This is the s.r.c.b-s  genealogy FAQ.


               The Genealogies in Matthew and Luke
                   Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23b-38

Both Matthew and Luke give a genealogical list for the descent of 
Jesus. When these are compared, differences and difficulties appear
immediately. The most obvious difference is that Matthew's list 
begins with Abraham and descends to Jesus, whereas Luke's list 
begins with Jesus and ascends to Adam, the son of God. This in
itself presents no difficulty; but when comparing, it is quite
another matter. Of course only Luke gives the generations from
Adam to Abraham, and the lists of progenitors between Abraham
and David as given by Matthew and Luke are nearly identical. No
problem comes until we compare the two versions of the succession 
from David to Jesus:

     Matthew's list        Luke's list (in inverse order)
        David                           David
        Solomon                         Nathan
        Rehoboam                        Mattatha
        Abijah                          Menna
        Asa                             Melea
        Jehoshaphat                     Eliakim
        Jehoram                         Jonam
        Uzziah                          Joseph
        Jotham                          Judah
        Ahaz                            Simeon
        Hezekiah                        Levi
        Manasseh                        Matthat
        Amon                            Jorim
        Josiah                          Eliezer
        Jeconiah                        Joshua
        Shealtiel............           Er
        Zerubbabel........  .           Elmadam        
        Abiud            .  .           Cosam
        Eliakim          .  .           Addi
        Azor             ?  ?           Melki
        Zakok            .  .           Neri
        Akim             .  ............Shealtiel
        Eliud            ...............Zerubbabel
        Eleazar                         Rhesa
        Matthan                         Joanan
        Jacob                           Joda
        Joseph (husband of Mary)        Josech
                          Jesus         Semein
                                        Jesus ("the son, so it was
                                              thought, of Joseph") 
For students of a harmony of the gospels the above comparison
presents two problems; the difference in the number of generations
and the dissimilarity of names. How can the two genealogies be
harmonized without sacrificing the historical integrity of either?

Recent critical studies have generally regarded past attempts at
harmonization as just so much frustrated effort. Both H.C. Waetjen
and M.D. Johnson summarily dismiss past efforts to preserve full
historical authenticity as unconvincing, strained, and beside the
point. In any event, it is said, historicity will not effect 
significantly the reader's existential response or understanding
of New Testament theology. Instead, each genealogy must be understood
individually and theologically in relation to the gospel in which
it appears and the thought of the evangelist that is intended to
express. The content and structure of each supposedly is arbitrary
to suit the evangelist's purpose. What those specific purposes were 
need not occupy our attention here, for the analyses of scholars
such as Waetjen and Johnson follow the assumptions and methodology
of much recent New Testament critical scholarship. Their analyses
will be no better than their assumptions and methodology. And the
fundamental question of the historical reliability of the genealogies
cannot be bypassed in so a cavalier a fashion. Consequently we turn
our attention to the problems of harmonizing the two lists of Jesus'
ancestral descent.

The first problem, the difference in the number of generations, is
the easier to resolve. Although it is true that Matthew lists 
twenty-six progenitors between David and Jesus, compared with Luke's
forty, two factors must be kept in mind. First, it is not uncommon
for the generations in one line of descent to increase more rapidly 
than in another. Second, and more important, in Jewish thinking son
might mean "grandson," or, even more generally, "descendant" (as  
"Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham," Matt. 1:1).
Similarly, begat (rendered by the patter "'X' [was] the father of
'Y'" in the New International Version, Matt. 1:2-16) does not
necessarily mean "was the actual (that is, immediate) father of"
but instead may simply indicate real descent. Just the fact that
Matthew casts his list in the form of three groups of fourteen
generations suggests this was a convenient though arbitrary
arrangement from which some generations may have been omitted. 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 it 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.

The second problem is more difficult to resolve. In the two lists
of succession, between David and Joseph all the names are different
except Shealtiel and Zerabbabel (connected in the list by dotted 
lines). How is this to be accounted for? Some exegetes unnecessarily  
despair of finding an adequate solution or even suggest the lists
are in error. Others see them as redactional devices by which the
writers sought to fulfill their theological purposes in writing.
But among the attempts to harmonize the genealogies with each other,
four proposals deserve consideration.

