.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

24 January 2007

A Return to Rahab

Q: Your most recent reply concerning Boaz brought something to mind: In Matthew’s genealogy, I noticed that Rahab appears to be described as the mother of Boaz. I always understood that the Rahab listed in the genealogy is the same that sheltered the spies. Does the genealogy skip certain generations, so that Rahab is actually the foremother, or ancestor, of Boaz? Or do the years actually add up between Joshua and David for her to be his actual mother? I’ve also heard that the Matthean genealogy may skip generations.

RababA: Matthew clearly notes “Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab. (1:5)” If this Rahab was the same woman spoken of in Joshua 2:1, then an obvious skip of several generations had to take place. The time of the Judges began after Joshua’s death and ran a bit over three hundred years, from roughly 1375 BC until about 1043 BC, with the anointing of Saul. Since the fall of Jericho took place right after Joshua led Israel across the Jordan, you’d be looking at a very old woman bearing Boaz.

Even if there were multiple women named Rahab, that fact alone wouldn’t come close to bridging the tremendous gap in years presented by the first Gospel’s family tree. The easiest solution is to pay close attention to the very first words of this book. The evangelist wrote, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. (1:1)” As he began laying out the list of Jesus’ ancestors, Matthew plainly told us that he might be skipping over some generations.

Jesus, Mary, and JosephWe know that biologically speaking, Jesus was the son of Mary and the (supposed) son of Joseph while David was the son of Jesse, not Abraham. Then we need to remember that Matthew and Luke had different audiences each wanted to maintain special foci. A comparison with the Lukan genealogy (3:23-38) shows several differences with that of Matthew. For example, Luke records 18 generations from Zerubbabel to Joseph while Matthew only notes 9.

Matthew highlighted what might be called a legal sonship, connecting Jesus closely with the kings, of whom He was the last and the greatest. Meanwhile, Luke provided a more complete picture of our Lord’s biological parentage. Luke also went back before the Patriarchs, eventually connecting to Adam and, finally, to God. Matthew began with Abraham’s Covenant, keeping the genealogy within the house of Israel.

Jesus' Matthean GenealogyThese different perspectives make more sense when we remember that the primary audience of Matthew likely was Jewish believers while Luke first of all concerned himself with the understanding of the Gentile Theophilus (1:1-4). Yet at the same time, while Matthew’s account sounds more “Jewish” than Luke’s, the former pointedly included several Gentile women in the list.

A number of scholars believe also that Matthew’s list reflected Joseph’s family line while Luke presented that of Mary. Many early Christian theologians, including Origen, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Athanasius, and Justin Martyr, supported this idea. Joseph could have been listed as the son of Heli by Luke because of property laws. If Mary had no brothers, she would have been heiress of her father’s fortune and her husband Joseph would have been reckoned in her father’s family for inheritance purposes. Thus, Joseph could have been Jacob’s biological son yet, by marriage, Heli’s legal son (see Numbers 36 for the reasoning behind this law).

Lukan Genealogy of Jesus ChristConnected with this law of inheritance is a persistent understanding among Jews that one’s “Jewishness” is inherited through the mother. If this understanding was in place at the time of Luke’s writing, then the Holy Spirit would have made sure to associate Jesus to David directly through His mother. Meanwhile, an indirect argument for the understanding that Matthew documented Joseph’s ancestry while Luke focused on that of Mary may be taken from their nativity accounts. Matthew quite plainly focused on Joseph’s place in the story while much of Luke 1 ties directly to Mary and her family, especially her cousin Elizabeth.

Perhaps no single Scriptural argument could fully convince me but the combined weight of the “circumstances” surrounding these texts leads me to believe that the above considerations are true. Therefore, I’d say that the “Rahab” of Joshua 2, Hebrews 11:31, and James 2:25 was the same person Matthew calls Boaz’s father in 1:5. Also, Matthew emphasized Jesus as a son of Abraham and a Davidic heir while Luke’s pre-covenant origins better embrace the Gentiles while at the same time provide a more extensive chain of evidence for the fullness of Christ’s humanity. Then a comparison of the two accounts with each other and with all of the Old Testament leads us to the conclusion that Matthew did, indeed, omit quite a few members of Jesus’ family in order to keep the numeric symmetry of three sets of fourteen generations.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

Send email to Ask the Pastor.

Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

Technorati Tags: | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home