A few months ago I taught a few Sunday School lessons from Matthew’s gospel. I intended to publish some of my observations from preparing these lessons, but I have been busy procrastinating. Anyhow, here are some notes from Chapter 1, which contains the genealogy of Jesus.
The gospel writers each have a personality, and Matthew’s is perhaps the most interesting of all. In my college New Testament class, ages ago, they taught me that Matthew was the most “Hebrew” of the gospels. Matthew quotes the Old Testament regularly, with the familiarity of one who has learned it from his youth. And yet, Matthew was a tax collector before being called to be a disciple. (Mt. 9:9.) Where does he come by this intimate knowledge of the Old Testament? How did he ever fall into tax collecting? I suspect there is an interesting back story here.
Another thing that you notice in Matthew’s gospel is that while he aims his gospel at an audience that is familiar with the Hebrew scriptures, he has a certain attitude toward that audience, or at least the part of that audience that does not accept Christianity. His gospel will frequently challenge, or even shock, a Jewish audience. Even the genealogy is arranged in a way that they may find shocking.
Both Matthew and Luke have genealogies. Luke’s works backwards from Jesus to Adam, and includes only men. Matthew’s works forward from Abraham, consistent with his message to his Jewish audience. Notably, he includes five women:
1. Tamar, who begot Perez by a desperate act of prostitution.
2. Rahab, described in the Bible as a harlot, who spied for Israel against Jericho. She was saved from the destruction of Jericho and married an Israelite named Salmon, and they had a son named Boaz.
3. Ruth, a foreigner who came to Israel, married Boaz, and had a book of the Bible named after her. When you think about it, it is amazing that a story about King David’s great-grandmother got preserved. Why is this poor widow’s story preserved, only to have her name pop up over 1,000 years later?
4. Bathsheba, the wife of a foreigner (and possibly a foreigner herself), who committed adultery with David.
The inclusion of foreign women in the genealogy is meant to humble the Jewish audience, who are prone to trust in their ancestry and status as “God’s chosen people.” In fact, Matthew observes, “pure blood” apparently does not count for much, and foreigners participated in the Messianic line, and will be blessed by the resulting Savior.