BIBLE DIGEST - Number 84                                                                                      June 1998

Allon Maxwell

Matthew and Luke both record a genealogy for Jesus. However, whilst they do include a number of names in common, there are also significant differences. It is clear that they describe two different lineages. 

Inevitably, any attempt to resolve this apparent difficulty, must contain some degree of speculation. The Bible simply does not spell out the answers as clearly as we would like. Consequently the solution offered here, does not claim "infallibility". All it does, is present a view which attempts to maintain consistency with other Biblical facts. For me personally, it is the most logical of several alternatives which have been proposed by students of the Bible. If any of you do have an alternative view, please note that I do not feel obliged to promote, defend, or discuss the view presented here, to establish its “supremacy” over others. 

Receive it if you will! 


Actually there is nothing remarkable about that! All of us have two lines of descent, one through our father and one through our mother. As we shall see, this is the most likely explanation for the differences between the two genealogies in Matthew and Luke.

These two genealogies of Jesus establish that Jesus, His mother Mary, and His adoptive father Joseph, are all descended in the lineage of Adam, Abraham, Judah, and David.

The importance of that lies in the Gospel claims that Jesus is the fulfilment of promises made by God : 

* To Eve , in the Garden of Eden, that through one of her descendants, the
   penalty and other consequences of her sin and Adam's, would be undone.

* To Abraham , that through one of his descendants, unprecedented blessing
  would come upon all families of the earth.

* To David , that one of his descendants would also be called Son Of God,
   and inherit the throne to establish the promised everlasting Kingdom. 

The genealogy of Matthew is the line of royal inheritance, through David's son Solomon. It establishes that in his time, Joseph was the rightful heir to the throne of David. It is from Joseph that Jesus inherits that right. He is the Messiah, the anointed one .

But, Matthew also tells us that Joseph is not the natural father of Jesus - and that raises an important question. The terms of God's promise to David require that Jesus should be not only the legal heir , but also the natural descendant of David. 

How can that be?

That is the point of that second genealogy in Luke. Jesus has his natural descent from David through Mary, whose lineage is traced from Nathan, another of David's sons. 


Matthew's Gospel gives the appearance of being written more for Jews. That is probably why his genealogy traces the line of descent line back only as far as Abraham, the father of the Jewish race. 

It is clearly that of Joseph. But we have seen that Matthew also tells us that Joseph was not the real father of Jesus. He makes the staggering claim that Jesus is the virgin born only-begotten Son Of God !

During the betrothal of Joseph and Mary, she was found to be pregnant. Joseph would have put her away, if the angel had not intervened to tell him that this was not a case of fornication with some other man, but a miracle from God. It was truly a virgin birth. Mary's child was the one promised, who would save His people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21)

As the then living heir of David's throne, Joseph would have been very familiar with this promise. It was part of his heritage. How it must have made his heart rejoice, as he came to grips with the miracle of the virgin conception! His betrothed had not been unfaithful to her vows! He was free to marry her. 

And best of all ..... he was the one chosen to foster the Son of God, and pass his legal right to inherit the throne, on to the Messiah.


Although the virgin birth made Jesus the one promised as both Son of God and Son of Man, there is also another very important practical reason why it was necessary that the inheritance should come to Him as an adopted son of Joseph.

If He was to prosper on the throne of David, His natural descent could not come through Solomon's line. Centuries earlier, God had said about Jeconiah: 

"Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not succeed in his days; for none of his offspring shall succeed in sitting on the throne of David, and ruling again in Judah."(Jeremiah 22:30)

Neither Joseph himself, nor any of his other natural sons born later by Mary, could expect to prosper on the throne of David. Only Jesus can do that, because, although heir to Jeconiah's throne, he is not the "seed of Jeconiah " ..... He is adopted!

Isn't it remarkable how God takes care of ?little? details like that?


In contrast to Matthew, Luke's Gospel appears to have been written more for Gentile readers. That is probably why Luke's genealogy goes back much further than Matthew's . It traces the line all the way back to Adam, and ultimately to God. The inference is that Jesus is God's provision of a Saviour, not only for Jews, but also for all men in all time.

Luke makes the same amazing faith stretching claim as Matthew does about the virgin birth. Matthew tells Joseph's story. Luke however tells the same story seen through Mary's eyes.

In his genealogy, Luke does use Joseph's name at the start, but then he points us somewhat obliquely to Mary, by saying that Jesus was "the son ( as was supposed ) of Joseph, son of Heli". (Luke 3:23)

It seems more than likely that, to protect Mary from the gossips, the details of the story about the miraculous conception of her son, would not have been common knowledge. 

