Word of the Week
January 1, 2022
Genesis: The Story Begins
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Today we hang up new calendars! Holding a completely blank calendar reminds me that I don’t know what the year ahead holds. One corner of my mind is grateful for a fresh start, a chance to make this year more meaningful. Another part of my mind feels a little anxious, wondering what storms will hit in the next twelve months.
Even though we can’t predict the future, this is a great time to make plans for the year ahead. This spring I will be teaching a course on the Gospel of Matthew, and our “Word of the Week” will be drawn from key words in Matthew.
We will start with the opening phrase in the Gospel: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.”
The Greek word translated “genealogy” in Matthew is genesis, a word that already sounds familiar. Genesis is the first book in the Bible, the book of beginnings. In English, we sometimes talk about “the genesis of an idea,” the root or origin of a concept.
However, even though this word sounds familiar, we will only get the full impact if we go back to the first century and ask what it meant to the readers of the New Testament.
Genesis had several shades of meaning in the original Greek.
- It could mean “birth.”
That’s how it is used in the Christmas story.
- “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows . . .” (Matthew 1:18).
- “And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his [John the Baptist’s] birth” (Luke 1:14).
This meaning also appears in James 1:23, which compares a person who reads the Bible without putting it into practice to a person who looks at “the face of his genesis,” the face he received as a result of physical birth, and pays no attention to it.
Here the word describes the event of Christ’s birth.
- It could mean “lineage, family line.”
Matthew 1:1 mentions the book or record of Christ’s family tree. We often consider genealogies as boring lists of unknown people, but the Bible is studded with such records. The Greek translation of Genesis, for instance, uses the phrase “book of genesis” repeatedly to introduce the genealogy or the story of someone:
Genesis 2:4 – the genesis of the heaven and earth
Genesis 5:1 – the genesis of Adam
Genesis 6:9 – the genesis of Noah
Genesis 11:10 – the genesis of Shem
Genesis 37:2 – the genesis of the family of Noah
The phrase is a built-in marker for the different sections of Genesis, and Matthew uses the same phrase to introduce the family tree of Jesus. We tend to skip over this genealogy, but a Jewish reader would recognize it as vital evidence that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah.
Here the word provides the background for Christ’s birth.
- It could mean “life, existence.”
James 3:6 warns about the destructive power of the tongue, likening it to a fire that can ignite “the course of our genesis.” The phrase here evidently refers not just to our birth, but to our whole life. The word “course” in earlier Greek often meant “wheel,” an apt description of life where the new year comes around again and again.
Here the word refers to the outcome of each person’s birth.
Reflect on the genesis of Jesus:
- The word refers to His birth, the moment when the eternal Son took on a physical body, a human nature.
- It describes His genealogy, the record of the long line of patriarchs and monarchs that prepared the way for His coming.
- It reminds us that the birth was just the beginning of his life. From that point forward, Jesus was moving toward the cross and the empty tomb – and His place at the Father’s right hand.
Let’s remember that the new year is more than just a one-day event. It is the culmination of a long history, and it is a doorway into all the daily events that will carry your story forward. All of it rests in God’s hands, and we can move forward with confidence, knowing that we don’t walk alone.
Some Greek manuscripts use a slightly different Greek word in Matthew 1:18 and Luke 1:14. Instead of genesis, it’s gennēsis. The first comes from the verb ginomai, which means “to become, to happen.” It describes something that didn’t exist before but has now come into existence. It is an appropriate way to describe a baby’s birth. The second spelling comes from the verb gennaō, “to give birth.”
This is a good example of the variations we sometimes find in old Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. There are occasional variations in spelling, sometimes representing a different Greek word. But in most cases, the meaning of the verse is not affected noticeably.
Q – I understand that the Greek word mellō means “about to be, going to be.” Is that an accurate translation?
A – Yes, those are the usual translations. The word normally describes something that hasn’t happened yet, but is pending, certain to happen or intended to happen. It might refer to something that will happen very soon, like the servant in Luke 7:2 who was on the verge of death. Or it might describe something in the more distant future, like the reference to the future resurrection in Acts 24:15. Sometimes it serves as way to state a person’s plan or intention. Jesus sent disciples to all the towns where he “was going to” visit in Luke 10:1.
When Herod interrogated the wise men, he instructed them to search “carefully” for the newborn king of the Jews (Matthew 2:7). The same word “carefully” is used to describe the way we should live as followers of Jesus, so we will examine it more closely.
In addition, we will look at a passage where the gender of a noun allows Matthew to record the birth of Jesus in a way that points directly to His virgin birth.
©Ezra Project 2022