Book of Genesis

Dale Allison argues that Matthew’s opening words, BIBLOS GENESEOS, should be translated as “Book of the Genesis,” a translation ambiguous enough to capture all that Matthew intended – an allusion to the first book of the Bible, a new creation theme, an introduction to the genealogy or birth story, etc. GENESIS was, he argues, established as the title of the first book of the Bible by Matthew’s time. He suggests that Matthew 1:1 is a title: “Book of the New Genesis of Jesus Christ . . . .”

He and WD Davies also note (in their jointly authored ICC volume) how the phrase is used in the LXX of Genesis 2:4 and 5:1. There, the phrase does not, as in Matthew 1:1, introduce a genealogy; rather, BIBLOS GENESEOS in Genesis 5:1 introduces a list of descendants and in 2:4 does not (on their reading) introduce any sort of ancestry or genealogy at all.

Let’s assume, though, that Matthew meant to draw a very direct link between his use of the phrase and that of Genesis 2:4 and 5:1. What would that mean?

First, I think it likely that the phrase in Genesis 2:4 does in fact introduce a series of “generations.” This is the use of the similar phrases throughout Genesis. 10:1, for instance, introduces the “generations of Shem, Ham, and Japheth,” and then goes on to list those who are born from them, and the events generated by those generations. In 2:4, the “heavens and earth” are the “parents” who generate (though God’s work) plants, mist, a garden, a man, etc. Adam’s mother is the earth, as his father is the God of heaven; he is taken from the dust, and his Father breathes life into Him from heaven. Genesis 5:1 definitely introduces a list of those “generated” by Adam. Thus, in both places where Genesis uses the same phrase as Matthew, the text goes on to describe those things that come from the one named.

If this is correct, and if Matthew is using the phrase in the same sense, then Jesus is being presented not only as the descendant of those named (though he is that, 1:16) but also as the progenitor of those listed. Israel’s history is initiated by Jesus, even as it also climaxes in Jesus. He is the Alpha and the Omega of this genealogy, the first Man and the Last Man, the beginning Israelite and the final Israelite. This is neatly captured by the chiastic structure of Matthew’s genealogy – moving from Jesus-David-Abraham [v. 1] and then through Abraham [v. 2]-David [v. 6]-Jesus [v. 16].

Jesus is the heavens-and-earth that generates a new world, a new Adamic race, a new Bride; Jesus is the Adam who gives birth to a race of true Sethites.

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