by Eric D. Huntsman
The late Father Raymond Brown once wryly noted that it was not very often that the genealogy of Matt 1:1-17 is rarely the subject of a Christmas homily, or we would say of a sacrament meeting talk or Family Home Evening lesson. But there is a LOT to learn from it, even if it is not strictly historical.
Perhaps you will find this excerpt from Good Tidings of Great Joy, 20-28, a bit useful.
The Story of Jesus’ Genealogy
Jesus’ family background is a natural place for an author to begin his account of Jesus’ birth, but Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1–17) is nonetheless not one of the Christmas stories that tends to attract the most attention at Christmastime. Rarely is it the subject of a sacrament meeting talk in the LDS Church, the topic of a Christmas sermon in other denominations, or the focus of holiday scripture study in our homes. This is no doubt partly because the succession of often unknown figures begetting generation after generation is, in many ways, reminiscent of the long genealogies known from Genesis, Numbers, 1 Chronicles, Ezra, and even the Book of Ether. When reading such genealogies, we understand that they are somehow important, but because this type of narrative is not as exciting and interesting as other kinds of writing—particularly when compared with the other appealing stories in the Infancy Narratives—we are sometimes tempted to skip or merely skim over the genealogy given in Matthew 1 when studying the Christmas story.[i]
Old Testament genealogies, however, served an important function in establishing kinship, confirming a family’s position in the House of Israel, and validating claims to important royal or priestly positions.[ii] In that regard, the genealogy that Matthew uses as the beginning of both his Infancy Narrative, and indeed as the beginning of his Gospel, provides an important bridge between the Old and New Testaments. Some questions about this genealogy still remain unanswered, such as where Matthew got his information and how accurate it was in some of its lesser-known details. For instance, did he have access to official archives, family traditions, or popularly circulating genealogies, and were these complete and always correct?
His organization of the material he had, however, reveals that Matthew had some clear objectives that influenced how he selected and structured the information contained in the genealogy he records. Thus, the most important thing about Matthew’s account of Jesus’ background is not necessarily found in its comprehensiveness or its absolute accuracy. Rather, it is how it establishes important facts about who the baby Jesus was and what he would do. Furthermore, both the familiar and the less-well-known characters in it teach us valuable lessons, and Matthew’s arrangement of this genealogical material reveals important stories in itself: stories about the promises made to Abraham, the covenant the Lord made with David, and God’s interaction with people throughout the history of the Old Testament. Each of these stories had significance for Matthew’s original readers and for us, his modern audience.[iii] Continue reading