top of page

Matthew 1:1-17

Who is Jesus? – Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.

Tom Faletti

February 13, 2024

Matt. 1:1 Who is this Gospel about?

 

How does Matthew identify or describe the chief character of his story?

 

What do each of these terms mean: Jesus, Messiah, son of David, and son of Abraham?  Why is each term important to Matthew or significant to the Jews or early Christians?  Let’s look at each one.

 

Jesus: Greek for the Hebrew name Joshua (Yeshua), which in Hebrew means “God saves,” or “Jehovah (Yahweh) is salvation,” or “Yahweh, save [us]!”.

 

Why is this identification important for Matthew’s Gospel and for us?

 

Messiah: Hebrew for “Anointed One”; Christ, from the Greek Christos, has the same meaning).  Special people were anointed, usually kings and priests; but the “Messiah” took on a greater connotation of a savior of some kind.

 

Why is this identification of Jesus important for Matthew’s Gospel and for us?

 

Sneak peak: You are probably familiar with the story of the key turning point when Peter first recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah, which is told in Matt. 16:16.

 

Son of David: The Jews expected that they would find relief from foreign occupation and domination when David’s throne was restored.  God had told David that a descendant of his would be on the throne forever.

 

Why is this identification of Jesus important for Matthew’s Gospel and for us?

 

  • Consider Isaiah 9:2-7; see verse 7: “there shall be endless peace / for the throne of David and his kingdom.” (NRSV)

  • Consider Isaiah 11:1-9; see verse 1: “a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse” (NRSV) – Jesse was David’s father.

  • Consider Jeremiah 33:14-17; see verse 15: “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (NRSV), and verse 17: “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel” (NRSV).

 

Sneak peak: The term “Son of David” will be used by people who were healed by Jesus and by people in Jerusalem when he entered the city on the first day of his last week on Earth, so it takes on important significance as his crucifixion nears.

 

Son of Abraham: God made the Jewish people’s original covenant with Abraham, and all Jews trace their lineage from him (whereas not all are from the house of David).

 

Why is this identification of Jesus important for Matthew’s Gospel and for us?

 

David was only one part of one of the 12 tribes of Israel.  Abraham was the father of the entire Jewish people. Muslims also see their lineage going back to Abraham, but it goes further than that. Through Abraham, all people were to be blessed, not just Abraham’s children:

 

  • Gen. 12:2-3: “I will make of you a great nation, and . . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (NRSV).

  • After Abraham shows his willingness to sacrifice Isaac: Gen. 22:17-18: “I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And . . . by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves” (NRSV).

 

Pick one of these identifications of Jesus and explain why it is important to you or has special meaning for you.

 

Matt. 1:2-17 Jesus’s genealogy

 

What names or other features of this genealogy stand out for you?

 

It was unusual to include women in a Jewish genealogy, but Matthew’s genealogy names four: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.  .  What makes these four women stand out as worthy of mention?

 

All four of the women were from other nations; they were not Israelites:

 

  • Tamar, Canaanite: Genesis 38.

  • Rahab, from Jericho, so Canaanite: Joshua 2:1-21; 6:22-25.

  • Ruth, Moabite: Ruth 2-4.

  • Bathsheba, Hittite: 2 Samuel 11-12.

 

Why would Matthew want to call attention to these foreign women in Jesus’s genealogy? What message would that send?

 

Matthew might have included these women in part to deflect any criticism about Jesus’s birth circumstances.  If the irregularities in David and Solomon’s lineage did not disqualify them from the throne of an eternal dynasty, then Jesus’s lineage does not disqualify him either.  Joseph essentially adopted Jesus into the family line by taking him into his home, so he had a legitimate claim to being a son of David on the human level.

 

Matthew’s genealogy ends with “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born” (1:17 NRSV), which does not follow the standard male-line genealogy of “So-and-so, the father of So-and-such,” which might have been expected to end with “Joseph, the father of Jesus.”  That would not have been accurate, as Matthew will explain shortly.

 

When we look at God choice to make room in Jesus’s lineage for people of different backgrounds, how might that guide us in our attitudes toward people who have different backgrounds from ours?

 

How does the presence of Gentiles in Jesus’s ancestry connect to the last two verses of Matthew’s Gospel (Mat. 28:19-20)?

The good news about Jesus is meant for people of all nations.

 

Sneak peak: Matthew spends a significant portion of his Gospel reporting Jesus’s preaching, healing, and miracles in Gentile areas.

