Jesus’ genealogy appears in two places in the New Testament: Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38. In Matthew, Jesus’ genealogy is presented in a descending order: it goes from Abraham to Joseph. In Luke, Jesus’ genealogy is in an ascending order: it goes from Joseph to Adam.
Both genealogies are given, not to emphasize biological connection, but to emphasize that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s purpose of redemption. The focus of the genealogies is theological. The genealogy of Jesus is designed to show that Jesus is the Messiah, a descendant of David, and a descendant of Abraham.
As a descendant of Abraham, Jesus fulfills God’s covenantal promise to Abraham. God promised Abraham that he would be a blessing to the nations: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
As a descendant of David, Jesus fulfills God’s covenantal promise to David. God promised David that his throne would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16). According to David, God also promised him that a successor will always be available to sit on the throne of Israel (1 Kings 2:4).
Since the monarchy ended with the Fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., as a descendant of David, Jesus becomes an inheritor of God’s promise to David. As such, Jesus’ genealogy proves that he was a direct descendant of David and a legitimate heir to the throne.
Matthew’s genealogy is the only one that makes reference to four women in Jesus’ family tree: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. Bathsheba’s name is not explicitly mentioned by Matthew; she is only identified as Uriah’s wife. A fifth woman, Mary, is mentioned by name. However, since she is a New Testament personality, Mary falls outside of the purview of the Old Testament because she was not one of Jesus’ great-grandmothers.
The genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew is divided into three groups, each consisting of fourteen generations (Matthew 1:17). In an upcoming post I will have more to say about the fourteen generations.
The purpose of today’s post is to briefly study the four women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy. After identifying them and looking at some aspects of their lives, I will try to ascertain the reasons Matthew included their names in Jesus’ genealogy.
Tamar: A Great-Grandmother of Jesus
The first woman listed in Matthew’s genealogy is Tamar: “Judah [was] the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar” (Matthew 1:3).
The story of Tamar is found in Genesis 38. The story of Tamar is a story of love, betrayal, and righteousness. Tamar was the wife of Er, Judah’s oldest son. Judah married a Canaanite woman and had three sons by her: Er, Onan, and Shelah. Judah found a wife for Er. Her name was Tamar. The text does not specify whether Tamar was a Hebrew or a Canaanite woman. However, it is clear from the context that she was a Canaanite woman.
For some unknown reason, the Bible says that “Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD put him to death” (Genesis 38:7). So, Judah told Onan, his second-born son, to take Tamar and perform the duty of Levirate. In Levirate marriage, a brother of a deceased man marries his brother’s widow in order to raise up an offspring for the deceased brother.
Onan, however, did not want to give Tamar a son. So, whenever he had sexual relations with Tamar, he would spill his semen on the ground. His action “was displeasing in the sight of the LORD, and he put him to death also” (Genesis 38:8-10). Judah then told Tamar to remain a widow until Shelah grew up. However, Judah never intended to give Shelah to Tamar for fear that Shelah also would die.
Since Judah refused to fulfill his promise, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute, came to the road leading to the city of Enaim and sat at the entrance of the city. When Judah came, he solicited her for sex. Tamar became pregnant and when Judah threatened to kill her, Tamar revealed that Judah was the man who had impregnated her. Judah acknowledged that he was the father and said, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah” (Genesis 38:26). Tamar became the mother of twin sons. The first son was named Perez and the second was named Zerah.
Rahab: A Great-Grandmother of Jesus
The second woman listed in Matthew’s genealogy is Rahab: “Salmon [was] the father of Boaz by Rahab” (Matthew 1:5).
Rahab’s story appears in Joshua 2. She was the prostitute that protected the two spies who secretly entered Jericho on the eve of Israel’s conquest of the land. When the king of Jericho heard that the spies had come to her house, the king ordered Rahab to surrender the men to him.
