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What Does God Teach Us Through the Genealogies of Jesus Christ?

December 22nd, 2010
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The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

This is the title, or caption, which Matthew places at the head of his book. The entire Gospel is a book of the generation of Jesus Christ in the sense which the Jews usually attached to the expression in similar connections, meaning an account of the chief events in a person’s life, more or less briefly related, Gen. 5, 1; 6, 9; 37, 2; 2, 4; Num. 3, 1. The evangelist offers a history of the birth, acts, suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the first verses are a genealogy in the most restricted sense of the term, as presenting a table of Christ’s legal forefathers through His foster-father Joseph, rightful heir of the kingdom, the thought most interesting to Jewish Christians. Matthew calls Jesus the Son of David, the king of the Golden Age of the Jewish people, to whose family the promise of the Savior was at last restricted, 2 Sam. 7, 12.13; Ps. 89, 3. 4; 132, 11; Is. 11, 1; Jer. 23, 5. Christ was prophesied under the very name of “David,” Ezek. 34, 23. 24; 37, 24. 25. “Son of David” was the official title which the Jews applied to the expected Messiah, Matt. 9, 27; 12, 23; 21, 9; under this designation they had been led, by prophetic authority, to expect Him. But it would also arouse the attention and hold the interest of Christians of Jewish descent to know that the Christ whom Matthew proclaimed was the son of Abraham, for they knew that the father of their race had received the promise of the Lord: “In thee and thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” Gen. 12, 3; 18, 18; 22, 18. “For this reason he refers only to those two fathers, Abraham and David, since to these two alone the promise of Christ was made in these people. Therefore Matthew emphasizes the promises to Abraham and David, because he has a definite intention with regard to this nation, in order that he might influence them, as heirs of the promise, in a charming manner, to accept the Christ prophesied to them and to believe that this man was Jesus whom they had crucified.” 2)

The evangelist now offers the genealogy proper: V. 2. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; v. 3. and Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Fhares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; y. 4. and Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; v. 5. and Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; v. 6. and Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; v. 7. and Solomon begat Boboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; v. 8. and Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; v. 9. and Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; v. 10. and Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; v. 11. and Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon; v. 12. and after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Sala-thiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; v. 13. and Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; v. 14. and Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; v. 15. and Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; v. 16. and Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. In three sections of fourteen members each the progenitors of Joseph are tabulated, reaching back to Abraham, the father of the faithful. No person ever born into this world could boast, in a direct line, a more elevated or illustrious ancestry than Jesus Christ. The kingly, the priestly, the prophetic offices were represented in this list in all their glory and splendor. “The holy Matthew writes his Gospel in a most masterly manner and makes three distinctions of the fathers of whom Christ sprang forth, fourteen patriarchs, fourteen kings, and fourteen princes. . . . There are three times fourteen persons, as Matthew himself names them; from Abraham to David, both included, are fourteen persons or members; from David to the Babylonian captivity, again fourteen members; . . . and from the Babylonian captivity to Christ there are also fourteen members.” 3)

A careful comparison of the list as here given and the account found in the Old Testament. 2 Chron. 22-26 shows that Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah followed after Joram, before Uzziah. The explanation for this difference is found in the fact that the word begat in Old Testament genealogical tables is sometimes used in a wider sense, as here, when it is said of Uzziah’s great-great-grandfather that he begat Uzziah. The omission of the three kings was of no consequence to the evangelist’s argument, which was to show the legal descent of Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus, and therefore of Jesus Himself, in an uninterrupted line from David, and consequently from Abraham. “What need is there of many words? Matthew himself shows sufficiently that he did not want to enumerate the generations with Jewish strictness, and so excite doubtfulness. For almost after the manner of a Jew he makes three times fourteen members of fathers, kings, and princes, but with deliberate knowledge he omits three members of the second section, as though he would say: The genealogical tables are indeed not to be despised, but herein lies the chief thing that Christ is promised through the generations of Abraham and David.” 4)

Another difficulty is in verse 11, where Josias is named as the father of Jechonias, whereas he was the grandfather, 1 Chron. 3, 14-16. The solution is found either by reference to the explanation above, showing that Matthew made use of a deliberate contraction, since the Jews were in the habit of extending the appellation “father” also to the grandparent; or we may adopt the marginal reading, which is based upon some Greek manuscripts: “Josias begat Jakim, and Jakim begat Jechonias.” This would also yield the fourteenth member of this section, unless we include Jesus in this group. In a similar manner, though Jechonias had no brethren mentioned in Scriptures, his father had, and it is by no means unusual to find more remote relatives spoken of in this manner, Gen. 28, 13; 31, 42; 14, 14; 24, 27; 29, 15. “It is not to be supposed that the evangelist was at all concerned to make sure that no link in the line was omitted. His one concern would be to make sure that no name appeared that did not belong to the line.” 5)