 

Matthew says in verse 14 that his genealogy has 3 sets of 14 generations.  The number 14 might have been considered important as the numerical value of the sum of the three letters that make up David’s name in Hebrew.

 

Matthew’s genealogy walks through the story of the Jews from the beginning with Abraham, to a high point when David was king, to the depths of despair when the Israelites were sent into exile to Babylon, and on to Jesus.  How do you see Jesus serving as the climax to this story?

 

Note: The Gospel writers were not aiming for genealogical perfection.  Matthew is focused on his 3 times 14 arrangement.  Luke has many more names in his list and is telling the genealogical history to make a different point.  (Note: It is possible that Luke’s list is a genealogy of Mary, but there is no evidence to support the claim.)  Matthew is not trying to nail down every genealogical detail.  For example, considering the many decades between Rahab’s role in the Jericho story and Boaz’s role in the story of Ruth (David’s great-grandmother), Rahab could not have been the mother of Boaz.  (Matthew is the only one who makes that claim; the book of Ruth, where Boaz’s story is told, does not make that claim.)  Matthew’s list also doesn’t quite match up with the list in 1 Chronicles (see 1 Chron. 3:11-12).  The Gospel writers were not trying to nail down every genealogical detail.  They were trying to make much bigger and broader points.

 

What do you think Matthew’s goals were in including this genealogy at the beginning of his story of Jesus?  What points does he want us to take from it?

It connects Jesus to the great past figures and also prepares us for the unique birth of Jesus by showing that irregularities show up in many places in the story of God’s people.

 

Scholarly footnote: The third genealogical group, from the Exile to Jesus, is only 13 generations.  Some scholars wonder if the 14th generation is Christ begetting the church.  

 

 

Take a step back and consider this:

 

During Advent of 2023, my home parish posted online a musical reflection for each of the weeks of Advent.  On the page Music for the Second Week of Advent (St. Peter’s Church on Capitol Hill, https://saintpetersdc.org/pray/advent23/35171-music-for-the-second-week-of-advent), we could listen to some lovely music including a remarkable interpretation of the genealogy of Jesus.  The third musical selection on that page offered a video titled “…which was the Son of — Arvo Pärt (b.1935).”  It can be found on YouTube here: Which Was the Son of... (Arvo Pärt) - Sofia Vokalensemble (“Which Was the Son of... (Arvo Pärt) - Sofia Vokalensemble.” Sofia Vokalensemble, 23 Oct. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WyPmFBpiF7E).  In this piece, a choir sings a beautiful musical selection telling the genealogy of Jesus as presented in the Gospel of Luke.

 

The commentary on the page posted by St. Peter’s Parish acknowledged that “it can be dull to hear about Jesus’s genealogy,” but went on to say: “Estonian composer Arvo Pärt has set Luke’s version of this genealogy in such a way that it is no burden to hear Jesus’s family tree.  Rather, Pärt’s music seems something like an overture to the whole biblical narrative, an epic tale on par with Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia.  We are not bored by Jesus’s family tree; we are overwhelmed with wonder at its sweep across time.”

 

This is beautiful!  Jesus takes his place within an entire history of the working of God in our world, so that he can save all of the people in that genealogy, all of the people who descended from them, and indeed all human beings, wherever they fall in human history.  God loved this world and the people he created so much that he chose to embed Himself in the world he created, in the history of that world, in the person of Jesus.

 

That is what we celebrate at Christmas — not a pleasant story about a sweet little baby, but rather an audacious story about a God who loved his creation so much that he was not afraid to get his hands dirty and assume our genealogy, to become one of us so that we could become like him.   Glory in the story — the story of God coming among us at Christmas!

 

We can embrace Joseph as a role model of one who was willing, as Mary did, to say “Yes” to God, so that God could do his great work of salvation among us.

 

What is one way you can say “Yes” to God, that will allow God to do something new in your life or the lives of those around you?

 

Bibliography

Click here for the bibliography.

Copyright © 2024, Tom Faletti (Faith Explored, www.faithexplored.com). This material may be reproduced in whole or in part without alteration, for nonprofit use, provided such reproductions are not sold and include this copyright notice or a similar acknowledgement that includes a reference to Faith Explored and www.faithexplored.com. See www.faithexplored.com for more materials like this.

Please Join the Conversation!

If you are a member and would like to react to or ask a question about any topic here, please post a question in the forum below. You are also encouraged to continue the conversation in any post by posting a response. Join the conversation here:

bottom of page