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Love and blessings to all, Bob
In the last essay we studied the baptism of Jesus. In this essay we are studying the genealogies of Jesus. The genealogies of Jesus are found in Luke 3:23-38 and Matt, 1:1-17. A biblical genealogy is a list of a particular person’s ancestors. The lineage always is through the males of the family, though women occasionally are mentioned (Gen. 11:29; 22; 23, Num. 26:33; 27:1). The genealogy can be ascending or descending; that is, it can either ascend from the individual to his ancestors (Ezra 7:1-5; Luke 3:23-38), or descend from the individual to his descendants (Ruth 4:18-23). For example Luke’s genealogy of Jesus ascends from Jesus to his ancestors. Ruth 4:18-23 illustrates a descending genealogy. It begins with Perez, whose genealogy it is, and descends through his descendants to King David.
Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus in Matt. 1:1-17 is unusual in that it doesn’t begin with the individual. As I already indicated, genealogies generally begin with the individual whose genealogy it is and either ascend to the ancestors, or descend to the descendents. Matthew’s genealogy is an exception to the general rule. It does not begin with Jesus the individual. Instead it begins with his ancestors and moves to him.
The reasons for compiling a genealogy could vary considerably. There were at least three purposes. First, a genealogy could be compiled for inheritance purposes. That is, a person might have to prove descent from a particular family in order to inherit property. A second possible purpose for a genealogy could be to establish one’s social position as a member of the nobility or the priesthood. You will recall that only descendents of the tribe of Levi could be a priest. A third possible purpose would have been to demonstrate one’s social purity. There might have been circumstances, for example, which created a need to establish that an individual was a true Jews of unmixed blood.
Now then, turning to the interpretation of genealogies, there are some frustrating difficulties. First of all, when one interprets genealogies, it quickly becomes evident that family terms sometimes are used in a wider sense than we ordinarily think of them. For example, the word “son” frequently is used in a way that means “descendant.” A genealogy may say that a certain person is the son of another person; but actually, he is a grandson, or great grandson or even further removed.
Matthew’s genealogy is a perfect example. He covers the period from the Exile to the Christ, a period of about 500 years, with only 14 names. Well it so happens that there is a genealogy of that same period in the first three chapters of 1 Chronicles. And when one compares Matthew’s list with the list from 1 Chronicles, it is obvious that Matthew left out many names.
Therefore we can and should conclude that the primary purpose of genealogies was not chronology. That is, the genealogies, with their lists of generations, never were intended to show how many years had passed. Occasionally in the past some scholars have attempted to date events in the Old Testament by means of the genealogies with disastrous results. It simply cannot be done.
Now we are ready to look at Matthew’s genealogy. So please turn in your Bible to Matt. 1:1-17. The first thing I want you to know about Matthew’s genealogy is that it makes a statement about Matthew’s purpose in writing his Gospel. A major aspect of Matthew’s purpose is to convince Jews that Jesus is their Messiah, their Christ. And the genealogy with which Matthew began his book is one of the clearest indicators of that fact.
A detailed analysis of the genealogy shows that it is theologically structured. Frequently, genealogies (Jewish or Gentile) simply list a traditional series of names of ancestors, with no particular organization of the names themselves. But here, we have a special, theological organization of the names that had particular appeal to Jews.
Look at verse one. First, we see that it is a genealogy of Jesus the Christ. Second, notice that two ancestors, Abraham and David, are stressed prior to the genealogy itself. This is important. Abraham was the one to whom God originally gave the promises of the chosen people. And David was the one whose seed would produce the Messiah. These are important indicators that the genealogy is indeed the genealogy of the Messiah.
Now look at verse 17. Verse 17 shows us that Matthew has theologically arranged the names in his genealogy into three groups of 14 generations. And he ended each group of 14 names with a major Jewish person or event.
Matthew began with Abraham, the Father of Judaism, and listed 14 generations to David, the greatest of Jewish kings. Then Matthew supplied 14 more generations to the Babylonian Exile, which was such a great trauma for the Jews that they remembered the events in their history as being either pre- or postexilic. And finally, Matthew provided 14 more generations to the Messiah, the Christ as a grand climax to salvation history.
You can see how totally theological that is. Jesus is the Christ. Thus he is not merely another significant person. He is the culmination of salvation history. And the use of 14 generations between the most significant persons and event in Jewish history also is symbolic. Fourteen is a multiple of seven, the number of perfection or completion.
To further analyze it, God began his covenant relationship with his people when he established a covenant with Abraham. So Abraham symbolizes the covenant relationship. David, as the greatest king in Israel’s history symbolizes Israel’s golden age. The Deportation, or Exile, symbolizes national redemption, because the nation was very definitely saved when the Persians permitted the Jews to return to Israel from exile and re-establish the nation. And of course the Christ represents individual redemption, because Jesus died on the cross for the salvation of each of us.
