Genealogy of Jesus

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But it is very clear that not one of these sayings relates to Jesus; for he is not even from Judah. How could he be when according to you he was not born of Joseph but of the Holy Spirit? For though in your genealogies you trace Joseph back to Judah, you could not invent even this plausibly. For Matthew and Luke are refuted by the fact that they disagree concerning his genealogy.
—Roman Emperor Flavius Claudius Julian, c. 361–363 CE[1]

The genealogy of Jesus differs between the Gospels according to Matthew and according to Luke. This is significant because it places a Biblical contradiction at the very heart of Christianity, Jesus Christ — especially because it was prophesied that Jesus would be a descendant of David.

There are two fundamental problems. First, the grandfather mismatch. Second, the genealogy length mismatch.


Who is the father of Joseph (or, who is Jesus' grandfather)? Even though this could only be one person,[citation NOT needed] the Bible has two genealogies of Jesus each with a different answer:[2]

Jacob: Matthew 1:15-16:

And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Matthew's Genealogy:

  1. Jesus
  2. Joseph
  3. Jacob
  4. Matthan
  5. Eleazar
  6. Eliud
Heli: Luke 3:23-24:

And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,

Luke's Genealogy:

  1. Jesus
  2. Joseph
  3. Heli
  4. Matthat
  5. Levi
  6. Melchi

Matthew's genealogy has Joseph descended from King David through King Solomon, and from thence to a man named Jacob. On the other hand Luke's has Joseph descended from David along a radically different line, through another son, Nathan, from thence to a man named Eli.

This isn't even to mention, of course, the contradiction with his supposedly being born of a virgin — in that case, surely he would not have a biological father, and listing a genealogy is pointless.

Apologists have responded in various ways.

Double hypothetical[edit]

The first response is the "Spaceballs" defense.

John Piper:[3]RationalWiki:
Suppose that Eleazar, the legal heir of David's throne, died without widow or son. Customarily a more or less close relative would be counted as his legal descendent and be said to have been "begotten" by him. Suppose also that Matthan is that relative and is the same person as Matthat (in Luke) with an alternative spelling. That would mean that Jacob and Heli are brothers. Then suppose that Jacob dies before he has sons. According to the custom of Levirate marriage (see Matthew 22:25) the brother of the deceased man is to marry and raise descendants for the sake of the name of the dead brother. Thus Heli marries Jacob's wife and they give birth to Joseph, Jesus' father. In this way Joseph is the legal heir through Jacob's line, but the actual physical son of Heli.First, there is no textual support for any of these claims; they are purely hypothetical. Second, this scenario would avoid the Biblical contradiction. But if a double hypothetical (a relative becomes a legal son; a man remarries his brother's widow) and a hypothetical error (the Bible misspells Matthat/Matthan) is necessary to defend the Bible's truth, then it is difficult to claim that the Bible is clear. If these hypotheticals can be inserted into the Jesus genealogy, why not insert them into other genealogies? (This is especially troublesome for creationism, which relies on genealogies stemming backward from the time of Christ in order to date the age of the Earth.

See also the "First Difficulty" (b) section of the Old Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on the "Genealogy of Christ", which argues that Joseph was the adopted son of either Jacob or Heli.[4]

Luke used Mary's genealogy[edit]

The second response is to claim that Luke was actually writing about the ancestry of Mary, not Joseph.

Brent MacDonald:[5]RationalWiki:
His [Luke's] emphasis was on the real physical lineage behind Jesus. While still given in the paternal format common to the Jewish people, from male to male, it really ends with Mary or quite specifically Jesus' maternal grandfather Heli. Mary is not directly mentioned here, which would be out of character with a paternal genealogy. Jesus['] maternal grandfather would be the last direct relative in the list. It would be quite legitimate to use "son of" in a general form to reference his grandfather, even as father could be used in a general sense (i.e. Matthew's usage examined earlier). Joseph was then included merely as a placeholder and acknowledgement for Mary's generation.There is no textual support for this idea. Both texts are quite clear that they focus on the genealogy of Joseph. Luke could very easily have mentioned Mary's name, even just calling her the "wife of Joseph", like Matthew did; Luke did not. Further, if this interpretation is true, then the Bible again becomes fundamentally unclear. What else did the Bible "forget" to mention?

See also the "First Difficulty" (a) section of the Old Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on the "Genealogy of Christ".

Matthew used Mary's genealogy[edit]

If Luke can't be using Mary's genealogy, could Matthew? Not if Matthew wanted to fulfill his prophecy that Jesus would be a descendant of David.

The prophet Jeremiah recorded God's statement that no ruler would come via a descendant of Jeconiah. Jeremiah 22:28-30 (NASU) states:

Is this man [Jec]oniah a despised, shattered jar? Or is he an undesirable vessel? Why have he and his descendants been hurled out And cast into a land that they had not known? O land, land, land, Hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord, 'Write this man down childless, A man who will not prosper in his days; For no man of his descendants will prosper, sitting on the throne of David, or ruling again in Judah.'

Shortly after, Jeremiah reconfirms that the Messiah would still come from David. Jeremiah 23:5-6 (NASU) states:

Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord, "When I will 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; And this is His name by which He will be called, 'The Lord our righteousness.'

