FAQ's

Big Questions
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Bible

Q Why does Matthew’s genealogy (1:1-16), in contrast to Luke’s genealogy (3:23-38), mention four women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Uriah’s wife), most of whom were less than virtuous? And if Matthew wants to persuade his Jewish readers that Jesus was the Messiah by showing his credentials in this genealogy (as son of David and son of Abraham), doesn’t it go against his case to include the names of Gentile women?    

A Matthew has included these women at the opening of the narrative to demonstrate the meaning and scope of the Great Commission (“Make disciples of all the nations,” 28:16-28) and of the second greatest command (“Love your neighbor/enemy,” 5:44; 22:39).

These women, whose insertion into the patriarchal family system is “irregular,” are, nevertheless, instruments through which salvation history (rehearsed in the genealogy) reaches its completion or fulfillment.

In a generally male-centered history, names of the mothers and daughters who were likewise the ancestors of Jesus are included. Jesus, the anointed one, is therefore not only born of and into a patriarchal family but is also born of and into a family in which the stories of women who played a central role are intersected. These women will not be invisible in Matthew’s gospel.

It’s true that we know them through questionable moral actions. But it is also true that, when we read the Old Testament passages, these women were examples of true faith and obedience. They demonstrate Matthew’s recognition of those removed from positions of power. Judah, the king of Jericho, David, and Boaz are taught the lesson of higher righteousness by Tamar, Rahab, Uriah’s wife, and Ruth.

The last part of your question about the ethnicity of those women was and is quite significant to a people (Israel) who made their ethnicity a central requirement for membership in the people of God: “We are children of Abraham”—a claim that is challenged in a subtle but effective way by the genealogy. The Messiah did not belong to a “pure race”; he had in his blood the blood of Gentiles from different nations. He was ethnically a mestizo. And the church he came to establish must be inclusive, composed of peoples from all the nations.

—Mariano Avila

Dr. Mariano Avila is associate professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Culture

Q My parents don’t want me to listen to music with bad language or even words I can’t understand. Are they being too strict?

A I’m glad you asked this question because we’ve struggled with just this issue in our house for years. When the children were in grade school and middle school, we expected them to turn off such music when the lyrics became too suggestive, either sexually or in relation to drugs. We did our best as parents to be direct and honest about why we didn’t want them to allow such lyrics into their heads.

However, as the children moved into high school and college and grew more aware of the meanings of what they were hearing, we rarely made flat prohibitions on what could be seen or heard. Instead, as Mom and Dad, we would talk with them about what they were hearing, what the words meant, how those words connected with their values and spiritual lives. As parents, we valued their way of thinking and encouraged them to make good choices.

We talked about love songs and together worked out the differences between songs about meaningless sexual connections and meaningful life connections. We found them well able to tell the difference. That increased our trust in them.

My husband and I often found, too, that sometimes we did not fully understand the lyrics we criticized. Literally. Sometimes we didn’t even know what the words were, so we had the children say them to us as the music played. That gave us the chance to analyze the lyrics together. Often we found the lyrics much more uplifting than we originally thought.

Each family needs to work these issues out together. The gist of my answer to your family is this: when children are young (up through middle school), parents should exercise control over their exposure to popular culture. As children mature, they should be allowed

more and more freedom to make their own decisions about what they watch and listen to. The role of a parent then becomes adviser—and, sometimes, learner.

—Helen Sterk

Dr. Helen Sterk is chair of communication arts and sciences at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich.

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