Gospel Story: The Genealogy Of Jesus Christ, Son Of David, Son Of Abraham

A genealogy or ‘family tree’ is important in many cultures. It establishes the claim of kinship and bonding. It says more simply, “He or she is one of us.”

The purpose of the genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel is Mathew’s way of saying that Jesus is the promised messiah, and that he is fulfilment of all the promises God made to Israel, promises which began with Abraham.

We must not look for mathematical accuracy in Matthew’s genealogy. The evangelist has compiled three sets of fourteen names (14 being a multiple of seven, the ‘perfect number’ for the Jews), and for this, he has made certain omissions in between. The list is divided at the two critical points of Israeli history – the foundation of the monarchy under King David, and the collapse of  the monarchy of Judah during the Babylonian invasion.

Luke also has a genealogy in his gospel, and it varies slightly from that of Matthew. The differences are irreconcilable because the two authors used different sources, and their intentions were different.

Usually a genealogy had only men’s names, because in the ancient world the father was more important than the mother. But in Matthew’s list there appear the names of five women, all of whom were exceptional in some way.

Tamar, the first name, deceived her father-in-law Judah into an incestuous union. Rahab owned a brothel in Jericho, and sheltered the Israeli spies. She was later admitted into the Israeli community. Ruth, was a foreigner but became the great-grandmother of King David. Bathsheba was a partner in King David’s adultery, and the future mother of Solomon.

And Mary, it is explicitly stated, was the mother of the messiah. Joseph was her husband, but not the father of Jesus, as Matthew explains a little later.

When Jesus was born a human being, he accepted all the sins and imperfections of our human condition. The Gospels will describe this later in full detail, but already in the first pages of Matthew, we see clearly how like one of us Jesus was.

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