The 32 verses contained within 2 of the most popular and controversial genealogies within the bible are filled with study material. There are many questions surrounding the genealogies that are sometimes left unattended, and some questions that can’t definitively be settled due to lack of historical information.
Leading critical author and Professor Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, poses the question,
“If Jesus is not a blood-relation to Joseph, why is it that Matthew and Luke trace Jesus’ bloodline precisely through Joseph? This is a question that neither author answers: both accounts give a genealogy that can’t be the genealogy of Jesus, since his only bloodline goes through Mary, yet neither author provides her genealogy.” ~ Professor Bart D. Ehrman [‘Jesus Interrupted, Revealing Hidden Contradictions In The Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)’ 2009 Harper One pg. 36]
It is half baked questions and statements like Dr. Ehrman’s that call us to the attention of issues that are sometimes overlooked or undervalued within Christian circles.
As we will set forth in this article, the genealogy of Jesus is secure and in tact, and only serves to validate Jesus as the Messiah, the only possible Messiah of Israel and savior of the world. What problems there are in the genealogy are only a matter of missing information, not a matter of a contradictory or flawed record, faith and or faith practice. This article will not address all of the problems and solutions to the genealogies, but we will touch on a few of the more popular supposed contradictions and discrepancies with the genealogies associated with Jesus as the Messiah and uncover why the genealogies differ as they do.
I will specifically address and answer the following questions:
How are the genealogies of Matthew and Luke similar and different?
What are the primary problems associated with Matthew’s genealogy and how are they reconciled?
What are the primary problems associated with Luke’s genealogy and how are they reconciled?
Can the genealogies be used to qualify and authenticate Jesus as the Messiah of Israel?
Here are the New Testament Genealogies in question:
Matthew 1:1-17 ~ “1-The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2-Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; 3-And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; 4-And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; 5-And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; 6-And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; 7-And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; 8-And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; 9-And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; 10-And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; 11-And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: 12-And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; 13-And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; 14-And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; 15-And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; 16-And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. 17-So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.”
Luke 3:23-38 ~ “23-And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,24-Which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph, 25-Which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Amos, which was the son of Naum, which was the son of Esli, which was the son of Nagge, 26-Which was the son of Maath, which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Semei, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Juda, 27-Which was the son of Joanna, which was the son of Rhesa, which was the son of Zorobabel, which was the son of Salathiel, which was the son of Neri, 28-Which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Addi, which was the son of Cosam, which was the son of Elmodam, which was the son of Er, 29-Which was the son of Jose, which was the son of Eliezer, which was the son of Jorim, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, 30-Which was the son of Simeon, which was the son of Juda, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Jonan, which was the son of Eliakim, 31-Which was the son of Melea, which was the son of Menan, which was the son of Mattatha, which was the son of Nathan, which was the son of David, 32-Which was the son of Jesse, which was the son of Obed, which was the son of Booz, which was the son of Salmon, which was the son of Naasson, 33-Which was the son of Aminadab, which was the son of Aram, which was the son of Esrom, which was the son of Phares, which was the son of Juda, 34-Which was the son of Jacob, which was the son of Isaac, which was the son of Abraham, which was the son of Thara, which was the son of Nachor, 35-Which was the son of Saruch, which was the son of Ragau, which was the son of Phalec, which was the son of Heber, which was the son of Sala, 36-Which was the son of Cainan, which was the son of Arphaxad, which was the son of Sem, which was the son of Noe, which was the son of Lamech, 37-Which was the son of Mathusala, which was the son of Enoch, which was the son of Jared, which was the son of Maleleel, which was the son of Cainan, 38-Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.”
Scholars through the ages have recognized the differences between the genealogies offered by Matthew and Luke. In fact the ancient church historian Eusebius(260 –340 AD) (Church History I.7) documents one of the first apologetics on the subject from Julius Africanus (160-240 AD) who sought to explain how Joseph became to be a part of the lineage of Jesus. Africanus testimony was based on information that he received from relatives of James (the brother of Jesus). In summary, he uncovered that there were at least 3 levirate marriages that neither the account of Matthew or Luke mentions. Remember the rite of levirate marriage as found Deut. 25:5,6, Gen. 38:8-10 and the book of Ruth, gave the next of kin the ability to marry the widow of a family member thus assuming the integrity, name and physical security of a deceased male family member’s name and surviving family. Africanus’ explanation was in response to what we will recognize as one of our first differences in the two texts. This is what we’ll call, the problem of Joseph’s father.
