Dec 23, 2009

Bailey on the Women in Jesus' Genealogy

Ken Bailey notes the following four points concerning Matthew’s inclusion of four women in Jesus’ genealogy.

1. He includes men and women. This is major. Jesus included women into his band of disciples (Lk 8:1–3) and women have a prominent place in his ministry. His teachings are often geared for both men and women listeners. Matthew may have included women on his genealogy as a sign of the new kingdom of God, where there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not ‘male and female’” (Gal 3:28, my translation).

2. He includes Jews and Gentiles. If Matthew wanted to include Jews and Gentiles in his genealogy, how could he do so? All the males in the family tree were Jews. The only way he could include Gentiles at the beginning of his Gospel, looking forward to “The Great Commission” at its end (Mt 28:18–20), was to include these women. Ruth and Rahab were Gentiles, Tamar was probably a Gentile, and Bathsheba was originally married to a Gentile. The starting fact of the presence of women in “a men’s club” (a genealogy) would catch the attention of and first-century Jewish reader/listener. After some reflection that same reader/listener might catch the Gentile connection between the beginning and the end of the Gospel.

3. Among the women selected Matthew included saints and sinners. Tamar struggles for justice and was called “righteous.” Yet she slept wither her father-in-law. Rahab appears on stage as a prostitute. Bathsheba commits adultery and is certainly not innocent. Ruth, by contrast, is a saint throughout the book that carries her name. Mary’s saintliness concludes the account.

4. All four women demonstrate intelligence, boldness and courage. As Raymond Brown writes, “The women showed initiative or played an important role in God’s plan and so came to be considered the instrument of God’s providence or of His Holy Spirit.”

Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2008), 42.

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