How is it that one genealogy has provoked over 1,900 years of discussion? And yet Matthew began his gospel with an intended purpose: to not only defend Mary’s character and honor, but to set the record straight regarding the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ conception and birth. Why was this necessary? Because there were many rumors and “stories” circulating on what people thought happened. And even today, when an unmarried woman becomes pregnant, there are rumors and “stories” about what had happened.
A HISTORICAL CONTROVERSY
Now before getting into the evidence, there’s been a long-standing argument between the Western and Eastern branches of Christianity. The Western Branch, comprised of Roman Catholics and Protestant denominations, have traditionally argued that the New Testament was originally written in Greek; however, the Eastern Branch, comprised of the various Orthodox denominations (Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, etc.), have traditionally argued that the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic. And both sides claim to have the original New Testament – the West with the Greek New Testament and the East with the Aramaic New Testament, called the Peshitta, and both sides having evidence to support their position. And as I will show, this controversy is an important foundation in exploring the evidence.
THE TESTIMONY OF THE EARLY CHURCH FATHERS
However, when we look at the history and writings of the early Church Fathers, we discover that the testimony of FOUR of them is that the gospel of Matthew was, in fact, written in Hebrew and then later translated into Greek. In Eusebius’ history, he quotes the writings of all four of them –
PAPIAS (60-163 C.E.)
Of Matthew he had stated as follows: “Matthew composed his history in the Hebrew dialect, and everyone translated it as he was able.” (Book 3, Chapter 39:16, page 106)
IRENAEUS (130-202 C.E.)
Matthew, indeed, produced his gospel written among the Hebrews in their own dialect. (Book 5, Chapter 8:2, page 164)
CLEMENT (150-215 C.E.)
Matthew also having first proclaimed the gospel in Hebrew, when on the point of going also to other nations, committed it to writing in his native tongue and thus supplied the want of his presence to them by his writings. (Book 3, Chapter 24:6, page 89)
ORIGEN (184-253 C.E.)
The first [gospel] us written according to Matthew, the same that was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, who having published it for the Jewish converts, wrote it in the Hebrew. (Book 6, Chapter 25:4, page 215)
Also, Irenaeus (130-202 C.E.) wrote in his writing Against Heresies,
Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia. (Book 3, Chapter 1:1).
But in spite of the clear testimony of these early Church Fathers, going back to Papias, who was a disciple of the Apostle John and lived about the time the synoptic gospels are believed to have been written, the dominant opinion of those in the Western branch of Christianity is that the Gospels, including Matthew, was originally written in Greek.
However, Papias would’ve known about the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, because according to Eusebius, the Apostle John himself had read all three of these gospels and had given “his testimony to their truth,” but there were things which he said they had left out “of the things done by Christ among the first of his deeds and at the commencement of the gospel” (Book 3, Chapter 24:7, page 89), so he sought to “fill in the missing materials,” which is why John’s Gospel is different than the other three.
However, since Papias was alive during John’s time and his disciple, then he would’ve known of Matthew’s work as well, in both of the Hebrew and the Greek. Consequently, it should be noted that the early date of 58-68 C.E. for Matthew’s Gospel is for the Greek version, which means the Hebrew original, if we accept the testimony of Papias, as well as the other early church fathers, would’ve been written years earlier.
ANOTHER CONTROVERSY – THE DATING OF MATTHEW
Although Christian scholars give the Gospel writings a much earlier date of when they were written, for example, Matthew (58-68 C.E.), Mark (67-68 C.E.), and Luke (58-60 C.E.), many modern scholars date Matthew much later (around 90 C.E.), since they believe the Gospel of Matthew had to have been written after the destruction of Jerusalem since in Matthew’s gospel Jesus prophecies of its destruction. Obviously, since they do not believe in a God who objectively exists and has revealed Himself to us through His Word, and then in His Son, so then in their mind, since Jerusalem’s destruction was prophesied by Jesus, then they believe it had to have been written after the event had happened.
TWO ISSUES WITH THE GENEALOGY
Now that we’ve discussed some of the historical controversies with the book as a whole, there’s two historical controversies that deal specifically with Matthew’s genealogy. First of all, it doesn’t match the genealogy with Luke’s (Luke 3: 23-38) and yet, in the Greek versions, both are said to belong to Joseph. How can Joseph have two very different genealogies? This discussion has been going on since at least the early second century, C.E.
