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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 christianity.stackexchange.com/a/13702/1039 Commented Jun 7, 2013 at 19:26
  • Are there other significant women of Judah that would be ancestors of Christ that were left out? Not to over simplify, and not to discredit the significances of these women's position in his genealogy; but can the basic reason simply be: they are all the female ancestors that are known of in the Scriptures. Being able to trace his line to such well known people(going beyond just women now) would have been important to Jews considering Jesus add the Messiah. I'll have to look later, but I don't think there are any other women known by name that would qualify. Certainly none with stories.
    – Joshua
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 17:01
  • Why isn't Sarah mentioned? Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 23:31
  • @JoshuaBigbee I think Sarah would fall into the category you have defined. But she isn't mentioned. Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 6:12
  • Fair enough on Sarah. This is pure conjecture, but each of the women who are NAMED are the focal point of their parent's or generation's story. Ruth and Rehab for certain. Tamar is an odd one because she is not married to Judah, clearly the bigger name, and technically isn't even of his generation for the children were supposed to be in his son's name. Bathsheba is NOT named, for David is the big name here. However with David's many wives and sons some distinction had to made, explaining why it is brought up how it is. Mary's inclusion should not be thought of as odd, she is the birth mother.
    – Joshua
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 14:26

9 Answers 9

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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
    Commented Dec 13, 2013 at 18:00
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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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    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
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 2:35
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Let us consider that the four women mentioned in Matthew's genealogy were foreigners. This is obviously the case regarding Rahab and Ruth. Tamar's ancestry is not given in the Genesis account where she is named, but as she is intimately connected with Judah's shameful behavior among the Canaanites, starting with taking a consort who is Canaanite, it is reasonable to suppose that Tamar is also a Canaanite. Bathsheba's origins are unknown, but Matthew seems to take care to emphasize her connection to the Hittites. These four represent, then, the Church being drawn from all the nations - the Hittites to the north of Israel, Moab to the south, the Canaanites to the west and Jericho on the eastern border. Matthew is also the one evangelist who relates the visitation of the Magi, again emphasizing that this news is for all the nations.

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  • +1 the point about their being foreigners is correct... and Tamar's ancestry can be deduced by the fact that there were no known Israelite males living in the area other than Jacob's sons. Not sure if it follows that Matthew included the women to emphasize the church's universality. Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 1:07
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Each of these women (except Rahab) risked their life in a seemingly immoral sexual relationship in order to perpetuate the messianic lineage.

  • Tamar conceived twins with her father-in-law Judah while disguised as a prostitute at the gate of a Canaanite town. Not knowing he was the their father, he planned to burn her to death when he discovered she was pregnant. Tamar's courage ensured the survival of Judah's line. (Gen. 38)

  • Rahab was a prostitute of Jericho who risked her life to act as a spy for Joshua's men. Without her, the battle of Jericho would not have been won and the conquest of Canaan would have failed. King David and his descendants, including Jesus, might never have been born. (Josh 2)

  • Ruth was a Moabite who left her own people to follow her mother-in-law to an enemy land. It was forbidden for Israelites to marry Moabite women, (Deuteronomy 23:3) so her determination to follow her mother-in-law to a foreign land was an extremely dangerous proposition. (Book of Ruth)

  • Bathsheba could have have been condemned for adultery by having sex with David while she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Instead, after losing her first child, she became the mother of Solomon and the foremother of all of the kings of Judah. (2 Sam' 11-12)

  • Mary also risked condemnation as an adulteress when she turned up pregnant while betrothed to Joseph after returning from the home of the priest Zechariah. Under Jewish law, a betrothal was a legal marriage. If Joseph had not protected her, she could even have been stoned to death. (Mt. 1:19)

Each of these women, speaking from a human point of view, appeared to violate the sexual mores of their times. In reality, they were providential instruments who, whether knowingly of not, were used by God to prepare the lineage of king David, and ultimately Jesus. For Matthew the sinless birth of Jesus was a crucial idea. Because of their special roles in producing it, they were included in Matthew's genealogy.


The case of Rahab may be an exception because Rahab of Jericho lived centuries before Rahab the mother Boaz. Either Matthew means "mother" in the sense of foremother, or he mentions Boaz' mother for another reason, unknown to us.

