The Genealogy of Jesus Christ
Was Yeshua Really
the Son of David?
Why are the genealogies of Jesus Christ given in
Matthew and Luke different? Does this difference
prove, as critics suggest, that the New Testament
is full of inconsistencies and contradictions, and
therefore could not be Scripture? Also, since king
Jeconiah is mentioned in the ancestry of Christ,
and no descendant of his was to sit on David's
throne, does this rule out Christ as true Messiah?
William F. Dankenbring
Critics of the Bible, especially of the New Testament, have long pointed to the apparent "contradictions" between the two recorded genealogies of Christ, in the New Testament, as prima facie evidence that the New Testament is full of holes and is worthless as a historical document. Many, including many Jewish rabbis, have rejected the divine authorship of the New Testament largely because of this seemingly palpable conflict in the testimony of the text.
However, cautious and unbiased studies have proven that such conclusions are grossly unwarranted and are based on only the most superficial of evidence. When we probe deeply into the subject, we find that contrary to the assumptions of critics, there is really no contradiction in the genealogies of Christ at all!
Both Matthew and Luke give a genealogical list for the ancestry of Jesus. When these are compared, differences and difficulties are clearly seen. The most obvious difference is that Matthew's list begins with Abraham and descends to Jesus, but Luke's list begins with Jesus and ascends to Adam, the son of God. This in itself is no problem; but when we put one of the lists in inverse order, and then compare them, a problem immediately arises. Although only Luke gives the generations from Adam to Abraham, and the lists of ancestors between Abraham and David as given by Matthew and Luke are nearly identical, when we compare the two versions of the genealogies from David to Jesus, we see a clear cut difference. Notice!
Matthew's list Luke's list (in inverse order)
Joseph (husband of Mary) Josech
Jesus ("the son, so it was thought,
When we look at the two genealogies in this way, two problems immediately become obvious. First, one is much longer than the other. Secondly, the names are very different in most cases, with an occasional identical name. Notice the names of Shealtiel and Zerubbabel in both lists. But Luke's list puts both of them five generations later than Matthew's list seems to do. Are all these facts signs of error and negligence on the part of the gospel writers?
Why Two DIFFERENT Genealogies?
Can these two genealogies be reconciled without sacrificing historical integrity? Or is this a hopeless and hapless task?
First, let us look at the first problem, the difference in the number of generations.
Although it is true that Matthew lists twenty-six progenitors between David and Jesus, compared with Luke's forty, this is not as big a problem as it may seem at first glance. First of all, we must remember that it is not uncommon for the generations in one line of descent to increase more rapidly than in another. Some descendants of some lines marry at an earlier age, thus accounting for more generations over a given period of time. (People in the Southern United States tend to marry at an earlier age than people in the North.)
Secondly, and most importantly, in Jewish thinking a "son" might mean "grandson," or, "descendant." For example, in Matthew 1:1 we read, "Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham."
Similarly, the word "begot" in the Bible (see Matt. 1:2-16) does not necessarily mean "was the literal or real father of" but instead may simply indicate actual descent.
The very fact that Matthew casts his genealogy list in the form of three groups of fourteen generations, itself, suggests this was a convenient though arbitrary arrangement from which some generations may have been omitted. In fact, says The NIV Harmony of the Gospels, regarding this matter:
"In fact, it can be shown that Matthew's list has omissions (cf. 2 Kings 8:24;
1 Chron. 3:11; 2 Chron. 22:1, 11; 24:27; 2 Kings 23:34; 24:6). Omission of
generations in biblical genealogies is not unique to this case, and Jews are known
to have done this freely. The purpose of a genealogy was not to account for every
generation, but to establish the fact of an undoubted succession, including especially
the more prominent ancestors" (page 306).
With these facts in mind, then, the fact that Matthew obviously omitted a number of generations, because he was merely establishing the fact of undoubted succession in the genealogy of Christ, solves the problem of the different number of "generations" listed very easily.
But What about the Difference in Names?
But what about the problem of the difference in names?
This problem is more difficult to resolve. In the two lists of succession, between David and Joseph all the names are different except Shealtiel and Zerubbabel. How can we account for this difference? Many attempts have been made to explain this difference, without destroying the historical integrity of
One ancient scholar, Julius Africanus (circa A.D. 240) suggested that Matthew gives the genealogy of Joseph through his actual father, Jacob, but Luke gives Joseph's genealogy through his legal father, Heli. According to this view, Heli died childless. His half-brother, Jacob, who had the same mother but a different father, married Heli's widow and by her had Joseph. This kind of marriage, where a brother took his deceased brother's wife as his own wife, is known as a "levirate marriage."
