Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Close this search box.


Matthew begins his Gospel with “An account of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1) His main aim is to support the claim that Jesus is a descendant of King David. Matthew wants to provide proof that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed king who fulfils messianic prophecies and who will reign in the eschaton, the end-time era.

The Israelites and ancient Jews regarded the ancestral line as passing through fathers, not mothers.[1] Accordingly, genealogies in the Hebrew Bible contain men’s names predominately, though women’s names are occasionally included.[2] A feature of the genealogy in Matthew 1 is the inclusion of four women from the Hebrew Bible.

Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar
Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab,
Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth,
Obed fathered Jesse,
and Jesse fathered King David.
David fathered Solomon by Uriah’s wife.
Matthew 1:3a, 5-6

Forty generations are recorded from Abraham to Mary’s husband Joseph, but Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and “Uriah’s wife” (Bathsheba) are the only Old Testament women mentioned. Why these, and only these, women? Why not Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah who are often highlighted in Jewish writings and who were also Jesus’ great-grandmothers?

Do the four women in Matthew 1 have anything in common? Do they have anything in common with Mary the mother of Jesus who is mentioned in Matthew 1:16? What is their significance? In this article, I look at three aspects of the lives of these mothers.

1. Gentile Women who Joined the Israelite Community

It is often noted that the four women were probably Gentiles.

~ Tamar’s unusual story is told in Genesis chapter 38. She does not appear to have been related by blood to Jacob’s (i.e. Israel’s) family.[3] Rather, she seems to have been a local Canaanite and therefore a Gentile. (I have more about Tamar, here.)

~ Rahab lived in the Canaanite city of Jericho and was a Gentile. Her story is told in Joshua 2 and 6:17-25. (I have more about Rahab, here.)

~ Ruth was from Moab and was a Gentile. Moabites were prohibited from joining the Israelite community “to the tenth generation” (Deut. 23:3).  So her acceptance by the Israelites in Bethlehem and her inclusion in Jesus’ genealogy are especially noteworthy.

~ Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam, a Gilonite (2 Sam. 23:34; cf. 1 Chron. 3:5). Giloh was a town in the Judean hills. This information about her father does not give an indication about Bathsheba’s ethnicity, but perhaps information about her husband does. Before she was taken by King David, she had been married to Uriah who was a Hittite. (I have more about Bathsheba, here.)

Craig Keener believes all four women were Gentiles and he comments on their significance,

“When Matthew cites these four women, he is probably reminding his readers that three ancestors of King David and the mother of King Solomon were Gentiles. The Bible that accepted David’s mixed race also implied it for the messianic King … Gentiles were never an afterthought in God’s plan …”[4]

The women may signal that people of all ethnicities are welcome in the messianic kingdom (Gal 3:27-29; Rev. 5:9-10). Mary was not a Gentile, however; she was a pious Jew. From Luke’s Gospel we know she was related to Elizabeth who was a descendant of Aaron the High Priest (Luke 1:5, 36). Jesus’ great-grandmothers may well have been Gentiles, but his mother Mary was not.

2. Daring and Courageous Women who took a Risk

Perhaps the four women mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy are there because they all took risks with the hope of a better life. They didn’t sit idly, waiting to be rescued.

~ Tamar went to extraordinary lengths and put herself in danger to have a child with her father-in-law Judah. In effect, she was calling in a debt that Judah owed her. This was her legal right under Levirate law. (More about Levirate law, here.) Having a son was Tamar’s best chance for a secure future. She gave birth to twin boys; a double blessing.

~ Rahab committed treason against her own people in Jericho when she helped their enemy Israel. She cut a deal with the Israelite spies in order to save herself and her family, and she joined the community of God’s people. It is only in Matthew 1 that we learn she became the mother of Boaz.

~ Ruth left her homeland of Moab with her mother-in-law Naomi―a huge leap of faith for Ruth―and the pair went to live in Bethlehem. Then, in another daring move, she effectively proposed marriage to Boaz in a clandestine meeting. Her aim was to save herself and Naomi from destitution. Israelites were forbidden from marrying Moabites, but Boaz recognised Ruth’s virtue and married her anyway (cf. Ezra 9:10–12).

