The following is a Scripture study on Matthew 1:1-17. To receive maximum value from this study, it is highly recommended that you read this passage before reading the study.
It is easy to overlook the genealogies in Scripture. All too often, we rush forward to read the stories in Matthew and Luke and ignore the genealogies altogether. To modern readers, it may be surprising that these genealogies were not just included, but intended to be memorized!
The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew is unique in many ways. Although we see names listed in Old Testament genealogies, Matthew does a few things differently than other genealogies:
- He groups the names into three sets of fourteen, representing the time between Abraham and David, David and the exile to Babylon, and the exile to Babylon to the birth of Christ. In the Hebrew, the three characters used to spell David’s name can be exchanged for numerical values that add up to fourteen (dwd = 4+6+4 = 14). Whether this was intentional or coincidental is unclear. Regardless, this genealogy is a reminder to Matthew’s readers the Jesus is the Davidic Messiah.
- This genealogy is condensed. When Matthew writes that a person was “the father of” another person, there are times where he means that the person was an ancestor. He condenses the genealogy to fit into his sets of fourteen and to make it easier for hearers to memorize.
- There are names in this genealogy that are not found in the Old Testament. Most of the names between the exile to Babylon and the birth of Jesus are ones that are unique to Matthew. It is likely these genealogical records were kept in the Temple.
- It is highly unusual that Matthew included women in a genealogy. While the women listed in the genealogy of Jesus are ones that we are familiar with because of the Old Testament, listing them in a genealogy was a radical upset of the way things were done.
Some of the names in this genealogy are unique to the Gospel of Matthew. Scholars suspect that he drew from records kept in the Temple. These records were lost in A.D. 70 with the destruction of the Temple by Rome.
The genealogy in Matthew is condensed, likely to make it easier to memorize.
It was unusual for Matthew to include the names of five women. His inclusion of these women points to the fact that the Gospel is good news for both men AND women.
An application section on a study of the genealogy of Jesus may seem strange. However, in reading the names and understanding the background of genealogies, we find that Matthew’s intention in including this genealogy is not merely the providing of information.
It would have been easy for Matthew to provide only the positive side of the genealogy of Jesus. Because he condensed the genealogy to make it easier to memorize, it would have been easy to include only the powerful, admirable members of his line.
But Matthew didn’t do this. Why? While we cannot know exactly why the names listed were included, the inclusion of Gentiles and sinners is a reminder to us that God is able to redeem anyone. Ruth and Rahab were both Gentile women. Although we may say their faithful acts contribute to their inclusion in the genealogy of Jesus, their inclusion is a reminder that the good news of the Gospel is for Jews and Gentiles. Their inclusion is a reminder that Jesus came for men and women, those who are good and those who are evil, the powerful and the oppressed.
Regardless of your background, the genealogy of Jesus can provide you with hope. Your genealogy does not have to define who you are in Christ. Your past does not have to define who you are in Christ. What defines who you are is the relationship you have with a Savior who was born into the same mixed-up world that you were. You serve a God who cares enough about you to redeem your past. That’s pretty amazing!
In the creation of this study, I consulted the NIV Application Commentary: Matthew by Michael J. Wilkins.
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