Matthew’s genealogy has a past, a present, and future. In Jesus Christ we’re now brought into this family; Abraham and David become our fathers. It becomes our genealogy, our family tree. Though this world seeks historical rooting and future life in various ways, only one child establishes the new creation.
The Bible contains 66 books by at least 40 different authors, is written in three different languages, describing three different continents, all written over a period of at least 1,500 years. It has hundreds of characters and numerous genres. Sometimes it’s narrative; other times you have beasts flying around with a bunch of different eyes; and then there are love poems.
We don’t read many books this complex anymore. So it seems a compelling and summative introduction would be in order for the New Testament. But modern readers are confused by Matthew’s introduction.
On his first page, Matthew begins speaking about Jesus with a genealogy. We might be tempted to let our eyes skim down and get to the real action. But Matthew begins this way intentionally. In many ways, this is the most fitting and compelling introduction to the New Testament imaginable.
Here are five reasons Matthew’s genealogy is the introduction of introductions.
1. Matthew’s Genealogy Summarizes the Story of the Bible
The first 16 words in English (eight in Greek) summarize the entire story of the Bible so far. Do you want to know how a disciple of Jesus shortened the Old Testament story? Look no further than Matthew 1:1. The story of the Bible can be understood by looking to key characters who carry the story along: Adam, Abraham, David, and Jesus.
Adam is not explicitly named, but his story is contained in words “the book of the genealogy,” which could also be translated “the book of Genesis.” The explicit phrase (βίβλος γενέσεως) occurs in the Greek Old Testament in only two places, Genesis 2:4 and 5:1. Genesis 2:4 is about the origin of heaven and earth (place), while Genesis 5:1 concerns the origin of Adam and Eve (people).
From the beginning, God was in the business of establishing his people in his place by his power. It began with Adam and Eve, and it continued in the covenants given to Abraham and David. These are finally fulfilled in Jesus: the Davidic king who will establish Israel’s kingdom.
Though the Old Testament can be confusing as a literary document, Matthew tells us to look at these key people—and the promises given to them—to help frame how we read the entire story. Matthew’s first words summarize the whole storyline so far.
2. Matthew’s Genealogy Reminds Us This Is a True Story
A list of names. It’s an odd way to begin. But the list shows readers this isn’t a fairytale, but a true story. The New Testament doesn’t begin with “once upon a time,” but with a family tree. Matthew is drawing on a rich tradition of genealogical texts, for genealogies are important in the Tanak (an acronym for the Hebrew Bible’s three main divisions: Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim).
Genesis, the first book of the Tanak, is structured around ten genealogies. Chronicles, the last book of the Tanak, begins with nine. The formal similarities between Genesis and Chronicles are hard to miss. Both are virtually the only books in the Hebrew Bible filled with genealogies. Chronicles commences with Adam and moves rapidly through human history until arriving at David. Genesis also begins with Adam, but moves quickly until Abraham comes on the scene. Most of the book of Genesis follows Abraham’s descendants.