~ Bathsheba was one of several wives of King David (1 Chron. 3:1-5). When David was old and nearing death, she was encouraged by the prophet Nathan to make the bold move and ask for her son to become king. She did this knowing that palace politics could be dangerous, even deadly. Nathan trusted Bathsheba, and she secured the throne for her son Solomon instead of David’s oldest son, Adonijah.

To some extent, these women were outsiders, politically and ethnically. They had little personal power, but they wanted in. If they had not taken a risk they would have remained outsiders with an uncertain future, and they would not have been part of Jesus’ royal lineage.

The infancy narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke give no indication that Mary did anything to bring about her pregnancy. It would have taken a great deal of courage, however, to agree to God’s extraordinary plan of making her pregnant with his son. Mary trusted in God and was a risk-taker, nonetheless. Her willingness to take the risk has made it possible for potentially all humans to be rescued: to have a better, more abundant, life in her son Jesus, as well as a wonderful hope and future.

3. Marital Irregularities: Immoral or Righteous Women?

Some say the four women in Matthew’s genealogy were immoral in some way, or that they each suffered disgrace. Yet this is not how the Bible describes them.

~ When Judah discovered the truth of Tamar’s actions which led to her pregnancy, he declared her more righteous than himself.[5] And Tamar is spoken of positively in Ruth 4:12.

~ Rahab, despite continuing to be identified as a prostitute, is commended in both Old and New Testaments.[6] James writes that Rahab is considered righteous (Jas 2:24-25), and she is included in the list of faith heroes in Hebrews 11 (Heb.11:31 cf. 11:2).

~ Boaz says this about Ruth: “All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.” (Ruth 3:11 NIV). He says this during her visit to him at night, alone (Ruth 3:13-14). What did happen that night?

~ In 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12, David is held fully responsible for the actions surrounding Bathsheba’s wretched entrance into palace life (cf. 1 Kings 15:5). Interestingly, she is nameless in the Greek text of Matthew 1 and is identified only as “Uriah’s wife.” This seems to distance Bathsheba from David’s crimes.

These four women and Mary were righteous even if they don’t appear that way to the casual or narrow-minded observer. All four, as well as Mary, could have been accused of sexual immorality. Judah initially ordered Tamar to be burnt to death because he first thought she had acted immorally (Gen. 38:24). Mary could have been stoned to death for being pregnant to someone other than Joseph, her betrothed. Some of these women, especially Bathsheba, continue to be maligned. Each of them could have become victims. Instead, they were blessed.

R.T. France points out that “in each case there were at least suspicions of some form of marital irregularity, though all four were in fact vindicated by God’s subsequent blessing. They form an impressive precedent for Jesus’ birth of an unmarried mother[7] from an obscure background.”[8]

The women in Matthew’s genealogy all have unusual stories about how they came to be mothers (Tamar, Mary) or how they came to be mothers in the community of Israel (Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba). The stories surrounding the conception of Tamar’s and Mary’s baby boys and the stories surrounding the admittance of Rahab and Ruth into Israel, as well Bathsheba’s unique experience, all have the potential to scandalise, but each woman was righteous. Not a bad word is said about the women in the Bible. All the women were respected.[9]


The inclusion of Jesus’ non-Hebrew great-grandmothers shows that ethnicity is, or should be, no barrier to belonging to the community of God’s people, as Jesus is himself “mixed-race.” Their inclusion highlights that God rewards daring acts of faith and hope that might appear strange. Their example shows that God can use difficult situations and redeem painful trials such as injustice (Tamar), abuse and loss (Bathsheba), war (Rahab), and famine (Ruth). Our ethnicity, our past, our pain, our reputation, our gender is no impediment for entrance into Jesus’ kingdom and full acceptance into his royal family (cf. 1 Pet. 2:4-10). Jesus’ four great-grandmothers in Matthew 1 show us that if we want in, God facilitates this and welcomes us.