However, Rahab had heard that the Lord had delivered Israel from their oppression in Egypt and how he was planning to give the land of Canaan to Israel. For this reason, Rahab promised to protect the two men if they promised to spare her and her family when they conquered the city.
When Israel entered the land and conquered Jericho, Joshua and the army of Israel spared Rahab and her family, and all that belonged to her. According to Matthew’s genealogy, Rahab married a man from Judah and she became the mother of Boaz.
Ruth: A Great-Grandmother of Jesus
The third woman listed in Matthew’s genealogy is Ruth: “Boaz [was] the father of Obed by Ruth” (Matthew 1:5).
The story of Ruth occurred in the days of the Judges. Because of a great famine in Israel, an Ephrathite man from Bethlehem of Judah named Elimelech and his wife Naomi left their land and went to find a better life in Moab. This couple had two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. These two men married Moabite women. Mahlon’s wife was Ruth and Chilion’s wife was named Orpah.
Eventually Elimelech and his two sons died in Moab and Naomi was left a widow and without her two sons. When Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem, Ruth decided to go with her. Upon their return, Ruth began gleaning in the fields of Boaz.
At the end of the harvest, Naomi told Ruth to go where Boaz was sleeping. She came where he was and laid down beside him. In the morning Boaz discovered that he had the right to redeem Naomi and Ruth as her next-of-kin. After Boaz exercised his right of redemption, Boaz married Ruth and they became the parents of Obed and Ruth became the great-grandmother of David.
Bathsheba: A Great-Grandmother of Jesus
The fourth woman listed in Matthew’s genealogy is Bathsheba: “David was the father of Solomon by [Bathsheba] the wife of Uriah” (Matthew 1:6).
Although Bathsheba appears in Matthew’s genealogy as “the wife of Uriah,” she plays an important role in David’s life and in the genealogy of Jesus. Bathsheba’s story appears in 2 Samuel 11-12.
Bathsheba was married to Uriah, one of the mighty warriors in David’s army. While Uriah and the army of Israel were fighting a war against the Ammonites, David had remained in Jerusalem. When David saw Bathsheba bathing, he lusted after her because she was “very beautiful” (2 Samuel 11:2). David had sex with Bathsheba and she became pregnant.
When David heard that Bathsheba was with child, he devised a plan to convince Uriah to come home and lie with his wife so that the pregnancy could be attributed to Uriah’s relationship with his wife. When the plan failed, David made plans to put Uriah in the forefront of the battle so that he could die by the hands of the Ammonites.
After Uriah’s death, David married Bathsheba and she gave birth to her child. Soon after the child was born, the child died. David and Bathsheba had another child, Solomon. Solomon became king of Israel after David’s death. As a result of David’s marriage to Bathsheba, every king of Judah after David became a descendant of Bathsheba.
Jesus’ Great-Grandmothers in Matthew’s Genealogy
Over the years, scholars have asked the reason Matthew included these four women in the genealogy of Jesus. One traditional answer is that these four women were sinners. This view affirms that Jesus was born to save sinners and the four women are used to prove this truth.
Others have said that these four women serve as a contrast to Mary, who was sinless. This view is an attempt to affirm that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived and to address the view that Jesus was an illegitimate child.
Some scholars have suggested that these women were included in Jesus’ genealogy because they were Gentile women, thus emphasizing that Jesus came to save Jews and Gentiles.
I think these views have some truth in them. However, Matthew’s emphasis that Jesus is the Messiah and that he is the son of David and the son of Abraham indicates that he was trying to present the universality of Jesus’ work. The inclusion of these four Gentile women is an important component of the message Matthew sought to communicate with his gospel.
Since Matthew divides Jesus’ genealogies into three groups of fourteen generations, there were many other women whose names were not included in the genealogy that appears in Matthew. These unnamed great-grandmothers of Jesus also deserve some recognition.
In my next post I will mention some of the other great-grandmothers of Jesus that Matthew failed to mention in his genealogy.
Posts on Jesus’ Great-Grandmothers:
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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