In Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38, the genealogies of Jesus Christ are recorded. Though skeptics have attempted to accuse the Bible as contradicting itself by presenting two different genealogies, however, “This should be expected, since they are two different lines of ancestors, one traced through His legal father, Joseph and the other through His actual mother, Mary.”1)Norman Geisler, Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, Victor Books (Wheaton, IL: 1992), p. 385 There are intriguing nuances involved in understanding the purposes of these genealogies that make a worthy and fruitful study.

 

First, note Matthew was a tax collector (Matthew 9:9; 10:3) also called Levi by Luke (Luke 5:27, 29), which the common Jew of that day would have had a very low view of (Matthew 5:46-47; 9:10-11; 11:19; 18:17; 21:31; Mark 2:14-16; Luke 5:29-30; 7:34; 18:11). It is an amazing picture of God’s grace to have this man the author of the gospel which was written for the Jews. Papias, a Christian author writing around 120 A.D. stated: “Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] on the Hebrew language…”2)Fragments of Papias, VI; in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA, 2012) Vol. 1, p. 155 which Irenaeus concurred writing around 180 A.D., “Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect…”3)Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book III, preface; in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA, 2012) Vol. 1, p. 414 Irenaeus also said, “The Gospel According to Matthew was written to the Jews.”4)Irenaeus, Fragments from the Lost Writings of Irenaeus, XXIX; in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA, 2012) Vol. 1, p. 573 and Origen confirmed this writing around 228 A.D. “Matthew, writing for the Hebrews who looked for Him who was to come of the line and Abraham and of David…”5)Origen, Commentary of John, book I, chap. 6; in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. by Allan Menzies, Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA, 2012) Vol. 9, p. 299

Our earliest sources acknowledge Matthew was the first gospel written confirming the words of Paul (Romans 1:16; 2:9, 10); contrary to modern scholars that claim Mark was first. Origen says: “Matthew, who is reported by tradition to have published his Gospel before the others, to the Hebrews, those, namely, of the circumcision who believed.”6)Origen, Commentary on John, book VI, chap. 17; in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. by Allan Menzies, Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA, 2012) Vol. 9, p. 366

Matthew arranges his genealogy in descending order (latest ancestor to most recent). “Most biblical genealogies are arranged in descending order…”7)David Aune, The New Testament in Its Literary Environment, Westminster Press (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: 1989), p. 121 Matthews records the genealogy in the beginning of his gospel which is closest parallels Zephaniah 1:1 and the apocryphal book of Tobit 1:1-2, “The book of the words of Tobit, son of Tobiel, the son of Ananiel, the son of Aduel, the son of Gabael, of the seed of Asael, of the tribe of Nephthali; Who in the time of Enemessar king of the Assyrians was led captive out of Thisbe, which is at the right hand of that city, which is called properly Nephthali in Galilee above Aser.”8)The Apocrypha (ed. Manuel Komroff, Barnes & Noble Books (New York, NY: 1992), p. 75 Of course 1 Chronicles opens with the first nine chapters of genealogies. Luke, on the other hand, places the genealogy later (Luke 3:23-38) similar to Ezra (Ezra 7:1-2) and the Apocrypha Judith (Judith 8:1). The purpose of Matthew in opening his gospel with a genealogy is apparently to highlight Christ nobility of descent from Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1). Similarly, Josephus opens his autobiography with his own noble lineage: “Now the family from which I am derived from is not an ignoble one; but hath descended all along from the priests. And as nobility among several people is of a different origin, so with us to be of the sacerdotal dignity is an indication of the splendour of a family…. Nay farther, by my mother I am of the royal blood. For the children of Asamoneus, from whom that family was derived, had both the office of the High Priesthood, and the dignity of a King for a long time together.” (Jos. Life. 1)9) Josephus, Life of Flavius Josephus, Chapt. 1, para. 1; The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus the Jewish Historian (trans. William Whiston), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1960, 1981), p. 1

