Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Genealogy of Jesus in the Bible

The Genealogy of Jesus: Examining the Gospel Accounts of the Bloodline of the Messiah

Originally Published: February 22, 2014
Updated: February 28, 2015

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“Truth is a uniform thing; and as to inspiration and revelation, were we to admit it, it is impossible to suppose it can be contradictory.”

-         Thomas Paine[1]

The genealogy of Jesus has been an issue of great contention and debate, even up to modern times.  The significance of the genealogy is important to Christians in that it is vital to proving via the Tanakh (what Christians call the “Old Testament”) that Jesus was the Messiah and a descendant of King David.[2]  However, it has long been noted by scholars and laymen alike that the Gospels provide different genealogies of Jesus and that they do not agree with each other.[3]  Furthermore, they note that even in spite of Christian attempts to harmonize the two versions (which, as we will see, are not satisfactory), there are also contradictions between the Gospels and the Tanakh.  In this article, we will examine these issues.  Upon considering the evidence presented, it should become clear to the reader that the genealogies presented in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, respectively, cannot be reconciled with each other and also contradict the Tanakh.

A Brief Summary of the Gospel Genealogies

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus was descended from David through his son Solomon.[4]  The genealogy starts from Abraham and ends with Jesus, with fourteen generations each between Abraham and David, between David and the Babylonian exile, and between the exile and Jesus.[5]  Here is Matthew’s genealogy:

Abraham Isaac Jacob Judah Perez Hezron Ram Amminadab Nahshon Salmon Boaz Obed Jesse David

David Solomon Rehoboam Abijah Asa Jehoshaphat Jehoram Uzziah Jotham Ahaz Hezekiah Manasseh Amon Josiah Jeconiah

Jeconiah Shealtiel Zerubbabel Abihud Eliakim Azor Zadok Akim Elihud Eleazar Matthan Jacob Joseph Jesus

Luke’s genealogy, however, states that Jesus was descended from David through his other son, Nathan.[6]  It is also longer than Matthew’s, and goes all the way back to Adam.  Moreover, Luke’s genealogy is not as symmetrical as Matthew’s, but does follow a numerical pattern.[7]  Here is Luke’s genealogy:[8]          

Abraham Isaac Jacob Judah Perez Hezron Ram Amminadab Nahshon Salmon Boaz Obed Jesse David

David Nathan Mattatha Menna Melea Eliakim Jonam Joseph Judah Simeon Levi Matthat Jorim Eliezer Joshua Er Elmadam Cosam Addi Melki Neri

Neri Shealtiel Zerubbabel Rhesa Joanan Joda Josek Semein Mattathias Maath Naggai Esli Nahum Amos Mattathias Joseph Jannai Melki Levi Matthat Heli Joseph Jesus

Critical Examination of the Genealogies

            As we can see, the versions of Jesus’ genealogy as presented by Matthew and Luke are at odds with each other.  This is an evident fact which no amount of speculating and mental gymnastics can reconcile.  As the late Catholic Raymond Brown put it:

“…the lists of Jesus’ ancestors that they give are very different, and neither one is plausible.”[9]

In this section, we will discuss the contradictions and the Christian attempts to explain them.  We will also discuss the significance of the genealogies with regard to the Tanakh.

            The most obvious discrepancy between Matthew and Luke is the complete lack of agreement.  Matthew’s genealogy is much shorter than Luke’s, as we previously noted.  In fact, scholars point out that Matthew’s genealogy was clearly manufactured with to be symmetrical, but that this symmetry is impossible if it was a realistic genealogy.  As Brown explains:

“The Matthean genealogy with its three groupings of fourteen generations is obviously artificial; it contains well-known confusions in the first two groupings and is impossibly short for the third or post-exilic period…”[10]

In addition, Matthew drew the genealogy from Solomon, whereas Luke drew it from Nathan.[11] The mythical nature of both genealogies notwithstanding, there is perhaps a good reason for the latter discrepancy, at least.  Part of the problem of drawing the genealogy through David’s son Solomon is that it inevitably must go through Jeconiah.[12]  If Jesus was descended from Jeconiah, then he could not be the Messiah, according to the criteria of the Tanakh.  According to the Tanakh, God had cursed Jeconiah and his bloodline for his sins:

“This is what the LORD says: “Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.””[13]

As can be clearly seen, all of Jeconiah’s descendants were prohibited to be king of Israel.  If Jesus’ genealogy went through Jeconiah, then he could not have been the Messiah or David’s heir to the throne.  Hence, Luke had good reason to draw the genealogy through Nathan instead of Solomon.  However, by going through Nathan, Luke ironically invalidated his own genealogy as well.  The reason is that the Messiah is actually supposed to be descended through David and Solomon, not David and Nathan.[14]  As C. Dennis McKinsey correctly observes:

“…Nathan and all of his descendants were excluded from any claim to the throne of David because Nathan’s brother, Solomon, was chosen, instead, to carry on the legacy.  This is proven in 1 Chronicles 29:1…”[15]

1 Chronicles 29:1 states:
“Then King David said to the whole assembly: “My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced.”

