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New Testament Lesson 3 (KD): Matthew 2 & Luke 2

Posted by Karl D. on January 10, 2011

Gospel Doctrine
Lesson: Matthew & Luke 2
Reading: Matthew 2, Luke 2

PDF Version of Notes

1 A Note

My notes don’t cover any of Luke this week. This is not because Luke 2 is uninteresting or boring. This is purely a function of available prep time this week.

2 Approach

These represent the notes I made during my reading of the scriptural text for this lesson. It is not a lesson outline or a lesson plan but really notes about issues and questions that struck me as interesting during my reading. Consequently, the notes do not have a conclusion and very little mention of application. I like to let those things arise while I teach.

3 A Moses Typology

The following is a rough slightly stylistic outline of the first 5 chapters of the gospel of Matthew:1

  1. A male child is miraculously born.
  2. A evil or least pretty bad tyrant rules the land.
  3. The child is protected from harm in Egypt.
  4. The child leaves Egypt.
  5. He passes through waters (of Baptism).
  6. He is tested in the wilderness for 40 units of time.
  7. He delivers God’s law on a mountain (mount).

What do you make of these parallels between the first five chapters of Matthew and the story of Moses? Should we view them as important or unimportant? Should we view them as accidental or purposeful?

  • Luke, for example, doesn’t seem to contain these strong parallels to the story Moses or the Exodus story. Does this fact suggest that Matthew structures his account in such away to emphasize the connections and parallels between Jesus’ life and Moses’ life?
  • For example, maybe Matthew has access to some of the same traditions or sources about the birth as Luke but decided to only include traditions and accounts that help show connections or parallels between Jesus and Moses. What do you think of this possibility? Does it affect how you read or approach the book of Matthew?
  • Suppose Matthew is making an allusion to Moses or creating a Moses typology. What might Matthew want us, as the reader, to understand about Jesus given that he uses this allusion or employs this typology?
  • Why would describing Jesus as a New Moses have been a helpful description to Matthew’s original audience? Is this a connection that has more meaning and impact to ancient Jews than to us? Can it be useful for us, as modern reader, to understand Jesus as a New Moses? Why or why not?
  • Is it helpful to understand Jesus’ mission as like a New Exodus? Do you think Mathew is describing both a New Moses and a New Exodus typology? In what ways is Jesus leading Israel in a New Exodus?

4 The Magi and King Herod

Read Matthew 2:1-8:

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. 3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. 7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

4.1 Herod

King Herod ruled from 37-4 BCE. This places the birth of Jesus at 4 BCE or a earlier. Note, the reference to Herod’s son Archelaus (also called Herod) ruling after King Herod in verse 21 really nails down the reference to Herod the Great. Herod was not an independent King; he was a client King to Caesar Augustus (the first Roman Emperor).2

  • Do you think Matthew is developing the Moses typology in these verses. Are we supposed to think of Pharaoh when we read about Herod? Or is that a connection that we can only make later when Herod slaughters the innocents later in the chapter?
  • Relatedly, does Matthew signal to us, the reader, the Herod is bad and untrustworthy in these verses? Is there anything in these verse that reveals information about Herod’s character?
  • Well, he is ignorant of the scriptures. But he also engages in at least one action that could be viewed as dishonorable. Malina and Rohrbaugh, in their commentary on the synoptic gospels, suggest the following cultural backdrop for one of Herod’s actions as it relates to behavior in a honor/shame society: 3

Life in Mediterranean societies typically has very little privacy. Everything honorable is expected to be done in public because only the dishonorable have something to hide. Thus, in villages the doors to houses are always open during the day, and a show is made of doing one’s business in public. The fact that Herod operates secretly here signals the reader he is acting dishonorably.

4.2 The Magi

The Magi play a very prominent role here. Why is this story an important part of the birth narrative?

