Saturday, May 16, 2009

Matthew 1:1: "Son of Abraham" a proposal by Leroy Huizenga

I recently stumbled across a brief and altogether interesting article on Matthew 1:1 “Jesus, the Messiah, son of David, son of Abraham” by Leroy Huizenga at Wheaton College while I was perusing the periodical shelves (HBT 30 [2008]: 103-13). I offer a summary and a short analysis.

First, Huizenga believes the phrase serves as a title for the whole Gospel and not simply for the genealogy or the infancy narrative or the first major section (1:1—4:16). Given how thoroughly interwoven is the concept of Jesus’ Davidic identity through the whole Gospel, the retrospective look back after reading makes this conclusion clear.

Second, Huizenga makes the important connection between the son of David and son of Abraham. He asserts, essentially, that what is true for the phrase “son of David” must also be true for “son of Abraham”. Thus, one would expect to find a significant thread sown through the Gospel that connects to this title.

These two points are largely well established within the field, but Huizenga then takes a step in a new direction by attempting to show that what Matthew has in mind is not Abraham, so much as Isaac, “the son of Abraham”. The force of his argument is that Matthew’s Gospel contains a robust Isaac typological intiated by this title: “in his first coming, Jesus was not only the Davidic Messiah but also the antitype of Isaac” (108). Central to this typology, for Huizenga, is the Akedah, Isaac’s willing sacrifice of himself. The consequence of which is a Christological category complementary to Davidic Messianism, namely, the sacrificial death of the Messiah. Huizenga writes, “The two categories of Messiah and crucified savior are wrapped up together in the one person, Jesus, with the Isaac typology providing the conceptual category of the atoning death of a martyr” (107). He concludes then the two titles provide a thematic symmetry for Matthew’s Gospel.

Finally, Huizenga’s article briefly points out places in Matthew where allusions and echoes to the Isaac story, and more specifically to the Akedah, have been overlooked. First, pointing out the correspondences between Matthew’s birth narrative and that of Isaac’s in Genesis 17 he summarizes:
The Matthean Jesus and the Isaac of Jewish tradition . . . bear striking resemblance to each other: both are promised children conceived under extraordinary circumstances, beloved Sons who go obediently to their sacrificial deaths at the season of Passover at Jerusalem at the hands of their respective fathers for redemptive purposes (110).
Second, Huizenga highlights “precise verbal allusions” to the Septuagint’s Genesis 22—most notably in the Baptism, Transfiguration and Passion narratives.

What do we make of Huizenga’s idea? First, I think he is absolutely correct in his estimation of the programmatic nature of the opening phrase for Matthew’s Gospel. Second, Huizenga has usefully flagged an important and underappreciated aspect of the First Gospel’s cultural context. The evidence for a “robust Isaac typology” is present; and such recognition, at the very least, opens the door wide to fresh readings of particular passages in Matthew. More profoundly, however, the appreciation of an Isaac typology, if we were to agree with Huizenga, would pair it with Davidic Messianism as the central argument of the Gospel. It is this latter point that I still have yet to fully embrace with him.

I am convinced that Matthew has an Isaac typology, but I am less so that the title “son of Abraham” leads by straight line to the Akedah. It is difficult to deny that Mount Moriah would not have been an obvious anti-type for Mount Golgotha in the mind of a Jewish believer in Jesus; however, it is much more difficult to pin the title “son of Abraham” down so specifically. I have wondered, mostly in my own mind and not often aloud, whether or not the titles, “son of David, son of Abraham” were aimed as a barb at the Herodian dynasty; a dynasty that continued into the late first century (Agrippa II). This as least seems possible for two reasons: (1) Jews regularly disparaged Herod as a "half-Jew"; and (2) the intense focus on Herod the Great in the opening scenes of the narrative. More likely, however, the title "son of Abraham" seems most appropriately a reference the fact that as the Davidic Messiah, Israel's vocation, given first to Abraham, comes to its completion. This completion is evinced in the narrative in the so-called Great Commission—a better label I think is the "Great Implication"—likely has Abrahamic echoes.

In any event, Huizenga offers an important observation about Matthew in this good article.


Leroy and Kari Huizenga said...


Thanks for your kind words. I've got an article coming out in CBQ this July that deals with similar issues in more detail and wit reference to the Gethsemane-Arrest sequence; be interesting to see what you make of it.

Also, the little article is a small piece of my dissertation, to be published as a monograph with Brill probably this calendar year (depends how quickly I can index this summer). Hopefully I'd have enough copies to spare that I could give you one, were you interested.

