could have a child. But then the Scripture says that Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, but would belong to his brother who had died. So when he went into his brother’s wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother. So that’s known as onanism: when you spill your seed on the ground. Well, this wasn’t a kind of an act of lust; it wasn’t just that he was spilling his seed on the ground as an act of lusting. It was that he disobeyed God and the law of God by refusing to raise up seed and to have Tamar have a baby so that Tamar could have a child. So it’s written that what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord slew him also. So God kills Er and God kills Onan.
And then there’s Judah who still has this daughter-in-law on his hands, Tamar, who’s a widow. Now, he should give her to Shelah, who’s another one of his sons, but this Shelah was very young, so Judah decides to let Tamar be a widow and to wallow in her widowhood until this Shelah would grow up, and then he was kind of afraid that if he gave this Shelah to Tamar, that he would die, too, because the other two brothers got slain by God and died. So it says Tamar just went and lived with her own father, and she’s waiting there for Judah to give this Shelah to [her], but he doesn’t do it. So she’s worried about having her baby.
So what does she do? It’s the most amazing thing. I mean, read it in Genesis. What she does is: Shelah is grown up, and she had not been given to him in marriage. There she is all alone. So she dresses up like a harlot; she pretends to be a prostitute. She covers her face, and she goes by the side of the road, and when Judah [himself], her father-in-law, comes walking by, he sees her as a prostitute, she kind of seduces him, and he goes up there and says, “Let me come into you,” and he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She says, “What will you give me that you may come into me?” He answers, “I will give you a kid from the flock.” And she says, “Will you give me a pledge till you send it?” And he said, “What pledge should I give you?” And she replied, “Your signet ring and your cord and your staff that is in your hand.” So he gives these three things to her, and he goes into her, he has sex with her; and she conceives by him. Then she goes away, takes off her veil, puts on her garments of widowhood. Then she has this child.
Well then Judah, when he discovers that this daughter-in-law of his is actually the harlot, Judah asks when he wants to send this kid, this animal, to her and to get back his ring and his cord and his staff, they can’t find any harlot; there’s no harlot around. So Judah doesn’t know what to do. He says, “Where’s this harlot?” So Judah says, “Let her keep all these things lest we be laughed at, because she’s obviously put us to shame.” But then, three months later, Judah was told: “Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has played the harlot. And moreover, she is with child by harlotry.” Then Judah gets angry. He says, “Bring her here. Let her be burned. How could my daughter-in-law be the prostitute?”
Then she comes and says to him, “You know who is the father of this child I am bearing? It is the man who gave me these things.” And then she gives him back the signet ring, the cord, and the staff. And Judah acknowledges that he has fathered this child from Tamar, and then he says, “She is more righteous than I inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah as I had promised, and I should have according to practice of the people.” Then it says he did not lie with her again, but then she gives birth to twins. In Matthew these twins are named: Perez and Zerah, they’re named in Matthew’s gospel.
Then the genealogy says that Judah begat Pharez and Zerah of Tamar, and Pharez begat Hezron, and Hezron begat Aram, and the genealogy continues. So it says Perez and Zerah were given birth by Tamar from Judah, and then Perez becomes the father of Hezron, and Hezron of Ram, and Ram of Amminadab, and Amminadab of Nashon, Nashon of Salmon. And then you get Salmon, the father of Boaz by Rahab. Then you have Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth. So you have two more names named: Rahab and Ruth.
Now, there is no record of Salmon giving birth to Boaz by Rahab in the Scripture. It is mentioned in the book of Ruth that indeed Salmon is the father of Boaz, but it doesn’t say in the Old Testament that his wife was Rahab. But it’s interesting that the name Rahab is used, because Rahab was a prostitute. She also was a prostitute—a real prostitute, not just acting like one; she was one. And you have that name, Rahab, who was considered to have helped Joshua and so on. It’s the story also of the conquering of Jericho. But in any case, you have this name, Rahab. Actually, the book of Ruth ends by saying: These are the descendants of Perez, Perez the son born from Tamar by Judah, when Tamar acted like a prostitute. So it says these are the descendants of Perez: Perez was the father of Hezron, Hezron of Ram, Ram of Amminadab, Amminadab of Nashon, Nashon of Salmon, Salmon of Boaz. So that’s written in Ruth. Then it says: Boaz of Obed, and then Obed of Jesse, and then Jesse is the father of David.
Now, in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, you have the saying that Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, who was a prostitute. But then it says that Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth. Now Ruth is a book in the Bible. In the Old Testament, you have the book of Ruth. The book of Ruth is very important, because Ruth, who was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, was a Moabite woman. The Moabites actually were produced when Lot had incestuous relations with his daughters after he was saved in Sodom and went out into Zorah. He was drunk and they uncovered his nakedness, and then he laid with his daughters. Through the daughters, he became the father of the Moabites and the Edomites. And Ruth is a Moabitess. She comes from Moab, who actually comes from Lot’s incestuous relationship with his daughter in the holy Scripture.
