Why Does the Bible Have Two Genealogies of Jesus That Seem to Contradict?

The Bible calls Jesus Christ “the son of David” (Matt. 1:1). However, determining the genealogy from Jesus back to David has been a source of controversy (difficulty) for centuries. What we will see as we study this subject is that the gospel of Matthew contains the genealogy from David to Jesus via his mother Mary, while the gospel of Luke contains the genealogy from David to Jesus via his adopted father, Joseph. [1]

Two Genealogies of Joseph?

The reason there has been so much controversy about the genealogy of Jesus is that, upon first reading, both the genealogy in Matthew and the one in Luke seem to refer to Joseph, and neither seems to refer to Mary. Let us examine the pertinent verses in Matthew and Luke that link Jesus to his genealogy.

Matthew 1:16
and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

Luke 3:23
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,

As they are translated in our English versions, both Matthew and Luke have a genealogy that comes through Joseph, which leads to confusion in understanding what God is really saying to us. For one thing, Joseph ends up with two different fathers, “Jacob” (Matt. 1:16) and “Heli” (Luke 3:23), and Mary, who is the blood link between David and Jesus, ends up having no genealogy at all recorded in Scripture.

Different scholars have tried to explain how both genealogies can be Joseph’s. For example, some say that Joseph himself was adopted as a child, and thus had both a “natural” genealogy and an “adopted” genealogy. Others say that both genealogies are about Joseph, and the contradictions between them are simply a matter of poor record keeping in those days. Other scholars assert that both genealogies are about Joseph, but the people in them had multiple names, so that the two genealogies refer to the same people by different names. Still others assert that Luke is the genealogy of Joseph, and Matthew is the record of the succession of kings from the throne of David, through Solomon, to Christ.

All these theories, and more, have been set forth to explain why Joseph would have two genealogies in the Bible, but they all have serious problems, which is why there are so many different theories and why they have not been widely accepted. As we stated above, not the least of the problems in asserting that both genealogies relate to Joseph is that Mary, the only actual blood link from David to Christ, would then have no genealogy recorded in Scripture.

The genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 are about different bloodlines. From King David to Christ they are very different. Matthew’s genealogy flows from King David, via his son Solomon, down to Christ, while Luke’s genealogy shows the ancestry of Jesus coming through King David via his son Nathan (Luke 3:31). Nathan, who is not as well known as Solomon, was one of the four children that David fathered by Bathsheba (1 Chron. 3:5). Nothing is known about Nathan’s life except he did have children that multiplied in Israel, and so he is mentioned in Zechariah 12:12 as having a clan.

Matthew’s genealogy from David to Christ is: David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jerhoram, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah, Jeconiah, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, Azor, Zadok, Akim, Eliud, Eleazar, Mattan, Jacob, Joseph, [Mary], Jesus.

Luke’s genealogy from David to Christ is: David, Nathan, Mattatha, Menna, Melea, Eliakim, Jonam, Joseph, Judah, Simeon, Levi, Matthat, Jorim, Eliezer, Joshua, Er, Elmadam, Cosam, Addi, Melki, Neri, Shealtiel, Zerubbabel, Rhesa, Joanan, Joda, Josech, Semein, Mattathias, Maath, Naggai, Esli, Nahum, Amos, Mattathias, Joseph, Jannai, Melki, Levi, Matthat, Heli, Joseph, Jesus.

It is very clear that these two genealogies must be describing two different people.

The Genealogy in Luke

As we study the genealogies, it becomes clear that Luke contains that of Joseph. The genealogy in Luke reads in a straightforward manner from God through Adam through the generations to Joseph the supposed father of Jesus, ending with Jesus. This, of course, is the best evidence there is that Luke contains Joseph’s genealogy. Furthermore, Mary is never mentioned, and ancillary evidence that Luke contains Joseph’s genealogy is that the name “Joseph” appears three times in it. It often happened in the biblical culture (and modern cultures as well) that children were given a name that an ancestor had, which was why Zachariah’s relatives wanted to name his child after him (Luke 1:59).

In spite of the fact that Luke seems to give the genealogy of Joseph in a very clear and straightforward manner, some scholars assert that the genealogy in Luke is Mary’s, not Joseph’s. They assert that because Luke says that Joseph “was thought” to be the father of Jesus (Luke 3:23), there is a way that Mary can be fitted into that genealogy. However, the real reason behind their assertion is not that Luke even remotely refers to Mary, but that they believe, and rightly so, that Mary should have a genealogy in the Bible. However, Luke never mentions Mary, and arbitrarily trying to insert her causes problems, which is why that “solution” to the genealogical problem is not widely accepted among scholars. Note how the gospel of Luke reads:

Luke 3:23
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,

This does not read like a genealogy of Mary would naturally read. If Luke were Mary’s genealogy, the above verse should read, “Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son of Mary, the son of Heli.” If Luke is Mary’s genealogy, as many believe, why mention that Joseph is the supposed father of Jesus, and not mention Mary herself? More importantly, why write the genealogy in such a way that no one reading it would ever think it was about Mary? We believe that the gospel of Luke can be taken at face value, and that it records the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph, back through David, to Adam and then to God Himself as the Creator of the human race.

