Every December the television full of Christmas shows, and since I am married to a dear woman who loves Christmas shows, I’ll be watching quite a few. I also enjoy that time of year because many people seem to be happier and friendlier. The thing is, though, that most Christmas shows have little to do with Christ. Even movies like “The Nativity Story,” which is about the birth of Jesus, misses a lot of wonderful biblical truth that enhances one’s understanding of this epic event.
In this article we will look at the apparent discrepancies between the two genealogies of Jesus Christ as presented in Matthew and Luke. As we are learning about the Bible, and the great Truths which are in it, we sometimes need help understanding what we are reading. We recommend this booklet: How to Eliminate Apparent Bible Contradictions,1 each of its 22 keys will help to open up the Bible for you [the download, is free]. Three keys in particular are most relevant here:
(#5) Apparent contradictions or errors are due to transmission errors, mistranslation, or misunderstanding.
(#6) Properly understanding the context is essential for proper interpretation.
(#21) It is essential that the reader determine “to whom” a particular Scripture is addressed.
And when it comes to verses in the Four Gospels, like those germane to this article, we must understand how each Gospel emphasizes a particular aspect of Jesus’ life and ministry. In Matthew he is portrayed as the King, in Mark as the Servant, in Luke as the Man, and in John as the Son of God.
Let us begin with excerpts from the genealogy that Luke records for us.
Luke 3:23, 31, 32 and 38 (NIV)2
23 Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli,
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 Salmon, the son of Nahshon,
38 the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
Interestingly this genealogy is written backward. Verse 38 ends with Adam, the son of God, so reading through this section of Scripture takes us from Jesus back to Adam. Verses 31 and 32 show the genealogy of David, the son of Jesse. All this brings us to verse 23, which states that Jesus was thought to be the son of Joseph, and was about 30 when he began his ministry. Note that in his lineage was both Joseph and David. Now let us go to Matthew, and look at key excerpts in the other genealogy of Jesus.
Matthew 1:1, 5, 6, 16 and 17 (NIV)
1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband [aner, which can also be translated as “father”] of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. 17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
Note that this genealogy goes from Abraham to Christ, and includes …Mary, of whom was born Jesus. Several years ago we learned the following:
The genealogy of Mary is recorded in Matthew 1:2–16. It is often thought that Matthew contains Joseph’s genealogy and Luke contains Mary’s, but this cannot be correct. For one thing, Mary is never mentioned in Luke, while Joseph is the last person in Luke’s genealogy. Furthermore, Mary is in the genealogy in Matthew 1:16, between Joseph (her father) and Jesus (her son). The reason for the confusion is that in almost all versions, Joseph is said to be the “husband” of Mary. Although the Greek word most versions render as “husband” is normally translated that way, it does not have to be. In the Aramaic text, the word used is more normally translated “father,” and a completely different word, meaning ‘husband,” is used just three verses later in verse 19. When Joseph is counted as Mary’s father, and then Mary and Jesus are counted, there are indeed fourteen generations from the exile to Babylon to Jesus, just as Matthew 1:17 says.3
So from the information we have seen thus far, we have two genealogies, Matthew (Abraham to Mary to Christ) and Luke (Adam to Joseph to Jesus). In both we see David, as the man in Luke and as the king in Matthew. Also we see Jesus called “the son of David” [cp. Matt. 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:30 and 31, et al.] which really means David was his distant but direct ancestor. David was important to the people of Judah at the time of Christ, and he is mentioned more than 1000 times in the Bible.
In the genealogy in Matthew, Joseph, Mary’s husband, is not listed; it goes from Joseph [Mary’s father] to Mary to Jesus. In Luke it goes from Joseph (Mary’s husband) to Jesus. One more thing, with both Jesus and Joseph being called “son of David” in Matthew, God is tying them together as family. God’s Word is showing that even though Joseph is not his blood father, they are related by blood, the blood of David. Now let us look again at Luke:
Luke 2:1–5 (NIV)
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
Let’s unpack those verses. Verse 1 states: “…a census should be taken of the entire Roman world,” and Judea was a part of the Roman world. Verse 3 says, “…everyone went to his own town to register.” Verse 4 continues, “Joseph also went up…to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” Verse 5 states, “He went there to register with Mary…” (who was also of the line of David). Remember Matthew 1:16, “and Jacob the father of Joseph, the [father] of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” And in 1:6a: “and Jesse the father of King David…,” which shows that she too was of the line of David. Think about this: would you take your nine month pregnant wife on a trip like that? Of course not! I would not either! We would not take her if we did not have to, nor would we take her unless we had no choice. Verse 3 says “…everyone went to his own town to register,” and it was a decree from Caesar, therefore they both had to go. It would have been a true FAMILY AFFAIR!
I close with this thought: learn the keys in the aforementioned booklet, ask for wisdom, and God will give it to you. You may well find a nugget of truth buried in the Word, like what we have seen here: Mary and Joseph, both being of the line of David, and traveling with their families to Bethlehem, where our Lord and Savior Jesus was born! I hope this helped you unwrap some new Truths for the holidays. Merry Christmas!