Luke 3:23-38 (Gen. 5:1–32; 11:10–26; Ruth 4:18–22; 1 Chr. 1:1–4, 24–27, 34; 2:1–15; Matt. 1:2–16 )
23Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Janna, the son of Joseph, 25the son of Mattathiah, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26the son of Maath, the son of Mattathiah, the son of Semei, the son of Joseph, the son of Judah, 27the son of Joannas, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel, the son of Neri, 28the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmodam, the son of Er, 29the son of Jose, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonan, the son of Eliakim, 31the son of Melea, the son of Menan, the son of Mattathah, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon, 33the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Cainan, 38the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
Before we discuss this genealogy, we need to remind ourselves of Paul’s admonishment to Titus.
But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless.
Paul’s good advice notwithstanding, we will spend some time discussing the genealogy Luke provides here, simply because Bible critics have seized upon small discrepancies purported by them between this genealogy and others found in Scripture to call into question the very Gospel itself. Therefore it behooves us to at least be aware of their arguments.
1 Peter 3:15
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;
Before we even begin, we need to remind ourselves that the human genealogy of Jesus is well and truly irrelevant. Jesus is God – part of the Holy Trinity. As such, He has always been. His human body was gestated inside the womb of the virgin, Mary, but her husband Joseph’s heritage is certainly not relevant to Jesus’ lineage (if Jesus can even be said to have a lineage at all, since He has been since before the beginning). Whether Jesus in His human form even shared any of Mary’s own DNA is also subject to debate. The only part of Jesus’ supposed human genealogy that has any bearing whatsoever is the requirement that He had to descend from David so that the messianic prophecies concerning Him might be fulfilled.
2 Samuel 7:12-16
(Nathan the prophet proclaiming the Word of the Lord to King David)
12“When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. 15But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.” ’ ”
This prophecy pertains, of course, to David’s son – Solomon – who inherited David’s throne, and ruled over the entire nation of Israel. But it also pertains to Jesus in that God promised David that his throne would be established forever. Earthly kingdoms all pass away. The everlasting kingdom proclaimed here by Nathan can only be reasonably understood to refer to the eternal rule of the promised Messiah over all the universe, because the earthly kingdom of David only endured for one generation. After Solomon’s death, the kingdom was divided between the ten northern tribes called “Israel,” and the kingdom of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south, called “Judah.”
Later prophets further clarified the messianic prophecy of God’s eternal kingdom ruled by Jesus – the lion of Judah…
1There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
2The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.
5“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD,
“That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness;
A King shall reign and prosper,
And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.
6In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell safely;
Now this is His name by which He will be called:
THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
Of course, the “final word” of prophecy concerning Jesus’ assumption of the throne of David was given to Mary by the angel, Gabriel. We looked at this prophecy earlier in our study of Luke…
32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
Since Mary was a virgin at the time of Jesus’ conception by The Spirit, only Mary’s lineage could possibly be relevant to Jesus’ fulfillment of these messianic prophecies. The line from David to Jesus had to extend by way of Mary so that the prophecies might be fulfilled. Unfortunately, none of the genealogies found in the Word mentions Mary by name.
That said, let’s take a detailed look at the genealogy we find here in Luke, comparing it with others found throughout the Word.
The fi’ve genealogies listed here are certainly not the only genealogies found in the Word. Furthermore, I have purposely truncated the genealogies listed here from Genesis and Chronicles, with only the verses relevant to the line of Jesus referenced. The handout genealogies do not include several side tracks (e.g. the lines of Adam’s son Cain, and Abraham’s son Ishmael) found in Genesis and Chronicles, which are not relevant to the line of David (and hence Jesus). The handout does, however, list the original genealogies from Luke, Matthew, and Ruth in their entirety.
One thing we always need to be cautious of is that names are reused throughout the Word of God. For example, within Luke’s genealogy alone, we find Mattathiah, Judah, and Joseph all listed three times each! To further confound our study, every genealogy found in the Word is incomplete. This shouldn’t surprise us. Our planet has billions of inhabitants who all sprang from Noah’s sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Even if the information were available, it would be impossible to list in a book everyone’s complete family tree going all the way back to the flood!
A quick look at the relevant numbers might be fun and informative…
- There are presently right around 7 billion people (descendents of Noah) living on the Earth.
- There are 783,137 words in the King James version of the Bible.
- Assuming that the number of letters in an average name is about the same as the number of letters in an average word of English text, it would take roughly 10 thousand books the size of the King James Bible just to list the names of all the people currentlyalive, without saying anything about their lives or relationship to each other, much less their ancestry.