This is not the only verse which identifies Solomon as the one whose line would produce the Messiah.  There are others, such as:
“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.  But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.  Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”[16]

“But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name. He will be my son, and I will be his father. And I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.’”[17]

So, we can see clearly that it was Solomon and not Nathan who would be the ancestor of the Messiah.  Therefore, Luke’s genealogy cannot be correct.[18]  In fact, neither one can be correct for the reasons mentioned.

            Another discrepancy between Matthew and Luke is that each draws Joseph’s (Jesus’ adoptive father) bloodline differently.  Matthew claims that Joseph’s father was a man named Jacob while Luke claims it was Heli.  Obviously, both cannot be correct.  Some Christian apologists have tried to reconcile the obvious contradiction by offering a preposterous and unproven assertion.  According to one source:

“The traditional explanation for the differing genealogies of Joseph is that Jacob and Heli were close relatives, perhaps half brothers [sic], one of them being Joseph's biological father and the other his legal father. In one variation of this model, the one who was Joseph's biological father died, and the other one then adopted Joseph as his son. In another variation, one of the two died childless, but the other then married his widow and fathered Joseph in order to continue the dead relative's line.”[19]

The problem with this argument is that is based on an assumption and not on any hard evidence.  Where is it stated that Jacob and Heli were “close relatives” or “half-brothers”?  Where is it stated that one was “Joseph’s biological father” and one was “his legal father”?  Even if it was true, the logical question would be which one was the biological father and which one was the legal father?  Neither the Gospel of Matthew nor the Gospel of Luke elaborates.  Furthermore, since we are talking about an actual bloodline, the “legal father” is of no relevance at all, since the Messiah had to be a direct descendant of David.  Hence, there was no reason to include the “legal father”.

There is another problem with this theory.  Assuming that this explanation is correct (which has not been established), we are still left with serious flaws in the genealogies.  The obvious problem is that Joseph was not Jesus’ real father.  So, it makes no difference who Joseph’s biological father really was, whether Jacob or Heli.  Since Jesus did not have a biological father, it is pointless to trace his genealogy to David through Joseph.[20]  As McKinsey points out:

“According to Rom. 1:3 and Acts 2:30 the Messiah must be a physical descendant of David.  But how could Jesus meet this requirement when the genealogies in Matthew and Luke show that he descended from David through Joseph, who was not his natural father?”[21]

Hence, not only is there no evidence that Joseph had a biological father and a legal father, but the whole issue is irrelevant since Joseph was not Jesus’ real father anyway.

            While we have already proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the genealogies cannot possibly be reconciled and, that when examined separately, they each have their own flaws, it should also be pointed out that Luke’s genealogy even suffers from textual corruption.  According to the New International Version, in some manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke, some of the ancestors of David are different than that of the Gospel of Matthew.[22]  In most translations, the ancestors of David starting from Hezron were Ram, Amminadab, Nahshon, Salmon, Boaz, Obed and Jesse.  However, the NIV notes that some manuscripts have Arni, Admin, Amminadab, Nahshon, Salmon, Boaz, Obed and Jesse.[23]

            Finally, let us examine Luke’s genealogy from Adam to Abraham.  Including Adam and Abraham, there are 21 names in Luke’s genealogy:

Adam Seth Enosh Kenan Mahalalel Jared Enoch Methusaleh Lamech Noah Shem Arphaxad Cainan Shelah Eber Peleg Reu Serug Nahor Terah Abraham

