The Radical Inclusivity of the Genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel

Camels in a desert reminiscent of where Jesus was born and his genealogy would have taken place

The opening of the New Testament is often overlooked.

It begins with a long list of names in traditional format – so and so beget so and so etc. Leading from Abraham to Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17).

Nowadays, reading a list of names is far from interesting. The only time we usually hear this list is around Christmas time, as we explore the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke.

However, as soon as we start to peel beneath the surface of this list of names, we see a rich tapestry being revealed, full of beauty, wonder, and intrigue.

Let’s delve into this beautiful tapestry and find some of the glorious patterns inside.

The Inclusion of Women

Women at the tomb of Jesus
Women at the tomb - Jesus Mafa
Genealogies were extremely important within Judaism. We see them found elsewhere within the Tanakh (Genesis 5), as well as in external sources (Jubilees 4:1-33). They helped make a claim for the person that they were leading to (in this case Jesus), a bit like a fanfare.

Genealogies were traced through the male line, and include lists of each male.

However, in Matthews genealogy, we also see the inclusion of women. These are
  • Tamar
  • Rahab
  • Ruth
  • Bathsheba
  • Mary
In a patriarchal, male-driven society this represented a radical inclusivity.

This list kicks off the gospel, but if we turn right to the end of the gospel we see women taking a prominent role again (Matthew 28:1-15).

It is women who are the first ones to arrive at the tomb of Jesus.

It is women who are the first ones to experience the risen Christ.

It is women who are the first ones to be told: “go and tell”.

In a society where a woman’s testimony represented half that of a mans, and where women were not allowed as far into the Temple of God as a man, this represents radical inclusivity.

The Inclusion of Gentiles

Centurion at the Cross
The women included in the genealogies are also gentiles (non-Jewish peoples).

Tamar was a Canaanite

Rahab was a Canaanite

Ruth was a Moabite

Bathsheba is not mentioned by name in the genealogy, but is rather called “the husband of Uriah”. Uriah was a Hittite (a gentile), and so Bathsheba would have also been classed as a gentile within Jewish culture.

Right from the outset of Matthews gospel, we see a radical inclusion of Gentiles within the narrative.

It is worth again skipping right to the end of the gospel to see the first post-resurrection declaration about Jesus.

At the point of his death, a centurion (a Gentile Roman soldier) declares “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)

Just as with women, sandwiched at either end we see radical inclusivity for gentiles.

For us reading today this doesn’t seem very radical. Within the time of Jesus, Gentiles were unable to enter the Temple to worship God but were instead relegated to a courtyard outside of the temple.

The Inclusion of Controversy

Nativity Scene With Mary
Hanna Varghese, God is With Us
Let us look a bit more at the lives of these women who are included:

Tamar

The story of Tamar is found in Genesis 38.

She was married to Judah’s firstborn, but he died. Then his second son, he died also.

To ensure that she had children she pretended to be a prostitute and slept with Judah to get pregnant.

When Judah discovers the trickery he declares “she is more righteous than I”.

Rahab

Rahab’s story is found in Joshua 2.

Joshua sends spies to scout out Jericho.

Whilst there they stay in the house of Rahab, a prostitute.

When asked to bring the men out she hid them and said that the men had left earlier.

Ruth

Ruth has a whole book about her, in which she is the heroine.

Ruth, a Moabite, marries a Jew, who later dies.

Her mother-in-law tells her to go back to her land and find someone to marry there.

Ruth instead stays with her mother-in-law out of loyalty. She ends up pursuing a relationship with one of her mother-in-laws relatives, Boaz.

Bathsheba

The story of Bathsheba is found in 2 Samuel 11.

She is the married to Uriah the Hittite.

David sees her bathing on a roof, calls her to him and sleeps with her, committing adultery (we are not told about the nature of consent in this story).

David then effectively gets Uriah killed and marries Bathsheba (pretty dark!).

Conclusion

The women that Matthew includes in his genealogy were interesting characters, surrounded by controversy. However, each of them form an integral part of God’s plan in Jesus.

There is strong evidence that Matthew included these women to show the strange ways that God can work to bring about his plans. This would have helped allay any fears about the controversy that would have been surrounding Mary.

As a virgin who became pregnant, Mary's situation was even more unusual than that of the women previously mentioned. By including these women Matthew creates a precedent for the way that God operates.

What Does This Mean For Us?

I hope that as you have read this post, it has filled you with joy.

I hope that you now see the beautiful tapestry that is the genealogy.

Just as Jesus and Matthew brought down barriers that stood in the way of women and gentiles, I pray that we also will continue to break down barriers for people who feel excluded from this beautiful gospel that we proclaim. May we build bigger tables, rather than bigger walls.

Just as Matthew highlights the wondrous plan of God within the lives of others – even when they go against the conventions of the day – may we also help others to see the way that God is moving in their lives and encourage them, even when it seems unorthodox to us.

What barriers do you think need to be broken down today, and how can we extend this radical inclusivity to others? Let me know in the comments below.

The primary sources for this post comes from Tom Wright's great book "Matthew For Everyone Part 1" and the in-depth "The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary: Matthew & Mark". Both are excellent books that I highly recommend.
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