The two largest commentaries on Matthew are at odds here. The disagreement concerns the meaning of the Greek noun 'genesis' as used in Mt 1:1. Basically both commentaries agree that the first verse functions as the title of the book:
The Book of the Genesis of Jesus Anointed/Messiah, Son of David, Son of AbrahamIn the debate (Davies&Allison vs. Luz) the basic question is whether the generative aspect of the word γένεσις ('genesis') might also indicate something 'generative' about Jesus? (Or is it merely that which generated him?)
The Davies-and-Allison commentary argues that 'genesis of Jesus' was meant to indicate that which was generated in the life of Jesus, namely what God 'generates' in/through Jesus in the Matthean story. In other words, it indicates the new creation begun in the life of Jesus (to be completed at his second coming).
But the Luz commentary rejects this argument and asserts that 'genesis' here cannot be anything “wrought by Jesus” because there is no new creation implied in the noun:
the Greek word γένεσις has no transitive nuance. In no sense is Jesus "creator" according to Matt 1:1 [Luz, p70]Now so far I've spent awhile working on verse 1 and I'm beginning to agree with Davies and Allison against Luz, namely that Jesus' γένεσις (in Mt 1:1) does include all the events connected to (or surrounding) his whole life.
My own approach differs from the argument given in Davies and Allison. Davies and Allison are more interested in the multiplicity of functions for verse 1 (i.e. both as a title and as a subheading for the beginning narratives of Jesus' life).
I'm more interested in how the meaning of 'genesis of Jesus' concerns his providential coming-into-being (according to Mt 1:2-17) and again identified in verse 18 (according to the same providential principles at work [see next post]) and then identified with a mission/destiny in verse 23 (an inherited destiny) yet this is a destiny/purpose with clear ongoing effects.
Is there any good reason not to see the special 'happenings' which gave rise to Jesus (his presence in life; his 'coming into being') as including the legacy he left (that which Jesus' life generated)? The opinion against a Generative Jesus in Mt 1:1 (i.e. Luz's opinion) falls short in at least three ways:
- Yes the first verse is a sentence without a verb (a 'verbless clause') but that does not mean that nothing verb-like can be inferred from the verse (the verb-less clause is simply a result of its functioning as the book's title).
- There reference to the 'genesis of Jesus' is not limited to him being simply 'part of creation' unless we overlook the strong sense of his mission/purpose in chapter 1. For sure, Jesus' beginnings are there 'part of creation' but his life (the topic of the whole book) can be seen to be 'in line with the scriptures', that is, he lives according to scripture and teaches according to scripture (and dies and is regenerated according to scripture) and so Jesus gives further meaning to Scripture by who he is and what he does (filling the scriptures with meaning). So 'genesis' in Mt 1:1 is likely about Jesus' whole life's mission being providential--there is little reason to limit this providence to exclude its effects.
- The alleged range of meanings given for 'genesis' in Luz are deficient. Basically 'genesis' was usually about a cause or effect: an explanation of how circumstances related to or were connected to something or someone (causation/causing or effecting). Genesis in Mt 1:1 likely indicates the entire 'life' of Jesus (life with a mission/purpose to make an effect). So we cannot really exclude the 'legacy' of Jesus from the 'heritage' of Jesus.
Note that Jesus is not simply being identified as the 'chosen one' in Mt 1:1 but his vocation includes a mission that generates a new family/kinship. This is one of the reasons why the genealogy (and the very concept of a biblical genealogy) is designed to end (according to the Matthean narrative). Here the Messiah does not sire children. The Messiah comes to inaugurate (generate) a new way of relating, where a father's (patriarch's) authority is questioned and reevaluated ("call no one father"--the power and prerogative to reproduce (to be progenitor) is not what is significant--what is significant is that which is produced/generated by the Creator in/through Jesus. Jesus becomes a teacher-patriarch with no children--his new kin are composed of 'brothers and sisters and mothers' (Mt 12:48-49).
In my next post I will explain how it is that Jesus is not simply 'generated by' his ancestors according to the genealogy. The 'genesis of Jesus' in Mt 1:1 is more than just his conception and birth.
For now, let me summarise: the Matthean story concerning the life of Jesus includes not only his biblical precedents and ancestry (heritage) but also everything he achieved and taught (his legacy) thus I'm still translating genesis as 'life' but I'm leaning towards translating it as heritage. Thus Mt 1:1:
The Story of the Life of Jesus Christ, Heir of David, Heir of Abraham
The Story of the Heritage of Jesus Christos, Son of David, Son of Abraham-- --
Postscript: for anyone wondering what else might support the above interpretation (besides the entry γένεσις in BDAG) I notice that Warren Carter has detected the notion of 'sovereign purpose' in the phrase 'book of genesis' [see page 262 of Carter's “Matthew and the Gentiles: Individual Conversion and/or Systematic Transformation?’ JSNT 26 (2004): 259-282]
Also, note how the word genesis is employed in Judith--when the heroine Judith (in Jud 12:18) perceives that she is about to enact a significant event on behalf of the Israelites -- she speaks of this act as the pinnacle of her life using the word ‘genesis’ suggesting a larger purpose to her life (i.e. destiny for her entire life). A life not only proceeds from but contributes to (is connected to both what 'precedes' and to what 'follows from').