Even when he had thought Mary guilty of fornication, Joseph was not willing to put her to public shame. (Matthew 1:19) And although Joseph learned the truth in a dream, few others would have been likely to believe it! So Mary's reputation was protected by the silence of those closest to her, and it was simply left for people to "suppose" .....

Luke uses that word "supposed " almost as an "aside" to emphasise the miracle believed only by those who agree with Mary, that :

"with God nothing will be impossible".  (Luke 1:37) 

Of course it would be possible to place other constructions on Luke's use of Joseph's name. However, given that the virgin birth is central to both Gospels, there is a compelling need to show that Jesus is also the Son of man, naturally descended from David. Luke has done that for us by recording Mary's place in David's line.


Both Matthew and Luke mention these two names. (Matthew 1:12-13 ? Luke 3:27)

Some commentators have claimed that the blood lines of Solomon and Nathan must have been combined somehow by marriage at this point, and that in both Gospels, these two names refer to the same persons.

However if this is really so, it would mean that Luke's genealogy of Mary actually proves that Jesus was a blood descendant of Jeconiah, and therefore unable to prosper on the throne. (Jeremiah 22:24-30)

Genealogies were important to Jews. Most could recite their genealogy from memory. It was their "calling card".  Priests especially, were required to establish their bonafides as full blood members of the tribe of Levi. How much more important for a King who claims to be the Messiah, to establish his line of inheritance.

Luke claims to have researched his story carefully. (Luke 1:1-4) It seems fairly safe to assume that he includes his genealogy for Jesus in that claim, especially since it differs from Matthew's. That confirmation would certainly have been possible, either from a member of the family who could recite the names of his ancestors from memory, or from the public records.

Thus there is no reason to doubt that Luke has taken the necessary care to get it right, and that there is a logical and important reason for these two completely different genealogies, which does not in any way compromise the accuracy of the Bible record.

Although Matthew does have several unexplained omissions of names, he does agree with the Old Testament genealogies of the royal line through Solomon. 

On the other hand Luke has made it clear that his Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, are descended from Nathan, not Solomon. The names of their immediate ancestors and descendants are not found at all, in the Old Testament lists of Solomon's descendants. 

It is obvious that Matthew's Shealtiel and Zerubbabel are not the same as Luke's. Thus there is nothing in Luke's genealogy to link Jesus to Jeconiah. 

And there is no barrier to His prosperity on the throne of David. 


If Jesus is of the “seed of David”, He must also be from the tribe of Judah. 

However there are some sceptics who claim that Mary is from the tribe of Levi, and that therefore, if Mary was a virgin, Jesus could not be of the tribe of Judah, or descended from David, 

This claim that Mary was from the tribe of Levi, is based on a misunderstanding of Luke 1:5 and 1:36, which refer to Elizabeth as “of the daughters of Aaron” and Mary's “cousin” (KJV) or “kinswoman” (RSV). 

"Kinswoman" does not necessarily mean the closer blood relationship implied by our common English use of the word "cousin". In the Jewish culture, it can just as easily mean that Mary and Elizabeth were distantly related by marriage, rather than by a close blood tie. It would certainly be possible for them to share a common ancestor from the tribe of Judah, one of whose daughters had married into the tribe of Levi. There is no real difficulty in understanding how Mary and Elizabeth could be related as "kinswomen", but from different tribes.

Certainly Hebrews 7:11-14 is quite definite that Jesus is not from Levi, but from the tribe of Judah.


This is Matthew's claim about Jesus! (Matt 2:2)

It is central to the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Jesus claims to be the heir of the throne of David, who will establish the Kingdom for ever . (Luke 1:32-33) 

The Gospel stands or falls on the truth of this claim by Jesus. That is why those genealogies are so important. 

They are not simply boring lists of names with no purpose! 

They give us the blood line of descent for Joseph, from whom Jesus inherited the right to the throne. They give us the blood line of Mary, through whom Jesus is legitimately descended from David. When they were written in the first century, they threw down the gauntlet for Jews to examine that claim by checking out the credentials of Jesus in the genealogies held on public record!


This was the charge levelled against Him when He was questioned by Pilate (Matthew 27:11) and to which Jesus confessed. (Mark 15:2, Luke 23:3, John 23:37) 

It was the charge on which Pilate sentenced Him to crucifixion. (Matthew 27:37) It was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek (John 19:20) the three major languages spoken in the world of that time, and placed on the cross with Him. 

It was the unwitting admission of the soldiers who kneeled before Him in mock homage, when they tortured and tormented Him just before they crucified Him. (Matthew 27:29)

Most important of all ..... this was THE TRUTHwhich God upheld when He declared Jesus innocent of any sin, by raising him from the dead. (Romans 1:3-4)

By this, we may know beyond question,
God has made Jesus both Lord and Messiah !
(Acts 2:36)