Joseph in the Gospel of Matthew

Neither Jesus’ conception and birth of a virgin, nor his connection with Nazareth, seem to fit the Jewish expectations for the Messiah to be born. Matthew’s infancy narrative presents Joseph as an important figure linking Jesus to Israel, in order to show that Jesus is the promised Messiah, despite the virginal conception and despite being raised at Nazareth. Old Testament quotations are cited to show that Jesus fulfills the prophecies. Joseph himself is shown to image the Old Testament Joseph. He also prefigures the Church. He models the response that every Christian, both Jew and gentile, should give to Jesus.

The literary structure for these two chapters can be analyzed in a variety of ways. One approach has been to note divisions into five books, like the five sacred books of the law of Moses, the first five books of our Bible. As the rest of Matthew’s Gospel can be divided into five parts, each ending with a similar refrain, so the infancy narrative is also found to contain five episodes, punctuated by five fulfillment quotations, as follows:

Scene – Verses – Episode – Quotation

Intro: 1:1-17 Genealogy

1: 1:18-25 Parentage, Joseph’s Vocation Is 7:14

2: 2:1-12 Herod, Magi, Bethlehem Mic 5:2

3: 2:13-15 Flight into Egypt Hos 11:1

4: 2:16-18 Massacre of Innocents Jer 31:15

5: 2:19-23 From Egypt to Nazareth Is 4:3/Jgs 13:5?

Matthew weaves together other structural elements which are to be noted, however. There are three Joseph stories containing dreams followed by his immediate action, which we will examine later. There is a geographical movement from Bethlehem to Egypt and back to Nazareth. The material can also be seen to be organized as a fourfold response of who and how, where and whence, as follows:

1:1-17 The Who: Jesus, son of David, son of Abraham, for Jew and gentile, to be born of woman.

1:18-25 The How: Son of God is son of David by Davidic Joseph’s acceptance of child conceived by Holy Spirit.

2:1-12 The Where: Bethlehem, city of David, but visited by gentile magi as sons of Abraham.

2:13-23 The Whence: from Bethlehem of the Jews, through exile in Egypt like Moses, to Galilee of the gentiles, at Nazareth as Nazarene.

For genre, we are dealing with a genealogy and a series of narratives completed by biblical citations. Matthew himself defines it as “genesis” (Mt 1:1), an account of the origins. It is an infancy narrative composed in the light of the Scriptures, a demonstration that the history of salvation is recapitulated in Christ.