After the Exile?

After the Exile?

When Matthew writes meta de ten metoikesian Babulonos at the beginning of verse 12, he means “after the deportation to Babylon” (NASB, ESV, NRSV, NET, LEB, LSB) or “after they were brought to Babylon” (KJV/NKJV) or “after the carrying away to Babylon” (ASV). As Nolland notes, this phrase “does not refer to the restoration, but rather to the period after the deportation has happened”[4]. More could be said. Even if it were said, it would not settle the ongoing debate regarding the importance of or nature of exile in Matthew’s Gospel, much less the entire NT, or how and when that exile ends.

Sometimes we assume we know what a verse means, but once we slow down and read through it carefully, we realize it does not mean what we think it means. It happens to us all. We can receive help in several ways—listening to what others understand a verse to mean (especially weighing their arguments) and reading the Bible in its original languages when possible but also benefiting from the multitude of great English translations that often allow us to hear a verse differently.

I hear often, including recently, that Matthew’s “after the exile” (NIV) statement in Matthew 1:12 means that Matthew must believe that the “exile” ended many years before Jesus was born. The question is important because it goes towards identifying the problem to which Jesus is the solution. If we read it carefully, I do not think Matthew is saying the “exile” has ended; at least, he is not saying that in this particular verse.

As a reminder of the context, Matthew tells us that he deliberately structured his genealogy of Jesus the Messiah in three sets of “fourteen generations” (1:17; NIV). It is a skillfully crafted list! In addition, he has selectively chosen names so that Abraham, David, and “the exile to Babylon” (NIV; 1:11, 12, 17) serve as the pivot points in the story that culminates with Jesus. In fact, the word metoikesia, translated as “exile” (NIV, CSB, NLT), “deportation” (NASB, ESV, NRSV, NET, LEB, LSB), or “the carrying away” (ASV), stands out in the passage because it is repeated four times (twice in v. 17), the only times it occurs in the NT.

What can this word mean? In the standard lexicon for the Greek NT, the word metoikesia is glossed as “removal to another place of habitation, deportation” (BDAG, 643). Therefore, according to this resource, Matthew is using the word to describe the event of deportation. Admittedly, the word does have a wider range of meanings outside the NT. In at least one place in the Septuagint (LXX), Ezekiel 12:11, it may be used for an entire time of exile, but that is debatable. In the LXX, it usually refers to (1) the people being removed (an adjectival use) or (2) the actual removal to another place, not the period during which you live there (cf. 2 Kings 24:16 [4 Kingdoms 24:16]; 1 Chron 5:22; Lam 1:6–7; Nahum 3:10).[1]

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