Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Bible Contradiction: Jesus' Genealogies are Different

Matthew and Luke have two different genealogies for Jesus, not even agreeing on the name of his grandfather. Is this a contradiction? I will look at three possible solutions and the problems of each. The whole issue of genealogies is compounded by the fact that they can skip generations, the same person can have different names (or different spellings), and levirate marriage can result in a physical father and a legal father.


When it comes to the issue of contradictions among the Gospels, one of the more common examples is that of the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke. This is a pretty complicated issue, so I thought it'd be easier just to do it with a screencast with slides and whatnot. So here we go.

Here's the situation. In Matthew, he starts off, this is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. So what he wants to do is help people understand that Jesus could legitimately be the Messiah, and that means he has to be a descendant of David.

So it's a very Jewish genealogy. And so he's going to start with Abraham and come more towards us in terms of time, and he ends up with, quote, Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus. What he does is group all of Jesus's ancestors in groups of three with 14 people in each.

And what he's trying to do is to connect Jesus to the Jewish race, but specifically that he could be the Messiah as a Jew, the descendant of David. But what Luke does, he starts with Joseph, so he's going the other direction chronologically, and he starts off with Joseph, quote, so it was thought, in other words, making room for Jesus's virgin birth. And then he lists back eventually to the son of Adam, the son of God.

He lists the people without grouping them in groups of 14 like Matthew does, and what he's doing is connecting Jesus with all of humanity. Now there's two considerations that I want to emphasize up front. One is just the common sense.

In Matthew, it says that Joseph's dad was Jacob, and in Luke, it says that Joseph's dad was Heli. Now here's the question. Is it really believable that one of the 12 apostles, Matthew, and that Luke, who's a very accurate historian, couldn't even get the name of Jesus's grandfather right? I think that just kind of flies in the face of common sense.

So right off the bat, you have this question as, well, what is Matthew, and what is Luke doing that they don't even have Joseph's dad being the same person? But again, I think it's just an issue of common sense. Consideration number two has to do with the nature of genealogies. Genealogies are very comfortable skipping generations, and you can say that so-and-so is the son of so-and-so, but you can skip generations, and maybe it's really the grandfather or the great-grandfather.

In other words, you could say that Bill is the son of Bob, or you could say that Bill is the son of George. Happens to be my grandfather, but as far as Jewish genealogies go, both are legitimate. So you can skip generations in doing genealogies.

This is how Matthew gets three sets of 14. He's skipping people in the genealogies, and in fact, if you just look at the ancestors listed from Abraham to Jesus, Matthew has 41, Luke has 57. In other words, Luke has 16 more than Matthew has.

Why? That's just the nature genealogies. You can skip them for whatever reason you want to. We may not like that, but that is the nature of ancient genealogies, and in fact, if you compare Matthew and Luke, specifically from David to Jesus, there's only two names that are the same, Shealtiel and Zerubbabel.

All the other names are different, and again, you look at that, and you have to understand either Matthew and Luke are just grossly incompetent, or something else is going on, and I don't think you can fairly say that Matthew and Luke are grossly incompetent. There are actually many different ways to explain the differences, but I'm going to cover just three, and you'll see how really complicated it can become in light of the considerations that we looked at. One of the more common explanations is that Matthew lists Joseph's genealogy, and Luke lists Mary's genealogy, and so Matthew has Jesus, Joseph with Mary, his dad is Jacob, and his dad is Mathan.

Luke goes, Jesus, so it was thought, was the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, Mathan, Levi, and Melchi, and so you have really a lot of differences right there, and so perhaps it is different genealogies. The problem is that in Matthew, he goes out of his way to state that Jesus was descended from Mary, and actually in Matthew it says that Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born, and that whom is feminine, it's referring to Mary, of whom was born Jesus, the one who is called the Christ. And so in Matthew, you have this real emphasis not on Joseph, but on Mary.

That's one of the problems. If Luke gives Mary's genealogy, then the question is, well, why doesn't he list Mary? He has the, as it was thought, Joseph business that I talked about, but Mary's not even named, and when it says Joseph, the son of Heli, the Greek instruction is with an article, and the article is masculine, so it's clearly Joseph was the son of Heli. So I'm not sure this is the right way to explain this.

The second, and actually the third basic explanation, makes use of the whole issue of leveret marriage. If I had been childless and died, then leveret marriage means that my brother would have married my wife, and the children born in that union would legally be my children. They would physically be my brothers, but they would legally be mine, and the assumption here is that there's some leveret marriage going on.

So with this arrangement, the argument is that Matthew records the natural or the physical lineage, and Luke records the legal. A man named Julius Africanus, back in the third century, was the first one to suggest that, and what he argues is this. He believes that Mathan was married to Esther.

That union gave birth to Jacob. Mathan died, and through leveret marriage, Esther married Melchi. That union gave birth to Heli, which means that Jacob and Heli are half-brothers, but then it is believed that Heli also died, and Jacob married his spouse and produced Joseph.

Over here, Joseph is the son of Jacob. Over here, Joseph is the son of Heli. Jacob is his natural father.

Heli is the legal father because of leveret marriage. Now, what you're going to find is that in any of these reconstructions, there are problems. There's no nice and neat, easy way to package this.

One of the problems here, other than lack of historical evidence, is that you have two ancestors right here, which makes it a little difficult. Now, a third scenario also makes use of leveret marriage, and this was championed by Machen, who was following a man named Hervey in 1853, and he just switches, and in his scenario, Matthew gives us the legal genealogy, and Luke gives the natural genealogy. Now, in this particular scenario, this is how it works.

Jacob and Heli were brothers. It's believed, or at least argued, that Jacob died, and Heli married his wife in terms of leveret marriage. So, Heli physically gave birth to Joseph, but due to leveret marriage, Jacob was the legal father of Joseph.

Now, this is based on the belief that the names Machen and Method are actually referring to the same person, which is certainly possible, but then you have another issue where you have Eleazar and Levi as the fathers of Machen or Method, so you have another leveret marriage involved in this as well. Are you getting the idea? There are many other scenarios. I encourage you to get Daryl Bach's commentary on Luke.

He spells out a lot more in a lot more detail, and you can see how complicated all this really is, but let me say in conclusion, there's no one theory without issues. Even if you argue that the genealogies are completely non-historical, they're completely made up, there's an insurmountable problem in that, as I said, you have Matthew and Luke not even knowing Jesus' grandfather's name, and given the nature of Matthew and Luke, that just seems impossible to me. So, I think something else is going on in these genealogies, and as we have learned, this whole thing can get very complicated, get complicated by the nature of genealogies, how they can skip multiple generations, how you can have different names for the same person, and then the whole issue of leveret marriage, which in that culture, with the cultural emphasis on continuing your name, continuing your lineage, leveret marriage would have played a major role.

It's just, I think, common sense that there's multiple things happening, and that the genealogies aren't necessarily wrong. We just don't fully understand what's happening, and if you want to read more, just read Daryl Bach, but I really think that the non-historical view just doesn't make any sense, because it makes Matthew and Luke just simply sloppy, and if you don't want to accept that, then probably there's some combination of skipped generations, and different names for the same person, and the common practice of leveret marriage, which makes the genealogies a little difficult to follow. I hope that helps.