Why Does the New Testament Start with a Genealogy?
As we begin the New Testament study year, most of us will open to the beginning of the New Testament and be confronted with a lengthy genealogical list. I don’t know about you, but for all the people that I know who love doing genealogical work, when I ask them what their favorite things to read are, genealogical lists are not in their top 10. Go figure!
So if God wanted to start off His Gospel record in a gripping way, a grab-you-by-the-collar-I-can’t-put-this-book-down! kind of way, why start with genealogy that most people skip over?
Why Are Four Women Mentioned in the Genealogy of Matthew 1
If you are one of the stalwart and chosen few in this life who has actually read the entire genealogy of Matthew 1, word for word, and you survived working your way through foreign and confusing names, you should win an extra cookie and glass of punch in the next life. By the way, did you notice that four women are referenced?
If you noticed that these four women are referenced, did you ever wonder why? And why them?
The answer? Because of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Mary was an unusual mother. Found to be pregnant before she was married, she could have easily been outcast, thrown into slavery, or executed. She could have lived her life with terrible accusations thrown against her, and according to some ancient traditions, many people did think she was nothing more than an immoral harlot. And if so, such ancient critics reasoned, how could God ever do any good through someone so fallen, so morally compromised?
This is where the four women of Matthew’s genealogy answer the critics: Tamar (daughter-in-law to Judah), Rachab (the Jericho prostitute), Ruth (the non-Israelite Moabite), and Bathsheba (the woman unlawfully taken by David). Not only are each of these women ancestresses to Jesus, but each of them came from unusual, unexpected circumstances or were involved in what appears to be sexually improper situations.
And yet God did His work through them!
God worked through Mary, the mother of Jesus, and through these other four named women in Matthew’s genealogy, to demonstrate that He will do His work. God will work through His servants, even the most unlikely of servants. Even the most unlikely life can be redeemed and honored by God. Each life can be part of God’s grand plan to bring light and truth and healing to the world.
No matter where you are in your life or what you have done, God has a plan for you.
You are a necessary, significant, and pivotal player in God’s grand designs. Let Him do His work with you!
There are no accidents in the scriptures
Okay, perhaps I’m overselling the idea that there are no accidents in the scriptures. I’m not advocating that the scriptures are perfect–only God is. What I am saying in this post is that with good questions and diligent searching we can find some incredibly amazing and fruitful answers to puzzles in the scriptures that are intriguing or even apparently mundane like the question, “Why are four women mentioned in the Genealogy of Matthew 1?”
Learning at the Feet of the Savior
I hope you found these insights valuable and empowering. If so, you may find more such insights in one of my recent books.
Together with my co-author David Ridges, we wrote Learning at the Feet of the Savior: Additional Insights from New Testament Background, Culture, and Setting to encourage people to ask questions and to use the scriptures and the example of Jesus to learn how to learn and to better understand how the scriptures apply to their lives.
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Bathsheba is not mentioned by Matthew, she is referenced, 6 And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias;” and Luke does not mention any women. Rachab may not have been a harlot. Josephus calls her an inn keeper and the name means one who serve s food.
Thank you for making time to read the article and to share your observations. You are right! A really careful reading of the text reveals that Bathsheba is not specifically named, only referenced.
As for Rahab, in the Hebrew of Joshua 2:1, she is called a “zanah”. Of the 94 times this word appears in the Old Testament, nearly every instance of “zanah” means harlot, whoredom, fornication, or similar words. Josephus (37 AD – 100 AD) lived many hundreds of years after the Book of Joshua was composed. Perhaps in the time of Josephus the Hebrew word “zanah” now meant someone who was in inn keeper…but I haven’t reviewed the meaning of “zanah” at the time of Josephus and so I don’t know if that is accurate or not.
For the purposes of this post, the truth still holds: no matter who we are, our history, our identity, God’ can work His will through us.
Thanks again for sharing your insights!
Correct me if I’m mistaken, but I think this is actually a genealogy of Joseh though. I don’t think we have Mary’s genealogy so technically speaking, unless Mary was related to Joseph, the Savior didn’t necessarily come from this blood line.
Yes, you are right. That is great close reading. This genealogy in Matthew primarily focuses on the males in the line of Joseph. What I was hoping to communicate in this article is that the genealogy was written, in part, to answer any potential criticism against Mary for having been found pregnant before she was married: God can do His amazing work through us, no matter the circumstances, if we turn our lives over to Him in active, trusting, loyal faith.
Thanks for the question!
From my understanding, weren’t they
(Mary and Joseph ) cousins, both of the house of David in some respect. I appreciate this article. I pondered and journaled about this very thing and that Heavenly Father thought it was important to record this information. How merciful he is, beyond our understanding to have David and Bathshebas line to represent Christ’s lineage to society at that time. Most thought of Joseph as his father correct?
The truth is we don’t exactly know. The Gospels present genealogies of Jesus in two places: Matthew 1 and Luke 3. A careful comparison of these two genealogies shows differences in the record. Over the many centuries since the time of Jesus, various theories have been put forward to account for those differences, but without additional records, we have to make our best educated guesses.
Thanks for sharing!
Enjoyed reading this. I wanted to tell you I really liked these two lines: “No matter where you are in your life or what you have done, God has a plan for you. You are a necessary, significant, and pivotal player in God’s grand designs. Let Him do His work with you!”
I have printed them off and put them where my teenagers can see it. Thanks for that insight. 🙂
Thank you Gina for taking time to read and share your thoughts. I hope that those words can help the ones you love to better endure to the end with hope. -Taylor
Appreciate reading this, had me thinking, many thoughts of gratitude and most likely enjoyed “No matter where you are in your life or what you have done, God has a plan for you. You are a necessary, significant, and pivotal player in God’s grand designs. Let Him do His work with you!”
I need to hear that. Thank you!
Hey Alisi, great to hear your thoughts! And I agree. We all need to hear this message. -Taylor
I loved your article Taylor! I was gifted the set of “Book of Mormon Made Easier” last summer. I used it while meeting President Nelson’s challenge in October to read the Book of Mormon from start to finish. It was the best reading of the BofM I’ve ever had! Being thus inspired, I bought The New Testament Made Easier to help me get more out of this year’s SS curriculum. So (finally getting to the point here), would this book coauthored by you and Brother Ridges be a good companion for the other study guide, or will there be a lot of redundancy?
Each chapter of this new book has four sections. The first section has some overlap between Brother Ridges other books and what we have here. The other three sections are all new. One section focuses on the cultural and historical background of a specific New Testament passage (a little bit like what you see with this blog post). Another section provides helps for teachers, based on what we learned from the scripture passages of that chapter. And the last section deals with how we can become better learners, based on what we just studied. If you want more information, try this link here to sample a portion of the book: https://www.amazon.com/Learning-Feet-Savior-Additional-Background/dp/1462122825. Then click on the book image on the left of the screen. You should then be able to read a portion of the book to help you decide whether this is what you are looking for. Kind regards, Taylor
Thanks for the link to look at and buy the book on Amazon. I wadn’t able to buy through the link as i’m in England. No big deal though, Amazon UK had it ????
Thanks for the note, Debbie. In the spirit of humor, what will happen when Amazon doesn’t have what we are looking for?? 🙂 Taylor
Great insight to the women mentioned or referenced to. I so agree that we are all significant in Gods’ grand design no matter what are Mission may be. We are all needed to bring about the gift of eternal life to His children by helping one another know of God and His wonderful Son, Jesus Christ. Looking forward to reading your book. Thank you.
Thank you for your insights, Pamela. -Taylor