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Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38; John 1:1-14    Listen Podcast

An Introduction to The Gospels

 

Why do we have four records of Jesus' life? Isn't that kinda redundant? When you've looked closely at the records of Jesus through the accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you realize that each of them, while recalling for us many of the same incidents in the life of Jesus, approach these happenings from a different perspective...many times recalling varied information about the same incident.

Here's an example. Let's say my wife and I each view the same automobile accident (just a fender bender), but she's on one side of the street, and I'm on the other. First of all, we each may see details about the accident from where we are standing that the other may not. But that's not all. As the drivers emerge from their vehicles, each of us may take notice of different things about the drivers based upon our individual interests and previous life experiences. My wife may notice the clothes the drivers are wearing (and that's likely), but I might focus more on what I think went wrong to cause the accident. She might pay more attention to what the drivers say to each other afterwards while I might be observing the congestion being caused by their automobiles blocking the roadway. Later on that day, when we begin telling the story, our accounts of that story obviously describe the same incident, but her color information is quite different from my own - two different perspectives. That's why we have four accounts of Jesus' life...from four different perspectives. Moreover, the words actually spoken by Jesus and others often vary between the gospel accounts; that's why it is necessary to compare all accounts when studying the ministry of Jesus as conveyed in the parallels of the gospels.

The Gospel of Matthew
Nowhere in the Gospel of Matthew is it explicitly stated that Matthew wrote this gospel account, but from the first century on it was universally agreed that he is the undisputed author. Matthew was one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ whose background was tax collecting prior to following Jesus as his disciple. Also known as Levi, we see his story in Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:14-17; Luke 5:27-32 (see notes). Yes...Matthew had been a government worker - and not a very liked one at that! His previous life had been all about money. It appears that this Gospel was written for the Jewish Christians of Palestine. Matthew sets out to prove that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and that in him the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled. This Gospel is full of allusions to those passages of the Old Testament in which Christ is prophesied.

The Gospel of Mark
Mark (aka John aka John Mark, Acts 12:25, see notes) was not one of the disciples of Jesus as far as we know. He first appears in Acts 12:12 (see notes) where he is mentioned along with his mother, Mary. It appears that their home was a gathering place for the disciples of Jesus. Mark was a cousin to Barnabas (Colossians 4:10, see notes), and seemed to have a special relationship with the Apostle Peter. It would appear from I Peter 5:13 (see notes) that Mark was converted through the ministry of Peter. It is generally believed that Mark wrote his Gospel from Rome some years later and derived his information from the first-hand accounts of Jesus' life through the eyes of Peter and other followers who gathered at Mark's home during the years after Jesus' ministry. Mark was educated. His Gospel seems to have an emphasis which would have been of interest to a Roman audience. He doesn't include the Jewish genealogy of Jesus. He is careful to translate Aramaic words which a non-Jewish audience might not understand otherwise. Mark only quotes from the Old Testament twice in his account.

The Gospel of Luke
Based upon Luke's inclusion with Gentiles rather than Jews in Colossians 4:10 (see notes), it is generally believed that Luke was a Gentile who came to Christ. He was probably a physician. Luke was Paul’s constant companion during his journey to Jerusalem (Acts 20:6). Luke does not claim to have been an eyewitness of our Lord’s ministry, but to have gone to the best sources of information within his reach, and to have written an orderly narrative of the facts (Luke 1:1-4, see notes). Notice the following observation from Easton's Bible Dictionary, “Out of a total of 1151 verses, Luke has 389 in common with Matthew and Mark, 176 in common with Matthew alone, 41 in common with Mark alone, leaving 544 peculiar to himself. In many instances all three use identical language.” It is obvious to those who read Luke's account from the Greek text that his style is more refined and classical than the other accounts; after all, he was a doctor. It is commonly believed that Luke consulted with Paul in compiling his Gospel. Luke traveled with Paul and is also the author of the Book of Acts (see notes).

