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That even in our Saviour's time, the Jews (a) had genealogical tables, wherein they From the be kept an account of their families and tribes, is evident from what Josephus says, viz. ginning of the (b)" That he gave the succession of his family, as he found it written in the public Matth. ix. 8. books;" nor need we question, but that the like or greater care was employed to pre- Mark ii. 23. serve the stems of the royal family of David. Since then the Jews, who lived in the time when the Gospels were published (though exactly curious in things of this nature, and withal maliciously bent against Christ and Christianity), never once endeavoured to invalidate the account which these evangelists give us; this seems to be a sufficient proof, that these genealogies, when first they came abroad, were neither thought erroneous nor inconsistent, but agreeable to the public records then in use; and if any difficulties now arise in them, they are not to be attributed to any real and intrinsic cause, but accidentally to the ignorance of interpreters for want of proper helps, at this distance of time, whereby to explain them.
It may seem a little incongruous perhaps, that the Baptist should deny what our Saviour confirms concerning him, viz. that he was the Elias who was to be sent before to make preparations for his coming; but in this there will be no manner of contradiction, if it does but appear that the affirmation of the one, and the negation of the other, proceed upon different considerations. Now the state of the matter is this,-The Jews at this time were in full expectation of the Messiah; but then it was an universal belief among them, that Elias should appear before him, and that this appearance should be a certain token of his coming. This belief they founded upon the prophecy of Malachi, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." But then they imagined, either that the body of Elijah was preserved in paradise, and should again appear upon earth at this season appointed for it, or that his body being dissolved, God would infuse the spirit of Elijah into a new one created for that purpose. When therefore the great council at Jerusalem sent to enquire of the Baptist whether he was either the Christ or Elias, now returned from heaven (as they imagined he was to do upon Christ's appearance), to this their sense of the question he replies, in express terms, That he was neither the one nor the other. But this does not at all interfere with our Lord's affirming, that he was the person foretold under the name and character of Elias, in the true signification of Malachi's prophecy. He was not indeed the very Elias who lived in king Ahab's time, of whose second coming into the world the Sanhedrim now enquired, according to their misconstruction of that prophecy.; but according to the true construction thereof, he was the person who came in the spirit and power of Elias, of whom Elias was a type, and whose temper and manner of life Elias much resembled.
How usual a thing it is for persons, who resemble others in qualities, offices, or actions, to be described by the names of those whom they resemble, no one can be ignorant, who is the least acquainted either with the phrase of Scripture or with the
Nebuchadnezzar, so, in St Luke, Salathiel must have been the grandson of Neri, by his mother's side. 4. The evangelist has himself critically distinguished the real from the legal genealogy, by a parenthetical remark: Ιησοῦς—ὢν (ὡς ἐνομίζετο) διὸς Ιωσὴφ [ἀλλ ̓ ὄντως διὸς του Ηλι. 'Jesus being (as was reputed) the son of Joseph, [but in reality] the son or grandson of Heli,' by the mother's side; for so should the ellipsis involved in the parenthesis be supplied." Analysis of Ancient Chronology, vol. 2. p. 699. This interpretation of the genealogy in St Luke's Gospel, if it be admitted, removes at once every difficulty; and it is so natural and consistent with itself, that, I think, it
A. M. 4034, common forms of speech. Thus the Messias is promised by the name of David (a), be
&c. or 5439.
cause he was to be a king; Zadock the high priest and his sons are recorded by the name of Aaron and his sons, by reason of their office; and among us it is no uncommon thing to call the rich man a Croesus; the wise man a Solomon; the warrior a Cæsar, an Alexander, or the like. And where then, I pray, can be the misapplication in our Saviour's calling the Baptist by the name of Elias, when, in the severity of his life, his zeal for God's glory, his suffering persecution, his bold rebuking of vice, his reproofs of Herod, and the hatred of his incestuous queen, answerable to the prophet's chidings of Ahab, and the malice of Jezebel, he so nearly resembled the Tishbite? (b) He was not indeed the real Tishbite, but by the answer which he returns to these delegates from the Sanhedrim, (c) " I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord," &c. he plainly intimates that he was the very messenger promised in Malachi, and came to discharge the office assigned to him in that prophet. So far is John's answer from contradicting what our Lord asserts of him, that it is indeed a confirmation of it.