Who was Joseph’s father? Who was Mary’s father? As stated, Julius Africanus noted that he had received information from the descendents of James regarding some clarifications beginning at Mt. 1:15 and Lk. 3:24. It goes like this: Matthan (Mt. 1:15) married Estha, and fathered Jacob, but he died. Malchi (Matthan’s brother) (Lk.3:24) then married Estha under the levirate law and they had a son named Eli (Heli~ Lk. 3:23) Heli married but died without having a child (son). Again the levirate law was imposed for his widow. Heli’s half brother Jacob married his widow (Mt. 1:15) fathered Joseph and thus Joseph was the legal heir of Heli according to the law, but the actual paternal son of Jacob. Under the levirite law, Jacob’s son Joseph would have actually been called the “son of Heli”. A little twist here is that Mary was either the paternal daughter of Heli (not mentioned in the record) or daughter of Melchi in the lineage of Nathan. (A more indepth study of that can be found HERE)
As you can see even in that explanation there are names missing and left out such as Levi and Matthat in Luke for example. One can note that this can be a complicated issue, and although we don’t have all the complete data, what we have has not been found to be deficient or inaccurate.
There are additional similarities as well as differences contained within the genealogies but there are no contradictions or discrepancies and from this bit of information we begin to gather one reason among many that it has been said that Luke’s genealogy is actually the genealogy of Mary.
The Similarities Of The Genealogies Occur In The Following Manner:
- The genealogies are similar in that they both agree that the lineage of Christ is traced to David.
- The genealogies from David to Abraham are identical in both Matthew and Luke.
- The genealogies are similar in that they share common names such as Shealtiel and Zerubbabel (Mt. 1:12 and Lk. 3:27)
- The genealogies are similar in that only the men (patriarchs) are mentioned as having “begat” anyone. Women are not said to have “begat” although 3 names are mentioned.
- The genealogies agree that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Ghost.
- The genealogies agree that Jesus was born of the house and lineage of David.
- Both genealogies have features that would provide easy oral transmission of certain facts.
The Differences Of The Genealogies Occur In The Following Manner:
- Matthew’s genealogy moves forward from Abraham.
- Luke’s genealogy moves backwards past Abraham all the way to Adam.
- Matthew groups his information in 3 sets of 14, skipping paternal fathers at times. Luke does no such thing and mentions 75 names.
- Luke traces the decent of Jesus lineage through Nathan
- Matthew traces the descent of Jesus lineage through Solomon
- Luke provided Jesus’ genealogy through Mary whereas Matthew focuses on Joseph.
Section I: What Are The Primary Problems Associated With Matthew’s Genealogy And How Are They Reconciled?
There are 3 main problems associated with Matthew’s genealogy that most critics point out. They are as follows:
- The Inference That Joseph Was Actually Jesus’ Father
- The Promise Of God Against Jeconiah Nullified That The Messiah Would Be As A Result Of His Bloodline. (Jer. 22:29-30)
- Too Many Gaps In The Genealogical Succession Of Matthew Against Known References In Other Texts Prove Discrepancies.