Another significant fact: Only four women are mentioned in the tables, and of these two were originally members of Gentile nations, Rachab and Ruth, and two were adulteresses, Thamar and Bathsheba. Note, also, that the last is not mentioned by name, the reference being both delicate and reproachful. “Of the kings and princes which Matthew enumerates, there were a few very bad knaves, as we read in the Book of Kings; yet God permits them to be entered as though they were so worthy that He should have wanted to be born of them. He also” has no pious woman described: the four women that are mentioned here were all considered knaves and impious by the people, and regarded as evil women, as Thamar, who with Judas, her husband’s father, begat Phares and Zara, as is written Gen. 38, 18; Rachab is called a knave or harlot, Josh. 2, 1; Ruth was a Gentile woman, Ruth 1, 4: though she was pious in honor, since one reads nothing evil of her, yet because she was a heathen, she was despised as a dog by the Jews and regarded as unworthy before the world; Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, was an adulteress before David took her in marriage and begat Solomon with her, 2 Sam. 11, 4. All of which, beyond doubt, is enumerated for the reason that we should see how God desired to present to all sinners a mirror that Christ was sent to sinners and wanted to be born of sinners; yea, the greater the sinners, the greater the refuge they should have with the merciful God, Priest, and King, who is our Brother, in whom, and in none other besides, we may fulfill the Law and receive God’s grace. For this He came from heaven and desires no more from us but only this, that we let Him be our God, Priest, and King. Then all shall be right and plain; through Him alone we become children of God and heirs of heaven.”

The table of Matthew ends with the words, v. 16 a: And Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary. This fact, and the further circumstance that Luke, chapter 3, has an altogether different list of ancestors of Jesus, must be considered proof positive that we have in Matthew the genealogy of Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus. The aim of the evangelist therefore undoubtedly was to set forth Jesus as the legal son of Joseph, Mary’s husband, at His birth, and as such the proper heir of David’s throne. Joseph was, before the law, father of Jesus. All his rights and privileges, by reason of his birth and ancestry, were by law transferred to his son. As long as he lived, Joseph continued in his role as the legal paternal ancestor of Jesus, Matt. 13, 35; John 6, 42. In this way the name and position of Jesus, especially during His ministry, were put above reproach, Deut. 23, 2, and His claim as to being the heir of David’s line was placed on a sound basis, even in the eyes of the sticklers for legal form.

Note the careful phraseology used by Matthew in this sentence, v. 16b: Mary, of whom was born Jesus. Not from them both, as natural parents, after the usual manner of procreation, was the Savior begotten, but of Mary only, thus placing the event which Matthew is about to relate entirely outside of the course of nature, beyond the plane of human understanding. Jesus is her son’s name, after the great work which He came into the world to perform, the salvation of mankind. And He is called the Christ, which has precisely the same meaning as the Hebrew Messiah: the Anointed of God. It was His official title according to His threefold office, as the legitimate descendant of David, which the genealogy showed Him to be. He alone is rightly, above all His fellows after the flesh, called the Christ; He is King of kings and Lord of lords: the great King, who governs the entire universe with His almighty power and reigns in the hearts of His followers with His benign mercy; He is the Prophet greater than Moses, with a message of truth and love and grace divine for all men; He is the great High Priest, who in His own body and by the shedding of His holy, precious blood made full atonement for the sins of the entire world.

Such is Matthew’s introduction to his Gospel. And in concluding this genealogy, which immediately places Jesus the Christ into the center before the minds and hearts of his readers, he gives a brief summary according to the divisions of Jewish history: V. 17. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David until the carrying away into Babylon are tour-teen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations. The three periods represent, respectively, the three forms of government which the Jews had: theocracy, monarchy, hierarchy, with judges, kings, and priests at their head. But, incidentally, the same division sums up Israel’s fortunes. First came the age of slow and steady growth, with all the manifestations of the first love’s zeal and fervor toward God, culminating in the reign of David. Then came the period of slow decline and gradual disintegration, ushered in with the luxurious reign of Solomon and characterized by the continuous and losing conflict with idolatry. And lastly came the period of a restored Church with internal ruin, of a dead orthodoxy, of an insipid ritualism. If any fact stands out clearly from this contrast, it is this, that redemption was most sorely and urgently needed.

- from Paul Kretzmann, ‘Popular Commentary of the Bible’

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  1. Mike Mapus
    December 22nd, 2010 at 05:58 | #1

    “The table of Matthew ends with the words, v. 16 a: And Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary. This fact, and the further circumstance that Luke, chapter 3, has an altogether different list of ancestors of Jesus, must be considered proof positive that we have in Matthew the genealogy of Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus.”

    The Lutheran Study Bible in it’s notes concerning the genealogy of the Christ in Luke’s account, states, that these are the actual ancestors of Joseph. I havn’t yet come down a 100% either way on what is the correct interpretation. As much as I love my Kretzmann Commentarys, I do tend to lean towards the TLSB on this.

  2. Ron Priggee
    December 22nd, 2010 at 11:40 | #2

    BTW the entire 2-volume Kretzmann commentary is now online as it’s in the public domain. See it at http://www.kretzmannproject.org/

    (And to think I spent my hard-earned allowance on a copy back at CC-Milwaukee, when I could have just waited 50 years….)

  3. Ron Priggee
    December 22nd, 2010 at 11:44 | #3

    BTW the entire 4-volume Kretzmann commentary is now online as it’s in the public domain. See it at http://www.kretzmannproject.org/

    (And to think I spent my hard-earned allowance on a copy back at CC-Milwaukee, when I could have just waited 50 years….)

    • December 22nd, 2010 at 12:21 | #4

      It’s also back in print and available from Concordia Publishing House.

  4. Mike Mapus
    December 28th, 2010 at 17:36 | #5

    @ptmccain
    Could you provide some links that explain the rationale the TLSB yakes on the genealogy in the Gospel of Luke? Just for the fact there are a lot of arguements for this being Mary’s line of descent, but I havn’t seen many arguements for this being Joseph’s.

    Thanks

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