The gospels of Matthew and Luke both give genealogies for Jesus.
But they’re different.
Not just a little different.
From David to Joseph, they’re almost entirely different. Only two names are found in both genealogies in that time period. The genealogies are much more similar from Abraham to David. Matthew has an extra name. That’s not so unusual. Ancient genealogies are not always exhaustive. So person A can be referred to as the father of person B but it might actually be his grandfather or great grandfather, etc.
When you get to David, the genealogies diverge in two different directions.
Matthew’s genealogy goes from David to Solomon and through Solomon’s line.
Luke’s genealogy goes from David to another of his sons, Nathan, and Nathan’s line.
Both list Zerubbabel and both list Shealtiel and that is where the commonalities begin and end.
There are all sorts of theories.
And I’ll be honest. Any solution to this problem is purely speculative.
Theory 1 – Joseph’s line and Mary’s line
One of the oldest theories which goes back to the early church is the suggestion that they’re giving genealogies for both Joseph and for Mary.
That’s possible but it shouldn’t be assumed, most importantly because the text never tells us that.
It would be highly unusual to give a woman’s genealogy in ancient times. Although as one scholar pointed out, a virgin birth is also highly unusual.
Theory 2 – A royal line and a legal line
Perhaps one of the genealogies is royal and one is legal.
This is ultimately where I land and what I believe is the most like scenario.
What’s that mean?
So Matthew’s genealogy goes from David to Solomon to Rehoboam to Abidjan, etc.
That is the Israelite monarchy of the Old Testament. They’re the kings.
Those people can be found in Old Testament genealogies.
Matthew gives the kings. Luke does not.
But both go through David.
So one suggestion is that Jesus is in the line of David, but while the royal line goes from David through Solomon, Jesus isn’t part of the Solomonic line.
Is that to say that Jesus is not a legitimate royal?
It’s not saying that.
Perhaps the direct royal line had died off and Joseph was next in line.
So in that, Matthew could be giving the line of the monarchy which ends up at Joseph.
Even if not, Jesus is the divinely appointed Davidic King. We see several instances in the Old Testament where God makes a choice which goes against birth order. Judah was not the oldest of the 12 tribes. Jacob was younger than Esau. Abel was favored over Cain.
Certainly we should not think that either of the gospel writers were just arbitrarily listing names. Luke’s genealogy is interesting because it goes another route off of the Davidic line. Luke is very meticulous and detail oriented in his gospel. He knew the Old Testament. Why did he do that?
I think he did it because it was true. That was the line.
That does not mean Matthew’s genealogy is wrong.
Again, the theory that I think makes the most sense is that Matthew is giving the kings. Keep in mind that the monarchy ends long before Jesus. There are people living in the world today who are descendants of monarchies that are no longer in power.
And from the line of the kings, Matthew is pointing to Jesus as the final and ultimate king. That also goes with the kingship theme in this gospel.
There are other theories.
Maybe it’s as simple as Matthew and Luke showing that Joseph himself was related to David from both sides of his family.
Maybe Joseph’s parents died and he was adopted and it’s giving the lines of his blood family and his adoptive family.
Jesus was adopted by Joseph. Maybe Joseph too had been adopted.
And there are other theories.
Maybe Joseph’s mom was a widow and his dad had a half brother who married the mother to give Joseph’s father a legal heir and the gospels are giving that genealogy and the genealogy of his biological father.
Again, it’s not a new thing that Matthew and Luke have different genealogies. Theologians and scholars have been wrestling with this throughout church history. We have church theologians commenting on this in the third century, but I think it’s safe to say that the question goes back further than that.
An important lesson about the Bible
But here are a couple things to keep in mind.
Because sometimes skeptics will point to these different genealogies as a known on the historicity of the Bible.
People like to sometimes make it seem like way back in the early history of the church, like they edited the Bible. But the Bible gives us two different genealogies for Jesus and throughout the history of the church, both were left in the gospels because they were original to the books.
And that should mean something.
It’s a powerful reminder of the efforts throughout the history of the church to preserve the Biblical text and not be editors. But letting the text speak for itself.
The Bible is the word of God.
All scripture is God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).
Hebrews 4:12 says:
the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword
The Word of God does not need to be explained away.
Thomas Jefferson was famous for producing his own “bible” where he cut out the parts he disagreed with. That’s not how you treat the Word of God.
Matthew and Luke gave those two genealogies, as we have them.
And they’re both God’s word.
For the skeptics and those who want to use this against the historicity of the Bible or even for the Christian who’s uncomfortable with the discrepancy, that needn’t be so. Just because we don’t know exactly why the genealogies are different does not imply that a solution doesn’t exist.
Again, there are no shortage of plausible theories.
We just don’t know exactly which one it is.
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