The Genealogy of Jesus
Don't Matthew and Luke disagree on Jesus' genealogy?
Why would a genealogy of Jesus' ancestors end with Joseph and not Mary,
since Joseph isn't a blood relative?

Under both Roman and Jewish law, Joseph would have been Jesus' legal father. Since Joseph continued the legal betrothal, taking Mary home as wife, he was considered married to her by the community. Though Scriptures is clear that he didn't consummate that union until after Jesus was born, for all societal purposes they were viewed as a married couple and any child born to them was legally their son. Even in our day, if you get married before you have a child, even if pregnant before getting married, both the mother and father are considered to be legally parents of the child. It was not necessary for Joseph to adopt Jesus as would have been necessary if Jesus was born prior to Joseph taking Mary home as his wife. While people often casually refer to Joseph as being Jesus' stepdad or foster father, which is technically true in the big picture, it was not a legal fact. Legally, Jesus was Joseph and Mary's son. This becomes important at a number of levels. For Jesus to be able to claim the right to be King in the line of David, Jewish society would have to accept that he had that hereditary right through his father line.

Matthew was primarily concerned about establishing Jesus' legal line of royalty. To have a claim to the throne of Israel two absolutes had to be confirmed:

  1. He had to be a Jew, part of the covenant people of Abraham

  2. He had to be a descendant of David

Matthew places this emphasis right at the very beginning of his gospel:

Matthew 1:1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: (NIV)

Immediately following, Matthew provides the legal proof of Jesus' genealogy from Abraham, through David, to Joseph (i.e. Matthew 1:2-17). Again, proof for royal claim had to be through the father so it was necessary for this lineage to be of Joseph, Jesus' legal father.

    Abraham to David

  1. Abraham
  2. Isaac
  3. Jacob
  4. Judah (and Tamar)
  5. Perez
  6. Hezron
  7. Ram
  8. Amminadab
  9. Nahshon
  10. Salmon (and Rahab)
  11. Boaz (and Ruth)
  12. Obed
  13. Jesse
  14. King David (and Uriah's wife, i.e. Bathsheba)

    David to the Exile

  15. Solomon
  16. Rehoboam
  17. Abijah
  18. Asa
  19. Jehoshaphat
  20. Jehoram
  21. Uzziah
  22. Jotham
  23. Ahaz
  24. Hezekiah
  25. Manasseh
  26. Amon
  27. Josiah
  28. Jeconiah (alt. Jehoiachin or Coniah) End Note 1

    Exile to the Christ

  29. Jeconiah (alt. Jehoiachin or Coniah) End Note 1
  30. Shealtiel
  31. Zerubbabel
  32. Abiud
  33. Eliakim
  34. Azor
  35. Zadok
  36. Akim
  37. Eliud
  38. Eleazar
  39. Matthan
  40. Jacob
  41. Joseph (the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus)
  42. Jesus

Matthew ends his legal genealogy of Jesus, through Joseph, by stating that he intentionally divided his list into three equal sections of 14 each.

Matthew 1:17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ. (NIV)

Matthew's list was abbreviated, something that can be determined from a quick look at the Old Testament. As a Jew, one who knew the Law; this was not accidental by Matthew. He chose to use the term "father", or "begat" in KJV, with its nonspecific meaning, all to make equal divisions that were multiple of seven. Matthew's use of "father" denoted a direct male lineage, which could include a literal father, grandfather, great grandfather, etc. This type of general word usage is found elsewhere in Scriptures as well (i.e. 2 Kings 18:3 calling David the father of Hezekiah).

For the record, using the Old Testament, these generations could be added to the above list:

20. Jehoram
20a. Ahaziah
20b. Jehoash (alt Joash)
20c. Amaziah
21. Uzziah


27. Josiah
27a. Jehoiakim
28. Jeconiah (alt. Jehoiachin or Coniah) End Note 1

Matthew's genealogy accomplished its purpose, showing that Jesus, the Christ, descended from Abraham and had legal claim to the throne of David. Notice that Matthew isn't concerned about who was the oldest son in the lineage. For example, Ishmael's name is not mentioned after Abraham (#1) nor is Esau after Isaac (#2), instead he lists Isaac and Jacob. Matthew's focus, though technically legal in nature, still had a focus on the line God established for His coming Messiah.

So why is the genealogy in the Gospel of Luke somewhat different that that of Matthew? Luke's focus was even more on the Messiah, namely His real fulfillment of Messianic prophecies. Jesus' legal claim, via Joseph, was not enough to fulfill all the Messianic prophecies.

