There are several genealogies in the Bible. Genesis 5, 10, 11.10-32, 36, 46.8-27,
Numbers 1-4, 1 Chronicles 1-9, Ezra 7. In New Testament Matthew 1.1-17, Luke 3.23-38.
Accurate records kept for two reasons.
1. Property rights in Israel were linked to family heritage.
2. Messiah / seed of woman was promised through a specific line of descent. Adam
(Gen 3. 15), Abraham / Isaac (Gen 22.18), Judah (Shiloh in Gen 49.10), Jesse / David
(2 Samuel 7.12-13, 1 Chronicles 17.11-14, Isaiah 7.13-14, 9.7, 11.1, 11.10, Jeremiah
23.5-6). Note that in many of the prophecies concerning David there is an implication
of the one spoken of being a divine person. To show descent from David is an important
part of the claim to be Messiah. As genealogical records are no longer available
no one can do this today.
Relationship of genealogy to Gospel.
Matthew gives an account of the birth of Messiah from Joseph’s point of view. Genealogy
in Matthew goes back to Abraham, father of people of Israel. Matthew is most concerned
with Jesus as Jewish Messiah and has most references to Messianic prophecy. His
Gospel was written mainly for Jewish people. Jesus is referred to as ‘Son of David’
(Messianic title) in Matthew 1.1, 9.27, 12.23, 15.22, 20.30, 21.9, 21.15-16.
Luke gives an account of the birth from Mary’s point of view. He goes back to God
via Adam, father of human race. He is most interested in Jesus as Son of Man. He
has the most references to Jesus’ ministry to Gentiles. His Gospel was written mainly
for Gentiles. His genealogy was given immediately after the baptism of Jesus when
God says, ‘You are my beloved Son.’
John begins with Jesus as the Word (God) made flesh. John has most references to
divinity of the Lord.
Compare Matthew and Luke. Why the difference?
Matthew’s genealogy goes through Joseph, Luke’s through Miriam (Mary). Both showed
that Joseph was a legal parent, but not a genetic parent to Jesus. Jesus was miraculously
conceived in Mary, through the Holy Spirit. For more information on this go to our
article ‘Can we believe in the Virgin Birth?’By virtue of being Mary's husband,
Joseph was considered the father of Jesus. Since Jesus was the first born into Joseph's
family, he was a legal heir. Through Joseph, Jesus obtained a rightful claim to the
throne of David. Although Jesus was a legal descendant to Joseph, he was not a physical
descendant. Clearly, people had assumed that Joseph was the biological father of
Jesus, when in fact he was not (Matthew 13:55). Both genealogies are 'aware' of the
virgin birth: Luke adds the phrase "He was the son, as was supposed, of Joseph" (3:23)
and Matthew switches verbs from "X begat Y" to "Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom
(feminine pronoun) was born Jesus".
Who was Joseph's Father?
At first glance, Matthew and Luke appear to be in disagreement as to who Joseph's
father was. Matthew states he was the son of Jacob, while Luke states he was the
son of Heli. The Jerusalem Talmud indicates that Miriam (Mary) was the daughter
of Heli (Haggigah 2.4, Sanhedrin 23.3, Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 44.2). In English
we do not put the word ‘the’ in front of a person’s name (the John, the Jane). But
it is possible to do this in Greek. In the Greek text of Luke every name in this
list has ‘the’ in front of it except Joseph’s name. A reader would understand from
this that this is not really Joseph’s line. In keeping with Jewish law it was the
husband’s name that was used. Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli. Luke could rightfully
call Joseph the "son of Heli" because this was in compliance with use of the word
"son" at that time. Thus, Joseph was the son of Jacob, and the son-in-law of Heli.
The Curse of Jehoiakim. The curse in Jeremiah 36:1-32 gives insight into the virgin
birth of Jesus. Jehoiakim was a king of Israel. He angered God by burning a scroll
that Jeremiah the prophet wrote. God cursed Jehoiakim by indicating that none of
his children would sit on the throne of David (Jeremiah 36:29-31). And although Jehoiakim
had children, scripture shows that none of them ever reigned on David’s throne.
The Problem. Joseph, the father of Jesus, was one of Jehoiakim's descendants (through
Jeconiah). Joseph's offspring could not claim David's throne because of the curse.
The New Testament asserts Jesus claim to the throne of David (Luke 1:32, Acts 2:30).
Jesus reigns now as Lord of those who are saved and will reign literally as King
over all the earth from David’s throne at His second coming (Isaiah 2.1-4, Zechariah
14.9). For more information on this go to our article‘Why the Second Coming?’ If
Jesus had been born of Joseph, the curse would have been contradicted.
God had promised David that one of his physical descendants would reign on the throne
of his kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7:12-13). As explained above, Joseph was excluded
from being the genetic father of the future king of Israel. It was impossible to
fulfil the requirements of both curse and promise by natural means. One man had to
be both heir to and offspring of David, without being the genetic descendant of Jehoiakim.
