Understanding Matthew’s Genealogy – Old Testament Overview


When genealogies are read today, the tendency is to view them as recording of the details of history but to superimpose that paradigm onto the genealogy in Matthew’s Gospel would fail to consider the culture into which it was given, as well as the purpose of it.

The Gospel of Matthew’s genealogy, begins with Abraham and looks forward to the birth of Jesus.  This is quite intentional and as with the rest of the details found in Matthew, the purpose of the genealogy is the same; highlighting the prophetic significance pertaining to the coming of Messiah.

This was a patriarchal society, where one’s lineage was of central concern for defining status and identity which is why in Scripture, people are often referred to as “so-and-so, son of [blank]” as in David, son of Jesse or Isaac, son of Abraham.  In a Biblical context, someone is not simply an “individual” — but is seen as “someone,  son of another guy” — and who that other guy is strongly dictated how their offspring was viewed and treated.  This is relevant to understand the genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew as recorded in the first 17 verses of Matthew Chapter 1.

1 The historical record of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham:

2 Abraham fathered Isaac,
Isaac fathered Jacob,
Jacob fathered Judah and his brothers,
3 Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar,
Perez fathered Hezron,
Hezron fathered Aram,
4 Aram fathered Amminadab,
Amminadab fathered Nahshon,
Nahshon fathered Salmon,
5 Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab,
Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth,
Obed fathered Jesse,
6 and Jesse fathered King David.

Then David fathered Solomon by Uriah’s wife,
7 Solomon fathered Rehoboam,
Rehoboam fathered Abijah,
Abijah fathered Asa,
8 Asa fathered Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat fathered Joram,
Joram fathered Uzziah,
9 Uzziah fathered Jotham,
Jotham fathered Ahaz,
Ahaz fathered Hezekiah,
10 Hezekiah fathered Manasseh,
Manasseh fathered Amon,
Amon fathered Josiah,
11 and Josiah fathered Jechoniah and his brothers
at the time of the exile to Babylon.
From the Exile to the Messiah
12 Then after the exile to Babylon
Jechoniah fathered Shealtiel,
Shealtiel fathered Zerubbabel,
13 Zerubbabel fathered Abiud,
Abiud fathered Eliakim,
Eliakim fathered Azor,
14 Azor fathered Zadok,
Zadok fathered Achim,
Achim fathered Eliud,
15 Eliud fathered Eleazar,
Eleazar fathered Matthan,
Matthan fathered Jacob,
16 and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary,
who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were 14 generations; and from David until the exile to Babylon, 14 generations; and from the exile to Babylon until the Messiah, 14 generations.

Matthew 1: 1-17

According to the introduction to the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels, it is more common in Hebrew texts for lists of generations to be of children, not ancestors.  Why then might this be different with the genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew?

The details given of Matthew’s Gospel are meant to contextualize the life of Jesus in terms of the prophetic fulfillment of promises made by God to the Jewish people for generations beforehand.  In a patriarchal society such as this one, it was important to mention who a person’s ancestors were; especially in the context of making the claim that this person was the long-awaited Messiah. That is why Chapter 1, verse 1 of Matthew opens with the statement:

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham”

This genealogy spans almost the entire Tenakh (Old Testament); from the calling of Abraham, to the re-building of the Second Temple under Zerubbabel, to the birth of Jesus.  Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at these specific people in this genealogy, at different points in Jewish history;

  1. Abraham
  2. Isaac
  3. Jacob
  4. Judah
  5. David
  6. Solomon
  7. Josiah
  8. Zerubbabel
  9. Joseph

…but to understand who these people were and the significance of them being mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy, it is necessary to be familiar with the history of the entire Old Testament.

