The genealogy of Jesus is one of the most difficult Bible portions for the preachers. At the first sight it contains only some names. But it has a lot of theological ideas and therefore I would say Mtt 1:1-17 is the introduction of the Gospel of St. Matthew; what the evangelist wants to say about Jesus Christ is introduced here through 42 names of ancestors. Even though this thesis was strange for my professor at Erlangen (Germany) Juergen Roloff, a renown New Testament teacher of the twentieth century, he accepted this after going through my arguments thoroughly.

Purpose of Biblical Genealogies:
There are numerous genealogies in the Old Testament books like Genesis, Numbers, 1 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. These genealogies had different religious and social functions. Firstly, a genealogy was used to identify the family status of a person just as the history of a family does today. Just after the birth of every boy the parents registered his name in the records of Jerusalem Temple by submitting a genealogy. Secondly, it functioned as a document which proved one’s racial association. When young people applied for a job in the military or in the Temple of Jerusalem they had to produce their genealogy. Thirdly, the genealogy was a must when the marriages were fixed; the elders used it to see whether the bride and bridegroom could have a legal marriage. Genealogies had a juristic role also: Suppose somebody had stolen something like a cow. If the thief could prove that he had a family relationship with the owner, he would get a lesser punishment, because legally speaking, the cow is owned by his relative, i.e. his family.

Genealogies of Jesus:
It is a strange fact that among the 27 books of the New Testament only St. Matthew and St. Luke give us some information about the birth of Jesus Christ. None of the other books tell us that he was born in Bethlehem, or that Mary was his mother and Joseph his step father, or that he was visited by the Magi or that king Herod wanted to kill the baby. And both the above Gospels contain a genealogy of Jesus also (Mtt 1:1-17; Lk 3:23-38). Both these genealogies have their own functions. That is why St. Luke writes it just after the baptism of Jesus, while St. Matthew puts it at the very beginning of his Gospel. To understand the real meaning of the Genealogy of Jesus we have to comparison between its two versions in the first and third Gospels. These are having following differences:

  1. When St. Luke gives us the names of the forefathers of Jesus up to Adam, the first human being according to the Biblical narration, Matthew traces the heritage only up to Abraham.

  2. Matthew’s genealogy is in the descending order, while Luke maintains an ascending order.

  3. Matthew uses the “A begat B and B begat C” formula, Luke says simply “C, the son of B and B, the son of A”.

  4. Matthew 1:1-17 is divided in to three phases- from Abraham to David, from David to Exile and from Exile to Jesus, whereas Lk 3:23-28 is an unbroken list.

  5. Five female names are there in the list of Matthew, but Luke hasn’t got any women in his list.

  6. When there are some comments in between the names of Mtt 1:2-17 Luke includes only the names of the fore-fathers.

  7. Even though both Genealogies cover the period between Abraham and Jesus, similarity of names appear only in the case of the Patriarchal age (Abraham to David).

Main messages of the Genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17
St. Matthew has put the genealogy at the opening of his Gospel, because for him it is an introduction to the Gospel. Whatever he wants to say about Christ in the Gospel is actually put in the shape of a Genealogy. The main messages of Mtt 1:1-17 are the following:

Firstly, the history of Israel enters in to a new phase by the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, whom the Israelites were waiting for a long. Unlike St. Luke for St. Matthew the starting point of the history of Israel is not the creation of Adam, but the calling of Abraham, the father of Faith. And this history has got three divisions. The beginning period of the people of God or its infancy is from the time of Abraham to David; Israelites were learning to keep themselves away from pagan gods and to put their faith in Yahweh, the living God. The next phase of its history, which can be called as its youth, is from the time of David up to the Exile to Babylon; their religion reaches the zenith and its downfall during this period. Israelites made their religion official, the Temple was constructed and after some time they had deviated from Yahweh. The third stage of the history of Israel is from the Exile up to the birth of the Messiah; due to the suffering and humiliation of the exile life they were expecting a deliverer, who would be the Son of David. To emphasize the role of David St. Matthew limits each of the three phases in fourteen generations only, because the numerical value of the name David was fourteen. To maintain this number the Evangelist avoids certain names from the genealogy.

Secondly, Jesus Christ is not only the Son of David but also the Son of Abraham. The former was a title used for the Messiah, who was awaited by the Israelites. They believed that the Son of David would come with great power and he would deliver the People of God out of all their difficulties, both political and religious. The latter title the Son of Abraham gave a wider meaning to the mission of Jesus. It was not an exclusive term as Son of David. It is rather an all inclusive term; as Abraham was the Father of ten nations, the Son of Abraham would be a hope for all the nations of the earth. That is why Jesus asks his disciples to “go and make disciples of all the nations” (Mtt 28:19).

Thirdly, the forefathers of Jesus made a mixed group. The first fourteen names (Mtt 1:2-6a) include Patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who were people of utmost faith in God (Ruth 4:18-22). The second group (Mtt 1:6b-11) is a royal list; it contains mighty kings like David and Solomon as in the genealogy of 1Chronicles 3:9-15). But the third list contains names of some unknown people. Most of their names do not even appear in the Old Testament. This declares again the universality of Jesus: He is a descendant not only of the popular Patriarchs and Kings of Israel but also a child of the unknown.

Fourthly, the names of the five women Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bath Seba and Mary tell many things. If the women were not counted in the genealogy usually, Matthew does it as an exception. He wants to break the Patriarchal structure of the society. He wants to underline the existence of the women and their contribution in the salvation history of Israel. However, the complexity of the female names hardens when we check the names given. The names of Sarah, Rebecca, Lea and Rachel, the natural candidates in a genealogy of Jesus, are avoided and in their places we have got the women like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bath Seba. The biblical narratives about these four women contain certain controversies. Then why these considered as the “mothers” of Jesus Christ? There lies the theology of Matthew. He wants to prove that just as the birth of the Messiah was an unusual one his genealogy was extra-ordinary. It contains names of women, who were once “sinners”, but later on they came to the faith of the living God and therefore they are model believers. This is attested in the contemporary literature also. Tamar is called by Philo of Alexandria as the “Mother of Faith” along with Abraham “the Father of faith”. Rahab is the only name in the list of model believers in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Chapter 12) and she is counted along with Abraham in St. James 2). Ruth left her household just to be attached to the folk of her husband, the People of the Living God.

Thus the Genealogy of Jesus gives us a hope during this Christmas. It is pregnant with ideas, which bring us Indians closer to Jesus Christ, the savior of mankind. If Jesus was simply the Son of David, he would have been a savior of Israelites only. Now we understand that as St. Paul says also he is the Son of Abraham (Gal. 3:16) and through our faith in Him we shall inherit the promises given to Abraham (Gal. 3:29), the father of many nations. Otherwise when we call him and ask “Son of David, have mercy on me”, his reply would have been “Sorry, I have been sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Mtt 15:21-24). Jesus has come, of course, not only for the religious and the royals but also for the unknown of the society. The women, and even those who are stigmatized as sinners, can be associated with Jesus and they can become a part in the salvation event. That is the uniqueness of Christmas.

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