By James P. Needham
The word “genealogy” is found twice in the New Testament, 1 Timothy 1:4; and Titus 3:9, where Paul warned young preachers of the first century to beware of endless and useless arguments about such matters. This probably had reference to the Jewish Christians trying to trace their ancestry to prove their tribal origins which was a useless exercise after the death of Christ and the establishment of his church (Gal. 3:26-28), hence was not worth arguing about, and would “gender strife.”
Another word with the same connotation is “generation,” and it is the word used in Matthew 1 to introduce the genealogy of Christ. It “denotes an origin, a lineage, or birth” (Vine). Thus, a study of the genealogy of Christ is a study of his lineage. A thorough study of his lineage is a faith-building exercise and establishes his qualification and identity as God’s promised Messiah and Savior of the world.
I. Christ’s Genealogy in Two Phases
1. In the mind of God in eternity. A thorough study of the genealogy of Christ must begin with God the Father in eternity. The concept of Deity’s visiting this planet in a human body was conceived in the unfathomable recesses of the infinite mind of God before the world was created. The incarnation of Divinity was made necessary by God’s foreknowledge that man, when created, would exercise his free-moral agency, sin, and, there-fore, need a redeemer.
While this is beyond the ability of the finite mind to comprehend, it is revealed in God’s word and must be accepted by faith. The Scriptures repeatedly affirm it, and all Bible believers accept it. Look with me at a few passages of Scripture:
Christ was “slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).
God’s “works were finished from the foundation of the world” (Heb. 4:3).
Christ was “foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20).
Christ was delivered “By the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23).
Christians are called “. . . according to God’s own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9).
Christians were promised “eternal life . . . before the world began” (Tit. 1:2).
The saved are “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God …” (1 Pet. 1:2).
Christ uttered “things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 13:35).
“The preaching of Jesus Christ” was and is “according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began” (Rom. 16:25).
The church was established “According to the eternal purpose which He (God) purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:11).
2. On earth in the Garden of Eden in the first promise of a redeemer. The earthly genealogy of Christ Jesus begins in the Garden of Eden when God said to mother Eve, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Three significant things are revealed in this pregnant passage: (a) It is the first promise of a redeemer: The seed of woman, Christ, would bruise the head of the serpent, that is, it would sup-ply the means by which men could reverse the work done by Satan in leading Eve to sin and thus subject all her progeny to a world ruled by Satan and filled with sin; (b) It is also a revelation regarding the lineage of the Redeemer: He would be the seed of woman; that is, a male human would have no part in the begettal of the Messiah, and (c) thus it was also a prophecy of his virgin birth. When Jesus was conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary, Joseph, her espoused husband, was told by an angel of God to “fear not . . . for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 1:20). The virgin birth of the Messiah was also the subject of prophecy. Isaiah prophesied the birth of a son by a virgin which would be a sign from God, and his name should be called Immanuel, which means “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). This was specifically identified as fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:21,22).
The word “seed” in this passage is exceedingly significant in tracing the lineage of the Messiah. Tracing the seed promise through the pages of the Old Testament will bring us directly to Christ Jesus.
- The Messiah was to be the seed of woman (Gen. 3:15).
When Cain slew Abel, the seed, Eve said at the birth of Seth, “God hath appointed me another seed instead of Abel …” (Gen. 4:25).
- Following the Flood God said to Noah, “And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you” (Gen. 9:9).
When God called Abraham, he said, “… and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3).
- When God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, he said, “. . . I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7).
- In confirming his covenant with Isaac, the seed of Abraham, God said, “. . . Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an ever-lasting covenant, [and] with his seed after him” (Gen. 17:19).
- The seed promise passed through Isaac to Jacob, who begot the twelve patriarchs (1 Chron. 16:17; Acts 7:8).
- When Jacob was dying he called his sons to his bed-side, and gave the Messianic blessing to Judah, saying, “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (Gen. 49:8-10). This identification of the Messiah is continued all the way through the Book of Revelation, “And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof” (Rev. 5:5).
- The seed promise passed from Judah to David, who became known as “God’s anointed” and God promised “to show mercy to his anointed, unto David, and to his seed for evermore” (2 Sam. 22:5). One of the most significant prophesies in the genealogy of Christ was given to Nathan the prophet in the time of Samuel, “And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever. According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak unto David” (2 Sam. 7:12-17).
The Jews of Jesus’ time knew full well the origin of the promised Messiah. While his coming from Nazareth confused them, they said, Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?” (John 7:42). They obviously were ignorant of the fact that he was born in Bethlehem, or else were ignoring the fact.
Among the Jews there was an air of anxious expectation for the fulfillment of the seed promise. It has been said that every Jewish mother longed to give birth to the promised Messiah. All the events that occurred under the Law of Moses pointed to the fulfillment of the seed promise: “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made” (Gal. 3:19).
