Why Do the Gospels Have Different Genealogies?
I have been a serious Christian for several years. My faith continued to grow as a studied the bible and saw the word of God. As I was one of those "converted engineers", studying the Bible and reading apologetics were key to my buy-in (and eventually my faith), including the numerous fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies by Christ.
Having the belief that the Bible is the true word of God, I've recently come across an issue with the genealogy that I cannot resolve and it's getting me down. Jesus genealogy was through Solomon as described in the Old Testament (II Samuel 7:12-14; I Chronicles 17:11-14, 22:9-10, 28:4-6). However, He was also a descendant of Jechoniah. Jeremiah 22:30 states about Jechoniah, "Inscribe this man to be childless...none of his descendants will ever succeed in being a man who sits on the throne of David and ever to rule over Judah." As the words of the Lord are "none of his descendants", I cannot for the life of me figure out why this does not disqualify Jesus to be the Messiah told about in the Old Testament.
Please help me with this one. I am looking for a Biblical answer to explain this Biblical dilemma.
Thanks so much,
Thank you for writing. The question you ask is fascinating! In fact, it is one of the more interesting dilemmas in the Bible. However, as when you find any problem passage, the solution usually unveils a fascinating truth to the Bible.
First, we will look at the prophecy of the Messiah given to David. We know that the Messiah was promised to be of "the house and lineage of David." Most people make the error of assuming that those are synonyms. This is not so. The House of David usually refers to the Royal Line. This is the reign of kings that descended from David through Solomon. They ruled over Judah as documented in the books of I & II Kings and I & II Chronicles. Though there were three major revivals in Judah, most of the kings were wicked in the sight of the LORD, culminating with Jehoiachin; also known by the name of Jechoniah or Coniah. Jehoiachin was considered so wicked that the LORD put a blood curse on his descendants, stating that none of his offspring will ever again sit on the throne of David. The curse, as recorded in Jeremiah 22:30, causes a problem, though. Just five verses later, Jeremiah writes of the Messiah,
"Behold the days are coming," declares the LORD, "When I shall raise up for David a Righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely."
What becomes confusing is that David is promised by God the throne to which his son Solomon succeeds him will never end. 2 Samuel 7:16 states, "And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever." Isaiah 11 also makes reference to the Messiah being from David's line by saying He will spring from "the stem of Jesse (David's father)". Matthew 1:1 and Romans 1:3 confirm that Jesus was in fact a son of David. Luke 1:32 even states that Jesus "will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord GOD will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever."
So here we have an apparent contradiction. God has decreed that none of the descendents of Jehoiachin will EVER sit on the throne of David or rule in Judah, but the prophecies in 2 Samuel and Luke say the opposite! The problem can be resolved, though, when one realizes that the curse placed on Jehoiachin and his descendents was a blood curse. In other words, the curse would only apply to the physical offspring of Jehoiachin.
We should now look at the genealogies of Jesus given in Matthew and Luke. In studying them, we must remember the different viewpoints of the Gospel writers. Matthew was from the tribe of Levi, and thus always perceived things through the Jewish Law. His Gospel focuses on the Kingship of Christ and how Jesus is the Son of David. There are more citations of prophecy being fulfilled in Matthew (over 100 quotes from the Old Testament) than any other Gospel. Because of this, Matthew starts his genealogy of Jesus at Abraham; the first Jew. He then takes us through David and Solomon, and follows the succession of kings, listing Jeconiah (Coniah or Jehoiachin) until he gets to Joseph.
Luke, however, has a very different interest. He is a physician, and was raised in a Greek society. His viewpoint of the Christ as well as his target audience was very different. He is interested in the humanity of Jesus. Luke constantly uses the title "Son of Man" in reference to the Christ. Being a physician, he notes things like the great drops of blood Jesus sweat in Gethsemane; physical symptoms we don't read elsewhere. His genealogy of Jesus starts not with Abraham, but with Adam, the first man. He also follows the births through Abraham and David, but then does something unexpected. Instead of taking the kingly line, Luke chooses Nathan, another of David's sons, and follows their lineage until he arrives at Eli, who is the father of Mary. You'll notice that verse 23 states "Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being supposedly the son of Joseph, the son of Eli." The Greek words used here imply that this assumption is not accurate. In other words, the sentence could read that people thought Him to be offspring of Joseph, but He was physically from Eli's lineage through his mother. The idea of Eli being the father of Mary is found in documents by various early church fathers who held the view, as well as a passage in the Jewish Talmud that states, "Mary, the daughter of Heli was seen in the infernal regions, suffering horrid tortures..." So, though the Bible doesn't explicitly say that Eli was Mary's father, it implies such, and other early writings confirm this opinion.
What we must realize is two Old Testament legal technicalities come into play here. The first is that an adopted son can inherit all the rights and privileges that would be available to a natural son. In Genesis 15 verse 2, Abram lamented the fact that he had no natural son to inherit his estate, and it would fall to his chief servant Eliezar. This passage shows how all the rights and rank of a house can be transferred to a non-blood relative. Also, we read in Genesis chapter 48 that Israel adopted Joseph's two sons, Ephriam and Manassah. They were now to be considered equal with Joseph's brothers in inheriting the promises given to Israel and each of them were entitled to an equal portion of the land.
Jesus was an adopted son of Joseph, not a natural son. Because of this, he was legally entitled to David's throne and the blood curse did not apply. However, David was promised a natural heir. By looking at the genealogy of Mary we see that Jesus had direct human ancestry to King David through Nathan. This fact allows for another law of inheritance to be exercised, one found in the writings of Moses.
In Numbers 27:6-11 we read of the daughters of Zelophehad, who were the only heirs of their father. Because there were no males born to the family, the inheritance of Zelophehad would be passed to his daughters and to their offspring. If there were no children to inherit, the nearest living relative would be entitled to the inheritance. Jesus was a son of David through Mary and entitled to all the benefits of the house of Eli. Because Johoiachin was counted as childless, none of that line was entitled to David's throne, so the inheritance was to be transferred to a near kinsman. Jesus not only was entitled to the throne through adoption, but also as a kinsman redeemer of the Davidic line.
So the promise that the Messiah would be of the house of David, as well and David's throne would be everlasting takes on a more clear meaning. Jesus was legally entitled to the throne of David, being the oldest son of Joseph, but was subject to none of the consequences of the blood curse because He was adopted. He was also a direct descendant of King David, and therefore in the lineage of the king. Because all Jewish genealogies are to be reckoned from the father to the son, Luke lists Joseph as the assumed father of Jesus, however he becomes the heir of that line through the rule established with the daughters of Zelophehad. So no contradiction really exists, just a remarkably precise fulfillment of prophecy.
I hope this exploration in Christ's genealogy has strengthened your faith and assurance of the Bible. But, I hope even more that it creates a hunger in you for the Word of God and the fascinating discoveries it holds for those who study it carefully. The richness of this book is beyond compare, and it is my prayer that these discussions will stimulate all who read them to realize the precious gift that we have in it.