Genealogies of the Babe of Bethlehem
A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Despite the wealth of evidence that supports the historical reliability of the Gospels, some scholars point to apparent inconsistencies as evidence of their unreliability. One of the most frequently cited contradictions involves the genealogies of Jesus as recorded in Matthew and Luke. At first blush the genealogies of Matthew and Luke may appear to be contradictory; in reality, however, they are ingeniously constructed to highlight different aspects of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Matthew, writing to a primarily Jewish audience, emphasizes that Jesus Christ is the seed of Abraham and the legal heir of David, the long-awaited King of Israel who would ultimately restore His people from exile. As such, Matthew records fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ (Matthew 1:17). Matthew, a former tax collector, skillfully organizes the genealogy of Jesus into three groups of fourteen, the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew letters in King David’s name (D+V+D = 4+6+4). Thus, Matthew’s genealogy simultaneously highlights the most significant names in the lineage of Jesus and artistically emphasizes our Lord’s identity as Messiah who would forever sit upon the throne of David.
Luke, writing to a primarily Gentile audience, extends his genealogy past Abraham to the First Adam, thus highlighting that Christ, the Second Adam, is the Savior of all humanity. Additionally, calling Adam “the son of God” and strategically placing the genealogy between Jesus’ baptism and the desert temptation, Luke masterfully reveals Jesus as Theanthropos—the God-man. It is also instructive to note that while Luke’s genealogy stretches from the First Adam to the Second, only mountain peaks in the lineage are accounted for. Thus, it is impossible to determine how many years elapsed between the creation of Adam and the birth of Jesus.
Just as there are different emphases in the genealogies, so too there are different explanations for the dissimilarities between them. Matthew traces his genealogy through David’s son Solomon, while Luke traces his genealogy through David’s son Nathan. It may be that Matthew’s purpose is to provide the legal lineage from Solomon through Joseph, while Luke’s purpose is to provide the natural lineage from Nathan through Mary. It could also be that Matthew and Luke are both tracing Joseph’s genealogy—Matthew, the legal line, and Luke, the natural line. As such, the legal line diverges from the natural in that Levirate Law stipulated if a man died without an heir, his genealogy could legally continue through his brother (Deuteronomy 25:5–6). The fact that there are a number of ways to resolve dissimilarities rules out the notion that the genealogies are contradictory.
As you read through the genealogies of Jesus on Day 6 of your journey toward Christmas Day, may they remind you that the Babe of Bethlehem is a real, historical person, who was miraculously conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and ultimately raised from a tomb in Jerusalem so that you and I can experience rebirth and resurrection.
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith. And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1–6)
Are the genealogies in Matthew and Luke contradictory?
What are some ways to resolve dissimilarities between Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies?
While Shepherds Watched
While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around,
And glory shone around.
“Fear not,” said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled mind,
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring,
To you and all mankind,
To you and all mankind.
“To you, in David’s town, this day
Is born of David’s line,
The Savior, who is Christ the Lord,
And this shall be the sign,
And this shall be the sign.
“The heavenly Babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands,
And in a manger laid,
And in a manger laid.”
Thus spake the seraph and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God on high,
Addressed their joyful song,
Addressed their joyful song:
“All glory be to God on high,
And to the earth be peace;
Good will henceforth from heaven to men
Begin and never cease,
Begin and never cease!”