Throughout the prophecies of the coming Messiah and their fulfillment Jesus is identified as the promised seed. He is called: (a) The seed of woman (Gen. 3:15). (b) The seed of David (Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8), and (c) The seed of Abraham (Heb. 2:16).
Jesus being the seed of woman speaks of his virgin birth. His being the seed of David speaks of his royalty. His being the seed of Abraham speaks of his ethnic origin, thus his humanity. “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. . . . For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham” (Heb. 2:14, 16).
It is amazing how inspiration so consistently follows the seed promise. Paul shows how important it was to do so when he says in Galatians 3:16, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” If all the recordings of the seed promises had originated with man, surely somebody would have goofed up and made the word “seed” plural. To have done so would have destroyed consistency, and sullied the whole story of the scheme of redemption. It is impressive that inspiration here turns on whether a word is plural or singular, thus upon just one little letter “s”. Talk about verbal inspiration, this is letter inspiration!
All the preaching in the Book of Acts has as its theme that Jesus of Nazareth is the long-promised Messiah. This message was gladly received by thousands in the first century, but rejected by many more thousands, especially among the Jewish population. This occurred because the teachers among the Jews developed their own idea of what the Messiah should be. They had distorted the image God had painted through the Old Testament prophets, and since he did not fit this image, they rejected him as an imposter and a fraud. They looked for an apocalyptic Messiah who would re-establish the throne of David and deliver them from all their enemies and make them a world power as they had been in the past.
Saul of Tarsus became their national leader in opposition to Christ as the promised Messiah. He “breathed out threatening and slaughter against the disciples” (Acts 9:1) to the point that the church at Jerusalem was scattered. He then traveled to foreign countries to bring back to Jerusalem for trial on charges of blasphemy those who had called upon the name Christ.
One of the most significant events in history, however, was his own conversion on one of his trips to Damascus. Over night he went from national hero to public enemy number one because he “preached the faith he once destroyed” (Gal. 1:23). He spent the rest of his life trying to persuade one and all that Jesus Christ was the long-promised Messiah and Saviour of the world. The powers among the Jews never forgave him for his defection from their cause. They pursued him like a wild animal and heaped upon him bitter and hateful persecution. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus to Christ remains, even today, one of the strongest arguments for his Messiahship. It is a problem for Jews and other unbelievers, and shall remain so.
II. The Genealogies of Christ by Matthew and Luke
It seems inappropriate to close this discussion without some reference to the table genealogies of Christ as given by Matthew and Luke. These genealogies have given rise to much controversy and the difficulties attendant upon them a source of false accusation with skeptics who try to use them to discredit Jesus as the promised Messiah.
It is obvious that the two genealogies of Christ in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 have different purposes. In studying them carefully it seems that one is able to discern those purposes, at least to some degree. Several observations need to be made in reference to the differences in these genealogies.
a. First one should note that in these genealogies the word “son” is used in a very general way. For instance, in Matthew 1:1, David is called “the son of Abraham.” Thus, the word “son” simply means descendant. This, then, must pre-vent one from trying always to lay the names given in the genealogies end-on-end, as it were. Whole generations are passed over to suit the purposes of the genealogist.
b. It is impossible for us to understand all the intricacies of these genealogies since we are not told their specific purpose(s). Certain purposes seem evident from a careful study of the lists, but we cannot be certain of these and we should exercise caution here.
c. Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus from David through Nathan not Solomon as does Matthew, because his purpose seems to be to prove Christ’s descent from David through his mother, and thus establish him as the “son” of David, thus heir to David’s throne. This would be necessary because he is said to be “the son of David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:8). Bible students know that Joseph was not Christ’s biological father, but rather his legal father by adoption.
d. Matthew’s purpose seems to be to trace the genealogy of “Joseph, the husband of Mary” (Matt. 1:16). He traces the genealogy back to David through Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father. (See Matt. 1:20.) Thus, Jesus is established as the son of David both from a legal and a natural point of view (Adopted children are legal heirs).
e. Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy through his fleshly mother all the way back to Adam, seemingly, to prove that he is the “son of man” as well as the “son of God” (Luke 1:32).
f. It should be noted that these two lists match perfectly from Abraham to David, from whom they take differing directions, which demonstrates different purposes.
g. Any seeming difficulties are caused by our lack of knowledge of the purposes of the compilers. For instance Joseph, the husband of Mary, is said to be the son of Jacob in Matthew 1:15,16, but the son of Heli in Luke 3:23. As stated earlier, we must observe the broad use of the word “son.” It is more likely that Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli, who was the father of Mary, his wife, for, as stated earlier, Luke traces the genealogy of Mary rather than Joseph. One must keep in mind the broad use of the word “son.”