The better to understand the nature of that taxation which St Luke (d) refers us to, we must observe, that every fifth year it was a customary thing to take an account of the citizens of Rome; for which purpose there were proper officers appointed who were called censors; (e) that their business was to make a registration of all the Roman citizens, their wives and children, with the age, qualities, trades, offices, and estates, both real and personal, of them all; that Augustus Cæsar was the first that extended this to the provinces, and three times in his reign, first, in the twenty-eighth year before the Christian era; secondly, in the eighth year before it; and, thirdly, in the fourteenth year after it, caused the like description to be made of all the provinces belonging to the Roman empire; and that this second enrolment, which was in the eighth year before the vulgar Christian era, i. e. three years before that, in which Christ was born, was the description to which St Luke refers us.
Now supposing the execution of Cæsar's decree in every province of the Roman empire to be committed to the governor of it; the carrying of this work through all the countries that made up the province of Syria, viz. through Syria, Colo-Syria, Phœnicia, and Judea, could not well take up less than the space of three years; for if Joab (f) was nine months and twenty days in taking an account only (g) of the ten tribes of Israel, and in them only of such persons as were able to bear arms, we cannot think it unreasonable that the execution of the survey, which extended to all manner of persons, their possessions, qualities, and other circumstances, should, in so large a province, take up less than three years
It is to be observed farther, that though the registration was made at this time, yet the taxes thereupon were not paid till Judea was made a Roman province, and Publius Sulpitius Quirinus (who in Greek is called Cyrenius) was made governor of Syria; for before Archelaus was deposed, the Jews paid their taxes to their princes, and their princes paid their tribute to the Roman emperors; but when Archelaus was deposed, and Judea made a Roman province, the tax was levied according to the valuation that was made eleven years before.
Upon the whole therefore it appears, that in this affair there were two distinct par- . ticular actions done at two distinct particular times, viz. first the making of the survey, and then the levying the tax thereupon; so that if what is said in Luke ii. 1. be understood of the former of these, and what is said in ver. 2. only of the latter, this will re
(a) Ezek. xxxiv. 23, 24. Epistles and Gospels, vol. i. deaux's Connection, part ii. lib. ix.
(b) Kidder's Demonstration, part ii. c. 16. and Stanhope on the (c) Mark i. 3. (d) Chap. ii. 1. (e) Pri (f) 2 Sam. xxiv. 8. (g) 1 Chron. xxi. 6.
move all difficulties, and reconcile that evangelist with Josephus; and that it is to be thus understood we have the opinion of many learned interpreters.
The truth is, (a) this levy of the tax (which was settled eleven years before) in the time when Cyrenius was procurator of Syria, * was attended with so many commotions and seditious tumults, that the evangelist thought he could not make mention of its being decreed, without giving some hint of the manner of its being executed: And therefore he puts it in, by way of parenthesis, that (b) “ this taxing was first made (i. e. first put in execution) when Cyrenius was governor of Syria *2.”
There is a passage indeed in the prophet Isaiah which St Matthew applies to the birth of Jesus, yet, according to the context, it seems at first sight to have a more immediate reference to another event. But let us examine the history from whence it is taken. In the days of Ahaz, king of Judah, (and probably in the second or third year of his reign), Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel, united their forces to come against Jerusalem; which put the king and his people in such consternation, (c) “ that their hearts were moved (according to the Scripture expression) as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind." Hereupon Isaiah is commanded to take his little son Shear-jashub with him, and to go and meet Ahaz, in order to assure him that the design formed against him by the two confederate kings should not prosper: But finding no credence with the king, the prophet undertakes to perform whatever miracle he should ask, in confirmation of the truth of what he had promised him. Ahaz however
(a) Beausobre's Annotations.
