“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” – Genesis 3:15, (NIV)
Soon after the fall of man God declares there is one to come who will defeat Satan. God proclaims this one will come from the offspring of the woman not the man. This declaration is emphasized again in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Immanuel means ‘God with us’. We see that the Messiah, the one who was prophesied to defeat Satan, was to come from a woman, not a man. As a point of clarification, some scholars point out the fact that this Hebrew word for
‘woman’ can be translated as young woman and not virgin. While I personally believe that the prophet was in fact referring to a virgin, especially in light of Matthew 1:22-23, it does not change the main idea of this article. The fact is, God said the Messiah was going to come from the offspring of a woman.
This distinction is important when examining what seems like a contradiction between the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. Let us look at the issue together:
“and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.” Matthew 1:16, (NIV)
“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.” Luke 3:23, (NIV)
We can see clearly the problem when reading these two scriptures. The reader is left wondering who is the father of Joesph? Is it Jacob or Heli? The two gospels then proceed to list a list of names that establish the genealogy of Jesus. Of course, these two lineages do not match.
Matthew traces the lineage of Jesus back to King David through the son of Solomon. Luke, however, traces the lineage of Jesus back to Nathan the Son of King David. Many people who do not understand ancient writings use this passage to create doubt about the validity of the Scripture and Jesus as the Messiah. We are left to ask the question, “What is the truth regarding the lineage of Jesus?”
Let us first establish why this is important. The scripture says in 2 Samuel 7:12-16 (NIV), “12 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. 13 He is the one who will build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 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. 15 But My love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before Me; your throne will be established forever.’”
In this passage, we see the prophet Nathan telling King David that God would establish his throne forever through his offspring. Now, this descendant of King David would have a kingdom that would never end. So it is very important that the Messiah is a descendant of King David, since God declared that he will come from his lineage.
Now in both Matthew and Luke we see that the lineage of Jesus is traced back to King David, but through different sons. It is only natural for any reader to ask why these two lists are not the same. The answer to that question and the truth about the perceived contradiction is found in several scriptures.
First, I need to explain to you that the Jews are a patriarchal society. That means the right of inheritance is passed from father to son, but there is an exception to the rule. During the time of Moses, the daughters of a man named Zelophehad came to Moses with a concern. Their father had no male heirs left alive, and so they asked what would happen to the land that had been allotted to their father. Moses took their case to God for an answer (see Numbers 27:5-7). Surprisingly to the people of that time, God declared that they would rightfully receive their father’s inheritance. As we read on however, we see in Numbers 36:6-7, that the daughters had to marry within their own tribe in order to keep that inheritance. If they married outside their tribe then the women would become a part of their husband’s tribe and the land would stay with their father’s tribe. This was to make sure that one tribe did not gain more territory than another tribe did. This information is important and we need to keep it in mind when dealing with the two lines of lineage.
Matthew lists the lineage of King David through the line of Solomon and works its way down to Jesus. If you read the scripture you will see that it uses specifically the Hebrew word ἐγέννησεν. This word is listed in the Strong’s Concordance as, “1080 gennáō – properly, beget (procreate a descendant), produce offspring; (passive) be born, ‘begotten.’” So it is translated as a procreated descendant. Said another way, it would be worded like this is “the biological offspring of this man”. This pattern continues until Joseph at which point the wording changes. Then it says in verse 16 that, Jacob is the father of Joseph, who is the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.
However, Luke does not use this wording, and it curiously starts its lineage with Jesus and works its way backwards. The connecting Greek word used here is τοῦ, which is a definite article. It is translated into English as the, who, this, what, those to list a few. This is critical and probably the most important element to understanding why the two lists have different names listed. Because unlike Matthew which states this is the “biological son of”; Luke is best translated simply like this, “is of.” So when Luke states, “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, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melki, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph…” It is not a true translation of the Greek wording. It is not the “biological son of” as we would read it in English. It is written more like this:
“And Jesus himself was beginning to be about thirty years old; being as was supposed son of Joseph; of Heli, of Matthat, of Levi, of Melki, of Jannai, of Joseph…”
Luke is saying this, Jesus he was about 30, and people thought he was the son of Joseph (he really wasn’t because he was really God’s son), but Jesus was from the line of Heli, of Matthat, of Levi, of Melki, of Jannai. The emphasis is on Heli not Joseph, and it is his lineage we begin to follow.
So according to the book of Matthew, we see clearly that Jacob is the biological father of Joseph but both Gospels clearly imply that Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus, and Luke then begins to emphasize the point that Jesus is a descendant of Heli who can trace his heritage back to King David.
