The Deity of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew

The titles “Jehovah” and “God” given to Jesus in Matthew 1

In this series of articles I want to present the case that Matthew teaches Jesus is God, from the arguments I made in 2 moderated debates with a Muslim apologist, Mohammed Abd al Razack, commonly known as Al Yemeni. Although I will be going into far more detail, not having to deal with the tight time controls of a debate format.

Matthew’s teaching of the trinity and in particular that Jesus is God is by no means limited to the baptismal formula given by Christ after his resurrection in Matthew 28:19 a text of which the authenticity is often questioned despite not being in doubt. A sound assessment of what Matthew teaches about his main subject “Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1), should begin by observing the structure of the book, specifically the way that Matthew chooses to begin and end his Gospel. Matthew, quite reasonably, begins his account of the life of Jesus by describing the circumstances of his birth (1:18). We are told that before having relations with Joseph to whom she was betrothed, Mary was found to be pregnant, Matthew tells us this was through the Holy Spirit, although this of course was unknown to Joseph, her husband to be.

Certain questions arise immediately. First, we may note that Jesus being the Son of God in a unique sense (only-begotten) cannot be the result of his conception as a human by Mary as it is the Holy Spirit who begat Jesus as a man, rather than the Father. The Father is never identified as the Spirit and in 28:19 the Father, Son and Spirit are distinguished from each other. Since the Spirit is not the Father, but rather the Father is a distinct person from the Spirit, we can conclude that both the fatherhood of the Father and the sonship of the Son are not the result of his human conception.

The second question is why is the virgin birth by Mary of a child begotten by the Holy Spirit necessary? What is the purpose of this? Challenging questions for an anti-trinitarian who wants to maintain that Jesus is a mere man to answer. But neither do we have to speculate about it because the answer is given in the text in short notice.

Matthew 1:21 “She will give birth to a Son; and you shall name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

The angel insists that the son to be born must be named Jesus which means either “Jehovah saves” or “Jehovah is Salvation”, a common name at the time, as we know from others in the New Testament who share this name (Matthew 27:16 variant reading, Acts 13:6, Colossians 4:11, Luke 3:29), the same name of the successor of Moses. There’s nothing shocking about the name itself, but a hugely significant point is the reason why the angel says that he must be given this particular name. “for He will save His people from their sins.” He is called Jesus – meaning Jehovah saves because he (that is Jesus) will save his (Jesus’) people from their sins. There can be no dispute that the word “he” at the beginning of this phrase is referring to the child, Jesus. The phrase in Greek[1]  includes the word “he” which is actually grammatically unnecessary and as a result can only have been included by the author to highlight that the child is to be given this name (Jehovah is salvation) because he himself is going to be doing the saving. As if this is not enough, the word is not only included but also placed in the emphatic position at the beginning of the phrase. In Greek, the word to be emphasised is placed at the beginning. Beyond all doubt the angel is identifying Jesus himself as Jehovah who saves!

Further, the Old Testament states that it is Jehovah who will save Israel from their sins, Israel being the group most naturally understood to be “his people” in verse 21 contextually (in both historical and religious contexts of the writing of Matthew and the events themselves).

That Jehovah himself will save Israel from their sins is a common theme found in texts such as;

Psalm 130:7-8 “Israel, wait for the Lord; For with the Lord there is mercy, And with Him is abundant redemption. 8 And He will redeem Israel from all his guilty deeds.”

And significantly;

Isaiah 43:11

“I, only I, am the Lord, and there is no saviour besides Me

Some may object here that this must be some kind of hyperbole because others have the same title “saviour” assigned to them and approved in scripture, such as;”

2 Kings 13:4-5

“Then Jehoahaz appeased the Lord, and the Lord listened to him; for He saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Aram oppressed them. 5 And the Lord gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from under the hand of the Arameans; and the sons of Israel lived in their tents as previously.”

Isaiah 19:20

“And it will become a sign and a witness to the Lord of armies in the land of Egypt; for they will cry out to the Lord because of oppressors, and He will send them a Savior and a Champion, and He will save them.”