1. Julius Africanus (d. 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. In 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. Known as levirate marriage, this action 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.
   Matthew gives Joseph's physical lineage, Luke his legal lineage.
2. In his classic work, The Virgin Birth of Christ, J. Gresham Machen 
   argued for the view that Matthew gives the legal descent of Joseph
   whereas for the most part (he does allow for levirate marriage or
   transfer of lineage to a collateral line in Joseph's physical line),
   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. 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. 1:23,
   cf. Luke 3:27) inherited the title to the throne. Thus, Maechen
   asserts, Matthew is tracing the legal heirship to the throne from
   David, through Solomon, through Jeconiah, with transfer to a 
   collateral line at the 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.

3. A third view suggests that the apparent conflict between the
   two genealogies of Joseph results from mistakenly assuming 
   Luke is intending to give Joseph's genealogy. Instead it should
   be understood as Mary's genealogy. Joseph's name stands in for 
   Mary's by virtue of the fact that 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
   (Num. 27:1-11; 36:1-12). The first of these passages seems to 
   provide for the preservation of the name of the man who dies
   with daughters but no sons. 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).

Each of the three proposals discussed thus far would resolve the 
apparent conflict between the genealogies in Matthew and Luke. Each
also appears to be within the realm of reasonable possibility. It must
be pointed out that all three, however, rely upon conjecture that is 
possible but far from certain. In the first two views one must appeal
to levirate marriages or collateral lines to resolve difficulties. The
third view rests on the conjecture that Joseph takes Mary's place in
the genealogy. In addition, the first must explain why Luke rather 
than Matthew is interested in the legal lineage of Joseph. Both the 
first and second views must explain why Luke, in light of his apparent
interest in and close association with Mary, would be concerned with
Joseph's genealogy at all. Interested as he was in Jesus's humanity,
birth, and childhood, why would Luke give the genealogy of the man who
was Jesus' legal but not physical father? These questions are not 
unanswerable, but they do leave the field open for a view less 
dependent on conjecture, one that does not raise these questions. 

4. There is such a view. Like the third proposed solution, this 
   fourth view understands the genealogy in Luke really to be Mary's,
   but for different reasons. Here 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, 
   Luke 3:23 should then read "Jesus ... was the son (so it was 
   thought, of Joseph) of Heli." The support for this view is

   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 with the Greek definite article 
      prefixed; 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 1:26-39).

   b. This view allows the most natural meaning of begat to stand.
      In other words, begat 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
      really 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. In 2 Sam. 7:12-17 the perpetuity of the 
      Davidic Kingdom though Solomon (vv. 12-13) is unconditionally
      promised. Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) later was the royal 
      representative of that line of descent for which eternal
      perpetuity had been promised. Yet for his gross sin (2 Chron.
      24:8-9), Jeconiah was to be recorded as if childless, and
      no descendant of his would prosper on the Davidic throne
      (Jer. 22:30). 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

      First, notice that Jeremiah's account neither indicates 
      Jeconiah would have no seed, nor does is 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 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,
      through Joseph 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. 

What we have then are two different genealogies of two people. 
Probably even the Shealtiel and Zerubbabel of Matthew and Luke are
different persons. This view does not depend on conjecture, rests
with evidence within the texts themselves, fits the purposes of the
evangelists, and easily resolves the problem surrounding Jeconiah.
Of this view L.M. Sweet appropriately wrote, "Its simplicity and 
felicitous adjustment to the whole complex situation is precisely
its recommendation."

Although it is not, strictly speaking, a harmonistic problem, one
other difficulty of lesser significance found in Matthew's record
of Josephs's genealogy needs discussion here. In 1:17, Matthew 
divides the generations from Abraham to Christ into three groups of
fourteen generations; from Abraham to David, from David to the 
deportation of Babylon, and from the deportation to Christ. In part, 
this was likely a device used by Matthew to aid memory; it does not
imply that he mentioned every progenitor. At least five names are
omitted: Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah, Jehoiakim, and Eliakim. As
previously stated, this procedure was not unusual and presents no
real problem. 

With three groups of fourteen generations, however, one does expect
to find forty two different names. But there are only forty-one. 
Although one set has only thirteen different names, the problem is
only apparent. 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. 

Johnson, Marshall D. The Purpose of the Biblical Genealogies: With
Special Reference to the Setting of the Genealogies of Jesus, 1969
pp. 139-256.

Machen, J. Gresham. The Virgin Birth of Christ, 1930.

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, "The Genealogy
of Jesus Christ," L. M. Sweet. 

Waetjen, Herman C. "The Genealogy as the Key to the Gospel according
to Matthew," Journal of Biblical Literature 95 (1976): 205-230.

Contributed by (Jim Loucks)

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