* The account which Josephus gives us of this matter is this," Cyrenius, at this time, says he, was sent governor by Cæsar into Syria. He was a man of eminent fame, a Roman senator, and one that had passed through all the degrees and offices of honour up to the dignity of a consul. Coponius, who commanded the horse, went along with him as governor of Judea but Judea being already annexed tu Syria, it was Cyrenius's province to tax and cess the Jews, and to make seizure of the moneys and moveables of Archelaus. The Jews grumbled at this way of assessing at first, but through the persuasion and authority of the high priest Joazar, the son of Boethus, they were persuaded to submit and comply without any farther trouble, until one Judas, a Gaulanite, of the city of Gamala, together with one Sadducus a Pharisee, inveigled the people into a revolt. Taxes, they said, were only marks of slavery, and therefore the whole nation should do well to stand up for an universal liberty; and one lucky hit would make them free and easy for ever, and advance them in their reputation, as well as secure them in their possessions.' This was enough to put the multitude in tune for any sort of mischief; nor is it to be expressed the havoc these turbulent incendiaries made in the nation, and what murders, robberies, and depredations, without distinction of friend or foe, they committed, under the pretence of advancing the common good of liberty and property, when nothing but passion and private interest was at the bottom." Antiq. lib. xviii. c. 4.
(a) Luke ii. 2.
[If this solution of the difficulty be not satisfactory to the reader, he may have recourse to Dr Hales's Analysis of Chronology, vol. ii. p. 705, &c. That solution is too long to be inserted entire in this place, especially as the difficulty is of very little importance;
and to abridge it, would do it great injustice. It
yevero-was made, when Cyrenius was governor of
From the be
ginning of the to
Matth. ix. 8.
Mark ii. 23.
A. M. 4034, still refusing, out of a specious pretence of not being willing to tempt God, the prophet &c. or 5439. turns from him, and addressing himself to the nobles of the royal blood, (a) now, O house of David, says he, the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virVulg. Er. 28. gin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
Ann. Dom. 30, &c.
Now, not to insist upon the original word alma †, which (as (b) learned men have observed) signifies almost always a virgin untainted by man, and which the Greek translators before Christ (who were not interested in the controversy, and yet knew the signification of Hebrew words much better than any moderns can pretend to) have so rendered in this place; and not to insist on the tradition which prevailed among the Jews, not long before our Saviour's appearing, viz. that the Messiah should come into the world in such an extraordinary manner, that "no man should know whence he was," and (as the Talmud expresses it)" that his birth should be like the dew of the Lord, as drops from the grass, expecting not the labour or action of men ;"-not to insist on these things, I say, (though they make very much for Christ's title to the prophecy,) (c) how can we imagine, that after so pompous an introduction, and so important a name, the prophet should mean no more at last by a virgin's conceiving, than that a young woman should be with child? What, does Isaiah offer Ahaz a miracle, either in the depth or in the height above? and when he seems to tell the house of David, that God, of his own accord, would perform a greater work than they could ask, does he sink to a sign that nature produces every day? Is that to be called a wonder (which word implies an uncommon, surprising, and supernatural event) which happens constantly by the ordinary laws of generation? How little does such a birth answer the solemn apparatus which the prophet uses to raise their expectation of some great matter?" Hear ye, O house of David,-behold, the Lord himself will give you a sign," worthy of himself. And what is it? why, a young married woman shall be with child. How ridiculous must such a discovery make the prophet, and how highly must it enrage the audience, to hear a man at such a juncture as this begin an idle and impertinent tale, which seems to banter and insult their misery, rather than administer any consolation under it.
(d) But of what use or consolation could the future birth of the Messiah be to the house of David at that time? Of very great use without all doubt; for it assured them of the truth of God's promise, in that he would not suffer them to be destroyed, nor (c) "the sceptre to depart from Judah until the Messiah came." It assured them of his almighty power, in that he could create a new thing in the earth, by making a virgin
(a) Isaiah ver. 13. 14.