But here the focus ought to be narrowed, the context in which mere men are called saviours is when they are delivering people from physical oppression, so there is no contradiction with Isaiah 43:11 or need to explain it as exaggeration because it is talking about Jehovah being the only saviour of another sort. The following verses from the same chapter reveal in what sense Jehovah is saying that there is no other saviour;

Isaiah 43:25-28

“I, I alone, am the one who wipes out your wrongdoings for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins. 26 Meet Me in court, let’s argue our case together; State your cause, so that you may be proved right. 27 Your first forefather sinned, And your spokesmen have rebelled against Me. 28 So I will profane the officials of the sanctuary, And I will turn Jacob over to destruction and Israel to abuse.”

What is the precise context in which Jehovah is the only saviour? Salvation from sins, the exact things from which the angel states Jesus will save his people, Matthew 1:21. For which reason he is to be called that very name – “Jesus” – “Jehovah saves”.

Matthew continues;

1:22 Now all this took place so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: 23 “Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they shall name Him Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”

Regarding the proper translation of the Hebrew word here translated as “virgin” a great deal has been said by others, it is not my purpose here to weigh in on that dispute, for a solid treatment of it I suggest Dr Michael L Brown[2]. Since I am concerned instead here with an exegetical analysis of what Matthew teaches about the deity of Christ, my focus is on the use that Matthew makes of Isaiah 7:14 as is relevant to that. He is stating that the events just described directly before were necessary for the fulfilment of this prophecy. “The virgin”, that is Mary, has conceived by the Holy Spirit in his account and will shortly after, as the record continues, give birth to a son while still a virgin, Matthew 1:25. Consequently he identifies the Son in this prophecy as Jesus, Jesus is Immanuel. While doing this Matthew takes care to point out the meaning of that name – “God is with us”. He clearly considers the meaning significant and wants it to be noted by his readers without them attempting to minimise its profundity. Since Matthew has already recorded the angel explicitly identifying Jesus as Jehovah, he is now equating Jesus (who is Jehovah) as God in this prophecy, fulfilled as a result of these events.

Two objections may be made however. First, that the use of a theophoric name, even one stating the presence of God does not imply that that the one with such a name is himself God. Even today “Immanuel” is a name used by Christians for their children although they have no intention of being blasphemous or implying that their children are divine at all! However this is to isolate this prophecy from its context (both in Matthew and Isaiah). In Isaiah it is said to be a great sign from “Jehovah himself” implied to be “as deep as sheol or as high as heaven” (Isaiah 7:11). Whether or not there was a prior fulfilment Matthew sees the birth of Jesus as the ultimate fulfilment of this prophecy making that connection directly after recording the angel stating unambiguously that he is Jehovah while drawing specific attention to the meaning of the name “God is with us” something he wants his readers to take seriously and not to miss.

Second, some may wish to mention that the Lord’s given name was “Jesus” not “Immanuel”. It is perfectly clear that Matthew well knows what the Lord’s given name is, (Matthew 1:21), without even referring to the use of the name “Jesus” throughout the rest of the book. According to Matthew, Jesus is the Son in this prophecy. If anyone cares to dispute that let them simply attempt to explain Matthew 1:22. Further, to say that something particular will be a person’s name in biblical use certainly does not need to mean that it must be their given name which is used for them. Let’s use another prophecy as an example, just two chapters later;

 Isaiah 9:6 “For a Child will be born to us, a Son will be given to us; And the government will [h]rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”

Just as in chapter seven of Isaiah it says his name will be called each of these things, let the objector use the same method of interpretation in both texts. Either maintain that the child in this text is being prophesied to have every one of these as a given name or no longer insist that in chapter 7 this must be the literal first name of that son.

Written by D King’s Servant

*All biblical quotations are from the NASB

[1] αυτος γαρ σωσει τον λαον αυτου απο των αμαρτιων αυτων the word “he” underlined

[2] Michael L. Brown “Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus vol 3” Baker books 2003 17-32

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