Such a marriage would have meant that physically Joseph was the son of Jacob and legally the son of Heli. Jacob was the descendant of David through David's son Solomon, and Heli was the descendant of David through David's son Nathan. Thus, by both legal and physical lineage Joseph had a rightful claim to the Davidic throne and so would his legal (but not physical) son Jesus. In this solution to the problem, Matthew gives Joseph's physical lineage, and Luke gives his legal lineage.
Another solution to the problem takes the opposite tack. In his classic work, The Virgin Birth of Christ, J. Gresham Machen argues that the reverse was the case -- that is, that Matthew gives the legal descent of Joseph whereas for the most part Luke gives the physical descent. Although the physical and legal lines are reversed, the purpose is still to establish Joseph's rightful claim to the Davidic throne. Says The NIV Harmony of the Gospels:
"This view holds that Solomon's line failed in Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) (Jer. 22:30).
But when the kingly line through Solomon became extinct, the living member of the
collateral line of Nathan (Shealtiel, Matt. 1:12, Luke 3:27) inherited the title to the
throne. Thus, Machen asserts, Matthew is tracing the legal heirship to the throne
from David, through Solomon, through Jeconiah, with transfer to a collateral line
at that point. Luke traces the physical descent (with a possibility of jumps to a
collateral line or levirate marriages) to David through Nathan. Matthew starts with
the question, Who is the heir to David's throne? Luke starts with the question, Who
is Joseph's father?
"A large number of scholars have preferred some form of this view, including A.
Hervey, Theodor Zahn, Vincent Taylor, and Brooke F. Westcott" (page 306-307).
This view also gives us a possible solution to the problem.
A third view has also been presented to solve the apparent contradiction in Christ's ancestry. This view suggests that the apparent conflict between the two genealogies of Joseph results from wrongly assuming that Luke is giving Joseph's own genealogy. Instead, according to this view, we must understand that Luke is really giving Mary's genealogy. In other words, Luke has Joseph's name standing in for Mary's name because he had become son or heir of Heli (Mary's father) by his marriage to her. This view holds that Heli died with no sons, and that Mary became his heiress (compare Num. 27:1-11; 36:1-12). The first of these passages in the book of Numbers seems to provide for the preservation of the name of a man who dies with daughters but no sons.
Says The NIV Harmony of the Gospels:
"In the case of Heli and his daughter, Mary, this could have been accomplished
by Joseph's becoming identified with Mary's family. Joseph would be included
in the family genealogy, although the genealogy is really Mary's. Thus the
genealogies of Matthew and Luke diverge from David on because Matthew traces
the Davidic descent of Joseph, and Luke the Davidic descent of Mary (with
Joseph's name standing in)" (page 307).
Each of these three solutions to the problem would resolve the apparent conflict between the genealogies in Matthew and Luke. Each one is definitely within the realm of reasonable possibility. However, there is a fourth view which seems to satisfy all the requirements of the Scriptures and to resolve all the difficulties. Like the third view, it also understands the genealogy in Luke to really be that of Mary, not Joseph.
According to this solution, Heli is understood to be the progenitor of Mary, not of Joseph. Joseph is not properly part of the genealogy, and is mentioned only parenthetically. In Luke 3:23 we read, "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 words "the son" in italics are not in the original
Greek. Therefore, this could read, "Jesus . . . was the son (so it was thought, of Joseph), of Heli."
Says The NIV Harmony of the Gospels:
"a. Placing the phrase "so it was thought, of Joseph" in parentheses, and thus in
effect removing it from the genealogy, is grammatically justified.
In the Greek
text, Joseph's name occurs without the Greek definite article prefixed; but every
other name in the series has the article. By this device Joseph's name is shown to
be not properly a part of the genealogy. Jesus was only thought to be his son.
This would make Jesus the son (that is, grandson or descendant) of Heli, Mary's
progenitor, and is consistent with Luke's account of Jesus' conception, which makes
clear that Joseph was not his physical father (Luke 1:26-38)" (page 308).
The NIV Harmony of the Gospels goes on to give further evidence supporting this view:
"b. This view allows the most natural meaning of begot to stand. in other words,
begot refers to actual physical descent rather than to jumps to collateral lines.
