In this Bible journal entry I discuss two very different passages of Scripture. Both were taken from my One Year Bible reading for Thursday January 17th. The first is from the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible reading. The second is from the New Testament. I decided to explore both passages because, to me, they seemed connected.
The sons of Leah were Reuben (Jacob’s oldest son), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. – Genesis 35:32
This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah concerning him [Jesus]: “Look at my Servant, whom I have chosen. He is my Beloved, who pleases me. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations… Finally he will cause justice to be victorious. And his name will be the hope of all the world.” – Matthew 12:17, 18, 21
Observation on Scripture 1
The following observations are about Genesis 35:32 and the other Scriptures that helped fill in the blanks about the line of Judah (who is named as a son of Leah in Genesis 35:32 and an ancestor of Jesus in the NT genealogies of Matthew and Luke).
In Genesis 35:32, as mentioned, Judah is identified as Leah’s son. From earlier Bible readings, I recalled that Leah was not her husband Jacob’s intended bride. Instead her father Laban tricked Jacob into marrying her. I also knew that Judah himself was later tricked into a union with his daughter-in-law Tamar.
Tamar tricked Judah because he had refused to marry her to his youngest son after her first two husbands (Judah’s first and second sons) died leaving her childless. The custom of marrying a widow to her brother-in-law was called Levirate marriage. It gave the childless widow a place in a patriarchal society.
Tamar’s son Perez / Phares is listed in both genealogies of Jesus – though Tamar herself is only mentioned by name in Matthew.
Other women named in the line of Jesus in the NT genealogies (but only mentioned by name in Matthew) include Rahab, a prostitute who helped Joshua’s spies at Jericho and was later adopted into the tribe of Judah. And Ruth who was a Moabite widow who petitioned the Judean Boaz to marry her in a seemingly unconventional way.
In Matthew’s genealogy the wife of Uriah (of King David and Bathsheba fame) is listed as is David and Bathsheba’s son Solomon. David, of course, is of the house of Judah. These unusual women with equally unusual situations – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba – are the only women Matthew mentions in his genealogy.
In Luke’s genealogy none of these women are listed by name but they are all implied through the mention of their husbands and sons. At the point of David, however, Luke names David and Bathsheba’s third son Nathan, as the ancestor of Jesus -instead of Solomon.
This is where the two genealogies diverge. And are, from that point on, mostly different. Each ends in a different place as well – in identifying two different father for Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus.
I realize that this observation covers a lot of ground. But to me it was the logical bridge between Scripture 1 (Genesis 35:32) and Scripture 2 (Matthew 12:17, 18, 21) – which I hope I can explain in the Analysis section!
Observation Scripture 2
The second main passage I focused on was Matthew 12:17, 18, 21. I was drawn to this passage because it is a prophecy about Jesus proclaiming justice to the nations (meaning the pagan nations that God disinherited at Babel). It tells us that Jesus will offer hope to the entire world.
I think it’s noteworthy that Matthew is quoting Isaiah who wrote in the 8th century B.C. – a long time before the birth of Jesus but not nearly as long as the stretch from Leah to Jesus.
I’m sure that a lot can be said about the sin or, at the very least, unconventional circumstances surrounding the women Matthew names in the genealogy of Jesus. While I’m not going to try to address that here, I will say that I find the fact that these women show up providential – given those circumstances. And by that, I don’t just mean providential as in opportune. I mean providential as in divine intervention.
Which leaves me with one problem. If this is divine intervention, why are we talking about the apparent genealogies of Joseph who wasn’t even a blood relative of Jesus?
While I understand that adoption was a big deal in ancient times, I can’t see why these women and their special circumstances could be considered providential – or even important enough to mention – if they aren’t really, biologically related to Jesus.
So I decided to do a bit of research into the two genealogies.
My Faithlife Study Bible offered a theory that explained the difference between the two. The theory said that the genealogies were different because one was giving the biological genealogy of Joseph (due to Levitate marriage) and the other was giving the legal (non-Levirate marriage / non-biological) version of Joseph’s genealogy.
But, while it made sense to me that Joseph’s legal genealogy was important (if Jesus was his legal or adopted son) I couldn’t see how Joseph’s biology was especially relevant.
Another theory discussed (among others) on GotQuestions.org suggested that Matthew’s list was the genealogy of Joseph and that Luke’s was actually the genealogy of Mary. According to this theory, Joseph was called son of of Jacob in Matthew because Jacob was Joseph’s actual father. It went on to say that Joseph was called the “son of Heli” in Luke because Heli (or Eli) was his father-in-law / Mary’s father. The point was made that there was no word for son-in-law at the time of the gospels.
To me this second theory (genealogy of Joseph in Matthew and of Mary in Luke) made the most sense. I also found an interesting passage in Wikipedia (which I used to try to get the names straight for this article) which makes an alternate point in support of the genealogy of Mary theory.
A more straightforward and the most common explanation is that Luke’s genealogy is of Mary, with Eli being her father, while Matthew’s describes the genealogy of Joseph.This view was advanced as early as John of Damascus (d.749). Luke’s text says that Jesus was “a son, as was supposed, of Joseph, of Eli”. The qualification has traditionally been understood as acknowledgment of the virgin birth, but some instead see a parenthetical expression: “a son (as was supposed of Joseph) of Eli.” In this interpretation, Jesus is called a son of Eli because Eli was his maternal grandfather, his nearest male ancestor… An example of the Old Testament use of such an expression is Jair, who is called “Jair son of Manasseh” but was actually son of Manasseh’s granddaughter. In any case, the argument goes, it is natural for the evangelist, acknowledging the unique case of the virgin birth, to give the maternal genealogy of Jesus, while expressing it a bit awkwardly in the traditional patrilinear style.
This same Wikipedia passage also talks about the theory included on Got Questions:
A variation on this idea is to explain “Joseph son of Eli” as meaning a son-in-law, perhaps even an adoptive heir to Eli through his only daughter Mary.
Or why this matters to me.
As I study the Bible more and more I have begun to realize two things. The first is that the Bible is not anywhere near as contradictory as people who don’t read the Bible (yes this used to be me) say. The other is that when Scripture does seem to contradict itself there is usually something there saying – look hard because this is important!
To me, the genealogies of Matthew and Luke are one of those instances. The Luke-listing-the-genealogy-of-Mary theory isn’t proven or even provable but it does speak to me. To me, it is important.
Matthew’s genealogy ends at Abraham. But Luke’s goes all the way back. It traverses a timeline that includes the disinheritance of the nations at Babel. It stretches back through the flood, which washed away the sin of the fallen angels, through Noah and Enoch. And it ends at Eden with Adam.
I believe that it is written this way in order to show us God’s providence and plan and how much he has loved us all along.
References for this article include the Faithlife Study Bible, GotQuestions.org and the Wikipedia article the Genealogy of Jesus.