You can support my work for as little as $3 USD a month at Patreon.
Become a Patron!


[1] Matrilineality (tracing ancestry through mothers) was accepted by some Jews in the first century CE, but more universally from the second century onwards. Before then, ancestry was primarily traced through fathers as in Matthew 1. Shaye J.D. Cohen has published his investigation of matrilineality in Judaism in “The Origins of the Matrilineal Principle in Rabbinic Law,” AJS Review 10.1 (Spring, 1985): 19-53. (Source: JSTOR)

[2] Tamar and Bathsheba are previously mentioned in genealogies, in 1 Chronicles 2:4 and 3:5 respectively.

[3] Marrying close relatives was preferred by the early Israelites and Jews, and I believe that many of Jacob’s twelve sons married their half-sisters, but Judah did not. Here’s why I think this.
The Bible names all of Jacob’s twelve sons but only one daughter, Dinah, because of her sad story. I suggest Jacob’s four wives/ concubines had more than one daughter between them. The odds of twelve surviving sons to one surviving daughter are not impossible, but they are improbable.
Most, or all, of these daughters (except for Dinah) may have married their half-brothers, just as Abraham and Sarah had done. (Abraham and Sarah had the same father, Terah, but different mothers.)
Marrying close relations is seen in Isaac and Rebekah’s marriage also. (Rebekah is the daughter of Milkah, the wife of Nahor and the daughter of Haran. Both Nahor and Haran are sons of Terah and therefore brothers of Abraham and Sarah. Isaac is the grandson of Terah, the son of Abraham and Sarah.)
Endogamous marriages (marrying a close relation) kept political power and economic resources within an exclusive group. Whereas marrying an outsider could threaten social stability and religious identity with a community. Several early Jewish writers state that endogamous marriages are preferred.
Judah, however, did not marry a close relative. He married a Canaanite woman (Gen. 38:1-2). Tamar is likely a Canaanite woman also.

[4] Craig S. Keener, The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Eerdmans, 2009), 80. (Google Books)

[5] Tamar was within her legal rights to have a child with Judah. (Judah was illegally withholding his youngest son from her.) Furthermore, Tamar waited until Judah’s wife had died, and she waited for him to finish mourning for her, before implementing her scheme. The fact that her scheme went off without a hitch, when it could have easily gone horribly wrong, seems to indicate that God helped her.

[6] Rahab is consistently referred to as a “prostitute” (Hebrew: zanah; Greek: pornē) in both the Old and New Testaments (Josh. 2:1; 6:17, 22, 25; Heb. 11:31; Jas 2:25).
Was Rahab an innkeeper? Her home is referred to as an inn or lodging house (katagōgion) by Josephus in Jewish Antiquities 5.1.2 (line 7). And in the Aramaic Targum (Aramaic translation/interpretation) of Joshua, Rahab is referred to as an “innkeeper” (pundeqita). However, cognates of this word are used, perhaps as a euphemism, in other Aramaic verses where the context clearly indicates prostitutes (e.g., 1 Kings 3:16; Ezek. 23:44).
The Hebrew Bible does not plainly say Rahab was an innkeeper, but in many cultures, inns offered sexual services as well as bread and board. Inns and brothels were one and the same.
The Bible only says good things about Rahab. The biblical authors do not judge or condemn Rahab in any way for being a prostitute, whatever that looked like for a Canaanite woman living in the bronze age.

[7] Matthew says that Joseph took Mary as his wife before Jesus was born (Matt. 1:20, 24).

[8] R.T. France, Matthew (TNTC; Nottingham: IVP, 1985, 2008), 79. (Google Books)

[9] Tamar’s name is mentioned in a blessing of fertility (along with the names of Rachel and Leah, Jacob’s wives) said over Ruth (Ruth 4:11-12). This indicates respect. Rahab is respected by Jews and Christians because her faith in Israel’s God led her to protect and help the Israelite spies (cf. Heb 11:31; Jas 2:25). Ruth was an honourable woman with an honourable reputation in Bethlehem despite her ethnicity as a Moabitess (Ruth 2:11-12). Bathsheba is respected because she was the queen mother of Solomon and was given a throne at his right hand (1 Kings 2:19).

