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Horizons in Biblical Theology 30 (2008) 103-113

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Matt 1:1: Son of Abraham as Christological Category


Leroy Andrew Huizenga
Wheaton College, Dept. of Biblical and Theological Studies, 501 College Avenue, Wheaton, IL 60187, USA leroy.a.huizenga@wheaton.edu

Abstract Matt 1:1 raises interpretive questions regarding its scope as a potential title and the import of the phrases son of David and son of Abraham. This article contends that son of Abraham introduces a signicant sacricial Christological category centered on the gure of Isaac which complements the Messianic aspects of Jesus Christs ministry associated with the title son of David. Son of David and son of Abraham therefore stand in parallel at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew as two titular designations specifying two Christological categories of the greatest import for the Gospel: Messiah (son of David) and new Isaac (son of Abraham). Thus is solved the diculty of a crucied Messiah: Jesus is indeed the Messiah but also the antitype of Isaac, whose sacrice was paradigmatic in Jewish tradition. Matt 1:1 therefore introduces the reader to these dual Christological categories and is a title whose scope covers the entire Gospel. Keywords Matthew, Isaac, Abraham, Akedah, Christology, Mary

The very rst verse of the Gospel of Matthew, , raises signicant interpretive questions regarding its function and range. Is the rst verse a title? Does it cover the entire Gospel, or only a limited preliminary section? The answer involves the import and relationship of the phrases son of David and son of Abraham. The former plays a major role throughout the Gospel and thus appears to function as some sort of signicant Christological title, but what of the latter? In his recent collection of essays on the Gospel of Matthew, Dale Allison lists six general approaches regarding the range and import of this
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2008 DOI: 10.1163/187122008X340842

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verse.1 First, since in Gen 5:1 heads up a genealogy of Adams descendants, the phrase may cover only the genealogy. Second, since in Matt 1:18 does not mean genealogy, some reject the strict limits of the rst option and hold that it introduces the whole of the rst chapter. Third, Matt 1:1 may introduce the entire infancy narrative, that is, the rst two chapters of the Gospel of Matthew. Fourth, a few scholars approaching the matter from a literary perspective contend that Matt 1:1 covers the rst major section, 1:1-4:16.2 Fifth, many ancient and modern commentators hold that Matt 1:1 introduces the entire Gospel.3 Sixth, a small number of scholars maintain that the ve prior options are complementary.4 In general, one notes that the more a commentator takes interest in the narrative, synchronic dimensions of the Gospel of Matthew, the further a commentator understands the range of Matt 1:1.5 The signicance of son of David in the Gospel of Matthew provides leverage on the question of the signicance of son of Abraham and thus the range of Matt 1:1. Since the former phrase is so signicant throughout the Gospel, symmetry suggests the latter may be as well. Graham Stanton writes, Narrative critics have reminded us of the crucial importance of the openings of writings. Matthews gospel is no exception. Son of David is the very rst Christological title used by the evangelist in his opening line which functions as a heading (1. 1).6 Although Stanton does not believe Matt 1:1 covers the entire Gospel,7 he stands with the vast consensus of
Dale Allison, Matthews First Two Words (Matt. 1:1), in idem, Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2005), 157-62 (here: 158-60). 2) For instance, J. D. Kingsbury, Matthew: Structure, Christology, Kingdom (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), esp. 7-17. 3) Among the moderns Allison lists, cf. Ulrich Luz, Das Evangelium nach Matthus (4 vols.; EKKNT; Dsseldorf: Benziger Verlag, 1985-2002), 1:117-19; among the ancients, cf. Jerome, Comm. Matt. 1.1 and Chrysostom, Hom. Matt. 2.3. 4) W. D. Davies and Allison, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew (3 vols.; ICC; T&T Clark: Edinburgh, 1988-1997), 1:149-60. 5) Such as in the cases of Kingsbury, Allison (who, although a traditional critical scholar, is of late attempting to pay signicant attention to narrative factors), and Luz, who has displayed an increasing interest in Matthean narrative dynamics and the role of readers. 6) Graham Stanton, A Gospel for a New People: Studies in Matthew (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992), 181. 7) Ibid., 12-13. Stanton suggests that the Gospel was understood as a Gospel () in terms of genre from the outset, and thus the idea that Matt 1:1 contains the title of the work as a whole must be discounted.
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Matthean commentators in believing son of David, whatever its precise import, to be an important Matthean Christological category which permeates the entirety of the Gospel.8 Since son of David is so signicant, parallelism strongly suggests that son of Abraham plays a similarly signicant role throughout the Gospel.9 Ulrich Luz writes:
The fact that [Jesus Christ] is referred to as the Son of David may have been obvious to Christian readers. After all, it was widely believed that Jesus was descended from a Davidic family (see Romans 1:3). But why should he be called Son of Abraham? The expression stands out because it is not an established title. Nor does it kindle associations with the Messiah: every Jew is a son of Abraham. Why is it given special emphasis here? The genealogy that follows, a genealogy beginning with Abraham, answers the question only in a formal sense. What we have here is a blank slate deliberately inserted by Matthew, to be lled in by his readers in quite dierent ways. His concern is that they take along in their reading an unanswered question. Not until later will they be able to say in what sense Matthew spoke of Jesus as the Son of Abraham.10

