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The Genealogies of the Lord

by Rev. Peter M. Buss


New Churchmen as well as others tend to overlook the lists which tell the descent of Jesus Christ from Abraham and David. They know there must be an internal sense to them, but cannot imagine that the church can learn much of it, just from a set of names.

The teaching of the Writings is that the ancients framed genealogical tables in order to show the development (or deterioration) of spiritual things, since one spiritual state is conceived and born of another.[1] It is true that this esoteric means of representing a series is not easy to penetrate, and probable also that many generations of the church will pass before the lists given in the Old and New Testaments begin to yield most of their import. Nevertheless, the "generation of Jesus Christ" is particularly interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are two lists, and one of them is the first thing said in the New Testament. It must be important, for the first thing said reigns universally in all that follows. Secondly, the New Word tells us many things about the spiritual heritage of the human which the Lord assumed and glorified. When we examine the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, we find some exciting confirmations of these teachings, and we find cause to believe that the whole process of the glorification is summarized there. The full picture may await a more enlightened age; but something of their beauty may be seen today.

The Literal Sense

There are two genealogies of the Lord. One is at the beginning of Matthew, the other in the third chapter of Luke. What has puzzled scholars for centuries is that they do not agree. The comparison below forms a basis for consideration.

Matthew Luke
1. Abraham 1. Abraham
2. Isaac 2. Isaac
3. Jacob 3. Jacob
4. Judas 4. Judas
5. Phares 5. Phares
6. Esrom 6. Esrom
7. Aram 7. Aram
8. Aminadab 8. Aminadab
9. Naasson 9. Naasson
10. Salmon 10. Salmon
11. Booz 11. Booz
12. Obed 12. Obed
13. Jesse 13. Jesse
14. David 14. David
15. Solomon 15. Nathan
16. Roboam 16. Mattatha
17. Abia 17. Menan
18. Asa 18. Melea
19. Josaphat 19. Eliakim
20. Joram 20. Jonan
21. Ozias 21. Joseph
22. Joatham 22. Juda
23. Achaz 23. Simeon
24. Ezekias 24. Levi
25. Manasses 25. Matthat
26. Amon 26. Jorim
27. Josias 27. Eliezer
28. Jechonias 28. Jose
29. Salathiel (35) 29. Er
30. Zorobabel (36) 30. Elmodam
31. Abiud 31. Cosam
32. Eliakim 32. Addi
33. Azor 33. Melchi
34. Sadoc 34. Neri
35. Achim 35. Salathiel (29)
36. Eliud 36. Zorobabel (30)
37. Eleazar 37. Rhesa
38. Mattan 38. Joanna
39. Jacob 39. Juda
40. Joseph (55) 40. Joseph
41. Jesus (56) 41. Semei
42. Mattathias
43. Maath
44. Nagge
45. Esli
46. Naum
47. Amos
48. Mattathias
49. Joseph
50. Janna
51. Melchi
52. Levi
53. Matthat
54. Heli
55. Joseph (40)
56. Jesus (41)

The list in Matthew begins with the words, "The generation (or origin) of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham." It then gives the descendants from Abraham to David, from David to the captivity, and from the captivity to Jesus, claiming that fourteen generations are contained in each of these three sections. (In fact, the third section, inclusive of the first and last names, contains only thirteen generations; but for the internal sense, this is not important: the fact that the word "fourteen" is used is what matters.)

Matthew's list seems to have been taken from the First Book of Chronicles, and is in part a review of the kings of Judah. Where Matthew himself found this list we do not know, although it seems that the records of the parenthood of important persons were kept in the temple of Jerusalem at that time. If so the genealogy of the house of David would be there. Matthew appears to have copied his table from one which was in turn copied from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. His names coincide with the Greek version of Chronicles.

Some scholars have mentioned that this was done with accuracy. Perhaps - but four of the kings of Judah were left out, apparently to enable Matthew to divide his list into three groups of fourteen. Jehoakim is omitted; also three kings in a row - Joash, Amaziah, and Azariah. (One commentator wondered if Matthew had mis-read the Greek of Ahaziah and Azariah.)[2] It is also stated that Zerubbabel was begotten of Salathiel, whereas Zerubbabel was in fact his nephew, Salathiel having died childless.[3] This is explained by the fact that this list might be intended to trace a legal descent, rather than a physical one.

