Why Greek Matters (Part 7) – The Genesis of Jesus the Messiah (Genealogies Really Matter!)

I know its easy to skip genealogies when reading to Bible. Loads of detail with little yield. Though this might not be immediately apparent, the genealogies in the Gospels are rich with theological significance. Names such as Judah, Ruth, David, Uzziah, Hezekiah and Josiah that occur in the genealogy would surely have evoked many stories in the minds of readers and hearers in the first century, but none so much as the two names which head off the genealogy: Abraham and David. Altogether, Jesus is placed in the center of, so to speak; or perhaps more properly, at the end, of Israel’s history of covenant and blessing, deliverance and freedom, promise and expectation. Jesus is thus the heir of this lineage, the one who continues the story, sums it all up in himself and becomes the locus in which it reaches consummation. [Craig S. Keener, Matthew, 73-77].

However, under the surface, I suspect there is even more going on than identifying Jesus with Israel’s long history of patriarchs and kings. Perhaps Matthew is reaching back even further. The opening words of the Gospel, if I write out how the Greek letters sound for one of the words, instead of translating it, are “The book of Genesis of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Βίβλος γενέσεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ). In verse 18 Matthew says again, “The genesis (γένεσις) of Jesus the Messiah…” It is pretty easy to pick up on John’s opening allusion to Genesis in the first words of his gospel, “In the beginning was the word…” Likewise, Luke’s genealogy goes all the way back to “Adam, the son of God.” Is it possible that Matthew intends for his hearers to perceive that he, along with John (and possibly Luke), is writing a “new book of Genesis” so to speak? Is he writing a story about God’s purpose to right the wrongs in the creation and be faithful to the promises he made to the patriarchs? Is the occurrence of this word yet another reminder that we are to interpret the life of Jesus within the larger drama of Israel and God’s plan to restore the blessing of Genesis 1 to planet earth? Did he understand the first coming of Jesus as the inauguration of the New Creation of all things? Of course, we could never prove such in this particular instance, but it is at least my strong suspicion…

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