As Christmas nears, you might find yourself reading the accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke. However, if you compare Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1 with that of Luke 3, you will quickly see some discrepancy.
Luke 3 traces Jesus’ lineage backwards, all the way to Adam. Matthew 1 traces it ahead, starting with Abraham.
They both agree quite nicely from Abraham until David. But after David they seem to go different trajectories, only later coming back around to Joseph (Jesus’ adoptive father) and then to Jesus.
At first glance this may seem an irreconcilable contradiction. But if we allow that, at times, people could be listed in the genealogy in the place of biological ancestors, then the problem seems less daunting (for instance, even today if someone adopts a child, it is not always so clear who you’d list as the father). And, in truth, all must concede this at least with Joseph, for Matthew and Luke both list Joseph as Jesus’ father in their genealogies while simultaneously maintaining that Joseph was not his biological father elsewhere in their gospels.
Now, though multiple plausible harmonizations exist for this particular problem, the one I find the most compelling is the notion that Matthew traced Jesus’ lineage from his father (Joseph), while Luke traces it from his mother (Mary).
I favor the Matthew-Joseph and Luke-Mary explanation because:
- It is simple, and according to Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation often is the true one.
- Luke 3:23 says, “Jesus…being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli”. Calling Jesus the “as was supposed,” son of Joseph has a tone that seems a bit clunky and may suggest this lineage is not traced through Joseph’s line. Even more, genealogies written during that time period may have had to attribute Joseph’s name, even if it was going through Mary, and thus the “as was supposed” may suggest that the line is not being traced through Joseph.
- Matthew uses the Greek word “gennao” (meaning: to procreate; fig. to regenerate:- bear, beget, bring forth, conceive, be delivered of), that is translated “begot” in the New King James Version, for the lineage. This word means to physically procreate (to have sex and produce), and seems less likely to be attributed to an adopted son or daughter. Whereas, Luke uses the word, “son” (Greek: “huios”) in “Joseph, the son of Heli”. “Huios” does not need to mean a biological descendant, and in fact would be in the correct context if Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli (who was the biological father of Mary).
- Adding on to the above point, Joseph would have gained the right to become Heli’s pronounced son through his marriage with Mary.
- Luke’s narrative is focused on Mary leading into the lineage, and thus, it would be very natural for him to provide Mary’s lineage, instead of Joseph’s.
- THE BEST REASON OF ALL: The genealogy given in Matthew (presumably Joseph’s lineage) is traced through the Davidic king’s line (of which Jesus had to descend from): “David the king begot Solomon…” (Matt. 1:6). This kingship traces from David to Jeconiah, but according to Jeremiah 22:30, all of Jeconiah’s physical descendants could not become king. Therefore, if this was Mary’s lineage, Jesus (as a biological ancestor of Jeconiah) would be disqualified from inheriting the Davidic kingship, and thus, could not be the Christ. But, if Matthew recorded Joseph’s lineage, this would prove that Jesus had the legal right to the Davidic throne, as the eldest son of Joseph – a descendant of the kingly line of Jeconiah (the cursed king). Jesus’ birth from a virgin who was not part of Jeconiah’s line made it so he did not have the curse of Jeconiah, yet since he was the adopted son of Joseph, he gained the rights to the throne of David. If Matthew recorded Joseph’s lineage (which seems probable), it shows that Joseph, the father of Jesus, was one of a relatively small group of people who Jesus could have come through as an adopted (but not biological) son in order to inherit David’s throne!
- Along with the evidence stated above, numerous prophecies in the Old Testament tell us that Jesus must be the biological descendant of different ancestors, and thus Mary’s ancestry would match with Judah and David, for instance, as listed in Luke 3 (see Gen. 49:10; 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Isaiah 11:1ff for evidence that Messiah would be a descendant of Judah and David).
- Further, Luke indicates elsewhere that both Joseph (Luke 1:27) and Mary (Luke 1:32) descended from David, even as both genealogies find commonality at David.
These reasons do not prove that Matthew recorded Joseph’s lineage while Luke recorded Mary’s, but they show that such a proposition is possible, nicely fits what we see predicted in the Old Testament of Messiah, and maintains the integrity of the entirety of God’s word (including Matthew 1 and Luke 3).