5 Points worth Pondering about Jesus' Genealogy in Matthew chapter 1
How many times has the following scenario played out? A potential or new
convert to Christianity expressed interest in reading the Bible and
asks a believer where to start. The believer suggests starting with the
very first book of the New Testament: The Gospel according to Matthew.
Later that day, the interested party opens up to Matthew chapter 1 only
to find a list of mostly strange sounding names. After stumbling through
a couple dozen such names, the person is tempted to quit the Bible
before they've really begun.
Not many modern readers are altogether interested in reading a long list
of names. They wonder what names like Amminadab, Jehoshaphat, and
Zerubbabel have to do with anything, let alone their lives. And, truth
be told, most of the names in Matthew's list are relatively unimportant.
But that doesn't mean Matthew didn't have a reason for beginning his
Gospel with a genealogy of Jesus.
Think about it from Matthew's perspective. His equivalent to paper was
expensive. This was no time to waste words. He was not a student trying
to think of filler to meet a word-count requirement. Quite the opposite.
Every word was chosen carefully. Matthew chose to start with a
genealogy on purpose. Below are 5 notes worth knowing about the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew chapter 1.
#1 Matthew had an agenda. The word 'agenda' might scare some people off. Contemporary critics
might discount Matthew's telling of the Jesus' story specifically
because he clearly had an agenda in writing what he wrote. If his book
is to be treated as important history, shouldn't he be an unbiased
historian? Frankly, I'd say NO. I prefer people to be upfront about
their bias rather than either hiding it or being dispassionate about
their subject matter (especially a subject matter like Jesus!). Matthew was both up front and passionate about his agenda. He believed
that Jesus was the Messiah. And he begins and ends the list by stating that up front.
#2 Matthew believed that there were unfulfilled promises from the Old Testament that were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It is important to take note of the names and/or events Matthew highlights in his genealogy. He specifically mentions Abraham and David in his opening statement and, later, adds 'the exile' as a significant event and divides Jesus' ancestry into 3 sections by these narrative turning points. What makes Abraham, David & The Exile so useful for Matthew, I believe, is that they all were attached to great promises of God. God had promised that an offspring of Abraham would inherit the land, the a son of David would establish a never-ending kingdom, that the exiles would be restored. But in the 1st century, all of those promises seemed largely unfulfilled... until Jesus.
#3 Matthew highlighted the surprising people that were included in Jesus' ancestry. When reading Matthew's list, it is important to recognize breaks in the literary flow. Anything beyond BLANK the father of BLANK is added on for a reason. The most surprising twist in this genealogy is surely the inclusion of 4 women (5 counting Mary). What's even more surprising is the background of these women. Not only were they women (not usually included in Jewish genealogies!), but they were gentile women. Not only were they gentile women, but they all had some sort of sexual scandal in their past. When we couple these stories with the long list of mostly wicked kings, we see that Jesus' genealogy is a very inclusive one. No matter one's background, it is possible to be part of Jesus' story.
#4 Matthew organized the genealogy is a very creative way for a reason. Even a semi-skeptical person would wonder about verse 17. Were there really 14 generations between Abraham and David, David and the Exile, and the Exile and Jesus? It'd be easy just to say "YES, isn't God's sovereign control of history amazing!?!?" But the reality is, there were NOT 14 generations between each of those markers. Matthew has played with the numbers (check him against Chronicles). Truth be told, he's not really being dishonest here... the word for 'father' in this chapter can just mean ancestor in Greek. But he is manipulating the numbers to make a point. What is the point? Well, David's name in Hebrew as a numerical value of 14, so it seems that Matthew is going out of his way to link Jesus to David. Jesus is the Son of David... the long awaited Messiah.
#5 Matthew's genealogy doesn't connect directly to Jesus biologically. One of David's wicked descendants (Jeconiah on this list) was prophesied against in Jeremiah 22:28-30 (under a different name). His descendants were banned from being King. This created a problem because David had been promised that that line would produce the Messiah, but Jeconiah had been promised that it wouldn't. The virgin birth of Jesus resolves this dilemma in that Jesus is a legal descendent of Jeconiah (through Joseph), but not a blood relative (and therefore not banned).