Women in the Line of Christ: May It Never be?Posted: December 8, 2010
(Post by Ben Thocher)
Looking closely at Matthew’s genealogy we observe another interesting feature: women! If you read just about any genealogy from the Old Testament it will be comprised exclusively of men. Why? The world of the Old Testament was a patriarchal society – that is, it was concerned almost exclusively with men. Procreation was primarily seen as the action and achievement of men. To not have a child (specifically a son) – even if the woman was barren – was a mark of dishonor for the husband. It was shameful. So the appearance of women in the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah is strange. It happens four times (five including Mary), as Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba are all included in Matthew’s family overview.
Now, if you’ve read through the Old Testament, and you’re looking for some exemplary women to hold up, you’d probably first consider Rachel, Leah, or Sarah – the matriarchs of Israel. These were women of strong faith and good reputation. The women included in Matthew’s genealogy are in many ways the opposite of this ideal. They were women of scandal, women of disrepute. So what’s the point? Why include these women in the lineage of Jesus the Messiah?
Four possible options:
First, Matthew has included these women to draw attention to their non-Jewish background. None of these women are Jews! This is going to be an important theme for Matthew. The primary issue in the New Testament church that we see addressed again and again is the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Gentiles, as non-Jews, were strangers to the promises of Israel. Suddenly, Jesus comes on the scene and Gentiles are put on equal ground with Jews. There is no discrimination in Christ! Matthew is then preparing his readers for this reality by carefully selecting these women and including them here.
Second, Matthew has intentionally chosen women of scandal and disrepute to prepare his audience for the virgin birth of Jesus. If God can use these women, these shameful women, to accomplish his purposes then it should come as no surprise when Mary arrives on the scene pregnant by the Holy Spirit. This would then seem to be an apologetic on Matthew’s behalf. He is explaining to his audience why the virgin birth is not something to be ashamed of, but rather something to be praised!
Third, these women, as Gentiles, do have stories of tremendous faith. Their stories of faith come at crucial points in Israel’s history. Their “pagan” faith is superior to that of Israel’s men. Tamar’s faith helps further the line of Judah (Patriarchal period), Rahab’s faith helps the conquest get underway (Conquest generation), Ruth’s faith and actions lead directly to the birth of David the King (time of the Judges) and Bathsheba’s actions bring about Solomon, the great son of David (time of the Monarchy).
Fourth, these women are included because they are, in fact, women. The point being made is that the time of Patriarchal genealogies is over. Men and women are equal and co-heirs in Christ. This is a profound point, and one that Paul is careful to make in Gal 3:27-29 and Eph 2:11-22. The gospel re-orients and re-focuses the way we look at gender roles.