© L.D. Underwood 2011
Before looking at the subject of the genealogies, we should observe that each of the four gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, begin in a different way. But let me suggest that Matthew introduces his Gospel with a genealogy. It has a genealogical introduction—it goes back to Abraham the father of the Hebrew nation. That genealogy fits the Jewish nature of Matthew’s Gospel. On the other hand we have Mark who presents no formal introduction. He just begins with a very blunt statement which in reality is the title for this Gospel: “The beginning of the evangel of the good news of Jesus Christ”—The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That brevity, that conciseness, that lack of introduction in a formal way is certainly characteristic of the account of Mark’s gospel.
Luke we saw had a classic beginning which we might call “historical”—a historical introduction, where he describes his method of historical research. Certainly the character of both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts bear witness to Luke’s accuracy.
So Matthew’s introduction is primarily genealogical; Mark has no formal introduction; Luke is historical; and John’s prologue theological in nature. His is the most comprehensive of all going back beyond creation to the relationship of the God the Father and Jesus Christ the Word as members of the Holy Trinity. So, each begins in a different manner.
Looking at the genealogies of Christ, they could be called highways leading to the Messiah. It might be wise to begin by addressing the nature of genealogies which we inevitably associate with the endless begets: So and so, beget so and so. Actually genealogy comes from two words: we have the word logos, or ‘word’, which we have already come across, and another word which means the study of one’s family decent—the study of one’s pedigree. Our generation has very few roots. We are primarily concerned with the present and preoccupied with the future. Therefore, our sense of history had been largely dulled. Most of us would find it impossible even to name our great Grandfather. That is not the case with the first century Jew. Jews had a consuming interest in their ancestry. They could climb up and down their family tree with ease.
What is the importance of these genealogies? These long list of names are usually regarded as being quite dry and irrelevant to the average reader of scripture. Most of us tend to skip over those portions of scripture because at first glance they seem to be most ungenial beginnings to a gospel. Yet they are of vital importance and should not be skipped over in our reading because, for one reason, one value is that the genealogies show God’s interest in people as individuals. He knows us by name. Even though it is not our name printed there, we should still be interested in what it is saying. Secondly, it seems to me, they give a sense of identity, a sense of continuity. And they also are of particular value I think because they establish the pure lineage of Messiah.
Obviously to us, it seems like a very strange way to begin a book, but to the Jews, the process of wading through a long list of names was natural and absolutely essential. For example Josephus, the historian when writing his own autobiography, began with his own pedigree and listed his own ancestors as far back as he could trace it.
One might ask, “Well why so much emphasis? Why so much stress upon genealogies?” The emphasis is placed upon the purity of one’s lineage. If there was the slightest mixture of foreign blood, you basically lost the right to be called a Jew. For example, priests had to produce an unbroken record of pedigree all the way back to Aaron. If they married, their wife had document her ancestral records back at least five generations. Those records of one’s ancestry were kept and guarded by the Sanhedrin. Perhaps it is understandable that one reason that Herod the Great was so hated was the fact that he was part Edomite—an Edomian. Therefore he had his official registers destroyed so that there would be no proof of his impure ancestry. For example, in AD 70 when Titus destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, all the genealogical records were destroyed pertaining to the Jews. So the only living person today who can trace his genealogy directly from David, is Jesus of Nazareth. So, the genealogies proved who a person was; whose he was; and why he was a Jew. But obviously the purpose of this record was to show the regal decent of Jesus from David as well as to show his wider human relation to the whole race of humankind. There are two of these genealogies we are looking at in the Gospels: one found in the first chapter of Matthew, the other found in the third chapter of the Gospel of Luke. We could question why Mark doesn’t trace Jesus’ genealogy, but remember he is dealing with Jesus the Servant and we are not interested in the pedigree of a slave, we are interested in whether he can work hard. John, on the other hand, doesn’t trace back the ancestry of Christ because he goes back into eternity past to his preexistence. This is why Matthew and Luke are the only ones to record a genealogy.
There are certain outstanding features of these genealogies. First of all, there are some major differences between these two records of genealogies. Matthew is writing for Jews, as indicated before. So he descends forward from Abraham to show Jesus as the seat of Abraham and the heir to the promises of God; he starts with Abraham and descends forward through David and up to Joseph the Carpenter. And he shows the legal line, or the royal line of Christ.
Luke on the other hand descends backward from Mary all the way back to Adam. Luke is writing to the Greeks he said, he is trying to show Christ as the ideal son of man, to which we have made reference. Luke seems to trace the line through Mary, the mother of Jesus, showing the moral or the biological line of Christ. Each has a different emphasis; one going to Abraham through Joseph to Jesus; the other one going back through Mary back to Adam.
