"Genealogy (from Greek: γενεά, genea, "descent"; and λόγος, logos, "knowledge") is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history.... often displayed in charts or written as narratives." (Wikipedia)What do names from the past have to do with life today? For the Christian the answer is everything. God's story is essentially the answer to the question "who's your father?"
Genealogy and The Gospel as Adoption
Someone did the research and I'm the 21st in a line of Bish's in Britain, a line traced back to 1269 and a guy called Johes de la Bysse, via five Henry's (surnamed Bysshe, Bishe, Bish...) one of whom was an MP in the 1600s, and there's one Sir too. Having a wierd name and access to a long family tree makes me just a little interested in genealogy. The same data tells me that the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, husband of Mary Shelley, is my seventh cousin, six times removed. Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair...
On the one hand my dad is called Derek, but Jesus tells me that I'm either a son of the devil (John 8:44) or a son of the Father, adopted in Christ, (Galatians 4:6-7). This is an ongoing battle of genealogy tracing back to Genesis 3 with the line of the Woman and the line of the Serpent. Which line you're in matters eternally, but God's universe is one in which there is adoption and so we're not captive to our ancestry.
Genealogy and The Gospel of Jesus
Jesus' genealogy is the one that matters above all. He is, the Son of his Father, and that's how we know God. The Son signifies the Father, the Father is the father of the Son who images God to his world. And the Spirit is the spirit of the Son. We know the Trinity through the familial relationships of the Son of God.
We're also given more detailed genealogies of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 4. The 21st Century western reader tends to skip genealogies, and so Matthew's gospel tends to start for us at Matthew 1:19 and we find ourselves moving very swiftly through the second half of Luke 3.
Matthew's genealogy of Jesus
Matthew's genealogy emphasises two things about Jesus in a line from Abraham to his adopted father Joseph. It's a royal line that highlights Jesus as the Son of Abraham and the Son of David. The Son through whom blessing comes to the whole world (Genesis 12-25) who will send his disciples to all nations. Jesus is also the Son of the King whose Son would be the great king forever and God's son (2 Samuel 7). Graeme Goldsworthy calls him "great David's greater Son", with all authority to bring his teaching to the world, until the end of the age. Matthew's genealogy bookends his gospel along with the great commission.
Matthew's gospel is often called a Jewish gospel because of the amount of Old Testament fulfillments ("this was to fulfill what is written...") and the opening genealogy. Matthew's gospel is a Whole Bible Christianity, and turns out to emphasise the universal reach of God's salvation. Matthew tells us that Christianity is global, not just for Jews.
Luke's genealogy of Jesus
Luke's genealogy is different, it traces from Jesus, to his adopted father Joseph and then back to Adam the Son of God. Rather than following the royal line of Joseph of the tribe of Judah this has different names, perhaps his actual genealogy, and emphasises that Jesus is the true Israel (God's firstborn son) and is like Adam a Son of God. This is included prior to Jesus' temptation by the devil where he will not fail like Israel, and where his divine sonship will be tested. See Three Sons and the Devil by David Gibson for more on this.
Skipping out on Jesus' genealogies strips him of much of his identity, and robs us of riches of worship that we might give him. Losing Jesus' genealogies also detaches him from his Old Testament roots. And it's an insult to Matthew and Luke who carefully gathered their material to prove to us who Jesus is, and didn't make editorial oversights in including these genealogies. And further, an affront to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to presume that because genealogies don't easily satisfy fortune cookie Bible reading we can play "Jesus seminar" and overlook them.
To be continued - looking at some of the genealogies in the Bible, and their contributions to the books they're included in.
Also: Wired.com on baby naming, ht: Challies