Jesus’s Genealogy is Complicated! (Explained)

Jesus's Family Tree

Jesus’s genealogy, are recorded in Matthew and Luke.

But the strange thing is they are not the same.

Which is perplexing. But before diving into why and some explanations, let’s look at how they are the same.

Similarities in Matthew and Luke’s Genealogy

In both genealogies, Jesus is connected to 2 key figures in Israel’s history, Abraham and David. Sometimes referred to as the Father of the nation (Israel) and their greatest King.

Both will play significant roles in the life of Jesus.

But for his family tree, it proves that he is a Jew, a descendant of Abraham. Of the Kingly line of David.

There are 14 matchings “Fathers” listed between Abraham and David.

And then it begins to differ.

Between David and Jesus, the only shared names are Shealtiel and Zerubbabel (Matthew 1:12; Luke 3:27). Interestingly, these names are placed during the return of the Jews from exile. As if the two families merge again.

Which legally is entirely possible with the importance of proving your Jew ancestry when returning to Jerusalem. See Ezra as an example.

Differences in Jesus’s Genealogy between Matthew and Luke

There are 5 key differences between the two family trees.

MatthewLuke
First-person of GenealogyAbrahamGod
Number of “generations”4175
Josephs’s FatherJacobHeli
King David’s SonSolomonNathan
Arrangement of Family TreeGroups of “14”String
Joseph identified asthe husband of Marythe son, so it was thought, of Joseph

All interesting but of little significance except the list of people between King David and Joseph. Where we have Joseph, Jesus’ father, being the son of two different people. Or so it looks like, at first glance.

Explanations of Why There Are Differences Between the 2 Genealogies

Whenever you hear 2 different versions of the same story, it always raises questions.

Why are the stories different?

Which one is right?

Is there a way to combine the two stories for a fuller picture?

With Jesus’s family tree, we have the same and many more questions.

One of the challenges in understanding the life of Jesus is the sources or texts from which we get our information from.

  1. They are old documents spanning centuries of time, and culture. The practices of the time of Jesus and how people went about doing things is simply different than ours. In so many ways. This genealogy is a prime example of this. I don’t even know the name of my great-grandfather, let alone be able to list my ancestors going back hundreds if not thousands of years.
  2. One of the few “historical documents” that are ascribed to be written by God by some. Bringing many complications and limitations in trying to understand the text that you would not have if studying the life of Julius Ceasar. For example.

All that said let’s get into some explanations I have come across about Jesus’s genealogy as recorded by Matthew and Luke.

1. They are not historical.

A very easy explanation. This is a view held by many New Testament scholars, including Marcus Joel Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

A common explanation is that the authors are trying to prove a point about Jesus. They include these genealogies to emphasize that Jesus comes from a kingly line. Or to place him in history.

A slight compromise view is one is right, and the other is not. Leaning towards Luke’s version to be more historically accurate, as with Matthew, it is obvious that his genealogy is “designed,” and history doesn’t naturally work out that way.

How many people do you know who have exactly the same number (14) of generations between key world, national events?

Compare Matthews Kingly’s (1:6-12) line to 1 Chronicles 3:10-24. People are missing.

Matthew may have his reasons, but either way, we know that he is not striving for “accuracy” but to communicate a point.

To be fair, there are other sources that have genealogies of the kings, which may be where Matthew got his list from. But either way, we have a challenge.

2. Legal (Royal) vs. Physical (Biological)

In Matthew, Jesus is the “King of the Jews.” There are many Biblical and Non-Biblical documents that foretell a coming and renewal of the “Davidic Kingly Line.” This had a great deal of traction in the first century in Judea. With many people looking for a king from the line of David to arise.

So, Matthew curates the genealogy to show that Jesus is a descendant of the royal family David.

This doesn’t require precise genes to do. For example, Caesar Augustus (born Gaius Octavius; 23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) was the “son of” Julius Caesar. But in fact, Julius Caesar was his maternal great-uncle, skipping a generation and having no direct genetics. But different times and customs than we have.

But legally, Augustus was considered Julius son and could be made emperor in his place.

The same is proposed with Matthew and Lukes Geneogly.

Matthew is showing how, legally, Jesus is the son of David in the royal line and, therefore, can become the legitimate king.

Where Luke (a Doctor) is more concerned with the biological line and, therefore, presents it.

Leaving us with the question of which is more important.

Who is Jesus legally?

Or, who was Jesus’s partenal parents?

If you throw in that Jesus is not actually Joseph’s son (Born of a virgin), the whole importance of the family tree drops in importance.