Another interesting issue in Matthew’s genealogy is the mention of four women, which is not unprecedented in ancient literature, but generally uncommon. What makes it more unexpected for Matthew is the fact that since he was writing to Jews, three of the four women mentioned are of gentile descent. Bathsheba, not being named, is identified as “her that had been the wife of Urias” (Matthew 1:6). Though Bathsheba was Jewish (2 Samuel 11:3) as the granddaughter of Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:12 cf. 23:34), David’s counselor that betrayed him (2 Samuel 15:31), she is indicated by her former husband’s name who was a gentile: “Uriah the Hittite” (2 Samuel 11:3). Thamar (Matthew 1:3) was Judah’s daughter in-law that played the harlot to conceive Judah’s twins (Genesis 38:12-27). Rachab (Mathew 1:5) was the harlot in Jericho (Joshua 2:1). These three women were obviously of an immoral social reputation; but had in later Jewish traditions pictured God’s mercy in redeeming such sinful gentile women. Ruth (Matthew 1:5) was a Moabitess (Ruth 1:4) which was not to “enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation” (Deuteronomy 23:3). Further compiling the gentile element is the fact that Boaz who married Ruth was the son of Salmon and the harlot Rahab (Matthew 1:5 cf. Ruth 4:21). This hardly represents a noble genealogy fit for the King. Instead, it is God’s revealed grace to sinners and gentiles. “The Gentile element points forward to the discipling of all nations at the end of Matthew (28:18-20).”10)Robert Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament (third Edition), Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 171

Matthew presents Christ as the adopted son of Joseph; as does Luke calling Him “supposed” son of Joseph (Luke 3:23). Commenting on Matthew 1:16, Cleon Rogers writes, “Joseph as the son of David is the legal father of Jesus and Jesus as his son is entitled to all his inheritance rights… The syntax effects a displacement of Joseph in the progression of father begetting son and relates the generation of birth by Mary…”11)Cleon Roger Jr. and Cleon Roger III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1998), p. 1 Indeed, adoption rights give inheritances to the adopted son over any later children biologically born as is evident in a legal document of adoption from Babylon where the husband (Hillalum) and wife (Alitum) are adopting a son (Yahatti-el):

 

(As for) Hillalum and Alitum—regardless of how many sons they shall have acquired—Yahatti-el is primary heir, and he shall take a double share of the estate of Hillalum, his father.12)The Ancient Near East: A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures (Ed. James B. Pritchard), Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ: 1975), Vol. 2, p. 78

 

Jesus Christ inheriting the right to the throne of David as the adopted son of Joseph is actually a common dynastic expression in the ancient world. “Inscriptions refer to Marcus Aurelius as the descendant of all four previous emperors (Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius), though these emperors were not actually related; each was the adopted son of the former, thus forming a dynasty.”13) David Aune, The Westminster Dictionary of New Testament & Early Christian Literature & Rhetoric, Westminster John Know Press (Louisville, Kentucky: 2003), p. 195 The adoption of Jesus Christ causing inheritance of the right to the throne indicates that the Lord Jesus was indeed the eldest son recognized of Joseph contrary to what some Catholic traditions have argued for Joseph having had children from a previous marriage. We know Christ could not be biologically connected to the genealogy in Matthew 1 because King Jeconiah was cursed by God that his seed would not sit on the throne (Jeremiah 22:30). Jeconiah was not childless (1 Chronicles 3:17-18), but because God had cursed his lineage his uncle Zedekiah succeed him as king. Since Jeconiah’s name appears in Joseph’s genealogy of Matthew as “Jechonias” (Matthew 1:11), we know that Jesus was not the biologically descendant of Josephs bloodline.

Matthew’s genealogy clearly skips generations (compare Matthew 1:9 with 1 Chronicles 3:11). This is obviously for the purpose of conforming the symmetry of the genealogy by 14 generations (Matthew 1:17). It has also been suggested that the significance of the number 14 is that it is the numerical equivalent of the name of David.14)see Cleon Roger Jr. and Cleon Roger III, The New Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1998), p. 1 “These fourteens put a triple emphasis on David as prototype of the messianic king, Jesus, because David appears in fourteenth place on the genealogical list and because the numerical value of the Hebrew consonants in his name add up to fourteen: d (4) + v (6) + d (4) = D[a]v[i]d (14).”15) Robert Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament (third Edition), Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 170 Thus Matthew presents Jesus Christ as the virgin born Messianic king of the Jews; but not the Jews only as His genealogy extends to Gentiles as well picturing the grace to sinners, publicans, and harlots to be gathered into one kingdom under Christ’s sovereignty.