Incidentally, Joseph, according to this genealogy, was descended from Jehoiachin, whom Jeremiah was inspired to curse, saying, "Thus saith the Lord ... no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah." [4] That was true - no man of that house did rule, and Jesus Christ was not of the house of Joseph. Nevertheless, both genealogies end with Joseph, partly because it was a law of the Mishnah that if a man accepted parenthood of a child, no one queried it..[5]

No one knows where Matthew got the last twelve names in his list, nor where Luke found the names from Nathan, the son of David, to Heli, the father of Joseph. Presumably they were from the temple records. These. records were destroyed with the sacking of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., after which the house of David could be determined no longer.

A final point on the Matthew genealogy is that, departing from usual custom, it mentions women in its history. Descent is not traced through a woman, but there is reference to four women. The first is Tamar, who, although she was his daughter-in-law, acted the harlot with Judah in order to raise seed to his dead son. The second is Ruth, a Moabitess. Rahab, who may have been the harlot of Jericho, although the time is wrong, appears. Finally, Solomon is said to be born of "her who was Urias" - that is, Bathsheba, for whom David committed murder.

When we turn to the Luke genealogy, we find some significant differences. Firstly, it starts with Jesus "being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, who was of Heli, who was of . . ." and the list traces the genealogy of Joseph, up through Abraham, right to "Adam, who was of God." The Writings make a great point of the fact that the words "the son of" appear only the first time, when saying that Jesus was supposed the 'son, of Joseph. After that the genitive is used - the word "son" does not appear.[6]

Luke has a total of 56 generations between Abraham and Jesus, compared with Matthew's 42. The first fourteen of Matthew's list agree perfectly with those in Luke - down to David. Then they diverge, Matthew tracing the descent through Solomon, and Luke through an older son of David, Nathan. There is a brief joining of the lists in Salathiel and Zerubbabel; but they part again, and have no common ground until Joseph.

Resolution of the Genealogies

Christian scholars have tried to resolve these differences in various ways, and so have New Church scholars. I have found four treatments of the genealogies in this century: by the Rev. J. F. Buss,[7] by the Rev. Alfred Acton,[8] the Rev. C. Th. Odhner,[9] and Bishop N. D. Pendleton.[10] The first and last of these are of particular value, Bishop Pendleton's for the wealth of insight into the doctrine of the Lord which he brought to a consideration of the internal sense.

Interestingly, these men differed in many points. Mr. Buss felt that the two genealogies could not be reconciled. Joseph could not have two fathers, and neither could Salathiel. Messrs. Acton and Odhner took strong exception to this, and argued that such a stand weakened our belief in the historicity of the New Testament. They pointed out that no one, not even the hostile Jews of that time, had questioned Matthew's and Luke's genealogies. (Of course, one must remember that the temple was destroyed very shortly after these gospels were written, possibly before they came into alien hands.) They also argued, agreeing with such Christian authorities as Annius of Viterbo (A.D. 1490), and Martin Luther," that Luke was really tracing the physical origin of the human through Mary. The reasoning is that Mary was the daughter of Heli (the name Heli is a variation of the name Joakim) but Heli had no sons. Under Jewish law, Joseph then becomes the legal heir of Heli.[11]

This reasoning is also applied to Salathiel. His real father is presumed to be Jechoniah, but he married Neri's daughter, who had no brothers, and became his heir.

I agree with Bishop N. D. Pendleton's view that this is a strained interpretation. Bishop Pendleton made the far more important point, however, that we should not try to prove something that the letter of the Word does not say, for in doing so, we may be harming our understanding of the internal sense. After all, the Lord had good reason for saying that both lists were genealogies of Joseph, not of Mary. Whose ancestry they in fact depicted, we will probably never discover, nor need we. The Divine origin of Jesus Christ is established through better authority than a list of names long lost. It is an eternal verity, revealed by God Himself. His descent from David is now quite unimportant. He was "the son of David", as to the infirm human: but that quasi-parenthood He rejected utterly.[12] "If David then called Him Lord, how is He his son?"[13]

These aspects of the letter may be interesting in a way, but the real delight that a New Churchman can perceive in the genealogies comes from an inquiry into their spirit. "The generation of Jesus Christ" - what are we told of those spiritual, or Divine states which entered into and formed the Human, when God descended through the heavens to dwell with us?

A Point of Contact between the Old and the New

The Writings give no direct indication of the internal sense of these genealogies. The observations given here are from the general doctrine, and from principles of exposition.

