The genealogies of Jesus as presented by Matthew and Luke have always been puzzling.
Take another look, and then we will examine the theories. You will see they all present a valid argument, but at the end of the day it’s okay for us to say we just don’t know…
Matthew 1:1-17New International Version (NIV)
1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
4 Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
6 and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
Abijah the father of Asa,
8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
9 Uzziah the father of Jotham,
Jotham the father of Ahaz,
Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
Manasseh the father of Amon,
Amon the father of Josiah,
11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah[c] and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
12 After the exile to Babylon:
Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,
Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,
Abihud the father of Eliakim,
Eliakim the father of Azor,
14 Azor the father of Zadok,
Zadok the father of Akim,
Akim the father of Elihud,
15 Elihud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.
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 Messiah.
Luke 3:23-38English Standard Version (ESV)
23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli,
24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph,
25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai,
26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda,
27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel,[a] the son of Neri,
28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er,
29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi,
30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim,
31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David,
32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon,
33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah,
34 the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor,
35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah,
36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech,
37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan,
38 the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.
Theory #1: one is biological, the other is legal
This theory assumes that both genealogies are Joseph’s (as the step father and legal guardian for Jesus) as was the Jewish custom. In the original translation Matthew used the word “begat,” whereas Luke used “son of.” They can mean two very different things. According to the Jewish custom of levirate marriage, if a man died without having a son his brother would marry his widow and their sons would belong on the lineage of the deceased brother (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) Therefore, if Heli (Eli in some translations) then died without a son, Jacob married Heil’s widow, who gave birth to Joseph.
Theory #2: Luke’s is biological, Matthew’s shows the succession of Kings
There were two requirements for kingship in the Hebrew Scriptures. These were developed when the kingdom was divided after the death of Solomon. One was applicable to the southern Kingdom of Judah (with its capital in Jerusalem) while the other was applicable to the northern Kingdom of Israel (with its capital in Samaria.) The requirement for the throne of Judah was Davidic descendancy. You may remember that when there was a conspiracy to do away with the house of David (Isaiah 7:5-6), God warned that any such conspiracy was doomed to failure (Isaiah 8:9-15). The requirement for the throne of Israel was prophetic sanction or divine appointment. Anyone who attempted to rule on Samaria’s throne without prophetic sanction was assassinated (1 Kings 11:26-39; 15:28-30; 16:1-4, 11-15; 21:21-29; 2 Kings 9:6-10; 10:29-31; 14 8-12).
At first glance we notice that Matthew’s genealogy is condensed and this could be why. We see that he has it divided into three groups of 14, representing three time periods. The first group lists the patriarchs, the second names the kings, and the third names private citizens. Matthew’s intent was not to give a strict record, but to present the historical progression. It begins by highlighting the family origin, then the rise to power through the Davidic throne, and eventually the decline from royalty to the humble birth of the promised Messiah. Although women were rarely listed in genealogies, Matthew again breaks with Jewish tradition. He mentions the names of four Gentile women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba (her first husband, Uriah, was a Hittite.) This is Matthew’s hint that the Gentiles would also be saved by Jesus. Three of these women were guilty of sexual sins (Bathsheba was guilty of adultery, Rahab was guilty of prostitution and Tamar was guilty of incest) hinting that Jesus came to save sinners.
Theory #3: Luke’s is Mary’s lineage, Matthew’s is Joseph’s
Although Joseph was not the physical ancestor of Jesus, both he and Mary were in the line of David so that Jesus had a legal right to the throne as the adopted son of Joseph and was at the same time a physical descendent of David through Mary. It was through Joseph that Jesus had a legal right to claim the throne of David, but by his biological claim through Mary he bypassed the curse of Coniah as prophesied in Jeremiah 22:24-30. Although Coniah had seven sons (perhaps adopted; 1 Chron. 3:17), none occupied the throne. Coniah was to be considered “childless.” Although his line of descendants retained the legal throne rights, no physical descendant (no man of his descendants) would ever prosperously reign on the David’s throne. Paul claims in Romans 1:3 that Jesus was from the seed of David after the flesh, reminding us that he had Mary’s bloodline as well, and hers did not include the cursed line. Even if Joseph had a second line to David that avoid the curse, Coniah’s blood still ran in his veins. It also shows Mary’s descent from David along priestly lines rather than royal lines.
The first theory of Levirate marriage could also explain why Mary’s father is traditionally named Joachim, and yet appears as Heli/Eli. And we cannot over look the fact that Joachim is a variant form of Eliacim, which is abbreviated as Eli, a variant of Heli.
Still another theory is that Joseph, as son-in-law, would be the legal heir of Mary’s father. According to tradition she was an only child, but this is not proven Biblically.