The Gospel of John
There is no question but that the Apostle John wrote this Gospel. Equally clear is his intention for writing it down found in John 20:31 (see notes), "But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." John doesn't do the genealogy that Matthew and Luke do, but starts right in with the deity of Jesus Christ in his very first chapter. Likewise, his Gospel does not track very closely with the events covered in Matthew, Mark and Luke; it seems to fill in the gaps with much information not found in those accounts. The Gospel of John appears to order the events of Jesus' ministry chronologically, being careful to mention the occurrence of the four Passover observances during Jesus' ministry.

Four different perspectives
So, you see, in the four Gospels we have four different perspectives of Jesus' life. That's why this commentary, as much as possible, presents all four perspectives of the same incident grouped together in the same section of reading.

The language of the Gospels
Two Semitic languages were common in New Testament times, Aramaic and Hebrew. As a matter of fact, since Aramaic was written using Hebrew characters, the distinction between these two Semitic languages is not always clear. Aramaic was commonly spoken by the Jews in New Testament times. The Gospels record Christ’s words in Aramaic on three occasions: Mark 5:41 (see notes), Mark 7:34 (see notes) and on the cross in Mark 15:34/Matthew 27:46 (see notes). When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane he addressed God the Father as "Abba," Aramaic for "father." We see in Luke 23:38 and John 19:20 (see notes) that the words written on the cross were "in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew." Since Alexander the Great had established his dominion over that region, Greek had become the language of commerce. Later on, the Romans introduced Latin. In Acts 26:14 (see notes) Paul mentions that he heard the risen Christ speaking to him "in the Hebrew tongue," most likely to be understood as Aramaic.

The Gospel accounts were written some time after the ministry of Jesus. There is no evidence that any of these accounts were ever recorded in any language other than Greek. When these writers were recalling the life and ministry of Jesus, they recorded those occasions in Greek from the beginning. There has been some unfounded speculation by credible scholars that perhaps Matthew first recorded his Gospel account in Aramaic from which it was later translated to Greek. However, there is no supporting evidence for that theory. Undoubtedly, Jesus spoke in whatever language was appropriate for his audience on any given occasion - Aramaic/Hebrew to Jews and Greek to Gentiles. The balance of the New Testament was, without question, recorded originally in Greek.

Two genealogies (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38)

Matthew 1:1-17 Luke 3:23-38
1 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren;
3 And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;
4 And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon;
5 And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse;
6 And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias;
7 And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa;
8 And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias;
9 And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias;
10 And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias;
11 And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon:
12 And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel;
13 And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor;
14 And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud;
15 And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob;
16 And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.
23 And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,
24 Which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph,
25 Which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Amos, which was the son of Naum, which was the son of Esli, which was the son of Nagge,
26 Which was the son of Maath, which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Semei, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Juda,
27 Which was the son of Joanna, which was the son of Rhesa, which was the son of Zorobabel, which was the son of Salathiel, which was the son of Neri,
28 Which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Addi, which was the son of Cosam, which was the son of Elmodam, which was the son of Er,
29 Which was the son of Jose, which was the son of Eliezer, which was the son of Jorim, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi,
30 Which was the son of Simeon, which was the son of Juda, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Jonan, which was the son of Eliakim,
31 Which was the son of Melea, which was the son of Menan, which was the son of Mattatha, which was the son of Nathan, which was the son of David,
32 Which was the son of Jesse, which was the son of Obed, which was the son of Booz, which was the son of Salmon, which was the son of Naasson,
33 Which was the son of Aminadab, which was the son of Aram, which was the son of Esrom, which was the son of Phares, which was the son of Juda,
34 Which was the son of Jacob, which was the son of Isaac, which was the son of Abraham, which was the son of Thara, which was the son of Nachor,
35 Which was the son of Saruch, which was the son of Ragau, which was the son of Phalec, which was the son of Heber, which was the son of Sala,
36 Which was the son of Cainan, which was the son of Arphaxad, which was the son of Sem, which was the son of Noe, which was the son of Lamech,
37 Which was the son of Mathusala, which was the son of Enoch, which was the son of Jared, which was the son of Maleleel, which was the son of Cainan,
38 Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.