The Matthew genealogy has importance from its being the first part of the New Testament to appear, and it is, in a general sense, a summary of all that has gone before in the history of Israel. It is not a literal summary of history, but a line of the kingship - from Abraham, through Judah, whose descendants were to wear the crown, until Shiloh should come.[14] And to what does that summary tend? It speaks the truth that the Old Testament and its representative royalty looked only to the birth of the King of kings - to the axis on which the history of the world has turned.

Here we have confirmation of the truth that all of the Old Testament treats of the Lord alone. The genealogy presents the idea in three ways. Literally, it is a history of the heredity the Lord took on through the Jewish people. More deeply, it tells of the spiritual "heritage" which the Lord assumed, those states which were the presence of the Divine with the angels, and which were represented by the Old Testament names. And ultimately, it is a prefiguring, a gathering together in array, of the entire process of glorification which was foretold in the Old, and repeated in the New Covenant. For the inmost burden of both Testaments is the same. Both tell of the states which the Lord passed through as He glorified His human.

This table of names, then, is a nexus between the two perfectly compatible revelations. It is the transition from prophecy to fulfillment, the drawing together of all promises, the herald of the manner of their keeping in Jesus Christ.

The Infirm Human

The Rev. J. F. Buss felt - although he was alone in this - that the Matthew genealogy dealt in the main with the infirm human which the Lord assumed through Mary, and cast off. He had some good reasons, most important of which is that the Lord was willing to be called the "son of David," as to the infirm human, but not as to the Divine Human. He rejected such an appellation, saying, "If David then called Him Lord, how is He his son?"[15] Mr. Buss argued that the Lord had two heredities, one from the Divine and the other from the mother, and it was of these that the two genealogies spoke.

It does not seem that so external a subject could have been the main thrust of these first verses of the New Testament, especially when, we consider that the Mary human was at best an "additamentum," in fact a barrier to the Divine work, and that it was to be expelled. The genealogy tells in the supreme sense - of. the assumption by the Lord of the Divine Human from eternity, and the glorification of that Divine, which was before in the heavens.

I cannot but .wonder, however, whether in the internal historical sense the. heredity of the Jewish race, and thus the assumption of the infirm human is not presented. As to that heredity He was considered for a while, by His permission, as the son of David. When there passes in review before us the wicked history of the Old Testament peoples, are we not reminded of the fact that the Lord assumed through Mary a human. defiled with hereditary evil, which had to be rejected in its entirety?[16]

Particularly interesting here are the four women mentioned. Each one of them was in some way unacceptable or evil, and Tamar especially is dealt. with quite fully in the Writings. She was the daughter-in-law of Judah, and her husband had died childless. Judah, after several unsavory happenings, had sent her away, not allowing his third son to raise up an heir - through her to her dead husband. She then pretended to be a harlot, and allowed Judah himself to take her, and from her seed the descent is traced.

The Writings give this origin as a example of the terrible heredity of the Jewish nation, and of their character[17] - an heredity sullied by the evils of many kings which was passed to Mary at a time when there was no good and no truth left in all the world. Such was the evil the Lord allowed to be adjoined to the human through heredity; through it He fought and conquered every hell.

The Divine in the Heavens

In the supreme sense, however, the picture presented is far more positive and beautiful. It was not the Mary human that the Lord glorified; it was the Divine which was with the angels and which was the Divine Human before the advent. Before the advent the Lord inflowed into heaven (which consisted for the most part of the celestial),[18] and the influx into men on earth was through the Divine Man which He there set forth - through the grand man of heaven.[19] Thus it is said that at that time "the Divine Human was the Divine itself in heaven." [20]

Through this Divine Man, the Divine itself in heaven, there was influx into men on earth. When the human race began to fall into evils, however, that influx was insufficient to sustain them; it had not the power of the Divine itself for it was sullied, its power somewhat deflected by its reception with the angels.[21] In order to save mankind the Lord took on "just that which was with the angels of the celestial kingdom" [22] that He might be present in actuality as a Man. He did not take anything from the angels themselves, but He assumed the Divine which was with them.

It is these states of the Divine in the heavens which are represented by the genealogy of Matthew, and it is in this view that we begin to see the wondrous picture which the list unfolds. For we may think of the Infinite Divine love, descending through the heavens, and gathering together every state of good and truth there, welding them into a one, as the heredity of the Human to be born. No single human state, nor the good of myriads would do. That the human might receive the Divine itself, all angelic states, not as they were received by angels, but as they were perfect from the Divine, were disposed into the Human.

