genealogies-of-jesus

By Shari Abbott, Reasons for Hope* Jesus

Question received at questions@reasonsforhopejesus.com 

 I was reading the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 and have two related questions.

First, although the genealogy is essentially the same at the end points (Adam/Abraham to Joseph), the genealogy is different in the middle (Matthew lists Solomon as the son of David, whereas Luke lists Nathan).  At the end, Matthew lists Joseph as the son of Jacob, while Luke lists Joseph as the son of Heli. I am not sure how to reconcile those differences.

Second, both genealogies trace Jesus’ lineage to David through Joseph, not Mary.  But since Jesus does not have any earthly/blood linkage to Joseph, why is Jesus’ lineage to Joseph important?  Joseph is Jesus’ father by adoption, so wouldn’t Jesus’ lineage to Mary be more important?

These are some of the most often asked questions by skeptics in their attempts to discredit the Bible. They believe these are contradictions and therefore proclaim them to be errors in the Bible. However, as we know, there are no errors in the Bible. There are answers to all these questions and explanations to dispel any doubt.

The Genealogies of Jesus Christ

Matthew and Luke record the legal and blood-line genealogies that give proof of the promises of Genesis 3:15. In the Garden, immediately following the fall of man, God promised to send a “seed” who would rescue man from his fallen state. God spoke directly to the serpent Satan and said:

Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity [hostility/hatred] between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it [the seed of the woman who is Jesus Christ] shall bruise thy [Satan’s] head, and thou [Satan] shalt bruise his [the seed of the woman, Jesus Christ] heel.

From that time forward God began revealing His purpose and plan to His people: 

  • With the birth of Jesus, God gave the world the promised Seed. With the birth of Jesus, God gave the world Light and Hope.
  • With the birth of Jesus, God fulfilled His promise to send a Conquerer.

The Genealogy of Jesus as Recorded in Matthew 

Matthew’s first verse proclaims Jesus’ legal right as Messiah, the anointed one, a king who would come from the Tribe of Judah.  The promised Seed was to come through Abraham (Genesis 22:18) and through David (Isaiah 11:1).  

Matthew 1:1  The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Matthew next proceeds to record the line of succession.  As correctly noted, when this genealogy reaches David, the succession proceeds through King Solomon, whereas in the book of Luke it proceeds with Nathan, the second surviving son of King David.

Because Matthew is presenting Jesus as the coming Messiah to the nation of Israel, he provides a genealogy that begins with the father of the nation, Abraham. Matthew then continues his record through King Solomon and all the way to Jesus’ earthly father Joseph.  This is the record of Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph.  It presents Jesus’ legal right to the throne of David, to be Messiah (anointed One or King) from the Tribe of Judah.

The Genealogy of Jesus as Recorded in Luke

The Gospel of Luke presents Jesus as the Son of Man and reveals Him in all His humanity to be 100% man.  Luke begins with Joseph and traces the genealogy all the way back to the first man Adam.  Luke 3:23 records Joseph as the son of Heli. Matthew records Joseph as the son of Jacob.

Luke 3:23  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

Matthew 1:16  And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Is this a contradiction? These are clearly two different genealogies for Joseph.  Two different names are given for Joseph’s father.  In addition, reviewing the genealogy after King David, the Matthew account goes through King Solomon, the first surviving son of David and Bathsheba, but the Luke account goes through Nathan, their second surviving son.  Nathan was never a king in Israel. Therefore, the Luke genealogy does not support Jesus’ right to the throne of David. Nathan was, however, a son of David from the Tribe of Judah, so the genealogy in Luke does support Jesus as a son (descendant) of David.

Why Two Different Genealogies for Jesus?

This is not a contradiction and the answer is really quite simple.  Matthew is the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph and Luke is the genealogy of Jesus through Mary.   

That raises the question, why does Luke record it as the genealogy of Joseph?  It clearly lists Joseph, not Mary, in Luke 3:23.  To understand this requires some background about Jewish marriage and inheritance laws and customs. 

