Unlocking The Gospels With Tanach: Matthew

Happy New Year, my dear readers! Most of us love new beginnings – and most of us enter a new year with some wonderful New Year resolutions. No doubt some of my readers have decided to read through the whole Bible during this year! Last year, we spent a lot of time talking about the book of Genesis. This year, I am intending to provide more comments on the Jewish roots of the New Testament.
And what could be more appropriate for the very beginning of the new year than an article discussing the very beginning of this book?

 

TWO PARTS OF THE SAME BOOK

There is a clear division between the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament” in every Christian Bible. The words “Old Testament” are very misleading though: one might think that one doesn’t really need to know the Old in order to know the New. In fact, quite the opposite is true: the New Testament comes as the end of this Book and thus can never be understood properly without reading the beginning.  However, if this name is a misnomer indeed, how then should we name the Old Testament?

Here in Israel, we call it Tanakh (תַּנַ”ךְ‎‎), which is an acronym of the first Hebrew letters of each of three traditional subdivisions: Torah (“Teaching”, or Pentateuch),   Nevi’im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (“Writings”); we could call it Hebrew Scriptures, or Hebrew Bible. What is most important to understand is that God’s revelation cannot grow “old”: we need to read and understand well the Hebrew Bible in order to read and understand well the New Testament. The New Testament is not an independent and self-sufficient text—it is a part of the Great Revelation that began from the Book of Genesis.

Here is some additional evidence of this unbreakable connection. The opening words of the NT: The book of the genealogy (of Jesus Christ)—become even more significant in the light of Torah, because the same beginning occurs many times there! We find it for the very first time in Genesis 2:4, where it opens the second account of creation. Here it forms a literary bridge, connecting and holding together two creation stories—you would not read Genesis 2 without Genesis 1, would you?

In that light, we can now understand that the opening verse of the New Testament is also like a bridge connecting and holding together two very important parts of Scripture: the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. They relate to each other in the same way as the two creation stories relate: we can’t read only the second part, without the first!

I once heard a famous Israeli writer, Meir Shalev, telling about his father, a professor of Tanach from Hebrew University, who fought during the Independence war (it was back in 1948 – but unfortunately, this is our reality even today: our professors also serve in the Army). At some point, he had to spend a lot of time with an English soldier who happened to be a devoted Christian. They talked a lot about the Bible. Clearly impressed with the professor’s knowledge, the English soldier said: “Oh, I didn’t know that our Old Testament was translated into Hebrew.” This is not a joke—it’s is a true story. Sadly, there are many Christians  even today who would say the same thing. Even more people believe the same about the New Testament, and since we don’t have a Hebrew original of the New Testament, their claim might seem more justified; it seems less obvious that this is a Jewish book. However, the very fact that this book opens in the most Jewish way imaginable, speaks for itself.

“14” IN MATTHEW’S GENEALOGY

The Gospel of Matthew, the first Gospel of the New Testament, opens with the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew presents the names of this genealogy in three sets of fourteen generations each: “all the generations from Abraham to David fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ fourteen generations.[1] Fourteen seems a strange number: it has no significance in the Bible outside of this passage. So why fourteen?

The number fourteen is a clear example of gematria – a Jewish interpretive method that assigns numbers to each Hebrew letter. Gematria calculates the numerical value of a particular word and then matches it with another word with exactly the same numerical value, thus revealing a connection between them.

Matthew builds his genealogy around the number fourteen because David’s name in Hebrew has a value of 14 (dalet vav dalet, or 4 + 6 + 4 = 14).  Also, David is the fourteenth name listed in the genealogy. The emphasis on David here is abundantly clear. Matthew uses number fourteen to connect Jesus to King David, and thus presents his genealogy in a distinctively Jewish way.

Both genealogy and gematria were important to first century Jews, therefore it was clearly very important to Matthew to use this number, thus making the connection between Jesus and David abundantly clear.

FOUR WOMEN

Why did Matthew include Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba in Jesus’ genealogy? Since the Gospel of Matthew was written, this question has been asked  endlessly. There are four Biblical matriarchs in Israel: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah; if Matthew included women, would it not be more logical to have these four mothers in the genealogy of the Jewish Messiah? Why aren’t the matriarchs mentioned at all, while these four women are named explicitly?

Let us have a quick look at these women. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and deceived Judah, her father-in-law, in order to have a child from him. From this union, Perez was born, and from him would descend David – and Jesus. Rahab really was a prostitute. She lived in Jericho and “hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho,” which is whyJoshua spared Rahab the harlot, her father’s household, and all that she had.”[2]  Ruth the Moabite did something that must surely have felt “improper”: after Boaz had eaten and drunk… she came softly, uncovered his feet (a euphemism for genitalia in the Hebrew Bible) and lay down.”[3]  Finally, everyone knows the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba, and clearly, as in all the previous stories, a sexual transgression is also evident here. Thus, all four women are connected in some way with illicit sexual relations. Why?

You have probably heard the Hebrew expression: “Tikkun Olam”, “repair of the world”. Documented use of this term dates back to the Mishnaic period (approximately 10-220 CE). This means that the term and the concept may well have existed at the time of Jesus, and therefore, for the New Testament writers, the idea of reversing the evil in the world could have been part of their theology.

An essential part of a later Jewish tradition is the belief that, when the Messiah comes, all things will be repaired. Some Jewish texts even say that the pig will become kosher at the time of the redemption: (“Why is the pig called [in Hebrew] chazir? Because in the future, God will return [le-hachzir] it to Israel”, (חזיר-להחזיר). However, the only person could repair the world in such a profound way, the only person who  could reverse the evil and restore the divine order of heaven and earth, is the Messiah. Thus, we arrive at a very probable  reason behind including these four women in the genealogy of Jesus: the writer is making sure we know that he writes about the Messiah who will bring about the reversal and the repair of the evil of this world.