Matthew goes forward through his genealogical account and Luke goes backward through his. Luke goes all the way back to Adam with his, but Matthew seems satisfied to simply show the Jewish ancestry of Jesus back to Abraham. Matthew lists the legal line of descent, probably to demonstrate the validity of the Messiahship of Jesus. Luke, on the other hand, lists the actual physical ancestry of Jesus in great detail. Both genealogies make a path from Abraham to Jesus, but Luke's list completely departs from that of Matthew after David. The records converge for only two generations between David and Joseph. I've provided a chart taken from both Gospel accounts.

Comparison of the Genealogy Records
Luke versus Matthew
The two genealogical records are identical from Abraham through David.
Luke 3:23-38 Matthew 1:1-17
  1. Abraham
  2. Isaac
  3. Jacob
  4. Juda
  5. Phares
  6. Esrom
  7. Aram
  8. Aminadab
  9. Naasson
  10. Salmon
  11. Booz
  12. Obed
  13. Jesse
  14. David
  1. Abraham
  2. Isaac
  3. Jacob
  4. Judas
  5. Phares
  6. Esrom
  7. Aram
  8. Aminadab
  9. Naasson
  10. Salmon
  11. Booz
  12. Obed
  13. Jesse
  14. David
None of the names are the same in the genealogical records between David and Salathiel.
  1. Nathan
  2. Mattatha
  3. Menan
  4. Eliakim
  5. Jonan
  6. Joseph
  7. Juda
  8. Simeon
  9. Levi
  10. Matthat
  11. Jorim
  12. Eliezer
  13. Jose
  14. Er
  15. Elmodam
  16. Cosam
  17. Addi
  18. Melchi
  19. Neri
  1. Solomon
  2. Roboam
  3. Abia
  4. Asa
  5. Josaphat
  6. Joram
  7. Ozias
  8. Joatham
  9. Achaz
  10. Ezekias
  11. Manasses
  12. Amon
  13. Josias
  14. Jechonias
The genealogies converge for two generations.
  1. Salathiel (aka Shealtiel)
    So...who was Salathiel's father? Was it Jechonias (aka King Jehoiachin, Jechoniah and Coniah) or Neri? It is important to remember the prophecy of Jeremiah 22:30 (see notes) with reference to Coniah, "Thus saith the LORD, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah." For this reason, it would seem that Neri (descended from David through his son, Nathan) was the biological father of Salathiel, but Salathiel became the legal successor of Jechoniah through the process of adoption. This theory rightfully renders Salathiel's descendants as worthy to sit on the throne of David while preserving the integrity of Jeremiah's prophecy.
  2. Zorobabel (aka Zerubbabel and Sheshbazzar)
    This is the Zerubbabel/Sheshbazzar found in Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah who was governor of Israel when the exiles returned from Babylon to Jerusalem.
The genealogies are completely different until Joseph (see commentary below the table for explanation).
  1. Rhesa
  2. Joanna
  3. Juda
  4. Joseph
  5. Semei
  6. Mattathias
  7. Maath
  8. Nagge
  9. Esli
  10. Naum
  11. Amos
  12. Mattathias
  13. Joseph
  14. Janna
  15. Melchi
  16. Levi
  17. Matthat
  18. Heli
  1. Abiud
  2. Eliakim
  3. Azor
  4. Sadoc
  5. Achim
  6. Eliud
  7. Eleazar
  8. Matthan
  9. Jacob
  1. Joseph
  2. Jesus
  1. Joseph
  2. Jesus