© Margaret Mowczko 2020
All Rights Reserved

Image Credit

Photo by Hakan Erenler via Pexels

Explore more

A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba 
Mary’s Scandal and Favour 
3 Formidable Bible Women with Strange Stories (Rahab, Tamar, Rizpah)
Rahab and Lydia: Two Faith-Filled Women 
Redemption and Family Responsibility: Boaz and Jesus 
25+ Biblical Roles for Biblical Women
Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood, and Ministry
All About Elizabeth (Luke 1)
All my articles with a Christmas theme are here.

Further Reading

The Women of Advent: Tamar by Gail Wallace (The Junia Project)
The Women of Advent: Ruth by Gail Wallace (The Junia Project)

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

24 thoughts on “The Women in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus

  1. Excellent summary and conclusions. In societies that minimized women and excluded Gentiles, God proves himself to be inclusive. In fact, he seems to make it a point to use women for his glory and to welcome “outsiders” into his family.

    1. Indeed! 🙂

  2. I always had a problem with people who tried to paint these women as “sinful” -I’ve seen many men on Christian forums make that comment. I always saw it as a way of God vindicating these women in all the ways you mention. Especially Bathseba being called “Uriah’s wife” is not a bad reflection of her in my opinion or a diminishment of her character or importance (contrary to several assumptions I’ve seen expressing the opposite) but I believe God’s way of honoring her. Not only is she included in Christ’s genealogy but she is vindicated.

    It is reinforced that she was another man’s wife who I genuinely believe had no say in David’s acts of adultery and murder. She loses her husband and newborn son and I believe this mention of her along with Nathan’s comparing her to an innocent lamb during his confrontation with David, proves God redeemed her too from the pain (and potentially abusive initial relationship) she may have endured. All my interpretation of course. But I think her bad rep as an unfaithful seductress is heavily concordant to church sexism and not how she is actually represented in the text itself.

    1. I agree that Bathsheba’s bad rap accords with the sexism in the church throughout the centuries.

      It seems like every hint of indiscretion becomes a defining trait for Bible women, but the men who did worse are relatively untainted.

  3. This is a lovely piece. I appreciate the post, especially your treatment of Bathsheba. I’m so tired of hearing others refer to her as an adulterer when she had absolutely zero power to refuse David. I liked your comment that she was “taken.”

  4. Interesting post. I believe the primary reason for Matthew’s inclusion of the four women was as follows

    Matthew wanted to break through the prejudice of those inclined to write Jesus off because of questions concerning His birth. And that’s what the mention of these other four women does. If they, with their questionable connections, could be included as ancestors of kings, then so could Mary.””

    Dickerson, Ed . For Such a Time (p. 83). PPPA. Kindle Edition.

    1. Thanks, Ed. I love your book.

      1. Thank you. (I just now saw this comment).

  5. Our circle is studying the lives of the five women in Matthew’s genealogy and I stumbled on your article on line. I so appreciate your viewpoint and insight. It is very helpful as I try to understand how these women may have lived and what challenges they had to overcome. The message of these women (for me) is they persevered in spite of the fact they had very little power.
    Thank you for this publication.

    1. “They persevered in spite of the fact they had very little power.” I like that, Robyn.

  6. […] The Women in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus […]

  7. Marg, when you were discussing Boaz and Ruth at Boaz’s threshing floor, you wrote, “What happened that night?”

    Were you implying that Boaz and Ruth may have fornicated on that night?
    If you were, I can share evidence which in my view proves they did NOT fornicate, and their first act of sexual intercourse occurred AFTER they were married.

    1. Hi Barbara, I don’t think Boaz and Ruth fornicated, and I made a point about Ruth’s virtue, but feel free to share your evidence.