Hence the Lord was born a spiritual celestial man, the Divine truth of the Divine good, for the reason that "the Divine was in Him."[23] It was for this reason, because all states of truth from good in the heavens were present, that He is called "the son of David, the son of Abraham." For Abraham represents the celestial, and David the spiritual, and this also explains why David is mentioned first of the two. The same thing is represented by Benjamin, who was born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem also represents the spiritual of the celestial; and David, and finally the Lord Himself, were born there also.[24]

The three sets of fourteen names represent the three heavens, or at that time three expanses. Fourteen represents what is full and holy as to both good and truth.[25] Abraham and his descendants represent the celestial; "David the king," as he is called there, the spiritual; and, by inference, the period after the captivity, the natural. What the individual names represent will be a matter for future ages to determine; but enough can be seen from this view to let us sense the descent of the Divine until it came into the human, possessed of all power wherewith to perform its Divine work. "The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; Therefore also that Holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God".

The Return Kingdom

The gospel of Luke, starting as it does with Jesus and returning to God, represents the glorification of the Lord's Human, even until it was wholly Divine. It depicts the ascent of the Human towards the Divine itself.

Two facts support this view. The genealogy is given in connection with the Lord's baptism, not His birth, and baptism represents regeneration - thus, with the Lord, glorification. Also, the verse which introduces this table reads: "And Jesus Himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph. . ." The number "thirty" signifies what is full or complete in respect to remains; and with the Lord, what is full in respect to those remains that were "of the Divine."[26] This same passage specifically states that it was because of this representation that the Lord did not begin His public ministry until He was thirty years of age.

We speak of the Human as "ascending" to the Divine, and of progress from lower truths to higher goods, because the Writings themselves use these terms. At the same time we must be mindful of the reality, that the Divine itself is omnipresent, and the glorification was a process whereby the Lord prepared the Human, that the Divine might be present in all its power. "All instruction is only an opening of the way"[27] that more internal things may inflow. This truth too is illustrated in the fact that although Luke's genealogy is in ascending order, yet it is shown that each generation is of the one above, and thus finally they are all of God.

In Luke we find that there are more names between Joseph, and David than in Matthew, and they are all different, with the possible exceptions of Zerubbabel and Salathiel. From David to Abraham they are the same. Here we find illustrated that general doctrine that the Lord came to save the spiritual, and through His advent the spiritual heaven was formed and ordered.

Before the Lord's advent, heaven was not divided into three, as it is today. There was one established heaven, the celestial heaven, and the better people of the spiritual church were adjoined to it.[28] Nevertheless there were the expanses below the celestial heaven, and, since evil was multiplying on the earth, they were filled with evil spirits and genii, while the spiritual who were capable of being saved were preserved in the lower earth.[29] Also adjoined to these evil spirits and genii were simple good spirits. Since the evil were kept in restraint by heaven, and observed external decorum of behavior, the simple spirits, presumably natural in character, were under their control, but were not harmed, as the spiritual would have been.[30]

When He came to earth, however, the Lord banished the evil from this realm, and gave it for an inheritance to the spiritual. The spiritual heaven was formed by this means, and the false concepts of the spiritual angels banished by the new light from the Divine Human.[31] The simple spirits who before had been adjoined to the evil, were now adjoined to the spiritual church, forming a new quality in the realm of the natural heaven.[32]

It is this total change in the nature of the spiritual realms that is reflected in the different names in Luke, and this is the spiritual reason why there was no possibility that Luke, who apparently knew of the gospel of Matthew, could be permitted to use the same line of descent. For not only did the Lord create new heavenly societies as He lifted all those in the lower earth to their final abode, but He imparted a quality, a new character to all that would dwell there.. There are more names in Luke, not only because of the quantitative aspect of the new heaven, but because of the abundance of joy, of good and truth, which awaited the blessed who found their personal heaven there. These names therefore represent the states of glorification of the Lord, and the new states with which He gifted the heavens as He glorified in Himself the truth Divine that belonged' in the heavenly realm.

The names representing the celestial heaven did not change. In the spiritual sense, the reason is that although the celestial heaven did, in fact, receive more light through the glorification, it did not undergo drastic revision. In the supreme sense, however, these names represent the glorification of the Divine which the Lord had assumed, which was with the celestial heaven. Why were new names not required to distinguish between the Divine in the heavens which the Lord assumed, and those states when glorified? It would seem that there is an answer. The Writings teach that "there is a parallelism between the Lord and man as to the celestial things of good, but not as to the spiritual things of truth"; 33 the reason being that the things of love inflow from within from the Lord directly, but those of truth inflow by an external way, and do not always correspond, because of the interference of man's proprium. Thus the names in the celestial division can represent both the Divine with the angels of heaven, and also the glorified Divine Human.

