Genealogy of Christ: 10 Things[1]


1. There are two genealogies of Christ in the Gospels.


The Evangelist Matthew begins his gospel with a very detailed genealogy with significant commentary, beginning from Abraham and ending at Joseph the betrothed (Matthew 1:1-17)


St Luke does not give a genealogy until he has written about the conception, birth, childhood and baptism of Christ. Immediately after recounting the baptism of Christ in the Jordan, he gives a genealogy, without commentary, in a different order from that in Matthew, beginning from Joseph the betrothed, and ending with Adam (Luke 3:22-38). It has many more names, since it includes names before Abraham.


2. The Genealogy given in Matthew, plus a short description of the birth of Christ (the entire first chapter, vs. 1-25), is always read at liturgy on the Sunday before Nativity. Some people refer to this genealogy as the “begats”, since this word is used many times.


3. Matthew begins: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Mat 1:1), because his Gospel was written especially to the Jews, and he was intent on proving to the Jews that Christ was the Messiah prophesied in the OT.  Everyone knew that the Messiah would be of the line of David, and of course, as a Jew, related to Abraham.


The promise of a Messiah was first given to Abraham, and was made more specific later, that the Messiah would be of the line of David.


“And it shall come to pass when thy days shall have been fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, that I will raise up thy seed after thee, even thine own issue, and I will establish his kingdom.  (13)  He shall build for me a house to my name, and I will set up his throne even for ever.  (14)  I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. And when he happens to transgress, then will I chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the sons of men.  (15)  But my mercy I will not take from him, as I took it from those whom I removed from my presence.  (16)  And his house shall be made sure, and his kingdom for ever before me, and his throne shall be set up for ever.  (17)  According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David.” (2Sa 7:12-17 Brenton)



4. Both Gospel genealogies trace the line of Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. This is in keeping with Jewish tradition, which kept track of genealogies from the father’s side.


Of course, for the prophesies to be true, the Theotokos must also be of the line of David. This is explicitly stated by Luke: “To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.” (Luk 1:27)


Matthew does not deem this to be necessary, since the Jews were enjoined to marry only those of their tribe. By tracing Joseph’s genealogy, he assured the Jews reading his account that Mary was also of the tribe of David.


St John Chrysostom explains:


"Of which then is it necessary to speak first? How the Virgin is of David. How then shall we know that she is of David? Hearken unto God, telling Gabriel to go unto "a virgin betrothed to a man (whose name was Joseph), of the house and lineage of David." What now wouldest thou have plainer than this, when thou hast heard that the Virgin was of the house and lineage of David?"


"Now that the Virgin was of the race of David is indeed from these things evident; but wherefore he gave not her genealogy, but Joseph's, requires explanation.


For what cause was it then? It was not the law among the Jews that the genealogy of women should be traced.


In order then that he might keep the custom, and not seem to be making alterations from the beginning, and yet might make the Virgin known to us, for this cause he hath passed over her ancestors in silence, and traced the genealogy of Joseph.


For if he had done this with respect to the Virgin, he would have seemed to be introducing novelties; and if he had passed over Joseph in silence, we should not have known the Virgin's forefathers. In order therefore that we might learn, touching Mary, who she was, and of what origin, and that the laws might remain undisturbed, he hath traced the genealogy of her espoused husband, and shown him to be of the house of David.


For when this hath been clearly proved, that other fact is demonstrated with it, namely, that the Virgin likewise is sprung from thence, by reason that this righteous man, even as I have already said, would not have endured to take a wife from another race." (Chrysostom - Homilies on Matthew, Homily 2)


4. “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Mat 1:1)


The very name “Jesus Christ” mystically teaches of His two natures. 


Only God is able to save, and thus, He is called "Jesus", which means "Savior".


The name "Christ", "anointed" refers to His human nature, since anointing was done to impart unto MEN the gift of the Holy Spirit.


5. Abraham was a prophet and priest. David was a prophet and a king. Both are “types” or foreshadowings of Jesus Christ, but neither has all three ministries. They type is always less that that which it points to. Jesus Christ is at once, Prophet, King, and High priest, uniting all the shared ministries of Abraham and David.


