Reconciling Matthew’s and Luke’s Genealogies: Mission: Impossible?

Some scholars have said they are irreconcilable, while others say it is not so difficult. I favor plausible harmonization, since the scholars in this post have cracked the “codes.”

Let’s begin with a table, for your convenience:

Matthew’s Genealogy (1:1-17)

Luke’s Genealogy (3:23-38)

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram,[a] and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.

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. (ESV)

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, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, 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 Melchi, 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 Sala, the son of Nahshon, 33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, 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 Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38 the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God. (ESV)

The first thing to notice is that Matthew has forty-two names, while Luke has fifty-six, but Matthew’s lineage is clearly based on three sets of fourteen generations, so some men were omitted. “Father of” and “was the father of” can be rendered “was the ancestor of,” skipping fathers in between one name to the next.

Also, David’s name in Hebrew works out to be fourteen (d-w-d, and the vowels were added later).

D = 4

W = 6

D = 4

_________

+ 14

David is the key figure for the Messianic title. So Matthew trims the other names to work out to fourteen names. This is not a farfetched explanation, for Matthew was a Jewish tax collector and worked with numbers. (Yes, I go with traditional authorship.) Other Jewish writings also look at the deeper significance of numbers. (The pursuit of the significance in numbers is called Gematria).

Further, the third set of fourteen names in Matthew’s Gospel actually works out to thirteen names. Reason? D.A. Carson: “And if the third set of fourteen is short one member, perhaps it will suggest to some readers that just as God cuts short the time of distress for the sake of his elect (24:22), so also he mercifully shortens the period from the Exile to Jesus the Messiah” (p. 69).

A slightly less spiritual explanation says that David should be counted twice, for that’s how Matthew sets up the exemplar king’s importance.

Other quick notes from Darrell Bock (see the third scholar, below):

From Adam to Shem the lineage has been drawn from Gen. 5;

From Shem to Abraham the names are taken from Gen. 11:10-32;

From Abraham to David the names come from 1 Chronicles and Ruth;

From David to Jesus, the list differs widely.

The genealogical differences have been explained in various ways. Let’s look at what these NT scholars have to say and how they accomplish harmonization.

D.A. Carson

Let’s begin with D.A. Carson, a mighty fine scholar and commentator on Matthew’s Gospel for the Expositor’s Bible Commentary.

First, Matthew begins with Abraham and works his way down to Jesus, while Luke goes in reverse order, from Jesus back to Adam, so differences are bound to emerge.

Second, one explanation says that Luke aims to give Mary’s genealogy but substitutes Joseph’s name (Luke 3:23), to avoid mentioning a woman. Mary herself probably does descend from David (see Luke 1:32).

Third, Luke provides Joseph’s real or biological genealogy and Matthew offers the throne succession. That explains why Luke works backwards in time, and Matthew forward from Abraham to David and then to Jesus. Joseph’s real father was Heli, to his father Matthat and back to Nathan and David. However, Matthew says the father of Joseph was Jacob. To solve this problem scholars postulate a levirate marriage (a brother dies without an heir), and the brothers marries his widow), so Heli died, and Jacob took over. But the problem is if the whole purpose is to raise up a child for the deceased brother, why does Luke provide the name of his actual father? Answer: this was Luke’s way to honor the deceased brother.

Fourth, here’s a solution summarized by Carson, from J. Gresham Machen for Joseph’s immediate ancestors:

If we assume that Matthat and Matthan are not the same person, there is no need to appeal to levirate marriage. The difficulty regarding the father of Matthat and the father of Matthan disappears. Yet their respective sons Heli and Jacob may have been so closely related (e.g. if Heli was heirless only son whose sister married Jacob or Joseph) that if Heli died, Jacob’s son Joseph became his heir. Alternatively, if Matthan and Matthat are the same person (presupposing a levirate marriage one generation earlier), we “need only suppose that Jacob [Joseph’s father according to Matthew] dies without issue, so that his nephew, the son of his brother Heli [Joseph’s father according to Luke] would become his heir” … (Carson, p. 65).