These genealogies are intended to be summaries and not exhaustive accounts. That is, Matthew has roughly forty-one names; Luke has about seventy-four names; and there are about nineteen names in common between these two lists. But we will find that there are omissions of certain names in the list—certain gaps. For example if we look at 1 Chronicles 3:11-12, and we compare it here in Matthew 1:8-9, we find that certain names like Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah, are omitted between Joram and Uzziah. That is, this is not an exhaustive list but certain names are omitted. The reason for that is not just an inadvertent error, rather it is deliberate, probably by intention, because edited history was a very common practice among the Jews; but it was not thought of as being inaccurate to leave out certain names according to the Hebrew custom of writing genealogies. We will also find that there are differences in the spelling of the names when we compare some of these names with their Old Testament counterpart names. We have to realize this is because the Gospel writers either wrote these genealogical records from earlier records written in Greek, or else they translated them from Aramaic into Greek—whereas the names had originally been written from the Hebrew. So if we want names that will correspond to their Old Testament counterparts, we need to read a revised version where such modern versions will conform to the spelling that we have in our English Old Testaments to show those similarities.
Matthew’s purpose in writing was no doubt pneumonic. What do we mean by that? Matthew’s record is particularly noteworthy because of the careful arrangement of the names. Three groups of names, fourteen names in each group which would indicate some editing on the part of the Gospel writer. This was put into these columns of fourteen names into each group because this was to help in aiding memory. Helping you to remember and memorize those names. Hebrews did not possess any separate signs for numbers, therefore letters of the alphabet would have to serve the same function as numbers. For example the Hebrew first four letters of the alphabet, aleph, bet, gimel, daleth, and the first four letters of the Greek alphabet, Alpha, beta, gamma, delta, would be the equivalent of one, two, three, four, and so forth. There would be special letters for ten and other numbers down the line; but succinctly, these letters of the alphabet would serve dual purpose of being numbers as well. The Hebrew language at that time did not have vowels. All it consisted of were consonants. That is one reason for example, we don’t know whether to pronounce the name of God as being “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” because without the vowels, we don’t know what combination those consonants in for sure. The name for David would be written D-V-D or the ‘V’ and ‘W’ would sometimes be interchangeable, so it would be daleth, wah (or vav), daleth, in the Hebrew language, ‘V’ or ‘W’ and ‘D’ written from right to left. Those letters would stand for numbers, the ‘D’s would be equal to four, being the fourth letter, and ‘V’ or ‘W’ would be added up to six, so we would have 4 + 6 + 4 = 14. Therefore this genealogy is meant to prove that Jesus was the son of David. It was arranged in such a way as to be easy to memorize in association with David’s name where the numerical value of the consonants equaled fourteen. So, the first list of fourteen go from Abraham to David. This is where we have the promise of God’s purpose and design. The promise of God’s purpose from Abraham to David. The second group goes from David, mentioned the Second time, David to Josiah, taking it through to the Babylonian captivity and showing the failure of man. Then the third group of fourteen would go from Jaconiah to Jesus where we have fulfillment of God’s purposes. So, from Abraham to David the promise and perspective of God’s purpose; and David to Josiah brining it into the place of Babylonian captivity; and from Jaconiah to Jesus bringing it to a place of fulfillment. We can see there was a lot of meaning behind these particular names given in Matthew’s account since again he is writing to Jews. Matthew would get this information from the Jewish archives of his day. That is, these names did not come to him by revelation from God, but they would come from the Jewish archives where records were kept of one’s ancestry.
If we look for a moment at Matthew 1:1, it says in the opening verse that the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the Son of Abraham the book of the generations of the book of the genealogy of.” There is a lot of debate as to whether that heading covers the whole gospel of Matthew; whether its only dealing with the first couple of chapters of the book; or whether its dealing with all of chapter one or just the first seventeen verses where we have the genealogy. It is a very significant statement because the book of Genesis has the same expression, “toledoth” –the book of the generations of, or the book of the genealogies of. So Matthew is continuing the historic treatment of those patriarchs that are mentioned in the book of Genesis as a division or a heading for different sections of the book of Genesis. Now this is the book of the genealogies, or the generations of Jesus Christ.
Also, notice the change in the manner of expression in verse 16 all the way through we have so and so begat so and so or, if looking at the Revised Standard Version it says, “So and so was the father of the next person’s name.” But then in verse 16 it says, “And Jacob, the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who was called ‘Christ’” (Mt 1:16). There is a very significant change in wording there in verse 16 and we’ll come back to see some of the significance of that later. It seems Matthew’s design was basically for memorizing purposes to find this kind of specialized structure that we find in his addition to the genealogy.
