1A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah,
whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
4Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
5Salmon the father of Boaz,
whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed,
whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
6and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon,
whose mother had been Uriah's wife,
7Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
8Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
9Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
10Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah,
11and Josiah the father of Jeconiah
and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12After the exile to Babylon:
Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
13Zerubbabel the father of Abiud,
Abiud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
14Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Eliud,
15Eliud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
16and Jacob the father of Joseph,
the husband of Mary,
of whom was born Jesus,
who is called Christ.
17Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
Matthew begins his Gospel, appropriately to his purpose, with the genealogy of Jesus: "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham" (vs. 1). This may seem to us a strange way to start a book, even a biography; however, this was not so strange to the Jews, to whom genealogies were very important (witness the many genealogies in the Old Testament). Moreover, to establish that a claimed Messiah had the proper credentials, a genealogy was indispensible. After all, it was necessary that the Messiah be "the son of David, the son of Abraham" (vs. 1). Promises were given to both Abraham and David that a descendant of theirs would be the Messiah. After offering his own son, Abraham was promised by God: "...[B]ecause you have done this and have not withheld your son ... through your [seed] all nations on earth will be blessed" (Gen. 22:16,18). Likewise, David was promised by God: "Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever." (II Samuel 7:16). The Lord tells us through Isaiah that the Messiah "will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom" (Isa. 9:7). Therefore, the Messiah must legally be in the royal line of David. To establish that Jesus had the qualifications to be the Messiah, Matthew gives his genealogy beginning with "Abraham", through "David". Apparently Matthew (and Luke as well, who also contains a genealogy of Christ in his Gospel) had access to genealogical records to establish that Joseph, and so also Jesus (by adoption), was in the royal line. We know that such records existed at that time. In fact, Josephus (a first-century Jewish historian) alludes to such records in his autobiography: "Thus have I set down the genealogy of my family as I have found described in the public records."[Footnote #5] Such records no longer exist so, interestingly, if anyone nowadays claimed to be the Messiah, he would have no way of proving that he descended from David in the royal line.
Now, while any Jew could be called "son of Abraham", relatively few Jews could be called "son of David", and fewer still belonged to the royal line. And because the reign of the kings of Israel had ended for the time being, the Jews were waiting for the next "son of David" who would rule: the expected Messiah. For the Jews, the Messianic title "son of David" would probably conjure up memories of David as a warrior, subduing his enemies. Perhaps, this is one reason that the Jews expected a militaristic Messiah, one who would rid them through war of their Roman rulers. They forgot, however, that David was forbidden by God to build the temple of the Lord--not because of his sins of adultery and murder--but precisely because of his militarism. The Lord told David: "You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. He is the one who will build a house for my Name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever." (I Chron. 22:8-10). Though the Lord in this passage refers directly to Solomon as the man of peace to build the temple, certainly the principle would hold that He who was to build the everlasting Temple, and establish the everlasting throne over Israel, would also be a man of peace.
In verses 2 through 17, beginning with Abraham, Matthew gives us the names of many of the ancestors of Jesus. Abraham is an appropriate place for Matthew (in detailing the genealogy of the Messiah of the Jews) to begin, since Abraham was considered the father of the Jews. The Jews are unique of all the nations of the world in that they are able to trace their lineage to one ancestor: father Abraham. They are unique in this because God chose them to be unique in this. They are His people, and so, have a unique history.
In studying the Gospel of Matthew, it would be tempting to just skip over the genealogy. After all, of what value could this list names be to us. However, Matthew (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) presents the genealogy in a very interesting way, and says a lot worthy of study in this list of names. These names serve as a worthy introduction to many of the themes in Matthew's Gospel (as we shall see). Why, to a student of the Bible, just a cursory reading of the names cannot help but conjure up many images and recollections of the events of the history of God's people: their faith, their faithlessness, their victories over evil, their stumblings into sin, their strength of character, their weaknesses in the midst of an idolatrous world. In these names, we see a history of God's dealing with His people: His judgment, His mercy, His redemption, His grief, and above all, His faithfulness throughout the history of His dealing with His people, signified most by the last name of the genealogy "Jesus, who is called Christ."