1- The Inference That Joseph Was Actually Jesus’ Father
Quite naturally, anyone even in 1st Century Palestine, confronted with a highly unusual testimony, chose to believe that the best possible explanation of events were natural ones. Although the critic falsely supposes that the period in 1st century AD was one in which superstition prevailed more than in modern society, what we see as it pertains to Mary’s story was filled with contradictions of this assumption. Not only did Mary have a hard time believing what was told to her by an angel, and what was about to occur through her life but Joseph thought to believe none of it until God visited him (Mt. 1:19) and secular critics of the day clearly and openly call the integrity of Mary into question and even go so far as to call her an adultress and Jesus a bastard child. (See E. Stauffer, ‘Jesus And His History’ Knopf 1960 pg. 17, also P. Schaff, ‘History Of The Christian Church’ Eerdmans 1910 pg. 139 also James Orr ‘The Virgin Birth Of Christ’ Scribner’s Sons 1907 pg. 146)
In the text we see Joseph’s response was to “put her (Mary) away privily” as was a custom of a spouse, who was found to have committed fornication prior to marriage. The critic poses the question, why then is Joseph mentioned as Jesus’ father if he is not the father of Jesus? The scripture then takes long pains to go through the succession and we do see Joseph just before Jesus in both texts. What are we to make of this apparent contradiction?
Not much. One reason, in Matthew 1-16 the word “begat” was used 39 times in 15 verses. If the scripture was indicating that Joseph fathered Jesus the scripture would have not broken the tradition of using just ONE MORE “begat”. However, it didn’t. The scripture simply says in verse 16, “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” Joseph is called the “husband of Mary” not the one who “begat” Jesus. Therefore it’s quite clear that Matthew didn’t imply anything other than that Jesus was born to Mary, and that Joseph WAS NOT his biological father. Author and Theologian Donald Grey Barnhouse chimes in on the issue:
“But when the Holy Spirit beget the Lord Jesus in the womb of the virgin without any use of a human father, the child that was born of the seed of David according to the flesh. And when Joseph married Mary and took the unborn child under his protecting care, giving Him the title that had come down to Him through His ancestor Solomon, the Lord Jesus became the legal Messiah, the royal Messiah, the uncursed Messiah, the true Messiah, the only possible Messiah. The lines are exhausted. Any man that ever comes into this world professing to fulfill the condition will be a liar and a child of the devil.” ~ Donald Grey Barnhouse, Man’s Ruin Vol. ~ Expositions Of Bible Doctrines 1952 Eerdmans, pg. 45-47.”
Secondly, in addition to this, Ron Rhodes in ‘Answering The Objections Of Atheists, Agnostics, & Skeptics’ (Harvest House 2006 pg. 171) says this,
“The ‘of whom was born Jesus’ (Mt. 1:16) is a feminine relative pronoun, clearly indicating that Jesus was the physical child of Mary and that Joseph was not his physical father”.
The language of the text itself confirms that Joseph was not Jesus father. A third and prophetic insight comes from Genesis 3:15 that states that the “seed of the woman” would crush the head of the serpent. The understanding of this was promoted and understood early by church fathers such as Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (unknown-202 AD) and scholars down through the ages have accepted this scripture as describing Jesus his birth and works among men.
So contained within the genealogical narrative itself, there are compelling reasons that Joseph wasn’t the paternal father of Jesus. This is seems to be confirmed by critics of the day through extra-biblical accounts that proliferated calling the virgin-birth into question.
Additionally, scriptures indicate that Jesus became the “legal” heir to the inheritance of Joseph his father. Therefore he was heir to the throne legally but not by physical seed. This is an essential point in regards to # 2 below.
2- The Promise Of God Against Jeconiah Nullified That The Messiah Would Be As A Result Of His Bloodline.
Jer. 22:29-30 ~ “29-O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD. 30-Thus saith the LORD, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah.”
This scripture is used by many critics in effort to refute that the Messianic promise was upon Jesus. You will notice in the Mt. 1:11 the son of Josiah, Jeconiah (aka: Coniah) appears. With such a strong condemnation against him and his seed, the critic is positive that no messianic promise can arise from the seed of Jeconiah. Notice that the “seed shall not prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah” What are we to make of this?
In our opinion not much, as it is easily explained that Jesus was the “seed of David” in a physical sense through his mother Mary bypassing Jeconiah’s lineage (as we will explain later, but also see #1 previously) and only in a “legal sense” through his adoptive father Joseph. As stated, Jesus’ parental descent wasn’t through Jeconiah. In other words Mary was his mother and Joseph was only his adoptive father.
