It’s no secret that men dominate the stories we read in Holy Scripture. There is no need to sugarcoat the truth. But the dominance of men in the Bible does not negate the profound impact made by women. For example, Deborah was a woman and a prophet who judged righteously (Judges 4-5). She was more of a military leader than a judge, but she was invested with leadership that held the lives of others in her hands. Another notable woman is Ruth. The story of Ruth is a story about loyalty and redemption. It’s a beautiful story that I have often read to my daughters.
Women also show up in New Testament genealogies. Ruth makes a reappearance (Matthew 1:5) along with Tamar (v. 3; cf. Gen 38), Rahab (v. 5; cf. Josh 2), Bathsheba (v. 6; cf. 2 Sam 11), and Mary (v. 16). The reason for including Mary is apparent, and even Ruth makes sense. But what about the other three women? Tamar tricked her father-in-law, Judah, into sleeping with him (Gen 38:14-15). Judah was no saint, but the point remains. Rahab was a prostitute. And technically speaking, Bathsheba’s name is not mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy. Instead, she is referred to as “Uriah’s wife.”
Any inclusion of a woman into a Jewish genealogy is unusual, but Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba deserve some explanation.
Genealogies mattered to Jewish life and culture. I don’t know my great-grandpa’s name on either side of the family, but young Eli living in the 1st century Israel has his entire family line mapped out going back centuries. There was a sense of pride to know where a young Jew came from. To be a part of a family tree meant a sense of belonging, and it also conveyed history.
So what is the point of inserting Tamar, Rahab, and “Uriah’s wife” into the genealogy of Matthew 1? Is the gospel writer, Matthew, attempting to show family pride, a sense of belonging, and history? Yes and no. I think there is more going on than initially meets the eye. And let’s be honest, not much meets the eye when reading a genealogy. They are passed over more than my kids pass over a kale salad at the dinner table.
History of Redemption
Matthew 1 connects the past with the present and the future. Thus, the genealogy in Matthew (and Luke) is not only about looking backward, but it’s about how God’s plan of redemption is coming to fruition. In particular, Matthew sets forth the genealogical roadmap of how Jesus Christ is the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16). Unlike Luke, Matthew extends back to Abraham and not Adam. Tracing the line of redemption is the primary goal of Matthew. The promise of a future redemption is made clear later in Matthew 1. We read in verse 21,
The Greek verb for will bear (τέξεται) is in the future, middle, and indicative, while the Greek verb for will save (σώσει) is in the future, active and indicative forms, connecting the past with the present and future. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the apex of God’s plan of redemption. Salvation is what Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba needed, along with every person on the list.
Parenthetical Comments on David and Bathsheba
There is some debate between biblical scholars on the sexual intent of King David and Bathsheba. Was Bathsheba raped, or was she complicit in adultery? I will not answer the question here but make an observation about the exclusion of Bathsheba’s name in Matthew’s genealogy. Bathsheba isn’t named because, I think, Matthew is calling out the great King David. David not only slept with another man’s wife, but he then killed Uriah. David is a sinner, which is the point being made in this genealogy. David needs salvation from God just as much as Tamar and Rahab.
The inclusion of women and the phraseology of “Uriah’s wife” would not have been lost on the 1st-century reader. They knew what Matthew was saying without saying it aloud. God’s plan of redemption isn’t for the religious. It’s for those who know they desperately need God.
Matthew’s genealogy also speaks to God’s mission. God’s plan of redemption to save sinners isn’t just for the Jews, but it’s also for the Gentiles. As the New Testament unfolds, God’s intention to include Gentiles is obvious. But in the Old Testament, God set down markers to include Gentiles. Ruth was not a Jew. She was from Moab, and she marries into an Israelite family. Rahab was a Canaanite woman living in Jericho. God’s intention was laid down even earlier. Back to Abraham for a moment. God says to Abraham,
I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.
– Genesis 22:17–18
At this point, you see how Matthew’s genealogy isn’t just a list of names. It’s so much more. It’s about God’s purpose and plan to turn sinners into saints. It’s “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth ( Ephesians 1:9–10).
Shawn Powers is the lead pastor of Redemption Hill Church. You can follow him on Twitter at shawn_DSM.