Summary: Where you come from is important.
What’s With All Those Begats?
I am sure that some of you are wondering what I am going to do with this text. Those who have studied the Bible know that this is one genealogy of many. It is hard to read names that seem so hard to pronounce. I spared you a little by not reading a much longer list in First Chronicles. I found when I get to that list, I try to plow through it as quickly as possible to get to the “good stuff”. At least this is the genealogy of Jesus, so if any list of names is important in the Scripture is important, it is this one. But as we shall see, the “begats” of the Bible have a vital function and are just as important and inspired as the rest of Scripture. Let’s see why?
First of all, the begats tell us that people like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, David, and many others were real human beings who lived in time rather than myths used to tell stories. These people lived in history and in a historical context. They lived within the realms of creation, time, and space. These bible characters were real people who lived real lives, just like us.
Some of the people in the Bible play more prominent roles in history than others. The roll call of faith in the 11th chapter of Hebrews brings this out. Some like Abraham and Sarah have comparatively much written about them. Others are simply named. And others are part of a nameless cloud of witnesses. But all of God’s saints, named or unnamed in this life are included in God’s plan and are, therefore, important.
Besides this, when we are dealing with the genealogy of Jesus, we are shown that Jesus became a human being who lived within the very creation which He created, and lived with us in the realms of time and space. Jesus was no myth or phantom. He became just as human as everyone else. And as a human being, he had to have a genealogy.
When we study genealogies, we must understand genealogies as meaning more than biological descent, although they certainly have an important biological element. But if they were strictly biological, we would have a major problem with the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Matthew traces the genealogy through David’s son, Solomon, and Luke traces it through his son, Nathan. Other than a couple of convergences, they do not come together until we get to Joseph. This has caused a difficulty that have perplexed the greatest minds in Christendom.
The most common resolution to this is to say that Matthew traces Jesus’ descent through Joseph and Luke through Mary. Because Jesus was only apparently the son of Joseph, Luke found it necessary to trace Jesus’ humanity through Mary. Luke does bring out the idea by saying that he was supposed to be thought of as the son of Joseph. But this is far from saying, the “son of Mary” and tracing the genealogy through her. By all appearances, Luke is providing us with Joseph’s genealogy, not Mary’s. A literal reading of Matthew leads us to the same conclusion. This solution seems to be one of desperation rather than a plausible one.
However, another way to look at the begats is within the context of legal right of descent. In our law, an adopted son or daughter has the same legal standing as a biological child. This would be even more absolutely true in the ancient world. The Roman Emperors, for example, adopted their successors as their children. Julius Caesar was not the biological father of Augustus. I believe he was a nephew. And Augustus adopted Tiberius as a son, even though he had grandsons through his daughter. In this context, adoption conferred the right of kingship. This kind of practice was common in the ancient world.
Matthew first reckons Jesus genealogy from Abraham to King David, Israel’s first king. Solomon was his biological child and even though he was not the oldest son, was accorded the right of kingship. The line continued biologically down to the exile. However, God cursed the line of Solomon and it dies out at this time when all the seed royal was put to death before Zedekiah’s eyes. When the direct royal line is broken, then the right to be the next king has to be traced back until on can be found in a different line. In this case, all of Solomon’s descendants were dead, and the right of kingship then fell upon another descendant of David. Then when the Solomonic line died out, the right of being the next king of Israel fell upon another line. Yet this son would be reckoned as a descendant of Solomon by adoption. This right passed through Zerubbabel which appears in both Luke and Matthew’s genealogy. Apparently, there was another interruption in the line of Zerubbabel’s oldest son, and the line had to be reckoned through another son. Here the legal and biological diverge only to converge again at Joseph.