Genealogy is an important subject in the Old Testament – entire chapters are devoted to the record of ancestors and their offspring. Its quite surprising, then, that the Church hasn’t given it the place it deserves over the years – the RSV relegates the genealogical records to small type in one of its more popular editions (the Bible that I first started with when I became a christian) so as to help the reader not to be bogged down if he’s wanting only to read the plot.
Though this procedure can be well appreciated (and it certainly helped me as a new christian to access the Bible more easily), it must also be understood that the genealogy of the Messiah is an integral part of the plot – it bears witness to the promise and its fulfilment that through Abraham’s natural offspring, the One who was to restore all things was to be brought to earth. He is the last word on the genealogical records, the summation of all that Israel was looking for.
In a very real sense, genealogical records are now of no consequence, for salvation is shown to be not of natural lineage (just as it was in the OT though not as definitively as it is in the New) but of rebirth by the Holy Spirit according to the acceptance of, reliance upon and active participation in the work of Christ on the cross – and the burial, resurrection and subsequent ascension.
Jesus is the Messiah
I’ve divided up the following genealogy into three columns to try and show simply which fathers and relatives are mentioned in each of the two Gospels. I’ve included the four women along with the descendants wherever they occur but it must be noted that it’s only Matthew who makes mention of them for reasons that I’ve gone in to in part two.
It shouldn’t be expected that either or both genealogies contain a complete list of all the descendants as it was often the practice to miss out sons so that grandparents became the fathers of their grandsons, even as Jesus was called Son of David by the multitudes (Mtw 21:9).
Luke 3:23-38 begins with Jesus and ends with Adam, from modern times to ancient, and, as the author travelled extensively with Paul on his missionary journeys, the Gospel is normally taken to be more a message for the Gentiles if Matthew, conversely, is taken as being for the Jews. As such, it traces the genealogy back to the very foundation of the world and the first man, Adam.
Mtw 1:1-17 begins with Abraham and ends with Jesus and, therefore, presents the reader with a more logical order, from ancient times to modern. The Gospel is reputed to be the Gospel that was specifically written for the Jews, the gospel of the Kingdom, and therefore it wouldn’t be surprising that Matthew begins his record with Abraham.
It was to Abraham that every Jew traced his or her ancestry back, seeing in him the beginning of God’s purpose with regard to the people and nation of Israel.
Abraham (the first Jew in Matthew’s list) is also the first of the six patriarchs Abraham-Isaac-Jacob- Judah-David-Zerubbabel) through whom God specifically promised to bring the Messiah to earth for the benefit of all mankind.
Internal evidence is also present in the form of transliterated Hebrew words which occur on numerous occasions and which remain uninterpreted in the text (for example, Mtw 5:22 [fool] and 27:6 [treasury]) and Jewish religious traditions that go unexplained (whereas the Gentile Gospels offer explanations for their readers – for example Mtw 15:2 Cp Mark 7:1-4) suggest that Matthew’s readers would have been familiar with such Judaistic practice.
However, the evidence supporting the theory that the Gospel of Matthew first appeared in Hebrew form before being translated into Greek for wider circulation is, realistically, flawed. Besides, the mention by Eusebius of a Gospel to the Hebrews� that’s often identified with this early manuscript is better seen as a heretical document (regarded as such by the early Church) and therefore unlikely to be this Gospel.
And the similarity of Greek text between Matthew and Mark/Luke in passages relating to the same event, make the Aramaic/Hebrew original theory extremely unlikely and not at all compelling.
Though Matthew was almost certainly originally written in Greek, the Jewish connection that’s come down to us through many varying sources and commentators may be that, initially, its intended readership was Greek-speaking Jews either within Israel or in the Diaspora.
Matthew’s genealogy is divided up into three groups of fourteen fathers. I know of at least one other genealogical record in ancient history that has this sort of division (an Egyptian genealogical record carved on the side of a quarry in present day Egypt) and it’s therefore quite possible that 14 was a number that lent itself well to the memorisation of genealogical records. Whether this is true or not, we have no way of knowing, but one indication that this is an aid to memory is seen in the fact that 14 new names are listed in both the first group and second but only thirteen in the third (fourteen is made when the repeated father Jeconiah is included in the list – if we include the repeated David in the second list as in the third, then we would arrive at fifteen), Matthew choosing to conform his lists to fourteens for remembrance sake rather than for literal accuracy.
Additionally, there have been many attempts to see in Matthew’ s use of three groups of fourteen, a symbolical meaning, some related to Daniel’s seventy weeks of years. It’s even pointed out that the summation of the numerical values of David’s name (D=4, W=6, D=4) totals fourteen, thereby giving a reason for Matthew’s use of that number, Jesus being David’s greater Son. It seems very unlikely that Matthew would have purposefully sat down to conform his genealogy thus, but it’s an interesting aside. Whether we can determine anything truly (rather than hypothetically) theological or spiritual out of this is extremely doubtful.
There’s also a point made by Matmor (page 25) that, according to Finkelstein, the number fourteen was significant to the Jews in so far as this corresponded
…to the number of high priests from Aaron to the establishment of Solomon�s Temple; the number of high priests from the establishment of the Temple until Jaddua, the last high priest mentioned in Scripture…
In this way, Matthew’s intention would be to show Jesus as a type of the great high priest (Hebrews chapter 7)
after the order of Melchizedek
Whatever the reason for this division, it’s clear that Matthew had some purpose which we can only speculate over.
This study in part was put together from the notes of Mr. Lee Smith what a blessin