Note: Unless otherwise noted, all proper names are written according to traditional English nomenclature for simplicity of understanding for all audiences.
Christians from the early Church fathers to the reformers and modern apologists have offered various explanations for the different genealogies in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke. Jews and Muslims have taken advantage of most Christians’ inability to coherently explain the reason for the presence of two genealogies; they cite this inability as evidence that the New Testament is contradictory and thus false. In this blog, I am going to prove simply and succinctly that the genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew is that of Joseph, the adoptive father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that the genealogy in the Gospel of Luke is that of Mary, the biological mother of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew commences his gospel stating, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”1 “Son of David,” or Hebrew בן דוד (ben David), is a common sobriquet of the Messiah.2 It is derived from God’s promise to David, “Yahveh swore truthfully to David; He will not turn from it. Of the fruit of your body, I will set upon your throne.”3
Thus, starting from Abraham, Matthew provides the genealogy (יחס) of Joseph, the adoptive father of the Lord Jesus Christ, which ends in Matt. 1:16, in which it is written,
And Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Yeshu'a, who is called “Christ.”
Ἰακὼβ δὲ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰωσὴφ τὸν ἄνδρα Μαρίας, ἐξ ἧς ἐγεννήθη Ἰησοῦς, ὁ λεγόμενος Χριστός
The Greek verb ἐγέννησεν (egennēsen), as well as ἐγεννήθη (egennēthē), both conjugated from the root verb γεννάω, indicate biological parentage. That is to say, Jacob is the biological parent of Joseph, and Mary is the biological parent of Jesus. However, Matthew does not indicate that Joseph is the biological parent of Jesus, since the relative pronoun ἧς is declined in the feminine gender and singular number, indicating that only Mary was the biological parent of whom Jesus was born/ begotten.6
Since Matthew immediately provides the genealogy of Joseph, it is evident that Joseph is the focus of the reader’s attention. Matthew then commences a description of the birth of Jesus, stating, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was thus.”7 Matthew describes Mary as being “betrothed”8 to Joseph. However, before they came together (i.e. cohabited and had relations), Mary was pregnant from the Holy Spirit, therefore implying that the child in her womb was miraculously conceived while she was still a virgin.
However, Joseph, not realizing the miraculous nature of the conception, and instead, assuming that Mary had been unfaithful and committed adultery, purposed to divorce her privately, rather than expose her to public infamy, since he was “righteous” (δίκαιος).9 But, while he was considering these things, an angel of Yahveh appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary to be your wife, for what is begotten in her is from the Holy Spirit.”10 After a few other statements by the angel, Joseph awakens from his dream and marries Mary sometime thereafter.11
Thus, the entire first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew is devoted to describing Joseph’s experience during the nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew clearly describes Joseph’s genealogy, whose father is Jacob. Mary is only mentioned in order to describe her as being Joseph’s wife in whom the child of the Holy Spirit was begotten.
Luke begins his gospel with a description of Elizabeth12 whom he describes as being a daughter (descendant) of Aaron, the patriarch of the priestly class (כהנים) and the brother of Moses and Miriam.13 She is married to Zechariah,14 also a descendant of Aaron, and himself a priest (כהן).15 Luke describes how Elizabeth was childless since she was infertile and both she and Zechariah were old.16 While Zechariah performed his duties as a priest in the Temple, an angel of Yahveh, Gabriel,17 appears and informs him that Elizabeth will conceive and give birth to a son whom they shall name John.
After narrating the account of the conception of John to Elizabeth and Zechariah, Luke then narrates how Gabriel is sent from God to the city of Nazaret of Galil,18 “to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.”19 The angel Gabriel greets Mary and informs her that she shall conceive and give birth to a son, and she shall call his name “Yeshu'a.”20 Mary is bewildered and asks the angel Gabriel, “How shall this be since I do not know a man?”21 The angel Gabriel then informs Mary, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you; therefore, the holy one born shall be called ‘the Son of God.'”22
The remainder of chapter one contains dialogue between Mary and Elizabeth,23 and the birth of John, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth.