The Genealogy in Matthew

Although at first reading, especially in English, it seems that Matthew records a genealogy of Joseph, we believe that it is the genealogy of Jesus through Mary. If it were the bloodline of Joseph, the most notable problem is a mathematical one. If he is counted as the “husband” of Mary (Matt. 1:16), there are only 13 generations from the carrying away to Babylon to Christ, and not 14, as Matthew 1:17 says there are.

Matthew 1:17
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.

This verse seems very clear, but it does not fit with what appears in the genealogy in Matthew in most versions of the Bible. Let’s count the three sets of 14 generations for ourselves, starting with the first set of 14, from Abraham to David.

1) Abraham, 2) Isaac, 3) Jacob, 4) Judah, 5) Perez, 6) Hezron, 7) Ram, 8) Amminadab, 9) Nahshon, 10) Salmon, 11) Boaz, 12) Obed, 13) Jesse, 14) David.

The second set of 14 generations is from David to the carrying away to Babylon.

1) Solomon, 2) Rehoboam, 3) Abijah, 4) Asa, 5) Jehoshaphat, 6) Jehoram, 7) Uzziah, 8) Jotham, 9) Ahaz, 10) Hezekiah, 11) Manasseh, 12) Amon, 13) Josiah, 14) Jeconiah

The third set of 14 is “from the exile to Christ.” If the genealogy is counted as it is translated in most Bibles, this is the way it would be counted:

1) Shealtiel, 2) Zerubbabel, 3) Abiud, 4) Eliakim, 5) Azor, 6) Zadok, 7) Akim, 8) Eliud, 9) Eleazar, 10) Mattan, 11) Jacob, 12) Joseph (the husband of Mary), 13) Jesus.

The problem with the above list is obvious, and has been pointed out by many commentators: it has only 13 generations, whereas Scripture specifically states 14, from the Babylonian captivity to Christ. The way Matthew 1:16 is usually translated produces a missing generation. Some scholars have tried to solve the problem by doing such things as counting names twice, but that hardly does justice to the text.

The pattern of three sets of 14 generations was very important to Matthew. We know that because, in actuality, there were not three sets of 14 generations from Abraham to Christ. When the genealogy in Matthew is compared with the other genealogies in the Bible, it is clear that there are names missing in Matthew. For example, in Matthew 1:8, between Jehoram and Uzziah, there are actually three unmentioned generations. Jehoram begat Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:25), who begat Joash (also called Jehoash; 2 Kings 11:2 and 21), who begat Amaziah (2 Kings 12:21). There are some other unmentioned names as well. Although there are some names missing, it is not essential to give every name in a biblical genealogy of kings as we do today. What was important to Matthew, although we are not certain why, is that he set forth a pattern of three sets of fourteen generations from Abraham to Christ. Therefore, to have only 13 names in the last set of 14 is a huge red flag that something is wrong. If we closely examine the list, however, we will see that it does have 14 names, and thus 14 generations if each name represents a generation.

Mary is not usually counted in the list of 14 because she and Joseph are usually thought of as husband and wife and thus in the same generation. However, there is good evidence that “Joseph” is not only the name of Mary’s husband, but also that of her father as well. That would not be unusual in the biblical culture, because Joseph was a fairly common name. For example, there are 16 different people in the Roman Catholic Bible (which includes the Apocrypha) named Joseph (not counting Mary’s father, who would make 17). If the “Joseph” in Matthew 1:16 was the father of Mary, not her husband, then the list of generations from Babylon to Christ would indeed be 14, as listed below:

1) Shealtiel, 2) Zerubbabel, 3) Abiud, 4) Eliakim, 5) Azor, 6) Zadok, 7) Akim, 8) Eliud, 9) Eleazar, 10) Mattan, 11) Jacob, 12) Joseph (the father of Mary), 13) Mary, 14) Jesus.

Now the language of the genealogies in Matthew and Luke makes a lot of sense. For example, Mary’s genealogy in Matthew does not mention Joseph, her husband, who was not part of her genealogy anyway. Nor does Joseph’s genealogy in Luke mention Mary, who had nothing to do with his genealogy. In Mary’s genealogy in Matthew, four other women are mentioned, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and “Uriah’s wife,” emphasizing the role that women play in a genealogy. Joseph’s genealogy in Luke does not include any women, but does include two of his ancestors who were also named Joseph.