An interesting peculiarity of this genealogy is the appearance in it of four female names, in addition to Mary, the mother of Jesus. As I said earlier, women’s names did not normally appear in genealogies. Women had no legal rights in the ancient world. A woman was a mere possession of a man, either of her father, or her husband. He could do with her as he pleased. And every morning Jewish men thanked God, in a ritual prayer, that they had not been born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman. Thus there was no need to have genealogies for woman, or for woman’s names to appear in them. But in Jesus’ genealogy, four female names appear.
When we look at whom the women in the genealogy were, the surprise becomes greater and greater. Tamar, in verse three, is the first woman mentioned. Tamar was a sexual seducer and adulteress. Her story is found in Genesis 38.
The second woman, in verse five, is Rahab. Rahab was a Gentile harlot from Jericho. She was the woman, who protected two Israelite spies when they were spying out the Promised Land. Her story is found ion Josh. 2:1-7.
The third woman, also in verse five, is Ruth. Ruth, of course was the Moabitess, whom Boaz married, as recorded in the book of Ruth. It is Ruth’s background, rather than her character, that makes her appearance in Jesus’ genealogy so interesting. The Old Testament Law said: “No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none belonging to them shall enter the assembly of the Lord for ever (Deut. 23:3). Although Ruth was beyond the tenth generation, she still was a Gentile.
The fourth woman to appear in the genealogy of Jesus, in verse six, is “the wife of Uriah,” whose name was Bathsheba. Bathsheba was the woman whom king David seduced while her husband Uriah was off fighting David’s wars; and it was Uriah whom David later had killed. That story is found in II Sam. 11 & 12.
Notice that these women are not merely females. They certainly are that. But they are females with blemished backgrounds or reputations. And yet Matthew included their names in Jesus’ pedigree. The appearance of the names of these women is truly stunning. But I believe Matthew had a definite purpose in doing this. He symbolically was showing how certain traditional barriers break down in Christ.
For example, first, there was the barrier between Jew and Gentile. Rahab and Ruth both were Gentiles, but they are in Christ’s genealogy. This is a clear teaching for us in regard to race relations.
Then second there was the barrier between male and female. Having women in the genealogy of the Messiah at all symbolizes the break down of that barrier. Then the later attitude toward women of both Jesus and Paul laid the groundwork for change in the treatment of women today.
And third was the barrier between saint and sinner. There was no barrier more important than that for us. Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba all were notorious sinners, but that did not keep their names from appearing in the Messiah’s genealogy. And that glorious Messiah, the Son of God, does not reject sinners like us either. Praise his name!
All right, now I want to turn to Luke’s genealogy. A comparison of the genealogy in Luke with that in Matthew immediately turns up some interesting facts. First, Luke used standard procedure for an ascending genealogy. He begins with Jesus and moves to the ancestors.
Second, Luke does not stop with Abraham, as did Matthew. Rather Luke continues past Abraham all the way back to Adam. Luke wants us to understand that Jesus is important for the whole human race, not just for Jews.
A third observation is that the two lists agree from Abraham to David. That is, the names are exactly the same from Abraham to David.
But fourth, from David to Joseph, the names on the lists are entirely different, with one exception. The exception is Zerubbabal, whose name appears in that section in both genealogies.
And fifth, instead of three groups of 14 names, Luke has eleven groups of seven names. And interestingly, the significant names on the list appear either first or last in each group of seven. Luke makes no reference to this structure, so he probably took it from his source as he found it.
The many differences between the two genealogies have been explained in various ways. First, Some have said that Matthew is giving Joseph’s genealogy, and Luke is giving Mary’s (Godet, Luke, pp. 126-133). But plainly, both lists claim to be for Joseph. So, though Luke’s Gospel was written from Mary’s perspective, that doesn’t mean that the genealogy is Mary’s.
A second suggestion is that Matthew gives the legal descendants of David, those who would have been heirs to the throne, had the dynasty continued; whereas Luke gives the descendants of the particular Davidic family to which Joseph belonged (Machen, Virgin Birth of Christ, pp. 202-209; 229-232).
A third, and simpler possibility is that the two evangelists used different genealogical sources. Therefore the differences have no particular significance.
Every solution has its problems, but don’t let that bother you. This is one of many questions that are unanswerable due to inadequate information. Whatever the proper solution to that question, we can say that the genealogies have legal force. As I mentioned earlier, in oriental cultures descent was through males only. And the fact that Joseph was not the physical father of Jesus has nothing to do with the genealogies. He was the legal father of Jesus; and therefore legally Jesus was the son of Joseph, the son of David. The scholars who have argued that Luke was giving Mary’s genealogy instead of Joseph’s, say that Mary was therefore also of the house of David, which would make Jesus physically a descendant. But insofar as the genealogies are concerned, that argument is unnecessary. As the legal son of Joseph, Jesus is legally the Son of David. Jesus’ physical descent may be theologically important to many people. Even though Matthew arranged his genealogy of Jesus with theological motives, genealogies function primarily as legal rather than theological documents.