There are some wonderful things to be gleaned from the more difficult passages of scripture & we shouldn’t simply relegate them to the too hard basket because we consider them to bedifficult.
This is by no means an exhaustive study but I would like to highlight some aspects of Jesus’ genealogy. I will be referring to the genealogies as listed in both Matthew & Luke but the main emphasis will be on Matthew. At this point I will point out that 1st century Jews, who could have contended either Matthew or Luke’s genealogical claims, do not, infact, do so.
Matthew emphasises Jesus’ royalty; Luke emphasises Christ’s humanity & this is reflected in their genealogies. Matthew was the gospel written by a Jew for other Jews. Its purpose was to fully win the Jews for Christ to fulfil Romans 1:16 – ‘’To the Jew first, & also to the Greek.’’ Matthew sets out to show Jesus is the legal heir to the throne of David by virtue of the lineage of his legal father, Joseph. Social position & religious identity were defined from one’s family geneaology.
Because Jesus was born into Joseph’s family he was a legal heir & he therefore has a legal right to David’s throne. Joseph’s was a priestly lineage so Jesus is also entitled to serve as priest. The first born son, natural or adopted, had the right of inheritance.
Matthew’s genealogy is broken into three parts consisting of 14 generations. Not every link has been included. A cursory study shows a discrepancy between the time frame & the number of generations. This should not trouble us unduly. Firstly the object is to show the direct genealogy of Jesus from Abraham & as such it is a legal document. Secondly it was to show the fulfilment of biblical prophecy. Thirdly begat refers to a direct physical lineage, from parent to child. The first 14 generations cover from Abraham to King David’s reign. This is the origin of David’s House & line. The second 14 generations cover the rise & decline of David’s House, from the establishment of his kingdom to the Babylonian captivity. The third 14 generations begins with the release of the captives from Babylon & ends with Christ.
David’s line has been eclipsed, shattered, but from the stump of the glory that was once David’s a twig shoots forth; Jesus Christ.The Jews kept detailed genealogical records. Firstly & fore mostly property rights were linked to family inheritance, as was the priestly role. Families who could not trace their family had no inheritance in the nation of Israel. They were treated as dispossessed foreigners. Neither could one serve as a priest if they could not prove their right to do so through their family lineage.
Note that Matthew is very clear in his intent. He begins by stating that this is the genealogy of Jesus Christ. It is a record of Jesus’ ancestry & as a Jew the author of Matthew had access to the detailed Jewish records to prove his claims. Jesus is the Latin rendition of the Greek Iesous, which comes from the Hebrew Jeshua. Jeshua is a contraction of the name Jehoshua which means Jehovah is salvation. Jeshua puts the stress on the verb thus rendering the meaning as He will certainly save. To the personal name Matthew adds the official title Christ, from the Hebraic, Messiah which means ordained, set apart, qualified. Thus Matthew is saying that the one of whom he speaks is qualified & set apart to save. He leaves no doubt that he believes that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.
Matthew systematically addresses a number of issues that are raised in the gospel accounts of Jesus life, concerning his ancestry. Matthew13:54-58 his community thinks they know who he is – Joseph & Mary’s son, with brothers & sisters. Matthew clearly shows Jesus to be Mary’s son but Joseph is not his physical father. John 7:40-41 Jesus is accused of not fulfilling prophecy because he is not from Bethlehem; Matthew disproves this claim. In John8:41 claims of illegitimacy are made against Jesus; Matthew renounces those accusations by showing how Joseph is legally Jesus earthly father.
We are familiar with The English term begat. This verb refers to a father’s acquisition ofoffspring through the depositing of seed so indicates physical descent. From Abraham to Joseph this verb traces the lineage but note the careful way Matthew describes Joseph’s relationship to Jesus. It is done in such a way as to preclude the possibility of Joseph being considered Jesus physical father.
The genealogical records prove how prophecy has been fulfilled. This could only be done by keeping detailed & accurate genealogical records. Adam (Genesis3:15) Abraham(Genesis22:18) Judah (Genesis 49:10 Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-10) & David (2Samuel7:12-13) were all promised an inclusion in the Messiah’s line. Between them Matthew & Luke include all 5 of these names. We will look at the discrepancies between the lists shortly.