Stanton believes the phrase involves not only healing but also opposition from the Jewish leadership (ibid., 180-91). On the signicance and import of son of David in the Gospel of Matthew, Cf. Wayne Baxter, Healing and the Son of David: Matthews Warrant, NovT 48 (2006): 36-50; Christoph Burger, Jesus als Davidssohn. Eine traditionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970); Dennis C. Duling, The Therapeutic Son of David: An Element in Matthews Christological Apologetic, NTS 24 (1978): 392-409; J. M. Gibbs, Purpose and Pattern in Matthews Use of the Title Son of David, NTS 10 (1963-1964): 446-64; Carl Kelly, The Messiah: Whose Son Is He? Another Look at the Son of David and Son of God Titles in Matthew, Trinity Seminary Review 26 (2005): 17-28; Kingsbury, The Title Son of David in Matthews Gospel, JBL 95 (1976): 591-602; Yigal Levin, Jesus, Son of God and Son of David: the Adoption of Jesus into the Davidic Line, JSNT 28 (2006): 415-42; Luz, Matthean Christology Outlined in Theses, in idem, Studies in Matthew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2005), 83-96 (here: 85-88); and Kim Paenroth, Jesus as Anointed and Healing Son of David in the Gospel of Matthew, Bib 80 (1999): 547-54. 9) Even if Matt 1:1 does not head up the entire Gospel, the genealogy nevertheless culminates in Christ, who is the fulllment of the promises to Abraham. Cf. K.-H. Ostmeyer, Der Stammbaum des Verheienen: Theologische Implikationen der Namen und Zahlen in Mt 1.1-17, NTS 46 (2000): 175-92; and Detlev Dormeyer, Mt 1,1 als berschrift zur Gattung und Christologie des Matthus-Evangeliums, in The Four Gospels 1992 (ed. F. van Segbroeck et al.; 3 vols.; BEThL; Louvain: Peeters, 1992), 1361-83 (here: 1364-65). 10) Luz, The Theology of the Gospel of Matthew (tr. J. Bradford Robinson; Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 24.

