Matthew 1:1 The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2 Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; 3 And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; 4 And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; 5 And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; 6 And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; 7 And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; 8 And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; 9 And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; 10 And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; 11 And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: 12 And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; 13 And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; 14 And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; 15 And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; 16 And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
Tracing a genealogy through the mother is unusual. I do not know of any biblical instance of it, other than in Luke Chapter 3.[i] In Matthew’s Gospel, the genealogy of Jesus is traced from Abraham to Jesus, through his legal representative Joseph. Matthew’s wording in verse 16 is clear that Jesus is born of Mary and not Joseph – he goes on to explain that in Matthew 1:18-25. The circumstance of Jesus’s birth – born of a virgin – was unique, designed by God to fulfill his promise.
Though Matthew 1:1-17 does not trace the genealogy through the mother, it testifies that Jesus was born of one named Mary. Besides Mary, Matthew references four other women: Thamar/Tamar, Rachab/Rahab[ii], Ruth, and her that had been the wife of Urias/Bathsheba. Each of these four adds interesting flavor to the earthly ancestry of the Jesus the Christ.[iii] Tamar bore children by her father-in-law Judah by posing as a wayside harlot – after he had failed to fulfill the custom of giving her another of his sons to marry. Rahab was the harlot in Jericho who hid the Israelite spies and cast her lot with the people of God. Ruth was a foreigner, a Moabite woman, whose second marriage to Boaz yielded the grandfather of David the future king. Bathsheba was an adulteress who married the king David after he connived to have her soldier husband (his loyal subject) killed in battle. If one of us were telling the story, we might had left out some of the references to unpleasant details!
On the surface the genealogies of the Bible – including the New Testament genealogy of Jesus – may seem boring, but they are included with skillful purpose.
Jesus’s genealogy integrally links the Old and New Covenants. In the first verse of the New Testament, introducing Jesus the Christ, Matthew immediately ties him to the covenants of Abraham and David and begins to narrate his descent. As one compares to the Old Testament the genealogies – providing the physical descent and legal succession – demonstrate that the Christ Jesus is of the nation, tribe and family out of which the Messiah was promised (e.g. Abraham, Judah, David). The genealogy apprises us that the Christ Jesus took on our human nature (the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us). Jesus completely identified with our fallen condition, as seen in the fallen condition of his human forebears. Matthew Henry notes that when “we read the names in his genealogy, we should not forget how low the Lord of glory stooped to save the human race.” His human ancestors were fallen; he identified with them, yet Jesus was completely without sin (Cf. Romans 8:3). And, though much of the Old Testament deals with God’s promise made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Matthew’s inclusion of the Gentile women emphasizes that God is not God of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles and that his covenant of salvation reaches the end of the earth.
[i] And even then it traces through the male ancestors.
[ii] It is generally believed, but not beyond controversy, that this was Rahab the harlot of Jericho. The events in the book of Ruth occur in the times of the Judges (and Ruth 1:1 may suggest that the earliest times are meant).
[iii] And the fifth is exceptional from all the rest.