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  • You and I see the moral and sexual issue of the women involved, but our conclusions are different.
    – Betho's
    Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 0:10
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    Yes... I would add now that each of the women was also either a foreigner or the wife of a foreigner. There is something going on here with the idea of the purity of lineage -- pushing its limits or expanding it to pave the way for the messiah to be truly universal and also without sin. Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 1:19
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  1. In the first verse, the words Abraham and David are close, this, for a Jew, brings to mind Mount Moriah, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the Sacrifice of the Lamb.

  2. Jewish genealogies were always male and the social behaviors that allowed the enslavement of relatives and it was extremely insulting to Jewish culture to quote women... In this part the Jews are "nervous on edge"...

  3. Contextualized, all atypical plot of the first verses was to justify the 18th verse of the first chapter, if the Jews do not believe in the story or story of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, respect his birth in a natural way, because the Jewish matriarchs according to the Hebrew scriptures had moral problems of a sexual nature. . The genealogies of the Jews rarely mentioned women, especially not women of questionable character. Nevertheless, Matthew reports four women with a dubious reputation in the lineage of the Messiah. Why?

Tamar (Mt 1:3): Genesis 38 tells the story of how she ended up pretending to be a prostitute and became pregnant by her father-in-law, Judah. A sordid tale indeed. Tamar was the wife of Judah's eldest son, Er, a wicked man whom "the Lord put to death" (Gen 38:7). This left Tamar a young widow with no children. At Judah's request, Tamar then married Onan, Judah's second son. He also proved to be wicked, and thus, the Lord "put him to death" (Gen 38:10). More sorrow for Tamar. She was now twice widowed, young, and childless.

When Tamar realized that Judah would not send Shelah, the youngest son, to be her husband, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Tamar knew that Judah was going to Timnah to shear his sheep. So, Tamar dressed as a prostitute and waited until he appeared, agreeing to have intercourse with him for a certain price. She became pregnant and then confronted Judah, revealing that he was the father. When Judah realized what he had done, he said, "Tamar is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah" (Gen 38:26). Nevertheless, what she did was still questionable. She was a woman with a complicated past. Matthew did not need to mention her name; he could have simply written, "Judah fathered Perez and Zerah, Perez fathered Hezron..." He intentionally included her name.

Rahab (Mt 1:5a): Next, we encounter a genuine prostitute. Joshua 2 tells us that she showed hospitality to the two spies Joshua sent to Jericho, saving their lives. Joshua 8 informs us that when Joshua destroyed Jericho, God spared Rahab and her family. Rahab is called a prostitute in Joshua 2:1; 6:17, 25. She is also called a prostitute in Heb 11:31 and James 2:25. Scripture does not tell us if and when she stopped practicing prostitution. Many who comment on her suggest that she came to faith and was born again before marrying Salmon, and that she never practiced prostitution again. But it is true that she was not a person of high moral character before embracing faith. Rahab was not Jewish, although she married a Jew. Matthew could easily have left her name out of Christ's lineage. He could have written, "Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed..." The Holy Spirit wanted her name in Jesus' official genealogy.

Ruth (Mt 1:5b): The next woman on the list has a questionable reputation only because of her birth. She was not Jewish but married a young Jewish man when he and his family were in Moab. She was born and raised in Moab. The Moabites had mistreated Israel when they entered the land and were not a blessed people. The Moabites, though close relatives to the Jews, were nevertheless Gentiles. Her husband died, as did her brother-in-law. This left her mother-in-law, Naomi, a childless widow with no prospect of having children. Naomi decided to return to Israel and bid farewell to her two daughters-in-law. Orpah returned to her family, but Ruth clung to Naomi and went to Israel with her. Ruth followed Naomi's instructions and ended up finding a husband in Boaz. They had a son named Obed, bringing great joy to Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. The Book of Ruth is one of the most beautiful books in the Bible. She is clearly a woman of great character. However, an orthodox Jew might have questioned why God allowed her to be the grandmother of King David and why she would be included in a genealogy.

The wife of Uriah (Mt 1:6): Matthew does not mention her by name. He writes, "David fathered Solomon from her who had been the wife of Uriah." Bathsheba committed adultery with King David, as recorded in 2 Samuel 11. Some think Bathsheba was an innocent victim. However, there is no indication that David took her by force. The account in 2 Samuel 11 indicates that she was a willing participant in the adultery. David was a man after God's own heart, but he was not without sin. David committed adultery and had Uriah killed to cover up his sin with Bathsheba. Only when God confronted him through the prophet Nathan did David repent (2 Samuel 12). Nevertheless, she is also mentioned in Jesus' genealogy. However, we may wonder why she is not mentioned by name. Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth were all mentioned by name.