      1. I’m glad you don’t think they fornicated. The way you’d written it left it open to that.

        It will take me some time to provide the evidence that they didn’t fornicate.

        I’d like to ask why YOU are sure they didn’t fornicate.

        Also, is there a way I can be notified by email that you have answered my comment? I’m battling burnout and need prompts to help me keep track of things I’m intending to do.

        1. I’m not sure of what happened that night, which is why I posed the question. But the word “fornicate” does not seem applicable.

          1. Okay. I could have avoided the word fornicate. I used it only to indicate illicit sex.

            I have evidence that they did not have sexual intercourse until after they married. This evidence proves they did not have intercourse that night on the threshing floor. I’ll post my evidence today.

            You still haven’t answered my question about getting email notifications for follow up comments on your posts.

          2. I really don’t think Naomi sent Ruth to Boaz to have illicit sex.

            I did reply to you about the email notification issue, perhaps on another thread, and it was turned on after that discussion. For some reason it causes problems with my website and had to be turned off again.

  8. Here is the evidence that Boaz and Ruth did not have sexual intercourse on the threshing floor that night.

    The Old Testament uses three different verbs for sexual intercourse. Understanding the nuances and differences between these three verbs is fascinating, because it can help clear up many misconceptions and heated debates about sexuality in evangelical and survivor-advocate circles.

    I learned about these three Hebrew terms for sexual intercourse from Robert Alter’s Translation of the Hebrew Bible. It is a monumental three-volume set, and I’m slowly (and deliciously) working my way through it.

    To make it easier to comprehend Robert Alter’s explanation of the three Hebrew terms used for sexual intercourse, I have added paragraph breaks and made some text bold. I’ve also added Strong’s Concordance numbers.

    Transcribed from The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter, Vol 1, p xxxi
    [begin transcription]

    Though many recurring biblical terms have serviceable English equivalents, there are instances in which a translation must make another kind of compromise because, given the differences between modern and biblical culture, the social, moral and ideological connotation of terms in the two languages do not adequately correspond.

    Consider the tricky case of verbs for sexual intercourse. In English, these tend to be either clinical and technical, or rude, or bawdy, or euphemistic, and absolutely none of this is true for the verbs used for sex in the Bible.

    In Genesis, three different terms occur: “to know,” “to lie with,” and “to come into.”

    “To know,” H3045 with one striking antithetical exception, indicates sexual possession by a man of his legitimate spouse. Modern solutions such as “to be intimate with,” “to cohabit with,” “to sleep with,” are all egregiously wrong in tone and implication. Fortunately the King James Version has established a strong precedent in English by translating the verb literally, and “carnal knowledge” is part of our language, so it is feasible to preserve the Hebrew usage in translation.

    “Lie with” H7901 is a literal equivalent of the Hebrew, though in English it is vaguely euphemistic, whereas in Hebrew it is a more brutally direct or carnally explicit idiom for sexual intercourse, without, however, any suggestion of obscenity.

    “To come into” H935 The most intractable of the three expressions is “to come into” or “to enter.” In non-sexual contexts, this is the ordinary biblical verb for entering, or arriving. “To enter,” or “to come into,” however, is a misleading translation because the term clearly refers not merely to sexual penetration but to the whole act of consummation. It is used with great precision — not registered by biblical scholarship — to indicate a man’s having intercourse with a woman who he has not yet had as a sexual partner, whether she is his wife, his concubine, or a whore. The underling spatial imagery of the term, I think, is of the man’s entering the woman’s sphere for the first time through a series of concentric circles: her tent or chamber, her bed, her body. A translator, then, ought not surrender the image of coming into, but “come into” by itself doesn’t quite do it. My own solution, in keeping with the slight strangeness of Hebraizing idioms of the translation as a whole, was to stretch an English idiom to cover the biblical usage: this translation consistently renders the Hebrew expression in question as “come to bed with,” an idiom that in accepted usage a woman could plausibly use to a man referring to herself (“come to bed with me”) but that in my translation is extended to a woman’s reference to another woman (“come to bed with my slave girl”) and to a reference in the third person by the narrator or a male character to sexual consummation (“Give me my wife,” Jacob says to Laban, “and let me come to bed with her”).

