When we look at the genealogy of Jesus we often dismiss it as unimportant. Our eyes glaze
with boredom. To us the genealogy of Jesus is irrelevant but as it has been included as part of
Scripture the Holy Spirit felt it was significant & as such we need to consider both its
importance & its relevance for us.
There are some wonderful things to be gleaned from the more difficult passages of scripture
& we shouldn’t simply relegate them to the too hard basket because we consider them to be
difficult. This is by no means an exhaustive study but I would like to highlight some aspects
of Jesus’ genealogy. I will be referring to the genealogies as listed in both Matthew & Luke
but the main emphasis will be on Matthew. At this point I will point out that 1st century
Jews, who could have contended either Matthew or Luke’s genealogical claims, do not, in
fact, do so. Matthew emphasises Jesus’ royalty; Luke emphasises Christ’s humanity & this is
reflected in their genealogies.
Matthew was the gospel written by a Jew for other Jews. Its purpose was to fully win the
Jews for Christ to fulfil Romans 1:16 – ‘’To the Jew first, & also to the Greek.’’ Matthew sets
out to show Jesus is the legal heir to the throne of David by virtue of the lineage of his legal
father, Joseph. Social position & religious identity were defined from one’s family
geneaology. Because Jesus was born into Joseph’s family he was a legal heir & he therefore
has a legal right to David’s throne. Joseph’s was a priestly lineage so Jesus is also entitled to
serve as priest. The first born son, natural or adopted, had the right of inheritance.
Matthew’s genealogy is broken into three parts consisting of 14 generations. Not every link
has been included. A cursory study shows a discrepancy between the time frame & the
number of generations. This should not trouble us unduly. Firstly the object is to show the
direct genealogy of Jesus from Abraham & as such it is a legal document. Secondly it was to
show the fulfilment of biblical prophecy. Thirdly begat refers to a direct physical lineage,
from parent to child. The first 14 generations cover from Abraham to King David’s reign.
This is the origin of David’s House & line. The second 14 generations cover the rise &
decline of David’s House, from the establishment of his kingdom to the Babylonian captivity.
The third 14 generations begins with the release of the captives from Babylon & ends with
Christ. David’s line has been eclipsed, shattered, but from the stump of the glory that was
once David’s a twig shoots forth; Jesus Christ.
The Jews kept detailed genealogical records. Firstly & fore mostly property rights were linked
to family inheritance, as was the priestly role. Families who could not trace their family had
no inheritance in the nation of Israel. They were treated as dispossessed foreigners. Neither
could one serve as a priest if they could not prove their right to do so through their family
Note that Matthew is very clear in his intent. He begins by stating that this is the genealogy of
Jesus Christ. It is a record of Jesus’ ancestry & as a Jew the author of Matthew had access to
the detailed Jewish records to prove his claims. Jesus is the Latin rendition of the Greek
Iesous, which comes from the Hebrew Jeshua.. Jeshua is a contraction of the name Jehoshua
which means Jehovah is salvation. Jeshua puts the stress on the verb thus rendering the
meaning as He will certainly save. To the personal name Matthew adds the official title
Christ, from the Hebraic, Messiah which means ordained, set apart, qualified. Thus Matthew
is saying that the one of whom he speaks is qualified & set apart to save. He leaves no doubt
that he believes that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.
Matthew systematically addresses a number of issues that are raised in the gospel accounts of
Jesus life, concerning his ancestry. Matthew13:54-58 his community thinks they know who
he is – Joseph & Mary’s son, with brothers & sisters. Matthew clearly shows Jesus to be
Mary’s son but Joseph is not his physical father. John 7:40-41 Jesus is accused of not
fulfilling prophecy because he is not from Bethlehem; Matthew disproves this claim. In John
8:41 claims of illegitimacy are made against Jesus; Matthew renounces those accusations by
showing how Joseph is legally Jesus earthly father.
We are familiar with The English term begat. This verb refers to a father’s acquisition of
offspring through the depositing of seed so indicates physical descent. From Abraham to
Joseph this verb traces the lineage but note the careful way Matthew describes Joseph’s
relationship to Jesus. It is done in such a way as to preclude the possibility of Joseph being
considered Jesus physical father.
The genealogical records prove how prophecy has been fulfilled. This could only be done by
keeping detailed & accurate genealogical records. Adam (Genesis3:15) Abraham
(Genesis22:18) Judah (Genesis 49:10 Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-10) & David (2Samuel7:12-13) were all
promised an inclusion in the Messiah’s line. Between them Matthew & Luke include all 5 of
these names. We will look at the discrepancies between the lists shortly.
