May 6, 2010

Why Do Matthew’s and Luke’s Genealogies of Christ Differ?

Tony GarlandBy Tony Garland

Q. Why do the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke contradict each other? There are several differences, such as branching from King David (Matthew states He came from Solomon; Luke says he came from Nathan). The grandfather of Jesus is also different. Matthew says his name is Jacob; Luke says his name is Heli. One could argue that Jacob and Heli were the same person, as it seems that several people mentioned in the Bible went by different names in the Bible, but these are only two of many examples.

A. This is a question that many of us have when we first read the two accounts (Mtt. 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38). As I've written elsewhere, this is one of those seeming contradictions which yields some interesting insights if we exercise faith rather than dismissing the two passages out-of-hand as “contradictory.”

The solution is found in realizing that each of the four gospels are written with a different emphasis.

In fact, there are three quite different genealogies of Christ given within the gospels:

  • Christ as Messiah - Matthew seems to be writing with a Jewish emphasis and gives Jesus’ pedigree in a way which proves His qualification as the promised Jewish Messiah, the Son of David in the line from Abraham. Thus, Matthew’s passage begins, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham: . . .." This genealogy only goes back as far as Abraham since this is the main point which Matthew is making: Jesus fulfills God’s promise to bring forth the blessed Messiah from the loins of Abraham (Gen. 12:3). It is in Christ that the promises regarding a ruler in the line of David find fulfillment (2S. 7:8-19; 1K. 8:25; 11:36; 2K. 8:19; 1Chr. 17:9-16,27; 22:10; etc.).

  • Christ as Son of Man - Luke’s genealogy has a different concern than that of Matthew. His genealogy is given in reverse order and reaches all the way back to the creation of the first man, Adam, another “son of God.” Luke seems to be emphasizing Jesus’ role in fulfillment of the promised redeemer Who would come forth from Eve to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). In His humanity - and His explicit descent from Adam - Jesus will take back the dominion lost by Adam and "undo" the curse of death into which the first Adam plunged all of mankind (Rom. 5:14-15). It is also Luke who elaborates upon events surrounding the virgin birth to a much greater degree than the other gospels. This is further evidence of his focus in presenting Jesus as the promised “seed of the woman.”

  • Christ as Eternal Son of God - John presents yet another genealogy of Jesus: His eternal Sonship in relationship with God the Father and His role as Creator (John 1:1-5). This focus of John upon the deity of Christ continues throughout this phenomenal book, as evidenced by the many “I AM” statements (e.g., John 8:24,28,58; 13:19; 18:5-8) - each pointing back to the personal name of God given to Moses from the burning bush (Ex. 3:14).
As you rightly observe, “There are several differences, such as branching from King David (Matthew states He came from Solomon; Luke says he came from Nathan). . .” It is this divergence of the genealogies at David which offers an important clue as to how to resolve the two genealogies because it is a plain fact that the two genealogies must differ from this point forward since we know that Solomon and Nathan cannot be mistaken as two names used of the same person - as they are plainly two different sons of David. What we appear to be dealing with is two different genealogies from David leading to the two different parents of Jesus.

Matthew’s genealogy follows the kingly line through David’s son Solomon - who was the next to occupy the throne of David. The genealogy extends all the way down to “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ” (Mtt. 1:16). Matthew is very explicit: 1) this line unequivocally leads to Joseph; 2) Joseph is not referred to as the father of Jesus, but only the husband of Mary “of whom was born Jesus” (emphasizing the virgin birth); 3) Matthew applies the title “Christ” to Jesus - further evidence of his intention to show His qualifications as the promised “Anointed One” (“Messiah” being derived from a Hebrew term which is equivalent to “Christ,” meaning “an anointed one”).

Luke’s genealogy diverts from the kingly line at David and avoids Solomon to descend down the line of Nathan, his brother. This line of descent is completely independent of the line given by Matthew and appears to lead to Mary. (It should not be surprising to find some identical names in each independent genealogy just as we would find the matching names occurring for different individuals within modern genealogies.) The phrase which refers to Jesus as “the son of Joseph, the son of Heli" would appear to refer to Joseph’s role as the son-in-law of Mary’s father Heli. And here we also see the gospel writer relating that Jesus was only “supposed,” but not in fact, the true son of Joseph by physical descent.

The question now arises as to why these two genealogies are given: 1) the kingly line of Matthew from David through Solomon with no true physical connection to Jesus; 2) another line of descent from David through Nathan and finally to Mary of whom Jesus was physically born?

