Why is Jesus' Genealogy Different in Matthew and Luke?

Please enjoy this video I just uploaded to YouTube, explaining why Matthew's and Luke's genealogy of Jesus is different. If you enjoyed it and think other will, please share it via social media too! The transcript is below. For more information specifically on Matthew's creative counting, see my previous blog post.

Transcript:

If you’ve ever read the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, it is likely that you have recognized at some point that they both offer a different family tree for Jesus. On the surface, it seems very odd that Jesus' genealogy would be different. Obviously, they can't both be correct, right? 

The first step to understanding why the two genealogies are different, is to recognize that both have different starting points: Luke goes all the way back to Adam, while Matthew only goes back to Abraham. However, even when we just trace the development from Abraham, the names are different. Matthew and Luke don't even agree on Jesus' grandpa's name!
To understand why the genealogies differ, we need to understand the nature of Jewish genealogies. We think of family trees as a chronological listing of every single blood relative. But we shouldn’t impose our modern understandings on the Bible. Genealogies in the bible were also telling stories. They were reminding the reader of history by using names. Sometimes, a genealogy would be thorough as we would expect, other times it wouldn’t be as thorough and would instead be selective because they wanted readers to focus on particular aspects of the history which the genealogy was reminding them of.

Now, some have suggested that perhaps Luke was giving the genealogy through Mary, while Matthew gave the genealogy through Joseph - but this doesn’t make sense as Joseph is specifically mentioned in both genealogies, and even if it were Mary’s genealogy we would still expect around the same number of names. When people try to make this kind of argument, they are guilty of holding ancient genealogies to today’s standard. Luke I would suggest, was attempting to be more thorough and wanted to emphasize Christ as the son of God, by tracing Jesus right back to Adam and ultimately God. Matthew, however, had a more specific story in mind. So let’s take a look at Matthew.

Matthew wasn’t simply tracing a family line. He was, rather, tracing a dynastic, or royal, line. Matthew wanted to establish right from the beginning Jesus’ legitimate kingship over Israel. He does this by highlighting David the king, and by highlighting Abraham, the father of the Israelite nation. Notice how Matthew starts out his whole book - the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David and son of Abraham.

 

Because Matthew’s genealogy is a dynastic genealogy, it is intentionally selective. If we look at a quick timeline, Abraham is here, David is here, the babylonian captivity is here, and Jesus is here. This makes it fairly obvious that Matthew wasn’t worried about an exhaustive family tree - the same amount of names are covering totally different periods of time. Let’s add Luke’s names here. As you can see, Matthew is using far less names, particularly after we get to David! The names between these two lines bear almost no similarity!

Now, if the purpose is to establish Jesus in the dynasty of king David, we can also presume that there would be other elements within the genealogy to clue readers into this focus. And guess what, that is exactly what we find.

In Matthew’s genealogy there are things we call annotations. Small bits of commentary. Again, remember that genealogies tell a story. What kind of story do these annotations tell?

The first small annotation “Judah and his brothers” was a wonderful reminder that Judah rose to a position of leadership and prominence over his brothers, the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel. Furthermore, a promise of a future messiah occurs in Jacob’s blessing of Judah in Gen 49. We have the same annotation about Jechoniah “and his brothers.” Jechoniah, called Jehoiachin in the Old Testament, represented the entirety of the IsraelIte nation in accepting the punishment of the coming army, going off to the exile and receiving his punishment, and then receiving repreave from the punishment. Josephus, the important Jewish historian, highlights Jechoniah as a model of one who suffered for others - sound familiar?.

One thing well known about Matthew’s genealogy is the mention of women in the annotation - mentioning these women do several things simultaneously. First, the presence of women highlights what we see later in Jesus’ ministry - his value of women. While genealogies (like Luke’s) always traced through men, Matthew’s short genealogy adds women to the story. Second, beginning the genealogy with Abraham reminds the readers of God’s promise to Abraham to bless the nations. These women and their stories remind us that even within the Old Testament, gentiles were part of God’s story and even part of continuing the Davidic line! Third, mentioning these women remind the readers of the scandalous nature by which the promised line continued. There is no more soap opera story in the OT than Tamar! Rahab was a prostitute! And just in case we forget, Matthew reminds us of “The wife of Uriah.!” - calling to mind the infamous story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba. All of this sets the reader up for the scandal of Mary - a virgin woman who will claim she has conceived the child through the power of the holy spirit! The genealogy prepares us to see that God has worked in strange ways to continue the promised line in the past already!

The final thing which further helps us understand Matthew’s selectivity is the way in which he structures it. In v. 17 Matthew says "So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.” This verse introduces 2 issues - why the number 14? and how exactly is Matthew counting? When we put the names in columns of 14, we are one name short. There have been several options provided by scholars as to how this should be understood:


  1. Matthew simply rounded up to emphasize the number 14
  2. Maybe there was a scribal error and a name has been accidentally dropped
  3. Maybe the exile is being counted as a generation
  4. Perhaps the holy spirit is being counted as a generation or maybe Mary.
  5. Some have suggested that Jesus was an illegitimate child and so his real father was counted
  6. One of the most popular options is that Jehoakin, Jeconiah’s father, is present in the count, but not in the actual genealogy

None of these are perfect answers, and all of the options assume some sort of creative counting on Matthew’s part. 3 scholars as well as myself have argued in publications that we should actually count David twice. Here is why. First, notice that David is the only one besides Jesus to receive a title in the genealogy. Notice also that he is the 14th name in the list. We should also remember how “Son of David” has already been highlighted in the first verse. But more than that, counting David twice is exactly how Matthew tells us to count the genealogy. When reading v.17 and counting just like Matthew tells us to, the genealogy would be structured like this. This gives us 14 names in each section, with David being counted twice. Finally, the last piece of evidence that supports counting David twice is the number 14 itself. It seems clear from v.17 that Matthew is drawing attention to that number. why? Most commentators believe it is because of something called gematria, where letters of the alphabet represent numbers. In this case, the Hebrew letter dalet is the 4th in the Hebrew alphabet, and vav is the 6th. 4+6+4 is 14. And that is how David’s name is often spelled in the Old Testament. This is why 14 is highlighted and it is why Matthew chose to structure the genealogy the way he did. He was selective in his choice of names so that the structure itself could emphasize  Jesus’ Davidic lineage as the messianic Son of David.

Posted by Danny Zacharias.
Posted on October 1, 2014 and filed under Biblical Studies.