Both of these genealogies, the one in Matthew and the one in Luke, stress two very important facts. First of all it stresses the fact that Jesus was the son of David. As such he was the heir to the throne. We could spend a lot of time looking at the Old Testament in books like 2 Samuel the seventh chapter; or 1 Chronicles the seventeenth chapter; or Psalm 89 where it stresses very frequently that Messiah, the Son of David was to be the heir to the throne. That is not only true in the Old Testament, we will find it in the sermon of Peter on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2; we will find it frequently just all through the New Testament. For example, to many their favorite book of the Bible, the book of Romans the first chapter and the third verse, where it says, “the Gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of Holiness” (Rm 1:4). The stress, John does the same thing in Revelation all the way through the Gospel accounts does the same thing Jesus is the Son of David there is continuity to God’s rule through His people in the Old Testament. The second fact they underscore is the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy. The fulfillment of prophecy from the Old Testament.
But one of the things that is most intriguing about the genealogies is the unprecedented inclusion of four women into Matthew’s account. In other words Jesus’ genealogy was not an untainted line of thoroughbreds. His pedigree was “smudged” as it were. The most important thing about this list of names is the inclusion of four women; because remember again, women had no legal rights—they were merely the possession of their fathers or of their husbands, and therefore would not be treated as persons, but would be treated as things. Just to have an idea, in the regular form of morning prayers, the Jews thanked God everyday that He had not made him a gentile, a slave, or a woman. So it is actually quite extraordinary for women to even be mentioned in ancestral records. It is even more amazing when we consider the sort of women included. For example we have Rahab mentioned in the book of Joshua the second chapter who was the Harlot of Jericho. We have Ruth, who was a Moabite maiden; and there was a command or a law in Deuteronomy 23:3 that 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 forever. There is a Moabitess. Then there is Tamar, mentioned in Genesis chapter 38 who was a deliberate seducer and adulteress. Finally there is an unnamed woman who we no to be Bathsheba the mother of Solomon whom David seduced from Uriah.
One might suppose that if Matthew had ransacked the pages of the Old Testament for more improbable candidates, he couldn’t have discovered any more incredible ancestors for Christ than these four women. But it is extremely important in that it shows that the essence of the Gospel breaks down barriers. It breaks down barriers between Jews and gentile. Rahab of Jericho and Ruth of Moab both find their place in Christ. There is no longer a barrier between male and female, the old contempt is gone. Men and women stand equally near and dear to God. We find both saints and sinners. Here is another example of the all embracing love of God. God can find his servants among those who respectable orthodox people would shudder in horror, because in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female for we are all one in Christ. We as Christians have our own sacred genealogy. We haven’t said the last word when we say our name is ‘Jones’ or ‘Smith’ or whatever. Even when we trace our family tree to the old country, because our lineage goes back to Jesus Christ. Just one further explanation of the genealogy, which may be of some help. Perhaps we could best diagram it in this fashion: We would start with the ‘Word’—the Logos in eternity passed—and end with Jesus as the fulfillment. Then there would be two lines that would be moving toward Jesus Christ—we would have Adam at some point along this line; we would have Abraham where there is this juncture and then we would have Solomon on this line with David and Nathan and then this would be John’s treatment of Jesus who is traced back to the “Word” the “Logos.”
This would be Matthew’s account at the top and this as we said was the Royal line or the legal line. There is one name we should know here on this list, Jeconiah, to whom I will make some reference a little bit later. Then the line through Matthew brings us through Joseph to Jesus. In the biological line of Luke we have Nathan all the way through to Mary and Jesus comes through that line.
I mention this because Joseph could not be the natural Father of Jesus and at the same time sit upon the throne of David. The reason for that is because of this man Jeconiah, who also sometimes goes by the name of Coniah. We read about Jeconiah or Coniah in Jeremiah 22:24-30. Because of his misdeeds, there was a curse placed upon that line, so that Jesus would have the legal right through Joseph, but he would be morally disqualified to sit upon the throne because of this curse against Jeconiah and those who would follow in his line.
Mary on the other hand was not in the royal line, because the kingdom was established through Solomon and not through Nathan. Therefore she had the moral right, but she was legally disqualified. Therefore the only solution was for Mary to marry Joseph after the conception of the Holy Spirit, but before the actual birth of Jesus. For Jesus to have both the legal right to the throne and the moral right to the throne, there had to be this union and Jesus had to be begotten of the Holy Spirit but at the same time come through these two lines of Mary and Joseph. So by coming through Joseph he has the legal right, even though Joseph was not morally proper, and Mary though she was morally proper did not have the legal right but by the two joining together at the birth of Christ, it gives him both the legal and the moral right to the throne of David.