As regards the post at hand, I'm not sure "son of Abraham" leads "by straight line" to the Akedah -- I do think the possibility would be raised in the mind of the (model, ideal, implied) Reader, and then confirmed later through further reading.

At any rate, thanks for the attention, and I'll be in touch.

Dr Leroy Huizenga
Wheaton College

Joel Willitts said...


I noticed said CBQ article in one of the last footnotes; I'll be looking for it.

I would be interested in your forthcoming book.

What about lunch?

Leroy and Kari Huizenga said...

Lunch would be great -- let me check my calendar and get in touch.

Andrew Faris said...

Can I come to lunch too?

Just kidding. But seriously- if you're having lunch in Southern California...

I've not read the article, but the Isaac typology seems possible in general. That said, isn't there an obvious problem with the fact that "Son of David" would be mostly a reference to David, but "Son of Abraham" would be mostly a reference to Isaac? Didn't both of you say that what is true for one must be true for the other? It seems that if there is an Isaac reference in the Son of Abraham statement, shouldn't we be looking for Solomon references too?

Further, while I again affirm a possible Isaac typology and would be interested in reading the article, is there any possibility that this is trying too hard? What I mean is that Abraham and David are such loaded names in OT thought that it would seem most likely we should be taking their NT appropriation closer to face value, or at least that, that is most likely.

Andrew Faris
Christians in Context

Joel Willitts said...


You'd be invited, but it will be somewhere in the far-western burbs of Chi-town.

You make good points, but in fairness to Leroy, he suggests that a reference to the "son of Abraham" would tap into a "Jewish cultural encyclopedia" and only after reading the whole narrative would one be in a position to adjudicate what was to be drawn from that encyclopedia. Still, I think this is the crucial question. What from the encyclopedia is relevant?

Leroy and Kari Huizenga said...

A few things:

Some pieces are meant to be definitive, to argue that this is the fact of the matter and not that. Other pieces are meant to be suggestive, and this was the latter sort of piece. It had simply intrigued me that you get Son of David and Son of Abraham at the beginning, but then the genealogy is tripartite. Then I also ran across Luz's suggestion that "Son of Abraham" was a "blank slate to be filled in by the reader" on the basis of further reading.

It's also hard to discuss something like this without having the article before us -- I'm not sure what fair use law looks like, so I'm loathe to post a PDF or anything, lest I alienate Lewie Donelson of HBT and Brill. Maybe some day we'll be past the point of Elizabethan copyright law.

Joel (and anyone else interested), I hope you'll have time to peruse the book when it comes out, as the encyclopedia question gets answered, theoretically and practically...

Jonathan Robinson said...

fascinating discussion! If that small phrase is so significant, is there a larger literary significance to the tripartite genealogy?

Stephen C. Carlson said...


Have you given much thought to Isaac typology in Paul?

Stephen Carlson
Ph.D. Candidate, NT, Duke

Leroy and Kari Huizenga said...


Not much, actually. In my Forschungsbericht I remember discussing several works. But I really wanted to focus on Matthew alone. Some pieces worth considering re: the Akedah and Paul, however:

Nils Dahl, "The Atonement: An Adequate Reward for the Aqedah?" in Jesus the Christ, ed. Don Juel, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991

Israel Lévi, “Le sacrifice d’Isaac et la mort de Jesus,” REJ 64 (1912): 161-84

Hans Joachim Schoeps follows Lévi in a few works: “The Sacrifice of Isaac in Paul’s Theology,” JBL 65 (1946): 385-92; Aus frühchristlicher Zeit (Tübingen: Mohr, 1950); and Paulus: die Theologie des Apostels im Lichte der jüdischen Religionsgeschichte (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1959)

In his seminal essay, Géza Vermès follows Schoeps: “Redemption and Genesis xxii,” pages 193-227 in Scripture and Tradition in Judaism: Haggadic Studies by Géza Vermès (ed. Géza Vermès; Leiden: Brill, 1961 [repr. 1973])

I'd start there. But to my knowledge, most Pauline scholars of recent vintage don't do much with it, although you might want to check out Scott Hahn's "Covenant Oath and the Aqedah: Diatheke in Galatians 3:15-18" in CBQ 67.1 (2005), 79-100.

Are you working on such things?

By the way, while I have you all here, as it were, anyone going to Rome for Int'l SBL?

Matthew D. Montonini said...


Thanks so much for your intriguing proposal. I look forward to seeing a full explication of your work when it comes out.

Thanks for the resources on Paul as well. It might be an investigation worth pursuing.



John Anderson said...