This problem required a divine solution.
The Solution. God created a solution through the miracle of the virgin birth. Although
Joseph was one of Jehoiakim's offspring (through Solomon), Mary was not. She was
a descendant of Nathan, one of David's other sons (Luke 3:31). God's promise to David
was fulfilled because Mary was the biological parent of Jesus. The virgin birth
also addressed the curse God had pronounced upon Jehoiakim. Kingship was an inherited
right. By Joseph, Jesus inherited a legal claim to the throne of David. However,
he was exempt from the curse of Jehoiakim because Joseph was not his genetic father.
So the miracle of the virgin birth accomplished God's will in two ways. First, it
granted Jesus a legal claim to the throne of David. And second, it maintained the
integrity of the curse God had pronounced upon Jehoiakim. Indeed, Jesus was not one
of Jehoiakim's offspring.
Objection. Where did Luke get his information from?
Many of the names in Matthew’s list are familiar from the Old Testament. Those in
Luke’s are not. Where did he get his information from? The most likely source is
Mary herself. It is possible that Mary preserved a record of the events about the
birth of Jesus and made them available to Luke. The genealogical records could also
have been made available.
"There is nothing strange in it that the genealogical table of Jesus existed at that
time. Under the guiding hand of God the Jews preserved their genealogical tables
with remarkable accuracy through all the centuries before the birth of Jesus and
also during the first century after His birth (cf. the numerous genealogical tables
in the Old Testament). Ever since the earliest times the lineage lists were compiled
and preserved as accurately as possible. After their return from the Babylonian exile
the Jews again thoroughly fixed their genealogical tables by committing them to writing
and bringing them up to date, and this was continued until the time of Josephus.
Especially would persons like Joseph and the family of Mary, who were of Davidic
descent, preserve their genealogical tables with special care because the Old Testament
prophesied that the Messiah would be born of the house of David. Apart from the public
registers, numbers of Jewish families kept private family trees in their homes and
handed them down from generation to generation. Thus Luke, probably through the
instrumentality of Mary herself, or of persons intimately connected with her, obtained
possession of the genealogical table of Mary's father Heli and committed it to writing
in his Gospel." [Geldenhuys, Luke]
A related objection is that Matthew disagrees with 1 Chronicles in the descendants
of Zerubabbel. It is likely that Matthew used extra biblical sources for the genealogy
from Zerubabbel to Joseph. Josephus assures us that such records were available
as does the church historian Eusebius. Today all such records have been lost.
Objection. Why are there more names in Luke than in Matthew?
Matthew gives an abridged genealogy. He divides the names into three groups of 14.
Note David in Hebrew has a numerical value of 14. There are clearly names left
out as happens in some of the genealogies in the Old Testament. Compare Ezra 7:3
with 1st Chronicles 6:7-10, and you can see how Ezra deliberately skipped six generations
from Meriaoth to Azariah (son of Johanan). The Jews did not use the word son in
a limited sense, as we do today. Matthew 1:1 states Jesus was the "son of David,
the son of Abraham." This appears to indicate that David was the father of Jesus,
and Abraham was his grandfather. A Jew would have understood that Matthew did not
mean there was only one generation between these men; but that Jesus was a descendant
of David, who was a descendant of Abraham. This fact is born out in the verses that
follow (Matthew 1:2-17). In the Jewish mind, the word son could be applied to one
who was not a literal, first generation son, as is commonly understood today. It
could mean a descendant; which could be a grandson, great grandson, or son of a more
distant generation. The custom of skipping generations can be called "genealogical
abridgement." Matthew used this kind of abridgement while Luke copied the whole
list (given him by Mary).
Objection. Why do the names of Zerubbabel and Shealtiel appear in both lists?
Most likely explanation is that they are different people. Zerubbabel was a common
name from the early Persian period (it means one sown in Babylon) (539-331 BC), as
shown by cuneiform inscriptions from Babylonia. The genealogies themselves have
numerous names that repeat within the genealogy (e.g. Joseph, Mattathias, Judah)
without being the same individuals. One can think of families today which have the
same names for cousins etc. Their chronological placements on a time line could
differ by as much as a century (depending on how the omissions in Matthew are accounted
for, and on what the average age of child-bearing was.) For more information on
this go to http://www.christianthinktank.com/fabprof4.html
"Remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor
give heed to fables and endless genealogies which cause disputes rather than godly
edification which is in the truth.’ Paul's advice to Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3-4).
The differences in the genealogies raise many questions. Admittedly, much of the
documentation that would enable us to draw absolute conclusions is not available.
What is important is to be built up in the truth of the Gospel message. Many first
century Jewish people were literate, vocal opponents of this message. Unlike modern
scholars, they had access to the original genealogical records. Had the genealogies
been inaccurate, it would have been easy for a first century Jew to prove that they
were. One might conclude that their silence is testimony to the accuracy of the