Much is made by some of the fact that the four women mentioned in this genealogy were connected with scandal. Rahab, the harlot of Jericho (Matt. 1:5); Thamar the daughter-in-law of Judah who played the harlot with him as an act of vengeance because he did not give her his next son to wed at the death of her husband (Matt. 1:3); Ruth, who spent the night at Boaz’ feet on the threshing floor (Matt. 1:5); and Bathsheba, who was David’s partner in adultery (Matt. 1:6). It’s a bit strange why so much is made of the shortcomings of these four women, and nothing is said about the shortcomings of some of the men in the genealogy. After all, Adam sinned, Abraham and Isaac lied about their wives, Jacob was a supplanter, David was an adulterer and a murderer, and Solomon was a polygamist and an idol worshipper. I could go on and on, but what’s the use? More men in the genealogy of Christ were connected with “scandal” than women. All this demonstrates that if God must have sinless people in order to work out his eternal plan, his plan never would have gotten worked out. David sought and received forgiveness, and so far as we know, and it is safe to assume, that the others did too. It is comforting to know that God can use us in the out-working of his divine plan in spite of our weaknesses. Not for a moment does this mean that God sanctions our shortcomings, but he has a plan for their remedy. He holds out an ideal toward which we must ever strive, but never fully reach.
Recently there has appeared in some of the liberal papers an article by Andre Resner entitled “Christmas at Matthew’s house” (an absurd title to begin with) which approaches the genealogy found in Matthew from a modernistic, faith-destroying point of view. This article even insinuates that the story of Mary’s pregnancy was morally questionable, and that Joseph sought to cover it up by telling of a dream he had. While space forbids quoting the complete irreverent article, I shall quote one of the more absurd paragraphs from it:
Though we’re still quite surprised by Matthew’s covert statement “she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit,” Matthew has set us up for it (by using the four women of questionable moral character previously jpn) . It’s a sort of “Here we go again, folks…” Another sexually questionable woman. And what about Joseph’s faith in the face of Mary’s story? For it was he, who after a single dream, went ahead and married her. A dream that was real, yes, but still a dream. Could it have been a message from God? Or, could it have been his own imagination, his wanting to believe her so much that his subconscious produced a nocturnal justification for marrying her, even in the face of such outlandish excuse? But there’s Joseph, crawling into bed with her every night the rest of his life, relying on a dream, believing in her word, that she really hadn’t slept with another man and used him to cover her shame. If we’ve paid attention to the women of Matthew’s genealogy we’re not entirely surprised by Mary’s (Joseph’s?!) predicament. If God used those of the Messiah’s family tree thus, why wouldn’t the Messiah himself come from a similar situation? (Wineskins, Nov. 92).
In the first sentence of his article, Resner says, “Matthew is sneaky.” It goes down hill from there! After his article aroused some controversy, as one might imagine, Resner wrote another article in which he sought to blunt the impact of his first article and proclaim his deep belief “in the divinity and virgin birth of Jesus in his death, burial and resurrection and in the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures . . . I wrote the article because of my deep love for the Lord and his church, not to show a disrespect for either.” Sure had me “fooled”! We never would have gathered this from his article! But this is in the genuine tradition of a gospel preacher turned modernistic. They have to spend more time and effort covering their tracks than it takes to make them. It seems they are always misunderstood. The problem is that they are understood but hope they won’t be. In this way they can play out their true role as “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15).
He also claimed that he wrote the article for young people! Yeah, for the purpose of destroying their faith. It is a warped sense of need and propriety to think this is the kind of commentary on the genealogy of our blessed Saviour that our young people need! Lord, save our young people from such “benefactors”!
It is also interesting that a retired “Dr. Holbert Rideout, Professor Emeritus of Christian Education at Abilene Christian University,” wrote an article commending Resner’s piece, and says, “My wife and I have been helped in our own faith by this challenging piece.” Why is it that I don’t find this surprising? It probably would be more appropriate to say that the article helped his lack of faith.
When understood, a careful study of the genealogy of Jesus invalidates the absurd claims of skeptics that the genealogy of Jesus is a hodgepodge of monumental confusion to the point of rendering it absurd. Admittedly, the genealogy is not simple, but neither is it without organization, and a sense of purpose. Most of its difficulties arise from our inability to know for sure what were God’s purposes in giving it in two versions.
The reader will find helpful discussions on this matter in Clark’s Commentary, the ISBE, and Biblical Analysis by C. H. Woodroof and Arvil Weilbaker, pp. 145-150.
An overview of the genealogy of Christ finds him descended from the great heroes of faith in all generations since the beginning of time. To be sure, they were not sinlessly perfect individuals, but they were of a character commensurate with God’s divine purpose to bring a savior into the world and “overcome the works of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8) wrought in the Garden of Eden. His coming was prophesied, his scheme of redemption was typified, and his Father glorified. In the words of Paul, “without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1 Tim. 3:16).
The pure-hearted student of the genealogy of our Lord cannot avoid the impact of his fulfillment of the many prophecies of his coming, and his being the consummation of God’s eternal purpose (Eph. 3:10, 21), and being thankful to God for his marvelous love and grace that expressed itself in giving his only begotten Son to die for us.
Guardian of Truth XL: 1 p. 3-7
January 4, 1996