Why were these four women mentioned?

The teaching is that orthodox Jews, when reading the Genealogy of Jesus and not believing in the virgin birth by the Holy Spirit, might at least respect Mary as a common mother when looking at the preceding women.

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He skipped one by the way. One of the more interesting ancestors of Jesus was born in the cave above Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot and his daughters flee to the cave. In there, with the help of quantities of wine, The group has an incestuous encounter. One of the children that come from that encounter is Moab. Moab is the ancestor of Ruth who is the ancestor of David who is the ancestor of Christ. God sometimes walks us by twisted pathways. As one other answer points out, God seems to have omitted the more virtuous women from the line of his son.

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  • I think he skipped Lot's daughter because she's not in Judah's lineage but enters through a side gate. She's also not named. Another interesting one that is skipped is Jezebel... but she was not noted for being a convert to Israelite religion. Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 1:11
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  1. In the first verse, the words Abraham and David are close, this, for a Jew, brings to mind Mount Moriah, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and the Sacrifice of the Lamb.

  2. Jewish genealogies were always male and the social behaviors that allowed the enslavement of relatives and it was extremely insulting to Jewish culture to quote women... In this part the Jews are "nervous on edge"...

  3. Contextualized, all atypical plot of the first verses was to justify the 18th verse of the first chapter, if the Jews do not believe in the story or story of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, respect his birth in a natural way, because the Jewish matriarchs according to the Hebrew scriptures had moral problems of a sexual nature. . The genealogies of the Jews rarely mentioned women, especially not women of questionable character. Nevertheless, Matthew reports four women with a dubious reputation in the lineage of the Messiah. Why?

Tamar (Mt 1:3): Genesis 38 tells the story of how she ended up pretending to be a prostitute and became pregnant by her father-in-law, Judah. A sordid tale indeed. Tamar was the wife of Judah's eldest son, Er, a wicked man whom "the Lord put to death" (Gen 38:7). This left Tamar a young widow with no children. At Judah's request, Tamar then married Onan, Judah's second son. He also proved to be wicked, and thus, the Lord "put him to death" (Gen 38:10). More sorrow for Tamar. She was now twice widowed, young, and childless.

When Tamar realized that Judah would not send Shelah, the youngest son, to be her husband, she decided to take matters into her own hands. Tamar knew that Judah was going to Timnah to shear his sheep. So, Tamar dressed as a prostitute and waited until he appeared, agreeing to have intercourse with him for a certain price. She became pregnant and then confronted Judah, revealing that he was the father. When Judah realized what he had done, he said, "Tamar is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah" (Gen 38:26). Nevertheless, what she did was still questionable. She was a woman with a complicated past. Matthew did not need to mention her name; he could have simply written, "Judah fathered Perez and Zerah, Perez fathered Hezron..." He intentionally included her name.

Rahab (Mt 1:5a): Next, we encounter a genuine prostitute. Joshua 2 tells us that she showed hospitality to the two spies Joshua sent to Jericho, saving their lives. Joshua 8 informs us that when Joshua destroyed Jericho, God spared Rahab and her family. Rahab is called a prostitute in Joshua 2:1; 6:17, 25. She is also called a prostitute in Heb 11:31 and James 2:25. Scripture does not tell us if and when she stopped practicing prostitution. Many who comment on her suggest that she came to faith and was born again before marrying Salmon, and that she never practiced prostitution again. But it is true that she was not a person of high moral character before embracing faith. Rahab was not Jewish, although she married a Jew. Matthew could easily have left her name out of Christ's lineage. He could have written, "Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed..." The Holy Spirit wanted her name in Jesus' official genealogy.

Ruth (Mt 1:5b): The next woman on the list has a questionable reputation only because of her birth. She was not Jewish but married a young Jewish man when he and his family were in Moab. She was born and raised in Moab. The Moabites had mistreated Israel when they entered the land and were not a blessed people. The Moabites, though close relatives to the Jews, were nevertheless Gentiles. Her husband died, as did her brother-in-law. This left her mother-in-law, Naomi, a childless widow with no prospect of having children. Naomi decided to return to Israel and bid farewell to her two daughters-in-law. Orpah returned to her family, but Ruth clung to Naomi and went to Israel with her. Ruth followed Naomi's instructions and ended up finding a husband in Boaz. They had a son named Obed, bringing great joy to Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. The Book of Ruth is one of the most beautiful books in the Bible. She is clearly a woman of great character. However, an orthodox Jew might have questioned why God allowed her to be the grandmother of King David and why she would be included in a genealogy.

