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The Genealogies in Matthew and Luke

As was mentioned earlier, Matthew started his gospel by giving the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17) from Jesus to Abraham. Luke also gave a genealogy of Jesus tracing it all the way to Adam. (Luke 3:23-38). Both these genealogies trace Jesus' ancestry from Joseph's side. There are many problems with these genealogies:

Let us conclude what we have found out about the genealogies. First they contradict one another. Some of the names in the genealogies are taken out from the Old Testament. Even from this known source, we find that both Matthew and Luke used the source rather freely to fit it into their theological schemes. Where the source in unknown we find they contradict one another. The conclusion is obvious: both the genealogies are works of fiction.

The Genealogies in Luke and Matthew Contradict Each Other

By comparing the two genealogies, an obvious difficulty arises: they are not the same! The names given in Luke from Joseph to David does not corroborate with that given in Matthew. In fact, the genealogies disagree even on the name of Joseph's father:

Matthew 1:16
and Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
Luke 3:23
Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli

So according to Matthew, Joseph's father was Jacob but according to Luke he was Heli! The discrepancies doesn't stop here. The table below summarizes in tabular form the generations from Jesus to David as given by both gospels. A quick glance at the table will reveal the glaring inconsistencies in both list. With the exception of Shealtiel and Zerubbabel [a], none of the other names coincide! And worse, Luke has forty three generations from David to Jesus, Matthew lists only twenty eight, giving a discrepancy of fifteen generations. Assuming an average of 25 to 30 years per generation, this brings the disparity of about four centuries between the genealogies. [1] In short, to put it bluntly, the two genealogies contradict one another at almost every turn.

MATTHEW 1:1-16LUKE 3:23-31
1. Jesus
2. Joseph
3. Jacob
4. Matthan
5. Eleazar
6. Eluid
7. Achim
8. Zadok
9. Azor
10. Eliakim
11. Abiud
12. Zerubbabel
14. Jechoniah
15. Josiah
16. Amon
17. Manasseh
18. Hezekiah
19. Ahaz
20. Jotham
21. Uzziah
22. Joram
23. Jehoshapat
24. Asa
25. Abijah
26. Rehoboam
27. Solomon
28. David
29. Jesse
30. Obed
31. Boaz
32. Salmon
33. Nahshon
34. Amminadab
35. Ram
36. Hezron
37. Perez
38. Judah
39. Jacob
40. Isaac
41. Abraham
1. Jesus
2. Joseph
3. Heli
4. Matthat
5. Levi
6. Melchi
7. Jannai
8. Joseph
9. Mattathias
10. Amos
11. Nahum
12. Esli
13. Naggai
14. Maath
15. Mattathias
16. Semein
17. Josech
18. Joda
19. Joanan
20. Rhesa
21. Zerubbabel
22. Shealtiel
23. Neri
24. Melchi
25. Addi
26. Cosam
27. Elmadam
28. Er
29. Joshua
30. Eliezer
31. Jorim
32. Matthat
33. Levi
34. Simeon
35. Judah
36. Joseph
37. Joanm
38. Eliakim
39. Melea
40. Menna
41. Mattatha
42. Nathan
43. David
The genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke

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Attempted Explanations by Christian Apologists

Throughout the centuries much ingenious attempts has been made by Christians to overcome this obvious contradiction in what they believed to be an error free book.

Attempt No.1: The Levirate

The first explanation is that the two lists does give the genealogy from Joseph's side but one list the legal heritage while the other the natural. This, they say, is due to the Jewish religious custom of the Levirate (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). The levirate was the law that decreed that if a man died without leaving any offspring, it is the duty of the deceased man's brother to impregnate his brother's wife to give him offsprings to perpetuate the family line. Thus the ancients say, one line of the genealogy gives the actual legal father, the other gives the natural father (from the levirate). The difficulty in this explanation is obvious, we are to suppose that the levirate affected all the generations except two (Schealtiel and Zerubbabel) from David to Jesus. As Guignebert concludes, such an explanation is clearly "absurd." [2]