And then Ruth—the story of Ruth is a very touching story; I think many people are familiar with it: how her husband dies and she goes with Naomi, her mother-in-law, and she stays with her mother-in-law, and she says, “Your people will be my people; your God will be my God,” and that she remains with her. But Ruth still has this problem: she has no husband and she has no children. So she goes with Naomi and she stays with her mother-in-law, but then she finds this Boaz. It’s in the book of Ruth in the Bible. She also goes in and uncovers Boaz’ nakedness. It says in the Scriptures she uncovered his feet, and that was a euphemism of uncovering his nakedness. She offers herself to him. He offers her to one of the kinsmen, because she’s such a good worker and gleaner, and she’s so faithful and is with Naomi. And then she ends up to be the wife of Boaz. Boaz takes Ruth the Moabitess himself for his wife, and she is also not of the people of Israel, just like Tamar and just like Rahab.
And then the genealogy continues, and it says that Salmon begat Boaz of Rahab, and Boaz begat Obed of Ruth, and Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David the King. Now you have David the King begetting Solomon, and how? Well, by her who was the wife of Uriah. So here you have Bathsheba mentioned&mash;she’s not mentioned by name in Matthew, but that’s who Uriah’s wife was. Of course, what we have to know and everybody probably does know [is] that David simply had Uriah killed because he had fallen in love with Bathsheba and he had lain with her, and she was with child. So he committed adultery; David committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, and she was pregnant. So what does David do? He arranges for Uriah to be sent into battle at the head of the lines. Then he tells all the soldiers to move away from him so that Uriah would be slain in battle and be killed and so that then David could then take his wife, Bathsheba, and then she gives birth to a child. However, the child that is born as a result of the adultery doesn’t live; the child dies. The child of adultery dies.
Then Nathan the Prophet comes to David, and he tells the story about the lamb and the ewe and what would you do if someone acted so horribly. David says: That man is a sinful man. And then Nathan says: That’s you, David! That’s you. You took this woman from her husband, and you had a child with her, and this child is going to die. Then David repents. Then Bathsheba, his wife, the one who was the wife of Uriah, gives birth to the son, and that’s Solomon, and then the genealogy continues down to Joseph and to the birth of Jesus.
Now Solomon himself, the son of David, was known for his wisdom, but he’s also known for how many wives he had, how many concubines he had, and how horribly he ended his life, being not at all faithful to God. So you have the story in 2 Samuel, the 11th and 12th chapter, about David and Uriah and how David was a murderer and an adulterer. But it’s from the house of David in Bethlehem that the Messiah comes. And God is faithful through all of this. By the way, Ruth herself, Naomi was also from Bethlehem. That’s an important point also, because Bethlehem is David’s city, and Matthew has to show that Jesus is indeed not only the son of Abraham, and then Isaac, Jacob, and so on, Perez. But he’s the son also that comes from David and from Solomon, and after Solomon to Rehoboam and Abijah and Asa and Jehosaphat and down also to the Babylonian exile and down to Joseph.
Now let’s take a look at the end of the genealogy when we get to Joseph. As we already mentioned, when the genealogy gets down to Joseph, it does not say at all: “and Joseph begat Jesus” or “Joseph was the father of Jesus.” It doesn’t say that. It says: “Eleazar begat Matthan (or was the father of) Matthan, Matthan begat (or was the father of) Jacob, and then Jacob begat (or was the father of) Joseph.” Then it says: “the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Christ.” Then it says all the generations from Abraham to David, 14; David to the deportation of exile, 14; and from Babylon deportation to Christ, 14.
It’s very clear in Matthew, as it will be also in Luke, that Jesus is conceived by God by the power of the Holy Spirit, that there is no human father of Jesus in the Scripture. There’s no begetter of Jesus by the seed of man. But then the question then arises: Well, what about this promise to Abraham and to his seed? Technically speaking, Jesus was not of the seed of Abraham; there was no human seed. Sometimes the tradition and the scholars will say, well, continuation was through Mary, but we don’t know: is it so or not? But in any case, it’s the begetter that’s important. So what these genealogies want to show is that the begetter is God. It’s through these male people that you finally come to Christ, but the begetter of Christ is God. It’s not one of these men.
On the gospel reading before Christmas in the Church, it doesn’t end with the genealogy. It continues, and it says:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit, and her husband—he’s called her husband because he is her legal husband—Joseph, being a righteous and just man, unwilling to put her to shame—it says in Greek: to make a public example of her—resolved to divorce her quietly—to put her away privately, it says in King James.
Now, when Joseph was thinking that he’d better put her away because she’s pregnant and he knows he’s not the father, then you have:
As he was considering this (as it says in the gospel), the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream saying, “Joseph, son of David (you see, that makes that point: son of David, and David is also from the seed of Abraham, so all the promises are fulfilled), do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit, and she will bear a Son, and you shall call his name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
The name Jesus, or in Hebrew Yoshua or Yeshua or Joshua, it means savior or victor or God saves. So, as the ultimate Savior, he’s given the name Jesus, and we will reflect on this name at another time. Joseph is told that you, Joseph, will call his name Jesus. Then it says: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.” And in Matthew’s gospel you have all these prophesies referred to, because his point is to show indeed that Jesus is the Messiah, David’s Son, Abraham’s Son, the Suffering Servant, the fulfillment of the prophets. It’s the Hebrew gospel, so to speak; it’s the Torah gospel. So you have the Isaian line quoted: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, bear a son; his name shall be called Emmanuel, which means God with us or God is with us or God with us.”