This is a fascinating proposal, especially given my paper on the ancestral narratives of Genesis as a hermeneutical lens for reading and comprehending the entire gospel (perhaps Dr. Willitts, who also presented in the session at SBL Boston, will remember my paper????). It is under review for publication, and hopefully will be accepted, so I am hopeful my voice can join the conversation here.

If "son of Abraham" leads to an Isaac typology (which I am wrestling with still), then does "son of David" support a Solomon typology, which may be evident in Ben Witherington's Smyth and Helwys Matthew commentary? I found some of Witherington's arguments compelling, but I am not convinced that a sapiential Jesus is the key to understanding Matthew.

Dr. Willitts--I am currently peeking at your de Gruyter volume again on this issue. I was appreciative for your paper at SBL in Boston, despite our disagreements.

Joel Willitts said...


Thanks for your comment. I find Witherington's Sapiential hypothesis as a hermeneutical key to be less than convincing, although there is no doubt sapiential content within the Gospel. I think Davidic Messianism takes up this theme. Furthermore, I don't see what one gains with a Solomon typology unless it is understood within the larger Davidic framework.

One other thing, I don't remember any disagreements ;)

John Anderson said...

Dr. Willitts:

You obviously don't remember my paper that well then, eh? Just kidding! I would have to look over my notes again, but I do believe we disagreed over the understanding of the Great Commission.

Hopefully my paper will be accepted for publication, and then you can let me know whether you agree or not! I still, obviously, find my reading of the gospel especially compelling (Jesus as the ancient of the ancestral promise).

Glad to chat again!


John Anderson said...

Ok, that was meant to be "agent" of the ancestral promise. Yikes.

Jason said...

Hi Leroy,

I found your article recently and read it with interest (I'm a student of Mike's at HTC, about to finish a dissertation on Matt's genealogy of Jesus). I don't remember seeing any reference to Erickson's argument on Isaac in the rest of Matt 1-2. Any thoughts on that article?

It seems to me that Joel is right on the implications of Abe for Matt, particularly since I am convinced Matt is naming four 'righteous' Gentiles in the genealogy, pointing to pieces of that fulfillment in Israel's history (cf. Queen of the South and Ninevites, 12:41-42), and that this is recapitulated and expanded in 28:16-20. But I would not rule out akedah, either, and I certainly appreciate giving due attention to the programmatic nature of 1:1 and the significance of Abe.

Erickson's article can be found at

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Thanks for the references, Leroy.

I've noticed some possibilities for Isaac typology in Galatians, and the topic of Isaac typology tends to come in the grad student lounge by people impressed by your work on it.

John Anderson said...


Please do let me know when your book comes out; I would really like to peek at it. It seems to be very much in line with my understanding of Matthew.

You can let me know on my blog (click my name).

Many thanks!

Leroy and Kari Huizenga said...

Jason and John,

Thanks for your thoughts.

I actually wrote the EBR entry on "Bathsheba (NT)", so I looked fairly hard at the four (five) women in the genealogy. I don't have strong convictions any which way, except that I'm not convinced by positions that are too pietist or too indebted to certain post-Reformation theological ideas.

I'll take another look at Erickson's article. I didn't cite it, but I can't remember the precise reason why I didn't.

The book will (God willing) be out by SBL, at SBL.

John Anderson said...


I have enjoyed reading your comments and responses to others. As I believe I mentioned, I have an article under review currently that I presented in the Matthew section at SBL in Boston (Dr. Willitts can testify to how good this paper is---right Dr. Willitts?!?!). I am looking at Matt 8:5-13, but ultimately the whole gospel through the lens of this text. At bottom, I argue that the Matthean Jesus is the agent bringing about the fulfillment of the ancestral promise (Gen 12:1-3), which is evident in various aspects of the genealogy (beginning with Abraham, as well as the place of the women, concerning which I think I have a unique understanding, although given that my area of expertise is the Hebrew Bible, I could be overstating that) as well as in the Great Commission at the close of the gospel. Therefore, I argue that Matt 8:5-13 reveals in miniature what the Matthean Jesus brings to fulfillment in chapter 28.

That is a very very very brief, thumbnail sketch. I am hopeful the piece will be accepted.

But, given that my research emphasis is on the ancestral narratives of Genesis, Jacob more specifically, I find your reading intriguing (especially given my view of Isaac as an utterly inactive, passive figure who is almost always 'object' and seldom 'subject'--and when he is subject [Gen 27], that doesn't go too well).

That said, I will be curious to peek at your volume at SBL.

Leroy and Kari Huizenga said...

