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Fast Facts on the Genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke

  • One of the areas where skeptics often question the historical reliability of the Gospels is in the genealogies of Jesus recorded by Matthew (Ch. 1) and Luke (Ch. 3).
  • There are notable and significant differences between the two genealogies in these Gospels: they have different names listed, they are different lengths, and they seem to vary on some key details.
  • The most basic way to reconcile the differences in these two genealogies is to recognize that Matthew gives us Jesus’ legal lineage, establishing his right to the throne of David, which could only come through his earthly father, Joseph. While Luke provides us with Jesus’ physical lineage, which could only be through Mary, as Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
  • Matthew wrote his Gospel primarily for a Jewish audience. So, he was most concerned with showing that Jesus, as the Messiah, fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies connecting him to the throne of David.
  • Luke wrote his Gospel with a Gentile audience in mind. So, while Luke was also interested in showing that Jesus was qualified to fill the role of Messiah through his Old Testament ancestry, he was primarily concerned with demonstrating that Jesus had a true human lineage that could be traced all the way back to the first man, Adam. In this way Luke highlights Jesus’ solidarity with all humanity, as we are all descendants of Adam (Acts 17:26).
  • One question that often comes up in the study of the two genealogies is who was the father of Joseph (Mary’s husband)? Matthew says Jacob was Joseph’s father, while Luke says his father was Heli. This appears to be a contradiction.
  • The most plausible answer to this apparent dilemma is that Jacob was Joseph’s physical father. So, Matthew is correct. However, Luke is also correct in claiming that Heli was Joseph’s father. Heli was likely the physical father of Mary; and if Heli had no male descendants, when Joseph married Mary, Heli would’ve adopted Joseph as his legal son (a common Jewish custom). So, the two genealogies are correct in identifying both Jacob and Heli as the father of Joseph.

For more answers to common questions, please check out the Apologetics Study Bible for Students, available in our online store.

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