But Matthew 1:11-12 mentions Jeconiah in Jesus' genealogy:

And Josaias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel, and Salathiel begat Zorobabel.

This means that Matthew says that Jesus can't fulfill the very prophecies which Matthew says that Jesus fulfilled. In fact, if we take Matthew's genealogy as solid, then Jesus cannot be the Messiah, because his ancestors included a non-Messianic bloodline.

Matthew didn't include everybody[edit]

R. P. Nettelhorst offers an explanation:[6]

I believe that one traces the lineage back through Joseph's father, and that the other traces back through Joseph's mother. However, the maternal genealogy drops the name of Joseph's mother, and instead skips back to her father. Which is which? I believe that the genealogy in Luke is through Joseph's father. I believe the one in Matthew is through Joseph's maternal grandfather.

Matthew's Genealogy Luke's Genealogy  
JACOB (maternal grandfather) MATTHAT (paternal grandfather)  
(mother--unlisted) HELI (father)  

That Matthew should skip Joseph's mother in the genealogical listing is not peculiar since it is readily apparent that Matthew skips a number of people in his genealogy. For instance, in Matt 1:8 he writes: "Joram the father of Uzziah". But when his statement is compared with 1 Chr 3:10-12, the reader sees that three people have been left out of Matthew's genealogy: Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. Why did Matthew leave names out? So he could get the structural symmetry he desired. In Matt 1:17 he records:

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 Christ.

Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that Matthew might leave out the name of Joseph's mother so he could get the structural format he desired. Furthermore, this genealogy does list four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, which lends, I think, some support to the idea that this might be a woman's genealogy. I believe this explanation for the two genealogies has the advantage of simplicity, and that this explanation also has the textual support which the other common theories lack.

This theory, unlike the others, has textual support: Matthew was a fan of editing genealogies to fit semantic purposes, as shown by the removals of other names to fit the 14;14;14 pattern.

Unfortunately, this doesn't leave a Biblical literalist much room to work with, though. Again, it must be accepted that the Bible purposefully excluded information. This leads us to the question: What else did the Bible not include for purely semantic reasons? And, perhaps more importantly: was anything included for purely semantic reasons?


Matthew and Luke have vastly different genealogies. This is made even more apparent when looking at the whole genealogy (discrepancies are emboldened):

Luke 3:23-38: Matthew 1:1-16:

1: God
2: Adam
3: Seth
4: Enos
5: Cainan
6: Maleleel
7: Jared
8: Enoch
9: Mathusala
10: Lamech
11: Noe
12: Shem
13: Arphaxad
14: Cainan
15: Sala
16: Heber
17: Phalec
18: Ragau
19: Saruch
20: Nachor
21: Thara

22: Abraham
23: Isaac
24: Jacob
25: Juda
26: Phares
27: Esrom
28: Aram
29: Aminadab
30: Naasson
31: Salmon
32: Booz
33: Obed
34: Jesse
35: David
36: Nathan
37: Mattatha
38: Menan
39: Melea
40: Eliakim
41: Jonam
42: Joseph
43: Judah
44: Simeon
45: Levi
46: Matthat
47: Jorim
48: Eliezer
49: Jose
50: Er
51: Elmodam
52: Cosam
53: Addi
54: Melchi
55: Neri

56: Salathiel
57: Zorobabel
58: Rhesa
59: Joanna
60: Juda
61: Joseph
62: Semei
63: Mattathias
64: Maath
65: Nagge
66: Esli
67: Naum
68: Amos
69: Mattathias
70: Joseph
71: Janna
72: Melchi
73: Levi
74: Matthat
75: Heli

76: Joseph
77: Jesus


1: Abraham
2: Isaac
3: Jacob
4: Judas (husband) & Tamar (wife)
5: Phares
6: Esrom
7: Aram
8: Aminadab
9: Naasson
10: Salmon (husband) & Rahab (wife)
11: Booz (husband) & Ruth (wife)
12: Obed
13: Jesse
14: David (husband) & Bathsheba (wife)
15: Solomon (husband) & Naamah (wife)
16: Roboam
17: Abia
18: Asa
19: Josaphat
20: Joram
21: Ozias
22: Joatham
23: Achaz
24: Ezekias
25: Manasses
26: Amon
27: Josias
28: Jechonias

29: Salathiel
30: Zorobabel
31: Abiud
32: Eliakim
33: Azor
34: Sadoc
35: Achim
36: Eliud
37: Eleazar
38: Matthan
39: Jacob

40: Joseph (husband) & Mary (wife)
41: Jesus

This length mismatch can easily be resolved by accepting Nettelhorst's theory that Matthew didn't include everybody in his genealogy — but it has the same (if not worse) problems for biblical literalism.

For reference, if Luke's genealogy is correct, and the world is only about 6000 years old, then each of the 77 generations must have been about 51.95 years (4000/77) apart — meaning, that the average mother in Jesus's heritage got pregnant at about 51 years old. (Alternately, the early generations had lives that lasted hundreds of years, just because.)

Other interesting ancestors[edit]

Matthew includes among the list Rahab, who is generally identified with the woman who betrayed Jericho to the Israelites and is described using a word that may refer to an innkeeper or a prostitute, or possibly a brothel-keeper (see also Joshua 2:1-21 and Hebrews 11:31).[7][8]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]