Another issue is the contradiction between the number of generations Matthew claims to be in the genealogy and what is given there in the Greek and English versions. In Matthew 1:17, he writes,
So all the generations from Abraham to David are FOURTEEN generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are FOURTEEN generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are FOURTEEN generations. [Emphasis Mine]
But if we go through and count the generations, the numbers are correct, except for the generations from Babylon until Christ (Matthew 1:12-16):
And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechoniah begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; and Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
Now if you count the generations here (not counting Jechoniah since he’s mentioned in the previous verse), then we end up with only 13 generations, not 14, as Matthew stated; however, my argument for why this is Mary’s genealogy, not Joseph’s, will correct both discrepancies regarding this genealogy.
WHY DID MATTHEW BEGIN HIS GOSPEL WITH A GENEALOGY?
Now that we’ve looked at all the foundational historical controversies, let’s ask the important question: Why did Matthew begin his gospel with a genealogy? I believe that one of the main reasons for this and with the account of Jesus’ conception and birth was to defend the character of Mary (as I will show), as well as set the account straight as to the events of the immaculate conception and Virgin birth.
MARY’S GALILEAN BACKGROUND
First of all, in looking at the character of Mary, we have to consider her Galilean upbringing in the 1st century, C.E. The Galilee was a well-known “hotbed” of Zealot activity. The Zealots were political activists that fought against Roman oppression and desired a “free Israel.” In fact, there are numerous accounts of local Zealots, many of whom may have been family and friends of Mary and her family dying in battle or being crucified by Romans. If anything, as I will show, Mary was an Orthodox Jewish woman, but the heart of a Zealot burned within her. She was “a true daughter of David,” who was much more politically-oriented than Joseph.
THE NAMING OF MARY’S CHILDREN
One reason I believe that Mary was much more politically oriented than Joseph was the names chosen for her children. Although two of them were named after the patriarchs, Jacob (“James” in the Greek) and Joseph (or “Joses” in the Greek), three of them were named after military war heroes: Joshua, Judah and Simon.
Joshua (or “Jesus” in the Greek), was not only the successor of Moses, but he was the greatest military leader Israel had up through the first century, C.E. And considering he was conceived during Hanukkah (according to research), the celebration of a war victory against the Seleucid-Greek military, it’s no wonder why people had such military expectations of Him. I believe He will, indeed, fulfill those military expectations in His Second Coming and during His Millennial reign.
Her other two sons, Judah and Simon, also were well renowned war heroes from the the war against the Seleucid-Greeks. This war was held up as the ideal among the Zealots, who many of them lived and fought there in the Galilee against their Roman oppressors, just as Judah Maccabees and his brothers did against the Seleucid Greeks of their day. And since Mary grew up in the Galilee, we can see from the naming of the children that her heart was very much like other Galileans of her time: one that desired freedom from their Roman oppressors. And therefore, when the angel Gabriel came to her during Hanukkah to tell her about Jesus, I’m sure she probably saw this as an opportunity to contribute largely to the war effort and the freedom of her people.
TESTIMONY OF THE VILLAGERS
And I’m sure that when Mary ended up pregnant, there were many speculations about the identity of the father. Some might think that they would suspect Joseph of not waiting the one-year betrothal period, but his reputation was such that he was not even suspected. Instead, it was Mary was carried the weight and suspicion of wrong doing which is why Matthew begins his gospel the way that he does. But even though there were “rumors” flying around about Mary, Jesus is still called “the carpenter’s son.” For example, in Matthew 13, when Jesus goes back to Nazareth and teaches in their synagogue, it’s significant what the village people ask:
Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? and his brothers, James and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Where then has this man all these things? (Matthew 13:55)
There’s no indication here that they suspected any one specific of being Jesus’ biological father, but there’s a hint that they did suspect it to be someone else other than Joseph. For example, in the Gospel of John, there’s a hinting of an off-cuff remark made to Jesus, which seems out of place:
Jesus says: “You do the deeds of your father.”
Then they say to Him: “We are NOT BORN OF FORNICATION; we have one Father, even God.” (John 8:41; Emphasis Mine)
This comment seems like a back-handed insult to Jesus, alluding to the stories of His conception.
