This week our reading comes from the Gospel of Luke, chapters 2 & 3. Since I covered the majority of Luke 2 & 3 in a sermon on June 3rd (If you’re reading this on the computer, click here to listen to it) I will focus on the genealogy of Jesus as recorded by Luke. A great cause of debate amongst skeptics of the Bible, as well as biblical scholars, has been the seeming discrepancies between the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 1, and that of Luke recorded at the end of chapter 3.
To fully understand the differences in these two, we have to know a little about the significance of genealogies. It was extremely important in the Jewish culture to be able to prove your lineage, your tribe, your family. Some of this revolved around the priestly lineage (see Ezra 2:61–3; Nehemiah 7:63–5 for priests who lost their jobs because of this). It was also important because the culture of the middle east was (and still is) a collectivist clan society. First century Jews celebrated familial bonds. You knew who your family was because this was your identity. That being said, a literal generation by generation genealogy was not required. Neither Matthew, nor Luke (nor Genesis for that matter) give us direct father to son genealogies. They all include gaps in order to save space, as well as to highlight names that original readers may recognize (the phrase “son of” simply indicates they descended from that person; see Mt. 1:8 compared to 1 Chron. 3:11-12, 2 Kings 14:21-22, and 2 Chron. 26:1-2 to see clearly that Matthew skips generations.) Much more can be said, but we must move on.
Let’s address the similarities and differences. For the most part the genealogies are identical from Abraham to David. The differences you find are due largely to alternate forms of the same name or skips in generations. Matthew’s Gospel is written to a Jewish audience, so Matthew simply begins at Abraham, the father of the Jewish people and ends with Jesus. Luke is writing to a largely Gentile audience, and he wants to show that Jesus is the savior of all people, and related to all people through Adam, so Luke starts with Jesus, and ends with Adam.
It is also believed that some of the differences could be related to which earthly parent the genealogy traces its lineage. Matthew includes some women in his genealogy, which Luke does not. Arguments can be made both ways, but common belief is Matthew traces Jesus’ lineage through Joseph (Mt. 1:16) while Luke traces through Mary (without actually mentioning her name) by indicating that Joseph was not really related to Jesus, and (so it is thought) instead begins with Mary’s father Heli (Lk. 3:23).
There are other opinions out there to explain the differences, but the fact remains both Matthew and Luke present their own unique evidence of the earthly lineage of Jesus. Both Matthew’s audience and Luke’s audience could have done their own research to see if these genealogies held up, and apparently they did. Matthew proves that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel descended from Abraham through David. Luke proves that Jesus is the Savior of all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, by descending from Adam through Abraham and David, and now all the way to us since God has made believers in Jesus his children (Galatians 3:26-29; Romans 8:14) – Matt