Now there is only one possible reason why Luke would trace the lineage of Heli and not Joseph. It is because Luke’s list is really the lineage of Mary not Joseph. This is extremely likely if Mary’s father had no male heirs. If Mary’s father had no male heirs, then his daughter Mary would have received the right of inheritance so that her fathers name would not be cut off and she would have been able to pass that on to her son providing she married within her tribe. And Mary did marry within her tribe. Matthew clearly demonstrates Joseph’s lineage is from the line of King David and thus a descendant of the tribe of Judah. Because she married within her tribe she would have been able to enjoy the right of inheritance along with Joseph and they would have passed this on to Jesus, listing him as a son of Heli would have been correct according to the laws of Moses as he would have received all the rights of inheritance as the first born son from Mary’s line. It is a given that the scripture does not indicate that Mary was without male brothers, but neither does it say that she had brothers so it is a possible theory.
Still it is possible that Mary’s siblings are irrelevant, and Luke recorded Mary’s linage for another reason. He may have simply recognized the fact that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus and felt it necessary to trace the lineage of Mary in order to establish the ancestry of Jesus because of the prophecy God gave Eve back in Genesis. Remember that God declared that the Messiah would come from the seed or offspring of a woman. If the Messiah was to be from her line then her ancestry would become more important if we are to prove that Jesus was from the line of King David.
It says that Jesus was a descendant of Heli, again Jesus could have easily been called the son of his grandfather Heli in order to establish his lineage through him. Realize however that it isn’t necessary for Mary to have had no brothers for this to be relevant for God’s purposes. It was common in the Hebrew tradition for a grandchild to be called a son or a daughter of a grandparent, and there are many biblical examples of this in the scripture. Since Luke traces this lineage back, not just to King David, but takes the line all the way back to Adam, Luke may have been trying to demonstrate the fact that the prophecy of Genesis had come true. The offspring of Eve who was to defeat Satan came from the woman’s line. He was of Mary’s (the woman’s) linage not the male lineage (Joseph).
Thus in Luke’s account, we see that he is clarifying to us the reader that while Jesus may not be Joseph’s “biological son”, Jesus is still the product of Heli, who is a descendant of Nathan who is of King David. I think that the first “of” in that list of names is referring back to Jesus and not Joseph. Jesus is of Heli. In fact that is why he uses the definitive article “of” and not the “biological offspring” wording. Because Joseph is not of Heli, he is in fact the biological son of Jacob. Jesus is “of Heli” either because of the prophecy in Genesis or because of the right of inheritance and it is Heli that traces his family tree back to King David and the line of Judah. If you want to argue that the first of is references Joseph and not Jesus than it still works because Joseph can be “of” Heli even if not in the biologically sense if he has the right of inheritance through Mary.
By the way, this is a crucial piece of information that reconciles another prophecy about the Messiah because God in the Book of Jeremiah, chapter 22, cursed Solomon’s line. God told the descendant of Solomon, Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah that his line would be cut off, that no descendant of Jehoiakim would sit on the throne of David. (see verse 30).
“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.'” – Jeremiah 22:30, (NIV)
We see that God makes good on this prophecy in the Gospels. Since Jesus is not the biological son of Joseph he is not the biological descendant of Jehoiakim and thus Solomon, Jesus is instead the biological descendant Heli which leads us to Nathan the son of King David, by passing Jehoiakim completely.
So if Mary’s lineage is more important, then why did Matthew list Joseph’s lineage at all? This is due to the incredible wisdom of God. It is because we still needed to establish the fact that Joseph was from the tribe of Judah, just like Mary. This fact is relevant because the Mosaic law declares that Mary would become a part of the tribe that she married into. If she married outside her tribe she would no longer be considered from the tribe of Judah and would lose any rights of inheritance. It was therefore crucial to establish Joseph’s line as well as Mary’s, so that there would be no confusion that Jesus was in fact from the same tribe as Joseph and he was from the tribe of Judah. This not only allows Mary to keep the right of inheritance, it also fulfills scripture because God had declared that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah. (See Genesis 49:10)
Conclusion: We see the scripture has no contradiction, but is in fact in harmony with itself. What we see when we look at the scriptures together is the whole truth. The two Gospels are tracing two different lineages; one is Mary’s and the other Joseph’s. The Messiah is the offspring of the woman, not the man and He will defeat Satan. He will be from the tribe of Judah, a descendant of King David whose kingdom will last forever. He will not be a descendant of Jehoiakim. Joseph was from the line of King David and he was a son of Jacob just as Matthew proclaimed. Since Joseph married Mary and raised Jesus, he was considered his dad even if Joseph was not his biological father. More importantly from our perspective is the fact that Joseph is also from the tribe of Judah, which Matthew clearly testifies too. Since Mary was a virgin and conceived Jesus because of the Spirit of God, her linage becomes more important in order to fulfill prophecy. Luke establishes her lineage either because of the prophecy that the Messiah would come from a woman’s offspring or because Mary had no male relations and was able to pass on her biological father’s rights to Jesus thus providing for the prophecy that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David. Either way, Jesus was in fact an offspring of King David and we see it established with Mary and not from Joseph’s lineage. An important fact when we consider that Nathan’s line had no curse on it like Solomon’s line did and in light of the fact, that according to prophecy, the Messiah will be “of her seed”.