Those Four Old Testament Women in Matthew’s Genealogy

I’ve previously pondered about those four Old Testament women in Matthew 1:1-17. I’ve argued that their significance is primarily their Gentile background–which serves Matthew’s emphasis on Gentile mission–and that perhaps their inclusion has to do with where they appear in Israel’s biblical history.

I’m wondering, too, whether Matthew includes these particular women because of how they relate to David. Just hear me out. I’m wondering whether the Davidic design of the genealogy explains why these four women appear. I’m trying to be more specific, then, than only saying their Gentile background explains their inclusion. I’m suggesting that perhaps their Gentile background in relation to King David explains their inclusion.

Scholars widely acknowledge that the first section of Matthew’s genealogy (1:2-6) relies on names listed in 1 Chronicles 1-2. Significantly, 1 Chronicles 2 is a genealogy of David! In that Old Testament section, there are fourteen generations from Abraham to David (counting both men), and in that list “Tamar” is mentioned (1 Chron 2:4). Who is Tamar tied to in 1 Chronicles 2:4 and Matthew 1:3? To Judah. And what is Judah’s significance to David? Judah was told in Genesis 49:10, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,” and David is the first king from the tribe of Judah (Saul, remember, was from the tribe of Benjamin). Matthew may be intending readers to call to mind this Genesis 49:10 promise with the words “Judah and his brothers” (Matt 1:2), which may allude to “your brothers” in Genesis 49:8.

The second woman Matthew lists is “Rahab” (Matt 1:5). Her name isn’t in 1 Chronicles 2, so Matthew has added her here. The reason is understood when we look at her descendant: Boaz, who, as Ruth 4:18-22 shows us, is linked to David (more on that in the next paragraph). As Nolland rightly observes, “This is the only generation into which Rahab could be fitted in the scheme of the genealogy. This tightness of fit highlights a historical difficulty in this section of the genealogy: the period of the Conquest and the Judges is compressed into the period covered by the mature years of Salmon, the lifetimes of Boaz and Obed, and part of the life of Jesse (David’s father)” (Matthew, NIGTC, 78). Important for Matthew’s Davidic emphasis, then, is Rahab’s connection to Boaz who is connected in the book of Ruth to David.

The third woman in Matthew’s genealogy is “Ruth,” who appears in the same verse as Rahab (Matt 1:5). Mentioning Ruth and Boaz recalls the book of Ruth, in particular its final chapter with a genealogy, and that genealogy takes us to David (Ruth 4:18-22). The reason we know Matthew is wanting to evoke the book of Ruth and not simply 1 Chronicles 2 is because Ruth’s name doesn’t appear in 1 Chronicles 2:11 next to Boaz’s name. Still following the order of generations listed in 1 Chronicles 2, Matthew evokes the book of Ruth by naming its heroine as an ancestor of–you guessed it!–David. Again, the genealogies in 1 Chronicles 2 and Ruth 4 are both Davidic.

The fourth woman in Matthew 1 is not named explicitly, but we know who is meant. The “wife of Uriah” (Matt 1:6) can only be Bathsheba here, which recalls the tragedy of 2 Samuel 11 when David committed adultery with her. The name “Uriah” would bring to mind the fact that Uriah was “the Hittite” (cf. 2 Sam 11:3), and thus Bathsheba’s marriage to Uriah clarifies her Gentile contribution to Matthew’s genealogy. This Gentile contribution is something shared among Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth as well. But Bathsheba is also associated with David in a way the previous women were not: she became his wife, the wife of the first king of Israel from Judah’s tribe. Her name also appears in 1 Chronicles 3:5 when David’s descendants are listed. Matthew would have been aware of her name there but used a circumlocution (“the wife of Uriah,” Matt 1:6) to highlight her Gentile contribution to his list.

After the mention of David, there are no more Old Testament women mentioned. This further confirms that the four in the list (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba) are included because of their Gentile background in relation to King David. Tamar was the wife of Judah who was given a promise (cf. Gen 49:10), a promise which David fulfilled. Rahab and Ruth are placed tightly together in Matthew 1:5 in close proximity not only to one another but to their descendant David. Bathsheba is David’s wife.

In summary, and based on previous posts I’ve written on this topic, I think we can mention three truths about the four women in Matthew’s genealogy that are in keeping with its purposes and its Old Testament sources.

  1. The women are Gentiles, and this Gentile emphasis is important for Matthew’s Gospel (cf. Matt 28:19-20, as well as many stories along the way).
  2. The women appear at significant junctures of Israel’s history. Tamar is associated with the beginnings of Israel because Judah was one of the twelve tribes (sons) that came from Jacob the patriarch. Rahab evokes the conquest as the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan and take possession of what God promised them. Ruth lived during the time of Israel’s judges, which followed the conquest. And Bathsheba was married to David who represented the inauguration of Israel’s kingship. Four women: Israel’s beginnings, conquest, judges, and kingship.
  3. The women matter because of their connection to King David. Judah received a royal promise which David would begin to fulfill, Rahab and Ruth are both listed in Matthew 1:5 as David’s immediate ancestors, and Bathsheba became King David’s wife. After David, no other Old Testament women are named.

