Matthew 1: 1-17 – Genealogy of Jesus Christ


Matthew begins his gospel by describing the genealogy of Jesus. With its emphasis on “Christ’ (Messiah), “Son of David,” and “Son of Abraham.” The opening verse (Mt 1:1) functions as a thematic title. However, it is not immediately clear that verse 1 is a title only for the genealogy (Mt 1: 2-17). For the Greek word ‘genesis’ in verse 1, which the RSV has translated as ‘genealogy,’ means ‘birth, origin, generation,’ etc. Accordingly, some scholars consider verse 1 as a title for the entire infancy narrative; for others, who understand the ‘genesis’ as ‘story,’ the opening verse is a title for the whole gospel. Probably Matthew used the word ‘genesis’ in his title verse in a limited sense, referring only to the genealogy in Matthew 1: 2-17, including perhaps Matthew 1: 18-25 which seems to explain an item (Mt 1: 16) in the genealogy. This view gets some confirmation when we observe that Jesus Christ is explained as Son of David and Son of Abraham (Mt 1: 1) by the genealogy itself (Mt 1: 2-17). It may also be noted that the expression “the book of the generations” (Mt 1: 1) occurs in Genesis 5: 1 where it lists the descendants of Adam up to Noah. In Matthew 1: 1, however, the expression “the book of the genealogy” introduces the origin of Jesus by listing his ancestors.

Matthew’s purpose in tracing the ancestry of Jesus is to show that Jesus belongs to the history of God’s chosen people and that he is the goal and fulfilment of that history. Matthew divides the genealogy of Jesus into three sections of 14 generations each. Matthean sources for the genealogical data in the first section (Mt 1: 2-6a) can be identified as 1 Chronicles 1: 34 and Ruth 4: 18-22 (cf. Also 1Chron 2: 1-15). In this section three women are also mentioned: Thamar, Rahab and Ruth. The second section of genealogy (Mt 1: 6b-11) follows closely 1Chronicles 3: 1-16. But Matthew omits the three kings (cf. 1Chron 3: 11-12) between Joram and Uzziah (= Azariah cf. 2Kings 15: 30). The omission of these wicked kings (Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah) was necessary for Matthew to arrive at number 14 in this section. There is also the mention of another woman in this section, “the wife of Uriah.” For the third section of the genealogy (Mt 1: 12-16) Matthew has few sources. The two names, Shealtiel and Zerubbabel occur in 1 Chronicles 3: 17-19. There is no exact source for the names in Matthew 1: 13-15, and therefore the historical and statistical accuracy of this section of the genealogy remains doubtful. But then Matthew’s interest is more theological than historical; he wants to show that although the monarchy has disappeared, God’s promise of the Davidic Messiah still remains. In other words, despite of human defections and failures God continues to be faithful to his promises leading the course of Israel’s history, through unexpected ways, to Jesus the promised Messiah.

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