- Furthermore, since four new babies are born every second of every day, a new version of the complete 10 thousand-volume genealogy of mankind would need to be published once every quarter second.
So obviously, every genealogy of any practical value must necessarily be incomplete. All practical genealogies are limited in specific ways in order to accomplish specific purposes. So it is with the genealogies of Jesus we find in the Word of God. In order to make any meaningful reconciliation of them, we need to understand the specific purpose for which each of them was given. Only the portions of the various families relevant to these specific purposes are given.
Often, generations of a particular line within a Bible genealogy are excluded in the interest of brevity. This, too, should come as no surprise to us. The historical narrative of the Word of God is by no means all inclusive, but pertains only to the story of God’s chosen people, Israel, with a specific focus on Jesus – the Messiah given through Israel to save all mankind. The histories of other ancient Mediterranean cultures (e.g. Egypt) are found only incompletely in the Bible, whenever those cultures interacted with the Hebrew culture.
This fact has been seized upon by Bible critics who point out, for example, that David and Solomon are never mentioned in the ancient texts of surrounding cultures. They are forgetting (perhaps purposely), that the texts of any given culture only emphasize (or even mention), those aspects of surrounding cultures that pertain to the target audience. In the case of the Bible, the original target audience was the ancient Hebrew culture. The Gospel proclaimed in the Word of God was proclaimed to them first, and only later brought to the Gentiles, so that God might use the salvation of the Gentiles to bring conviction to the hearts of His chosen people, the Jews. Therefore it is no surprise that we find no mention of David and Solomon in Egyptian hieroglyphs, for example.
Aside – One of great reassurances we have that the Bible is indeed God’s own Word is that the characters of the Biblical “heroes” are far from perfect, and in many cases are deeply flawed.
- Abraham, the great patriarch of God’s chosen people, lied to protect his own skin on at least two occasions, saying his wife Sarah was his sister, and allowing her to be taken into the homes of other men.
- Moses, the great leader who brought the people out of captivity in Egypt, rebelled against the commandment of God, and was consequently barred by God from entering the Promised Land.
- David, the great king over all the Israelites was an adulterer who ordered the murder of one of his bravest military commanders, hoping that he could get away with stealing the man’s wife and impregnating her.
- Paul, the great evangelist and author of a large portion of the New Testament, was present for the death of the first Christian martyr – Stephen – and consented to it.
- Peter, the rock upon which Jesus said He would build His church, abandoned Jesus in His hour of need when the authorities came to arrest Him and kill Him, denying repeatedly that he even knew Jesus.
If God’s Word, had been written by human beings, the authors would certainly have touched up the narrative a bit to hide the flaws of its protagonists. The fact that God’s Word leaves these character flaws intact sets it apart from human histories both ancient and modern, which always minimize the flaws of their heroes and benefactors, or exclude them altogether. The single exception we find in God’s Word is Jesus Himself, who did indeed lead the perfect life befitting the Lamb without blemish who would take away the sins of the world.
But I digress…
When we look at the genealogies given in various places in the books of Chronicles, we find that their focus is on the history of the royal houses of Israel and Judah, so they wander away from the genealogies found in Matthew and Luke, whose purpose is to list Jesus’ earthly line. Furthermore, even within a specific line, some generations are often omitted if they are not germane to the purpose of a specific genealogy. Consequently, the term “the son of” should be read as “the descendant of” and doesn’t necessarily mean that the person named as “son” is the direct son of the person named as the progenitor. Similarly, the term “begat” often does not imply direct parenthood.
Finally, ancient Hebrew genealogies notoriously exclude the women of the line except in rare instances relating to the stories given about specific notable women. This focus on the paternal to the exclusion of the maternal lines makes it somewhat problematic for us when we study the genealogy of Jesus, whose only relevant human heritage was from Mary, not from Joseph.
With all that said, let’s examine some specific details of the genealogies given in Genesis, Ruth, 1 Chronicles, Matthew, and Luke. Notice that the genealogies of Luke, Genesis, and Chronicles are almost identical from Adam to Abraham (whose original name was Abram). Matthew’s genealogy begins with Abraham rather than Adam, since Matthew’s intent was to emphasize Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.
2I will make you a great nation;
I will bless you
And make your name great;
And you shall be a blessing.
3I will bless those who bless you,
And I will curse him who curses you;
And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Matthew also assumed that his Jewish readers would have been well familiar with the genealogies in Genesis and Chronicles, tracing Abraham’s lineage from Adam, and therefore saw no need to repeat them.
