How sure am I of my translation and notes? Not very. There are always alternative ways of translating and understanding a text. Especially at the start of a translation with notes, I am tentative, choosing some ways rather than others but remaining ready to revise in the light of subsequent discoveries. Does Matthew’s mention of “doubtful” women point towards the “doubtfulness” of Mary the unmarried mother, as some scholars suggest? I think it may be so, as the next section of the story hints.

MATTHEW 1 :18-25

The nativity of Jesus Messiah was as follows. When his mother Maria was engaged to Iosef, before they came together, she was discovered to be with child by the Holy Spirit. Now Iosef her husband, since he was a just man and did not want to make a public show of her, resolved to let her go quietly. When he was thinking this over – See this! – A messenger of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, and said, “Iosef, son of David, do not be afraid to take Maria as your wife, for what is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you will name him Iesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All this happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: “ See this! The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will name him, Emmanuel.” ( meaning, God is with us.)

On rousing himself from sleep, Iosef did as the messenger of the Lord had commanded, by welcoming his wife, but he did not make love with her until she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.


1. So much of the language about Maria is passive in mood and of a generality often seen in folktales. So she is engaged, things happen before they come together, she is found to be with child. Unlike the very active picture of Maria in Luke’s Gospel, Matthew uses language he feels suitable for a process directed by God.

2. “ Since he was a just man.” Sometimes in the Psalms this adjective means simply a decent person. perhaps that would be the best translation here. The law permitted a spouse to be dismissed by a notice of fault. It is unclear that an end to “being engaged” required anything similar.

3. The Greek verb “Apoluo” is frequently used to mean “set free” as of a slave or prisoner; its use meaning “divorce” therefore focuses on the release of a woman from the obligations and benefits of marriage. The husband no longer has responsibility for her welfare. In the case of their engagement, Iosef’s desire is to break it off without harm to her or himself.

4. See this! In biblical narrative the word usually translated “Behold” is a rhetorical marker of some special point in the story- a surprise, a high point, a turn, a conclusion, a supernatural intervention. It involves the narrator acting the part of a face-to-face storyteller, addressing the listeners directly. Matthew uses it especially to mark high points in his story which are often moments in which a miracle happens. It is interesting that this angel appears “in a dream” thus putting the event beyond the reach of witnesses except anyone in whom Iosef confided. We can conclude that Matthew has invented the angel, as a way of recording the reality of Iosef’s incredible forbearance and support of Maria. The whole event is under the active guidance of God.

If you were a man, who found that your engaged partner was pregnant, and it certainly wasn’t by you, would you be convinced if someone suggested it was the Holy Spirit? Iosef’s readiness to welcome the pregnant Maria is miraculous.

5. The Hebrew name Joshua, popular form Jeshua, Greek Iesus, means “Jahweh is salvation or rescue” It was a common name. It reflects the Jewish conviction that Yahweh, God, will always protect his people, rescuing them as in the archetypical rescue from slavery in Egypt. It did not mean originally the kind of salvation that became common in Christianity, namely God’s gracious gift of eternal life to believers. Matthew means that Jesus will rescue the people from sinfulness by offering them a way of life acceptable in God’s kingdom, a rescue which cannot be separated from his own person: he is this rescue.

6.”All this happened so that etc.” A present event takes place “so that” a prophetic word may be fulfilled. The “so that” belongs to the purpose of God. Doubtless Isaiah’s word pointed to a the birth of a male child to one of the princesses of the royal household at the time, but Matthew sees it as coming from beyond into the time of Jesus. One can see how strange this view is, but it became the classic Christian view of prophecy: the word has power regardless of the situation and purpose of its original speaking. The Hebrew of Isaiah uses the word ‘Alma’ a young woman. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible uses “Parthenos” a virgin. Matthew uses the Greek because he wants to emphasise the virginity of Jesus’ mother.

7. The child however is not to be named Emmanuel, but Jesus., although the promise of God’s presence with his people is not forgotten. In the magical realism of Matthew, Jesus is this presence.

8. Iosef completes his marriage to Maria and names their child as a sign of his legal adoption. In this way, Jesus becomes son of Iosef, son of David, as his genealogy claims. Iosef does not make love with his wife until the child is born. Then of course he does, because he has no notion of her perpetual virginity, nor would he have thought for a moment that virginity was a purer state than marriage and motherhood. The later mythology of Maria the Blessed Virgin may have had some benefits, but it is foreign to the Gospels and part of a theological lie about the human body and sexual acts.

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