The New Testament opens with a genealogy: 42 generations leading from Abraham to Jesus. To which my initial reaction was a bit of bemused snark: I thought the whole point was that Jesus was the son of God, so why recite that list? But I actually felt a little bad after thinking that, because the text immediately launches into a discussion of Jesus’s parentage, in the context of Joseph’s reaction. Which is a very personal issue, enough to make me feel abashed about the whole idea of blogging about anything having to do with morality: what do you do when your wife is pregnant, and you know it’s not your kid?
His initial reaction is Matthew 1:19: “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.” I wish I knew quite what the ramifications of “put her away” are (which, incidentally, is the same phrase that Lattimore uses, though the rest of that verse reads a bit differently), but I’m willing to accept that Joseph is being a decent guy about a sticky situation. And then he has a dream where an angel tells him what’s really going on, and he’s happy to get with the program.
What I like about this is what it says about the meaning of family. I can only imagine the thoughts that would go through your mind if you learn that your wife is pregnant with somebody else’s kid; and I wouldn’t for a moment blame people for having any of a wide range of reactions to that. But if you end up deciding that the marriage is important, then yes, the child is very much a part of that marriage and will be very much your child, and the facts of the biological parentage have nothing to do with that, any more than they do in, say, a case of adoption. So actually leading off with that family lineage is a pretty awesome statement about what family is, and I was kind of being an asshole by thinking snarky thoughts in response to seeing that lineage. (Score: Bible 1, David 0!)
What I don’t like about this chapter: we don’t see anything about Mary, or indeed about women in general (the family lineage at the start is all men). For this verse, at least, women are just vessels, men are what’s important.
(A side note: when writing the first paragraph, I wasn’t sure whether to write ‘god’ or ‘God’, probably as a reflexive atheist reaction against the whole concept. But I’m going with the latter: among other reasons, in this context I’m happy to treat it as a proper name, and we capitalize those.)
This post has not been revised since publication.