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Friday, December 27, 2013

Two Genealogies

Whenever people speak of supposed contradictions in the Bible, the example of Christ’s two genealogies is sure to come up. The one in Matthew seems to be only 42 generations long from Abraham to Christ, while the one in Luke covers 56 from Abraham to Christ. Luke says that Heli was the father of Joseph, while Matthew says that Jacob was the father of Joseph. There are many other differences between the two genealogies, as well. How can both these accounts be correct?

Why Does it Matter?

The genealogy of Jesus is important, because anybody who claimed to be the Messiah had to be able to establish that they were a descendant of King David and heir to his throne, as the prophets had foretold (2 Sam. 7:12-13; Is. 9:6, 11:1-5; Jer. 23:5). So any accusation that Jesus’ genealogies are wrong is a serious one. However, both clearly show that Jesus is a descendant of David, so no matter what other conclusions one may reach about the genealogies, they cannot be used to disqualify Jesus as the Messiah.

The Genealogy in Matthew

When Matthew’s genealogy of Christ is compared with the one in Luke, the former appears to be much less strict in format and content than the latter — an informal genealogy rather than an exacting one. One theory which accounts for many of the differences between the two genealogies is that the genealogy in Matthew is the genealogy of Joseph, traced down through his own father Jacob, whereas the genealogy in Luke is Mary’s genealogy, traced down to her husband Joseph through Mary’s father (Joseph’s father by marriage) Heli. This explanation is in accordance with Jewish tradition: a family line was never traced down to a woman, so if Mary’s side of the family had to be charted it would end with her husband Joseph, not with Mary herself.

The Genealogy in Luke

The genealogy in Luke appears to trace Christ’s biological ancestry all the way back to God, proving Christ to be the Son of God not only by nature but by human descent. It is very methodical and precise, as we would expect from a formal genealogy. Matthew’s genealogy, however, continues to puzzle scholars. It may be Joseph’s ancestral line, included to demonstrate Jesus’ legal claim to the throne of David, but when compared with the genealogy in Luke it still seems to be missing some pieces. Another suggestion raised by scholars is that the genealogy in Matthew traces the line of David’s kingship. This would explain many of the missing generations, since in some cases the crown passed to a grandson or even a great-grandson and a generation was ‘lost’ in the process.

There are no simple answers to the question of what Matthew’s genealogy was meant to record, and how Matthew’s genealogy corresponds to the one in Luke. We can, however, definitely say that there is no reason to suppose that the two accounts are in conflict. The differences between them simply suggest that, like the gospels in which they are found, Christ’s two genealogies were written to different audiences, with a different purpose and emphasis in mind.

RJA

Republished by permission of the author

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