Any thoughts about these four Old Testament women in Matthew 1:1-17?

Logical Importance of the Virginal Conception of Jesus

Al Mohler has a great article reflecting on A. T. Robertson’s arguments for the virginal conception of Jesus. According to Robertson, “The virgin birth is the only intelligible explanation of the Incarnation ever offered.”

This last Sunday morning at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, I preached from Matthew 1:18-25, and I opened the message with a string of seven points that show the logic of the virginal conception. In a series of “if” statements, we can see how the virginal conception is not expendable. It is connected to the primary doctrines of christology and soteriology.

  1. If Jesus had a human biological father in addition to his human mother, then Jesus would be merely human.
  2. If Jesus was merely human, then there was no deity joined to humanity and thus no incarnation.
  3. If Jesus was the product of two humans, then he had a sin nature because his biological parents would be sinners.
  4. If Jesus was a mere human with a sin nature, he could not bear the sins of others on the cross as their Savior–he himself would need a Savior!
  5. If Jesus was not an effective substitute for sinners, then there is no forgiveness granted when people believe in him.
  6. If there is no forgiveness for sinners when they bank their hope on Jesus, then the “Gospel about Jesus” is not Gospel at all, because Gospel means “good news,” and there would be no good news to share.
  7. If the essence of Christianity is the Gospel, then the insistence that Jesus had two biological parents guts the Christian faith.

Do you see the importance of the virginal conception? If there was no virginal conception, then there was no incarnation. And if you lose the incarnation, you lose it all.

Why “Fourteen Generations” in the Genealogy of Matthew 1?

The genealogy in Matthew 1 consists of seventeen carefully crafted verses. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • (1) Matthew 1:1 is the headline that introduces the genealogy.
  • (2) Matthew 1:2-16 is the genealogy proper, falling into three sections (1:2-6a, 6b-11, 12-16).
  • (3) Matthew 1:17 an exercise in counting, where Matthew points to each section and says, “This one is fourteen generations, and this one, and this one too.”

Fourteen may seem like an unexpected number, given the prevalence of others in the Bible like seven or twelve or three. So why fourteen?

The most commonly argued suggestions among scholars are these:

  • (1) Since fourteen is seven doubled, to have three fourteens is to have six sevens. And since the sixth seven (or third fourteen) ends with Jesus, perhaps he launches the seventh seven, or time of perfect fulfillment. Hagner likes this option, and even France prefers it over the next possibility.
  • (2) The fourteen is an example of gematria, a practice that assigns numbers to Hebrew letters. The Hebrew letters for David’s name add up to fourteen, so perhaps that explains Matthew’s interest in the number. Osborne and Nolland favor this view, as do Davies and Allison.

The second view seems more likely for the following reasons:

  • (1) Jewish readers would be aware of the practice of gematria, so although Matthew’s words were written in Greek, it would not have prevented access to awareness they had about David’s name and the sum of his letters. The strange use of fourteen might in fact invite deeper reflection that would put gematria on the table as an interpretive option.
  • (2) The genealogy has an unmistakable Davidic emphasis. David heads the middle section of the genealogy, he is mentioned in the genealogy’s headline (Matt 1:1), and he is the only king given the title “the king” in the genealogy. The first section ends with the arrival of David (1:2-6a), the second section ends with the end of the Davidic throne by exile (1:6b-11), and the third section ends with the arrival of the Son of David, the true king who establishes an eternal rule (1:12-16).
  • (3) Matthew uses 1 Chronicles 2–3 as a source for names, and the first section of the genealogy (Matt 1:2-6a) imitates the descent found in 1 Chronicles without omitting a generation from Abraham to David. The count is fourteen names of descent, including both Abraham and David. The number fourteen, then, is not only the count from Abraham to David but is also the sum of David’s name in Hebrew. The other two sections of Matthew’s genealogy are then conformed to a fourteen pattern. Matthew 1:6b-11 and 1:12-16 are incomplete lists not because Matthew is ignorant but because he sees a theological purpose in using a pattern of fourteen. The fourteen maintains the Davidic emphasis he wants to display.
  • (4) If Matthew wanted to draw attention to sevens instead of fourteens (as Hagner and France deem likely), then he could have done so by using the number seven explicitly. But Matthew didn’t. He drew attention to three fourteens, and I think we may unintentionally downplay the Davidic emphasis (or at least not fully appreciate Matthew’s design) by halving the three fourteens into six sevens simply because the number seven is used symbolically elsewhere. If Matthew mentioned “fourteen” three times (Matt 1:17), then we should ponder that number. And if we do, then we should see how (through his dependence on 1 Chron 2 and the use of gematria), Matthew is highlighting David. Why is David so important in this scheme of things? Because in 2 Samuel 7, God made a covenant with David, and Jesus is the Son of David who has come to bring fulfillment to those promises.
  • (5) If the fourteens should be understood as six sevens that leave the reader longing for fulfillment that only Jesus can bring, then it is important to observe that Jesus’ name doesn’t actually begin a seventh seven, and I think this fact is a weakness of Option 1. Jesus’ name ends the third section of fourteen generations, and thus the seventh seven is not begun by a name Matthew lists. So though it’s commonly asserted that Jesus’ name suggests fulfillment in the genealogy because of a seventh seven Matthew sets up, I’d find the argument more compelling if Jesus’ name actually began a seventh seven. Again, though, his name is the last of the sixth seven. If the third section ended with Joseph’s name, and if Jesus’ name began a seventh seven, I think Option 1 would have more to commend it.