    [end of transcript from The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter, Vol 1, p xxxi]

    Did you notice that Robert Alter said the third term, to come into, H935 is used with great precision to indicate a man’s having intercourse with a woman whom he has not yet had as a sexual partner.  And this fact has not been registered by biblical scholarship. Alter would be referring to Jewish and Christian biblical scholars; I’ve read enough of him so far to know that he would be referring to all biblical scholars. Biblical scholars have failed to pay attention to how precisely this “come into” term is used. It means a man having intercourse with a woman with whom he has never had sexual intercourse. It refers to the first act of sexual intercourse a man with a particular woman, whether she is wife, his concubine or a prostitute. The man may have had sexual intercourse with another woman or women before, the term is not about whether he was a virgin prior to this act of intercourse, it is about his first act of intercourse with that particular woman.

    Ruth 4:13 — “And so Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife. And he went in unto her, and the Lord gave that she conceived and bore a son.” Note: I’ve used the Matthew Bible translation found here: https://studybible.info/Matthew/Ruth%204:13. Spelling and some punctuation have been lightly updated by yours truly.

    In Ruth 4:13, “went in” is H935. This proves to my satisfaction that Boaz’s first act of sexual intercourse with Ruth took place AFTER they married. Therefore, Boaz and Ruth did not have sexual intercourse before they were married.

    1. I have no argument that the Bible does not plainly say Ruth and Boaz had sex and Ruth conceived until Ruth 4:13.

      But this information doesn’t help to explain Ruth lying down beside Boaz all night “at his feet.”

      1. Ruth lying down all that night at Boaz’s feet just means what it says. She lay at his feet under the corner of the fabric that was covering him. They spoke. He promised to address her need for a kinsman redeemer the next day. They lay, sleeping or resting, and while laying there their bodies may or may not have touched, but there was no fondling. Why is that hard to understand?

        1. Sleeping beside a man all night is usually not considered normal behaviour for a single woman. Was there an understanding between the two, not apparent to us, when Boaz asked her to stay the night?

          And “feet” is sometimes used as a euphemism in the Bible. Nevertheless, I don’t think anything untoward happened between Ruth and Boaz according the customs of their time.

          We’re talking about something that happened three thousand of years ago in a culture that is alien to ours. There are lots of things in the Hebrew Bible that I don’t have a clear picture on, despite efforts to understand better. And I’m content with that.

          I don’t disagree with you, Barbara. I’m just not as sure about what happened and I don’t feel as strongly about it.

          1. Thanks Marg.

            I think the reason why I feel more strongly about this than you do, is that in my pre-conversion days I was sexually abused as a child, and as a result became very promiscuous and I worked for a short while in the sex industry. I have also had two abusive husbands; the first marriage began before I was walking with Christ, but by the time it finally ended I was a serious church-going Christian.

            As a result of all those experiences, I have been stigmatised, misunderstood and mistreated by many professing Christians.

            When Christians, even by faint innuendo, cast aspersions on Ruth’s morality, or raise the possibility that she was sexually immoral that night on the threshing floor, I strongly want to defend her. I hope my explanation makes sense to you.

          2. Hi Barbara, I’m sincerely sorry for what you’ve gone through. It all sounds just awful! And I’m sincerely sorry that my question made you uncomfortable. I can understand that. It does makes sense.

            I think, though, that I made it clear that Ruth was virtuous. I even use the word “virtue” in this statement in section 2, “Israelites were forbidden from marrying Moabites, but Boaz recognised Ruth’s virtue and married her anyway (cf. Ezra 9:10–12).”

            And before I asked my question in section 3, I quoted Boaz as saying this about Ruth: “All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.” (Ruth 3:11 NIV). I have no doubt whatsoever that Ruth was virtuous.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Marg's Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Join Marg's Patreon

Would you like to support my ministry of encouraging mutuality and equality between men and women in the church and in marriage?