As we read the genealogy, we see that, in general, Matthew follows a formula, saying, A "was the father of" B. The word that Matthew uses for "was the father of" (translated "begat" in the King James Version) would be rendered more appropriately "was an ancestor of", since it does not necessarily specify a direct father-son relationship, but rather an ancestral relationship. Matthew's genealogy, like most genealogies in the Bible, was not meant to be a complete genealogy. Matthew does not enumerate each and every ancestor of Christ, but selects significant names to carry on the thread of the genealogy.
Rather than studying each and every name in the genealogy, for the sake of time, let us look specifically at the places in the genealogy where Matthew departs from his primary formula of saying "A was the father of B." When he does depart from this formula, Matthew is underscoring events in the history of God's people, usually to suggest to the reader a theme that he will present more fully later in the Gospel.
The first departure from the formula occurs in verse 2: "Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers." Certainly, Matthew makes mention of Judah's "brothers" because "Judah and his brothers" were the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Messiah was to be the Messiah for the nation of Israel, all twelve tribes. Also, when Matthew says, "Judah and his brothers", one cannot help but recall the history of the brothers as related in Genesis: the favoritism of Joseph by Jacob, the mistreatment of Joseph by his brothers, the selling of Joseph into slavery, the journeys of the brothers to Egypt, and their eventual settlement there. Through this history we see the providence and grace of God at work in saving the brothers, His chosen people, from the famine, in spite of their sin of selling Joseph into slavery.
The next departure from the formula occurs in verse 3: "Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar." Again, in this departure, we are reminded of an episode in Genesis; and again, rather than being a heroic episode displaying faithfulness and obedience to God by His people, it is an episode full of deceit and sin (see Genesis 38). Tamar was Judah's daughter-in-law, who was married first to his eldest son. That son died, so, following the custom of what was later known as "Levirite marriage" and codified in Deut. 25:5-9, Tamar was given Judah's next eldest son. He also died, so Judah promised Tamar his third eldest son, when he grew up to marrying age. Judah, however, reneged on his promise. Tamar, desiring to have children, disguised herself a prostitute, and Judah slept with her. Tamar became pregnant and gave birth to the twins, Perez and Zerah.
In mentioning Tamar at all in the genealogy, Matthew is calling special attention to this episode. Women were not normally mentioned in genealogies; and when they were mentioned, it was usually one of the matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel or Leah. To mention Tamar is to deliberately call to one's mind the disgraceful history of Judah and Tamar. It is as if Matthew is conjuring up this episode to reenforce that the nation of Israel needs a savior--not a political savior--but a savior who will save them from their sins.
The next departure from the formula occurs in verse 5: "Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab." Again, Matthew mentions a woman; and again, the woman mentioned has a suspect history. Rahab was a prostitute by trade, but by the grace of God, she was redeemed from her sinful life through her obedience and faith in God when she hid the Israelite spies from the Canaanites. Later in Matthew's gospel, we will be introduced to many (including Matthew the tax collector himself!) who repent from their sinful ways and become disciples of the Lord Jesus.
The next departure from the formula occurs also in verse 5: "Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth." Again, Matthew mentions a woman; this time, however, he mentions a very honorable woman, always faithful to God. The story of Ruth is a story representative of redemption. The story of her redemption by Boaz is typical of the church's redemption by Christ. It is significant that she was a Moabitess, a Gentile (as was, by the way, Rahab). God has always shed His grace upon people of all nations, even though the Jews are specially His chosen people. The special mentioning of Ruth and Rahab is a subtle way for Matthew to allude to the fact that Jesus is the Savior and Redeemer for all people--Jews and Gentiles.
The next departure from the formula occurs in verse 6: "Jesse the father of King David." Matthew reminds us, in mentioning "King" David, that this is the royal line. And then later in verse 6: "David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife." Again, Matthew mentions a woman. Significantly, Matthew does not call her "Bathsheba", but the woman who "had been Uriah's wife". This is to purposefully remind us of the great sin of "King David". He not only committed adultery with Bathsheba, but also murdered Uriah to hide his sin of adultery. David, the great king, needed a Savior from sin as much or more than any of us.