"c. Matthew's interest in Jesus' relation to the Old Testament and the Messianic
kingdom makes it appropriate that he give Joseph's real descent from David through
Solomon -- a descent that is also Jesus' legal descent-and thus gives him legal
claim to the Davidic throne.
"d. Because Luke emphasizes the humanity of Jesus, his solidarity with the human
race, and the universality of salvation, it is fitting that Luke show his humanity by
recording his human descent through his human parent, Mary. His pedigree is then
traced back to Adam.
"e. The objection that Mary's name is not in Luke's version needs only the reply
that women were rarely included in Jewish genealogies; though giving her descent,
Luke conforms to custom by not mentioning her by name. The objection that Jews
never gave the genealogy of women is met by the answer that this is a unique
case; Luke is talking about a virgin birth. How else could the physical descent
of one who had no human father be traced? Furthermore, Luke has already
shown a creative departure from customary genealogical lists by starting with
Jesus and ascending up the list of ancestors rather than starting at some point
in the past and descending to Jesus.
"f. This view allows easy resolution of the difficulties surrounding Jeconiah
(Matt. 1:11), Joseph's ancestor and David's descendant through Solomon"
The Problem of Jeconiah
Jewish rabbis often point to Matthew's genealogy showing that Jesus was descended from ancient king Jeconiah as evidence or proof that Jesus could not be the true Messiah. Matthew says, "And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: and after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel . . ." (Matt.1:11-12).
Jeconiah was a variant spelling of the name Jehoiachin, king of Judah, a cognate root being used and the constituent parts transposed (I Chron.3:16). He was also called Coniah (Jer.22:24, 28; 37:1). Yet, we read in Jeremiah, "Is this man Coniah a despised broken idol? is he a vessel wherein is no pleasure? wherefore are they cast out, he and his seed, and are cast into a land which they know not? O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD. 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" (Jer.22:28-30).
Clearly, none of Jeconiah's offspring or descendants were to prosper, sitting on the throne of David and ruling Judah. If Jesus were literally descended from Jeconiah, and his actual posterity, then this dire prophecy would apply to Him, and He would not be qualified to be the Messianic King who is to sit on David's throne.
However, David's throne itself was to endure to all generations (II Sam.7:12-17; Psalm 89:3-4). David, and Solomon, David's son, of course, both had many children, through whom the promises could be fulfilled. However, Jeconiah was disqualified ass being an actual progenitor of the Messiah. How, then, can this difficulty be reconciled?
Because of his gross sins, Jeconiah was to be recorded as if childless (see II Chron.36:7-8). No descendant of his would prosper on David's throne (Jer.22:30). Says The NIV Harmony of the Gospels:
"This poses a dilemma. It is Jeconiah through whom the Solomonic descent
and legal right to the throne properly should be traced. Solomon's throne had
already been unconditionally promised eternal perpetuity. Yet Jeconiah will
have no physical descendants who will prosper on that throne. How may both
the divine promise and the curse be fulfilled?
"First, notice that Jeremiah's account neither indicates Jeconiah would have
no seed, nor does it say Jeconiah's line has had its legal claim to the throne
removed by his sin. The legal claim to the throne remains with Jeconiah's
line, and Matthew records that descent down to Joseph. In 1:16, Matthew
preserves the virgin birth of Jesus and at the same time makes clear that Jesus
does not come under the curse upon Jeconiah. He breaks the pattern and
carefully avoids saying that Joseph (a descendant of Jeconiah) begat Jesus.
Instead he refers to 'Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus.'
In the English translation the antecedent of "whom" is ambiguous. But in the
Greek text, 'whom' is feminine singular in form and can refer only to Mary who
was not a descendant of Jeconiah. As to human parentage, Jesus was born of
Mary alone, though Joseph was his legal father. As Jesus' legal father, Joseph's
legal claim passed to Jesus. But because Jesus was not actually Jeconiah's seed,
although of actual Davidic descent through Mary, descendant of Nathan, Jesus
escaped the curse on Jeconiah's seed pronounced in Jeremiah 22:30. Thus the
problem is resolved" (page 309).
When all the evidence is examined, what we are left with are two distinct, different genealogies of two people. Matthew records the legal genealogy of Jesus, through His legal (but not actual) father, Joseph, the husband of Mary. Matthew makes it very plain that Jesus was born (conceived) of the Holy Spirit of God the Father, and not sired or procreated by His human "father" Joseph (Matt.1:18-20).
