The genealogy of Jesus in the New Testament includes several women with a hint of sexual scandal. When combined with the wicked men in the Savior’s ancestry, it teaches several subtle lessons—including how Matthew may have prepared his audience for the virgin birth. In this interview, Camille Fronk Olson explains what we can learn from the women in the lineage of Jesus.
Learn more by reading Camille Fronk Olson’s book about women of the New Testament.
Table of contents
- Female ancestors
- Gospel of Matthew
- Tamar’s reputation
- Tamar’s historical context
- Mary’s reputation
- A question for Mary
What women do we know were ancestors of Jesus?
Matthew begins his gospel about Jesus Christ with the Savior’s genealogy going back to Abraham. Interestingly, Matthew does not name the women we may expect, such as Sarah, Rebekah, and Leah. He names Tamar (Gen. 38), Rahab (Josh. 2, 6), Ruth, and Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11ff).
What is the significance of Mathew’s inclusion of women?
Matthew surprises us because he did include women—specifically women who were tainted with at least a hint of sexual scandal in their day. I resonate most with the explanation that Matthew did this to remind Jews of his day that all four of these Old Testament women were later deemed as rescuers of Judah’s descendants and royal lineage.
By remembering how Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba had previously been misjudged, Matthew could prepare his audience to avoid misjudging Mary, a young girl who became pregnant before she married Joseph.
What is Tamar most known for in the Bible?
Some people may say Tamar is known for pretending to be a harlot to trap her father-in-law. I would say she should be known for saving Judah and his foreordained lineage.
Were Tamar’s actions wicked?
Tamar’s actions appear questionable only if you apply today’s customs and laws to her day. However, in her day when she married Judah’s eldest son, she in essence married all the men in Judah’s family.
When Tamar’s husband died before Tamar bore a child, another male in Judah’s family was expected to marry her and have a child by her as proxy to Tamar’s first husband. When Judah could see that he would lose his sons if he married each of them to Tamar, he and his remaining son stayed away from her leaving her without any hope for a life.
Tamar’s actions in going out in disguise to meet Judah were not illegal or wicked. The fact that Judah mistook her for a harlot and propositioned her reveals his immoral character while saying nothing about hers.
After learning that he was the father of her unborn children, Judah himself proclaimed, “She hath been more righteous than I.”
What does that mean when considered in light of the Savior’s ancestry?
One quick read of Matthew’s opening chapter outlining the Savior’s ancestry will reveal “wicked” men aplenty. One need not add women to His genealogy to suggest that He had imperfect and even evil forebears.
The same is true for all of us. We each have some spicy characters in our ancestry. Those characters can teach us a lot about consequences in life just as stories from more obedient and righteous ancestors.
Jesus became the Savior of us all, not because He had only righteous relatives but because He “received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace” (D&C 93:12-14). He “grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him (Luke 2:40).
As He told His followers, His family are those who “hear the word of God, and do it” (Luke 8:21; see also 11:27-28).
Do biblical women ever foreshadow Jesus?
As with many of the prophets and other male disciples of Christ, we may find ways that female disciples typify the Savior. None, however, are perfect shadows of Him.
Abigail in I Samuel 25 is one of the clearest types of Christ. She was prepared to give her life to save all of the men in her household when she did no wrong. Rather than pointing her finger at her foolish husband who created the danger, Abigail took his wrong upon her in a small way foreshadowing how Jesus took upon Him the sins of ALL of us.
Ruth can be considered a redeemer in the way she rescued her mother-in-law amid dangers and prejudice.
Tabitha (Acts 9:36-42) gave much of her life to clothing the widows, an act that symbolizes the Atonement of Jesus Christ (in Hebrew the word means “to cover” or “a covering”). When she died, Peter brought her back to life—a small shadow of the Resurrection.
What did people think of Jesus’s mother being pregnant before marriage?
The scriptures are silent as to how much and when the people of Nazareth learned of Mary’s pregnancy. One hint comes in John 8:41 when some of the Jewish leaders tried to belittle Jesus by saying, “We be not born of fornication,” suggesting that a rumor had circulated about Mary’s “premature” pregnancy.
We can only surmise the false accusations that Mary faced throughout her mortal life.
What would you most want to ask Mary, the mother of Jesus?
I would like to hear her testimony of the Savior. We see her testimony as she stood by the cross while her Son suffered and died. I’d like to hear her voice—what she learned from observations that only a mother would see. And also what she sacrificed and suffered because she was a faithful disciple of Truth.
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About the interview participant
Camille Fronk Olson holds a PhD in the sociology of the Middle East from Brigham Young University. She is a former chair of BYU’s Department of Ancient Scripture and has served on the Young Women General Board. Olson has written several books about women in the scriptures, including Women of the Old Testament and Women of the New Testament.
- Women in the New Testament: How Much Do We Know?
- Who Was Mary Magdalene?
- Was Jesus Married?
- What’s the Relationship Between Women and the Priesthood?
- What Do We Know about Old Testament Women?
Genealogy of Jesus resources
- Women of the New Testament (Deseret Book)
- Teaching Matthew’s Genealogy (BYU New Testament Commentary)
- Luke’s Different Genealogy (Good Tidings of Great Joy)
- The Historical Jesus: A Latter-day Saint Perspective (Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures)
- Women in Jesus’ Genealogy (Talbot School of Theology)