In chapter two, Luke begins by describing a taxation which was promulgated by Caesar Augustus.24 In response to this edict, Joseph and Mary depart Nazaret of Galil in order to be registered in Beit-Lechem of Judah, since Joseph was of the house and family of David.25 Luke describes Mary as being “great with child,”26 and so, in a matter of time, Mary gave birth to Jesus.27 In the remainder of the second chapter, Luke narrates the annunciation of the birth of Jesus Christ to the shepherds in the field,28 as well as his circumcision and naming at eight-days old,29 the redemption of Jesus as the firstborn,30 and Mary’s purificatory offering in the Temple after forty-days.31
It is evident that Luke focuses more on Mary’s experience rather than Joseph’s. In Matthew, the angel of Yahveh appears to Joseph in a dream,32 while in Luke, the angel of Yahveh, named Gabriel, personally appears to Mary.33 These narratives are not coincidences. Matthew intentionally focuses on Joseph and provides his genealogy. Since Luke focuses on Mary, we would expect to see her genealogy.
Unlike Matthew who states that “Jacob begat Joseph,” why don’t we see a similar statement by Luke that “Heli begat Mary” if indeed Heli is the biological father of Mary, thus indicating that the genealogy in Luke is that of Mary, as many Christian commentators assert?
If one examines the entire Tanakh, they will see that no woman’s genealogy is ever recorded. There are cases where an author lists a woman’s father for the purpose of clarifying immediate relationships in a narrative,34 but by genealogy, I mean a series of ancestors recorded in order to establish an individual’s inheritance or descent. For example, regarding Ezra, the author gives his descent from Aaron, including fifteen men between Aaron and Ezra.35 However, not a single female is included in this genealogy; that is, we do not know who Ezra’s mother is. Why wasn’t the author compelled to record Ezra’s mother, grandmother, etc.?
According to their interpretation of Num. 1:2, the Jews understood that, משפחת אב קרויה משפחה משפחת אם אינה קרויה משפחה, that is, “The father’s family is called a family, but the mother’s family is not called a family.”36 Therefore, genealogies were not recorded for women. In consideration of this, how could Luke list Mary’s ancestors?
The Jews considered בני בנים הרי הם כבנים, that is “The children of children, behold, they are as children.”37 In other words, one’s grandchildren were reckoned as one’s own children. Of course, this would apply to the grandchildren of paternal or maternal grandfathers. Therefore, if Mary had a son, her son would be considered the son of her father, and then the son of her father’s father, and so on. In fact, this process could be extended all the way until Adam, the father of all of humanity.
There is indeed a scriptural basis for reckoning the grandchild of a certain man as that man’s own child. Moses writes about a certain woman named Aholivamah in Gen. 36:2.38
And Esau took his wives from the daughters of Canaan: Adah the daughter of Eilon the Hittite, and Aholivamah the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Tziv'on the Hivvite.
עֵשָׂו לָקַח אֶת נָשָׁיו מִבְּנוֹת כְּנָעַן אֶת עָדָה בַּת אֵילוֹן הַחִתִּי וְאֶת אָהֳלִיבָמָה בַּת עֲנָה בַּת צִבְעוֹן הַחִוִּי
At first glance, one may understand this as stating that Aholivamah is the daughter of Anah, and Anah is the daughter of Tziv'on. This seems to be the same style used in Luke. After all, most understand it as stating that Jesus is supposedly the son of Joseph, and Joseph is the son of Heli,39 and Heli is the son of Matthat.40
But, is Anah the daughter of Tziv'on? No; this is impossible. This would require Anah to be a female (common sense). However, Anah is a male, as Gen. 36:24 conclusively proves:
And these are the children of Tziv'on: both Ayah and Anah: and Anah is the one who found the water in the wilderness when he fed the donkeys of Tziv'on his father.
