“Abijah [was] the father of Asaph, and Asaph [was] the father of Jehoshaphat” (Matthew 1:7-8 NRSV).
Today I conclude my study of the name “Asaph” as it appears in Matthew 1:7-8.
In my last post, I mentioned that most scholars believe that the inclusion of Asaph’s name in the list of David’s descendants was an error introduced into the text by the writer of the gospel of Matthew.
I also wrote that the error introduced by the writer of Matthew into the list of the kings of Judah is consistent with similar errors of citation found elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel. As I mentioned, more than once the writer of Matthew misidentified people and quotes taken from his sources.
As an example, I cited Matthew 1:10, a text in which the writer of Matthew said that “Manasseh [was] the father of Amos, and Amos [was] the father of Josiah.” However, to say that Manasseh was the father of Amos contradicts 2 Kings 21:18 and 2 Chronicles 33:20. These two passages say that Amon succeeded his father Manasseh. Thus, it is evident that the writer of Matthew confused the name of the prophet Amos with the name of Amon, king of Judah.
Another example of incorrect citation is found in Matthew 27:9-10, where the writer attributed to Jeremiah a passage that comes primarily from Zechariah:
Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”
The information that the writer of Matthew attributed to Jeremiah is actually loosely based on words found in Zechariah 11:12-13 combined with the ideas suggested by Jeremiah’s purchase of the land (Jeremiah 32:6-15) and his visit to the potter (18:1-3; 19:1-13).
In Matthew 23:35 the writer of Matthew confuses the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah (Zechariah 1:1) with Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada mentioned in 2 Chronicles 24:20-22:
Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah , whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar (NRSV).
Jesus was referring to Zechariah, a priest who was killed in the court of the temple but because the author has confused the two men with the same name, Matthew’s text is referring to the death of the prophet Zechariah.
Ed Glasscock said that Jesus was referring to the death of prophet Zechariah. However, since there is no record that the death of the prophet occurred by violence, some scholars speak of a developing tradition that identified the prophet Zechariah with the Zechariah who was killed in the temple. Leon Morris believes that Jesus is referring to Zechariah the priest and that Berechiah was the name, not of his father, but of his grandfather.
The attempts at explaining these errors of citation in Matthew are primarily based on a theological presupposition that the biblical text is inerrant. As Brown wrote: “The desire to spare Matthew an error may stem from a theory of inerrancy or from an overestimation of Matthew’s knowledge of Scripture.”
Thus, it is unlikely that the writer of Matthew deliberately used Asaph in 1:7-8 to bring wisdom and prophecy into Jesus’ lineage. To the contrary, the writer was making an effort to demonstrate that Jesus belonged to the royal family of Judah and that he was a descendant of Judah’s kings, including Asa and Amon.
The purpose of Matthew’s genealogy was to demonstrate that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that he was a descendant of David. Morris has emphasized that it was important for the writer of Matthew to demonstrate to his readers that Jesus was a son of David and a genuine king of Israel. The writer introduced David as a king in 1:6. Jesus is called the Son of David in 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30, 31; 21:9, 15; and 22:42. Jesus is called a king in 21:5 and the King of Israel in 27:42. Jesus is also called King of the Jews in 2:2; 27:11, 29, and 37.
The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel establishes a connection between Jesus, David, and the kings of Judah and connects Jesus with the Messianic hopes of Israel and the belief that the Messiah would come from the house of David.
There is no doubt that the writer of Matthew used the genealogy to emphasize that Jesus belonged to the royal family of Judah and that he was the fulfillment of the promise God made to the house of David. When God established his covenant with David, God promised him a dynasty (2 Samuel 7:14). The covenant also stated that after David had established his kingdom, God would adopt Solomon as his own son and would establish his kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16).
The covenant between God and David was based on divine grace and guaranteed that the succession of David’s line would continue forever. After the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and the end of the monarchy, God’s promise was extended to the Messianic age. The fulfillment of God’s promise to David “comes when the Word of the Son of David, who is the ‘Son of God’, makes his dwelling and ‘tabernacled’ among us” (John 1:14).
The textual evidence points to the fact that Asaph in Matthew 1:7-8 is a case of lectio difficilior potior, that is, that the more difficult reading is the correct reading and that the scribes, in their desire to harmonize the text of Matthew with the name of the Hebrew king, emended the text to Asa, the correct name of the king of Judah.
In conclusion, my study of the mention of Asaph in Matthew can be summarized as follows:
1. Asa was the son of Abijah and the father of Jehoshaphat.
2. The mention of Asaph in Matthew was an error introduced into the text by the writer of the gospel.
3. Whether the error was an accidental corruption of the text by a scribe or a deliberate or accidental confusion between Asa the king and Asaph the leader of the Levitical temple musicians, is a matter of debate.
4. The earliest and best textual tradition give strong evidence that the original reading was Asaph and not Asa.
5. The reading “Asa” in many manuscripts may be an attempt by scribes to correct the text and harmonize it with the correct name of the Judean king.
. Barachiah is the Septuagint reading.
. Ed Glasscock, Matthew: Moody Gospel Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997), 456.
. Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28 (Dallas: Word Books, Publishers, 1995), 677.
. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992) 589, n. 45.
. Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 61.
. Morris, 24.
. “‘Son of David’ means the Messiah of Israel from royal blood;” cf. Ulrich Luz, Matthew 1-7 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1989), 104.
. Hans W. Hertzberg, I & II Samuel (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), 287.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary