The Christmas Gospel 1

I want to do a series of brief posts reflecting on the gospel that Christmas declares. I begin today where the New Testament begins with the gospel: the genealogy of Matthew (1:1-17). Here we find a list of names, but the names are ordered into a message.

There are three major points in the geneaology: Jesus is the King/Messiah, Jesus is a descendant of David, and Jesus is a descendant of Abraham. There you have it : from Abraham to David to Jesus, the Messiah/King. The gospel, which is what Matthew is, begins by telling us something vitally important about Jesus: he is the fulfillment of the Story that runs from Abraham’s election to David’s appointment as king (forever). The genealogy is a nutshell expression of the New Testament’s gospel: see my book, The King Jesus Gospel.

Abraham can represent both Israel and the Gentiles. How so? Clearly, God’s way of dealing with human problems in Genesis 4-11 is to form one covenant people, eventually Israel, and Abraham was that person. But the Jewish context also tells us that Abraham was a Gentile, that he was eventually classed as a proselyte, and that he represents in Matthew’s gospel the expansion of the gospel to Gentiles, beginning with the magi of Matthew 2:1-12 and finishing off with the mission to the world in Matthew 28:16-20.

David’s place in this geneaology is clear: he was the king and he became the ideal king and he was the one on whom Israel focused its hopes from the exile on. Someday, it was said, we will have a king like David and borders as wide as David’s. That Matthew orders the genealogy into groups of fourteen carries on this “David” theme: David’s name in Hebrew, which did not have numbers but used letters, is D-V-D and that adds up to “14.” So the 14 theme is all David. The genealogy of Jesus is a 14 genealogy.

Yet, I see one more theme here: not only is Jesus Abrahamic and Davidic, he comes from some odd inclusions: there are four unusual women in the geneaology of Jesus, each noted for what could be seen as a sexual irregularity overcome by God’s grace and plan: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and the wife of Uriah. This sets the stage not only for Jesus but also for Mary.

So, what is the Christmas gospel? It is to tell the Story of God in this world beginning with Abraham, flowing through David, finding its way to King Jesus but also including all sorts of folks who find their way into the People of God.

Matthew 1:1-17

1 This is the genealogyof Jesus the Messiahthe son of David, the son of Abraham:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
4 Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
6 and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
9 Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah,
11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiahand his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

12 After the exile to Babylon:
Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,

Abihud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
14 Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Elihud,
15 Elihud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

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  • Rick

    “begins by telling us something vitally important about Jesus: he is the fulfillment of the Story that runs from Abraham’s election to David’s appointment as king (forever).”

    Would this be something that falls under “according to the Scriptures” in 1 Cor. 15?

  • Scot McKnight

    Rick, sure would!

  • Terry

    Scot, I’m so looking forward to this short series of posts. Upon reading through The King Jesus Gospel the first time, and it resonating so, I determined to tell that story, that way, in particular to use the Gospel story as expressed by you in chapter 10, on Christmas day when our congregation gathers for worship. It takes about 15 minutes to read and will not only tell the story well, but will express a pinnacle in the revelation of the Incarnation. I’m sure these posts will further inform our plans and celebration.

  • Scot, yes, yes, yes! Great post.

  • Scot McKnight


    I think we’ve finally found something where we agree! God Bless Us Every One!

  • Matthew is careful to mention the Babylonian exile — it serves as the final delineation in his three sets of fourteen generations. So we should be careful not to overlook the significance of that exile in Israel’s story, and what the coming of Messiah means in regard to that.

    I was reading and thinking about Matthew 1-2 in my devotional time this morning. Many things stand out for me now in regard to the gospel of King Jesus and His kingdom. I’m also seeing how, when Matthew speaks of this or that fulfilling what was written or spoken by the prophets, it is not necessarily prophecies, as such, but the whole story of Israel that is being fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah.

  • Benj B

    Sometime within the past few years the Gentile link with the women mentioned in the genealogy was pointed out to me. Tamar and Rahab were Gentiles, and Bathsheba was married to a Gentile. So Matthew is already showing us that the gospel is for the Gentiles also.

  • Amos Paul

    I appreciate this post. I’ve, randomly, heard quite a few sermon’s on Matthew’s geneology lately (mainly focusing on the women)… but it’s frustrated me that pastors so often miss the overall *story* impact of the geneology. And it’s obvious that such is what it must be, for Matthew *didn’t* record the entire geneology and, moreover, put together a very different story-geneology than Luke did.

  • davey

    Rather than Abraham, and the ethnic nation that developed from both his progeny and outsiders joining, I prefer to take Jesus as the focus, for both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus is Israel, and all in him are Israel. Abraham is in Christ, not Christ in Abraham. Abraham was told that Israel would come, and it came in Jesus, not Abraham.