וְאֵלֶּה בְנֵי צִבְעוֹן וְאַיָּה וַעֲנָה הוּא עֲנָה אֲשֶׁר מָצָא אֶת הַיֵּמִם בַּמִּדְבָּר בִּרְעֹתוֹ אֶת הַחֲמֹרִים לְצִבְעוֹן אָבִיו
Several words in v. 24 indicate that Anah is a male. First, the verb מָצָא is conjugated for a masculine-gendered subject. Next, the pronominal suffix -וֹ on the end of the infinitive בִּרְעֹתוֹ is declined in the masculine gender. Finally, the pronominal suffix -יו on the end of the word אָבִיו is also declined in the masculine gender. Since Anah must be a male, he cannot be the daughter of Tziv'on. Therefore, Moses wrote that Aholivamah is the daughter of her father Anah, and Aholivamah is also the daughter of her grandfather, Tziv'on. This establishes a precedent for the genealogy in the Gospel of Luke.
Since Jesus was not descended from Joseph, who himself was of the house of David,41 Luke could only prove that Jesus was descended from David through Jesus’ mother, Mary. If Jesus was not descended from David, then he could not be the King of Israel, for all kings of Judah had to be descended from David.42 Furthermore, God promised David that the King Messiah would be his descendant.43
Luke begins his genealogy, stating (all names transliterated according to their original language as closely as possible),
23 And Yeshu'a himself was beginning to be about thirty-years old, being [the] son (as was supposed of Yoseph) of Eli, 24 of Mattat, of Levi, of Malkhi, of Yannai, of Yoseph, 25 of Mattatyah, of Amos, of Nachum, of Esli, of Nagge, 26 of Me'at, of Mattatyah, of Shimi, of Yoseph, of Yehuda, 27 of Yochanan, of the chief Zerubbavel, of She'alti'el, of Neri, 28 of Malkhi, of Adi, of Kosam, of Elmoda, of Er, 29 of Yosi, of Eli'ezer, of Mattat, of Levi, 30 of Shim'on, of Yehuda, of Yoseph, of Yona, of Elyakim 31 of Melea, of Mainan, of Mattata, of Natan, of David, 32 of Yishai, of Oved, of Bo'az, of Salma, of Nachshon, 33 of Amminadav, of Ram, of Chetzron, of Peretz, of Yehuda, 34 of Ya'akov, of Yitzchak, of Avraham, of Terach, of Nachor, 35 of Serug, of Re'u, of Peleg, of Ever, of Shelach, 36 of Arpakshad, of Shem, of Noach, of Lemekh, 37 of Metushelach, of Hanokh, of Yared, of Mahalal'el, of Keinan, 38 of Enosh, of Set, of Adam, of God.
23 καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν Ἰησοῦς ἀρχόμενος ὡσεὶ ἐτῶν τριάκοντα ὢν υἱός ὡς ἐνομίζετο Ἰωσὴφ τοῦ Ἠλὶ 24 τοῦ Ματθὰτ τοῦ Λευὶ τοῦ Μελχὶ τοῦ Ἰαννὰ τοῦ Ἰωσὴφ 25 τοῦ Ματταθίου τοῦ Ἀμὼς τοῦ Ναοὺμ τοῦ Ἑσλὶ τοῦ Ναγγαὶ 26 τοῦ Μάαθ τοῦ Ματταθίου τοῦ Σεμεΐ τοῦ Ἰωσὴφ τοῦ Ἰουδὰ 27 τοῦ Ἰωὰννα τοῦ Ῥησὰ τοῦ Ζοροβαβὲλ τοῦ Σαλαθιὴλ τοῦ Νηρὶ 28 τοῦ Μελχὶ τοῦ Ἀδδὶ τοῦ Κωσὰμ τοῦ Ἐλμωδὰμ τοῦ Ἢρ 29 τοῦ Ἰωσὴ τοῦ Ἐλιέζερ τοῦ Ἰωρεὶμ τοῦ Ματθὰτ τοῦ Λευὶ 30 τοῦ Συμεὼν τοῦ Ἰούδα τοῦ Ἰωσὴφ τοῦ Ἰωνὰν τοῦ Ἐλιακεὶμ 31 τοῦ Μελεὰ τοῦ Μαϊνάν τοῦ Ματταθὰ τοῦ Ναθὰν τοῦ Δαβὶδ 32 τοῦ Ἰεσσαὶ τοῦ Ὠβήδ τοῦ Βόοζ τοῦ Σαλμών τοῦ Ναασσὼν 33 τοῦ Ἀμιναδὰβ τοῦ Ἀράμ τοῦ Ἑσρὼμ τοῦ Φάρες τοῦ Ἰούδα 34 τοῦ Ἰακὼβ τοῦ Ἰσαὰκ τοῦ Ἀβραὰμ τοῦ Θάρα τοῦ Ναχὼρ 35 τοῦ Σεροὺχ τοῦ Ῥαγαὺ τοῦ Φάλεκ τοῦ Ἔβερ τοῦ Σαλὰ 36 τοῦ Καϊνάν τοῦ Ἀρφαξὰδ τοῦ Σὴμ τοῦ Νῶε τοῦ Λάμεχ 37 τοῦ Μαθουσαλὰ τοῦ Ἑνὼχ τοῦ Ἰαρέδ τοῦ Μαλελεὴλ τοῦ Καϊνὰν 38 τοῦ Ἐνὼς τοῦ Σὴθ τοῦ Ἀδὰμ τοῦ θεοῦ
