Two New Testament Genealogies try the patience of casual readers, but provide the student with foundational information and challenging questions about the generations of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel according to Matthew begins with seventeen verses that summarize the generations from Abraham to Jesus. Forty patriarchs are listed in three groups of 14.
- The first group includes: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Parez, Hezron, Ram, Amminadab, Nashon, Salmon, Boaz, Obed, Jesse, and David
- The second group includes: Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joram, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah, and Jeconiah
- The Last group includes: Jeconiah, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Achim, Eliud, Eleazer, Matthen, Jacob, Joseph, Jesus
Though Jeconiah is listed twice in both the second and third group, a quick reading of the context makes it clear that group 1 lists the generations from Abraham to David, the second lists the generations from David to the Babylonian Captivity and the last group lists the generations after the captivity. Jeconiah was born before the captivity earning him a place in the Second group, but he “begat” after he was carried away to Babylon, making him one of the generations after the captivity. Likewise David earns a place on both the first and second lists. The result is that the three groups do not total 3 x 14=42 but rather only 41 actual generations.
It seems certain that Matthew did not include every generation between Abraham and Jesus. Rather he selected the outstanding individuals in order to make up his compact “teaching tool” of three groups. He concludes the section with his summary statement in verse 17. “Therefore all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the time of Christ fourteen generations.”
We must conclude that Matthew’s purpose was not so much to make a meticulous record of each generation, but to remind the reader that Jesus possessed the necessary credentials to be accepted as Messiah. He was a son of Abraham, and a son of David! But the interesting thing is his notation that he was not the son of Joseph. Rather he states that Joseph was “the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.”
So this is the legal genealogy of Jesus, compiled according to the legal line of decent through Joseph. Soon we will look at Luke’s account which is apparently the line of decent to Mary the mother of Jesus.
But before we go on, let us note that in addition to Mary there are four other women included in this genealogy. Each of these women brings to mind a special circumstance which involves a irregularity.
- The story of Tamar is found in Genesis 38: 1-24. She was denied the right to conceive a child by the son of Judah, so she played the prostitute with Judah himself and conceived the child which was her right. When she was found to be pregnant, Judah was caught in his indiscretion. Thus Tamar and her child Parez came into the lineage of Christ.
- Rahab was a harlot in who sheltered Israel’s spies when the came to Jericho. When the army of Israel invaded Jericho they spared her and those of her household. She became a part of Israel and ultimately gave birth to Boaz who is within the linage of Christ. .
- Ruth was a Gentile who made a choice to follow her Israelite Mother-in-law after the death of her husband rather than return to her Gentile ancestors. So she became part of Israel and the wife of Boaz. Thus even a Gentile woman came into the linage of Christ. .
- Lastly, “The wife of Uriah” comes into the lineage of Christ. She was “Bathsheba” who was the wife of David’s sin. He lusted after her and then arranged for her husband to be killed in war. She then gave birth to David’s son Solomon who became the second king of Israel.
Thus Jesus was descended from the real human community with all its warts and deficits, and he came to save the whole human community, event the harlots, the outcasts and the unsavory.
Never the less, this genealogy is not very exciting to read. Don’t hesitate to skim right over it when you decide to read the Gospels. The genealogy is not intended to be inspirational but rather informational. Matthew provides a point of reference so that linage can be traced and dates can be calculated. There are many of these “point of reference” passages in the Old Testament but only a few in the New Testament. If and when you are doing research which requires this information, you’ll know where to find it.
The only other New Testament genealogy is found in Luke 3:23-38. As previously mentioned this passage differs substantially from the details found in Matthew. For starters, this is a much longer genealogy. The previous passage traces the lineage from Abraham to Jesus. Luke’s account, however, traces the lineage of Christ back to “Adam the son of God.” 73 generations are recorded. I believe the lineage found here is Mary’s line of descent since Matthew wrote from Joseph’s perspective and Luke wrote from Mary’s point of view.
There are no frills in this list. The women we found in Matthews record are absent from this one. But again this genealogy is an important record of who Jesus was. It is presented by Luke as part of Christ’s credentials. It provides a historical point of reference. It’s not meant to inspirational. We may skip it or skim it unless there is some line that we are trying to understand or some lineage we are trying to discern.
If you are a bible student you’ll know when you need the information that is here. And if that’s the case, you’ll be wanting to take these 73 names one at a time. That’s beyond the scope of this article, but a fascinating study in its own right. I suggest you might want to put each name into a good concordance and build a min-profile of each generation. It sounds like another article for another time! God bless you as you study.