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Luzs words raise two important issues. First, son of David and son of Abraham seem asymmetrical at rst glance; if son of David is so signicant in the Gospel, might not son of Abraham be as well? Second, lling in the blank slate of son of Abraham requires further reading in the Gospel (as does son of David). At this point, the reader of the Gospel wonders what may be involved with calling Jesus Christ the son of Abraham. Luz suggests at various points in his works that Jesus is like Abraham in his obedience. Among other potential fruitful and complementary possibilities, however, the reader may hazard hearing here a possible echo of Isaac. The phrase son of Abraham calls forth a multitude of materials from the Jewish cultural encyclopedia, including texts and traditions pertaining to Isaac, and that which the reader is to consider relevant from the encyclopedia and that which is to be left dormant with reference to Isaac can only be determined on the basis of further reading.11 Reading further involves the genealogy of Matt 1:2-17. While many suggestions pertaining to its function involve analysis of the phenomenon of the inclusion of women and Gentiles, scholars have achieved little consensus in making sense of the phenomenon of the number 14.12 Davies and Allison opt for gematria: Matthews genealogy has 3 14 generations because Davids name has three consonants whose sum is 14.13 There is, however, another complementary possibility: whatever else its function, the chronology of the genealogy may point to the Akedah and thus to Isaac. Roy Rosenberg explains:
Jesus is alleged by Matthew to have lived and died during the rst jubilee of the fourth cycle of fourteen generations following Abraham: i.e., at the beginning of the fortysecond generation following Abraham. Following this system of chronology, the sacrice of Jesus becomes exactly parallel to the oering of Isaac, for the book of Jubilees (13:16, 17:15, 19:1) indicates that the oering of Isaac had taken place just prior to the beginning of the forty-second jubilee after the creation of the world.14 On cultural encyclopedias and the actualization and narcotizing of cultural materials therein in the process of reading, see Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1979); and idem, Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1984). 12) For an overview of approaches, cf. Davies and Allison, Saint Matthew, 1:161-65. 13) Ibid., 1:163. 14) Roy Rosenberg, Jesus, Isaac, and the Suering Servant, JBL 84 (1965): 381-88 (here: 387).
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Perhaps the reader is to understand that the Matthean genealogy has 3 14 generations both because the consonants of Davids name total fourteen (Davies and Allisons suggestion) and also because forty-two (3 14) jubilees of years points to the Akedah (Rosenbergs suggestion). If so, this would (1) explain both the number fourteen and the three-fold division of the genealogy and (2) reveal the symmetry between son of David and son of Abraham in Matt 1:1; the genealogy concerns both gures. In terms of their signicance, son of David and son of Abraham may stand in symmetry in the entire Gospel. Stanley Hauerwas, reading with the fresh eyes of a theologian, nds a complementary function:
It is interesting to ask why Matthew names Jesus as the son of David prior to being the son of Abraham. The answer may be simply that Matthew thinks naming Abraham second provides a useful transition to the list of descendants beginning with Isaac. Yet no words or ordering of words in scripture is without signicance. Matthew knows he is telling the story of one that was born a king, yet a king to be sacriced. God had tested Abraham by commanding him to sacrice Isaac. By beginning with Son of David Matthew prepares us to recognize that this is a king who will end up on the cross.15

Son of David and son of Abraham therefore stand at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew as two titular designations specifying two Christological categories of the greatest import for the Gospel: Messiah (son of David), and Isaac (son of Abraham). The latter concerns Son of God language in the Gospel: as Isaac was to Abraham his father, so is Jesus to God his Father. This second Christological category would solve the dissonant conundrum of a dying Messiah, as the Messiah never undergoes martyrdom in any of the various contemporary Jewish portrayals.16 The two categories of Messiah and crucied savior are wrapped up together in one person, Jesus, with the Isaac typology providing the conceptual category of the atoning death of a martyr.17
15) Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2006), 17. 16) Luz writes, Matthew narrates the meaning of the title son of David in his story. Jesus is Israels expected Messiah, but for many in Israel he does not act among his people as expected. After all, Israels Messiah is to be the Lord of all the world (Luz, Matthean Christology in Theses, 85). 17) In 4 Maccabees in particular, probably composed prior to or roughly contemporaneous with the composition of the Gospel of Matthew, Martyrdom is associated with vicarious atonement, while Isaac is pre-eminent among the martyrs (Alan Segal, The Akedah: Some

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The idea of a dying Messiah was of course a scandal in early Christianity. Stanton asserts that the overall Matthean approach to resolving the dilemma is similar to the approach of other early Christian writers: the Gospel of Matthew employs a two-parousias schema to explain how the Messiah can both suer and die and also be the triumphant gure most Jews were expecting. The rst coming involves his suering, whereas the second coming will involve the ultimate establishment of his reign.18 This is a diachronic approach. An Isaac typology, however, would serve as a positive synchronic complement: in his rst coming, Jesus was not only the Davidic Messiah but also the antitype of Isaac. Jon Levenson writes,
Within the overall structures of the Gospels . . . the two vocabularies of sonship, that of the beloved son and that of the Davidic king as the son of God, reinforce each other powerfully. They yield a story in which the rejection, suering, and death of the putatively Davidic gure is made to conrm rather than contradict [Jesus] status as Gods only begotten Son.19