It has been our experience that most Gentile Christians we know, have never read through the entire  Old Testament even once. They’ve read bits and pieces here and there, such a Psalms or Proverbs and sometimes a whole section if it was taught or they read a study of it.  Even when churches offer classes to help familiarize Gentile Christians with the Old Testament, they are given from the perspective of the Church looking backward to the Law rather than from the perspective of creation looking forward to the coming of Messiah.  While the material may “start” with the book of Genesis, the starting point is rooted in theological assumptions about the relationship between God and the Jewish people that significantly alters how these events are understood.

Without even the most basic understanding of Old Testament history it is impossible to begin to fully appreciate the significance of the coming of Jesus as described in Matthew’s Gospel, so we will give a brief overview of Old Testament history, here.

Overview of Old Testament History

The easiest way to understand the bulk of Biblical history from creation to the coming of Jesus is to think of them in terms of eras, and then to see events and specific people as specific to that era or period of history.

For the purposes of our study, the main eras are;

  1. The Beginning: (~60,000 BC-3000 BC)
  2. Days of the Patriarchs: (~2000-1500 BC)
  3. The Twelve Tribes: (~1500-1200 BC)
  4. Judges to Kingdom: (~1200-930 BC)
  5. The Two Kingdoms: (~930-586 BC)
  6. Exile and Return: (~586-332 BC)
  7. The Inter-Testamentary Period: (~332-37 BC)
  8. Coming of Messiah: (~37 BC-30 AD)
  9. The Jews, the Gentiles and the Kingdom: (~100-400 AD)

1.  The Beginning: (~60,000 BC-3000 BC)

  • Creation, early human civilization, and various early event accounts
  • Note: we hold to an “old earth” creation view, best summarized by Newman and Eckelmann in “Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth”; based on the concept of “a day” (“yom” in Hebrew embodying more than a 24-hour period)

2. Days of the Patriarchs: (~2000-1500 BC)

  • The lives of Israel’s famous ancestors [Abraham, Isaac and Jacob]
  • the changing of empires
  • ‘Exodus-lead-up-events’ in Egypt during the Middle Bronze Age

3. The Twelve Tribes: (~1500-1200 BC)

  • Exodus from Egypt
  • to the 40 years wondering in the desert
  • to the conquest of the Promise Land

4. Judges to Kingdom: (~1200-930 BC)

  • transition from a tribal confederation with the Judges
  • to a unified kingdom under Saul, David and then Solomon (who built the First Temple)

5. The Two Kingdoms: (~930-586 BC)

  • The split of the unified kingdom after the death of King Solomon
  • Kingdom of Israel in the North with Samaria as its capital
  • Kingdom of Judah in the South with Jerusalem as its capital
  • Assyrian Empire conquers the Northern Kingdom of Israel around the 7th century BC, takes Israelites captive, essentially never to be seen again
  • Babylonian Empire conquers Southern Kingdom of Judah around the 5th century BC, takes some of the population into exile
  • destruction of the First Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, around 586 BC

6. Exile and Return: (~586-332 BC)

  • Jews are consoled by the bitterness of the Babylonian exile by numerous promises of God through the Law and the Prophets of a coming Messiah and the promised return from captivity that will be accompanied by the restoration of Israel.
  • fulfillment in itself and also a foreshadowing of the end of days
  • during this era is when we encountered the Persian Empire aka the Medes.
  • It is around this time that the Second Temple is built by Zerubbabel during the reign of King Darius I (~515 BC).

7. The Inter-Testamentary Period: (~332-37 BC)

  • The conquest of the Holy Land by Alexander the Great during this time, led to the development of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures
  • Alexander the Great’s Greek Empire split into three after his death around the 2nd century;
    • the Antigonids in Greece
    • the Ptolemies in Egypt
    • the Seleucids in the rest of the Middle East (including parts of N.W. India)
  •  the first four of the Syrian Wars (between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids) took place between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC.
  • also around the same time period,  the first two Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage took place

Important event:

