Why are Matthew’s and Luke’s Genealogy of Jesus Different?

Primary Argument

While I cover several issues unique to my understanding of Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts, my central contention is that Luke gives Mary’s lineage which is Jesus’ human ancestry. He had to be human and linked to several promises to substitute as a sacrifice for our sins. Animal sacrifices in the Mosaic Scheme only symbolized Him who was to come and could not, by themselves, atone for sin (Heb. 9.11-12, 10.1-4).

Matthew’s Genealogy (1.1-17)

Matthew was one of Jesus’ 12 disciples and thus an eyewitness for most of his gospel’s accounts. He may have heard Jesus give Joseph’s genealogy or, more probably, sourced it from Jesus’ half brothers James or Jude. James was known in the early Christian community as “James the Just” and wrote the Epistle of “James.” He was also the leader of the Jerusalem and Jewish Christian communities. Jude also wrote an epistle and likewise was a Jewish Church leader. Initially, Matthew’s Gospel may have been written in Aramaic since it seems to focus on a Jewish readership. Many think that only later was his gospel translated into Greek. This translation into Greek would benefit and reach a wider audience outside of Roman Judea to both Jew and Gentile.

Inexplicably, in giving Joseph’s lineage, Matthew leaves out Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah (between Jehoram and Uzziah) in his list. This may have been an editorial choice to achieve 14 generations since some of the Judean Kings were not particularly evil compared to others on Matthew’s list. This is a topic for my further inquiry.

Also, Matthew uses Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) in two of his groupings, though he associates his time as “the exile.” Matthew doesn’t mention Jehoiachin’s uncle Zedekiah who was the last king before the Babylonian Exile. Perhaps an early manuscript corruption occurred preserving the name “Jeconiah” instead of “Jehoiakim,” in verse 11, since it mentions “brothers.” Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) didn’t have any brothers, at least not recorded in the bible. The names of this father and son are very similar and thus conducive to mix-up. Also, its unclear what Jehoiakim’s Greek name would be if Matthew did compose the genealogy in Greek.

Obviously, Matthew knew Zedekiah was Josiah’s son and the same generation as Jehoiakim, and thus Matthew’s counting of a generation. To me, a textual corruption in verse 11 avoids Matthew using “Jeconiah” twice and makes the most sense. Mentioning Zedekiah would not have added another generation since he was the youngest son of Josiah, having both his brothers, Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim, reign before him. Therefore, originally, I believe, Matthew wrote “Jehoiakim and his brothers” (in either Aramaic or Greek) in verse 11 and the first copyist probably confused his name with the latter reference to Jeconiah.

Why give Joseph’s Lineage if Jesus was Unaffected?

Joseph’s supposed adoption of Jesus is not a biblical factor and doesn’t fulfill any promise. Of course, Jesus has nothing to do with Joseph’s direct genealogical line, except in people’s perception and the result that they would call Jesus the “Son of David.” Jesus certainly was of David’s line, but not through Joseph (see Luke’s genealogy below). The general society during His earthly ministry assumed that Jesus was Joseph’s son since they knew Joseph and Jesus’ brothers, and therefore perceived Him as of the lineage of David. At the time of the Roman Census, Joseph went to David’s hometown because of his lineage, which shows the relative importance of genealogy for the Jewish People.

It must have been a common practice to recite one’s genealogy and to know how one fit into the Nation of Israel. After the return from the Babylonian Captivity, only registered Jews could be counted as part of Israel: Now these are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive to Babylon (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to their own town-Ez. 2.1 NIV).

Ezra 2.59 states that some exiles were excluded because no evidence existed to confirm that they were Jews: The following came up from the towns of Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon and Immer, but they could not show that their families were descended from Israel. Also, some priests were not allowed to eat from the offerings (see Ez. 2.63) since they had lost their records: These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean (Ez. 2.62 NIV).

Zerubbabel father of Abihud (Mt. 1.13)

Both Joseph’s and Mary’s lineage converge at Zerubbabel and diverge again afterward. Why is Zerubbabel so important if he was only a governor and not a king in any sense? First, he did signal a sort of restoration and return to the land promised by Jeremiah’s prophecies. Also, both Haggai and Zechariah prophesy concerning him. Zerubbabel functions as the return of the signet ring, which indicates authority and ownership from a metaphorical viewpoint.

Zerubbabel is the same individual as Sheshbazzar since Cyrus the Great appointed Sheshbazzar governor and entrusted the temple vessels to him being “the prince of Judah” (Ez.1.8, 5.14). Zerubbabbel was the prince of Judah by his lineage and named governor of the land. Sheshbazzar most likely was a name given Zerubbabel by either the Babylonian or Persian overlords similar to how Daniel and his friends were renamed by Nebuchadnezzar.