Before proceeding, note that in Matthew we read each person was begotten (“begat” in KJV, “born” in modern translations).  The word “begat” is defined as: to become the father of (someone) or to procreate as the father. Notice that Matthew 1:16 does not say that Joseph “begat” Jesus, but rather that Jesus was “born” of Mary. The word “born” is defined as: brought into life by the process of birth. This records that Jesus was not Joseph’s biological child, but rather the child born of his wife Mary. This supports that Jesus was the adopted son of Joseph, not the begotten son. Of course, we know that Jesus was begotten of God.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.


Luke Records the Genealogy of Jesus Through Mary 

Clearly, this is not the bloodline of Joseph, for at King David it proceeds through His second surviving son, Nathan.  Again, this is Mary’s genealogy.  Heli was Mary’s father and Joseph is listed in the text because he was the adopted son of Heli.  To understand this we must turn to the book of Numbers.  Chapter 36 provides Jewish laws and customs regarding marriage and inheritance.  In Numbers 36 we read about the distribution of the land among the children of Israel.

Numbers 36:1-2  And the chief fathers of the families of the children of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near, and spoke before Moses, and before the princes, the chief fathers of the children of Israel: And they said, The LORD commanded my lord to give the land for an inheritance by lot to the children of Israel: and my lord was commanded by the LORD to give the inheritance of Zelophehad our brother unto his daughters.

Zelophehad was of the generation of people who were not allowed entrance into the Promised Land and therefore died in the wilderness.  We read in Numbers 27 of Zelophehad’s five daughters who came before Moses, Eleazar the priest and the princes of all the congregation.  They brought a petition to request inheritance of their father’s land as a way to preserve his name.  Inheritance was always through the male line, so the daughters asked, 

Numbers 27:4  Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father.

Moses responded exactly as we should respond in all matters.  He “brought their cause before the LORD.” (Numbers 27:5)  And the Lord answered Moses:

Numbers 27:7  The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them.

There was, however, a provision required so that the name and lineage of the father be preserved.  The daughters were to marry within their own tribe (Numbers 36:6-9) so the land would remain in the tribe of the father.

Heli was Mary’s father.  Because he had no sons, Heli adopted Joseph as his son for the purposes of inheritance (according to the provision of God recorded in Numbers).  Both Mary and Joseph were from the Tribe of Judah, and therefore Mary met the requirement of marrying within the same tribe. 

Finally, let’s read Luke 3:23 again and consider what it says:

Luke 3:23  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

The word “supposed” in this verse is the Greek word nomizo.  It means:  to do by law, to accustom, to deem or to regard.  So we can understand this to mean that Joseph was “reckoned by law,” not by birth, as a son of Heli.

In Summary

1.There is a Torah exception on rules of inheritance.  

  • It was requested by Moses on behalf of the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-5).  
  • It was granted by God (Numbers 27:6-11). 
  • It was defined by God (Numbers 36:6-9).  
  • It was instituted by Joshua (Joshua 17:3-6). 

2.  Mary met the required provision when she married within her tribe (Matthew 1:16).

3.  Joseph was the adopted son of Heli, reckoned by law (Luke 3:23).

4.  Matthew records the genealogy of Jesus, through Joseph.  The genealogy is from Abraham to Joseph, which establishes Jesus’ legal right to the Throne of David as the Messiah of Israel.

5.  Luke records the genealogy of Jesus, through Mary.  Luke starts with Mary (although Joseph’s name is listed) and traces the genealogy all the way back to Adam.  This genealogy establishes Jesus’ birthright and bloodline as the Son of Man. 

We now understand why the genealogies differ in their beginnings (Abraham and Adam) and after King David (on through Solomon, the other through Nathan). This also explains why the names of Joseph’s father are different (Heli is Mary’s father). 

In addition to these being the genealogies of two different people (Matthew is of Joseph; Luke is of Mary), there is another interesting proof of God’s work found tucked away in these passages.  Next week we’ll address Solomon and Nathan — the two sons of King David and his wife Bathsheba and their significance in the genealogical line of Jesus.

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