Online Reading – The Generation of Jesus Christ

Verse by Verse

The Generation of Jesus Christ

The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.—Matthew 1:1

A verse-by-verse Bible study in Matthew 1

The same book, the New Testament, which contains a warning against studying “endless genealogies” (1 Tim. 1:4), itself opens with a lengthy genealogy—”the generation of Jesus Christ.”

Another even more lengthy genealogy of Jesus is found in Luke 3:23-38. The two lists of forebears differs in two respects. While the Matthew accounts traces Jesus’ pedigree to Abraham, the Luke record goes even farther, all the way back to God through Adam.

The second difference is that Matthew is tracing the legal ancestry through the male line, Joseph’s, “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus;” while Luke follows Jesus’ biological roots through his mother Mary.

It has been contested by some that Luke 3:23 makes that genealogy also that of Joseph. “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.” However the total difference with that in given in Matthew would either make this an impossibility or one of them a lie. The Greek word nomizo translated “as was supposed,” while having that general meaning, literally gives the thought of according to law (See Strongs #3543); or the son-in-law of Heli, the father of Mary, Joseph’s wife.

Genealogical Problems

Verses 1 through 16 list the genealogy of Jesus. This is important to the theme of Matthew’s gospel which was primarily written to prove to the Jewish people that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, “the son of David.”

A detailed examination of this ancestral listing turns up two problems however. The first of these is in verse eight where Joram (Jehoram) is listed as the father of Ozias (Uzziah.) Three generations are omitted in this listing (Ahaziah, 2 Chron. 22:2); Jehoash, 2 Chron. 24:1; and Amaziah, 2 Chron. 25:1).

Rather than an oversight, the recap of the number of generations in verse 17, suggests that Matthew made this omission purposefully. The answer to this riddle appears to be found in Exodus 20:4, 5: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.”

The wife of Jehoram was Athaliah, the daughter of Israel’s wicked king Ahab (presumably through Jezebel), introduced idolatry as the palace religion of Judah. To maintain her control she murdered all of her grandsons except Joash, who had been hidden by the priests.

Matthew therefore follows the law given in Exodus 20:4, 5 and omits the following three generations of kings.

The second problem is the omission of Jehoiakim between Josiah (Josiah) and Jechonias (Jehoiachin.) This appears to be an oversight, since the number of listed generations between David and the captivity is only thirteen, while the recap in verse 17 indicates there should be fourteen.

Long Generations

Another claim against the Matthew genealogy is the length of generations between Naasson and David in verses five and six. These four generations span a period of some 490 years (the period of the Judges plus the forty years of Saul’s reign), an average of 122 years per generation, while the previous five generations (from Judah to Naasson) covers about 400 years, or 80 years per generation.

It is for this reason that many commentators suggest that there must have been omitted generations during this period. In defense of the listing as given by Matthew it should be noted that there is independent reason to consider these generations as longer than the normal for that time period.

Joshua 6:25 notes that Rahab lived to an exceptional age by noting, as a matter of interest, “she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day.” Boaz was already well established when he married the widowed Ruth, mother of Obed. And of David himself we learn that he was sufficiently junior to his siblings as to use his sister Zeruiah’s sons Abishai, Joab, and Asahel, as chief advisors (see 1 Chron. 2:16; 2 Sam. 2:18).

Five Women

One additional oddity in this listing of Jesus’ lineage is the inclusion of five women—Thamar, Rachab, Ruth, Bathsheba and Mary. Paradoxically, each of the five could be considered a blot in the pedigree of Jesus.

The story of Thamar, the daughter-in-law of Judas who visited her in the role of an harlot, does little to enhance her reputation, although her motivation to force Judah to fulfil his obligations under Levirate law (Deut. 25:5-10), was indeed honorable. Nevertheless her son was, technically, illegitimate.

Once again the genealogy of Jesus is used to illustrate a principle of Old Testament law. One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the congregation of the LORD; “even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the congregation of the LORD” (Deut. 23:2 NKJ).

Counting forward from Thamar’s sons Phares and Esrom, the tenth generation reaches to King David. This explains why, when Israel clamored to Samuel for a king, God did not choose one from the line of Judah, the prophesied royal line (Gen. 49:10)

Two of the other women, Rahab and Ruth, while both women of faith, were Gentiles by birth—Rahab being a Canaanite and Ruth a Moabite. Thus is illustrated the validity of the Jewish law of the proselyte, and the universality of the lineage of Jesus.

The Bathsheba story relates to a serious moral lapse in the life of David. Yet, of all his wives, she becomes the favorite and the mother of both Solomon and Nathan, the two sons of David who become ancestors of Jesus. Her besmirched reputation however almost prefigures that of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who became with child through the Holy Spirit before consummating her marriage with Joseph, her espoused.

