Tuesday
Jul102012

Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus Christ

Matthew’s gospel account begins in a very helpful place, listing the earthly genealogy of Jesus Christ before a description of his miraculous conception and birth.

Jesus is initially styled as “the son of David, the son of Abraham,” denoting the royal and covenantal aspects of his messianic lineage. His own name, Jesus, was a fairly common one, identical to Joshua in the Hebrew, but rendered in English from the Greek “Iēsous.” The apparent surname, “Christos,” is actually a messianic designation for the “anointed.” As Matthew wrote, probably in the late 50s to early 60s, Jesus was recognized as the legitimate successor to the authority of revered David and the fulfillment of promise made through Abraham for blessing upon all nations.

Genealogies were very important to the Jews, especially in determining tribal associations, duties, and privileges. While much of this distinction had waned since the days of the exile, the Jewish identity of the Messiah was of great significance. While referencing a continuation of the Old Testament bloodline, Matthew accounts for Jesus’s legal claim to the throne of David, rather than the Lucan method of establishing his Adamic biological lineage.

Matthew traces the genealogy from Abraham to David, including three notable women in the list – Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. The line becomes royal at the point that Jesse’s son replaces Saul upon Israel’s throne, and proceeds through the giants of Hebrew governance until it rests upon the tragic name of Josiah and the final few rulers of independent Judah. The final section of the genealogy includes exilic and intertestamental characters before arriving at Joseph and Mary. Fourteen generations are noted in each of three sections, but it is apparent Matthew skipped some ancestors for unknown reasons.

With the legalities of Jesus’s messianic claim established, Matthew begins his narrative of the life of his Lord: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” According to Matthew and ancient custom, Mary and Joseph had been betrothed to marriage, but had not yet consummated the union legally or sexually. During this period, Mary was discovered to be pregnant, but not due to a fault in her virtue. Rather, Mary had been impregnated miraculously by the Holy Spirit, with the intent that she should bear the son of God in a tabernacle of flesh. Unaware of this arrangement, and because of the binding nature of their relationship, Joseph could not simply break up with Mary. Resolved to divorce her privately rather than subject her to stoning, Joseph was contacted in a dream by an angel who testified to Mary’s honor and role in the incarnation. 

The baby would be called Jesus, “God saves,” and Immanuel (“God with us”). The virgin would remain chaste until after the birth (Isaiah 7:14).