Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What about the differences between Matthew and Luke's genealogies?

Question from a friend on facebook: " ...arising from prayer meeting at work this morning... whe are the geneologies in Luke 3 and Matthew 1 different? is it because one is Mary's and the other Joseph's? if so which is which and why do they both end with Joseph?"

First - genealogies are part of the Bible! A part we might be inclined to ignore but which God put there - and Matthew even put in for the first page of his gospel, which isn't just a Jewish gospel but one for all nations, something evident from the reference to Abraham in 1:1 and the great commission of the book's final chapter. I once wrote a series in Matthew for a Christian Union, we covered chapters 3-8 but I really wanted to start in chapter 1 but figured it was a bit ask to have the first Bible study a fresher might be in one of Matthew's genealogy - hard but tasty!

In Matthew we have to say that we're given some good hints of why he includes it. He wants to show us (1:1) Jesus' relationship to "David the king" (v6) and Abraham - which is an emphasis on Kingly Authority and Global Blessing. They, and the exile, provide the structure of the genealogy, which concludes with "Joseph, the husband of Mary to whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ". Combined with the story of Jesus' conception this only shows us Jesus' adopted genealogy - and it follows the line of the house of Judah royally, listing the kings and emphasises Jesus as the heir to the throne of Israel.

Luke's genealogy, in Luke 3 works differently. It's in reverse back to Adam the son of God and set in the context of Jesus' temptation serves to highlight Jesus as the true Adam son of God and true Israel son of God. The issues arises because the genealogies are different - they both run with Joseph and are the same from David backwards but different in between. Luke's doesn't follow the kings but rather a line from David's son Nathan down to Joseph. I take it this is the real line of Joseph. Luke isn't looking to emphasise the royalness but rather his divine descendancy... something that anyone has since it's traced from God to Adam and onwards - but put with the temptation/testing of Jesus in the wilderness, like Israel in the wilderness, it shows him as a special Israel-like son of God. See more on that in David Gibson's Three Sons and the Devil.

That at least is my thinking...  your comments?


  1. I was reading this just yesterday and studying it - came to some similar conclusions.

    In my reading of commentaries for the inconsistencies between the two, some say that Luke's is Mary's descent - Christ's blood lineage, whereas Matthew is Joseph's descent.

    Of course, it doesn't say this is the case, so not a complete answer!

  2. I'm feeling an itch to get back into Matthew's gospel.

  3. Yeah I've just got back in too. Taking it nice and slow with Harmony Of The Gospels

  4. thank for that...the differences came up in a discussion just the other day. Be interested if your work turns up anything further..

    Great work!

  5. One of the earliest commentators on this, Julius Africanus, offered the solution that Matthew gave the legal genealogy and Luke the "natural" (i.e. biological) genealogy; and that the custom of Levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-10) explained why these two might be different. Julius also refers to historical examples of this happening in Herod Antipas' family tree, so it's not as crazy as it might sound. If I remember correctly, I think John Calvin opts for this explanation as well.

  6. Scott - be interested to see how harmony works for you, I've always preferred to read them separately and enjoy the distinctive flavour, feel and emphases of each.

  7. One aspect which inspires me in Matthew is the division of the generations - Abraham, David, Exile, Christ. With this division, Matthew is saying: "here are IMO the most significant salvation-historical events and the last really significant thing that happened was the exile"...

    This means: the restoration of Jerusalem under Nehemia, Esra etc. (and for the readers of Matthew also the v. impressive and expensive restoration under Herod the Great) wasn't truly the restauration of the nation... they are, in some sense, still an exiled people.

    Matthew says in effect: restoration and redemption have another salvation-historical date, and the date is called Christ.

    Mt 1:21 "HE will save his people from their sins"