words of the New Testament and “requires the reader to enter the world of Matthew’s Gospel by way of the history of Israel, which began with Abraham” (Bauer 1996:157).
Within this record of Israel’s history there are liars (Abraham, Jacob); an adulterer and murderer (David); kings who sacrificed their sons in fire (Ahaz, Manasseh) and three of the four Gentile women are of questionable repute (Tamar, Uriah’s wife and Rahab). The listing of the genealogy is salvific because “the task of Jesus’ mission is announced in the first pericope after the genealogy: ‘It is he who will save his people from their sins’” (1:21) (Harvey 1998:126).5
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus is not only portrayed as the Messiah who will save His people from their sins but will redeem the pain of their past history by treading the same historical and theological path the children of Israel trod on their way to the promised land.
Viewed in this light, the genealogy in Matthew would have a very practical pastoral and missionary implications for the Jewish believers in the community. The tracing of Jesus’ heritage back to David and Abraham would legitimize His standing within the Jewish community. It also puts to rest those questions concerning the authority of Jesus which are brought up repeatedly in the gospel (Mt. 9:1-8; 21:23) and forever settled in the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18).
Furthermore, the listing of both Jewish and Gentile sinners, dramatically illustrates the universal salvation brought to view through the naming of Jesus at the beginning of the gospel and the command to make disciples of all nations at the end. Thus from the outset, Matthew uses the genealogy to address the concerns of the Jewish believers who were being unsettled by the unbelieving Jews on the one hand and the influx of the Gentile Christians on the other.
Whereas Matthew places his genealogy at the very beginning of his gospel, Luke places it after the baptism of Jesus in apparent affirmation of the heavenly anointing of the Spirit and the divine benediction of His sonship from the Father (Luke 3:22).6
Besides the obvious difference in the position of the two genealogies, the most striking contrast between them is their ordering and extent. Whereas Matthew begins with Abraham
5 When Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees at Matthew’s house why he ate with the tax collectors and sinners, He told them that He had “not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (9:13). The genealogy not only identifies sinners as “His people” but, by listing the Gentile women, plants the seed which will blossom to the Great Commission’s command to go and make disciples of all the nations.
6 As will be discussed in the next chapter, Luke perhaps does not begin with the genealogy because his primary interest is not to establish the authority of Jesus within Judaism but to provide an historical continuity between the Spirit-inaugurated events of the birth of Christ (Luke 1-2) and the birth of His church (Acts 1-2).