+Alma comes from an Hebrew word which signifies to hide, and very fitly agrees with the custom of the eastern countries, who were wont to keep their daughters, while they were in their virginity, from all company and public conversation and interviews. Thus it is said, upon a public and extraordinary consternation, that "the virgins who were kept in, ran, some to the gates, and some to the walls, and others looked out of the windows," 2 Maccab. iii. 19. But there is another and more proper signification, which, from the same word that signifies to hide or cover, this alma will bear, viz. as it denotes one who has not known man, or, according to the Scripture phrase, one whose nakedness has not been uncovered. The knowledge of a woman is expressed in the law of Moses by uncovering her nakedness; and, agreeably hereunto, alma is a most proper word for a virgin who is covered, and whose nakedness was never uncovered, or revealed by the knowledge of man. This account is perfectly agreeable to the Hebrew manner of
speech, and to the style of the law of Moses. But this is not all; as several learned men have shewn, that there is a great affinity between the Hebrew and Punic language, this makes the words of St Jerom more remarkable: "Linguâ punicâ, quæ de Hebræorum fontibus manare dicitur, propriè alma virgo appellatur," i. e. in the Punic language, which is said to be derived from the Hebrew, she who is properly a virgin is called alma, in Isaiah, chap. vii. especially considering that St Matthew renders it by the word nagvos, which signifies a virgin, properly so called, the very same word that the LXX. interpreters made use of about three hundred years before St Matthew wrote his gospel, and consequently long enough before this controversy arose between Jews and Chris tians. Bishop Kidder's Messiah, part ii. chap. v.
(b) Kidder's Demonstration, part 2. c. 5. (c) Bishop Chandler's Demonstrations of Christianity.
(d) Collins's Grounds and Reasons, page 43. (e) Gen. xlix. 10.
Luke vi. 1.
conceive, and thereby shew himself able to deliver them from their most potent enemies; From the be. and it assured them likewise of his peculiar favour, in that he had decreed the Messiah ginning of the should descend from their family; so that the people to whom he had vouchsafed so Matth. ix 8. high a dignity might depend upon his protection, and under the "shadow of his wings Mark i 23. think themselves secure. (a) In short, God had promised the Messiah should spring. from the tribe of Judah and from the family of David, even while that tribe and that family continued a polity undestroyed; and therefore, since that promise was not yet absolved, nor the Messiah as yet come, there was no fear of the extinction of Judah and the house of David at that time, whatever their present distress might be; but as God's promises were immutable, they had all manner of reason to believe, that the enemies now combined against them would, by some turn of Providence or other, be disappointed in their design *.
Thus one great prophecy at least in the Old, as well as sundry promises in the New Testament, made it a thing necessary, that when the Son of God came to be incarnate, he should be born of a pure and immaculate virgin; and it is impious to dispute the possibility of the thing, when God Almighty was the agent of it. But why this virgin should be (b) married rather than a single woman, is the other question we are to resolve. And in order to do this, we must observe, that by this means Mary's genealogy, not only by her father's side, (which St Luke has recorded) but by her husband's likewise, (which St Matthew has done) came to be deduced; and so we have a double testimony that she sprang from the seed of David, and, according to the promises of old, was the true mother of the Messiah; that by this means we have the testimony of her husband Joseph concerning her virginity, who was not a little uneasy in his mind before he had satisfaction given him by the angel, and might possibly have been the first that would have blasted her reputation, had he not been fully convinced of her innocence and modesty; that by this means our Lord's birth was secured against all imputation of spuriousness, and his mother's character protected from the persecution of opprobrious tongues, which she must have endured, (if not the censure of the law) and brought withal a perpetual scandal upon her family, had not her pregnancy, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, been concealed under the umbrage of a common husband; and that by this means our Lord was provided with a guardian in his childhood and minority, and his mother with a companion in her journey she was shortly to take from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and from thence into Egypt, and both of them with a supporter, who by honest labour in his proper occupation might provide them with the necessaries of life.
These, and several other reasons, might be assigned for our Lord's choosing to be born of a virgin, that went under the notion of being married; but how came he to be
(a) Spanheim's Dub. Evang. part i. Dub. 27. [Archbishop Usher's interpretation of this famous prophecy seems to me the most natural and satisfactory that I have anywhere met with. The prophecy itself is in these words;" Hear ye now, O house of David, is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord him. self shall give you a sign (shall work a miracle); behold a virgin (of the house of David) shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel., Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good." These words, according to the learned primate, were addressed to such of the royal family as were present, and under apprehension of being instantly exterminated by the confederate kings. The prophet assures them that their apprehensions were groundless, for that the proVOL. III.
mise of the Messiah to spring from the house of Da-
(b) Kidder's Demonstration, part ii. lib. v.