  • 175-164 BC;  Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucids took over the Jewish Temple, sacrificed a pig on the alter, spilling its blood on the Torah scrolls
  • led to the famous Maccabean Revolt between ~166-160 BC by the Jewish family the Maccabees (aka the Hasmoneans)
  • The Maccabean Revolt successfully set up an independent Jewish government known as the Hasmonean Dynasty that was able to govern between ~142-63 BC; almost a century!
  • plagued by war with neighbours, political infighting, terrorism, murder and conflict between the Pharisees and the Sadducees
  • This Hasmonean Dynasty finally ends with the Holy Land coming under the control of the Roman Empire by ~63 BC under the leadership of famous general Pompey the Great
  • that same year Gaius Octavius (aka Augustus Caesar) is born.
  • Gaius Octavius take power of the Roman Empire as its head around 31 BC under the title “Augustus” and rules until around 14 AD
  • Augustus Caesar brings important reforms during his rule that prosper the empire and strengthens the military

8. Coming of Messiah: (~37 BC-30 AD)

  • the events of and leading up to Messiah’s birth, ministry, death and resurrection recorded by the four Gospels

9. The Faithful Remnant: (~30-100 AD)

  • The early Nazarenes (Jewish believers) are commissioned by Messiah after His resurrection to bring the Gospel message to the Gentiles; beginning the ‘time of the Gentiles’ as promised
  •  Jewish revolt over Roman taxation around 66 AD
  • led to the Roman desecrating of the Temple (by going where non-Jews were not to be) to take the holy things of the Temple as an  equivalent value of unpaid taxes, led to the massacre of thousands of Jews
  • a failed revolt by the Zealots  attempting to take over and forcefully build an independent Jewish state completely free from Roman rule leads to the Siege of Jerusalem, by the Romans
  • This revolt was an attempt by the Zealots to reproduce what the Maccabee brothers did in the previous century, except now with the Romans
  • This led to what is known as the First Jewish-Roman war (~66-73 AD)
  • Not long after this,  the Second Jewish Temple was destroyed in 70 AD at the end of a long Siege of Jerusalem

Also around this time;

  • a new-Sanhedrin was re-established at Jamnia
  • led by former leading Pharisee Yohanan ben Zakkai under exclusively Pharisaic control
  • around 72-73 AD, Gamaliel II (grandson of the Gamaliel referred to in the book of Acts)  introduced changes in the Jewish liturgy of the synagogue designed to expose what he considered “minim” or heretics (including the Essenes and Nazarenes)
    • added a line into the Amidah or ‘standing’ prayer (the central prayer of the liturgy of synagogue) cursing the “mimin” (heretics) and thereby identifying anyone who couldn’t in good conscience say ‘amen’ in ascent, resulting in excommunication
    • called euphemistically “blessing of the heretics” or “blessing of the minim
    • Nazarenes (Jewish believers in Jesus the Messiah) no longer able to continue to gather in the synagogue because they couldn’t say the revised Amidah

10. The Jews, the Gentiles and the Kingdom: (~100-400 AD)

  • The Jewish sect of Nazarenes are pushed further and further into obscurity by the growing divide and hostility between the Gentile Church in Rome and the Pharisee-controlled synagogues of Judea; both of whom will eventually declare these Torah-observant Jewish-believers heretics

Note: to understand how Christianity (as a religion independent of Judaism) and rabbinic Judaism came to be, we’d encourage you to read our last post; “Christianity and Judaism as siblings, not parent and child ” [http://www.jewishrootsofchristianity.ca/christianity-and-judaism-as-siblings-not-parent-and-child/]

  • ~ 132 AD the Emperor Hadrian  threatened to rebuild Jerusalem as a pagan city dedicated to Jupiter
  • led to leading members of the Sanhedrin supporting a rebellion led by Simon bar Kochba — became known as “the Bar Kochba Revolt
  • Bar Kochba Revolt ended around 135 AD in defeat
  • the vast majority of Jews (including Nazarenes who were seen as a sect of Judaism) were sent into exile
  • with the Jews scattered in the Diaspora, there was an effort to preserve the Oral traditions of the elders (what the Pharisees call the “Oral Torah”) ~ 200 AD, Judah haNasi edited the judgements and traditions of the elders into an authoritative code, called the Mishnah.
  • Later expansions of the Mishnah became the Jerusalem Talmud (~400 AD) and Babylonian Talmud (~500 AD).
  • The writing of the Mishnah and Talmuds was the final transformation of Second Temple Judaism into Rabbinic Judaism

