Theology Thursday: Skeletons in Jesus’ Family Tree

A tree growing against a brick wall

We all have relatives who embarrass us, people in our family tree whom we are ashamed to admit we are related. Most of us try to hide the skeletons in our family tree. However, a look at the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew chapter 1 shows Matthew does not hide the imperfect ancestors of Jesus. Rather the Bible deliberately draws attention to them, all for the purpose of making a theological point.

Matthew chapter 1 contains what looks at first to be a traditional patrilineal genealogy from Abraham to Jesus. However, as we travel through this list of names we come across five women listed among Jesus’ ancestors. A first century Jew would immediately be drawn to the mention of these five women for two reasons. First, because it was not normal to mention women in a patrilineal genealogy, and second because they would remember the Old Testament stories related to these women, their backgrounds and the grievous sins committed by the men in their lives. Let us briefly examine these women and their stories.

First mentioned is Tamar (Matthew 1:3 and Genesis 38) whose first two husbands died and whose Father-in-Law Judah failed in his traditional Jewish duty to allow her to marry his third son to carry on the family line. To make a long story short, the result was an embarrassing debacle involving pretend prostitution, a near execution and finally an heir for the family line of Jesus. Several generations later we come to Rahab (Matthew 1:5 and Joshua 2) who did not need to pretend but was indeed a Canaanite prostitute. But she gave lodging to the spies Joshua sent into Jericho and for her righteous deed was spared when the city fell. She eventually married a Jew, Salmon, and gave birth to Boaz to continue the line of Jesus. Boaz then married Ruth (Matthew 1:5 and the book of Ruth), a Moabite (a race despised by the Jews) who converted from polytheistic paganism to Judaism.

The next woman mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy is referred to simply as “Uriah’s wife” (Matthew 1:6 and 2 Samuel 11), a direct reference to the fact King David had an adulterous affair with the wife of one of his “mighty men” and then had this man, Uriah, killed to cover it up. Finally, we come to Mary the mother of Jesus (Matthew 1:16-23) whose mention here is a reminder of Jesus’ virgin birth and the fact that false rumors swirled about him being an illegitimate child. Jesus grew up hearing the whispers of the townspeople about how no one ever knew who Jesus’ real father was (Mark 6:3).

Why in the world would Matthew, the author of this genealogy of Jesus, draw attention to these skeletons in Jesus’ family tree? Matthew wrote to Jews and reminded them of those in Jesus’ ancestry who came from people groups the Jews looked down upon racially, those who were previously pagans, those who came from dishonorable backgrounds and those who had committed grievous sins. The point being that if God can use these men and women to bring His son into the world, then He can use anyone.

Jesus did not come only for people who look a certain way, come from certain backgrounds, or whose past is squeaky clean. Rather, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. Your race, gender, family background, former beliefs and past mistakes do not matter to God. If you are willing to accept Jesus Christ as both your Lord and Savior, then God will save you and use you to advance His kingdom, regardless of what skeletons you have in your family tree!

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.