THE REPUTATION OF JAMES, BROTHER OF JESUS
Although there were stories circulated about Mary in quiet whispers, they apparently did not interfere with the reputation of the family overall. For example, according to historical accounts, James was so ultra-Orthodox in his beliefs, practices and lifestyle, that he was called “the Just” or “the Righteous One,” by both followers of Jesus and non-followers alike, and as a result of his “extremely righteous lifestyle,” he was allowed to do what no other non-Levitical Jew was allowed:
He alone was allowed to enter the sanctuary [the Temple]…He was in the habit of entering the temple alone and was often found upon his bended knees, and interceding for the forgiveness of the people; so that his knees became as hard as camel’s, in consequence of his habitual supplication and kneeling before God. (Eusebius, Book 2, Chapter 23:6, pp. 59-60)
If it was believed that Mary was a known adulteress, as well as a liar, I’m sure this would’ve never been allowed, even with his righteous lifestyle. But it may have been the result of Joseph and his family living such an ultra-Orthodox Jewish lifestyle, even by the standards of their own day, which we know because Joseph and James are both called “Just” or “Righteous,” that perhaps, their status within the village was respected and this was not discussed, but it didn’t mean that there wasn’t “talk” about how Mary came up suddenly “pregnant” during their one-year betrothal.
However, based on my research, I believe, as I stated earlier, that one major reason for the inclusion of Matthew’s genealogy and the story of Jesus’ conception and birth right at the beginning of his gospel was to address these rumors and stories. Consequently, once we examine all of the evidence available, it will demonstrate that Matthew was attempting to off-set the rumors in defense of Mary, as well as connect Jesus to the Davidic throne, but at the same time, this evidence also contradicts the traditional view that the Matthew’s genealogy was Joseph’s and the one in Luke 3 was Mary’s. The evidence for this, I believe, is the following.
THE GREEK MATTHEW IS A TRANSLATION OF AN EARLIER HEBREW VERSION
The overall evidence strongly supports the view that the Greek Gospel of Matthew is, in fact, a translation from an earlier Hebrew and Aramaic source. It should be remembered that during their seventy years in Babylon, a lot of Aramaic words were adopted into the Hebrew language. So actually all of the controversies and problems with the genealogies and the numerical contradiction can all be resolved if ONLY ONE WORD that was mistranslated from the Hebrew-Aramaic into the Greek is corrected. This one word is found in Matthew 1:16,
And Jacob begat Joseph the HUSBAND of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ.
And within this verse, the problem is the word “HUSBAND.” You see, in Greek, there’s a clear distinction between the words “father” and “husband,” but this distinction is not clear in Aramaic.
2. THE ARAMAIC WORD GOWRA
In the Aramaic New Testament, called the Peshitta (pron. “peh-shee-tuh“), the word translated as “husband” is the word gowra (pron. “gow-rah“). According to several researchers, such as Paul Younan and Andrew Gabriel Roth, both part of the Peshitta translation team, among others online, the word “gowra” can be translated as “man” in the generic sense, or as “husband” or “father” depending upon the context. For example, in Paul Younan’s article “Use of Orbg in Classical and Contemporary Aramaic Thought,” he writes that in the Aramaic New Testament,
Matthew 1:16 reads, “Jacob fathered Joseph, the hrbg of Maryam.” The word used here, in verse 16, is Orbg with a 3rd person feminine pronominal possessive suffix or h (i.e., “her gowra“). [Although] the word has traditionally been translated as “husband,” however, the main Semitic word for “Husband” is f9b (“Ba’la,” or, h19b for “her husband.”)
Examples of the word ba’la can be found in a number of New Testament references, for example: Matthew 1:19; Mark 10:12; Luke 2:36; John 4:16-18; Romans 7:2-3; I Corinthians 7:4, 10. 13, 16, 39; Ephesians 5:33; I Timothy 3:2; and Titus 1:6.
But after establishing this dominant pattern within the New Testament, Younan then asks an extremely interesting question: “Why would Matthew use two different terms, in such a short span of writing (3 verses – 1:16 to 1:19), to refer to Maryam’s ‘husband,’ Yoseph?” And his answer, based on his research and study of the Aramaic, seems equally valid:
The fact is, he had to distinguish between two different people named Joseph – Matthew is not referring to Mary’s husband in verse 16 at all, but rather to her father!