That solution has the elegance of simplicity.

James Bejon

Now let’s explore another explanation on the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies by James Bejon. His article is long, but I urge readers to click on the link below to find his wonderful and clear lineage charts.

First, in the summary, Bejon states the problem and quickly reviews the standard (and inadequate) solutions, but then states his hypothesis that needs to be proven:

Jesus’ genealogies in Matthew and Luke are frequently dismissed as ‘irreconciliable’. Such claims, however, like certain defences of Jesus’ genealogies, are too quick. Matthew and Luke differ from one another, not because they are poor historians, nor because one of them provides Joseph’s genealogy while the other provides Mary’s, nor even because they provide ‘theological genealogies’ (whatever a theological genealogy might be), but because two individuals in Joseph’s ancestry (viz. Shealtiel and Matthan-aka-Matthat) chose to be grafted into different lineages within their clan.

His hypothesis: “Two individuals in Joseph’s ancestry (viz. Shealtiel and Matthan-aka-Matthat chose to be grafted into different lineages within their clans.”

Can he prove his hypothesis? Let’s see.

Second, Bejon informs us that a grandson of Josiah was placed in the royal lineage, and not in the line of accursed Jehoiakim:

And Jehoiachin was able to reign in Judah (contra the prima facie implication of Jeremiah’s prophecy) because he was removed from Jehoiakim’s (accursed) line and grafted directly into Josiah’s. Hence, true to Jeremiah’s word … Jehoiakim’s line came to a untimely end. The Messiah would not arise from Jehoiakim’s line (per the diagram below),… [click on the link, below, to see the diagram]

The reason the Messiah would not arise through Jehoiakim’s line is that it was cursed, so Jehoiachin was grafted in directly into Josiah’s line, since Jehoiachin was Josiah’s grandson. Jehoiakim had cut up large portions of prophecy (Jer. 36:23), so God bypassed him.

Third, Bejon notes the similarities in v. 2 and v. 11 in Matthew’s version: “and his brothers.” He writes:

Also important to note is the parallel between v. 2 (‘Judah and his brothers’) and v. 11 (‘Jehoiachin and his brothers’). In both verses, Matthew chooses to mention not just a single ruler, but a ruler together with his brothers. Why? Because just as Judah is promoted to a position beyond his biological entitlement (insofar as he functions as their leader due to Reuben’s fall: (cp. 1 Chr. 5.1–2), so too is Jehoiachin, as Matthew is well aware.

In other words, Matthew did not miss the parallel. Judah is elevated to a position beyond his biology because of Reuben’s failure, and so was Jehoiachin, centuries later.

Third, Jehoiachin himself seemed to come under a curse, and he would not raise up a biological son to succeed him. While in Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar forgave him and Jehoiachin adopted one of his kinsman. Bejon notes:

While in exile, God pardoned Jehoiachin and allowed him to adopt (one of his kinsmen named) Shealtiel, who was hence grafted into God’s line of promise. True to Jeremiah’s word, then, Jehoiachin’s biological ‘seed’ (cp. 22.30) did not inherit David’s throne, nor did it survive the exile. Yet, by means of the adoption of Shealtiel, God allowed Jehoiachin’s name / line to continue and hence made it possible for the Messiah to arise from Judah’s royal line.

Fourth, Bejon writes a summary paragraph that explains a lot (so far):

That, I submit, is why the text of 1 Chr. 3.17–18 is able to credit Jehoiachin with children and is why it singles out the sonship of Shealtiel. That is why the text divides Jehoiachin’s descendants into two groups, namely those who were born under God’s judgment prior to the exile, whose line came to a premature end (3.16), and those who, like Shealtiel, were grafted into the redeemed Jehoiachin’s line (3.17ff.), who would carry God’s promise forward in the post-exilic world (per the focus of Matt. 1.11–12). And that is why b. Sanhedrin  38a associates Shealtiel with the removal of God’s curse and is able to expect the Messiah to arise from the line of Zerubbabel.

