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One of the unique features of Jesus genealogy in the book of Matthew is the inclusion of four women, not counting Mary.

Matthew 1:3

Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar

Matthew 1:5

Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth

Matthew 1:6

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife

Matthew 1:16

and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

Why does Matthew include these women and no others? Is there a common element that somehow distinguishes them for inclusion in Jesus' genealogy?

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This was my answer on what is exactly the same question over at Christianity.SE – Affable Geek Jun 7 '13 at 19:26

3 Answers 3

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In part, Matthew is laying the groundwork for the naming of Jesus, so named because "He will save His people from their sins" (Mt 1:21). In various ways, these women reveal the mess of the Messiah's own family tree.

Matthew is not of course implying that the women are the primary sinners in the stories they evoke. But the mention of David without Bathsheba could bring to mind a host of other aspects of his life. Instead, Matthew rubs our noses in it; he doesn't even say "Bathsheba," but "her of Uriah." Similarly, with Judah and Tamar. Rahab of course never gets her name mentioned without a reminder of the fact that she had been a harlot.

Another aspect of the genealogy may tie to the climax of the Gospel, where Jesus sends the disciples to disciple the nations, and of course the incorporation of the nations into Messiah has traces in His own family line, with Ruth in particular. But the connotations of sin are not absent in Ruth's story either; her mention evokes the events leading to her inclusion in Israel, events in which Israel had come under the judgment of famine due to their sins (as predicted in e.g. Deut 28).

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Each of these women recognized the expectation of the "Promised Seed" by faith in God's covenant with Abraham and David, respectively.

For an amplified discussion of Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, and their respective goal of the pursuit-and-capture of the "Promised Seed" by faith, please click here. (Please note however that Bathsheba is not mentioned by name in the Matthew genealogy, but only mentioned to show that the kingly right of Jesus to the Davidic throne was through Solomon.) And so finally it is Mary who is named and understands from the angel Gabriel that she was to be the actual mother of The Promised Seed (compare Luke 1:32 with the "help to Israel" mentioned by Mary in Luke 1:54-55), and so she provided her consent to the angel Gabriel to conceive (Luke 1:38).

In other words, the listing of these four women by name was to highlight how the "Promised Seed" was expected by them through their understanding and faith in the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. That is, they desired and therefore each had sought to conceive the Promised Seed by faith.

Last but not least, we must note that these four women plus Bathsheba were women of "shame": if she was not unattractive, then she was indeed a widowed wallflower (Tamar); another was the mother of Boaz, who was a Canaanite prostitute (Rahab); another widow was a cursed Moabite (Deut 23:3) that had married Boaz (Ruth); one was an adulteress (Bathsheba); and finally the last was a woman of abject penury and of no account (Mary). In other words, Jesus was not a man with a distinguished racial pedigree to his name.

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I am intrigued by your insight about Ruth/Naomi and Tamar laying hold of the Promised Seed. Thank you for sharing. – user2027 Dec 13 '13 at 18:00

Matthew’s genealogy forms the preface to an extended account of Jesus’ nativity in which Mary plays the most prominent role.

But Matthew’s genealogy cannot be taken “literally.” It has been edited to make a “theological” point, as virtually everyone has recognized since antiquity. But what point?

Although not literally Mary’s genealogy, I believe that Matthew included these women of “ill repute” as a polemic. Mary fits into the genealogy in the same way Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba do. Women whose virtue was questioned, to say the least, but who played an otherwise critical (indispensable) role in the perpetuation of the lineage.

As “Gone Quiet” wrote, these women “redeemed” themselves in the Scriptures—a fact that men (who record the genealogies) may overlook. After all, men expect women to be more virtuous, and may be less forgiving when they are not—especially when the infraction committed by women is sexual. (And nevermind that every man in these genealogies is a sinner.)

Well aware of the fact that God is no respecter of persons Matthew's genealogy is scandalous.

This may even serve to date Matthew’s Gospel—it was, at least in its introduction, written to counter the charge that Jesus was “illegitimate.” A charge made early in Jesus’ ministry (See John.) If Jesus was "illegitimate" so were so many men included in the genealogies of honored men.

Such a charge (illegitimacy) would have had little effect outside an exclusively Jewish milieu. And would have been rendered moot after the more-or-less systematic destruction of Jewish records by Herod, the Zealots, and the Romans in the first century.

It's really Mary's genealogy, not even Jesus', spiritually, not literally.

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. You mention that 'virtually everyone has recognized [this] since antiquity.' Like who? Please cite sources for such assertions. – Dan Nov 24 '14 at 2:35

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