That the rst chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is laying the groundwork for a robust Isaac typology to complement Jesus Messianic status as Son of David nds conrmation in an unmistakable but neglected allusion in the third major division of the rst chapter, the angels announcement to Joseph in Matt 1:18-25 that Mary will bear Jesus. The angels words present a remarkable degree of syntactic correspondence with Gods announcement to Abraham in Gen 17:19 LXX that Sarah will indeed bear Isaac:20
Matt 1:20-21: , . ,

Reconsiderations, in GeschichteTraditionReexion: Festschrift fr Martin Hengel zum 70. Geburtstag [ed. H. Cancik et al.; 3 vols.; Tbingen: Mohr {Siebeck}, 1996], 1:99116 [here: 108]). 18) Stanton, Gospel for a New People, 185-91. 19) Jon Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: the Transformation of Child Sacrice in Judaism and Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 206. 20) Single underlining indicates precise verbal, syntactical parallelism, while double underlining indicates parallels of personages. It is also intriguing that Gen 17:19 presents the rst mention of Isaac in the Old Testament, while Matt 1:21 presents the rst mention of Jesus in the New Testament.

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Gen 17:19 LXX: ,

The verbal correspondence is extensive and thus signicant.21 The parallelism of persons is intriguing; the angel, Joseph, Mary and Jesus in the Gospel stand in parallel to God, Abraham, Sarah and Isaac in Genesis. The passage invites the reader to consider the situation of the Virgin Mary in light of the situation of barren Sarah: both Sarah and Mary, women outside the normal bounds of childbearing status, conceive the promised children Isaac and Jesus through extraordinary, divine means, a comparison later made explicit by several patristic writers. For instance, St. Ambrose writes, An aged woman who was sterile brought him to birth according to Gods promise, so that we might believe that God has power to bring it about that even a virgin may give birth.22
It appears that modern commentators have missed the extent and thus signicance of this allusion because they have failed to consider Matt 1:20 in conjunction with Matt 1:21. For instance, Davies and Allison nd a generic birth announcement formula in Matt 1:21 which involves the pattern --, but fail to observe that Matt 1:20 also contains signicant syntactic correspondence with Gen 17:19 LXX. Thus, with regard to Matt 1:21, they conclude, This prophecy of future greatness, which may be compared with those concerning Moses, Buddha, Confucius, Augustus, and many other religious heroes, exhibits a form common to birth annunciation narratives, and then list several biblical examples from the LXX, including Gen 16:11 (concerning Ishmael), Gen 17:19, Isa 7:14, Luke 1:13, and Luke 1:31 (Saint Matthew, 1:208-09). To this list one could add the similar, past-tense, after-the-fact formulations of Gen 19:37, Gen 19:38, Gen 21:3 (here with reference to Isaac), Gen 29:32-35, Gen 30:20-21, Gen 38:3-5, as well as several other instances in the LXX, all of which involve the formula --. But while many verses contain the -- formula, either as predictions (i.e., Gen 16:11 LXX, Gods announcement of Ishmael to Hagar) or as after-the-fact statements (i.e., Gen 29:32, which relates the birth of Ruben to Leah) very few make