Attempt No.2: Africanus' "Half Brothers" Plus Levirate

Another explanation comes from the third century Christian writer Julius Africanus (c160-c240). According to Africanus, Jacob (Joseph's father as given in Matthew) and Heli (Joseph's father as given in Luke) were brothers. When Heli died childless, Jacob impregnated his sister-in-law, and presto!, both Heli and Jacob are Joseph's father! Heli being the legal father while Jacob is the biological father via the levirate. The obvious question then, is why do these two brothers have different fathers: Heli's father is Matthat and Jacob's father is Matthan. Africanus' solution here is typical apologetic nonsense: he claimed that Jacob and Heli were half brothers! They shared the same mother who after the death of her first husband, Matthan, remarried this time to Matthat! The explanation is rather strange and sounds unreal. Did Africanus supplied any proof of this? No, but evidence to the early Christians are of no consequence. As Africanus himself says:

This may or may not be the truth of the matter; but in my opinion and that of every fair minded person no one else could give a clearer exposition, and we must content ourselves with it even if it is unconfirmed, as we are not in a position to suggest a better or truer one. In any case the gospel record is true [3]

Thus was how the inconsistency was reconciled in ancient times. With convoluted explanations based on hypothetical levirate and second marriages.

This explanation was eventually abandoned by the Christian apologists.

Attempt No.3: Mary's Genealogy

Around the end of fifteenth century Annius of Viterbo suggested another alternative explanation to this discrepancy. This "explanation" maintains that the genealogy in Matthew applied to Joseph while the one in Luke applied to Mary! This explanation does not hold water. In the first place both gospels state explicitly that they are tracing Jesus' ancestors from Joseph's side (Matthew 1:16; Luke 3:23-see above). In fact Luke, the one the apologists claim traces the ancestry from Mary, always refers to Joseph whenever he talks about ancestry of David:

Luke 1:27-28
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

Luke 2:4
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David...

Furthermore Luke, by making Mary the relative of Elizabeth (Luke 1:36), whom he gave as a descendent of priestly family of Aaron [b] (Luke 1:5) immediately makes Mary a member of that family.

In the second place the Jews do not admit to transmission of birthright by the mother, as St. Jerome rightly said, "It is not the custom of the scriptures to count women in their genealogies." Thus a genealogy traced from Mary's side is of no value in determining the descendents from David. [4] The fact that this discredited medieval explanation is still the same one used by some believers todays only serves to underline the bankrupt state of Christian theology.

The contradictions remain. At best, only one of these genealogies can be true, at worse, both could be false. Can we find out one way or the other? Yes we can!

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Other Problems in Matthew's Genealogy

Let us look at Matthew's genealogy first. For reasons unknown to us today, but probably with some important spiritual significance for the author and his readers, Matthew presents an impressive piece of numerology concerning the ancestors of Jesus:

Matthew 1:17
So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.

From David to the "exile" ends with Jeconiah. The numerical significance perhaps lies in Matthew trying to show that every fourteen generations something spectacular happens: for fourteen generations after Abraham was David and fourteen generations after that was the exile and so fourteen generations after the exile the messiah was born. All this sounds impressive. However Matthew has been less than honest in making the genealogy fit his numerological scheme. In the second list of fourteen generations (from David to Jeconiah) we have the seemingly innocent verse:

Matthew 1:8
...Joram the father of Uzzi'ah...

Matthew had skipped three generations from Joram to Uziah to keep his nicely balanced numerology. For we know from the Old Testament that Joram was actually the great great grandfather of Uzziah:

II Kings 8:24 (II Chronicles 22:1)
So Joram slept with his fathers...and Ahaziah his son reigned in his stead.

II Kings 11:2 (II Chronicles 22:11)
...Joash the son of Ahaziah...

II Kings 14:1 (II Chronicles 25:1)
...Amaziah the son of Joash...

II Chronicles 26:1 (II Kings 15:1)
Then all the people of Judah took Uzziah, who was sixteen years old, and made him king in the room of his father Amaziah.

Matthew has left out three generations (Ahaziah, Joash and Amaziah) to make the genealogy conform to his numerology. The cavalier method in which Matthew uses some of his sources which are known to us does not inspire confidence in the veracity of his entire list. [5] If Matthew can simply delete names that do not conform to his preconceived opinion, what guarantee do we have that he did not add names where he could not find any?

There is another mistake in Matthew's list:

Matthew 1:11
and Josi'ah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

Jeconiah is just another from of the name Jehoiachin and we know from the Old Testament that Josiah was Jeconiah's grandfather:

II Kings 23:34 (II Chronicles 36:4)
And Pharaoh-nechoh made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the room of Josiah his father, and turned his name to Jehoiakim...

