Luke 3:23, The Two Genealogies of Jesus

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.

//So begins the genealogy of Jesus, according to Luke’s Gospel. Matthew’s Gospel traces an entirely different genealogy, claiming the father of Joseph to be Jacob (instead of Heli) and going in a completely different direction.

These two genealogies have been endlessly discussed, with explanations for the differences provided by both liberals and conservatives. Both genealogies, of course, converge at King David, though Matthew traces his genealogy through David’s son Solomon and Luke contradicts this to say it was instead through David’s son Nathan.

Why two different parental lines? And why aren’t conservative Christians more distressed about this obvious contradiction? Let me call your attention to the phrase “so it was thought,” in today’s verse. This, according to some, provides an explanation for why Luke went a different direction: Luke must have been tracing Jesus’ lineage through his mother, Mary, instead of his “supposed” father, Joseph. The claim, in this case, is that Luke recognized Joseph not as the son of Heli but as the son-in-law. Heli was presumably Mary’s dad.

Matthew wrote first, and it’s possible that Luke purposefully corrected Matthew. Why would Luke do this? Because Matthew’s genealogy contains a serious problem, as I’ve pointed out on this blog before. Matthew traces his genealogy through a man named Jeconiah—a man God cursed, promising that no descendant of his would ever sit on the throne of David (see Jeremiah 22:30). Perhaps Luke could not stomach this problem, and made a point of noting that Joseph was not the true father (Jesus being born instead of a virgin), but traced Jesus’ lineage through Mary, instead? Happily, it still traces back to King David.

What do you think? Does this explain the difference in genealogy? I remain skeptical. If Luke meant to trace Jesus’ genealogy through Mary, why didn’t he just say so? Still, I do admit the logic in thinking this way.

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2 Comments

  1. James Short

    I thought that Jewish law required that ancestry is determined from the paternal line. If Luke traces Yeshua’s ancestry to David via his mother, then he would not be the Jewish Messiah. Or am I mistaken?

  2. Lee Harmon

    By law? Tell me more, please!

    Certainly it was assumed custom to trace paternally, but to be fair, the most “Jewish” gospel (Matthew) traces Jesus’ ancestry through three women in the line he gives! Not the most reputable ones, either! :)

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