This semester I have the privilege of teaching second-year seminary students Greek exegesis. We are working through the Greek text of the Gospel of Matthew with an eye to exegeting Greek narrative well. This means we are paying close attention to the grammatical and syntactical features of Greek narrative.
Earlier in the semester we came upon Matthew 1:18–25, which recounts the birth story of Jesus. In this account we noticed how Matthew provides several clues that highlight the virgin conception and birth of Jesus.
First, in 1:18 there are two temporal clauses prior to the main clause. The function of both clauses is therefore to relate the time at which the main clause occurred. The main clause states that Mary became pregnant, so Matthew’s inclusion of two temporal clauses prior to that assertion evinces his concern to clarify the time at which Jesus was conceived. She became pregnant after she was betrothed to Joseph but before they had been married or had engaged in sexual intercourse.
Second, Matthew includes the phrase “from the Holy Spirit” twice in the passage to highlight the agent of Jesus’ conception. The first appears in 1:18, which asserts how Mary came to be with child. The second appears in 1:20, where the angel of the Lord clarifies for Joseph’s sake that the child was conceived “from the Holy Spirit.” Both phrases highlight the source or the agency of the conception. The incarnation of the Son was an act of the Spirit, an act from which Joseph was entirely absent.
Third, in 1:23 Matthew quotes the Septuagint text of Isaiah 7:14, which states that a “virgin will conceive and bear a son.” The word translated “virgin” is parthenos, which in the Septuagint often refers to a young woman who has not engaged in sexual intercourse (e.g., Gen. 24:16; 2 Sam. 13:2). While there were debates in the second century A.D. between Christians and Jews regarding whether the Hebrew term in Isaiah 7:14 refers to a virgin or simply a young woman of marriageable age, Matthew clearly interpreted Isaiah 7:14, at least in its ultimate fulfillment, to predict a virgin birth.
Fourth, in 1:24—25 Matthew describes Joseph’s obedience to the angel’s command. The angelic progression from 1:20–21 is repeated in 1:24–25 in almost exact detail: (1) Joseph took Mary as his wife, (2) she bore a son, and (3) he called his name Jesus. However, in the midst of the progression in 1:25 Matthew clarifies Joseph’s relationship with Mary, concerning which the angel had said nothing: “he was not knowing her until she bore a son” (1:25). The verb “to know” in this context refers to sexual intercourse, and the tense of the Greek verb is imperfect, connoting ongoing action in the past. This indicates that Joseph not only obeyed every part of the angelic command, but he also did not have sexual intercourse with Mary for the entire period of time between Jesus’ conception and birth. We can infer with good reason that Matthew’s purpose in including this addendum was to address a concern regarding the agency of Jesus’ conception and birth. Jesus was conceived and born of no human father; the incarnation was “from the Holy Spirit.”
As my second-year seminarians have seen, there is great value in knowing the Greek text of the New Testament for the task of faithful exegesis. In this instance, we saw that knowing the Greek text undergirds the doctrine of the virgin conception and birth, and in turn, our grasp of the person and work of Christ. In particular it strengthens our grasp of his two given names in the passage. He is truly “Jesus” and “Immanuel”—God, come to save us from our sins, to be with us in a reconciled relationship forever (cf. Matt. 28:20). Working through the Greek text enables us to mine to an even greater degree the inexhaustible riches of God’s word. Won’t you join us in this cause through prayer and perhaps financial support?
Grateful with you for the incarnation of the Son,
Joshua M. Greever, Ph.D.
- Pray that the second-year seminary students would endure and rejoice in the task of translating and analyzing the Greek text of Matthew and Revelation this semester.
- Pray that all our students would grow in godliness through their studies and their participation in the life of the BCS community and the local church.
- Pray for Serious Joy: The 34th Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, which begins on Monday. Pray for those organizing, speaking, and attending to experience more of God.
- Pray for the continued provision of scholarships that will allow us to graduate students who are ready to launch into life and ministry without the financial burden of student debt.