Fourteen Generations

“So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations” (v. 17).

If the ancestral listing had been more literally accurate, the reoccurrence of the number fourteen might seem to be an interesting curiosity. It becomes even more so when taking the manufactured appearance of the number, taking into account the missing generations.

Why was fourteen so important? It is of interest at this point, to delve into the Jewish mind. Numbers were not written in the customary format of our day, but were composed of the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet—aleph equalling one, beth being two, and so on.

It is in this vein that numbers are used in the book of Revelation, where the number of the beast is given as six hundred sixty six. An archaeological stele has been found with an engraving, similar to that left by two lovers today, of an heart inscribed with the words “he whose number is 32 loves her whose number is 25.” These were decoded by adding the value of the consonants in the proper names of the individuals involved.

Following this light of reasoning, it appears to be no coincidence that the proper name David is composed of three consonants—two daleths or “d”, with a vau or “v” inserted between them. Daleth was the fourth Hebrew letter, having a numeric of four, and vau the sixth, with a value of six. The name David therefore had a numeric value of 6+4+6 for a total of 14, the number of generations which Matthew finds between each of the major time markers in the genealogical history of Jesus.

Jesus was the “Son of David” (14), from Abraham to David; and again the “Son of David” (14) from David to the captivity; and once again the “Son of David” (14) from the captivity to the birth of Jesus.

The Birth of Christ

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (vs. 18-20).

While Luke’s gospel records the annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary, Matthew gives us the other half of the story—the announcement of Mary’s pregnancy to Joseph. At the time of the event recorded here Joseph and Mary were espoused or engaged, but not yet married.

The Jewish engagement customs were quite different than those of today’s western world. Concerning these we read the following from Nelson’s Bible Dictionary:

“The selection of the bride was followed by the betrothal, not to be entirely equated with the modern concept of engagement. A betrothal was undertaken by a friend or agent representing the bridegroom and by the parents representing the bride. It was confirmed by oaths and was accompanied with presents to the bride and often to the bride’s parents.

The betrothal was celebrated by a feast. In some instances, it was customary for the bridegroom to place a ring, a token of love and fidelity, on the bride’s finger. In Hebrew custom, betrothal was actually part of the marriage process. A change of intention by one of the partners after he or she was betrothed was a serious matter, subject in some instances to penalty by fine.

The most important instance of betrothal in the Bible is the one between Joseph and Mary att. 1:18-19. A Jewish betrothal could be dissolved only by the man’s giving the woman a certificate of divorce. A betrothal usually lasted for one year. During that year the couple were known as husband and wife, although they did not have the right to be united sexually.

Betrothal was much more closely linked with marriage than our modern engagement. But the actual marriage took place only when the bridegroom took the bride to his home and the marriage was consummated in the sexual union.”

Joseph’s nobility was shown by his desire to give Mary the required bill of divorcement inferred by his “putting her away privily.” This would permit her remarriage and draw the least public commotion to the incidence of her unusual pregnancy.

The assurance of the angel of Mary’s fidelity to him despite the obvious appearances of her being with child were sufficient for him to cancel these plans. This was another demonstration of his love for Mary and the nobility of his own character for, despite the assurance of the angel, the morals of Mary would be publicly questioned and her reputation (and his also, by association) tarnished.

Naming the Child

“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS; for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (vs. 21-23).

At first reading these verses contain a contradiction—his name was to be called Jesus because the Old Testament predicted his name would be Emmanuel (Isa. 7:14).

The name Emmanuel is interpreted by Matthew as meaning “God with us.” In contrast, the name Jesus is usually interpreted as meaning “Savior”. This interpretation, however, is only partially correct. Jesus is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew Joshua, a name frequently given as a namesake for the famous Hebrew leader who led Israel into the promised land at the end of the Exodus from Egypt.

As we examine the Old Testament records we find that Joshua was a name given to one of the twelve spies who searched out the promised land. We read in Numbers 13:16, “These are the names of the men which Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Oshea the son of Nun Jehoshua.”

It was the name Oshea (or Hosea) which meant “Savior.” By adding the prefix Je to the name and making it Jehoshua (or Joshua) Moses was changing the meaning to “Jehovah saves”, an exact parallel to the meaning of Emmanuel, “God with us.”

Joseph’s Obedience

“Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS” (vs. 24, 25).

Our chapter closes with Joseph showing his nobility and obedience to the vision which he had seen. He not only drops his own plans of giving Mary an honorable bill of divorcement and chooses to share the consequences of a stained reputation with his wife, but also opts to remain celibate in the marriage until after the child is born.

While men rightly praise the purity and character of Mary, it is only fitting that we also remember the nobility and strength of character exemplified by the little known Joseph.

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