The majority of English translations insert the word “the son” before each name in the genealogy. For example, the King James Version translates it as,
34 Which was [the son] of Matthat, which was [the son] of Levi, which was [the son] of Melchi, which was [the son] of Janna, which was [the son] of Joseph,
Actually, the Greek word υἱός, meaning “son,” only occurs one time in the entire genealogy. There’s no reason to assume that Luke intended to state that Joseph was the son of Eli (“Heli”). Rather, Luke could have intended to state that Jesus was considered (ἐνομίζετο) the son of Joseph, for Joseph was only his adoptive father. Despite this, Jesus was truly the son of Eli, Levi, Malkhi, Yannai, et cetera all the way unto Adam. However, Luke does not expect the reader to stop there. He wishes the reader to know that, just as Jesus is descended from every male ancestor in his genealogy, he is also descended from God Himself.
In fact, how can this not be the case? In chapter 1, Luke describes how Mary would conceive a son, not by intercourse with a man,44 but instead, by the power of the Holy Spirit.45 This child, says the angel Gabriel, “shall be called ‘the Son of the Most High'”46 and “the son of God.”47 In chapter 3, upon his baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus and a voice came from heaven, i.e. from God, saying, “You are My beloved Son; I am well pleased with you.”48 The fact that Jesus is God’s very Son is repeated at least three times throughout the first three chapters.
In his commentary on Luke 3:23, John Lightfoot wrote,
…when St. Luke, verse 22, had made a voice from heaven, declaring that Jesus was the Son of God, do we think the same evangelist would, in the same breath, pronounce Adam “the son of God” too? So that this very thing teacheth us what the evangelist propounded to himself in the framing of this genealogy; which was to shew that this Jesus, who had newly received that great testimony from heaven, “This is my Son,” was the very same that had been promised to Adam by the seed of the woman. And for this reason hath he drawn his pedigree on the mother’s side, who was the daughter of Heli, and this too as high as Adam, to whom this Jesus was promised. In the close of the genealogy, he teacheth in what sense the former part of it should be taken; viz. that Jesus, not Joseph, should be called the son of Heli, and consequently, that the same Jesus, not Adam, should be called the Son of God. Indeed, in every link of this chain this still should be understood, “Jesus the son of Matthat, Jesus the son of Levi, Jesus the son of Melchi”; and so of the rest…
That Mary is the daughter of Eli is also corroborated in the Jerusalem Talmud, in which it is written,49
Rabbi Eliezer bar Yose said that he saw Mary, the daughter of Eli, among the shades, hanging by the nipples of her breasts. Rabbi Yose bar Chanina said, “The pin of the gate of Gehinnam was fastened in her ear.”