This genealogy is for the most part in line with the Tanakh, except for one addition.  Luke added a man named “Cainan” in between Arphaxad and Shelah, but this is impossible and creates an irreconcilable contradiction with the Tanakh.  According to Genesis 10, Arphaxad was the father of Shelah, not Cainan.[24]  Shelah was in turn the father of Eber.  The reason for Luke’s addition is probably due to the fact that he was relying on the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Tanakh), which stated that Cainan was the father of Shelah.[25]  However, the Masoretic text (the Hebrew Tanakh) did not have Cainan in the genealogy.  Josephus agreed with the Masoretic text since he also did not include Cainan in the genealogy from Adam to Abraham.[26]  So, which version was correct?  Obviously, both cannot be the correct version.  Hence, we not only have a disagreement between the Masoretic and Septuagint versions of the Tanakh, we also have an example of Luke using one as his primary source, while ignoring the other.  Depending on which version was correct, Luke in turn would have been right or wrong.  Either way, he was clearly not "inspired".  

            In closing, the above examination has demonstrated obvious contradictions between the Gospels of Matthew and Luke with regard to the genealogy of Jesus.  Despite the insistence of Christian apologists, the two accounts cannot be reconciled with each other.  We have also seen examples of contradictions with the Tanakh.  It is self-evident that the authors of the respective genealogies invented them for their own reasons, using different sources for their inspiration.[27]  Christians must be honest with themselves and admit the facts.   
And Allah knows best!

[1] Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, Edited by Moncure Daniel Conway.  San Bernardino: Wildside Press LLC., 2014, p. 128.

[2] According to the Tanakh, the Messiah would be a direct descendant of King David.  Since Christians regard both the Tanakh and the New Testament to be scripture, the two have to be in absolute agreement.  For more on the Messiah’s relationship to David, see the following:

[3] The first genealogy appears in the Gospel of Matthew (1:1-17).  The second genealogy is found in the Gospel of Luke (3:23-38).

[4] Matthew 1:7.

[5] Matthew 1:17.  Of course, when we actually count the names, we see that there are only 41 total persons in the genealogy, not 42 which would be expected if there were 14 names in each part of the genealogy.  In fact, in the second group, there are actually 15 total names (including David and Jeconiah), not 14 as the author of the gospel contended.

[6] Luke 3:31.

[7] Raymond E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1973), fn. 83, p. 54.

[8] For the purposes of this section, the part of the genealogy from Adam to Abraham has been omitted.  However, we will come back to it later in the article.

[9] Brown, op. cit., p. 54.

[10] Ibid.

[11] According to Brown, Matthew was using a genealogy of the Messiah that was popular among the Jews of that time.  He stated:

“Personally, I find Matthew’s genealogy of less significance than Luke’s, since I think that Matthew added the names of Joseph and Jesus to an already existing popular genealogy of the Messiah king…” (Ibid., p. 60).

[12] Jeconiah is also known as Jehoiachin or Coniah.

[13] Jeremiah 22:30.

[14] It is in fact a fundamental belief of Judaism that the Messiah would be descended from David and Solomon:

“…the fact that Moshiach will be a descendant of both David and Solomon is part of the twelfth (of the thirteen) Jewish fundamental beliefs as outlined by Maimonides.” (

[15] C. Dennis McKinsey, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995), p. 111.

[16] 2 Samuel 7:11-16.

[17] 1 Chronicles 22:9-10.

[18] Luke’s genealogy also contains other mistakes.  As Brown observed:

“The Lucan genealogy also follows a numerical pattern (probably 77 names) and may have duplications (compare 3:23-24 to 3:29-30); it attributes names of a definite post-exilic type to the pre-exilic period” (The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, op. cit., fn. 83, p. 54).

[20] On a side note, many scholars have observed the obvious contradiction between the Christian belief in the virginal conception of Jesus and the belief regarding his “preexistence” (John 1:1-2).  As the Biblical scholar Wolfhart Pannenberg stated:

“In its content, the legend of Jesus’ virgin birth stands in an irreconcilable contradiction to the Christology of the incarnation of the preexistent Son of God found in Paul and John” (As quoted in Brown, op. cit., p. 43).

It is certainly not a coincidence that the Gospel of John is silent on the virginal conception.  Based on this, Brown came to the following conclusion:

“…the scales tip in favor of Johannine ignorance of the virginal conception; and that means the ignorance of it in a late first-century Christian community that had access to an early tradition about Jesus” (Ibid., p. 59).

[21] McKinsey, op. cit., pp. 46-47.

[22] This is most unfortunate since this is the only section of the genealogy where Matthew and Luke were in total agreement!

[24] Genesis 10:24.

[26] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1:6.

[27] Whatever those sources were, the Holy Spirit was certainly not among them.

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