Do you find this argument convincing for why Matthew used “fourteen” to divide his genealogy into three sections? Or is there another view that seems more compelling? Maybe the two common views aren’t mutually exclusive?

“The Virgin Birth”: A 2013 Advent Poem

“The Virgin Birth”
December 21, 2013
An Advent Poem

If Jesus is the son of Mary
But of Joseph too,
Then the claim of incarnation
Simply isn’t true.

If the virgin birth is only
Fanciful delusion,
The Good News isn’t good at all
But biblical confusion.

If this man from Nazareth
Was like us–merely human–
Then no atonement has been made,
And sins are not forgiven.

And if the Son of David
Was not the Son of God,
Then we should never trust in
Such a messianic fraud.

But if the Holy Spirit came
Upon a virgin girl
To conceive within her womb
The Savior of the world,

If the boy whom Mary bore
And wrapped in swaddling cloths
Was fully God and fully man
Upon a bloody cross,

Then the promises of God,
Foretold in ancient stories,
Have come to pass now and at last
With new creation glories.


Can You Reject the Bible’s Teaching about the Virginal Conception and Be a Christian?

Al Mohler says NO. Here’s an excerpt from his answer:

“Christians must face the fact that a denial of the virgin birth is a denial of Jesus as the Christ. The Savior who died for our sins was none other than the baby who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of a virgin. The virgin birth does not stand alone as a biblical doctrine, it is an irreducible part of the biblical revelation about the person and work of Jesus Christ. With it, the Gospel stands or falls.”


Preach the Old Testament as if Jesus Is Risen

Over on The Gospel Coalition site, I’ve written an article on the importance of viewing and preaching the Old Testament in light of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

An excerpt:

Don’t read the Old Testament pretending Jesus didn’t happen. After Jesus died and rose from the dead, his disciples saw the ancient promises differently. Those promises were no longer suspended in mid-air but became yes in Jesus. The types had found their antitype, the arrows their target, the shadows their Light.

In light of the resurrection, people began to read the Old Testament through a Jesus lens. More precisely, Jesus taught the disciples how to see the Scriptures this way. The Law, Prophets, and Writings spoke about him, so “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44-45). The disciples needed a resurrection hermeneutic, so Jesus gave them one. The opening of the tomb meant the opening of the Scriptures.

C. J. Collins and the Singular “Seed” of Genesis 3:15

God promised the serpent in Genesis 3:15,
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

Now the question that must be answered is whether God means only a collective offspring of faithful descendants or whether Someone, a singular “seed,” is ultimately in view.

In his excellent book Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (P&R, 2006), C. John Collins says, “…in Biblical Hebrew the key signal for a singular or collective offspring is the grammatical number of the pronouns that refer to the word: if the author had a specific offspring in view he would have used singular pronouns; and if he meant posterity in general, he would have used plural pronouns.  In this text we have two singular pronouns that refer to the woman’s offspring” (p. 156).

In other words, this is the situation:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, 
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

The Septuagint (LXX) also reads Genesis 3:15 this way.  The Greek noun for seed is neuter, and the pronoun referring to it is masculine.  Says Collins, “The mismatch in gender indicates a specific offspring” (p. 156 fn. 31).

Now to the next question: should Genesis 3:15 be considered messianic?

To that question Collins says, “We are within our rights to say that this text envisions an individual who will engage the serpent in combat and defeat him….We are further entitled to say that he will be a human (an offspring of the woman), but one with power extraordinary enough to win.  The rest of Genesis will unfold the idea of this offspring and lay the foundation for the developed messianic teaching of the prophets” (p. 157).

In summary: “Genesis fosters a messianic expectation, of which this verse is the headwaters” (p. 157).