Jesus’ Genealogy: Why is it important for us?

The Gospel writers St. Matthew and St. Luke included the genealogy of Jesus Christ in their Gospels (St. Matt. 1: 1-17 & St. Lk. 3: 23-28). What is the relevance of it? How is it important to us?

St. Matthew shows that Jesus is the Messiah who descended from Abraham, to whom it was promised that in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed (Gen. 18: 18). It was promised to Abraham that Christ would descend from him, “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12: 3); “By your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessings for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice”(Gen. 22: 18). St. Matthew assures that Jesus was Son of God and the long-awaited Messiah.

From David, for it was from David’s line that the Messiah was to be born (2 Sam. 7: 12-16). The genealogy list is divided into the three periods of Jewish history: Fourteen generations from Abraham to David; fourteen from David to the captivity; and fourteen from the captivity to Jesus. However, five names have been omitted from the second part in the order arrive at 14. This Gospel shows that Christ is the Son of David, rightful heir to the Messianic throne. The royal genealogy of Christ is depicted in this.

While in the records of St. Luke, the genealogy starts with a reverse order beginning with Joseph and ends with Adam. St. Matthew has a very theological trace of Jesus’ forefathers and even foremothers, which is very unusual in the Jewish genealogy, even though St. Luke has a very historical and detailed account. Another question which arises here is whether Jacob (St. Matt. 1: 16) or Heli (St. Lk. 3: 23) is the father of Joseph? St. Matthew’s ancestry records shows Jesus’ legal father as Joseph and leads from David’s son Solomon. Whereas, St. Luke records the lineage through his biological mother Holy Virgin Mary back to David’s son Nathan.
What is the connection of Nathan and Holy Virgin Mary? The scriptures are silent about Holy Virgin Mary’s descendance from David. However, there are two possibilities. Firstly, tradition tells that, through her betrothal with Joseph she enters his family and legally becomes the part of the House of David. In Numbers 36: 6-12 it is stated that the daughters married within the clans and their inheritance remained in their father’s tribe and clan. This is example of how females might have married from their own families in order to secure the right of inheritance. Secondly, St. Ignatius of Antioch in his ‘Letter to the Ephesians 18’ says, “For our God, Jesus Christ, was according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Spirit”.  Here the tradition and the Scripture presents the Holy Virgin Mary, the Mother of God as descending from David through Nathan.
In other words, St. Matthew emphasizes on Joseph’s perspective, whereas St. Luke speaks of the virgin birth story wholly from Mary’s point of view. Then another logical question arises here, why is Joseph, not Mary, mentioned as Heli’s son in St. Luke’s genealogy? In the book The Virgin Birth of Christ by J. Gresham Machen, it is stated that, “While the Matthean genealogy traces the successive heirs to the throne of David from David to Joseph, the Lucan genealogy traces the ancestors of Joseph back to David”. He explains, “The Lucan genealogy, in other words, starts with the question, ‘Who was Joseph’s “father”?’ The answer to that question is, ‘Heli’ . . . In the Matthean genealogy, on the other hand, we start with the question, ‘Who was the heir to David’s throne?’ The answer is, “Solomon, and so on down to Joseph”.

In Hebrew tradition, only the names of males are mentioned in their genealogy list, which Luke follows. A virgin birth is generally not acceptable. Therefore, we can assume that Mary is designated by her husband’s name in this case. Interestingly the word “son” is not in the Greek text as well (literally it is “Joseph of Heli”), though it is implied. Why was Joseph’s (earthly father of Jesus) name included in the genealogy? Jews have a custom of keeping records to trace the descent through their fathers. Legally, they looked on Jesus as son of Joseph (Jn. 6: 42). The genealogy in Matthew clearly states that of Joseph, Mary’s husband and he is writing to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah, who had been born of a Virgin (Isa. 7: 14). Matthew’s genealogy is directed towards Joseph, not Mary. Therefore, it is through Joseph Jesus was the son of David. One interpretation states that the Jewish law at that time allowed a man to adopt a boy by a solemn declaration as his son. In such circumstances, the boy is then declared as his son for all intents and interpretations. As a ‘Just’ man, Joseph obeyed God’s command, and acted accordingly to accept Mary. Thus, Joseph became the earthly father of Jesus.

Usually the names of women are not included in the Jewish genealogy. But the names Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah, Bathsheba, are mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel. These women were sinners, or their marital unions were irregular. Why then are their names included in the genealogy? Even if these women were sinners, they had an important role in God’s plan and God used these people to accomplish His purposes. Moreover, He saves His people from their sins. In other words, these four Gentile women and their presence foreshadows the universal salvation of the humanity, which God promised to Abraham. As St. Paul said, “There is neither Jew or pagan, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus the Messiah” (Gal. 3: 28). Jews and Gentiles, male and female, people of faith and people of questionable character are all used by God to carry out His salvation plan.

The names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba being included in the genealogy assures that God will fulfill His purposes with us even though we are imperfect. The list of names in the genealogy are lengthy but it encourages us, if we have faith in Christ, we will be saved regardless of who we are, as well as to obey and follow His commandments. Jesus’ genealogy teaches us, always be with God, and be a part of His mission and be a model of Joseph, the just. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55: 9). Sometimes it is difficult for us to understand the full plan of God. Our hearts should long for faithfulness to God and submit to the will of God.

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Ayub Silvanos is the Metropolitan of the Knanaya Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch. H. E. is currently serving as the Metropolitan of the North American & Europe Region of the Knanaya Archdiocese since 2009.

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