The next departure from the formula occurs in verse 11: "Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon." This reminds the reader of the significant turning point in the history of Israel, when the whole nation, "Jeconiah and his brothers", were carried away to Babylon. This was the end of the kingdom that had been so great in the times of David and Solomon. The nation had gone from greatness to destruction because of their disobedience to God. The nation of Israel greatly needed a Savior from sin. Jeconiah (also called Jehoiachin, see II Kings 24:8ff) was the last of the kings. In fact, God cursed his bloodline, saying that none of his offspring would ever be kings: "This is what the LORD says: `Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule any more in Judah.'" (Jer. 22:30). Significant here is that the Messiah (since He will sit on the throne of David) cannot be a blood descendant of Jeconiah. This means that, if Matthew is recording the blood line leading to Joseph, Jesus cannot be a blood relation to Joseph. And Jesus isn't! The virgin birth of Christ allows this prophecy to be fulfilled, even if Joseph is a blood descendant of Jeconiah, since Jesus did not come from Joseph's seed, but only the "seed of the woman" Mary.
Now, all this being said, we are not at all certain that Matthew is enumerating the blood line of Joseph here. It is quite conceivable that Matthew is giving in this genealogy the royal line of the kings on the throne of David, which may or may not always correspond to the blood line (depending upon whether there are any sons of the legal heir to take over at the time of the death of the current legal king). The main reason that we are not sure that Matthew's genealogy is the blood line is that Luke also gives a genealogy in his Gospel (see Luke 5:23ff) and, as any reader can see for himself, Luke's genealogy is different than the one given by Matthew.
Those who have no respect for the Bible as the Word of God, when they see the differences between Luke's and Matthew's genealogies, are quick to cry out: "Contradictions! Contradictions!" However, rather than being left with a contradiction for which there is no explanation, the real problem is that there are too many possible explanations for the differences between the two genealogies, especially given the custom of Levirite Marriage (which would yield two different legal fathers for a given person), given the fact that double and triple names were routinely given to the same people, given that the genealogies are incomplete (not enumerating every ancestor), etc.
There are two explanations which are widely subscribed to for the differences between the genealogies. One explanation (as alluded to above) is that Matthew's Gospel gives the royal line of David through Joseph (not necessarily the blood line), and Luke's Gospel gives the blood line of David through Joseph. In other words, Matthew's genealogy gives the legal heirs to the throne of David, including those who were adopted as the legal heirs because there was no available blood heir to throne. Given that Matthew's purpose is to show Jesus as the promised Messiah, and Luke's purpose is to show Christ's humanity, these differing types of genealogies would suit each Gospel writer's purpose.
The other explanation is that Matthew's Gospel gives Joseph's blood line and Luke's Gospel gives Mary's blood line. In this case, Joseph's blood line would correspond to the royal line of David through Solomon down to Joseph. To give Mary's blood line would make sense given that a primary theme in Luke's Gospel is the humanity of Jesus, because Jesus gets His humanness (so to speak) through Mary. Some think this explanation is negated by Luke's mentioning of Joseph in the genealogy; however, Luke only gives the names of Jesus' male ancestors, and he specifically states that Joseph is not Jesus' blood father: "[Jesus] was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, [etc.]" (Luke 3:23ff). Note also, that Luke does not necessarily say that Joseph was the son of Heli. He could be saying that Jesus was the son of Joseph, and Jesus was the son of Heli, and Jesus was the son of Matthat, etc. This explanation is also supported by the fact that many verses in the Bible refer to the fact that Jesus was in the blood line of David, not just the royal line of David (see Luke 1:32; Acts 2:30; Rom. 1:3; II Tim. 2:8). This means that Mary had to be a blood descendant of David because Jesus was not a blood descendant of Joseph (due to the virgin birth).