The focus of the genealogy in Ruth, is on the tribe of Judah, with an emphasis on the line of King David stemming from Judah’s son Perez and passing through Boaz – Ruth’s husband. Consequently the genealogy in Ruth doesn’t begin until much later than the other three, and includes only the line down to King David.
One clear distinction we find from Adam to Abraham is that Luke includes Cainan as the son of Arphaxad while the others do not. Bible critics have pointed to this discrepancy as an argument against the inerrancy of scripture. This is, however, not an error in the original autographs, but rather apparently a transcription error on the part of those who created the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament Hebrew scriptures, and compilation of the original Greek New Testament scriptures. The Septuagint is used as a source by many of our modern English translations. More ancient Greek manuscripts used by the compilers of the Septuagint do not include Cainan in the line from Adam to Abraham, so it is very likely that the error was introduced during the transcription process which produced the Septuagint, and this transcription error has been passed along into many English translations. A very good analysis of this apparent transcription error can be found at the Answers in Genesis website – https://answersingenesis.org/bible-timeline/genealogy/chronology-conundrums/.
There is also a slight spelling difference in Genesis which lists Salah as Arphaxad’s son, while the other two list him as Shelah. Slight spelling differences like this of the names of people and places occur throughout the Word of God, and are not any big concern. Clearly Shelah and Salah are the same person.
From Abraham, we note that the genealogies are virtually identical down to King David. Two of the lists show Abraham’s original name, Abram. Also, the Chronicles list includes Jacob’s new name – Israel – given by God in…
And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob[heel holder, supplanter], but Israel[God prevails]; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
There is also a slight spelling difference in the name of Salmon, who is listed in Chronicles as Salma. Matthew also makes note that Salmon’s mother was Rahab. This naturally raises the question whether this Rahab is the same harlot who hid the spies sent to Jericho by Joshua (Joshua 2:1-3, 6:17-25). There are only two possibilities. As previously noted, reuse of names is common throughout God’s Word. The Rahab mentioned by Matthew in his genealogy may simply be a different person than the Rahab found in Joshua.
But if the two passages refer to the same Rahab, then we are confronted with another issue. The conquest of Jericho immediately followed the 40-year wandering of the Hebrews in the wilderness following their exodus from Egypt, and took place sometime around 1400 BC. But the reign of King David came much later, after the 400-year time of the judges, around 1000 BC. Since all four of our genealogies list only 4 generations from Salmon to David, these generations would have been 100 years each on average. The only reasonable explanation (if indeed the Rahab of Matthew and the Rahab of Joshua are the same person) is that all of the genealogies must have skipped over some generations. We noted previously that this practice is not uncommon in Biblical genealogies. An excellent analysis of this subject may be found at – http://www.addeigloriam.org/commentary/ot-history/ruth-genealogies.htm.
Starting with the generation after King David, our genealogies diverge. Chronicles and Matthew continue to track the royal line of the kings of Judah through David’s son Solomon, while Luke’s genealogy tracks the lineage of Jesus through David’s son Nathan. Matthew’s genealogy agrees closely with the Chronicles genealogy down to Shealtiel except that Matthew lists Joram’s son as Uzziah, while Chronicles lists him as Ahaziah. This is likely just another alternate spelling like we have seen elsewhere. Matthew also skips over four generations of the royal line. This may be because Matthew wanted to emphasize the three groups of fourteen generations along the line from Abraham to Jesus. This would have made it necessary to skip over some of the kings found in Chronicles.
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations, from David until the captivity in Babylon are fourteen generations, and from the captivity in Babylon until the Christ are fourteen generations.
Starting with the generation after Shealtiel, the Chronicles genealogy continues to track the lines of the priests following the return from the Babylonian exile, while Matthew begins to track the line from Shealtiel to Joseph which would have been considered insignificant by the Old Testament chroniclers. After all, Joseph was only a poor carpenter. Furthermore, we know that the line of Joseph was not really relevant to Jesus’ human heritage, since Joseph played no part in Jesus’ physical conception.
Having said that, we need to be careful not to disregard Joseph’s lineage altogether. Joseph’s relationship with the child – Jesus – is relevant for us, because Joseph adopted Jesus as his son even though Jesus was not worthy of adoption under purely human mores (remember Joseph’s initial intent to put Mary away quietly when he found she was with child, and therefore presumably no longer a virgin). Joseph’s adoption of an unworthy son models our own adoption as God’s children despite our own total unworthiness apart from our spiritual re-birth in Christ. In purely human consideration, Jesus would have been considered illegitimate, and not worthy of adoption. So, in our own sinful human condition, we are not worthy of adoption.
12Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
In comparing Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies following the exile, the first thing we are struck with is that Matthew’s list includes many fewer generations than Luke’s. Matthew lists 14 generations over the roughly 600 years between the Babylonian exile and the advent of Jesus, while Luke lists about 23. Thus Luke’s generations would have been about 25 years each, which seems about right, while Matthew’s would have been about 40 years each. It seems likely that Matthew once again skipped over some generations in order to emphasize the three groups of 14 generations he refers to in Matthew 1:17.
Right around the time of the end of the exile, we find two names in common on both lists – Shealtiel and Zerubbabel. It is possible that these were the same men, despite the divergence of the genealogies in separately tracking David’s two sons Solomon and Nathan. The two lines may have merged for two generations before diverging again. We should note that Chronicles also lists Shealtiel as the son of Jeconiah in agreement with Matthew, while Luke shows Shealtiel’s father as Neri. There are two possibilities. Either both Matthew and Chronicles exclude generations between Jeconiah and Shealtiel, or the seeming re-convergence of Luke’s and Matthew’s genealogies is merely a coincidence – that is the Shealtiel and Zerubbabel we find listed here are actually four different people.
Remember, that Biblical names are often re-used, with sons often named after their fathers or previous ancestors, just as we still do in modern societies. We looked at a striking example of this in Luke 1 when we studied the circumcision of John the Baptist. Recall that the priests didn’t want to accept Elizabeth’s wish to name the child John because none of his father Zacharias’ ancestors had been named John. The picture is even further confused because Chronicles lists Zerubbabel as one of the sons of Shealtiel’s brother, Pedaiah (not listed in the handout), rather than as one of Shealtiel’s own sons.
Finally, we come to the bottom of the lists with Joseph listed by both Luke and Matthew as the father of Jesus. Luke makes it very clear that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ natural father at the very beginning of his genealogy.
Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli,
Matthew makes it very clear that the Joseph he lists in his genealogy is Joseph the husband of Mary and stepfather of Jesus.
And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.
The question, then, is whether Matthew’s Joseph, and Luke’s Joseph are the same person. If so, why does Luke list Joseph’s father as Heli, while Matthew lists him as Jacob? Once again there are two possibilities. First, as we have seen, Matthew sometimes skips generations. He may have simply left Heli (and others) off his list in service of the three groups of 14 he wished to emphasize.
Another possibility is that Luke’s genealogy is of Mary, rather than of Joseph, her husband. Some have proposed that Joseph was also the name of Mary’s father, and that Luke simply left Mary off the list. Personally, I find this explanation hard to accept, even knowing that Biblical authors were part of a radically patriarchal society and that women were largely excluded from the records. Despite that, we see that the harlot, Rahab, is included. Why not the chosen virgin mother of Immanuel? It just doesn’t make sense to me personally.
It is, nevertheless, possible. However, if both Luke and Matthew intended to track Jesus’ lineage through Joseph, since one of them tracked the line through Solomon while the other tracked the line through Nathan, the two lines must have merged at some point. Furthermore, somewhere one of them mustbe tracking the maternal line while the other tracked the paternal. Otherwise they could not have diverged with Solomon and Nathan, and then re-converged with Jesus.
I have yet to see a fully satisfactory explanation of all this, but we needn’t get too concerned, remembering that Jesus is Immanuel – God with us. Thus His human lineage is unimportant except that He had to descend through Mary from David in order that the prophecies we looked at earlier could be fulfilled.
Furthermore, it could be argued that only the line through Solomon is relevant. Take another look at Nathan’s prophecy to David.
2 Samuel 7:12-13
12When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
Solomon was David’s successor on the throne of Israel, and it was Solomon who built the first temple in Jerusalem. Therefore, it would seem that Nathan’s prophecy to David here pertained to Solomon, not to David’s son Nathan, who never assumed the throne. Thus it would seem that the genealogy we find in Matthew is relevant to the fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy, not the genealogy in Luke. With that said, we must also remember that Nathan’s prophecy says that God will set up “your seed after you, who will come from your body” without mentioning either Solomon or David’s son, Nathan, by name.
Jesus also had to be born of a woman in order for the first Messianic prophecy to be fulfilled.
Genesis 3:15 (God speaking to the serpent)
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
Finally, it was necessary for Mary not to have known Joseph intimately before Jesus’ birth in order for the prophecy of Isaiah to be fulfilled.
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
Apart from their relationship to these essential prophecies, the genealogies in Luke and Matthew should not overly concern us. Except that through studying them, and familiarizing ourselves with some of the questions they raise, we become better equipped to answer Bible doubters.