All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…
(2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)
Note the claim: ALL Scripture is profitable. Unless, of course, believers avoid parts of the Bible they consider incomprehensible, even “boring”. This unwittingly leads to a “canon within a canon” mindset whereby some Scriptures are regarded as more special than others. But if we take the apostle’s words at face value, then all Scripture yields value. The key is knowing how to delve into a biblical passage—however enigmatic—to discover it.
One passage that, on the surface, appears rather unexciting (dull, even) is Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew chapter 1. At first glance it is just a long list of names and the oft repeated phrase “was the father of”. How can this text possibly be theologically profitable? Let’s consider.
It is generally agreed Matthew was written for a Jewish audience. It draws upon the Old Testament more than most New Testament books, seeking to demonstrate Jesus was the promised Messiah. Different scholars also point to its apologetic elements, style, structure and hermeneutics.
Herein lies a crucial aspect of Matthew’s genealogy: it serves as a critical point of continuity between the Old and New Testaments. I recall the testimony many years ago of a Messianic believer explaining how when they read the New Testament for the first time they immediately encountered the familiar names from the Jewish scriptures they knew so well.
Also, Matthew constructs his genealogy around three lists of 14 generations but misses out several appearing in the Old Testament. Thus, Matthew’s genealogy is stylised, not so much to achieve symmetry but rather focus on the number 14. Hebrew letters have a numerical value and David’s name (dalet – vav – dalet) totals 14. Thus, in his genealogy Matthew 1) demonstrates how Jesus stands in continuity with Israel’s past and key characters, 2) establishes Jesus’ legal claim to the throne of David, and 3) by repeatedly drawing upon the number 14 drives home the point that Jesus is truly the son of David (Israel’s archetypal king), which is a key motif in the gospels. This numerical assignment to letters is known as gematria and would have had particular resonance with Matthew’s Jewish readership.
Incidentally, some believers struggle with human input, such as stylised content, believing the Bible was divinely dictated word for word. Yet the Bible clearly exhibits human participation, whether Luke’s desire to prepare an “orderly account” (1:1-3), or Mark’s rough Greek compared with, say, Luke’s more polished version. Either God dictated good Greek to one and rough Greek to another, or the Bible draws upon human input, albeit under divine supervision to retain inspiration and inerrancy. Thus, Matthew’s stylised genealogy makes perfect sense given his audience and purpose.
Matthew’s genealogy, then, yields plenty to reflect upon (for those interested we have a much more detailed post about the genealogy). And we have only scratched the surface, with much more to extract from a passage all too frequently glossed over. Yet doing so requires the necessary tools to study Scripture, not only devotionally but also exegetically. The KEDS Bachelor of Theology (see link below) is precisely to provide those hermeneutical methods and tools.