So as it stands, we have two very plausible explanations for the differences in Matthew's and Luke's genealogies. The real answer could be one of these, or could be something else. I am not too concerned with convincing you of the validity of one explanation over the other. I agree with John Broadus on this point: "We are little concerned to show which of them is best, and under no obligation to prove that either of them is certainly correct; for we are not attempting to establish from the Genealogies the credibility of Matthew's Gospel. When the object is simply to refute an objection to that credibility, founded on an apparent discrepancy between two statements, it is sufficient to present any hypothetical explanation of the difficulty which is possible. If the explanation be altogether reasonable and probable, so much the better. And if there be two, or several, possible explanations, these reinforce each other in removing the ground for objection, and it is not necessary to choose between them."[Footnote #6] So, let's not be stubborn and say we must know what the true explanation is. Remember, this is the Word of God. It is arrogant for us to assume that we will be able to understand everything in this Grand Book. It was (in effect) written by God Himself, whose intelligence is incomparably beyond ours. God had His reasons for including both genealogies. Certainly, by including both, and the (at first glance) seeming "contradiction", God has urged us to study very closely these two genealogies. And well we should, for these genealogies describe the earthly heritage of our Lord. If there had been no discrepancy in the genealogies, we may have just skimmed over these names and effectively ignored this section! The seeming "contradictions" in the Bible are impetuses, urging us to a deeper study of the Word of God, thereby increasing our knowledge of God and His ways through our close scrutiny of His Word. Behind every seeming "contradiction", I have found a gem of insight, leading me to a greater respect for the Word of God, and a greater appreciation for God's wisdom.
To move on, the final departure from the usual genealogical formula occurs in verse 16: "...and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." Matthew's wording here is very precise. He is subtly introducing the fact that Mary was a virgin when she bore Jesus, and that Joseph was not the blood father of Jesus. So as not to imply this, Matthew does not follow the usual genealogical formula and say, "...and Jacob the father of Joseph, and Joseph the father of Jesus." Rather, he brings Mary into the picture, saying specifically that she bore Jesus.
Now, at that time, Jesus was a fairly common name, being the Greek form of the name "Joshua".[Footnote #7] So, Matthew distinguishes this Jesus by saying that He is the one "who is called Christ". "Christ" is the Greek word for "Messiah", or "anointed one", which was a common way that the writers in the Old Testament referred to the Messiah (see I Sam. 24:6; Ps. 2:2; Ps. 105:15; Isa. 45:1; Dan. 9:25-26). Jesus was commonly called "Christ" (using it effectively as His proper name) in the Epistles after His ascension. However, we find the term used sparingly of Him by His disciples during His life on earth. There were three notable instances when His disciples used the term: 1. Just after Andrew was called as a disciple, he told his brother Peter: "We have found the Messiah" (John 1:41); 2. When Martha confessed Jesus as Christ just before the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:27); 3. When Peter proclaimed Jesus as "Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Matt. 16:16) in response to Jesus' question: "Who do you say I am?" (Matt. 16:15). Jesus often used the term of Himself, thereby boldly proclaiming Himself as the Messiah (Matt. 23:10; Mark 9:41; John 4:26; John 17:3). The angels called Him the Christ when they proclaimed Him to the shepherds (Luke 2:11). Sadly, many of the references to Jesus as Christ were statements made in mockery (see Matt. 26:63; Matt. 26:68; Matt. 27:17; Mark 15:32; Luke 22:67; Luke 23:39). Significantly, after Jesus' death and resurrection, He was known as Christ by even non-disciples. Josephus, a non-Christian, Jewish historian, refers to Him as such: "Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works--a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ."[Footnote #8]
Matthew sums up the genealogy in verse 17: "Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ." Matthew has divided the genealogy into three sets of fourteen. This was probably done to aid in the memorization of it. In his divisions, Matthew highlights the three great periods of the history of the Jews up until that time. It has been noted that there are not enough names given in the genealogy to make three sets of fourteen unless someone is counted twice. Matthew tells us whom we are to count twice. He says in verse 17 there were fourteen "from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile..." So, we are to count fourteen starting with Abraham and ending with David; then fourteen starting with David and ending with Josiah; then fourteen starting with Jeconiah and ending with Christ. To achieve these three sets of fourteen, names have been left out of the second and third periods, as was usual in the genealogies of the Bible (the first period contains all of the names, however, for Matthew says "in all" when referring to that period).
4. Lawrence Richards, from the Introduction to The Gospel of Matthew, by C. H. Spurgeon, pg. 9.
5. Flavius Josephus, The Life of Flavius Josephus, (6).
6. John Broadus, Commentary on Matthew, pg. 7.
7. See Acts 13:6; Col. 4:11 for instances of other men named Jesus.
8. Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18; Chapter 3.