reference to a as well, as does Gen 17:19 LXX. If one includes Matt 1:20, one observes substantial links to Gen 17:19 LXX in particular, not the mere appropriation of a generic formula found throughout the Old Testament; not only is the generic formula employed in Matt 1:21; in Matt 1:20 echoes in Gen 17:19 LXX. 22) Isaac 1:1 [=PL 14.527], tr. M. P. McHugh, in Saint Ambrose: Seven Exegetical Works [FC, vol. 65; Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1972], 10-65. Cf. Chrysostom, Pecc. 6-8 (=PG 51.359-60) and Hom. Gen. 49.6-11 (=PG 54.445-46); Ephrem Graecus Sermo in Abraham et Isaac, in particular strophes 1-27 and 161-65 (in Silvio Joseph Mercati, S. Ephraem Syri Opera [Rome: Pontical Biblical Institute, 1915] 43-83); and Opus Imperfectum in Matthaeum 5 (=PG 56.613).
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In fact, the immediate narrative context of the allusion reveals an apologetic function. The formula quotation of Isa 7:14 LXX in Matt 1:22-23 which follows the allusion to Gen 17:19 LXX in Matt 1:22-23 concerns virginal conception ( , ), making the apologetic concern explicit. The Gospel therefore presents the reader with two complementary rhetorical devices encouraging belief in Marys virginal conception of Jesus, an overt quotation and a more covert allusion. Marys conception of Jesus by divine power was not only prophesied by Scripture (the quotation of Isa 7:14 LXX) but indeed had precedent in Israels sacred matriarchal history (the allusion to Gen 17:19 LXX). In the rst chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, then, the reader encounters intriguing potential echoes of Isaac in each of the three major divisions of the chapter. The rst two instances (the Gospels title in Matt 1:1 and the genealogy in Matt 1:2-17) may appear somewhat elusive and ambiguous, but the third (the allusion to the birth of Isaac in Gen 17:19 LXX in Matt 1:20-21) is unmistakable, thus conrming that echoes of Isaac are to be heard in the prior two instances. That the rst chapter evokes these echoes of the gure of Isaac is further conrmed by echoes of Isaac heard throughout the rest of the Gospel. In accord with Richard Hays criterion of recurrence,23 these echoes in turn conrm that the rst chapter is inviting the reader to actualize a thoroughgoing Isaac typology. In general thematic terms, the Matthean Jesus and the Isaac of Jewish tradition prior to and contemporary with the rise of that Jewish phenomenon called Christianity bear a striking resemblance to each other: both are promised children conceived under extraordinary circumstances, beloved Sons who go obediently to their sacricial deaths at the season of Passover at Jerusalem at the hands of their respective fathers for redemptive purposes.24
23) Richard B. Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 30. 24) This picture of Isaac is not late, as if it were found only in rabbinic and targumic literature. Rather, documents such as Jubilees, 4Q225 (Pseudo-Jubilees), L.A.B., 4 Maccabees, Josephus Antiquities, and First Clement reveal it developed relatively early, prior to and contemporary with the rise of Christianity. Cf. Leroy Andrew Huizenga, The Matthean Jesus and the Isaac of the Early Jewish Encyclopedia, in Reading the Bible Intertextually (ed. R. B. Hays, S. Alkier and L. A. Huizenga; Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, forthcoming).