The answer is both intriguing and subtle and serves to illustrate that many seeming contradictions within the Scriptures, when investigated from the eye of faith, reveal important subtleties which provide a deeper understanding of what God is about and just how very, very, very clever He is! :)

We notice an additional difference between the two genealogies: Matthew mentions the Babylonian captivity (Mtt. 1:11-12) whereas Luke makes no mention of this historical event. Also notice how Matthew breaks with his pattern of repeating each connecting ancestor ("X begot Y, Y begot Z") when he reaches the time of the Babylonian captivity: “. . . and Amon begot Josiah. Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers about the time they were carried away to Babylon. And after they were brought to Babylon . . .” The pattern of repetition continues unabated from Isaac through Josiah, the last godly king to sit on the throne of David before the rulership of the southern kingdom of Judah descended into such apostasy and unrighteousness that God unseated the Davidic rule in judgment. Just how significant was this development? Consider these passages from the prophet Ezekiel:
Son of man, prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the LORD!’ Say: ‘A sword, a sword is sharpened And also polished! Sharpened to make a dreadful slaughter, Polished to flash like lightning! Should we then make mirth? It despises the scepter (shebet) of My son, As it does all wood. (Ezekiel 21:9-10)

Because it is a testing, And what if the sword despises even the scepter? The scepter shall be no more,’ says the Lord God. (Ezekiel 21:13)

Now to you, O profane, wicked prince of Israel, whose day has come, whose iniquity shall end, ‘thus says the Lord GOD: “Remove the turban, and take off the crown; Nothing shall remain the same. Exalt the humble, and humble the exalted. Overthrown, overthrown, I will make it overthrown! It shall be no longer, Until He comes whose right it is, And I will give it to Him.” ’ (Ezekiel 21:25-27)
The reference about unseating the king from the Davidic throne until “He whose right it is” must be understood in light of a prophecy given earlier by Jacob over one of his sons, Judah:
The scepter (shebet) shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people. (Genesis 49:10)
Rabbinic interpretation associated the title “Shiloh” with the Messiah: a Midrash takes “Shiloh” to refer to “King Messiah” (Genesis R. 98.13), the Babylonian Talmud lists “Shi’loh” as one of the names of the Messiah (Sanhedrin 98b), and Medieval Jewish Biblical expositor Rashi makes the following comment: “Shiloh - i.e. King Messiah whose is the Kingdom.” The term “Shiloh” denotes, “to whom it belongs/pertains.”

Ezekiel is telling us that in God’s judgment of the Davidic throne, Zedekiah will be the last ruler to sit on the Davidic throne until it is occupied by Messiah. We see this same truth in relation to the Davidic throne in Psalm 89 where very strong promises to uphold the Davidic throne are followed by a passage speaking of the throne being cast to the ground (Ps. 89:44ff). Notice too how the particularly evil kings after Josiah are slighted in Matthew’s genealogy, “Jeconiah and his brothers,” some not even being named.

By now, the question should be arising in the reader’s mind: why is Matthew concerned with all this? And why does the Holy Spirit lead Luke to include the completely different genealogy through Mary?

The answer is found in the implication of several prophecies given by the Spirit of God in judgment of the throne of David:
"As I live," says the LORD, "though Coniah [the same is called Jeconiah and Jehoiachin] the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet on My right hand, yet I would pluck you off; and I will give you into the hand of those who seek your life, and into the hand of those whose face you fear - the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the hand of the Chaldeans. So I will cast you out, and your mother who bore you, into another country where you were not born; and there you shall die. But to the land to which they desire to return, there they shall not return. "Is this man Coniah a despised, broken idol - A vessel in which is no pleasure? Why are they cast out, he and his descendants, And cast into a land which they do not know? O earth, earth, earth, Hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the LORD: 'Write this man down as childless, A man who shall not prosper in his days; For none of his descendants shall prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, And ruling anymore in Judah.'" (Jeremiah 22:24-30)
Did you catch that?!!! Jeremiah, by God’s Holy Spirit, has just pronounced a generational curse on the kingly line leading to Messiah! Not only was God de-throning the king in the line of David (see also Jer. 36:30) - ushering in the Times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24) - but if Jesus had descended physically from this bloodline, then He could never occupy the throne of David!

Now we begin to see the Divine purposes at work: Jesus remains in the legal line of kingly rule from David through Solomon: Jesus is the son of Joseph, son of the cursed Jeconiah, son of Solomon, and son of David. But in His virgin birth from Mary via Nathan, son of David, He remains unaffected by the generational curse given through Jeremiah at the time of the unseating of Davidic rulership.

As with most “Bible difficulties” we come to appreciate the subtle design of the Holy Spirit. God has exercised minute control and oversight over the events and relationships which work their way down from Adam, Abraham, and David to His precious Son delivered of Mary.

We look forward to His second coming, when Mary’s Son will bring the “Times of the Gentiles” to a close and take up His rightful place as “Shiloh” ruling from the throne of His father David.

May the Prince of Peace ascend to His throne soon (Isaiah 9:6-7)!

Related Links
The Genealogy from Adam to Jesus Christ - Lambert Dolphin's Library
Davidic Covenant - (Tony Garland)
Yeshua's Right to David's Throne - (Arnold Fruchtenbaum)
The Messiah's Royal Lineage - Grace to You (John MacArthur)
Are Joseph’s And Mary’s Lineage Incorrect? - GraceThruFaith (Jack Kelley)