Simultaneously to this;

  • the mostly Gentile Church formally rejected the Jewish practices of the Nazarenes and adopted decidedly “Christian” practices
  • As early as 110 AD, Sabbath observance on Saturday was changed to Sunday (called in Scripture the “Lord’s Day”) by Ignatius of Antioch
  • Around ~135 AD, Justin Martyr said that the Jews defeat in the Jewish Roman Wars and the destruction of the Second Temple were God’s visitation and a deserved punishment for rejecting the Messiah — sewing the seeds for replacement theology (aka supracessionism — a theological belief that God rejected the Jews and chose the Church instead
  • Around 240 AD, replacement theology obtained further support when Origen of Alexandria wrote that the Jews “have committed the most abominable of crimes” in conspiring against Christ and for that reason “the Jewish nation was driven from its country and another people was called by God to the blessed election
  • the observance of the death of Jesus (known as the “Paschal feast”) continued on 14 of Nisan (i.e. same day as the Jewish Passover) as observed by Church Father Polycarp and the Church at Jerusalem and Antioch until it was disputed by Bishop Victor
  • Polycarp and several other bishops where almost excommunicated from the Roman Church for continuing to observe the Lord’s death on the Jewish Passover, as they maintained that the Apostle John had taught them
  • Bishop Victor later became Pope Victor I around ~189–199 AD
  • any Christian celebration on what was called the “Jewish Passover” was formally rejected at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD
  • After the First Council of Nicea (325 AD) any observance of the death of Jesus was exclusively to be on the first Sunday following Passover and was renamed “Easter

Inter-Testamentary Period – the context leading to the time of Messiah

The ‘Inter-Testamentary Period’ is the immediate contextual background leading into the time of Messiah, and the events of this time are important to understand the culture immediately before the Gospel events take place. The details of these events affected everything from cultural norms, to economic opportunities, to the political situation, etc.

One example of this is the common use of several of the names of the famous Maccabean brothers or their sons, including Simon, Judas, and John.

How many of you knew that several of the original 12 Disciples of Jesus had names that in the previous century been associated with Jewish revolutionaries and their sons who ruled a Jewish Dynasty?

Kind of changes the way one sees the Disciples doesn’t it?

To a first century Jewish mind, the name Simon the Zealot (aka Simon Peter) brought to mind this type of image;

Simon Peter - Jewish version

Yet when one mentions the name Simon Peter to Gentile Christians, the image that comes to mind is more like this;

St. Peter - Gentile version

It is our hope, that as we look next into some of the individuals listed in the genealogy of Matthew chapter 1, that we will re-impart an understanding of the first century Jewish context into which Messiah came.

Context and Timelines

One final word on what seems to us to be a very different concept of timelines between Jewish believers and many Gentile Christians.

For most Gentile Christians, everything important starts with the birth of Jesus. That is, the “timeline” for Gentile Christians begins with the birth of Jesus and goes until today; following the red line below.

Gentile Christian perspective
Gentile Christian timeline – begins with the birth of Jesus

[this is taken from a photo of the whiteboard from our LifeGroup, which is summarized in the charts below]

Daniel's white board Matthew 1 overview

For Jewish believers however,  the “timeline” into which we understand the birth of Jesus — into which Matthew’s Gospel places the birth of Jesus — begins with Abraham and goes forward from there, following the much longer path of the blue line, below;

Jewish perspective
Jewish believer’s timeline — begins with Abraham through to the birth of Jesus