  • Clearly, you can tell the story of Jesus without mentioning the magi since neither Luke or Mark mention the wise men. What can we learn from the story of the Magi? What do you think Matthew wanted his audience to learn from the inclusion of the story?
  • Of course, one possibility is that Matthew knew about the Magi visiting and the others did not. Let’s move beyond that explanation and think about what Matthew wants to teach us about Jesus via the story involving the Magi.

4.3 Foreigners, Outsiders, and Gentiles

One important attribute of the Magi is that they are foreigners (gentiles). Why would Matthew include a story from the infancy of Jesus that involves foreigners? Who do the Magi contrast with?

  • Do you think Matthew is emphasizing the scope of Jesus’ message and mission (this is also a possible explanation for the inclusion of four women in the genealogy of Jesus just one chapter earlier)?
  • It is certainly the case that Matthew identifies Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. There are “Son of David” references in chapter one and Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem of Judaea is a clear reference to his Davidic lineage. On the other hand, Matthew seems to broaden the scope frequently. In this case, we are reminded by Matthew, that foreign dignitaries came to visit the King even at his birth. This may, in part, emphasize that this birth has implications for all nations (and a least a few understood, at least to some degree, these implications).
  • Do you think the magi are meant to contrast with Herod and the Judean leadership? For example, is it important that the Magi realize and accept that Jesus is the “King of the Jews” while Herod does not?
  • Notice that Matthew expands the scope of the pericope in another dimension. Foreign dignitaries come to visit but Herod is not the only one that is troubled. In fact, Matthew explains that all of Jerusalem was troubled. Are you surprised by this? Why would the whole populace be troubled and why is this an important detail?
  • I have a hard time believing that a little hyperbole isn’t involved in this statement, but I wonder if we should go even farther? Think about how Matthew describes that city of Jerusalem throughout the gospel. Does he use it frequently as a type? Is it possible that Matthew uses the city of Jerusalem as a symbolic description of a kind of people?
  • Relatedly, Malina and Rohrbaugh, in their commentary suggest the following about Matthew’s use of the word “Jew:”4

Note that the … translation “Jews” in v. 2 is incorrect. The Greek word used here (and throughout Matthew) is Ioudaios and it means simply and only “Judean.” The term in Matthew always refers to someone (or something) from Judea. Correlatives to this term are “Galilean” and “Perean.”; together all three made up the people of Israel.

  • Suppose Malina and Rohrbaugh are correct. Does the preceding provide insight or important backdrop to how Matthew uses terms like “Jerusalem” and “Jew?”

4.4 Comparison Between the Birth and Crucifixion Narratives

The Magi proclaim that Jesus is the “King of the Jews.” Does this contrast ever show up again the gospel of Matthew? Is it a theme?

I think it shows up in some form throughout the gospel of Matthew. However, Let’s think about the end of the gospel of Matthew: the trial and crucifixion. How does this same contrast show up there? Are there other similarities?

  1. Pilot (the gentile) believes Jesus to be innocent in the crucifixion narrative. The Roman Soldiers (gentiles) ironically proclaim: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews (Matthew 27).
  2. The Judean rulers or leadership, on the other hand, refuses to accept Jesus as the Messiah.
  3. Both narratives reflect secret plotting by the Judean leadership or rulers.
  4. Heavenly signs: star (birth) and darkness (death).

What do you make of these similarities and connections? What do the teach us about Jesus and his message and particularly what do the reveal about Matthew’s message about Jesus?

4.5 The Magi and the Scriptures

Is there anything ironic about the Magi’s acceptance of Jesus as King of the Jews, and the Judean leadership’s refusal to accept him?

  • It seems to me that the Magi use of the star for guidance is being contrasted with the Judean leaderships use of scriptures.
  • Suppose the preceding is correct. What does the star represent? Or maybe, is there a way to understand the star and the contrast between the star and the scriptures, that is meaningful to us as Latter-day Saints?
  • Do these verses tell us anything about the role of scripture? Do they tell us anything about the role of revelation? How about their joint role?
  • Why do the Magi even visit Herod? why not follow the star straight to Jesus? Why do the Magi need Herod’s help? Does that clarify anything about the roles of scripture and revelation?

