This is a message about the trustworthiness of the Scriptures. Many critics have attacked the Word of God over the centuries, and while the Word is still here, they are all gone. It has been well said that the Bible is an anvil that has worn out many hammers. Why is this?
What I want to do in this message is a little different than our usual pattern. In the first part I want to walk you through a detailed and somewhat didactic treatment of the genealogies of Christ given in Matthew and Luke, harmonizing them. This won’t answer all the questions, but it will answer many, and it will sketch the way in which such things can be addressed. I want to show you the Bible is reliable in every detail, in other words—even when the first glance makes you think it might not be. And then after that, I want to do what all sermons should do, which is to proclaim Christ.
“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren . . .” (Matthew 1:1–17).
“And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph . . .” (Luke 3:23–24).
Summary of the Problem
These genealogies are different, which is why it is a common solution for people to simply say that one of them must be for Mary, and the other one is for Joseph. The problem is that both genealogies terminate with Joseph (Matt. 1:16; Luke 3:23)—which then creates the new problem of why the genealogies are different. How can one person have two different family trees? So where are they different and why? Unbelievers, of course, can simply say that the accounts here are hopelessly corrupt—but that option is not open to us. We are believers, after all.
Some Random Background Information
Luke traces the Lord’s ancestry all the way back to Adam. Matthew is clearly working from written records (he mentions a book), and he starts with Abraham. Luke is probably dedicating this book to Theophilus ben Annas, who was the high priest from 37 to 41 A.D. He was the son of Annas, and the brother-in-law to Caiaphas—the term excellent was one that was applied to kings and high priests. The situation would then be akin to Calvin dedicating his Institutes to the king of France. This means that great care would need to have been taken with genealogical claims, which the Jews took very seriously. Now Matthew and Luke run in parallel from Abraham to David, but then they diverge—Matthew goes through Solomon and Luke through a son named Nathan (1 Chron. 3:5). They converge later in Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, and then part ways again until they come back together with Joseph. So how is Scripture not in error when it gives us Joseph’s lineage in two different ways?
Genealogical records were public, housed in the Temple, and available to any serious inquirer. The patrician households of David and Zadok also kept independent records. Matthew and Luke would both have had access to these records, and it is worth remembering that others would have been able to come and check on their work as well.
And why does Matthew have three groups of fourteen names? One reason is that 14 is the numerological value of the name David. The three-fold repetition emphasizes the descent from David. But that is not the only reason for some of the omissions.
Curses and Omissions
Matthew removes three kings from his list, jumping from Jehoram to Uzziah. He does this because of Elijah’s curse.
“‘Behold, I will bring calamity on you. I will take away your posterity, and will cut off from Ahab every male in Israel, both bond and free.”
1 Kings 21:21 (NKJV)
Matthew does this out to the fourth generation (Ex. 20:3-6). And also he later drops the wicked king Jehoakim (2 Kings 23:36-24:7)—doing this, I believe, in response to Jeremiah’s curse.
“Therefore thus saith the Lord of Jehoiakim king of Judah; He shall have none to sit upon the throne of David: and his dead body shall be cast out in the day to the heat, and in the night to the frost.”
Jeremiah 36:30 (KJV)
The Complicated Part
But omissions, while causing differences, do not mess up a genealogy the same way different stirps do. (A stirp is a line of people descending from one ancestor.)
Matthew says that Shealtiel was the son of Jeconiah, and Luke says he was the son of Neri, and Shealtiel sure looks like the same man, the father of Zerubbabel in both places. How to explain this? Jeremiah, the prophet who cursed Jehoiakim, also cursed his son Jeconiah. And notice the first words.
“Thus saith the Lord, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah” ().
Jeremiah 22:30 (KJV)
This next part is pieced together with the aid of some extrabiblical history. But we need to figure something out because there is a place in Scripture that says that Jeconiah had one son, Zedekiah, but then in the next verse it says he also had seven sons (1 Chron. 3:16-17). What about that?
So I take it that Zedekiah died young, thus fulfilling the prophetic curse. Then Jeconiah in Babylon married a woman named Tamar, granddaughter of King Josiah. Scripture calls Jeconiah a captive here (1 Chron. 3:17). Tamar had been married before to a man named Neri, and her oldest was Shealtiel, who came into Jeconiah’s line by adoption.
But wait. We are not done. Who was the father of Zerubbabel? Matthew and Luke agree that it is Shealtiel, but we read elsewhere that it was Shealtiel’s brother, Pedaiah (1 Chron. 3:19). This is likely the result of a levirate marriage—Shealtiel dying without issue, and his brother sired an heir for his deceased brother.
One last thing, speaking of levirate marriage. Matthew says that Joseph’s father was Jacob and Luke says that his father was Heli. According to a second century source (Sextus Julius Africanus), this was the result of another levirate union. Heli died without issue, and so his brother Jacob raised up seed for him—who was Joseph.
That You Might Believe
God’s Word is perfect. Without that perfect Word, we cannot have confidence in the perfection of the Christ who is proclaimed to us. With that perfect Word, we can see that God is in absolute control of every detail of human history, and is able to weave it all together in such a way as to make plain that the Messiah of Israel, the Christ over all, was none other than Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus was descended (in part) from the line of Ahab, of the tribe of Ephraim—thus fulfilling the stupendous promises made to Joseph through Jacob and Moses (Gen. 48:3ff; Dt. 33:13ff). He was Messiah ben Joseph. Jesus was descended (in part) from Levi, in that Mary was a Zadokite (a relative of Elizabeth, recall). And He was also Messiah ben David, of the tribe of Judah as attested in multiple places. So God promised a Savior for the world, and He also, by many different means, identified Him for us clearly.
Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
A good source for much of this is Jesus: The Incarnation of the Word by David Mitchell (Campbell Publications, 2021). Another source to consult can be found at https://jamesbejon.substack.com/p/jesus-genealogies