So far it seems very logical that Luke would contain Joseph’s genealogy and Matthew would contain Mary’s, but there is still one important thing to resolve. Most versions translate Matthew 1:16 to say that Joseph was the “husband” of Mary, not the “father” of Mary. However, we believe that “husband” is a mistranslation. The Greek word translated “husband” is aner, and means an adult male. Usually when used with the phrase “of ” some woman, such as “Joseph, the man of Mary,” it refers to her husband, but there is good evidence that aner should here be translated “father.” First, translating it “husband” creates a contradiction in the Word of God because then there are not 14 generations from Babylon to Christ. Second, it creates a confusing situation in the Word because both Matthew and Luke then refer to Joseph’s genealogy, such that Joseph ends up with two different fathers when he is not even in the actual bloodline of Jesus anyway. Third, there is evidence in the Aramaic text that “father” is the correct translation in this case.

We know that Matthew 1:19 clearly refers to Joseph as the “husband” of Mary because it speaks of Joseph thinking of divorcing her.

Matthew 1:19
Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

In the Greek text, Matthew 1:16 and 19 both contain the same word, aner (“man” or “husband”), but the Aramaic text has two different words, and thus makes a distinction between the two men. In Matthew 1:16, the Aramaic word is gavra, which means “mighty man,” “father,” or “husband,” while in Matthew 1:19 the word is bala, which is “man” or “husband,” (it is similar to the Hebrew baal, “lord”). Thus, the Aramaic text preserves the truth that there is a difference between the Joseph of verse 16, the “mighty man” of Mary, and the Joseph of verse 19, the “husband” of Mary. [2]

Once we realize that “Joseph” is the name of both the father and the husband of Mary, the Word of God fits together perfectly. Both the genealogies of Mary and Joseph are in the Bible, so that everyone can see that each is a descendant of David, just as Scripture claims (Joseph: Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:27 and 2:4. Mary: Acts 2:30; Rom. 1:3). Luke contains the genealogy of Jesus via his adopted father, Joseph, and never mentions Mary, who was not part of Joseph’s genealogy. Matthew contains the genealogy of Jesus through his mother Mary, and never mentions her husband Joseph. Joseph has two ancestors also named Joseph in his genealogy, while four other women are included in Mary’s genealogy. Last but not least, the three sets of fourteen generations mentioned in Matthew are all complete.

Conclusion

You may be familiar with the fact that each of the Four Gospels emphasizes a different aspect of Christ’s life. Matthew portrays Jesus as the King, Mark as the Servant, Luke as the Man among men, and John as the Son of God. In regard to the two biblical genealogies of our Savior, it is significant that it is the gospel of Matthew that traces Jesus’ royal bloodline beginning with Abraham, down through David and then David’s son Solomon. As a direct blood descendant of David, it is appropriate that Matthew contains Mary’s genealogy. Luke, on the other hand, emphasizes the human side of Jesus and records his genealogy all the way back to Adam, the first man. Jesus’ very human relation to Joseph, his adopted father is traced backward, through David’s son Nathan, to David, and then back to Adam, the father of all mankind, and then to God Himself.

Jesus Christ truly did descend from royalty. His father was God. His physical bloodline was through Mary, who was a descendant of David through Solomon and included the great kings of Judah. Furthermore, Jesus was adopted into the family of David via his stepfather, Joseph, who was also of the lineage of David via Nathan, a son of Bathsheba. The Word of God, and the people of God, could not have been more correct when they referred to Jesus as “the Son of David.”

Endnotes

[1] It is not the purpose of this article to set forth, or resolve, the various issues that are raised inside the genealogies themselves. Many scholarly articles have been written on those subjects. Nevertheless, in the survey of literature that we conducted for this article, it seems that most scholars miss the most salient points: that both Joseph’s and Mary’s genealogies are contained in the Gospel records, with Luke recording Joseph’s and Matthew recording Mary’s.
[2] Matthew is considered the most Jewish of the Four Gospels, and some scholars believe that it was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic, which, given Matthew’s background, would be plausible. If that were the case, the Greek text of Mathew would be a translation from the Hebrew or Aramaic. Whether or not that is the case, the Aramaic text is very early, and would represent an early understanding of the distinction between Joseph the father of Mary and Joseph the husband of Mary.

6 comments

  1. Very helpful and informative

  2. Your thorough analysis is both helpful and impressive, which I would like to thank you for. As you know for sure Rudolf Steiner claimed that there were actually two different jesus-children. Can such a view be rightly called to biblical sources? Thanks in advance for your reply.

    1. No, we don’t think so. There was only one Jesus.

  3. Awesomely written and thought through.

    GOD Bless you.

  4. An excellent eye opener. God bless you and be with you.

  5. Really helpful, thanks. Sometimes I find things in the bible a little confusing. That was a very good and clear explanation.

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