Matthew and Luke both made it clear that Jesus was, in fact, born of the virgin Mary. Unique in all of history, having no natural human father, Jesus needed to meet the requirement of being a descendant of Abraham and David through Mary as well. As for being the Messiah, Luke had more absolutes to establish:

  1. He was part of Adam's race

  2. He had to be a Jew, part of the covenant people of Abraham
  3. He had to be a descendant of David
  4. He was not from line disqualified by God after David (even though legally having claim to the throne)

The Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament clearly held that the Messiah (Christ or the Anointed, as in Anointed King) would be a Jew having legal and God-established claim to the throne of David (i.e. 2 Samuel 7:11b-16; Psalms 89:3-4; Psalms 132:11; Isaiah 16:5; Jeremiah 23:5-6; Isaiah 11:1-5).

Luke begins his genealogy in a fashion that identifies it as not being the legal one. Consider this wording:

Luke 3:23a Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph...

Take note of Luke's emphasis that it was merely thought that Jesus was the son of Joseph. His emphasis was on the real physical lineage behind Jesus. While still given in the paternal format common to the Jewish people, from male to male, it really ends with Mary or quite specifically Jesus' maternal grandfather Heli. Mary is not directly mentioned here, which would be out of character with a paternal genealogy. Jesus maternal grandfather would be the last direct relative in the list. It would be quite legitimate to use "son of" in a general form to reference his grandfather, even as father could be used in a general sense (i.e. Matthew's usage examined earlier). Joseph was then included merely as a placeholder and acknowledgement for Mary's generation.

Luke 3:23b-38
the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat,
the son of Levi, the son of Melki,
the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph,
25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos,
the son of Nahum, the son of Esli,
the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath,
the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein,
the son of Josech, the son of Joda,
27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa,
the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel,
the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melki,
the son of Addi, the son of Cosam,
the son of Elmadam, the son of Er,
29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer,
the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat,
the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon,
the son of Judah, the son of Joseph,
the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim,
31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna,
the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan,
the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse,
the son of Obed, the son of Boaz,
the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon,
33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram,
the son of Hezron, the son of Perez,
the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob,
the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham,
the son of Terah, the son of Nahor,
35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu,
the son of Peleg, the son of Eber,
the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan,
the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem,
the son of Noah, the son of Lamech,
37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch,
the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel,
the son of Kenan, 38 the son of Enosh,
the son of Seth, the son of Adam,
the son of God. (NIV)

Take note that if you include God at the beginning and Joseph and Jesus at the end, the total number of generations (i.e. referenced individuals) totals 77, similar to Mathew's shorter version in that it is also a multiple of 7.

In this actual physical lineage of Jesus, He is shown as being descended from David but not through the line of Jeconiah (alt. Jehoiachin or Coniah). This is important since God had disqualified any descendant of Jeconiah from being the Messiah. If Matthew's legal lineage was all that mattered, Jesus would have had claim to the throne of David through mere physical descent, but the prophet Jeremiah recorded God's statement that no ruler would come via a descendant of Jeconiah.

Jeremiah 22:28-30 "Is this man Coniah a despised, shattered jar? Or is he an undesirable vessel? Why have he and his descendants been hurled out And cast into a land that they had not known? 29 "O land, land, land, Hear the word of the Lord! 30 "Thus says the Lord, 'Write this man down childless, A man who will not prosper in his days; For no man of his descendants will prosper, sitting on the throne of David, or ruling again in Judah.'" (NASU)

Shortly after, Jeremiah reconfirms that the Messiah would still come from David.

Jeremiah 23:5-6 "Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord, "When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely And do justice and righteousness in the land. 6 "In His days Judah will be saved, And Israel will dwell securely; And this is His name by which He will be called, 'The Lord our righteousness.' (NASU)

According to Luke, who knew Jesus' mother Mary and could verify her account, Jesus fulfilled all these Messianic prophecies.

For the skeptics who claim that the two genealogies are contradictory, making one or both to be fraudulent, the weight of history is against them. Both the gospel of Luke and Matthew circulated from the early days of the church and were accepted as being true without any hint to the contrary. In fact, during those early days of circulation, no evidence of contradiction was brought forth. And if, as some claim, the early church was manufacturing or changing Scriptures for its own purposes, don't you think that they would have harmonized the two if they were considered contradictory? End Note 2 Again, the evidence of many early manuscripts and fragments is that both genealogies are accurate transmissions of the facts as recorded. What we're left with are two gospels, with two different perspectives, and a shared goal of revealing the truth of God.

