Calvin's Harmony of the Gospels: Genealogy
The Ancestry of Jesus from Jesse onward, Basilica of St. Denis, France.
Matt 1:1-17 / Luke 3:23-38: The Genesis of Jesus
Mt 1: 1 An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, 4 and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, 5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.
Lk 3: 23 Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli, 24 son of Matthat, son of Levi, son of Melchi, son of Jannai, son of Joseph, 25 son of Mattathias, son of Amos, son of Nahum, son of Esli, son of Naggai, 26 son of Maath, son of Mattathias, son of Semein, son of Josech, son of Joda, 27 son of Joanan, son of Rhesa, son of Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, son of Neri, 28 son of Melchi, son of Addi, son of Cosam, son of Elmadam, son of Er, 29 son of Joshua, son of Eliezer, son of Jorim, son of Matthat, son of Levi, 30 son of Simeon, son of Judah, son of Joseph, son of Jonam, son of Eliakim, 31 son of Melea, son of Menna, son of Mattatha, son of Nathan, son of David, 32 son of Jesse, son of Obed, son of Boaz, son of Sala, son of Nahshon, 33 son of Amminadab, son of Admin, son of Arni, son of Hezron, son of Perez, son of Judah, 34 son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, son of Terah, son of Nahor, 35 son of Serug, son of Reu, son of Peleg, son of Eber, son of Shelah, 36 son of Cainan, son of Arphaxad, son of Shem, son of Noah, son of Lamech, 37 son of Methuselah, son of Enoch, son of Jared, son of Mahalaleel, son of Cainan, 38 son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.
The different genealogies presented by the gospel writers becomes the occasion for Calvin to demonstrate his critical skills as a scholar. He first notes a common explanations for the differences: that the two writers trace Jesus’ lineage from Joseph (Matthew) and Mary (Luke), resulting in the differences in names listed (see chart below). In Calvin’s estimation the arguments proposed to make this point fall short. What seems obvious to Calvin is that each gospel writer’s intention is to remove any doubt about Joseph and Mary’s royal lineage and connection to David in spite of their low station.
The differences that are notable, Calvin writes, are:
that Luke goes in reverse while Matthew goes in chronological order.
Matthew only goes back to Abraham while Luke goes back to Adam.
Matthew, using the trope of three sets of 14, limits himself to Jesus’ legal lineage, skipping some steps in the genealogy, while Luke is more concerned with the natural line of descent.
the genealogies use different names for the same generations.
Regarding the second point, it Calvin argues that Matthew is more concerned to root the salvation accomplished in Christ to God’s covenant with Abraham. Luke, in contrast, has in his vision the universal condition of human sin inherited from Adam, and therefore, the salvation that is required by all humans. In this regard, Luke emphasizes the universality of Christ’s atonement, at least in its sufficiency.
On the third point, Calvin explains the difference in descent from David’s thrown as a difference between legal and natural descent. By nature (Luke), Jesus is descended from the line of Nathan. By law, however, he must be descended from Solomon (Matt) since Solomon is the one who ascended to the thrown after David. If Jesus is going to claim the thrown as the rightful heir, he must have a legal claim.
The great diversity of names between the two accounts (point 4), Calvin chalks up to the fact that after the Babylonian exile, some men would have been known by two different names—one a Hebrew name and the other a Babylonian name.
Whether or not these points are upheld by contemporary critical scholarship is an interesting question, but one I will not investigate here. What seems most interesting at this point is the way in which Calvin critically reevaluates common explanations from the church’s pre-critical tradition, willingly dispensing with explanations that do not hold up to the text itself.
The Book of the Generation (Matt 1:1-17)
In the reminder of this section, Calvin follow’s Matthew’s genealogy in commentary. The clear point of the genealogy, for Calvin, is that Jesus is established as a Son of Adam and a Son of David. Therefore, Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises to each.
Among the points that are worth mentioning:
That Matthew does not list Ishmael along Isaac or Esau along Jacob and yet he includes Judah’s brothers, means that Jesus’ fulfillment of the covenant applies not only to the tribe of Judah but to all twelve tribes (v. 2).
That Matthew lists the women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary) and their scandalous births means that Matthew is demonstrating the extent to which Jesus’s incarnation is an act of self-emptying and humility along the lines of Paul’s famous description in Phil 2 (v. 3).
That David alone is acknowledged by his royal title as king prefigures Christ’s own messianic office (v. 6).
The former point is further emphasized when Matthew introduces Jesus as the one “who is called Christ”, invoking all of the messianic and royal expectations that developed around David’s heir.