Quartz Hill School of Theology

The Genealogy of Jesus

by R.P. Nettelhorst

       The information in this section originally appeared in an article by the professor (R.P. Nettelhorst) published in the June 1988 issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.

       An old problem for expositors has been the contradictory genealogies of Christ given in Matthew and Luke. Matthew traces Jesus' lineage through forty-two generations from Abraham to Christ. Luke traces it from Adam to Christ, for more than seventy generations.
       It is unnecessary to examine in detail the genealogy between Adam and Abraham in Luke. That genealogy appears to derive from the Old Testament (1 Chr 1:1-4, 24-27; Gen 5:3-32;11:10-26). Matthew gives no listing from Adam to Abraham, so no problems there. Both Matthew and Luke list the people from Abraham to David, but again there is no problem: the two genealogies are nearly identical at that point. No, the problem that has confounded readers of the New Testament is found in the listing of names between David and Joseph. Matthew traces Joseph's line through Solomon and the successive kings of Judah. But Luke gives a completely different account, tracing Joseph's line through Nathan, Solomon's brother:

The Genealogies

David David
Solomon Nathan
Rehoboam Mattatha
Abijah Menna
Asa Melea
Jehoshaphat        Eliakim
Joram 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
Zadok Neri
Akim Shealtiel
Eliud Zerubbabel
Eleazar Rhesa
Matthan Joanan
Jacob Joda
Joseph Josech
Jesus Semein


       Clearly there is a difference between these two genealogies. They both start with David and they both end with Jesus, but the names in between are completely different. There aren't even the same number of names in the two lists. Matthew Henry, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, wrote:

       The difference between the two evangelists in the genealogy of Christ, has been a stumbling block to infidels that cavil at the word...[Matthew Henry, An Exposition of the Old and New Testaments. Vol. V. Philadelphia: Towar & Hogan, 1828, p. 482]

       Skeptics have looked at these differences and have arrived at a simple solution to the problem: the genealogies are, in essence, pious fiction. They are not really genealogies of Christ, but have been composed, perhaps from other sources, so as to try to legitimize Jesus' claim to Messiahship. [Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX. Anchor Bible. Garden City: Doubleday, 1981, pp. 499-500; Michael Arnheim, Is Christianity True? Buffalo:Prometheus, 1984, pp. 13-16] This explanation has been generally accepted outside of evangelical circles, but as an explanation, it does not satisfy those with a high view of scriptural integrity. However, if the two lists are not mere invention, then how else can they be reconciled? They don't even agree on Joseph's father, a fact which should not have been much of a mystery.
       Since first proposed by Annius of Viterbo (c. AD 1490) [I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Greek Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978, p. 158], the most common explanation for the discrepancy, at least among evangelicals, has been to assume that Matthew's genealogy traces the lineage of Jesus through Joseph, while the one in Luke actually traces it through Mary. (An appendix in Robertson's Harmony of the Gospels lists eleven scholars, including Martin Luther, who accepted this explanation. [A.T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels. New York: Harper and Row, 1950, pp. 261-262]) At first thought, this seems an admirable explanation. (Of more modern proponents of the theory note: Robert Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970, pp. 118-119; John MacArthur, Jr. Matthew 1-7. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1985, p. 3; Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982, p. 316) After all, everyone has two parents and, therefore, two genealogies. Jesus would be no different. (see also Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible. note on Luke 3:23 and Matt 1:1; C.I. Scofield, New Scofield Reference Bible, note on Luke 3:23; cf. note on Matt 1:1.) However, this explanation is nothing but wishful thinking, as any reading of the texts involved can demonstrate:

Matthew 1:15b-16a:
       Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph...
Luke 3:23b:
       He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat...

       The attempted explanation by proponents of the view -- if they attempt to explain it -- is that Luke 3:23b should be understood as "he was the son--so it was thought of Joseph--the son of Heli, the son of Matthat..." Heli is then Christ's grandfather, and Mary is simply unmentioned. The Greek is nearly stretched beyond what is possible; the reading is very unnatural and forced. (Notice the rather quick dismissal of the position by J. Gresham Machen. The Virgin Birth of Christ. New York: Harper and Row, 1930. pp. 203-204; see also I. Howard Marshall, 158)
       It is clear from the text that both genealogies claim to be genealogies of Christ through Joseph. So, back to square one.
       According to I. Howard Marshall (Marshall, 158; see also A.T. Robertson, 261.) Julius Africanus, as cited in Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 1.7, 2-15, utilized the custom of levirate marriage as described in Deut 25:5-6 (see also Gen 38:8-10 and Ruth) to explain the apparent discrepancy in the genealogies. (See also Joseph A. Fitzmyer, 499-500. A.T. Robertson lists nine proponents of this view.) The proponents of this explanation argue that Matthan in Matt 1:15 (Joseph's grandfather) and Matthat in Luke 3:24 (his grandfather there, too) are one and the same man. It is then further supposed that Jacob, Joseph's "father" in Matthew died without children, and that his nephew, the son of Heli (Joseph's father in Luke) became his heir. Right.
       A view akin to the above is that of Lord A. Hervey, which Marshall argues "has gained [the] most support in modern times" (Marshall, 158). Machen argues quite forcefully for Hervey's idea (Machen, 202-209,229-232; see also F.F. Bruce in The New Bible Dictionary, 458-459). Hervey argued that Matthew gives the legal line of descent from David, giving the legal heir of the throne in each case. Luke, on the other hand, gives David's actual, physical descendants. Marshall writes that this "solution depends upon conjecture, and there is no way of knowing whether the conjectures correspond to reality." (Marshall, 159) It should also be noted that the position is rather complicated, and requires an odd understanding of "begot".
       I believe that such complicated methods of figuring out the relationship between the two genealogies are unnecessary. An extremely simple explanation is readily available, and it involves no strange customs or textual twists at all. Both genealogies are clearly through Joseph. I believe that one traces the lineage back through Joseph's father, and that the other traces back through Joseph's mother. However, the maternal genealogy drops the name of Joseph's mother, and instead skips back to her father. Which is which? I believe that the genealogy in Luke is through Joseph's father. I believe the one in Matthew is through Joseph's maternal grandfather.

Matthew's Genealogy
Luke's Genealogy
JACOB (maternal grandfather)        MATTHAT (paternal grandfather)
(mother--unlisted)        HELI (father)
       JOSEPH        Mary


       That Matthew should skip Joseph's mother in the genealogical listing is not peculiar since it is readily apparent that Matthew skips a number of people in his genealogy. For instance, in Matt 1:8 he writes: "Joram the father of Uzziah". But when his statement is compared with 1 Chr 3:10-12, the reader sees that three people have been left out of Matthew's genealogy: Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. Why did Matthew leave names out? So he could get the structural symmetry he desired. In Matt 1:17 he records:

Thus there were fourteen generations
in all from Abraham to David,
fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon,
and fourteen from the exile to Christ.

       Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that Matthew might leave out the name of Joseph's mother so he could get the structural format he desired. Furthermore, this genealogy does list four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, which lends, I think, some support to the idea that this might be a woman's genealogy.
       I believe this explanation for the two genealogies has the advantage of simplicity, and that this explanation also has the textual support which the other common theories lack.

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