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In terms of precise verbal allusions, the Gospel evinces several other instances of signicant syntactical parallelism with material pertaining to Isaac in Gen 22 LXX which have substantial cumulative force when the Gospel of Matthew is read as a narrative.25 First, the heavenly voices at the Baptism and Transguration, the chief loci in view when the potential signicance of the gure of Isaac for the synoptic tradition is under consideration, present more syntactical parallelism with Gen 22 LXX than is usually observed. In both Matthean passages the divine voice calls Jesus (Matt 3:17 and Matt 17:5). Gen 22 LXX employs identical language regarding Isaac: (v. 2; genitives in vv. 12 and 16). This striking parallelisma signicant sequence of ve wordsremains underexplored due to the questionable assumption that alludes to Ps 2:7 LXX ( ).26 Moreover, the voice at the Baptism proceeds ; in Gen 22:11 and 15 LXX the voice of the angel come . Further, the narrative context of both Matthean passages concerns threat to Jesus the beloved Son, which supports the idea that aspects of the tradition of the Akedah resonate as an echo: the Baptism is followed immediately by the Temptation, which involves the temptation for Jesus to avoid the way of the cross,27 and the Transguration is preceded immediately by Peters refusal to believe Jesus the Christ and Son of the Blessed
That the Gospel of Matthew might allude to the Old Testament in Greek should not be controversial. The Gospels very composition in Greek suggests an audience familiar with the Old Testament in Greek, the text is stark durch die LXX bestimmt (Luz, Das Evangelium nach Matthus, 1:53) and the author was probably familiar with the LXX from the context of worship, as Luz notes (ibid., 1:191). Allison likewise asserts that the Matthean congregation used a Greek version of the Old Testament in worship: I assume that our Gospel was written for repeated use in an oral setting which also featured Scriptural readings from the LXX (Anticipating the Passion: The Literary Reach of Matthew 26:4727:56, CBQ 56 [1994]: 701-14 [here: 703]). 26) From a redaction-critical perspective, the author of Matthew would have actually reduced the correspondence with Ps 2:7 LXX vis--vis Mark. Ps 2:7, as noted, has . Mark 1:11 has . Matt 3:17 has . In Ps 2:7, is anarthrous and precedes the verb and subject. In Matt 3:17 has the article and follows the subject and verb, while the subject and verb are now in the third person. 27) Cf. Hans Christian Kammler, Sohn Gottes und Kreuz: die Versuchungsgeschichte Mt 4,1-11 im Kontext des Matthusevangeliums, ZTK 100 (2003): 163-86; and R. W. L. Moberly, The Bible, Theology, and Faith: a Study of Abraham and Jesus (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 198-224.
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One was destined for the cross. Thematically, then, these Matthean passages concern the obedience of the beloved Son Jesus as Gen 22 (as understood in Jewish tradition) concerns the obedience of the beloved son Isaac. Second, the phrase appears in the formula citation of Isa 42:1-4 in Matt 12:18-21. In contrast to the Pharisees who confront Jesus, attribute his works to Beelzebul and conspire to kill him, the citation subtly suggests that Jesus is an obedient beloved Son like Isaac.28 Third, the Gethsemane-Arrest sequence in Matt 26:36-56 contains several allusions to Gen 22 LXX.29 At Gethsemane Jesus tells his inner circle (Matt 26:36); in Gen 22:5 LXX Abraham says to his servants, . In the New Testament the adverbial is scarce. It does not appear in the Markan parallel in 14:32 ( ), occurring only in Luke-Acts (Luke 9:27; Acts 18:19 and 21:4). Jesus also deems the situation in Gethsemane a (Matt 26:41), as the Akedah was a test (, Gen 22:1 LXX).30 In the scene of the Arrest we nd the remarkable phrase twice (Matt 26:47 and 55). Gen 22:6 and 10 LXX have , while Gen 22:3, 6, 7 and 9 contain . Only the Arrest and Gen 22 LXX present these nouns in such close proximity and in both passages they are implements of violent sacricial death (the crowd at the arrest being unwitting agents of Jesus divinely ordained sacrice). Further, after Judas greets Jesus, the crowd (Matt 26:50), while the angel instructs Abraham [i.e., Isaac] (Gen 22:12 LXX). Finally, a disciple (Matt 26:51, precipitating Jesus warning in Matt 26:52 that ), while to slay Isaac (Gen 22:10 LXX). Many of these potential allusions to Isaac material have been either neglected or discounted by scholars. Nevertheless, their cumulative force
On the function of the formula quotation, see Huizenga, The Incarnation of the Servant: The Suering Servant and Matthean Christology, HBT 27 (2005): 25-58. 29) See Huizenga, Obedience unto Death: The Matthean Gethsemane and Arrest Sequence and the Aqedah, CBQ 70 (2008; forthcoming). 30) Since in Jewish tradition Isaacs willingness and obedience to go through with the sacrice were identical to Abrahams, Jesus can here appropriate Abrahams words as a new Isaac.
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suggests that Isaac plays a signicant if subtle role in the Gospel, and thus that son of Abraham in Matt 1:1 is a title introducing a sacricial Christological category that complements that of son of David: the former provides the conceptual framework for understanding Jesus Christ as a sacrice like Isaac, while the latter provides the conceptual framework for understanding Jesus Christ as the Davidic Messiah. As both categories are found throughout the Gospel, Matt 1:1 functions as a title covering the entire Gospel.