This explanation of the differing genealogies recorded in Matthew and Luke is straightforward, clear, and does not depend on any human conjectures, speculations, or contrived theories. It rests solely on the evidence within the actual texts themselves, and reconciles all the potential difficulties in both Old and New Testaments. It explains how Jesus could be the legal but not actual or literal descendant of Jeconiah, so the curse God put on Jeconiah would not fall on Him. It easily resolves the problem posed by Jeconiah.
Thus Jewish rabbis and teachers who resort to this superficial, apparent "conflict" between the two genealogies of Jesus Christ, are left holding an empty bag full of holes. Their supposed "proof" that Jesus could not have been the Messiah is revealed to be a specious, shallow, empty and baseless form of flimsy speculation itself.
Said one Biblical exegete, L. M. Sweet, of this reconciliation of the two accounts of Christ's genealogy, "Its implicit and felicitous adjustment to the whole complex situation is precisely its recommendation."
Before we finish this discussion of the genealogies of Jesus Christ, one other difficulty of lesser significance found in Matthew's record of Joseph's genealogy needs to be resolved. In chapter 1, verse 17, Matthew divides the generations from Abraham to Christ into three groups of fourteen generations: from Abraham to David, from David to the deportation to Babylon, and from the deportation to Babylon to Christ. To some degree, this was very probably a device used by Matthew to aid memory. It appears he was giving a basic summary of the data, and deliberately left out generations of lesser significance. We need not assume that Matthew's account mentioned every progenitor. At least five names are clearly omitted -- those of Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah, Jehoiakim, and Eliakim. This kind of literary procedure was not unusual and presents no real problem.
With three groups of fourteen generations, however, we might expect to find forty-two different names. But since there are only forty one, this brings up the question of why one was left out. Obviously, one set has only thirteen different names. But in reality, the problem is only a superficial one. Says The NIV Harmony of the Gospels:
"Matthew does not speak of forty-two different names but of three groups of
fourteen generations, which he divides for himself. David's name concludes
the first set and stands first in the second set (cf. 1:17). In other words, David
is counted twice and is thus given special prominence in the genealogy that shows
Jesus' Davidic throne rights through his legal father, Joseph. Another means used
for increasing the focus on David is the title assigned to him in Matthew 1:6. He is
called King David, and is the only person in the genealogy to whom a title is given.
Possibly the Davidic emphasis is even further enhanced by the number 14. The
sum of the numerical value of the Hebrew letters in the name David is 14. To the
modern reader this might seem overly subtle, but it was not necessarily so in
ancient Semitic thought. The numerical value of David's name, however, is not
necessary to the resolution of this problem, Again, alleged discrepancies between
and in the genealogical lists of Matthew and Luke are shown to be more apparent
than real. Reasonable solutions to the problems exist and even throw further light
on the text" (The NIV Harmony of the Gospels, page 310).
How clear! How plain! In a very real sense, rather than disproving the Messianic credentials of Yeshua Ha Moshiach -- Jesus Christ -- as the Saviour and Redeemer of all mankind, these alleged discrepancies, when thoroughly studied, add powerful proof and convincing evidence that Jesus was indeed all that He claimed to be -- the One destined to rule upon the Throne of David, as our Messiah and King!
Matthew, when he wrote his gospel account, was not considering how "end-time generations" might look at it. He simply wrote it as he was led by the Spirit of God, even as the prophets of old (II Pet.1:20-21). Likewise, Luke, when he wrote his account of the life and ministry of Christ, did not consult Matthew, to collaborate and to make "sure" that there would be no misunderstandings in later generations. Neither of these men were out to construct some sort of "Messianic conspiracy." Rather, they simply told the story, each in his own words, according as the Spirit of God motivated them (see II Timothy 3:16).
The fact that both gave differing genealogies for Jesus Christ is, in itself, proof that their accounts were independent of each other, and that the "witnesses" did not meet together first to make sure "they all said the same thing." Absolutely not! They simply let the chips fall where they may. There was obviously no previous collaboration or planning to "tell the same story." Therefore, this is strong prima facie evidence that their testimonies are pure, unsullied, undefiled, and the virgin truth! There is no false witness among them!
How wonderful is the truth of God! How past finding out are His divine judgments! And how beautiful is His divinely inspired Word!