"Uh Oh": The Genealogy of Jesus...

So the genealogy of Jesus is "problematic." That's probably not news to many of you. But I'll demonstrate how intellectually lazy I can be: 3 or 4 years ago I got to thinking about the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew and how Christ's lineage back to King David goes through Joseph, Mary's husband.

Did I not notice that before? With 26 years of Christendom under my belt, had I somehow overlooked that? The problem is, as Christians we aren't raised to thnk critically about the Scriptures. As children, we're told simplified Bible stories. Maybe it's not out of fear of tough questions, perhaps it's just laziness. In any case, I asked a pastor-friend about it back then: "how do we posit Jesus from the line of David if he was the product of immaculate conception?"

"Well that's the genealogy from Matthew. The genealogy in Luke is through Mary's line," he answered.

Again, I didn't take the time to actually follow up and look. I get lazy. So several years would go by before I'd take this seminary New Testament class and re-approach the question (shows you how often I read through the Gospels...).

Here's the thing:

  • Matthew 1:15-17
    "...Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. 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 Christ." Except that would mean nothing less than Jesus was adopted into that bloodline.

  • Luke 3:23-24
    "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..." Hmmm... I don't see Mary anywhere here. There are different names linked in this family line, but that's not all that problematic. I history of ancient Jewish genealogies shows that names were regularly dropped for a number of reasons.

Now I have no hard feelings or even disrespect toward the pastor who told me Luke offered Mary's heritage. For some reason, that's been an old theological argument, although there is little that can be used to defend it, other than the alternate names listed in the line - which is far more easily explained through the nature of Jewish genealogical recording.

What's troubling is that nothing in either lineage links Mary to the family line of David. Jesus would have to be either (a) adopted into David's line, which causes problems for Old Testament prophesy, or (b) actually be the son of Joseph. Which is a little scary to consider. What, now I'm starting to sound like Borg?

Mark gives no account of Jesus' birth.

John records this statement from Philip: "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." (John 1:45)

So now I'm going to do my research paper for this New Testament class on the genealogies of Jesus and the various scholarly and theological positions taken.

In the beginning of his book Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell writes...

“What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if, as you study the origin of the word ‘virgin’ you discover that the word ‘virgin’ in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word ‘virgin’ could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being ‘born of a virgin’ also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? What if that spring were seriously questioned? Could a person keep on jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart?…If the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasn’t that strong in the first place, was it?

I'm not saying I don't believe in the Virgin Birth. But yes, if I found out that "the truth" was something slightly other than what I'd been raised to believe or understand, I would still love God. I would still believe in Christ Jesus as Lord. My personal connection to God, through the Holy Spirit, has managed to survive an awful lot of doubt. The Spirit of the Living God is alive and real and present. But these are dangerous questions...


Pickypants said...

The only thing dangerous about questions is the fear that you approach the answers with.

Sounds like you are unafraid of the truth, which is the best place to be if you are asking these kinds of questions.


Monk-in-Training said...

An interesting thing also is the curse of Jehoiakim found in Jeremiah 36:29-31. Jeconiah is Joesph's ancestor and eliminates him from the Throne. Then if in fact the other genealogy is of Mary, then there is the problem of Solomon. According to the Scripture, the Messiah must be a descendant of King David via Solomon (II Samuel 7:12-13; I Chronicles 17:11-14, 22:10, 28:4-7).

This becomes an interesting situation, doesn't it?

Nik said...

It also says that Ozias/Uzziah was the son of Joram/Jehoram. But Uzziah was the great-great grandson of Jehoram. It is simple to explain why this happened. A curse was placed on Jehoram through the fourth generation. So his three sons: Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah were taken out of the Temple records. I mention this only to show the grammatical construct that Luke used, i.e. that one was the son of another, really can mean more than just what it looks like from your modern perspective, i.e. the person listed as son is the immediate biological son of the person listed as father. Uzziah was actually the great great grandson, but it reads as "son." Likewise, the genealogy does not differentiate between adopted sons and biological sons, or sons-in-law because this concept did not exist. It also listed sons-in-law as the son when in actually there was a woman involved, meaning rather than saying Sheila was the daughter of Dan, it would say Jim (who was actually Sheila's husband) was the son of Dan. Luke's genealogy is the genealogy of Mary, but women were not typically mentioned in Hebrew genealogies. So it mentions Joseph, who was actually the son-in-law, but that's perfectly normal for Hebrew genealogies. It's OBVIOUS that one genealogy follows one parent and another follows the other because one line starts with David's son SOLOMON and another starts with David's son NATHAN. The Matthew genealogy makes Jesus heir to the kingly line of Solomon through his adopted father Joseph. I appreciate that the Catholics play up Mary so much that everyone forgets Joseph, but he was important, too. And adopted sons had every bit as much right to inheritance as real sons under Hebrew custom. This is how Jesus avoided the Johoiakim curse mentioned by the previous poster. He was born of a virgin. In effect, the curse on Jehoiakim made it NECESSARY that Messiah would be born of a virgin because it was the BLOODLINE of Jehoiakim that was cursed. Mary's line in Luke however, gives Jesus the right to be called a son of David and of Judah before him by actual BLOOD through David's son Nathan. Jesus actually had David's blood in him, but not Solomon's. You're right. Perhaps if you were a little less lazy, you're uh-oh's would become ah-ha's.

Nik said...

Your, not you're. Should have proofread before hitting enter.

Peter said...


Great information Nik. And I'm assuimg your "lazy" comment is in good nature, since I referred to myself as such ;)

Nik, I'd love it if you went to my longer post on Jesus' genealogies:

You sound more well-versed in the conversation - able to carry casual conversation as I'm rushing back to my notes!

However, you said: "It's OBVIOUS that one genealogy follows one parent and another follows the other because one line starts with David's son SOLOMON and another starts with David's son NATHAN."

Not so obvious, I think. There has been endless theological debate about the meaning of this divergence, among others, and starting with each parent is only one approach (one that modern scholars are increasingly skeptical of).

I'm not saying that's NOT the reason. But there are many other potential solutions.

No worries about grammar (you're/your). I've seen lots of blgo-convo "cheap shots" based on spelling, punctuation and grammar, and think it's pretty infantile to invalidate an argument for those reasons. You're obviously intelligent.

Thanks for the visit, feel free to stick around,

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