Biblical Contradiction? The Genealogies of Jesus

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Why should we believe the gospels if they can’t even get the origins of Jesus right? Matthew and Luke give two genealogies that contradict each other so much that there is no reasonable way to reconcile them. One of these fairy tales relates Jesus to David through his son Nathan, but Matthew claims Jesus is a descendant of Solomon. Matthew and Luke weren’t even able to agree on who Joseph’s father was. Matthew said it was Jacob, but Luke said it was Heli. As a matter of fact, it does not even make sense why genealogies for Joseph would be given. If Joseph was just Jesus’ adopted father, then Jesus would have been a legal descendant of David but not a biological descendant; therefore, Romans 1:3 which implies that Jesus was a physical descendant of David would be false. The case has been made that Luke gives the genealogy of Jesus on Mary’s side (to give his biological lineage) whereas Matthew gives the lineage of Jesus through Joseph’s side. However this cannot be true because Luke explicitly states he is giving Joseph’s genealogy, and because biological descendants were traced on the father’s side rather than the mother’s. This means that originally, the authors of Matthew and Luke probably did not even believe in the virgin birth, and the virgin birth was added later under the influence of pagan mystery religions. Thus, Matthew and Luke contradict each other, and from this we may infer that the earliest Christians probably did not believe in the virgin birth. This only further demonstrates that the stories surrounding Jesus (if such a man ever existed) are simply myths and legend.

This alleged contradiction is a common objection to the gospels and Christianity in general. It would be crippling for many Christians if they thought that the gospels got something wrong, and if the virgin birth was just added later as a myth.

The critic would seem to be correct in stating that Matthew and Luke cannot possibly be giving a genealogy for the same person, but the critic is wrong in assuming that the genealogies were not given for two separate people.

The common answer to this contradiction is that Matthew gave the genealogy of Joseph whereas Luke gives the lineage of Mary. This is one of a few theories, but this theory makes the most sense. Matthew was writing to Jews, and he would therefore be mostly concerned about Jesus’ legal relation to King David since it had been prophesied that Jesus would be of the house and line of David (2 Samuel 7:13 & 16). Matthew’s genealogy makes sense in legal terms (which would have been very important to the Jews), but it fails to establish the biological link between Jesus and David which is alluded to in Romans 1:3.

This problem of biological lineage would be solved if Luke was giving the genealogy of Mary. At first glance this seems like a stretch since Luke begins by saying that Joseph was the son of Heli. A person would be right in asking why on earth anybody would think that was actually talking about Marry. However, it is not quite that black and white.

Given all of the in depth information about Mary from the first two chapters of Luke, it is reasonable to conclude that Luke was getting his information from Marry (or at least someone very close to her). Since his source was very close to Mary (if not Mary herself), it would make sense that he would trace the line of Jesus back through Mary.

Also, Luke was writing to the Greeks. The Greeks would have been less concerned with Jesus’ legal relation to David, and more concerned with Jesus’ biological relation to David. Therefore it is reasonable that Luke would give the genealogy of Jesus through Mary’s side since he wanted to show that biologically, Jesus could be traced all the way back to David biologically.

We have reason to think that Luke was writing about Mary’s side of the family, but all of these arguments seem to reach a road block when we see Luke write that Joseph (not Mary) was a son of Heli. This road block is removed once we consider that there was no word available to Matthew meaning “son-in-law.” It was tradition at the time for a man to call his sons in law his sons. Therefore, Luke would be perfectly coherent in writing of Mary’s line while saying Joseph was the son of Heli (when Joseph was really his son in law).

But our skeptical friend is not done yet. He would claim that this wouldn’t make sense, since at that time it was customary for biological relations to be traced through the father, and since Paul makes it pretty clear that he said Jesus was biologically related to David, Jesus must have been thought to have been related to Jesus through Joseph. This objection would bring the entire theory crashing down if it were true, but it is little more than speculation based on ancient scientific theories of heredity.

There is no evidence that the authors of the gospels or the epistles thought biological heredity must be traced through males only. To the contrary, in Galatians 4:4 Paul speaks only of Jesus being born of a woman. Unless he contradicted himself, it seems clear that Paul believed Christ could be a hereditary descendant of David, and also not be a blood relative of Joseph. It is far from guaranteed that everyone in the ancient world thought that biological descendants needed to be traced to their ancestors by the male side only. Not to mention, Jesus was fairly revolutionary in his perspective on the importance of women.

In evaluating the genealogies of Joseph and Luke, it can be seen that there need not be any contradiction between the two. These two accounts are perfectly reconcilable, and when Joseph was mentioned, there was good reason for doing so even if he wasn’t the biological father of Jesus. As for the idea that the virgin birth was implanted in Christianity, there is not much backing to this theory. The virgin birth was mentioned all the way back in Isaiah (although this reference does remain controversial). The virgin birth also seems to be alluded to by Paul, and both Luke and Matthew corroborate in their accounts of the virgin birth. The virgin birth could be a fabrication that was added to the gospels, but it would be a fairly elaborate conspiracy theory that is based on pure speculation, and speculation based conspiracy theories are not a good way to do history.

The genealogies of Jesus do not contradict each other, but to the contrary they complement one another. Matthew gives the legal heritage of Jesus through Joseph while Luke gives the biological heritage through Mary. Both accounts point back to David, and there is nothing about the genealogies in light of the epistles which suggests that the authors of Matthew and Luke did not believe in the virgin birth when they originally wrote their accounts.

Kyle Huitt
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Kyle Huitt

Part of the multitude that has lost their faith, but part of the few that has returned to it. This blog is my attempt to describe why I returned to the faith, and to maybe prevent somebody else from leaving it in the first place. Studying philosophy and history at Hillsdale College. Member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
Kyle Huitt
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