4.6 The Magi or Foreign Prophets in Scripture

When you think of magi, what comes to mind? Do stories in the Old or New Testaments come to mind? Are there similarities between others stories involving magi in the Old Testament and Matthew’s Magi? Are the magi usually viewed positively or negatively in the Bible?

The magi of the Old Testament and New Testament

  1. Moses and the wise men (magicians) at Pharaoh’s court (Exodus 7:8-13).
  2. Balaam (Number 22-24). Raymond brown notes that, although Balaam is never called a magus in the Old Testament, it might not have been unusual to refer to him as a magus in the first century. Philo of Alexandria (the 1st century Hellenized Jewish philosopher) referred the Balaam as a magus.5
  3. The magi in he book of Daniel.
  4. Magus in the Book of Acts (Acts 8:9-24).
  5. Elymas of Bar-Jesus (Acts 13:6-11).

4.7 Balaam and the Magi

Do you think that Matthew wants us to think of these Old Testament magi in general or possibly one magus or group of magi when we read this story? Does Balaam make more sense as an allusion than the other magi?

To me the strongest possible link is definitely Balaam.6 In what ways are the Magi like Balaam? Are the two stories similar in some ways?

4.7.1 Links Between Balaam and the Magi

  • Balaam does get viewed negatively in Numbers 25. After Balaam’s arrival, the Israelite men are seduced into idolatry by the Moabite woman. However, in chapters 22-24 Balaam – at the very least – is receiving true revelations (oracles) from God.
  • Both of the Magi and Balaam are known to come from “the east” (numbers 23:7):

7 And he took up his parable, and said, Balak the king of Moab hath brought me from Aram, out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse me Jacob, and come, defy Israel.

Maybe Matthew keeps the origin of the wise men purposely vague to increase the commonality in the allusion.

  • Balaam actually does foil the plans of King Balak; King Balak hopes to use Balaam to curse Israel but Balaam ends up blessing Israel. The parallels with King Herod are pretty strong. Herod tries to use the foreign magi to destroy Jesus (the Hope and true King of Israel) but they bless (bestow gifts) on the infant King.
  • A final link between the Balaam and the Magi: Numbers 24:17:

17 I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.

4.7.2 Possible Implications

What can we learn or what should we learn from the fact that the stories are similar?

  • Do you think this is a purposeful allusion by Matthew?
  • Suppose it is a purposeful allusion. Why might Matthew want to link the Magi that visit Jesus with Balaam? Does this allusion possibly reinforce an important theme or themes found in the gospel of Matthew? If so, which ones?
  • What can we learn from the fact that foreign wise men or prophets have played an important role in both the Old Testament and New Testament?
  • I think it is an example of one Matthew’s most important themes: to call the reader’s attention to the links between the Old Testament and Jesus. In this case, Matthew is indicating to the reader that taking salvation to the gentiles was not new or accidental. It was planned by God from the beginning (beginning here jointly refers the earthly life of Jesus and the Israelite nation.)
  • What do you think about about the link between the Magi in this story, the star, and the imagery in Numbers 24:17? Does the imagery in Numbers 24:17 link very well with some of the imagery in this pericope? Do you see this link as informative? Why might it be an important link? Should we view it as informative about the mission of Jesus according to Matthew?

4.8 The Magi and Pharaoh’s Magicians

Magi play an important role in the story of Moses. Is it possible that the Magi are also part of an allusion to the magicians in the Moses story?