“But why would it not have been enough to name one of them, David alone, or Abraham alone? Because the promise had been made to both of Christ to be born of their seed. To Abraham, "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." [Gen 22:18] To David, "Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy seat." [Ps 137:11]


He therefore calls Christ the Son of both, to shew that in Him was fulfilled the promise to both. Also because Christ was to have three dignities; King, Prophet, Priest; but Abraham was prophet and priest; priest, as God says to him in Genesis, "Take an heifer;" [Gen 15:9] Prophet, as the Lord said to Abimelech concerning him, "He is a prophet, and shall pray for thee." [Gen 20:7] David was king and prophet, but not priest.


Thus He is expressly called the son of both, that the threefold dignity of His forefathers might be recognized by hereditary right in Christ.” [St John Chrysostom]


6. The Genealogy is full of improbable and miraculous events, such as the birth of Isaac. These events are not only historical, but full of layers of mystical theology and comfort to those who dare to investigate.


Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; [Mat 1:2]


Although Abraham has been promised that: “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice“ (Gen 22:18) , he was old, and his wife Sarah past the child bearing years. When the Lord, in preincarnate form, visited him at the Oak of Mamre, He prophesied to him that he would have a son. Sarah, hearing this in the tent, laughed to herself, and thus, her son was named “Isaac”, which means “laughing”.


“And they said unto him, where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent.  (10)  And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.  (11)  Now Abraham and Sarah were old and well stricken in age; and it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.  (12)  Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, after I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?  (13)  And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?  (14)  Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.  (15)  Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, nay; but thou didst laugh.” (Gen 18:9-15 KJV)


What can this piece of sacred history teach us? Note how Abraham was given a promise by Christ. Even in the OT time, Jesus Christ was active among His people. The Lord prophesied an impossibility to Sarah, who knew that she was well past the age of child-bearing, but with God all things are possible. Even Sarah’s laughter tells us that out of imperfect vessels, God fulfils his promises.


7. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; [Mat 1:2]


The “brethren” spoken if are the sons from whom the Twelve Tribes of Israel were formed, each named according to the name of a son.


Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, is mentioned first, because Christ would be of the line of Judah (David was also of the line of Judah)


The name means “praise” in accordance with Leah’s words at his birth:


“… Now will I praise the LORD: therefore she called his name Judah” (Gen 29:35)


Like so many in the genealogy, Judah had virtues and vices, and could not be described as fully righteous, or wicked.


He was the instigator to have his brother Joseph sold into slavery, because of envy (Gen 37:3-34). Much later, when a visit to Egypt was needed because of a famine he volunteered to be surety and go to Egypt with Jacob’s youngest son, Benjamin, to protect him. When in Egypt, he even volunteered to be a bondservant of the Egyptian prince (unbeknownst to him, his brother Joseph), so Benjamin could return to his father, because he know that losing Benjamin would be too much to bear for Jacob. This was an action of great courage and nobility. (Genesis 43)



8. And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar (Mat 1:3)


Here is more evidence of Judah’s complex character. Thamar was his daughter in law. Her husband, Judah’s son Er was slain by God because of his wickedness, leaving her childless.


Judah’s second son, Onan, refused to father a child by Thamar, even though he had sexual relations with her. The scripture tells us that he “spilled his seed upon the ground”; Onan was also slain by God for his disobedience.


Judah then required Thamar to wait until his youngest son Selah was grown to marry him; but the patriarch reneged on his promise, because he feared Selah would be slain also if he married Thamar (not understanding that the problem was with his own son’s disobedience to God, and not because of Thamar).


After Judah’s wife died, Thamar seized an opportunity to seduce him as a supposed harlot (the custom was for harlots to have covered faces). (See Genesis 38:6-30)



9. And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar (Mat 1:3)


Phares is the first name mentioned in the genealogy that is not a forebearer of Christ; his twin brother Zara was. The birth of these twins was a marvelous foreshadowing of the coming of Christ.



From St Nicholas Orthodox Church, McKinney


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