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γένεσις and the title of Matthew's gospel (Monday with Mounce 194)

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Monday with MounceRemember the adage: "Greek gives us the range of possibilities; context makes the determination."

Maybe "adage" is too strong, since I made it up; but I do say it a lot.

Matthew starts his gospel as such: "This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham" (NIV). There is a footnote on "genealogy" that says, "Or is an account of the origin."

γένεσις has four basic meanings according to BDAG.

  • "Birth"
  • "Existence"
  • "An account of someone’s life, history, life"
  • "Lineage, family line"

According to Carson, this gives us three possibilities in Matthew 1:1.

  • "record of the genealogy" (pointing to Matt 1:1-17)
  • "record of the origins" (which would be the title to the prologue, 1:1–2:23)
  • "record of the history" (which would be a title to the whole book)

Carson goes on to point out that "the expression is found only twice in the LXX. In Genesis 2:4 it refers to the creation account (Ge 2:4–25), and in Genesis 5:1 to the ensuing genealogy." This is significant, because regardless of how the word is used in isolation, these are the only examples with Matthew's actual collocation.

The more significant point is that the same word occurs in Matthew 1:18, which is outside the genealogy. "Now the birth (γένεσις) of Jesus Christ took place in this way" (similarly Luke 1:14). The other occurrences of γένεσις in the New Testament are distinctly different and inapplicable (James 1:23; 3:6).

Context strongly favors the second option, "Record of the Origins" (so Blomberg). Greek gives us the range of possibilities; context makes the determination.


MouncewWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more about Bill at BillMounce.com, and visit his other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at BiblicalTraining.org.

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