I quote here from the so-called King James Version, feeling that it must surely by now be exempt from copyright. (Though I am more than willing to give credit to Bible Gateway for putting it on-line. The verses below are snipped from that source.)
1The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren;
3And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;
4And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon;
5And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse;
6And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias;
7And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa;
8And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias;
9And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias;
10And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias;
11And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon:
12And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel;
13And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor;
14And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud;
15And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob;
16And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
17So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations
Thus the Gospel According to Matthew, placed by the Church at the beginning of the New Testament, places a genealogy at the beginning of its story. The "boring begats" are at the beginning of the beginning of the Greatest Story Ever Told. Generally, anything placed at the beginning of a story is something very significant. Whether 20th and 21st century children would giggle or not, the matter of Jesus' ancestry (or - rather - his mother's husband's ancestry) appears to have been considered very important both when the gospel itself was written and also later when the Christian portion of the Bible itself was put together.
There is more to ponder here than we might at first have thought. Why does the gospel-writer believe that this genealogy is important? It doesn't culminate, as we might have expected, with "Joseph begat Jesus", and thus doesn't offer evidence that Jesus had what we would call "good genes". In fact, the same gospel will go on in the next few verses to flatly tell us that Joseph did not beget Jesus.
One complicating factor here is that the author/editor of the gospel in its present form may not be the same person who compiled the genealogy. The disciple named Matthew or Levi may or may not have contributed some of the material recorded in this gospel, but it seems pretty clear to most readers that he was not the single author of it (and nowhere in the gospel itself does it remotely claim that he is, by the way). The gospel as we have it appears to be a compilation of material from many sources. The final author/editor has inserted clarifications, interpretations and transitions but has usually (it seems to me) been very respectful of the sources themselves, preserving some details because they were there even if they didn't necessarily support the point being made. Thus, the possibility exists that the final author preserved the genealogy of Joseph because it was there in his source material and not because he himself saw its importance in the same light. It would have been possible, if the author were less scrupulous, to say in verse 16 that "Judah begat Mary" instead of "Judah begat Joseph", and thus bring the only-begotten son of God into David's line on his mother's side. But that's not the kind of author we are dealing with.
That, however, just pushes the question back a step. If the final author/editor of the gospel didn't write this genealogy, then an earlier writer did and that writer, too, must have had some ground for doing so, and some ground (I believe) for doing so in good faith. Like most modern readers, I have little interest in Jesus' biological ancestry per se. My belief in Him and acceptance of His authority does not rest on his descent, or lack thereof, from Abraham or David. But it is important to me that the writer of this gospel is a person of integrity.
I take it that the writer of this gospel was a sincere believer in Jesus Christ, who saw Jesus' mission in the context of the whole history of Israel, and who saw Him in some sense as the fulfillment of certain promises by God to the people of Israel, including the promise of a divinely anointed successor to the throne of David. In the light of that belief, the gospel writer naturally would think that Jesus was descended from David (if not biologically, then in the sense of being in David's "household"). This is a logical deduction within its own terms. For most of the details of the genealogy, then, the writer need only turn to existing Hebrew scripture, which already provided a list of the descendants of Abraham and of David up to a certain time.
Finally, I think it's worth noticing that this genealogy is not only a list of men. Barbara E. Reid, author of the commentary "The Gospel According to Matthew" (Liturgical Press; Collegeville Minnesota) points out that
The linear progression of thirty-nine male ancestors is broken at four points by the names of women. They are not the ones who would immediately come to mind as great figures from Israel's past. Each has an unusual twist to her story. Tamar (v.3), after being widowed, took decisive action to coerce her father-in-law, Judah, to provide an heir for her (Gen 38). She conceived Perez and Zerah, who continued the Davidic line. Tamar is the only woman in Hebrew scriptures who is called righteous (Genesis 38:26), a term that is of central importance to Matthew. Rahab (v.5) a prostitute in Jericho (Joshua 2), risked disobeying the orders of the king of Jericho and sheltered spies sent from Joshua to reconnoiter the land... Ruth, a Moabite woman, returned with her mother-in-law, Naomi to Bethlehem rather than stay with her own people after her husband Mahlon died... Finally the wife of Uriah is the one who bore David's son after David arranged to have Uriah killed in battle (2 Samuel 11).
Each story speaks of how women took bold actions outside the bounds of regular patriarchal marriage to enable God's purposes to be brought to fruition in unexpected ways. Not only were the circumstances unusual, but some of these women were also outsiders to Israel. Remembering their stories prepares for the extraordinay circumstances of Jesus' birth and the salvation he will ultimately extend to those outside Israel (28:19). The women's presence in the midst of the male ancestors of Jesus also signals the integral role that women disciples play in the community of Jesus' followers. They remind the reader that women are not marginal to the history of Israel or Christianity.
Comments are not only welcomed, but pleaded for.
- - Rich Accetta-Evans