3. Luke is Mary’s Family Tree, and Matthew is Joseph’s

This view is held by many conservative Bible scholars, including Matthew Henry, Lenski, John MacArthur and R.C Sproul. R.C. Sproul is less than dogmatic, saying it is “more than likely.”

Presented in a number of ways. Jews for Jesus presents it in great detail and is worth a read.

But the short explanation is there is no word for “son-in-law” in Koine Greek. The original language of Matthew and Luke, therefore Joseph was called the “son of Heli” by marriage to Mary, Heli’s daughter.

When in fact, he really is his son-in-law. The husband of Mary.

This argument is further propped up with an argument from the missing article translated “the” in English.

In Luke, every son is introduced as “the son of,” but Jesus is “of.” Some argue that this signals that he is not the same as the other. Whereas the others are biological sons of their fathers. Jesus is different, and therefore, the family tree is different.

4. Matthew is Mary’s Family Tree, and Luke is Joseph’s

This explanation is the flip of the previous one. Rather than Luke, Matthew is the record of Mary’s family.

I came across this theory from Nelson Walters.

A little disclaimer before trying to explain this explanation. I do not read Koine Greek, the language of our oldest Matthew manuscripts, but this explanation involves translation.

But an Interlinear Bible does allow a non-greek reader to see direct translation of a word.

If you are bilingual. You are keenly aware that not all words are directly translated, or more simply put, words have multiple names.

Words like “seal” in English, could be read or translated as container is tight or a grey clapping seal with whiskers bouncing a ball on its nose. Context makes all the difference.

Okay, here goes.

“Jacob was the father of Joseph the ἄνδρα of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.” Matthew 1:16

Traditionally and probably the English Bible you just read, translates ἄνδρα as “husband.”

But it’s not the only way you can translate ἄνδρα.

In Mark 6:20, it is translated as “man.”

“for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man (ἄνδρα), and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him.” 

Therefore we could also translate.

“Jacob was the father of Joseph, the man of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.”

Which doesn’t look much different than her husband, except it’s possible then that Jospeph is not Mary’s husband but her father.

That Mary married a man with the same name as her father which is entirely possible as I am sure Joseph can could be a popular name at the time. Being one of the patriarchs and all.

Another advantage of this is then Mary completes the “14” generations set between David and Jesus.

Which Matthew clearly states that he had done, arranging the genealogy into 3 sets of 14. But if Mary is of the same generation as Joseph, her husband, this becomes much more complicated.

The biggest drawback of this explanation is why, in the last 2 000 years, it has not been suggested before.

Or is it simply a matter of whenever I read the name Joseph in the gospel, I immediately think of Jesus’ father and do not consider another option. An option which makes the genealogies, not conflict.

5. Joseph Had 2 Fathers

This view was held by the third-century church historian Eusebius.

So it’s been around for a while but is not popular among current bible scholars.

This theory goes like this.

Jesus’s great-grandpa is the same in both genealogies, with a slight difference of one letter. Matthan in Matthew or Matthat in Luke with only 1 letter, “N” or “T.” The claim is this is one and the same person but with a slightly different spelling.

Thus Jesus’s great-grandpa was the same person, but whose one son married, died without a son.

His widow remarried her brother-in-law, and had a son together. A practice commanded by Deuteronomy 25:5, where a brother is obligated to maintain his brother’s name through his brother’s widow.

This son would have both his biological and legal father, his mother’s deceased first husband.

Maybe in our context, it’s better to think of a blended family.

I have adopted siblings. We share the same last name. Our “father” surname, but on their birth certificate, they have a much different father and parent. Not that they are any less children of my Dad, but biologically they are. If you were to ask them who their father is, they can answer two different ways, both being true.

Summary

Jesus has two unique genealogies. One in Matthew the other in Luke. However, there are significant differences in the lineages they present.

Different theories have been developed trying to explain these differences.

One is that Matthew is presenting Jesus’ royal lineage, traced back to King David fulfilling messianic prophecies. While Luke is presenting Jesus’ biological lineage.

A similar explanation is that Luke is a record of Mary’s family tree, Jesus’ mother, and Matthew’s is Joseph’s.

Another explanation is that Joseph had two fathers. A father by blood and his father by law, who was a brother-in-law of Joseph’s deceased first husband.

Regardless of which theory you feel best explains the difference or have entirely different thoughts.

Or outright reject both or one as unhistorical.

We must admit that the writer of these two genealogies was trying to attach Jesus to a Jewish heritage with links to key people in Jewish history. Both Matthew and Luke thought that was important for understanding the life of Jesus. A carpenter turned preacher.