Matthew 1: 1-17 – Women in the Genealogy of Jesus Christ

A surprising feature of the genealogy is the mention of four women in the list of Jesus’ ancestors: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the “wife of Uriah” (Bathsheba) besides Mary mother of Jesus. Women are not usually listed in Jewish genealogies. Moreover, what is known about these four women from the Old Testament makes their inclusion in Jesus’ genealogy all the more startling. Some are of the opinion that their inclusion in the genealogy is a prefiguration of the admission of sinners and Gentiles into the Church. But a far more likely reason for their presence in Jesus’ genealogy is that their inclusion prepares for the most surprising birth of Jesus (cf Mt 1: 16, 18-25). First of all, their inclusion breaks the literary pattern of the genealogy. Second, all these four women bore children through their irregular union. Probably, Matthew mentions them in the genealogy because of the irregularity which characterized their role in the ancestry of Jesus and for him this irregularity reaches its high point in the most irregular birth of Jesus from Mary (Mt 1: 16, 18-25). The mention of Jesus’ birth from Mary in Matthew 1: 16 also break the genealogical continuity. Once again Matthew’s emphasis seems to be that human’s infidelity and sinfulness cannot thwart God’s purpose; he fulfils his promises in the most unexpected ways.

All this shows that the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1: 1-17 cannot be dismissed as a list of obscure names or as the least inspiring passages in the gospel. On the contrary, it is very much part of the Good News of Jesus Christ that Matthew is writing about. Jesus is firmly rooted in the history of God’s chosen people and he is its goal and fulfilment. God’s promise to Abraham was universal in scope: “by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves” (cf. Gen 12: 3; 22: 18). The designation of Jesus as Son of Abraham in Matthew 1: 1 points to the universal dimension of Jesus’ saving mission. And as Son of David (Mt 1: 1) Jesus is the Messiah promised to David (cf. 2 Sam 7: 12-16). In the genealogy Matthew shows that, despite human defection, infidelity, and sinfulness, God fulfils his promises in the most unexpected ways and brings the history of Israel to its goal in Jesus Christ.

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