Have you seen the TV programme "Who do you think you are?" The individual stories can be quite revealing, even heart-breaking, and invariably, having found out more about where their families came from, the celebrities go away with a changed view of themselves. Identity is an important subject for all of us, and understanding something of our ancestors, and where we come from, can shape how we see ourselves. It can also affect where we perceive ourselves to be going. Perhaps we are proud of some of those who came before us. Perhaps we would rather not remember some of those who appear in our family tree.


At this Christmas and New Year season when the story of the birth of Jesus is once again to the fore, it is interesting to look at some of the ancestors in the family into which Jesus was born. If we read {bible}Matthew 1 verses 1 to 17{/bible} we can see how the writer of Matthew endeavoured to
establish Jesus' identity. If we read {bible}Luke 3 verses 23 to 38{/bible}, we can see a further view of Jesus' line of descent. If we compare the two we will quickly note inconsistencies. There are differences among the names that are quoted in the two Gospels. However we should not overlook the fact
that these lines of descent have probably been selected by the respective Gospel writers in order to make important points.

If we read Matthew's list, scholars have suggested that the writer includes Jesus' descent from David and Abraham to illustrate Jesus' kingship. These scholars see the family tree in the gospel of Luke as being Joseph's natural line of descent. Luke works in reverse order, tracing the line back to Adam and God, and focussing on the sonship, the shared humanity, of Jesus. Other scholars think that Matthew gives Joseph's ancestors, while Luke gives Mary's.

Matthew follows a numerical pattern with 14 names from Abraham (father of the nation) to David (the greatest king before the Messiah), 14 from David to the exile in Babylon (the worst moment in the history of the nation after its exodus from Egypt), and the same number between the return from exile and the birth of Jesus. 14, as a multiple of 7 was seen as a very significant number, and a Jewish-Christian audience would have understood Matthew's purpose since numbers like that would point to only one thing: that Jesus was the Messiah. This Gospel also places the genealogy before stories about the birth of Jesus to emphasize this point. Luke has a fuller, unbroken list of names and uses it to introduce the adult ministry of Jesus.

In the passage from Matthew the word Messiah (Hebrew for the Lord's anointed) or Christ (the Greek equivalent), is deliberately used so there can be no mistaking the purpose of Matthew's account: Jesus was/is the long expected King and saviour of the Jewish people, and hence of the World itself.

There is general agreement that both Gospel writers are using the family tree (genealogy) of Jesus to reveal theological ideas about Him as the Messiah. Both are selecting material from a wide range available to them. Both Gospel writers are presenting theological ideas and neither is claiming their genealogy is historically accurate.

Interestingly, for an account that is often said to be designed for a Jewish audience first, Matthew also includes the names of four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah the Hittite's wife (i.e. Bathsheba). The lives of these women were to say the least unconventional. That attention is thereby drawn to their links to the Royal House of Israel/Judah is not insignificant. Was Matthew thereby suggesting that Mary's own story as a woman who became pregnant out of wedlock (then a scandalous concept) had some precedents in less conventional associations and events of earlier times? Perhaps he was emphasizing the key role that women have had in the royal line of the Messiah (and those from an outside background too: Rahab and Ruth were foreigners for instance, from backgrounds that would be considered unimportant or even totally disreputable in the case of Rahab).

So next time we are tempted to skip all those names, let us remember that they are not there by accident, and that even mere lists of descent can be loaded with meaning! For interest a list of Biblical references to those characters mentioned in Matthew's list is included below if you wish to follow their stories. Those marked * might be especially interesting to look at:-


Abraham Genesis 12:1 - 25:11
Isaac Genesis 21:3 - 35:29
Jacob Genesis 25:26 - 49:33
Judah* Genesis 29:35; 35:23; 37:26 - 38:26; 44:14-34; 49:8-13
Boaz Ruth 2:1 - 4:22;1 Chronicles 2:11-12
Jesse Ruth 4:17-22; 1 Samuel 16:1- 17:20; Isaiah 11:1
David 1 Samuel 16:11 - 1 Kings 2:11; 1 Chronicles 10:14,29:30; Psalm 72:20; 89:3-4; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; EzekieI 34:23-24; 37:24-28
Solomon 2 Samuel 12:24; 1 Kings 1:11 - 11:43; 1 Chronicles 28:4 - 2 Chronicles 9:31; Proverbs 1:1; 10:1; 25:1; Song of Solomon 1:1
Rehoboam* 1 Kings 11:43 -12:24; 14:21-31; 2 Chronicles 9:31 -12:16
Jehoshaphat* 1 Kings 22:1-50; 2 Chronicles 17:1 - 21:3
Uzziah* 2 Kings 14:21-22; 15:1-34; 2 Chronicles 26:1-23;
(Azariah) Isaiah 1:1; 6:1; Hosea 1:1; Amos 1:1
Ahaz* 2 Kings 15:38 - 16:20; 2 Chronicles 27:9 - 28:27;
Isaiah 1: 1; 7:1-17; Hosea 1: 1; Micah 1: 1
Hezekiah* 2 Kings 18:1 - 20:21; 2 Chronicles 28:27 - 32:33; Isaiah 36: 1 - 39: 8
Manasseh* 2 Kings 21: 1-18; 2 Chronicles 33: 1-20
Josiah* 2 Kings 22:1 - 23:30; 2 Chronicles 34:1 - 35:27
Jechoniah* 2 Kings 24:6-17; 25:27-30; 2 Chronicles 36:8-10; 25:27-30;
(Jehoiachin)(Coniah) 2 Chronicles 36:8-10; Jeremiah 22:24-30; 52:31-34
Zerubbabel Ezra 2:2; 3:2 - 4:3; 5:1-2; Haggai 1:1 - 2:23; Zechariah 4:6-10
References to the women mentioned in Matthew may be found as below:-
Tamar Genesis 38:6-30; Ruth 4:12
Rahab Joshua 2: 1-24; 6: 17,22-25
Ruth The Book of Ruth
Uriah's wife 2 Samuel 11:2 - 12:25;
(Bathsheba) 1 Kings 1: 11-31; 2: 13-25

Adapted by Chris Noyce