 

[1] Mat. 1:17

[2] Josh 6:25

[3] Ruth 3:6,7

If you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you  can get  them  from  my page:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/  . Also, I wanted to let you know that I am preparing the book with all these Hebrew insights into Torah, the book will be published and available soon .

 

 

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

You might also be interested in:

Join the conversation (17 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Cathy cowan

    What version of a bible would you recommend that includes both Hebrew and English that is true to original origin .? And Not leaving out the vital elements .

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Cathy, if you can read Hebrew, it’s wonderful – because unfortunately, every translation would “leave out some vital elements”. There will always be something “lost in translation”. I personally use a lot the Complete Jewish Bible by David Stern, but of course, it’s not ideal either. So, just make sure that the Scripture in Hebrew is always next to you.

  2. Felix Twum Antwi

    My lips remained wide open and my hair remained straight when I read that even pig will become a kosher, when the Messiah comes and it’s found nowhere than in the Jewish text. I think this alone explains all, amazing! great insight.
    In Italia we say:- “meravigliosa”.
    God continue to shine His face upon you and your work.

    1. Julia Blum

      Yes, Felix, I can relate to that: it is really awesome indeed what God is going to do in the last days. Thank you for your kind words!

  3. Elizabeth I. Seibel-Ross

    The Jewish roots of the New Testestament – yea! I like The Great Revelation: Parts ! and II! It seemed odd to me as well that these four women were in the geneology of the Messiah until I learned that they all recognized and then honored the God of Israel by their spirits and actions. While sexual transgression of some sort is part of each ones story, I think your comment about repair of the world is significant in each. Tamar was faithful to God’s law of the kinsman redeemer: the dead would live through the children of the widow’s marriage to her living brother-in-law. Tamar’s drastic actions forced Judah to recognize that it was because of his fear that God’s will about this wasn’t being accomplished. Judah repented because of her faithfulness, and Perez was part of the Messianic line. Rahab said that the people of Jericho had heard of God’s great deeds and their hearts were melting: recognition and belief that through the promises of Joshua secured her family’s salvation. Ruth loved her mother-in-law, and Naomi’s love for her bought her into the Jewish family of belief when she told Ruth to lay down on the threshing floor (like a kernel of grain, a thing of substance, not chaff) next to her kinsman redeemer and uncover his feet. Big hint to Boaz: do what God intends you to do – save us. Bathsheba probably didn’t have much say about what happened in her life: if the king wants you, and puts your husband on the front lines – what power do you have to say no. I have no idea, but she knew what needed to be done when it came to who needed to be put in place to build God’s Temple in Jerusalem. Repair of the world (by the only one that can: God’s will/word done by those that recognize Him and answer His call.)

    1. Julia Blum

      Wonderful! Thank you Lisa!

  4. Jose Holten

    Very interesting about the four women, never realized it, that’s why Yeshua uses Jewish men and women to teach the Gentiles, for you have treasure of the old and the new (Mt.13:52). I feel very blessed because I was taught Hebrew from a Israeli lady who lives here in New Zealand and now I can read Tanach and Brit Ha Chadasha in Hebrew. I love learning new concepts all the time. Thank you Julia
    Jose Holten

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your kind words Jose! Happy to hear you find this blog interesting and helpful.

  5. Dot Healy

    Excellent insights Julia. We tend to skip over geneologies, as of little interest, but you have really opened up Matthew’s introduction in a most interesting way. I look forward to more in this series.

  6. Nick Edwards

    Thanks Julia! There is more to our faith than a superior morals contest as these four women prove.
    Nick

  7. Natalia A. L. Z. Barnes

    Four foreign women. Very interesting! Our Mashia is so wonderful! He fulfilled all the prophesies of the Tanak.
    Very good your studies!

  8. Lorne Welwood

    That is an interesting explanation of the 4 women included in Matthew’s genealogy. I had often pondered this and had another conclusion. Often in scripture there is more than one thing going on at the same time. I noticed that all 4 were likely foreign women. Messiah is Jewish but is messiah of all peoples. In his own human lineage there are foreigners “grafted into” Israel. Tamar and Rahab were Canaanite, Ruth a Moabite and Bathsheba likely a Hittite. Matthew does not mention her by name but by whose wife she had been – Uriah the Hittite.

    1. Cheryel Lemley-McRoy

      Julia Blum, I have read that Bathsheba means daughter of Sheba, and thus we don’t know her real name. Is this accurate?

      1. Julia Blum

        Hi Cheryel, the meaning of the name “Bathsheba” is indeed “the daughter of Sheba”; nevertheless, it is a real name till today – and probably, it was her real name.

    2. Julia Blum

      Yes, Lorne, I just responded to the very similar comment of Rebecca. I also think that these 4 women represent gentiles. However, as you wrote , Often in scripture there is more than one thing going on at the same time: do believe that the sexual connotation here is not occasional and points out to the need of reversal, of Tikkun Olam that only the Messiah can bring about.

  9. Rebecca Raymond

    Thank you Julia for your insight. It is so important to show our “christian” friends the importance of the Old Test and how there is a continuous line running from the beginning to the end that cannot be broken!
    The connection with sexual sin in these women in Matthews genealogy is interesting. Some teach that the four women in Matthews genealogy are there to show the inclusion of the gentiles since these 4 women were gentiles. What is your take on that?

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Rebecca, sorry for the delay. I also do think that these 4 women represent gentiles. However, the Scriptures have many layers: I do believe that the sexual connotation here is not occasional and points out to the need of reversal, of Tikkun Olam that only the Messiah can bring about.