But Luke's list does not stop with Abraham. It ascends even to God, and "God, in the supreme sense, is the Divine which is above the heavens; but God, in the internal sense, is the Divine which is in the heavens. The Divine which is above the heavens is the Divine good, but the Divine which is in the heavens is the Divine truth."[34] This represents the truth that the Lord made the Human Divine truth, and then Divine good.

It is also true that there are realms above the celestial heaven. There is the "heaven of human internals,"[35] in which are the first two degrees of truth Divine from the Divine Itself.[36] Thus "heaven" exists in the two radiant belts of love and wisdom which surrounds the spiritual sun.[37] Through these realms the Human also passed, until it was altogether Divine. It would seem that the second degree of truth Divine would be represented by Noah and his descendants, and the first degree, by the Adamic generation. More than that we are unlikely to discover, since those degrees are too full of love and wisdom for any human comprehension.[38]

Why, we may ask, did the Matthew genealogy relate nothing which would correspond to the descent of the Lord through these degrees? A simple answer would be that the Human that the Lord took on was from the Divine in the heavens, and not above them. Perhaps, however, a deeper concept is also involved. In the passage which speaks of the heaven of human internals it is said that these internals "have not life in themselves, but are forms recipient of the Lord's life." Man's internal therefore is a recipient. However, the passage is careful to continue, "Thus it is with man. But the Lord's internal was Jehovah Himself, inasmuch as He was conceived of Jehovah. . . . With this internal the Lord united the Human essence; and as the Lord's internal was Jehovah, it was not a form recipient of life, but was Life itself." [39] The Lord took nothing that was representative of the human internal, for His internal was Divine. Hence Matthew says nothing about that realm.

In Luke, however, there is a return - to Him from whom all things came. In this genealogy we are reminded of the whole scope of history, not just the history of the Jews. The entire Divine work of creation looks to the end of a heaven from the human race, and so too did the most wonderful re-creation of all, the glorification of Jesus Christ. Because He became Life in itself, beyond creation and all human ways, we can ascend to heaven. "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Me."[40]


1 AC 339, 400.
2 See Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 7, pp. 250-253.
3 1 Chronicles
3: 19.
4 Jeremiah 22: 30.
5 Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 7, p. 253; Mishnah: Baba Bathra 8: 6.
6 Q Viii.
7 "The Two Genealogies of Jesus Christ," The Star of the East by J. F.
Buss, James Spiers Press, pp. 16-45.
8 NEW CHURCH LIFE, 1909, pp 223-228.
9 NEW CHURCH LIFE, 1912, pp 712-724.
10 Selected Papers and Addresses by N. D. Pendleton, pp. 39-46.
11 For general reference see.: Interpreter's Bible: Vol. 7, pp. 250-253; Vol. 8, pp. 80-83. Also Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, pp. 675-678. Also The Virgin Birth of Christ by J. G. Machen, pp. 203-209.
12 AE 205.
13 Matthew 22: 45; Luke 20: 44; cf. AE 205.
14 Genesis 49: 10; AC 6371-6373
15 Matthew 22: 45; Luke 20: 44; AE 205
16 AC 5041, 5157, 1414, 1444 et al.
17 AC 4818, 4859, 4865, 4911, et al.
18 AC 4180.
19 AC 6371, 6280, 3061, 4180, 10579; DLW 233 et al.
20 AC 5663.
21 AC 6371-3, 4180, et al.
22 AC 6371; and all references in footnote 19.
23 AC 4592.
24 AC 4592, 4594; see AC 4585.
25 AC 7842, 4177, 8400.\
26 AC 5335
27 AC 1495
28 AC 8054, 4180, 6372.
29. AC 6854,6914, 7686; see AE 222; 4 and references
30 AC 6914.
31 AC 4295, 4075, 1752; also AC 6854, 6914, 8054.
32 AC 6914: 5.
33 AC 3451: 4, 1831, 1832, 3514.
34 AC 7268.
35 AC 1999.
36 AC 8443.
37 AC 7270.
38 AC 8443.
39 AC 1999.
40 John 12: 32.

-New Church Life 1975;95:522-532

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Genealogies of the Lord

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