  • I suspect the most likely objection to this as a purposeful allusion is that in this story the Magi are good men that receive divine guidance but the magi in the Moses story are basically the opposite. Is this objection enough to torpedo this possible allusion or does it work to think about this connection more generally?
  • R.T France, in the NICNT suggests there might be a typological link via extra-biblical traditions that were common around the time of Jesus:7

Jewish traditions about the birth of Moses had by the first century developed well beyond the Exodus story, and for those who know those fuller traditions there is rich material for typological comparison. According to this developing tradition, not only was Moses’ father Amram informed in a dream of his son’s future role …, but Pharaoh too, who according to the Exodus account was simply aiming at genocidal reduction of the Israelite population, was, according to Josephus …, specifically warned of the birth of one child who was destined to humble Egypt and exalt Israel, as a result of which both Pharaoh and the Egyptians were alarmed and decided on the policy of infanticide. The warning was delivered, according to Josephus, by an Egyptian “sacred scribe”, but other sources attribute it more specifically to astrologers …

  • How does this backdrop add to the allusion that Matthew is possibly making between the story of Jesus and that of Moses?
  • Are these additional allusions important or should we pay more attention to allusions that are more grounded in the actual biblical text?

5 The Star

Read Matthew 2:9-10:

9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

This is no ordinary star. Plenty of observers have suggested other astrological phenomenon such as supernovas or comets, but I wonder if such identification (while maybe interesting) misses Matthew’s point?8

  • How does the star help us understand the mission and identity of Jesus (particularly from Matthew’s perspective)?
  • Does the role of the star get more active here? Before, the star passively directed that magi to Jerusalem. Now, it leads them directly to the young child. Do you think we should read this as a change? Is the star acting more miraculously now? If so, how does that follow from the interaction of the magi with Herod (or does it)?
  • Is it important that the star gets linked with rejoicing in these verses?
  • Does the role of the star here in Matthew remind you of other instances of divine guidance?

5.1 The Wise men, Mary, and Jesus

Read Matthew 2:11-12

11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

  • What do you make of the fact that Joseph is not mentioned in these verses?
  • No mention of Joseph strikes me as potentially interesting because Matthew’s birth narrative account often seems to be almost written from Joseph’s perspective. Can you think of any possible reasons why Joseph is not mentioned in these verses?
  • Is it important that the wise men gave gifts to Jesus? For practical reasons? Other reasons?
  • Christian tradition, from the time of Irenaeus attached symbolism to each of the gifts: gold for royalty, frankincense for divinity, and myrrh for death and burial.9 What do you think of this idea? Do you like the idea of viewing each of the gifts as symbols? Why or why not?

6 Fleeing to Egypt

Read Matthew 2:13-21

13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. 14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: 15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. 21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.

Is there historical evidence confirming the slaughter of the innocents? No, but that is probably not surprising. If the village of Bethlehem had about 1000 people then male children under 2 years of age would probably not number more than 20 children given the high infant mortality rate of the time.10

What we know about Herod certainly suggests that he was capable of such a slaughter. For example, Raymond Brown, in his commentary on the birth narratives, explains the following about Herod:11

To ensure mourning at his funeral, Herod wanted his soldiers instructed to kill notable political prisoners upon the news of his death. His goals was expressed thus: “So Shall all Judea and every household weep for me, whether they wish it or not.”

  • Is the Old Testament an important backdrop for these verses? In what ways does the narrative echo stories or themes in the Old Testament?
  • Well, the quotation of Hosea 11:1 and Jeremiah 31:15 is an obvious link. Are there more links that that?
  • These verses, at least to me, continue to develop the Matthew’s Moses typology. What links to Moses do you see in these verses?
  • Matthew seems to explicitly evoke Exodus imagery in these verses. Notice, that Matthew only partial quotes from Hosea 11:1:. The full verse reads as follows:

1 When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.

  • More Moses Jesus parallels: Notice the similarity of language in Exodus 4:19-20:

19 And the LORD said unto Moses in Midian, Go, return into Egypt: for all the men are dead which sought thy life. (20) And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.

7 Return to Nazareth

Read Matthew 2:21-23:

21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

  • Is settling in Nazareth a change of plans in terms of location? If so, what was the family’s original plan?
  • Why do you think the narrative mentions that the family returns to country of Israel, the region of Galilee, and then the city of Nazareth? Why not just say they settled in Nazareth?