Though Zerubbabel’s importance is shown by the many prophecies about or to him (Hag. 1.1,12,14, 2.2,4,21,23, Zech.4.6,7,9,10), the most significant reference is his reestablishment as the signet ring on the Lord’s hand in Hag. 2.23. In Jer. 22.24 Jehoiachin (Jeconiah) is removed from being the Lord’s signet ring: As surely as I live,” declares the Lord, “even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off (NIV). The function that was denied to Jehoiachin, Zerubbabel now fulfills by the prophecy in Hag. 2.23: “‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (NIV).

“Abihud” is not mentioned in the O.T. records as a son of Zerubbabel; and, the best solution seems to regard this as an alternate designation just the way many other biblical figures in both Old and New Testaments also were known by more than one name.

Luke’s Genealogy (3.23-38)

Luke was Paul’s traveling companion to deliver financial aid to the church in Roman Judea ( the “we” passage in Acts 20-26). After the riot in Jerusalem (Acts 21.27 ff.), the Roman Governor Felix kept Paul imprisoned at Caesarea for two years. This left Luke sidelined waiting for Paul’s case to be resolved. It seems certain that Luke used this time as an opportunity to contact eyewitnesses of Jesus’ early life and ministry: just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word (Lk. 1.2 NIV). There is hardly any doubt that one of the primary witnesses that Luke drew upon was Jesus’ mother, who, though elderly, would have probably still been living in Roman Judea. No other person could have recounted the events of the elderly parents of John the Baptist and her own experience of the angelic visit along with all the material Luke gives in his first three chapters of his gospel. Therefore, Luke was uniquely positioned at this time of approximately 57-60 CE to interview the remaining eyewitness of Jesus’ birth.

Luke’s Gospel was meant to be read in context of what occurred previously. It’s a mistake to merely focus in on the genealogy of 3.23-38 without the grounding of what Luke said about the marvelous events recorded in his first two chapters. This is why some cannot see the genealogy which Luke provides as Mary’s. Since Jesus was virgin-born whose human lineage was His? It becomes obvious only when read as a whole following the sequential narrative. Initially, the biblical text had no chapter and verse divisions. A Parisian printer introduced the idea in the 16th century with The Geneva Bible, the first to adopt this practice. A real danger exists for readers in atomizing the text into small and discrete parts losing the context and flow of the narrative.

Luke’s genealogical strategy is quite different from Matthew’s since he connects Jesus to all humanity by going back to God’s son Adam. The creation of Adam is a kind of metaphorical generation making him a “son” of God. The Eternal Son was the Creator who, at His incarnation, becomes the Second Adam-a metaphor signifying headship-to redeem many by His obedience (see Romans 5). By linking Jesus’ humanity with Adam, a connection is made by which He is able to represent humans to God.

Jesus had to be a legitimate member of David’s physical line which Paul taught in Rom. 1.3: Concerning His son having been born from the seed of David according to the flesh (literal translation). 2Sam.7.12-13 promises David a descendent from his body (mim me e ka) who would build His house/church (Mt. 16.18) and whose kingdom would last forever: 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. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever (NIV).

David’s physical contribution was that Mary was his descendent as well as Joseph. Luke’s genealogy is Mary’s. After all, God fulfilled His promise to David despite traditional Jewish patriological reckoning. Also, to bolster my contention, consider Zelophehad’s daughters keeping their father’s lineage intact though they had no brothers to continue their father’s name: Why should the name of our father be lost from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among the relatives of our father. So Moses brought their case before the Lord. The Lord said to Moses: “The daughters of Zelophehad have a valid claim. You must indeed give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s relatives, and you must transfer the inheritance of their father to them. (Num. 27.4-7 NET). Although Zelophehad’s daughters’ issue was land inheritance for themselves, notice the preserving of their father’s name in vs. 4. A female in the biblical Jewish reckoning has the right of inheritance and therefore the promise to David of the Messiah from his line is fulfilled through Mary, David’s descendent.

Who is Neri in Lk. 3.27?

Clearly, Shealtiel was Jeconiah’s (Jehoiachin) first born son (Mt. 1.12). However, Luke’s version has Neri as the parent of Shealtiel. My proposal for “Shealtiel son of Neri” is that Mary, who gave Luke this account, didn’t want to name Jehoiachin in her lineage being the signet ring which God pulled off of His hand (Jer. 22.24). After all, Mary had good reason not to name him since: 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 (Jer. 22.30 NIV). Therefore, Mary names Jehoiachin’s wife Neri, whose name is unrecorded in scripture, but, possibly, Mary knew this woman’s name since she would have been intimately acquainted with her own heritage.