3. THERE WERE TWO JOSEPHS?
So there were two Josephs? Actually, in the first century, C.E., there were many Josephs since the name “Joseph” was one of the most popular male names of the time, and therefore, the likelihood that Mary’s father and husband shared the same first name is quite feasible. Younan, in fact, goes on to say that
Depending on context, it has been shown that Orgb [“gawra”] can mean “man, husband or father.” The usage in verse 16 would demand that we translate Orgb as “father,” rather than “husband,” since the context is a genealogy. Verses 18 & 19, however, would demand that we associate that Joseph with her “husband,” since the context is that of a marriage.
Those who are continuing to hold to their view that Matthew was originally written in Greek are dismissing this research as “inconclusive.” They claim that if Mary was the intended focus of his genealogy, he would have done something unique to indicate that, and they claim that he didn’t. However, I believe they are in error. Matthew did do something unique, he added the names of four other women.
4. THE INCLUSION OF THE FOUR WOMEN.
Although the names of women in a genealogy was not at all customary, if we compare Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies, we notice something unusual in Matthew’s that we do not see at all in Luke’s, the names of FOUR WOMEN, all with a questionable past.
THAMAR (Matthew 1:3). In Genesis 38, Tamar, a Canaanite woman (a Gentile; non-Jew) Judah’s daughter-in-law dressed up as a Canaanite prostitute to attract Judah, her father-in-law, to have sex with her since he would not give her his third son, Shelah, to be her husband, as was custom, since her husband, Er, and his brother, Onan, had both died.
RACHAB (Matthew 1:5). In Joshua 2, Rahab, a Canaanite woman (Gentile; non-Jewish) Jericho inn keeper and prostitute, hid and protected the two Israeli spies from capture by the authorities there, and as a result, she and her whole household were saved and became a part of the people of Israel. (Joshua 2:1-24)
RUTH (the book of Ruth). Ruth was a Moabitess, a Gentile. The people of Moab practiced child sacrifice as part of their worship to their god, Molech. And yet somehow she had married one of Naomi’s sons, who then later died, leaving her a widow. Ruth returns to the land of Israel with Naomi and cares for her. Ultimately, she marries Boaz, the son of Salmon and Rahab, herself a Gentile convert.
BATHSHEBA, “The Wife of Uriah” (Matthew 1:6). Although her name is not mentioned, Matthew does allude to her as “the wife of Uriah.” David had committed adultery with her, and then when she ended up pregnant, he tried to get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba to cover up what he had done. When that didn’t work, he sent Uriah to the front of the battle to have him killed, and then he marries her. Although their child dies as part of God’s judgment, she does become the mother of Solomon, who would succeed David on the throne.
When we consider who these women are and their “questionable past,” it is clear that Matthew has incorporated them into the genealogy as part of his argument that just because a woman has “a questionable past” does not mean that God cannot use her, nor does it mean that she should be excluded from God’s plan, since all four women make up Jesus’ genealogy. Now this argument makes complete sense if the genealogy belongs to Mary, since she is the one who is facing the raised suspicions, but if this genealogy belongs to Joseph, then the inclusion of these four women make absolutely no sense at all, since he is NOT the one under suspicion of acting inappropriately.
5. THE PROMISE GIVEN TO HER BY GABRIEL
Another reason I believe that this is Mary’s genealogy and not Joseph’s is the message given to Mary from the angel Gabriel in Luke’s Gospel,
Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with God. And, behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the LORD God shall give unto Him THE THRONE OF HIS FATHER DAVID: AND HE SHALL REIGN OVER THE HOUSE OF JACOB FOREVER; AND OF HIS KINGDOM THERE SHALL BE NO END. (Luke 1:30-33)
Now when Mary questions how could this happen since she was not married or been intimate with a man, Gabriel explains:
The Holy Ghost [Spirit] shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that HOLY thing which be born of you shall be called THE SON OF GOD. (Luke 1:35; Emphasis Mine)
This explanation was not penned by Mary, but by a trained Greek medical physician. If anyone would have been suspicious to an immaculate conception, he would’ve been. But he was clear in the beginning that he had set these things down, so “you would know the certainty of those things, where you have been instructed” (Luke 1:4). Obviously, he had done “his homework” to check the validity of these things before setting them down in writing.
JOSEPH – NOT OF THE ROYAL LINE?