What is the answer to these apparent discrepancies in the genealogical record? After all, it's not a case of a name left out here and there or added in another; these records are very different. The most logical answer to this question is that Luke lists the genealogy of Mary while Matthew lists the genealogy of Joseph. But wait! Don't both genealogies contain Joseph? Yes, but women didn't count in genealogies as far as Jewish records were concerned. Heli was listed as Joseph's ancestor, but was probably his father-in-law instead. That precedent is seen in I Samuel 24:16 (see notes) where Saul refers to David as "my son David." You will also notice in the King James Version that in each instance in Luke's genealogy the words "the son" are italicized. That's because those words were added to clarify the Greek phrasing. Literally, the Greek phrasing between the generations instead of "the son of" is literally "of the." The actual Greek word for "son" is not found in any of those verses in Luke's account except for verse 23 where it says of Jesus, "being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph." Luke's account likely traces the ancestors of Mary from David, but lists Joseph as Heli's son (though really his son-in-law) because in Jewish genealogies, women don't count.

There's something quite interesting about Matthew's genealogical record here - the inclusion of the names of women. There are five of them altogether. Of course, it is completely understandable why Mary, the mother of Jesus would be included. However, the other four seem to be there to make some sort of a point to his readers.

As mentioned in the introduction, Matthew had been a tax collector (publican) before he dropped everything to follow Jesus. To the Jews of his day, that was a sinful way to make one's living. As a matter of fact, the category "publicans and sinners" (KJV) is found in nine different verses in the Gospel accounts. So, what does that have to do with the mention of women in Matthew's genealogy? Maybe nothing, but pay close attention to the only women (with the exception of Mary) who get honorable mention in his record: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.

Let's take a moment to briefly look at these four women to see if they have anything in common with the exception of being ancestors of Jesus.

Now consider this: Sarah's not mentioned, nor Rebekah, nor Rachel, nor Leah. Interestingly enough, Matthew (with his own questionable background) only mentions female ancestors of Jesus (except Mary) who had questionable backgrounds. It would appear that Matthew wants his readers to know that God uses people who surrender themselves to God and not necessarily those who meet up to societal expectations. That, by the way, was a recurring theme in the teachings of Jesus.

John just starts with the deity of Jesus (John 1:1-14)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
9 That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

No physical ancestry for Jesus is listed in John's account. He heads straight for the heart of the matter. Two verses in this passage sum it up, 1 and 14.

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Everything in between those two verses is self explanatory. Jesus is God in the flesh, the creator of the universe; it is undeniable based upon these first 14 verses of John alone. We see the role of John the Baptist mentioned; that will be developed later. Verses 12-13 outline the clear intent of John's Gospel - to point people to salvation through Jesus Christ. These two verses clearly state the necessity of receiving Jesus Christ as one's personal savior and thus be given the power of a child of God. Verse 13 makes it clear that this is a spiritual-birth experience.

Verses 2-3 make a special point that Jesus was was the creator of "all things." Genesis 1:26 (see notes) says "Let us make man in our image..." Could this be a reference to the Godhead? Many scholars think so, and I'm comfortable with that view as well. However, that interpretation is not universal among fundamental Bible scholars. Paul uses the word "Godhead" in the context of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one in Colossians 2:9 (see notes) when he says of Jesus, "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." That passage conveys the same doctrine of Jesus as the creator. Notice these other notable verses on the same issue written by Paul in Colossians 1 (see notes):

Colossians 1:15 Who [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
Colossians 1:17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
Colossians 1:19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;

There can be no scriptural dispute regarding the identity of Jesus. He is very God - a member of the Godhead. John goes on in verses 4-9 to emphasize the mission of Jesus' manifestation on earth; he came as "the light of men." John the Baptist is mentioned here as well. He's the forerunner of Jesus - the one who announces Jesus. For more on John the Baptist, click here. Verses 10-11 summarize the rejection of Jesus, but with the promise of verses 12-13 that for those who do receive Jesus as their personal Savior, they receive the privilege of becoming "the sons of God." The term "believe on" in verse 12 literally means to "exercise faith in." That's what scriptural salvation is - trusting (exercising faith) Jesus as one's only means for getting to Heaven. Click here to read the article entitled, "What the Bible says about eternal life."


For commentary on another passage, click here.


Copyright 2003-2011 by Wayne D. Turner