The traditional view of the Gospel of Matthew is that it was written by Matthew-Levi, the tax collector and disciple of Jesus, between AD 50-60. Although some scholars believe the Gospel of Matthew was the first Gospel written, a majority believe that it was written after the Gospel of Mark and borrowed heavily from that Gospel.
Michael J. Wilkins, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One of Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, explains the purposes of Matthew in writing his Gospel:
It is a book that establishes Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the heir to the promises of Israel’s throne through King David and to the promises of blessing to all the nations through the patriarch Abraham. Against the backdrop of a world increasingly hostile to Christianity, Matthew solidifies his church’s identity as God’s true people, who transcend ethnic, economic, and religious barriers to find oneness in their adherence to Jesus Messiah. His gospel becomes a manual on discipleship, as Jew and Gentile become disciples of Jesus who learn to obey all he commanded his original disciples.
The Gospel of Matthew chooses a different approach to introducing Jesus. Matthew’s strategy is to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the rightful heir to Abraham and David. He accomplishes this by providing a genealogy that traces the legal lineage from Abraham to Joseph, Jesus’s legal (but not biological) father. Matthew divides the genealogy into three sections of fourteen generations: Abraham to David, David to Jechoniah, and finally Jechoniah to Jesus.
Scholars have noted that Matthew leaves out several names in the genealogy, effectively creating gaps. Why would Matthew do this? Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary, explains that the key to the groups of 14 have to do with King David, who is the central figure in the genealogy.
When one adds up the numerical values of the Hebrew consonants in his name (DVD), one arrives at the number fourteen (4+6+4). This gematria, as ancient Hebrew numerical equivalents to words are termed, probably accounts for the centrality of the number fourteen in Matthew’s genealogy. Each of the three sections contains fourteen generations (v. 17), and David’s name itself is the fourteenth entry. The actual number of generations in the three parts to the genealogy are thirteen, fourteen, and thirteen, respectively; but ancient counting often alternated between inclusive and exclusive reckoning. Such variation was thus well within standard literary convention of the day.
How did Matthew construct his genealogy? Blomberg tells us the origins of Matthew’s data:
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah figure prominently in Gen 12–50. The other male names in vv. 2–6a correspond to 1 Chr 2:3–15. Solomon through Josiah (vv. 6b–11) all appear in 1 Chr 3:10–14 (recalling that Azariah is the same individual as Uzziah—cf., e.g., 2 Kgs 15:1–2 with 2 Chr 26:3—and that there are omissions in Matthew’s list). In vv. 12–16 Jeconiah is a variant form of Jehoiachin, who with Shealtiel and Zerubbabel appear in 1 Chr 3:17–19. But there Zerubbabel is a nephew of Shealtiel, which may suggest that the latter died childless and that the line of succession passed to his brother’s family. In Ezra 3:2, Zerubbabel is legally considered a son of Shealtiel. The rest of the names from Abiud to Jacob are unparalleled, but ancient Jews tried scrupulously to preserve their genealogies; so it is not implausible that Matthew had access to sources that have since been lost.
Another interesting aspect of the genealogy is that Matthew mentions five women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary), which is unusual in a Jewish genealogy. Why does he do this? With regard to the first four women, Blomberg writes:
Suggestions have included viewing them as examples of sinners Jesus came to save, representative Gentiles to whom the Christian mission would be extended, or women who had illicit marriages and/or illegitimate children. The only factor that clearly applies to all four is that suspicions of illegitimacy surrounded their sexual activity and childbearing. This suspicion of illegitimacy fits perfectly with that which surrounded Mary, which Matthew immediately takes pains to refute (vv. 18–25).
Matthew later explains that Jesus was born of Mary, but that Joseph was not involved in the conception of Jesus. He is his legal father, but not biological father. Blomberg explains that “in fact, the grammar of v. 16 makes clear that Joseph was not the human father of Jesus because the pronoun ‘whom’ is feminine and therefore can refer only to Mary as a human parent of the Christ child.”
Blomberg further explains why Matthew would have been so concerned with including these women in the genealogy when he wrote his Gospel 20-30 years after Jesus’s death and resurrection.
Within the Gospels, Jewish polemic hinted (John 8:48) and in the early centuries of the Christian era explicitly charged that Jesus was an illegitimate child. Matthew here strenuously denies the charge, but he also points out that key members of the messianic genealogy were haunted by similar suspicions (justified in at least the two cases of Tamar and Bathsheba and probably unjustified in the case of Ruth). Such suspicions, nevertheless, did not impugn the spiritual character of the individuals involved. In fact, Jesus comes to save precisely such people. Already here in the genealogy, Jesus is presented as the one who will ignore human labels of legitimacy and illegitimacy to offer his gospel of salvation to all, including the most despised and outcast of society. A question for the church to ask itself in any age is how well it is visibly representing this commitment to reach out to the oppressed and marginalized of society with the good news of salvation in Christ. At the same time, Matthew inherently honors the five women of his genealogy simply by his inclusion of them. So it is not enough merely to minister to the oppressed; we must find ways of exalting them and affirming their immense value in God’s eyes.