The Genealogy of Matthew


The two primary sources that I’ve used for a commentary of the Nativity of our Lord, it seems are not equal in the task of explaining the significance of the Jesus’ Genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew. For the most part, Dr. Edward Sri’s book has been used as the basic outline for the presentation of each section of the Gospel in which I’ve addressed, but in my opinion, his section on the beginning of Matthew is disappointing, to say the least.

However, Pope Benedict’s exegesis on the particular topic is more than sufficient to use as an outline with Dr. Sri’s work to provide any type of support, if needed. One of the reasons I’ve moved away from Dr. Sri’s work is that he doesn’t address a glaring criticism of the genealogy of Matthew, or should I see the genealogies of the Gospels—they do not agree with each other.

The Beginning of Matthew’s Gospel reads:

1 ¶ The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 And Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa, and Asa the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of She-alti-el, and Shealti-el the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerub-babel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. [1]

 So What is in a Genealogy?

 Pope Benedict XVI, in his work Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, explains that the two names of importance are Abraham and David.[2] Naturally, the reason, as many biblical theologians agree, is that the audience of Matthew’s Gospel are largely Jewish in nature, as opposed to Luke, the companion of St. Paul. In this regard, St. Matthew is attempting to convince pious Jews that they are not committing the sin of idolatry by following Jesus Christ as the Son of God because he fulfills the prophecies of old. Pope Benedict XVI writes:

 “Both the genealogy and the history that it recounts are largely structured around the figure of David, the king to whom the promise of an eternal kingdom had been given: “Your throne shall be established for ever” (2 Sam 7:16). The genealogy that Matthew puts before us is steeped in this promise. It is constructed in three sets of fourteen generations, at first rising from Abraham to David, then descending from Solomon to the Babylonian captivity, and then rising again to Jesus, in whom the promise comes to fulfillment. The king who is to last for ever now appears—looking quite different, though, from what the Davidic model might have led one to expect. This threefold division becomes even clearer if we bear in mind that the Hebrew letters of the name “David” add up to fourteen: even in terms of number symbolism, then, the path from Abraham to Jesus bears the clear imprint of David, his name and his promise. On this basis one could say that the genealogy, with its three sets of fourteen generations, is truly a Gospel of Christ the King: the whole of history looks toward him whose throne is to endure for ever.”[3]

 Who are the Women Mentioned in the Genealogy?

Excluding Mary, what do the other four women who are mentioned by name in Matthew’s genealogy have in common? Why do they appear at all?

There are two popular theories among scholars both presented separately and together:

#1: All four women are sinners: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah.

#2: None of the women are Jewish. In this regard, the coming of the Messiah and dominion is over all people. As Pope Benedict reminds us, “the promise refers in the first instance to his descendants, but it also extends further: “all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him” (Gen 18:18). Thus the whole history, beginning with Abraham and leading to Jesus, is open toward universality—through Abraham, blessing comes to all”[4]

 So, You’re Telling Me That the Two Genealogies in the Gospels Don’t Agree…

 Pope Benedict writes:

“A further striking difference is that Matthew and Luke agree on only a handful of names; not even the name of Joseph’s father is common to the two. How can this be? Apart from elements drawn from the Old Testament, both authors have based themselves on traditions whose sources we cannot reconstruct. It seems to me utterly futile to formulate hypotheses on this matter. Neither evangelist is concerned so much with the individual names as with the symbolic structure within which Jesus’ place in history is set before us: the intricacy with which he is woven into the historical strands of the promise, as well as the new beginning which paradoxically characterizes his origin side by side with the continuity of God’s action in history.”[5]

 From a historical perspective, Pope Benedict’s explanation troubles me. It’s difficult for me to admit and criticize because I do admire Pope Benedict as a scholar. To me, he basically is saying, “Yes, Yes, they contradict but who cares let’s not worry about it because both authors are telling a story for their audiences.” Okay, from a faith standpoint, I admire his faith, but I thought in regards to our faith prophecy means something, right? So, is or isn’t Jesus in the line of King David? Or, is or isn’t Jesus lineage traced back to Adam and so on? I think it’s futile to pretend that these questions and concerns are of no importance by simply ignoring them in favor of more theological interpretations. Again, in our Catholic faith, the body matters just as the soul, therefore, in my opinion the family lineage matters just as much as the theological, right?

So, the irony, Fr. Raymond E. Brown, a scholar who I do not necessarily respect or agree with much puts my concern at ease, in many ways, because he doesn’t seem to punt the issue. Of course, may I add that this is evidence of reading those who don’t agree with every once in awhile can be fruitful.

Fr. Brown writes:

“If all the facts discussed thus far have raised doubts about the historicity of the infancy narratives, how are these doubts to be resolved? The thesis of inspiration may not be invoked to guarantee historicity, for a divinely inspired story is not necessarily history. Any intelligent attempt to combine an acceptance of inspiration with an acceptance of biblical criticism must lead to the recognition that there are in the Bible fiction, parable, and folklore, as well as history. Nor will it do to argue that the infancy narratives must be historical or else they would not have been joined to the main body of Gospel material which had its basis in history. That argument wrongly supposes that history or biography was the dominant optic of the evangelist, and also that the evangelist could tell whether the stories he included had a historical origin. We must rather face a gamut of possibilities. Although both treat the same period of Jesus’ life, the respective approaches of the two infancy narratives may be different: both may be historical; one may be historical and the other much freer; or both may represent non-historical dramatizations.”[6]

 Now, by establishing an ease with this alleged contradiction, one can more easily appreciate Dr. Sri’s approach of explaining the genealogy written in Matthew’s Gospel:

“One has to wonder why Matthew begins his Gospel with a long genealogy. If the Gospel is supposed to be “good news,” couldn’t there be a more captivating way… However, for first-century Jews, the names in Matthew’s genealogy would have been the most dramatic news they had received in a long time. In fact, if there were modern media in ancient Palestine, this genealogy would have made the front page of the New York Times and served as the lead story on CNN… Matthew strategically compressed that story into seventeen verses to show how God’s plan for Israel is reaching its climax in the child mentioned at the end of this family tree.”[7]

[1] RSV Mt 1:1–17.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (New York: Image, 2012), 4.

[3] Ibid, 6.

[4] Ibid, 5.

[5] Ibid, 8-9

[6] Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, New Updated Edition. (New York; London: Yale University Press, 1993), 33–34.

[7] Edward Sri, Dawn of the Messiah: The Coming of Christ in Scripture (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005), 110.

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