Interpretation principals

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To better understand the genealogy of Jesus, it is important to know some of the notions Jews had regarding ancestral records. This section discusses property rights, prophecies, and Jewish use of the word son.

Property rights

Jews carefully maintained accurate genealogical records. They did so primarily because property rights in Israel were linked to family heritage.

When the Jews settled in Israel, the tribes were given portions of the land as an inheritance. Families within each tribe were given parcels of that land. The land could be farmed, developed, or sold. Every 50 years a dispossessed family could lay claim to the parcel of land which their ancestors had received when it was originally distributed.

Individuals who could not trace their family had no inheritance in the nation of Israel. They were treated as dispossessed foreigners. This factor alone contributed strongly to the Jewish preoccupation with genealogies.


Prophecies also contributed to Jewish interest in genealogies. God had promised several people that the messiah would be one of their descendants. To prove this descent, it was important to maintain accurate genealogical records. The table below shows the promises and their fulfillment.

Person Promise Fulfillment
Adam Genesis 3:15 Luke 3:38
Abraham Genesis 22:18 Matthew 1:1-2, Luke 3:34
Judah Genesis 49:10, Micah 5:2 Matthew 1:2-3, Luke 3:33
Jesse Isaiah 11:1, 10 Matthew 1:5-6, Luke 3:33
David 2nd Samuel 7:12-13 Matthew 1:1 & 6, Luke 3:31

Use of the word "son"

The Jews did not use the word son in a limited sense, as we do today. Rather, in Hebrew genealogies a son could be any male descendant or an even more distant relation.

Matthew 1:1 states Jesus was the "son of David, the son of Abraham." This appears to indicate that David was the father of Jesus, and Abraham was his grandfather. A Jew would have understood that Matthew did not mean there was only one generation between these men; but that Jesus was a descendant of David, who was a descendant of Abraham. This fact is born out in the verses that follow (Matthew 1:2-17).

In the Jewish mind, the word son could be applied to one who was not a literal, first generation son, as is commonly understood today. It could mean a descendant; which could be a grandson, great grandson, or son of a more distant generation.

Genealogical abridgement

The custom of skipping generations can be called "genealogical abridgement." Genealogical abridgement occurs not only in Matthew 1:1, but also in the Old Testament. Compare Ezra 7:3 with 1st Chronicles 6:7-10, and you can see how Ezra deliberately skipped six generations from Meriaoth to Azariah (son of Johanan).

Son could also be used to describe kinship without sonship. Although Zerubbabel was the nephew of Shealtiel (1st Chronicles 3:17-19), he was called the "son of Shealtiel" (Ezra 3:2, Nehemiah 12:1, Haggai 1:12).

Jair is another example of this principle. He was a distant son-in-law of Manasseh (1st Chronicles 2:21-23 and 7:14-15); yet, he was called the "son of Manasseh" (Numbers 32:41, Deuteronomy 3:14, 1st Kings 4:13).

The point to remember is that the word son can be applied to several types of relationships.

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