Only if the early church could have known with certainty would the Apostle Paul (died circa 69 A.D.) so confidently write:

Romans 1:3 ... regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David ... (NIV)

This is a clear testimony that Paul knew Jesus was physically descended from David, something that Luke, a companion of Paul, was well aware of and recorded in his gospel. Throughout the earliest of church history many others likewise affirmed this assertion:

For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. (Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians, from chapter 18; lived circa 35 - 107 A.D.)

He said then that He was the Son of man, either because of His birth by the Virgin, who was, as I said, of the family of David and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham; or because Adam was the father both of Himself and of those who have been first enumerated from whom Mary derives her descent. (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, from chapter 100; lived circa 100 - 165 A.D.)

Now, since He is the blossom of the stem which sprouts from the root of Jesse; since, moreover, the root of Jesse is the family of David, and the stem of the root is Mary descended from David, and the blossom of the stem is Mary's son, who is called Jesus Christ... for every step indeed in a genealogy is traced from the latest up to the first, so that it is now a well-known fact that the flesh of Christ is inseparable, not merely from Mary, but also from David through Mary, and from Jesse through David. (Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, from chapter 21, but read chapters 20-22; lived circa 160 - 220 A.D.)


1. Matthew counts Jeconiah (alt. Jehoiachin) twice in his summary royal line genealogy. Because the exile, as a prominent and defining event in the history of Israel was one of his division points, it is legitimate that he lists him twice. Jeconiah before the exile was Jeconiah in disgrace, Jeconiah after the exile had happened was Jeconiah restored.

There is good reason to believe that Jechoniah must be counted twice; first, as the last in the second series of fourteen; then, as the first in the final series. At first glance the decision to count him twice may seem like a totally unwarranted method of getting rid of a Gospel "discrepancy," the latter consisting in this, that otherwise the third list, which like the other two is supposed to contain fourteen names (verse 17), would have only thirteen. However, a little study of what Scripture tells us about Jechoniah soon reveals that two sharply contrasting pictures of this king's experiences are drawn. All is dark in II Kings 24:8-12, as has been indicated. The curse of childlessness is pronounced upon Jechoniah (Jer. 22:30). But in his imprisonment matters take a turn for the better: Jechoniah, the exile, has children, in one of whom the Messianic line is continued (I Chron. 3:17, 18). By rereading Jer. 22:30 we now begin to understand that the childlessness predicted with reference to the young king meant no more than this, that none of his offspring would occupy David's earthly throne. Now this favorable change between Jechoniah before his deportation and afterward is in and by itself probably sufficient to justify the fact that he is counted twice. If more is needed, consider also II Kings 25:27-30. Cf. Jer. 52:31-34. Jechoniah is freed from prison, is treated kindly at the court of Evil-merodach, king of Babylon, at whose table he dines regularly, and is given a continual allowance. He even receives "a seat above the seats of the kings that were with him in Babylon." A sharper contrast is hardly imaginable. Matthew knew all this, of course. Throughout his Gospel he is constantly proving that he is well acquainted with his sources. Is it not natural to suppose, therefore, that it was because of these two sharply contrasting pictures that Matthew counts Jechoniah twice? (Excerpt from entry on Matthew 1:12, New Testament Commentary by William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Copyrights © 1953-2001 by Baker Books)

2. Perhaps the earliest skeptic to raise the red-herring that Jesus' genealogies don't match, claiming this made them an invalid invention, was a guy by the name of Julian. Okay, he was Roman Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus (circa 332-363 A.D.) but he was more commonly known as Julian the Apostate, as he most certainly was. He wrote a treatise against Christianity called "Against the Galileans" in Book I he wrote:

But it is very clear that not one of these sayings relates to Jesus; for he is not even from Judah. How could he be when according to you he was not born of Joseph but of the Holy Spirit? For though in your genealogies you trace Joseph back to Judah, you could not invent even this plausibly. For Matthew and Luke are refuted by the fact that they disagree concerning his genealogy. (The Works of the Emperor Julian, volume III, 1923, translated by Wilmer Cave Wright)

(c) 2009 Brent MacDonald/LTM. Duplication is permitted for non-profit purposes, as long as the source is cited.
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