Monthly Article December 2013 – The Book of the Genealogy

by Dr John Watterson

Since we are approaching Christmas, it seems appropriate to look at the testimony of the Bible to the origin of Jesus the Messiah. In particular, this article considers the witness of Matthew, and how his witness carries echoes of the creation account of Genesis.

Matthew opens his account of the birth of Jesus with the words, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). The only other places where the Greek phrase translated in English “the book of the genealogy” is found is in the Septuagint rendering of Genesis 2:4 and 5:1.

Genesis 2:4 says, “These are the generations [Septuagint: ‘this is the book of the genealogy’] of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” Rather than referring back to the creation account of chapter 1, these words introduce the unravelling of the history of creation in chapters 2 to 4. They suggest the question, “Having been created, what happened next?” The subsequent narrative gives its answer in a highly structured fashion which places Adam’s decisive act of disobedience at its very centre.

It is probable that Matthew’s use of the phrase “the book of the genealogy” is meant to draw attention to the fact that the coming of Jesus the Messiah signified a new creation with new potentiality. It begs the question, “What will this new creation do? Will it fail through disobedience as the first creation did?” The subsequent narrative makes it clear that history is not going to be repeated. The new creation overcomes the tempter, not in a garden paradise, but in the wilderness.

The only other occurrence of the phrase “the book of the genealogy” is in Genesis 5:1. Chapter 4 tells us that Adam and Eve have had two sons; the elder has killed the younger, and then the elder has been banished; he departs and becomes the founding father of a degenerate race, characterised by arrogance, bigamy and murder; the impression is given that the wheels have come off the history of creation. Against this distressing background chapter 5 announces a new beginning. Verses 1-2 of that chapter read, “This is the book of the generations [Septuagint: ‘this is the book of the genealogy’] of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.” The grammatical arrangement of the verses is strikingly similar to Genesis 2:4, and the content is a summary of the account of the creation of mankind (Genesis 1:26-30). It says, in effect, that God will not allow human history to go entirely off the rails; he appoints (which in Hebrew sounds like the name “Seth”) a new heir for Adam to be the head of the new human family.

Again, it seems probable that Matthew used the phrase “the book of the genealogy” because of its association with Genesis 5 and the new humanity. In the midst of a degenerate race, fast tracking towards judgment, Jesus has been appointed the head of the new human family.

The application is urgent. We are all either part of the old creation or the new; we are all either members of the old human family or the new.

If we belong to the old, we are deeply and inextricably implicated in the rebellion of Adam in Eden; and consequently we are also deeply and inextricably implicated in the frustration of the potentiality of creation. But a new beginning is offered in Jesus the Messiah. He is the embodiment of the new creation, whose powers have not been enslaved and corrupted by disobedience. To belong to him is to be part of the new beginning: it is to share in the power and the potential of the new creation.

In the same way, if you maintain your distance from Jesus and his claim to be the Promised Messiah, you are also maintaining your distance from the new humanity. And that means that you are choosing to remain part of the old human family which is doomed to die. Life is found only in the new family of which Jesus is the head.

This Christmas, when you hear readings from Matthew’s Gospel telling of the birth of Jesus the Messiah, remember and reflect on the new creation and the new humanity Matthew tells us Jesus brought.