Note: I preached Sunday on The Roots of the Messiah from Luke's genealogy (Luke 3:23-38). In the message I did some teaching relating to comparison and the alleged contradictions between the Matthean and Lukan genealogies, making a case that the difficulty is resolved if we consider that Matthew traces the line of Jesus through his adopted father Joseph while Luke traces his line through his natural mother Mary.
We first observe that the Jews of old were keenly interested in knowing their family’s lineage.
Norval Geldenhuys, in his exposition of Luke in the New International Commentary on the NT, observes, “There is nothing strange in it that the genealogical table of Jesus existed at that time. Under the guiding hand of God the Jews preserved their genealogical tables with remarkable accuracy through all the centuries before the birth of Jesus and also during the first century after His birth….” (p. 151).
Thus, it is not surprising that the two Gospels that record the birth of Jesus (Matthew and Luke) both include the genealogy of Jesus.
When we compare the two genealogies we find that they differ in at least three significant ways:
Matthew’s genealogy is at the very beginning of his Gospel (cf. Matt 1:1, which begins: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ….”). Luke, however, includes the genealogy after his baptism and before his temptation in the wilderness and the commencement of his public ministry.
2. The order:
Matthew begins with Father Abraham and goes forward to Joseph “the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matt 1:16).
Luke, on the other hand, goes backward, beginning with Jesus and tracing his roots back to Adam and even beyond Adam to the God who made the first man (Luke 3:38).
The genealogy of Matthew agrees completely verbatim with that of Luke in tracing the line of Jesus from Abraham to David (or, as in Luke, from David to Abraham) (cf. Matthew 1:1-6; Luke 3:31-34).
The line from David’s offspring to Jesus himself is completely different, however, in Matthew and Luke. Again, the division comes, in particular, after David with Matthew tracing the line through David’s son Solomon and ending with Jacob the father of Joseph, Jesus’ foster father (cf. Matt 1:6, 16) and Luke tracing the line though David’s son Nathan and ending with Heli as the grandfather of Jesus, according to the flesh (cf. Luke 3:23, 31).
This is the kind of “apparent” contradiction in the Scriptures that the skeptics love to point out. Here, they say, is a “Mount Impassible” error. It cannot be overcome.
Here is how Matthew Poole opens his discussion of this topic: “There have been great disputes about the genealogy of our Saviour, as recorded both by Matthew and Luke. The adversaries of Christian religion have taken no small advantage from the seeming difference betwixt them, which even many sober writers have thought it no easy matter to reconcile.”
But what have we learned thus far? In the end there are no errors or contradictions in Scripture. There are only “apparent” errors (or, as Poole says, “seeming differences”). Given enough time and enough knowledge, we will find that every affirmation of the Scriptures can be upheld as truthful and as completely consistent with every other part of Scripture for they come from the same infallible author who cannot lie.
In fact, there is a very plausible explanation for the differences in the two genealogies that has long been proposed by faithful interpreters of God’s Word. It is this simple explanation: Matthew records the lineage of Jesus through his adopted father Joseph (whose father was Jacob), while Luke records the lineage of Jesus through his natural mother Mary (whose father was Heli).
When you think about each of the Gospels this makes perfect sense.
Matthew focuses upon the birth of Jesus from the perspective of Joseph. Only Matthew tells us how the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him of the divine origins of Mary’s child and of how the angel warned Joseph in a dream to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape Herod and to return to Nazareth after Herod’s death.
Luke, on the other hand, focuses upon the birth of Jesus from the perspective of Mary. Only Luke tells us how Gabriel announced Jesus’ conception to Mary and Mary’s song of praise (Magnificat) and of Mary’s purification in the temple after the birth of Jesus. We should not overlook the verses which indicate that Luke used Mary’s recollections in the compiling of his Gospel (see 2:19, 51b). This might well have included this providentially preserved record of her family lineage.
Adam to Abraham Only Luke records
Abraham to David Matthew and Luke agree perfectly.
David to Jesus Matthew records the lineage of Joseph, the adopted father of Jesus through David’s son Solomon to Jacob the father of Joseph.
Luke records the lineage of Mary, the natural mother of Jesus through David’s son Nathan to Heli the father of Mary.
Here is the Swiss theologian F. Godet’s conclusion:
The meaning of one of the genealogies [Matthew] is certainly hereditary, Messianic; the meaning of the other [Luke] is universal redemption. Hence, in the one, the relationship is through Joseph, the representative of the civil, national, theocratic side; in the other, the descent is through Mary, the organ of real human relationship. Was not Jesus at once to appear and to be the Son of David?—to appear such, though him whom the people regarded as His father; to be such, through her from whom he really derived his human existence? The two affiliations answered to these two requirements (Luke, pp. 131-132).
Thus, Jesus came through the royal line of David by his adoption by Joseph. He came through the natural line of David by his conception in the womb and birth by Mary.
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