In the prior two entries on Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, I mentioned that he uses the scriptural device known to Rabbinic Jews as remez (a “hint”) to draw attention to certain truths. These hints are found in the three ways he breaks with the genealogy’s normal pattern of defining each generation with the phrase “the father of.” He breaks with this pattern by mentioning brothers, by mentioning women, and finally, in the last generation by mentioning a husband, specifically, “Joseph, the husband of Mary.”

As is usually the case, here we find meanings within meanings.

For example, this remez draws our attention not only to Joseph, but to his father, identified as “Jacob” here in Matthew. In Luke’s genealogy (which is different for the generations after David) we see Joseph’s father called “Heli.” Why the difference? There are at least four reasons, all of which stem from the fact that the early church identified Heli as Joseph’s father-in-law, Mary’s natural father.

First, the genealogy in Luke through Mary’s family line establishes Jesus’ fundamental “Jewishness.” Rabbinic tradition interprets the Torah to define a person’s nationality as a Jew only through the mother (in the Talmud: Tosafos Yevamos 16b), while a person’s mishpacha, or “family” is determined by the father. For example, a child born to a father named Cohen (which means “priest”) becomes part of the priestly lineage, only if the mother is also a Jew. Otherwise, the child is merely a non-Jew named Cohen.

Second, Luke’s genealogy through Mary, underscores Jesus’ messianic credentials. The Messiah, as mentioned previously, must descend from David. Yet Christianity will claim that Joseph is not Jesus’ natural father as we will soon see, therefore it was essential to establish that David’s blood also flowed through Jesus’ veins by virtue of his mother.

(As an aside, it is interesting to consider the additional hint on this score provided by Matthew in verse 17, where he points out that there are “fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.” In the Hebrew language, each letter’s position in the alphabet corresponds to a number (A = 1, B = 2, and so forth). Using this system, known as the gematria, the Hebrew letters spelling the name “David” have a combined value of 14. Just as letters equal numbers in the gematria, some numbers equal ideas. For example, based on the creation account, the number seven means “complete.” For a Jew like Matthew, this lends deeper meaning to Jesus’ teachings in passages such as this, and this.)

A third reason for tracing Jesus’ lineage through David’s son Nathan and thus through Mary, rather than through Solomon and thus Joseph as Matthew did, is that in so doing Luke avoids the curse already discussed which precludes the progeny of King Jeconiah (a.k.a. Jehoiachin—a descendant of Solomon’s side of the family) from inheriting the messianic throne of David.

Fourth, by referring to Joseph as “the husband of Mary” rather than his more usual “father of Jesus,” Matthew joins Luke’s own remez (“the son, so it was thought”) in directing our thoughts to the most remarkable aspect of Jesus’ genealogy: the assertion that his natural father was none other than Yahweh's Holy Spirit. The man, Joseph, while undoubtedly a worthy step-father, was not Jesus’ actual father, a fact that Luke and Matthew both take care to emphasize.

In the next part of this series, we will begin an examination of the Christian doctrine of the virgin birth, and its many levels of meaning and importance, some of which may surprise you.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 10:47 AM  


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