Some Notes on Genealogies (Yawn… Right?)

Notes from Michael J. Wilkins’ The NIV Application Commentary, pgs. 57+

Apparently during the OT times, genealogies were kept not simply so that the folks could trace their way back to certain ancestors and stuff but also served in practical and legal capacity to “establish a person’s heritage, inheritance, legitimacy, and rights. Knowledge of one’s descent was especially necessary, if a dispute occurred, to ensure that property went to the right person.”

Ok. So genealogies served varied purposes. They were not just about showing who was a great-grandfather.

Wilkins points out the fact that the records of many political and priestly families were kept in the temple in Jerusalem. These official extrabiblical genealogies were lost when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in AD 70. So what was left were private genealogies owned by some people.

Why is this fact important? Well. It seems to me that this means that it is very difficult for us to do comparative research on genealogies, where we try to compare the genealogies in Matthew and Luke with extra-biblical genealogies.

Ok. Some differences between the genealogies in Luke and Matthew:

1. Matthew’s genealogy is descending, Luke’s ascending.

2. Matthew’s genealogy has more of an emphasis on Israel. Luke’s encompasses all of humanity.

(Note that Matthew uses the term Messiah to describe Jesus. A Jew would understand this term immediately whereas a gentile would need to be become familiarized with it. Similarly so with Matthew’s mentioning the Babylonian Exile, his pointing out the fact that David was a King.)

3. Luke and Matthew follow their lines through different people and additionally Matthew omits several names found in Luke’s genealogy.

Right off the bat, this should signal something about the purposes of Matthew and Luke in writing these genealogies. Their purposes were different. Matthew deliberately omits names and follows a different line from Luke because he is not interested in giving us a biological genealogy. And doing this sort of a thing when writing genealogies was common during their days. Omission were not just a feature of Biblical genealogies, but so also extra-Biblical genealogies. (Another reason for the omission according to Wilkins was that this made them easier to memorize.)

4. Having said that their purposes were different we can also say that Matthew’s purpose was to give a Royal or Kingly genealogy. (In another commentary, R.T. France suggests as much.) Notice that Matthew trace goes through Solomon who was a King whereas Luke’s goes through Nathan, another son of Solomon who was not a king.

Wilkins states “… it does seem clear that Matthew intends to demonstrate Jesus’ legal claim to the throne of David. David’s greater Son, the anticipated Davidic messianic king, has arrived with the birth of Jesus.”

(Note: Yet there is something ironic about Matthew’s genealogy being a royal genealogy. His genealogy contains a list of a number of women who are gentiles and who are tainted with sexual immorality if not in actuality then at least in terms of appearances (Ruth (see Deut. 23:3), Mary, Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba). The God of the Bible is a God who makes the outcaste, an incaste.

One last thing to think about. We often tend to think of genealogies as only tracing out ancestry or descent. There are other kinds of genealogies however. Take for example, the intellectual genealogy. Here you could trace out the birth and progress of an idea by way of persons. So, X could conceive of a philosophical idea such as X-ism. Then Y, who may be X’s student may get taken by X-ism and propagate it. Z might then subsequently do the same. In this sort of genealogy, we may metaphorically say that X is the father or Y, however we do not mean it literally.