Now it doesn’t take any sort of a biblical genius to realize there are differences between the lists of names given in the gospels of Matthew & Luke. You will possibly hear arguments disputing the truth of these accounts but the most logical reason to my mind, & the one supported by early church fathers such as Origen, Irenaeus, Tertuillian, Athanasius & Justin Martyr, is that Matthew’s account gives Jesus genealogy through Joseph, his father by law, & Luke’s account gives Jesus genealogy through his mother, Mary. Jewishness, even today, is always inherited through the mother. While a child’s paternity maybe doubtful, their maternity is rarely in dispute. To be born of a Jewish woman is to beconsidered Jewish. If your mother isn’t Jewish, nor are you. One reason for this was that women were more likely than men to marry a gentile.
To be considered Jewish, the messiah, a descendent of David, Jesus’ Jewishness had to be established. This is important as it is obvious to even the most casual reader of the bible that Jesus’ family tree contains many foreigners, such as Tamar, Rahab & Ruth, who are not direct descendants of Abraham.Unusually Scripture includes 5 women in Jesus genealogy. It was not customary for Jews to include women. Luke states that Jesus was the son of Heli. Son in this context simply means descendant. The Jerusalem Talmud indicates Mary was the daughter of Heli. Thus Jesus is a descendant of Heli & considered a son in Jewish law. Moreover it would appear that Mary had no brothers so she inherited her father’s portion. This would also have meant that Joseph was reckoned amongst his wife’s family as a son. Whether traced through Joseph’s line or Mary’s Jesus could claim descent from the royal line of David.
I will just briefly mention the so called ‘curse of Jehoiachim’’ because some scholars argue this negates Jesus entire genealogy. Jeremiah 22:30 says that none of Jehoiachim’s offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David. This is immediately followed in the next chapter by a promise for the continuity of the line of David. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that the curse was not for all time & only applied to Jehoiachim & his immediate family. It does not say that the royal line will be obliterated. There is a difference in being ‘written of as childless’, & not being allowed to rule successfully to a lineage being completely obliterated which does not appear to have been the case. It is necessary to read the scriptures very carefully to ensure that the facts have been interpreted correctly.
Throughout the old testament God gradually narrows the criteria for the promised Messiah so that we should know him for certain: Jewish, of the tribe of Judah, of David’s line. To this day Jews will argue that Jesus did not fulfil all the requirements to be the Messiah yet Jesus himself told them they did not understand their own scriptures.
What are some of the things we can learn from studying Jesus genealogy? We are all familiar with the "greats’’ of Jesus line: David, Abraham, Solomon but note the greatest sinners & most evil of kings are also listed there: Joram, who allowed his wife Athaliah to murder the males of the royal family & whose reign was marked by a restoration of the worship of Baal & revolts by Edom & Libya; Ahaz, whose licentiousness & wickedness squandered the kingdom built by his father & grandfather & brought Israel into subjection to Assyria; He burnt his own sons to Molech & plundered the temple & his own palace before closing the temple completely. The people buried him in a commoner’s grave as not being fit to be buried with the kings of Israel; Amon, whose reign was marked by moral depravity & idolatry & who was assassinated by his own servants.
We should learn that The Jews boasted of their descent from Abraham but their boast is empty. They gloried in the flesh but salvation comes from above, not from below. We have already mentioned 5 women are named in the genealogies. All could be accused of harlotry. The case against Ruth is obscure & not to the point in this discussion. They include 2 Cannanites, (Tamar & Rahab), Ruth the Moabite, Bathsheba from an elite Jewish family & the first woman to gain the title ‘’Great Lady’’ & Mary, the mother of Jesus.
We should remember that Salvation is for the whole world, men & women, Jew & gentile. As we read through the list of names many of them will mean little or nothing to us. It does not matter. They were important to God in order that he might accomplish his purposes. That should give us great encouragement. We may think of ourselves as small & insignificant in the scheme of things but if we are God's then we are important to him & he will neither forget us nor disown us.
Lastly as we read through this list of names one thing becomes increasingly evident; good, bad, or indifferent, male or female, rich or poor, all have fallen short of the glory of God & stand in need of Salvation, just as we too do. God, in his great & abundant mercy, sent his own son to bring us into salvation. This is what we remember at Christmas time. Despite the pagan trappings Christianity has taken to itself, despite the consumerism of our age, despite the fact we celebrate the wrong date for Christ’s birth, what we remember & celebrate during this season is that God came down to dwell amongst men & because of this reconciliation between God & mankind was made possible. To God be the glory. Amen.