  • Nick

    It’s funny that people often use the genealogy to note how boring the new testament is but when it’s explained it’s freakin’ awesome!

  • Bruce

    That’s exactly right, but what do we do with the fact that the last “fourteen generations” seems to be only thirteen? I’ve never heard a satisfactory answer to that one. Thanks.

  • DRT

    Please delete if, well, you know….

    We should move Jesus birthday to another day, perhaps in April. All of this stuff about Christians and Christmas is really getting to me.

  • Craig Wright

    I just gave a lesson to an adult Sunday School class on this subject yesterday. Besides pointing out the women, and the Gentiles, we also noted as you did, that Abraham was a Gentile. There is also the element of the second or fourth born who is recognized (Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and Perez). Then there are the very colorful stories of the each of the women, that would be scandalous in our day. Also, there is the inclusion of not just Gentiles, but cursed groups, such as a Canaanite and a Moabite. One of the class members works with foreign students at USC and he wanted to be able to share all of this with Muslims, Hindus, and atheists. The Bible is so unique in this sense.

  • Craig Wright

    Here is another interesting point about this passage. In verses 7-8, there is a list of fathers and sons, that range from good to bad and bad to good, which caused Thomas Fuller (17th Century) to make this comment, “I see, Lord, from this, that my father’s piety cannot be handed on; that is bad news for me. But I also see that actual impiety is not always hereditary; that is good news for my son.”

  • Great stuff, Scot! I’ve covered the same passage from a slightly different angle now:

  • fantastic post….the beginning of Matthew has so much to say to our world and culture today. The gospel according to Matthew’s genealogy communicates the the good news of Jesus’ arrival as inclusive; meaning everyone can come to Jesus and receive and be a part of his grace, peace and forgiveness!

  • Tim Atwater

    The gentiles connections are very strong and relate to other biblical mega themes.
    Tamar (Gentile) is called by Judah ‘more in the right than I’ — maybe the bible’s first kinda-sorta apology?
    Rahab (Gentile) is honored by James and Hebrews as a model of faith. She’s also a hooker, and a precedent for Jesus’ welcoming of prostitutes and tax collectors (financial hookers in context?)

    Ruth (Gentile) marries into the Bethlehem community and the whole community of Bethlehem’s women name her son Obed… The Moabite-Israelite presages the breaching of the ban on Moabites in marriage in Deuteronomy that’s consummated fully in Christ

    Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, reminds of David’s mortality and that sin is still at work in the saints… and a preface to kingdom of Jesus’ inclusivity and new creationality, etc…

    Mary is the fifth woman of faith in this lineage — five being a big number in Matthew, with the five discourses and Torah echoes throughout…

    I read this genealogy last year about this time of year…outloud in church and preached on it. Afterwards one elderly parishioner thanked me saying, ‘i am a genealogist and i love to hear a genealogy read aloud…’ (she’s also a retired town clerk who knows all the names in town, and a town and church historian… ) genealogies may be geeky, but, there may be more geeks out there than we expect….
    Another parishioner, a young newly married guy in his early twenties, said afterwards the 42 theme had him thinking about A Hitchhikers’ guide to the Universe. I asked about that (haven’t read it) and he said the ultimate? or penultimate question in the book is asked of a great computer — what’s the meaning of life? and the answer is 42. (check me on this readers of the book but) — what i remember him saying then was the people ask the computer what do you mean by 42? and the answer comes back as 14 times 3…
    (Midrash we knew not whereof?)

    As to the 14th name (missing) in the last trio of names — my guess is we’re supposed to take that name on ourselves — and be with Joseph the fathers and step fathers of the Messiah in this generation… It’s all got a dot dot dot… to be continued quality (like Acts 28 etc…)?


  • In the summary of the genealogy in 1:17 David is indeed emphasized, as is the exile (both mentioned twice). The exile brings a note a contrast to the “good news” of the Christ. For the 14 generations from David to the exile were all kings, whose mostly disobedient reigns led to God’s punishment of exile. Indeed, while David was a mostly obedient king, he introduces the generations of kings after him by being described as fathering Solomon by the wife of Uriah (whom he killed in order to steal Bathsheba).

    So the genealogy not only introduces the good news of the new king–and a kingdom that will include Gentiles–it also sets the stage for Jesus’ conflict with the disobedient rulers of the kingdom of Israel (including the scribes and Pharisees, who ruled over the local synagogues). This is the main plot conflict in the gospel story.

  • TJJ

    A very nice post which reflects the fact that Matthews geneology was crafted pursuant to theological and thematic purposes and statements, but not with any serious historical historical purpose or intent. What do we say about a gospel account that begins this way?