The Genealogies of Christ — Two Genealogies

This is the first post summarising (with some additions) a discussion in the comments of an earlier post from two years ago (which I’ve just reposted).  The comments delved into some of the interesting features of the genealogies of Christ recorded in Matthew and Luke.

Why Two Genealogies?

There are two genealogies (lines of descent) of Christ in the New Testament, one in Matthew 1 and the other in Luke 3, and they are different.  Most Bible scholars believe the Luke record gives the descent of Mary, the mother of Jesus, while the Matthew account gives the descent of Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus.

Psalm 132:11

The LORD hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.

In general, Biblical genealogies focus on the father, but the above verse makes Mary’s descent vital.  Because Jesus was virgin-born, Mary had to be physically descended from David to fulfill that prophecy.  On the other hand, the genealogy of Joseph mattered because the legal right to the throne passed from father to son.  When Joseph took Jesus as his adoptive son, Jesus inherited a claim to the throne.  So the lines of both Joseph and Mary were important to Jesus’ claim as Messiah, a physical descendant of David, and the legal king of Israel.

Jewish writers of the time were very willing to say anything they could to attack the claims of Jesus to be the Messiah.  If they could have claimed that He was not of the royal line, or that there was someone with a better claim to be the heir of David, they would have been quick to say so.  That charge was never made.

Similarly, if Mary had not been descended from David, they would have said, “Don’t you remember Psalm 132?  If you claim that He was born of a virgin, then He must not have really been descended from David.”  That accusation was never made, either.  The fact that the Jews never challenged the descent of Christ on either front shows the value of both genealogies — and it is also a tacit admission by the Jews of the time that the records of Matthew and Luke were correct.

Luke’s Genealogy — Mary

Luke 3:23 “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.”

Though the Bible doesn’t specifically tell us, there are reasons to believe the genealogy in Luke 3 is the descent of Mary.

  • Luke repeatedly stresses Christ’s humanity, which He inherited from His human mother, so we would expect Luke to give Mary’s lineage.
  • Luke takes the descent back to Adam, emphasising physical lineage, which again fits with the idea that Luke is tracing Mary’s ancestry.
  • Luke’s lineage gives a non-royal line after David, through his son Nathan.  No one in this line ever ruled as a king.  Luke is not giving a legal royal line, which is the only real reason to give Joseph’s ancestry, so this is almost certainly not the line of Joseph.
  • Mary is much more prominent in Luke than in the other Gospels, so it is not surprising to find Mary’s line recorded here.
  • Luke says Joseph was “of Heli” (“the son” is supplied by the translators, thus it is in italics). This would normally mean he was the son or grandson of Heli, but could also mean he was the son in law of Heli.  Note that it says Jesus was “supposed to be the son of Joseph” and “the son” is not in italics — it is in the original Greek.  So Luke specifically used the word “son” in this verse, but left it out for the rest of the lineage.  The contrast makes sense if, when he came to Heli, he left it out because he was the father-in-law of Joseph, and then just continued the pattern.

Thus, almost certainly, Heli is Mary’s father, Joseph’s father-in-law, and Luke gives her descent from David’s son Nathan, who never reigned as a king.

Matthew’s Genealogy — Joseph

Matthew 1:17

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.

Though the Bible doesn’t specifically say so, there are reasons to believe the line recorded in Matthew 1 is that of Joseph.

  • Matthew is strongly focused on identifying Christ as the rightful King of the Jews.  He would want to show Jesus’ legal right to the throne — through Joseph.
  • The genealogy in Matthew 1 is the royal line as recorded several times in the Old Testament.
  • Matthew uses “begat” which implies that Jacob the son of Matthan truly was the father of Joseph, not the father-in-law (or he could have been Joseph’s grandfather, sometimes “begat” is used of descendants one or more generations removed).
  • The term “Son of David” is emphasised — the title of Messiah that stresses His royal descent.
  • The genealogy is divided into three groups of fourteen which highlight aspects of the royal lineage.  I believe there is a real reason for Matthew 1:17 (more on this later).

Thus, there is good reason to believe that Matthew records the descent of Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, through whom He inherited the legal right to rule as Messiah, the King of the Jews.

We’ll take a brief look at some of the distinctive features of the two genealogies.

The Women in Matthew

Matthew mentions four women, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.  Tamar had a major role in one of the most sordid accounts in Scripture, in Genesis 38.  Rahab was a foreign prostitute who believed in the Lord and became a part of Israel.  Ruth’s husband failed to trust the Lord in a famine, and married a foreigner — but when he died, Ruth chose to remain with her Israelite mother-in-law, and then married an ancestor of Messiah.  Bathsheba committed adultery with David (and Matthew reminds us by calling her the one who had been the wife of Uriah).

Perhaps these four women are mentioned to drive home the fact that Jesus was not just a King, He was also a Saviour.  The whole history of mankind, even of God’s chosen people, was full of sin, unbelief, immorality, and other kinds of ugliness.  Yet, God still did not reject His people, even using some of these sins to bring the Messiah — because He was the solution to sin:

Matthew 1:21

And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

The Omitted Kings

Matthew 1:8

And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias;

Matthew left some kings out of his genealogy.  I Chronicles 3:11-12 tells us that between Joram and Ozias (Uzziah), there were Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah.  In verse 11, Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah and father of Jechoniah, is left out.  It seems likely that there are other gaps in the genealogy as well.

Matthew clearly left names out so there would be three groups of fourteen.  The reason must have been to highlight the dividing points between the groups.  Obviously, to be the King of the Jews, Jesus must be descended from Abraham.  To be the King, He must be descended from David.  The purpose of drawing attention to the Babylonian exile is less obvious, but as I said, we’ll look at that later.

“Which was the son of God”

Luke 3:38

Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.

Though Luke traces the lineage all the way back to Adam, emphasising the shared humanity of Christ with all of his readers, he doesn’t actually stop with Adam.  The genealogy is preceded by a statement of the Father from heaven, that Jesus is His beloved Son.

This chapter, and the following, have many references to Jesus working by the power of the Holy Spirit, something we don’t see again in Luke after these chapters (see Luke’s Early Chapters — Key Concepts).  But we also have several references to the Father.  The entire Trinity is in view in these two chapters, as Luke, the writer who stressed the humanity of Christ, took two chapters to ensure that His deity and His relation to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, was understood.

By extending this genealogy back beyond Adam, to God, Luke makes it part of that same theme.  Jesus is the divine Son of God, born of a virgin, conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, and He is also a human son of God, a descendant from the first man, who was God’s offspring by creation.  This genealogy emphasising His humanity nevertheless connects that humanity back to the Father, as well.

Next: Zerubbabel and the Genealogies of Christ

The Genealogies of Christ — Menu Summary Page with links to other articles

About Jon Gleason

Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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