II Kings 24:6 (II Chronicles 36:8)
So Jehoiakim slept with his fathers: and Jehoiachin [Jeconiah] his son reigned in his stead.

Again we see Matthew skipping a generation to make his numerological scheme work. [6] Actually even as it stands in Matthew there is actually only thirteen generations from the exile to Jesus (for Jehoiachin was already counted in the second fourteen generation [See the table above].). The best that can be stated regarding the number of generations are that there are fourteen from Abraham to David, eighteen from David to the exile and thirteen from the exile to Jesus. [7] Neither a pretty nor satisfying numerological relationship!

The conclusion regarding Matthew's handling of the genealogy is most aptly stated by Guignebert:

It is not a case of accidental forgetfulness or casual inaccuracy; the redactor has simply cut out anything that interfered with the regular pattern of the symbolic structure by which he professed to prove that Jesus had fulfilled the divine promises made to his ancestor Abraham, and had accomplished the sacred destiny of the race of David. The prosaic facts of history mattered little to him. [8]

While the early genealogies had their source in the Old Testament, the generations after the exile from Abiud to Joseph is taken from a source no longer known to us. Bearing in mind the way Matthew used available material it is not impossible that some of these names could well be fictitious.

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Other Problems in Luke's Genealogy

Let us now have a look at Luke's genealogy. Luke's list is in reverse order compared to Matthew. While Matthew started with Abraham and worked his way down to Jesus, Luke started his Jesus and worked his way up to Adam. In Luke 3:35-36 Luke stated that Shelah was the son of Cainan who, in turn, was the son of Arphaxad:

Luke 3:35-36
...the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad,...

Thus according to Luke, Shelah was the grandson of Arphaxad. However, the Hebrew Old Testament explicitly stated that Arphaxad was the father of Shelah.

Genesis 10:24
Arphaxad became the father of Shelah...

Only in the Greek Septuagint do we find the name Cainan inserted between Arphaxad and Shelah. There is however another name that did not appear in any extant text known to us, i.e. neither in the Hebrew Bible nor in the Greek Septuagint. That name appears in Luke 3:27, Rhesa

Luke 3:27
...the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel...

Rhesa, in the above passage is the father of Joanan and the son of Zerubbabel. This makes Joanan the grandson of Zerubbabel. Now Joanan is just another form of the name Hananiah and we know from the Old Testament that he was the son of Zerubbabel.

I Chronicles 3:19
...the sons of Zerubbabel: Meshullam and Hananiah [Joanan]...

There is no such person as Rhesa and Luke had simply inserted another generation to the list. [9] It remains an open question whether Luke's mistakes in inserting the names of Rhesa and Cainan were accidental or purposeful. It should be noted that the number of generations from God to Jesus in Luke's list is 77 and we know that the messianic number is seven. So perhaps Luke, like Matthew, dabbled in numerology. [10]

In Luke the generations given after Nathan, with the exception of Zerubbabel, Shealtiel and Joanan consist of unknown names. We do not know where Luke get these names from. It should also be mentioned that even with known names we have discrepancies between the two list. In Matthew the father of Shealtiel was given as Jeconiah [Jehoaichin], in Luke the father is given as Neri. (One gets a feeling the levirate explanation may well be revived by fundamentalists to explain this.)

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a.The names of Shealtiel and Zerubbabel really could not have been omitted by both evangelists given the strong connection of those names with the return from exile (Ezra 5:2)
b.Aaron, according to tradition, the brother of Moses was the first member of the priestly line, all descendents from Aaron were also appointed priests (Exodus 28)


1.Craveri, The Life of Jesus: p19
Guignebert, Jesus: p113
2.Ibid: p113
3.Eusebius, History of the Church: 1:7
4.Guignebert, Jesus: p107,114
5.Asimov, Guide to the Bible: p777
Guignebert, Jesus: p109-110
6.Asimov, Guide to the Bible: p777
Guignebert, Jesus: p109-110
7.Asimov, Guide to the Bible: p778
8.Guignebert, Jesus: p110
9.Asimov, Guide to the Bible: p938
Guignebert, Jesus: p110
Caird, Saint Luke: p19
10.Guignebert, Jesus: p110

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