Reading Matthew 1:1-17 in Muslim Contexts

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon,and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph,[b] and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, 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,[c] 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 Shealtiel,[d] and Shealtiel 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 Christ.

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.


Commentary


We must begin with a couple of ideas most muslims bring to the Bible.

Most muslims view the ‘injeel‘ (the Arab and Islamic name for the New Testament) as a foreign book. As muslims from across the Arab World have told me, ‘Jesus is a highly honoured prophet in Islam. In the Qur’an Jesus is called The Messiah and it says God gave Jesus a book called the injeel.’ However, as some Arabs from across Syria explained to me, ‘ we know the Qur’an tells us to honour the injeel as the book of Jesus, and so we honour it. At the same time, we have never thought to actually read it. In fact, many in our culture tell us not to read it, because we imagine the book was corrupted and changed by later Christians.’

Second, the Qur’an is a difficult book to read. The language is dense and very rich. It is very often difficult to take the accurate meaning from a verse or saying, without a lot of in-depth study on the verse, the grammar and the hadith (narrations of what Muhammad said and did). Many muslims have often told me, ‘even if we understand the words of the Qur’an, we are not qualified to know what they actually mean – that takes a life of study!’

Muslims almost always bring this background to the Bible. They tend to view the Injeel as a foreign book form a foreign culture talking about a foreign religion. They also know that religious texts are hard to understand without lots of study. As a result, when muslims begin to read (or hear) the injeel, they have a very low level of confidence that they can understand it correctly.

This sense is only heightened by Matthew 1:1-17 and the long list of foreign sounding names. Some of the names are recognisable, like Abraham, Isaac and David. Many however are completely unknown and there is no background information provided to help them place them. As a result, some assume that they should know these names, and that since they don’t, they are obviously now well placed to read the injeel.

It is important to point out that while Christians know something about some of these names, there are many which we know nothing about.

Then what purpose do Arabs see in this lineage?

Arabs use the phrase hasab wa nasab. It means ‘lineage and estimation’ and expresses Arabs’ propensity to evaluate a person’s status and standing not only based upon their individual actions, but also by their lineage and how honorable their ansestors were.

As one Arab army general told me, ‘I am high placed in society but I don’t evaluate myself simply by comparing myself to those around me, I compare myself to my ancestors. To my father and my grandfather and his father. Others do to.’

When Arabs get to meet someone new, they don’t feel they have placed them or got to know them properly until they know about their ancestors and who they were in society. Arabs tend to think of where someone is headed, as well as where they have come from.

If someone comes from an aristocratic family, for example, they are judged based upon their ancestors, not just the present. Someone who is a millionaire might be judged well if his parents were poor, but not if they were billionaires.

The lineage of Jesus includes some very honorable people. Jesus is a descendent of major prophets. Jesus is a descendent of minor prophets. Jesus is the descendent of the prophet and kind, David, whos descendents would posses a kingdom without end.

Jesus is also the descendent of a Beethsheeba who became pregnant out of wedlock. Jesus is a descendent of Ruth, a foreigner who came to live among the children of Israel.

Jesus has a very interesting nasab. He is the son of prophets and king David, as well as the son of foreigners. He is of all kinds of people in the world. He belongs as a son to many. Many can associate in some way with his nasab. He is of us all. Yet different to us all.

God has a plan. Qadaa wa qadr is one of the six foundations of Islamic faith, and so permeates all aspects of most arabs’ worldviews. Things happen when God has planned them. They happen in the way God has planned them, and they happen in the time God has planned them. Arabs speak of someone dying as it being part of God’s wisdom in choosing the time for it to happen. God is over all and this provides comfort and structure to life. It helps Arabs to process all that happens.

In the Nasab of Jesus, we see 14 generations, 14 generations and 14 generations. God structured the coming of Jesus very clearly. This also includes who is in Jesus’ lineage. It is part of God’s plan and God shows us that God in his sovereignty has set a clear time for Jesus to come.

The lineage of Jesus shows us that Jesus came from a lineage of people as God planned, and in the time which God planned.

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