Matthew sees that return to Nazareth as a fulfillment of scripture, but it is not obvious what scripture Matthew has in mind or really if any fits well at all.

  • Jim F., in his notes, mentions a possibility.
  • Another possibility is that this is a play on Nazareth’s obscurity. In other words, Jesus being a Nazarene fulfills prophecies that predict the Messiah will appear or come from nowhere (e.g., from Nazareth).12
  • What do you think of the preceding possibility? Do you see any problems with this suggestion?
  • Suppose this is what Matthew hand in mind. Can you think of any scriptures that Matthew might have thought were fulfilled by Jesus being from Nazareth?
  • How do you think it compares to the possibility that Matthew has Isaiah 11:1 in mind? “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch (nsr) shall grow out of his roots.” (from Jim F.’s notes)


1 This outline is adapted from Ehrman, Bart D., 2004, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, Oxford University Press, but you can find something similar in lots of sources.

2 Coogan, Michael D. (Editor), 2001, The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Oxford University Press, 10.

3 Malina, Bruce J. and Richard Rohrbaugh, 2003, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Fortress Press, 29.

4 Malina, Bruce J. and Richard Rohrbaugh, 2003, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, Fortress Press, 27.

5 Brown, Raymond E., 1977, The Birth of the Messiah, Doubleday, 190-196.

6 For a nice discussion of the links between Balaam and the Magi see Brown, Raymond E., 1977, The Birth of the Messiah, Doubleday, 190-196.

7 France, R.T., 2007, The Gospel of Matthew, Eerdmans, 63.

8 For a discussion of these different possibilities see France, R.T., 2007, The Gospel of Matthew, Eerdmans, 68.69

9 France, R.T., 2007, The Gospel of Matthew, Eerdmans, 76.

10 Brown, Raymond E., 1977, The Birth of the Messiah, Doubleday, 204-205.

11 Brown, Raymond E., 1977, The Birth of the Messiah, Doubleday, 227.

12 France, R.T., 2007, The Gospel of Matthew, Eerdmans, 94-95.

4 Responses to “New Testament Lesson 3 (KD): Matthew 2 & Luke 2”

  1. BTD Greg said

    Great outline. Thanks for sharing this.

    There’s another typology here that is very interesting. In the OT, we have Joseph, a “son of Israel,” guided by dreams, calling his family to Egypt for their protection and salvation. In the NT, Joseph is guided to Egypt to protect his family, and Matthew cites a scripture that Jesus shall be called a “son of Israel.” Matthew seems particularly interested in testifying of Christ by tying Jesus as closely as possible to the OT Messiah of prophesy.

  2. BTD Greg said

    One more comment (sorry!): the “returning to Nazareth” thing is interesting. Luke mentions that Joseph was from Galilee to begin with and was only travelling to Bethlehem (and this fact is pretty crucial to the whole Christmas story narative). Matthew doesn’t mention this at all. In fact, if you only read Matthew, it sounds like Joseph may have been from Bethlehem, in Judea, fled to Egypt, then returned, but wanted to be farther from Jerusalem, so decides to go to Nazareth.

    One alternate theory on the missing Nazarene prophecy is that it was referring to some old saying (perhaps relating to Samson or Samuel) about a young child being born a Nazarite, or hero of Israel, then Nazarite gets modified loosely to Nazarene. I kind of like this theory, and I don’t think it hinges on Jesus being literally a Nazarite, but rather a person who was meant to be holy and devote his live to God.

    • Karl D. said

      Thanks, BTD Greg for the comment. I think your comment about Matthew and Luke’s handling of the Nazareth and Bethlehem chronology is a nice reminder that Matthew and Luke are not working from exactly the same sources and traditions with respect to the birth.

      Yes, the Nazarite suggestion is a good one. It often gets dismissed by commentators because Jesus was clearly not a Nazarite in a strict sense. But, you are right, that Matthew may be proposing a looser correspondence.

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