Luke, on the other hand, presents a genealogy from Mary to Adam. The Babylonian Talmud presents a derogatory expressions “This woman was descended from princes and rulers, and was licentious with carpenters.”16)Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 106a; https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.106a.17?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en Luke’s genealogy is reckoned through Mary as the wife of Joseph, making Joseph the son-in-law of Heli. This genealogy is presented in an ascending order, from the most recent to the earliest descendant. Though a few Jewish sources followed this ascending order, it is primarily Hellenistic Jewish sources (Tobit 1:1-2;17) The Apocrypha (ed. Manuel Komroff, Barnes & Noble Books (New York, NY: 1992), p. 75 Judith 8:1;18) The Apocrypha (ed. Manuel Komroff, Barnes & Noble Books (New York, NY: 1992), p. 104 Josephus, Anitiquity of the Jews 1.3.2;19) Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, Book 1, chapt. 3, para. 2; The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus the Jewish Historian (trans. William Whiston), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1960, 1981), p. 28 2.9.6).20)Josephus, Antiquity of the Jews, Book 2, chapt. 9, para. 6; The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus the Jewish Historian (trans. William Whiston), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1960, 1981), p. 57 Otherwise, many Greek sources trace genealogies this way (see Herodotus, Histories 4.147;21) Herodotus, Histories (Trans. George Rawlinson), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY: 1997), p. 361 7.204;22) Herodotus, Histories (Trans. George Rawlinson), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY: 1997), p. 593 8.131).23) Herodotus, Histories (Trans. George Rawlinson), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY: 1997), p. 662

It is commonly expressed that “Luke’s purpose, on the other hand, is to show Christ as an actual human. So he traces Christ to David’s son, Nathan, through his actual mother, Mary, through whom He can rightfully claim to be fully human, the redeemer of humanity.”24) Norman Geisler, Thomas Howe, When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties, Victor Books (Wheaton, IL: 1992), p. 385-386 Though this is true of Luke intent in the genealogy, it fails to recognize that Luke’s genealogy extends further than Adam. “And the tracing of Jesus’ genealogy further back than Abraham, and even Adam, to God highlights the divine sonship of Jesus and the universality of the salvation he brings.”25) Robert Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament (third Edition), Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI: 1994), p. 219 David Aune notes, “Luke’s tracing of the descent of Jesus back to God has no Biblical precedent but resembles the custom among Greco-Roman aristocracy of reckoning the family ancestry from a god…”26) David Aune, The Westminster Dictionary of New Testament & Early Christian Literature & Rhetoric, Westminster John Know Press (Louisville, Kentucky: 2003), p. 195 Luke writing to a Roman official Theophilus (Luke 1:3), is expressing Christ as the God-man. The Greek Historian Herodotus recorded: “When Hecataeus the historian was at Thebes, and, discoursing of his genealogy, traced his descent to a god in the person of his sixteenth ancestor… When Hecataeus, in giving his genealogy, mentioned a god as his sixteenth ancestor, the priests opposed their genealogy to his, going through this list, and refusing to allow that any man was ever born of a god.”27)Herodotus, Hist. 2.143144)((Herodotus, Histories (Trans. George Rawlinson), Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY: 1997), p. 199-200

Here we see Luke writing to the Roman aristocracy that Christ as a descendant from Adam, the first man, is thus near kinsman to all mankind; but more so is intended to indicates Christ as the Son of God, Who has the right to rule through His kingly ancestry over all mankind. Jesus Christ is therefore presented as the God and King and through His humanity He is redeemer and Savor of all men descended from Adam.

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