וחמא למרים ברת עלי בצלים רבי לעזר בר יוסה אמר תלייא בחיטי ביזייא רבי יוסי בן חנינא אמר צירתא דתרעא דגיהנם קביע באודנה
1 Matt. 1:1
2 e.g., Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Tractate Sanhedrin, Chapter 11, Folio 97a.
3 Psa. 132:11 cp. 2 Sam. 7:12-16
4 Saba, פרשת ויצא, p. ל, col. 1: אברהם שהיה ראש היחס; also, פרשת נצבים, p. קנ, col. 4: אברהם שהוא היה שורש ועיקר היחס.
5 Zakut, section one (מאמר ראשון), p. 4, col. 1: אברהם אבינו ראש היחס.
6 Although most translations translate ἐγεννήθη as “was born,” it is still conjugated from the same Greek verb as ἐγέννησεν in Matt. 1:16.
7 Matt. 1:16; Had Matthew desired to indicate that both Mary and Joseph were the biological parents of Jesus, he would have used the relative pronoun ὧν, which is declined in the masculine gender and plural number.
8 Hebrew מְאֹרָשָׂה (me'orasah); cp. Deut. 22:23
9 Matt. 1:19
10 Matt. 1:20
11 Matt. 1:24
12 Hebrew אֱלִישֶׁבַע; cp. Exo. 6:23
13 Num. 26:59
14 Hebrew זְכַרְיָה; cp. 2 Kings 15:8
15 Luke 1:5
16 Luke 1:7 cp. Luke 1:18
17 Luke 1:19
18 Luke 1:26
19 Luke 1:27
20 Luke 1:31
21 Luke 1:34
22 Luke 1:35
23 Mary’s cousin; cp. Luke 1:36
24 Luke 2:1-3
25 Luke 2:4
26 Luke 2:5
27 Luke 2:6
28 Luke 2:8-20
29 Luke 2:21 cp. Gen. 17:12; Lev. 12:3
30 Exo. 13:2; Num. 3:13, 18:15-16
31 Luke 2:22-24 cp. Lev. 12:2-8
32 Matt. 1:20
33 Luke 1:26-28
34 Gen. 11:29
35 Ezra 7:1-5
36 Ibn Ezra, commentary on Num. 1:2; Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nezikin, Tractate Bava Batra, Chapter 8, 109b, Gemara; ibid, Seder Nashim, Tractate Yevamot, Chapter 6, Folio 54b, Gemara; Sefer Yuchasin, Folio 55b.
37 Babylonian Talmud, Seder Nashim, Tractate Yevamot, Chapter 6, Folio 62b, Gemara; David Kimchi, commentary on 1 Chr. 3:19.
38 cp. Gen. 36:14
39 Luke 3:23
40 Luke 3:24
41 Matt. 1:20 cp. Luke 2:4
42 Mishneh Torah, Sefer Shoftim, Hikhot Melkahim uMilchamot, Chapter 1, Halakha 10: אֵלָא מֶלֶךְ יְרוּשָׁלַיִם מִזֶּרַע דָּוִיד, that is, “But a king of Jerusalem is from the seed of David.”
43 Psa. 132:11 cp. 2 Sam. 7:12-16
44 Luke 1:34
45 Luke 1:35
46 Luke 1:32
47 Luke 1:35
48 Luke 3:22
49 Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Chaggiga, Chapter 2, Folio 11a, Halakha 2, Gemara
Avraham Saba (אברהם סבע). Tzeror ha-Mor (צרור המור). Venice: 1567.
Avraham Zakut (אברהם זכות). Sefer Yuchasin ha-Shalem (ספר יוחסין השלם). Salamanca: 1504; London: 1857.
Lightfoot, John. A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica.
Moses ben Maimon (משה בן מימון). Mishneh Torah (משנה תורה).