Fifth, Bejon continues with the explainable differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies:

Of course, if our hypothesis is correct—that is to say, if Shealtiel was in fact adopted into Jehoiachin’s line—, then it is possible to attribute two distinct genealogies to Shealtiel (namely a biological one and a legal / adopted one), which is precisely what we find in Matthew and Luke.

Sixth, Bejon provides a short genealogical table (so click on the link below). He continues to explain the differences between Matthew and Luke:

Matthew provides us with Shealtiel’s legal / adopted genealogy, which traces Shealtiel’s ancestry back to David by way of Judah’s kings, while Luke provides us with Shealtiel’s biological genealogy, which descends from David’s son Nathan. Consequently, Matthew’s genealogy is the shorter of the two. Matthew wants to highlight Shealtiel’s connection with Judah’s royal line—a line exhaustively documented elsewhere, which Matthew does not, therefore, need to reproduce in full—, while Luke wants to document a lesser known family tree, i.e., a more or less continuous chain of father and son relationships. (For Luke, Shealtiel is the 21st generation from David, which seems about right since Shealtiel and David are separated by c. 450 years).

So Bejon provides a plausible answer to the puzzles from David to Zerubbabel.

Seventh, Bejon has one more issue to clarify, if he can. Now what about Joseph’s father and grandfathers? Why is Joseph’s ancestry insecure? Does Matthew write about people’s doubts? Yes. In Matt. 13:55, Joseph is referred to as merely a carpenter. Where is the royal lineage? In John’s Gospel, Jesus isn’t recognized as having an exalted linage (John 7:41-42, 52), How did Joseph’s lineage get obscured?

Eighth, here is how Bejon answers this challenge about Joseph’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Bejon gives two options:

The relationship between Matthew and Luke’s genealogies can then be conceived of in one of two ways. The first option is to assume the names ‘Heli’ and ‘Jacob’ refer to one and the same person, as shown below [Bejon has a short lineage table side by side with Matthew and Luke]:

The second is to assume the names ‘Heli’ and ‘Jacob’ represent different generations [Bejon has another short table between Matthew and Luke].

Here’s the payoff on the two options, as Bejon explains the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies:

Either way, Matthew and Luke’s genealogies are consistent with our proffered hypothesis, namely that an unusual event occurred in Joseph’s past which resulted in the adoption of Joseph’s grandfather into a new family tree. Luke’s genealogy must, therefore, represent Joseph’s biological line, where the names of Joseph and his immediate family are at home, while Matthew’s represents Joseph’s legal / adopted line, which would explain (for the same reason as before) why Luke’s genealogy is the longer of the two. I therefore take Luke’s genealogy to represent a lesser known branch of Shealtiel’s ancestry which settled in Nazareth at some point, and Matthew’s to represent a higher profile line (perhaps the line of the firstborns: cp. 1 Chr. 3.17–19).The bottom line, however, remains the same: Joseph isn’t widely recognized as a descendant of David or a Bethlehemite in the Gospels, and the patterns attested in Matthew and Luke’s genealogies provide a plausible reason why.

So as adoption happened in the OT from David to Zerubbabel, Luke’s Gospel is Joseph’s biological line, and Matthew’s genealogy covers the legal / adoption lineage. Luke and Matthew are simply following Old Testament precedence.

Ninth, here is Bejon’s summary, namely, that Mathew’s and Luke’s genealogies are able to sustain close scrutiny, even though they incorporate lineages that existed over 1500 years:

Matthew and Luke’s genealogies are able to withstand sustained critical scrutiny. At first blush, they simply look like confused accounts of history. But, on closer inspection, they can be shown to be guided by coherent patterns and principles. Matthew and Luke’s genealogies differ because two of Joseph’s ancestors (Shealtiel and Matthan / Matthat) were grafted into new family lines. And, while Matthew and Luke’s genealogies may not be able to answer all the questions we might like to ask of them, they are nonetheless plausible accounts of history. Indeed, they exhibit the same kind of complexity as many OT genealogies do, and are characterized by exactly the kind of knottiness one would expect  to find in a genealogy which spans over 1,500 years.

So Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies are deliberately modeled on Old Testament complexities; the paralleled precedence is real, and the attempt at harmonization is plausible and not farfetched.

I urge all readers to click on the next links, because they show easy-to-follow lineage charts, side-by-side. His explaining his own solution is much better than my secondhand summary of it!

James Bejon:

https://www.academia.edu/41135348/Jesus_Genealogies

If you want a nice video summary, please click on this link, produced by an apologist:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BL0y0eW2tUU

Again, excellent.

Darrell L. Bock

His commentary is by far the best one on the Gospel of Luke; it is for the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.

First, Luke traces the genealogy through Mary’s line; Matthew does so through the line of Joseph. Thus Luke says that Joseph was “thought” to be Jesus’s father, so he was not part of Luke’s genealogy. If he were, then Luke would contradict himself because Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. Other explanations, below, expand on or nuance this one.

Second, Luke traces the “legal” or royal line and levirate marriages (Deut. 25:5-10), while Matthew traces the physical or blood line. Let’s explore the levirate marriage idea. Matthan died and his wife (Estha) married Melchi (Luke 3:24), who had a son, Heli (Luke 3:23). Heli died without children and his half-brother Jacob took his wife by levirate marriage, so that Jacob’s sons were tied to Heli.

Third, Luke considers that Nathan (v. 31) rather than Solomon should be the heir of David because of the curse put on Jehoiachin, a descendant of Solomon (Jer. 22:28-30; 36:30), while Matthew considers Solomon as part of the lineage (Matt. 1:6).

Fourth, Luke gives the physical descent, while Matthew the royal lineage, which reverses the second explanation. After all, ancient Judaism noted multiple lines for David. Thus, Jacob of Matt. 1:5 was childless and so Heli, who had Joseph as his physical son, became the heir. So Matthew’s Jacob and Luke’s Heli were brothers, and their father was Matthat / Matthan (Luke 3:24 and Matt. 1:15, respectively). And if the fathers are the same person, then another levirate marriage must be proposed because they have two fathers: Eleazar (Matt. 1:15) and Levi (Luke 3:24).

Fifth, Jacob and Heli are half-brothers. Levi is not the son of Matthat, but Heli is (Luke 3:23).  So Heli died childless as the legal, royal heir and is Joseph’s uncle. Joseph is the physical son of Jacob by a sister of Heli, who now carries the line. So Luke’s line is physical through Heli’s sister, who has the legal claim as the nearest relative to Heli. As for Joseph being called the “son” of Heli, the genealogy is merely legal.

Sixth, Mary is the heiress of Heli, since she had no brothers. Heli adopted Joseph as son upon his marriage to Mary, as in other cases when the father had no biological son (Ezra 2:61; Neh. 7:63; Num. 27:1-11; 1 Chron. 2:34-35). So Luke’s genealogy reflects adoption and his line again becomes legal versus physical.

See Bock, vol. 1, pp. 918-23, for more discussion.

Conclusion

Some may object that Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies are hopelessly irreconcilable, so his descent from David, for example, is shaky, yet Jesus’s being the son of David is important for Matthew and Luke. However, with minor adjustments, the two genealogies can be reconciled. I especially like Carson’s solution via J. Gresham Machen, for Joseph’s immediate ancestry. And Bejon’s solution from David to Zerubabbel seems right to me. The other generations pose no problems. Anyone who has done genealogical research (I have) knows that different lines can lead back to various common ancestors to a prominent one (in Jesus’s case King David).

Most importantly, the Messianic implications are huge. Luke and Matthew will later point out that Jesus will surpass David (Matt, 22:41-46; Luke 20:41-44). Those verses ask how Jesus could be the son of David, when David calls him Lord (Psalm 110:1). Jesus is greater than David.

Therefore, objecting to the Messiahship of Jesus from the (supposed) irreconcilability of the two genealogies is not as insurmountable as it first appeared.

Please see this video for another angle:

Video

Excellent!

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