Now it doesn’t take any sort of a biblical genius to realize there are differences between the
lists of names given in the gospels of Matthew & Luke. You will possibly hear arguments
disputing the truth of these accounts but the most logical reason to my mind, & the one
supported by early church fathers such as Origen, Irenaeus, Tertuillian, Athanasius & Justin
Martyr, is that Matthew’s account gives Jesus genealogy through Joseph, his father by law, &
Luke’s account gives Jesus genealogy through his mother, Mary.
Jewishness, even today, is always inherited through the mother. While a child’s paternity may
be doubtful, their maternity is rarely in dispute. To be born of a Jewish woman is to be
considered Jewish. If your mother isn’t Jewish, nor are you. One reason for this was that
women were more likely than men to marry a gentile. To be considered Jewish, the messiah,
a descendent of David, Jesus’ Jewishness had to be established. This is important as it is
obvious to even the most casual reader of the bible that Jesus’ family tree contains many
foreigners, such as Tamar, Rahab & Ruth, who are not direct descendants of Abraham.
Unusually Scripture includes 5 women in Jesus genealogy. It was not customary for Jews to
include women. Luke states that Jesus was the son of Heli. Son in this context simply means
descendant. The Jerusalem Talmud indicates Mary was the daughter of Heli. Thus Jesus is a
descendant of Heli & considered a son in Jewish law. Moreover it would appear that Mary
had no brothers so she inherited her father’s portion. This would also have meant that
Joseph was reckoned amongst his wife’s family as a son. Wether traced through Joseph’s line
or Mary’s Jesus could claim descent from the royal line of David.
I will just briefly mention the so called ‘curse of Jehoiachim’’ because some scholars argue this
negates Jesus entire genealogy. Jeremiah 22:30 says that none of Jehoiachim’s offspring shall
succeed in sitting on the throne of David. This is immediately followed in the next chapter by
a promise for the continuity of the line of David. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that
the curse was not for all time & only applied to Jehoiachim & his immediate family. It does
not say that the royal line will be obliterated. There is a difference in being ‘written of as
childless’, & not being allowed to rule successfully to a lineage being completely obliterated
which does not appear to have been the case. It is necessary to read the scriptures very
carefully to ensure that the facts have been interpreted correctly. Throughout the old
testament God gradually narrows the criteria for the promised Messiah so that we should
know him for certain Jewish, of the tribe of Judah, of David’s line. To this day Jews will
argue that Jesus did not fulfil all the requirements to be the Messiah yet Jesus himself told
them they did not understand their own scriptures.
What are some of the things we can learn from studying Jesus genealogy? We are all familiar
with the ‘’greats’’ of Jesus line: David, Abraham, Solomon but note the greatest sinners &
most evil of kings are also listed there: Joram, who allowed his wife Athaliah to murder the
males of the royal family & whose reign was marked by a restoration of the worship of Baal &
revolts by Edom & Libya; Ahaz, whose licentiousness & wickedness squandered the kingdom
built by his father & grandfather & brought Israel into subjection to Assyria; He burnt his
own sons to Molech & plundered the temple & his own palace before closing the temple
completely. The people buried him in a commoner’s grave as not being fit to be buried with
the kings of Israel; Amon, whose reign was marked by moral depravity & idolatry & who was
assassinated by his own servants. We should learn that The Jews boasted of their descent
from Abraham but their boast is empty. They gloried in the flesh but salvation comes from
above, not from below.
We have already mentioned 5 women are named in the genealogies. All could be accused
of harlotry. The case against Ruth is obscure & not to the point in this discussion. They
include 2 Cannanites, (Tamar & Rahab), Ruth the Moabite, Bathsheba from an elite
Jewish family & the first woman to gain the title ‘’Great Lady’’ & Mary, the mother
Of Jesus. We should remember that Salvation is for the whole world, men & women, Jew &
As we read through the list of names many of them will mean little or nothing to us. It does
not matter. They were important to God in order that he might accomplish his purposes.
That should give us great encouragement. We may think of ourselves as small & insignificant
in the scheme of things but if we are Gods then we are important to him & he will neither
forget us nor disown us.
Lastly as we read through this list of names one thing becomes increasingly evident; good
bad, or indifferent, male or female, rich or poor, all have fallen short of the glory of God &
stand in need of Salvation, just as we too do. God, in his great & abundant mercy sent his
own son to bring us into salvation. This is what we remember at Christmas time. Despite the
pagan trappings Christianity has taken to itself, despite the consumerism of our age, despite
the fact we celebrated the wrong date for Christ’s birth, what we remember & celebrate during
this season is that God came down to dwell amongst men & because of this reconciliation
between God & mankind was made possible. To God be the glory. Amen.