The scripture was clear in saying “for no man of his seed shall prosper” it cannot go without note that Jesus was not the “seed” of Jeconiah’s lineage he was only the heir of Jeconiah’s lineage. In any manner this scripture would have no bearing or prohibition on Jesus being the Messiah. The right of succession passed to Jesus “legally” but there was no need for a physical succession to pass to him, as God is the Father and Jesus is the only “begotten” of the Father and Joseph had nothing to do with Mary’s pregnancy.
The answer to this question inadvertently provides another assurance that Jesus was the Messiah, Son Of God and Divine rather than human. If Joseph was not his paternal father and Mary “knew” no man, then Jesus had to have been immaculately conceived according to the word that Mary had received. If that was the case then Jesus was certainly not just another male child being born but he was also divine or “God with us”.
To conclude this point, the reason that Jeconiah is listed in the genealogy is to settle that the claim of the Messaiah was not after or according to the flesh, but was rightfully and legally his to claim.
3- Too Many Gaps In The Genealogical Succession Of Matthew Against Known References In Other Texts Prove Biblical Discrepancies.
The critic often levies the charge that gaps found within the genealogy of Matthew are as a matter of sloppy investigations of the facts and proof that Matthew either made the story up or simply couldn’t seem to get it right even after he wrote it. These type of statements usually claim the historical ignorance of the gospel writer and relegate Jesus to the realm of myth, which is another tired critical argument refuted over and over down through the last couple of centuries. Was Matthew eagerly, erroneously and fallaciously promoting information that even he couldn’t seem to get straight? What are we to make of gaps in Matthew’s account?
Once again this type of observation is clearly and certainly overemphasized, and has no bearing on the accuracy of the narrative. It is a fact that some of the individuals Matthew says “begat”, were grandfathers and sometime great grandfathers and not paternal fathers and sons. One such example is Mt. 1:8 where Joram is said to have “begat” Uzziah. We know that 1 Chron. 3:10-12 states that Joram was Uzziah’s great-grandfather not paternal father. 3 generations are skipped by Matthew in this case.
The key to understanding this is in noting that Matthew had a careful style of laying out his genealogy and he does this by separating the genealogy into 3 groups of 14 characters. From Abraham to David, there are 14 generations. From David to Jechoniah (the Babylonian captivity) there are 14 generations. From The Babylonian captivity to Jacob the father of Joseph there are 14 generations in all 42 generations. What is also unique about this arrangement is that the Hebrew numerical values of the word David (D-4 V-6 D-4) is also 14.
As we would expect from a tax collector and mathematician, Matthew seems to have arranged his material in what would be a memorable format for oral recitation as well as providing the ability for the hearers to retain the story which would have been a key feature of repeating the narrative to future generations. Quite naturally, in order to do this, some historical figures would be emphasized, while others would be skipped. This was a literary device and one well crafted by Matthew to get the most memorable information into the minds of the hearer.
In support of this type of use of the phrase “Son Of” to indicate sometimes distant relatives, it should be known that the bible and ANE (Ancient Near East) literature is full of instances where the phrase “Son Of” does not directly indicate an actual paternal relationship. The New Testament especially uses this method to communicate certain truths to individuals as well as groups. In fact Jesus was called the “Son Of David” 15 times in the gospel accounts. Quite naturally we know that there would be no way that Jesus could be David’s son physically. He was also called the “Son Of David” and the “Son Of Abraham” in succession in Mt. 1:1. Jesus called Zacchaeus a “Son Of Abraham” (Lk. 19:9) he also chastised the Pharisees for not adhering to the teachings of their faith’s patriarch “father Abraham” (John 8:51-56). So in essence, “Son Of” does not denote a literal direct paternal relationship, and one should look at the context and actual names to determine if it does.
Finally, any gaps in the genealogy do not overturn the point or the accuracy of the genealogy, and certainly do not represent any discrepancy. The point of the genealogy was to relay that the legal line of Jesus parentage that had come down through 42 generations, was preserved and kept in place, and made possible by God himself. The succession of the individuals accounted for are completely accurate.