Genealogies are probably the most unread parts of the Bible. And that’s understandable. For a long time, I usually skipped over them or read the names I knew and moved on. Even now there are a few of them I still don’t read all the way through. But God has shown me that genealogies are actually kind of cool when you understand how they work and really take time to study them carefully. I think this genealogy in Matthew is especially cool. The beautiful part about Jesus’ genealogy here in Matthew is how densely layered it is. It’s helpful as we study the genealogy to remember it is not just a list of names. Genealogies, specifically the one in Matthew, were not just a list of names to show where someone came from, they could also be used as a sort of literary device to help make a theological or symbolic point.

That’s exactly what Matthew does.  

Matthew’s genealogy is designed to teach his readers some very important things about Jesus. As I already said in the previous post, a genealogy was like a social resume. The names Matthew chose for his genealogy were not randomly chosen. I believe he was trying to show his readers something about Jesus that went beyond Him being related to David and Abraham. That was the primary purpose, but not the only purpose.

 I encourage you to take some time to study the names in the genealogy. The main thing I did when I was studying it personally was to write down the names as they came up and then I went and found them in the Old Testament. I read their stories and tried to summarize them. I would also suggest praying and asking God to help you see the gospel in their story or to help you see how they could be significant in Matthew’s genealogy. Ask what God is trying to teach you through these names. (By the way, if you need to Google some of the names, feel free to, I had to do that on a few of them). In later posts, I’ll share what God showed me while I was studying as well.

Consider Matthew’s Audience

It’s important to keep in mind, as I mentioned in another post that Matthew is writing to a primarily Jewish audience. As you read it, every now and then try to remember what I talked about before. The Jews reading this were expecting the Christ to come. They were looking for certain things. Also, most of the Jews reading the Gospel of Matthew would recognize the names in this list. And they would notice certain things that modern readers might miss. There are a few parts of the genealogy where Matthew does some things that modern readers might not see, or that might be confusing. But his Jewish readers would have picked up on them right away.

Mowgli already pointed out the significance of the number 14 in the genealogy. Matthew didn’t include every single generation between Abraham and Jesus, and a lot of modern readers would find it strange that he ends his genealogy by saying there were 14 generations from Abraham to David, from David to Babylon, and Babylon to Jesus. But this was something that his Jewish readers would have understood. Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet had a number associated with it. Names also had numbers associated with them based on adding together the letters in the name. David’s name in Hebrew would have added up to 14.[1] There are other significant things about the number 14 and why Matthew chose to list specifically 14 in each section. Each section represents periods during Israel’s history that his fellow Jews would have been familiar with.

I could go on, but the point I’m trying to make is it’s important when you come across something in Matthew’s genealogy that seems strange, it’s possible he’s doing something you could only easily see if you’re a 1st century Jew. As these different things come up, I’ll try to shed as much light on them as possible!

How the Genealogy is Organized

I want to end by sharing a little about how Matthew’s genealogy is organized. Matthew’s Gospel, in general, is very intentionally organized and thought out. The book itself is broken up by five major sections of teachings from Jesus and each of those sections is separated by stories about Jesus’ miracles.[2] So, it’s no surprise that the genealogy has a similar structure. I think seeing the structure here can help you in trying to study it.

Look at it like an essay or the prologue of a book. Like I said in the previous post, Matthew is trying to use the genealogy to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. So, the first sentence is kind of like his thesis statement, both for the genealogy and for the rest of the Gospel. He is going to make the point that Jesus is “the Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). The next three paragraphs are his supporting paragraphs. Each one is supporting his claim that Jesus is the Christ. And each paragraph helps understand what Matthew means when he says Jesus is the Christ. They help explain what Matthew thinks about Jesus. Each name is an argument about who Jesus is. Finally, Matthew ends the genealogy with verse 17 as his concluding statement. Again, it’s a bit of a weird statement for modern readers. An English teacher grading this essay would possibly circle that last sentence in red and tell Matthew to try again. But any time you see something in Scripture that doesn’t quite make sense, just know there’s probably a reason for it.

Laying the Groundwork

I hope you’ll keep some of this in mind as you study Matthew’s genealogy on your own. In the next post, we’ll dive into the genealogy itself, I just think it’s important to lay some of this groundwork before we get started with the text itself. Understanding the background of a part of Scripture is helpful for understanding the text, especially with genealogies as they can be overwhelming. If you have any questions or things you thought were interesting, feel free to share!   

  [1] “Matthew & Chronicles, the Connection.,” The Bible Project, accessed December 12, 2019, https://thebibleproject.com/blog/jesus-genealogies/

[2] “Overview: Matthew Ch. 1-13.” The Bible Project, accessed December 12, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Dv4-n6OYGI

Helpful resources

Jesus & Genealogies- The Bible Project

The Gospel of Matthew- The Bible Project

Overview Bible

Blue Letter Bible