And then it says: “As Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and he took his wife (meaning to his own home), but he did not know her till she had borne a Son, and he called his name Jesus.” Now here there’s a few things that we must comment on. One is that in the Mosaic law, a man became the legal father of a child when he did two things: when he took the mother of the child—the clear biological mother of the child—into his own home, and when the baby is born, he names the baby. That’s why the angel says to Joseph: Do not be afraid to take Mary. It’s of the Holy Spirit, so take her, and name him Jesus.
So Joseph obeys the angel. He takes Mary into his own home, and he names the Child Jesus. When that happens, then he becomes the legal father of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus legally becomes the Son of David and the Son of Abraham, the seed of Abraham. So by doing what the angel told him to do in this dream, Joseph becomes Jesus’ father. And that’s why he’s called throughout the gospels “the father of Jesus.” “Do we not know that this is Joseph’s son, the father of Jesus?” Well, he is: legally and publicly and before all people, Joseph is his father. Mary is not considered to be some adulterous or evil woman who should be divorced or even put to death for being pregnant. No, she has a husband, and that Boy has a father. As far as the public is concerned, Joseph and Mary are his father and his mother.
Now what about this expression, “knew her not until”? There are some people who seem to think that that particular idiom in Aramaic or Hebrew means that he knew her afterwards, that he didn’t know her until she bore the Son, but he knew her afterwards and she had other children. Well, first of all, it’s important to note that the Gospel absolutely never, nowhere says that Mary had any other child besides Jesus. It’s just not in the Gospel. It mentions Jesus’ brothers and sisters, which by tradition of the ancient Church usually means that they were Joseph’s children. Therefore they really were the brothers and sisters of Jesus, legally. They were in the same household; they had the same father.
But that expression, “knew her not until,” John Chrysostom, who is actually a Semite himself, from Antioch region, he makes the point that that’s an idiom. He says, “from the rising to the setting of the sun, the name of the Lord is to be blessed.” Well, Chrysostom would say that doesn’t mean that it’s not blessed after the setting of the sun. Or: the Lord will requite me until he show mercy. The until does not necessarily mean that there’s something contrary to that activity afterwards. It’s simply an expression that’s used: “he knew her not until she had borne a son.” In other words, it’s not his Son; it’s God’s Son. But it does not at all imply in language that he knew her afterwards.
It’s very wrong, at least according to the holy Fathers of the Church and the ancient Christian Tradition, and the Bible itself, to think that Joseph had sexual relations with Mary after she had given birth to Jesus, and that she was the mother of his other children. There is no record of that in the Scripture at all, and this particular text should not be interpreted in that way at all. It’s just simply a fallacious exegesis; it’s a wrong way of interpretation.
So we have this is the gospel on the Sunday before Christmas. God’s fidelity through all kinds of infidelity—faithlessness, adultery, murder, lying, thieving, going after false gods, lechery, and all that—God is totally faithful. And as he promised Abraham, as he promised David, he kept his promise. God makes his promise, and he keeps his promise. Through those people comes not only he who is the Messiah of Israel, the One promised to Abraham, the One promised through David, the One promised to Israel itself—God with us, Emmanuel—not only does that take place, but that takes place through these people. Through these people, God the Word, to use the language of St. John’s gospel, becomes flesh of Mary the Virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit.
But humanly speaking, he belongs to Israel. As St. Paul says, “According to the flesh, the Christ is from Israel. He is the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel.” So he’s not only Israel’s Messiah; he is the Savior of the whole world. He’s not only the King of the Jews; he’s the King of glory, the King of the kingdom of God over the totality of creation. And this also is affirmed in the gospel, particularly Luke, this universal character of Christ, because Christians believe that Israel’s Messiah… It’s exactly Israel’s Messiah who becomes the Redeemer and the Savior of all the nations. That’s what God told Abraham. He said, “From your seed, all the people of the earth will be saved and blessed.” That’s what he said to David, “One of your sons I will set upon the throne, and he will be the universal King. All the Gentiles will be under his kingship also, not just the people of Israel, not just the Jews.” This is Jesus, whose very name means Victor or Savior.
I will comment on that name, Jesus, on Ancient Faith Radio, and in fact the plan is that I will reflect on all of the names and titles of Jesus that are found in the New Testament, well, over about 65 of them that we find in the Scripture, the first one being Jesus. But we know that on Christmas, when that Boy is born, under Joseph’s care, by Mary who conceived of the Holy Spirit, the angel said, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” And Joseph wakes up from the dream, takes Mary as his wife, and when the baby is born, he calls his name Jesus.