The wife of Uriah (Mt 1:6): Matthew does not mention her by name. He writes, "David fathered Solomon from her who had been the wife of Uriah." Bathsheba committed adultery with King David, as recorded in 2 Samuel 11. Some think Bathsheba was an innocent victim. However, there is no indication that David took her by force. The account in 2 Samuel 11 indicates that she was a willing participant in the adultery. David was a man after God's own heart, but he was not without sin. David committed adultery and had Uriah killed to cover up his sin with Bathsheba. Only when God confronted him through the prophet Nathan did David repent (2 Samuel 12). Nevertheless, she is also mentioned in Jesus' genealogy. However, we may wonder why she is not mentioned by name. Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth were all mentioned by name.

Why were these four women mentioned?

The teaching is that orthodox Jews, when reading the Genealogy of Jesus and not believing in the virgin birth by the Holy Spirit, might at least respect Mary as a common mother when looking at the preceding women.

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The question really ought to be why are 5 women mentioned, since Mary is mentioned last as the mother of Jesus.

Some commentators note a numerical coded pattern of 7 (the numeric representation of perfection) or multiples that suggests that this may be some sort of coded message with a hidden meaning that has long been lost.

The author has deliberately added these five women and evidently left out some male generations (possibly because they destroyed the sequence of 14 (double perfection) generations). The Imperfect actions of these women aiding the double perfect plan. King David, the name in numerics is D-V-D is represented as D = 4, V = 6, D = 4, which equals 14 - double perfection. It is 14 generations from Abraham to King David (Double perfect ruler of Israel), 14 generations from David to the greatest calamity of the exile, and 14 generations from the exile to the saviour. Yet Matthew added these 5 women who's imperfect actions aided the double perfect plan of God's salvation for all .

It cannot be a lineal genealogy of Jesus since if we take it at face value, then if Jesus is fathered by the Holy spirit, the lineage mentioned is null and void, since hereditary descent is always through the male line, not the female line. These 5 women were all involved in some scandalous sexual impropriety, 4 were foreigners (non-Jew, gentiles) which at first glance, destroys any claims that Jesus had a 'pure' national blood line. Note Also Mary is mentioned as the mother of Jesus, and is herself involved in the scandal of pregnancy outside of wedlock. And yet all 5 women played vital roles in furthering the advancement of the kingdom of God in their time. In other words, God used the activities of scandalous women to aid the Israelites and further God's plan.

Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho who aided the Israelite spies and directly furthered God's plan. Ruth was the grandmother of king David. The wife of Uriah the Hittite, had an adulterous relationship with David, and fathered Solomon the wisest ruler of Israel - So God used an adulterous relationship to create the greatest king of the Jews. Mary was the mother of Jesus the saviour.

If the whole genealogy in Matthew is meant to represent God's doubly perfect plan then by including these 'fallen' women, the author is saying that God's plan for salvation can mitigate even the gravest of sins, and use the greatest of Sinners for his cause. It also shows that God had always planned for salvation to include even the lowest of outcasts from Israelite/Jewish society, by using foreign women to represent gentiles.

There may well be some secret numerology embedded within the text, then could these women have been added because the numerology of their name adds some kind of code revolving around the number 7 that typically represents perfection?

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    Welcome to Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please consider registering an account to fully take advantage of what this site has to offer. Also, be sure to check out the site tour and in particular what constitutes a good answer. We aren't a discussion board, so answers are expected to 1) answer only the question asked and 2) do more than just state your opinion. This contains some thoughts on related matters, but no answer to the actual question - why were the women included?
    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 16:18
  • Thanks for the feedback Thaddeus - Have edited my answer and addressed the question. I was originally too selective of material in my first response to the question,to the point of leaving out more relevant material, partly because the answer seemed to be pretty well addressed by other members..
    – Atheos
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 15:59
  • Mary fits with my hypothesis that each of the women was involved in a relation that was potentially open to accusations of sexual impropriety and/or violating the law on intermarriage. Commented Dec 26, 2023 at 1:15

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