Thanks, John. You write:

"I find your reading intriguing (especially given my view of Isaac as an utterly inactive, passive figure who is almost always 'object' and seldom 'subject'").

My proposal depends on assuming the (model) author's and reader's familiarity with extrabiblical traditions about Isaac -- those traditions which present Isaac as a grown, active and willing participant in his sacrifice (eg, Josephus' presentation in AJ 1.228-236 [iirc] and I suppose a dozen other ancient texts prior to and contemporary with Matthew, excluding targumic and rabbinic texts proper). I think it's a safe assumption, given the sort of Gospel Matthew is, the sort of use of the OT and Jewish traditions it subtly evinces.

Where do you see Gen 12 in particular being made reference to in Matthew? (I just woke up from a nap so hopefully I'm not forgetting something obvious.)

John Anderson said...


I think your assumption that extrabiblical Isaac traditions are in play is likely a safe one.

Perhaps I should clarify. I am not arguing that Gen 12:1-3 is explicitly referenced as a text in Matthew (although some may argue otherwise) but rather that the basic idea communicated there--the ancestral promise of blessing to the entire world--is realized in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. The mention of Abraham (and Isaac and Jacob at the outset of the gospel, which parallels the trajectory of the promise in Genesis precisely), coupled with the conclusion to the gospel (which I argue is the realization of the promise) conjure up these images. So also does the Matthean Jesus' understanding of mission as Israel-centered (10:5-6) as well as extending beyond those bounds (8:5-13; chapter 15 (don't recall the verses off the top of my head, but I trust you know I am referencing Jesus and the Syro-Phoenecian woman). Much of my reading assumes that the Matthean Jesus (and community) were steeped in the Scriptures of ancient Israel, and thus their understanding--and expectation--of the promise would be shaped in a very particular way.

Again, I am hopeful the piece will be accepted for publication. Then all can read and enjoy!

Leroy and Kari Huizenga said...


Finally, I realize the post is old and the comment thread is winding down, but anyone who's interested in a broader precis of my proposals can get a copy of Reading the Bible Intertextually, which has just appeared, in which I have an essay, "The Matthean Jesus and the Isaac of the Early Jewish Encyclopedia."

John Anderson said...

Dr. Huizenga:

Thanks for the bibliography, I will check it out.

What do you make of my very brief (let me emphasize, very brief), thumbnail sketch above. Hopefully it will be published and then you can weigh in more adequately.

Hope all is well!

Leroy and Kari Huizenga said...


You’ve given a very brief precis. Here’s the issues I see:

(1) What clues do you see in the pericope that make it so central for you, that tie it to other things in Matthew concerning Gentile inclusion?

(2) If Gen 12 is so important, why does Matthew not cite it, when the Gospel is peppered with biblical citations, not only on the part of the narrator but also on the part of characters within the Gospel, like Jesus and satan? Put differently, is Gentile inclusion a major Matthean concern? Obviously Gentile inclusion is there, but it’s almost like it is grudging – the Matthean Jesus makes no mention of it except in your text and at the end of the Gospel, although the narrator has Isaianic material bearing on Gentile inclusion in Matt 4 and 12.

(3) For me, the more interesting question is, what is 8:5-13 doing so early in Matthew’s narrative, especially in light of the later restriction of missionary activity to Israel in Matt 10 and the poor Gentile woman Jesus is really not interested in at first in Matt 15?

Just some thoughts.

John Anderson said...

All very fine comments. I am pleased that my paper deals with each of them. Point (3) is particularly important, and is what led me into this entire study. Ultimately, 8:5-13 ended up being the lens (and the mention of the patriarchs, the key) for me.

We shall see how the article fares.

BTW, I see you went to Duke. As did I. And I assume by the nature of the work you are doing that you worked quite closely with Richard Hays. He was one of my letter writers for my Ph.D. applications.

Jason said...

Just a few thoughts, John. Gen 12 may be more "implicit" than explicit, both in Matt's theology and in his text. In response to Leroy's (2), I would say that one would not expect to see a citation there, because . Matthew feels free to change his sources, but not to the point of adding dialogue de nouveau; in light of Matt 15, it seems pretty clear Matthew is not interested in making Jesus more interested in Gentile inclusion than he really was. Genesis 12, then, would have to be found as one of the formula citations from the narrator...and the narrator only cites prophets (Ps 78 being the lone exception).

I think 8:5-13 is a useful lens answering the "almost...grudging" nature of Matt's and Jesus' approach to Gentiles, pointing to the future (i.e., post-restoration-of-Israel) inclusion of Gentiles.