Now compare what the angel told Mary with what the same angel told Joseph:
You Son of David, fear not to take unto you Mary your wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost [Spirit]. And she shall bring forth a son, and you shall call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins. (Matthew 1:20-21)
There’s not one mention here of David’s throne, or the fact of Jesus ruling and reigning over the house of Jacob. If the Matthew genealogy actually belonged to Joseph, as Christians have been traditionally taught, then wouldn’t it make sense for the angel to speak to Joseph about the throne, instead of Mary? But this isn’t what happened. The angel Gabriel speaks to Joseph about the spiritual – “He shall save His people from their sins -” but to Mary, he speaks to her about the Davidic throne.
The very fact that Mary, who is the ONLY biological parent of Jesus, is spoken to about the Davidic throne and the Kingdom clearly demonstrate that it is she, and NOT JOSEPH, who is the actual true descendant of David and Solomon, NOT Joseph. Reaffirming again, that the Matthew genealogy belongs to her and not Joseph, and that his genealogy is the one given in Luke 3.
6. THE CROWNING OF KING SOLOMON
Although both genealogies trace the ancestry back to King David, only Matthew’s goes through the line of Solomon. And according to the Scriptures, the royal lineage would be through David, and Solomon and his son, Rehoboam (Matthew 1:6-7), but not through David’s other son, Nathan, seen in Luke’s genealogy. interestingly, when Solomon is born, the Scriptures tell us “and the LORD loved him” (2 Samuel 12:25), a statement that’s not made about any of David’s other sons, giving us an early indication of who would be chosen to succeed David as King.
And although in I Kings, Bathsheba reminds David that he had sworn by the LORD God that Solomon would succeed him (I Kings 1:17), a promise David reconfirms (I Kings 1:28-30), and then makes it happen (I Kings 1:32-53), in I Chronicles 28, we learn that it was God, in fact, who had chosen Solomon to succeed the throne (I Chronicles 28:5). Therefore, the royal lineage has to go through Solomon, and not through any other of David’s sons. And since Mary’s name actually appears in the Matthew lineage, and Mary is only human parent that Jesus has, it only makes sense that the genealogy in Matthew must belong to her.
7. PAUL’S INTRODUCTION IN ROMANS
Another reason that the Matthew genealogy must belong to Mary since it traces her ancestry back to David and Solomon is the statement that Paul makes in his introduction to the church in Rome.
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (which he had promised afore by his prophets in the Holy Scriptures,) concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which WAS MADE OF THE SEED OF DAVID ACCORDING TO THE FLESH;….” (Romans 1:1-3)
This is Paul telling us that Jesus was, in fact, physically descended from David, Solomon, and Rehoboam. Paul did not say that Jesus was descended from David through marriage or even adoption, but through “the flesh.” He was a physical descendant and, therefore, He has every legal right to the throne.
7. THE TEACHING OF GOD’S LAW.
Now Jews have traditionally argued that Jewish nationality and tribal identity come through the father, not the mother. So since God was His father, and not Joseph, they have argued that Jesus does not have the right to be called “a Jew,” “a son of David,” much less “the lion of the tribe of Judah.” However, it was Mary, not Joseph, who was Jesus’ ONLY physical human parent. Therefore, the answer lies, not in adoption, but in God’s law given to Moses.
In the Inheritance Laws in Numbers 27, a case is brought before Moses. The five daughters of Zelophehad, a descendant of Joseph’s, was dead, and their father had no sons, to continue the family line. Therefore, their inheritance would’ve been lost; however, God tells Moses that their request that they be allowed to inherit along with the other males in the tribe was a legitimate request and was to be honored.
The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: you shall surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and you shall cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them. (Numbers 27:7)
This, therefore, provides a legal precedence for Jesus, who does not have a human male parent to be able to inherit His nationality and His tribal identity. In addition, since it is His mother, Mary, who is the true descendant of David, Solomon and Rehoboam, then according to the precedence in God’s law as well, Jesus is the rightful, legal heir of the throne of David and the promised Kingdom, as Paul stated “through the flesh.”
There’s more to the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew than to give a list of the names of the family tree. Matthew wrote it as part of his defense of Mary’s character and also to argue that in spite of a “woman’s questionable past,” God can still use her for His glory and she can even make up the royal family tree of David, Solomon, and ultimately, Messiah Himself. And finally, Matthew wrote it to substantiate and prove Jesus’ physical legal right by birth to the Davidic throne and to the promised Kingdom of God.