Sunday, November 30, 2008

Was Luke’s Record of Jesus’ Genealogy through Mary or Joseph?

Joseph was not, of course, Jesus’ biological father (Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:34-35). I have heard people say that Matthew’s record of Jesus’ genealogy was through Joseph and that Luke’s genealogy was through Mary’s lineage. They reason that since Matthew was a tax collector (Matthew 10:3, Luke 5:27), he was concerned with legal matters and would have recorded Joseph’s genealogy because he was legally Jesus’ father. Luke, on the other hand, was a doctor (Colossians 4:14) and would have been more concerned with the biological lineage of Christ. This may sound good, but what does the Bible really say?

The main reason for the controversy is that the genealogy is different in the two accounts (Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38) and both appear to record a strictly patriarchal lineage. The genealogies given in Matthew and Luke are the same from Abraham until David, but then diverge into two separate lineages. The name given for Joseph’s father in Matthew’s account is Jacob (Matthew 1:16). Since Luke’s account says, “And Jesus …being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli…” (Luke 3:23), some people think that this really means that Mary was the daughter of Heli. But that just isn’t what it says. Some say that “as was supposed” extends to the relationship between Joseph and Heli, but it doesn’t say that either.

Under the Law of Moses, if a married man died leaving his wife no children, then his brother was required to marry the wife of his brother and the firstborn of the marriage would “succeed in the name of his brother” (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). So one might think that it is possible that this could explain how Joseph had two fathers. But if Jacob and Heli were brothers, then the rest of the genealogy would be the same, but it isn’t. But in the book of Ruth it explains that another relative could take the place of the brother if he refused or was unable to (Ruth 4:1-8). It is unclear whether the relative had to be a blood relative (see Ruth 2:1). So this could explain it.

But I have a more likely interpretation. In Luke’s account, in 3:23, the first use of the phrase “the son of” (in reference to Jesus’ supposed sonship of Joseph) is explicitly written into the Greek. But the second instance (in reference to Joseph’s relationship to Heli) is not explicitly written in the Greek. The translators just added this phrase to make the sentence more complete in English. Likewise, all of the other uses of the phrase “the son of” in Luke (3:23-38) are inexplicit and only the word “of” is really there. Therefore, although the name is used as a man’s name (it is the same name as Eli), Heli could have been Joseph’s mother. So this leaves the meaning of Luke’s genealogy somewhat uncertain, whereas Matthew’s account is more explicit with his use of the word “begat”. Note Matthew does not say that Joseph begat Jesus (see Matthew 1:16). Note also that Luke says that Adam was the son of God (Luke 3:38). Again, the wording is inexplicit, and this indicates that a broadly defined genealogy is intended. Note also that Jehoiakim is not included in Matthew’s genealogy (compare I Chronicles 3:15-17 and II Chronicles 36:1-9 with Matthew 1:11) and likewise Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah are not mentioned (compare II Chronicles 21:4-26:23 with Matthew 1:8) indicating that a “begat” could skip one or several generations. (Also compare I Chronicles 3:17-19 with Matthew 1:12.) There are lots of possibilities. Either Heli or Jacob could have been a maternal grandfather of Joseph, for example. Adoption or remarriage (step-fatherhood) are also possible explanations.

Luke indicates that Elizabeth was a descendent of Aaron (Luke 1:5) and that Mary was Elizabeth’s cousin (Luke 1:36). It is tempting to say then that Mary could also be a patriarchal descendent of Aaron to cast further doubt on the theory that Luke’s genealogy is of her, but note Hebrews 7:14, which says, “For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood.” (Luke’s line does not go though Aaron and Levi, but Judah and David.) But just because Elizabeth and Mary were cousins doesn’t necessary mean that they were patriarchal cousins.

There are also several other places in Scripture that make it clear that the Messiah would come through the line of Judah, and in particular the kings (Genesis 49:10, I Kings 2:33, I Chronicles 28:4, Luke 1:32, etc.). But what does this mean since Jesus had no earthly father? There is no purely patriarchal line except directly to the Father himself. But perhaps the “line” is really with regard to legal fatherhood and not biological fatherhood. Jeremiah 33:17-26 and several other passages indicate that there will never fail to be a king sitting on David’s throne. Matthew’s genealogy follows the royal line up until King Jeconiah (see Jeremiah 22:30), but both genealogies come through David.

In conclusion, it unnecessary to theorize that Luke’s genealogy was Mary’s ancestral line against the plain reading of the passage (Luke 3:23). There are several other ways to reconcile the apparent (but not actual) contradiction with Matthew’s account.

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