Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions About Christianity, Answered Honestly!

Is there a Contradiction in the
Genealogies of Luke and Matthew?

-by Tony Warren

    There are those who say that the lineages recorded in Matthew 1:1-16, and Luke 3:23-38, which list the progenitors leading to King David, are contradictory to each other. There is this idea that they both lead to joseph, and that it cannot possibly be explained away as Matthew following the line from David, while Luke is following the line to David (with the father of Joseph having two different names). For Joseph could not have two different fathers. But in fact, Joseph both could, and He did have two fathers. Not in the way which they surmise, but most definitely in the custom, historical, and Biblical context of that time.

What is so often the case in these controversies is that people always tend to look at things from their own perspective, instead of from the scriptural reference and historical Biblical perspective. Contributing to the difficulty in understanding the genealogical passage in Luke is the way that the Greek has been translated into english. There really is no mystery, nor contradiction, nor inconsistency. There simply is a modern lack of understanding of the Biblical system of reference, what is being said, and why it is said that way.

Luke 3:23

  • "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.."

The novice should take care to note that there are no parenthesis in the original Greek text. These parenthesis were put there by the translators. Unfortunately, they were put in the wrong place. "Jesus Himself began to be about thirty years of age, which was the son of Heli," is the statement. While, "being as was supposed the son of Joseph," is the interjection, and thus what should have been put in parenthesis as the qualifying comment of the passage. In other words, the verse should read like this:

  • "And Jesus Himself began to be about thirty years of age, (being as was supposed the son of Joseph)

  • which was the son of Eli...

This clearly says, "Jesus, which was the Son of Eli," which was the son of Matthat. See the distinction here? The phrase (being as supposed the Son of Joseph) is simply the interjection. This is what belongs in parentheses and in no way should be read as Joseph was the Son of Heli (Eli). Joseph is not the son of Heli, Heli was Mary's father, making Jesus the Son of Heli. To prove this, you need only remove the interjection and you have the 'clear' understanding of what is written.

Luke 3:23
  • "And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, ..who was the son of Heli,"

The interjection is merely saying (it was supposed Jesus was the son of Joseph). Understanding these two genealogies is a matter of understanding both the text, and the historical genealogies. But when man is looking for contradictions and errors in the scripture, he will generally find some (even though there are none). Because when people seek justification, they usually find what they are looking for, whether it is actually there or not. Rather than search for what we want, we should search the scriptures for truth (wherever it is). And surly we will find that as well.

Both these listed genealogies are the same from Abraham to king David, but then thereafter they take different paths. There are those Theologians who insist that Jesus must be born from the Matthew genealogy because that is the Kingly line. They claim that Joseph's name is only introduced there instead of Mary's to conform with the Jewish custom. However, this thesis is flawed on several levels. First, in Matthew God uses the clear language of the verb 'begat' until He comes to Joseph. If it was the genealogy of Mary, it would say Jacob begat Jesus (not Joseph), since it is customary for Biblical genealogies to leave out the woman. So this theory is thus without merit.

Matthew 1:16

  • "And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ."

Jacob begat Joseph, and he was the husband of Mary who gave birth to Jesus. The God inspired language here is clearly so that there be no mistake about Jacob or Joseph 'begating' Jesus. It is specifically worded that we know that Jacob was the father of Joseph, who was merely the husband of the woman who gave birth to Christ.

Secondly, though they erroneously contend that this is the kingly line which should have the seed ascend to the throne of David, God unambiguously denies this, by declaring Jechonias' seed would 'never' sit on the throne.

Jeremiah 22:28-30

  • "Is this man Coniah a despised broken idol? is he a vessel wherein is no pleasure? wherefore are they cast out, he and his seed, and are cast into a land which they know not?

  • O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD.

  • 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."

This is Coniah is Jechonias, and his line is through Joseph (see Matthew 1:12), and it is clear that God had decreed that this line would not be the line which would produce the seed to sit upon the throne of David. I don't see how there is even any room for debate. If Jesus were indeed the biological seed of Mary through Jacob, this curse of God would be upon Him and He could not lay legal claim to the Davidic throne. Thus those who insist upon this Kingly line are doing so without careful Biblical scholarship, and contrary to God's clear voiding of such belief.

By contrast, the Luke chapter three genealogy doesn't use begat, and rather than trace back to Abraham, traces the descent back to Adam, 'illustrating' how this lineage goes through the whole human family, and thus showing Christ to be the fulfillment of the promised 'Seed of the Woman.' This Luke genealogy is also of David's seed, but has a path which goes through the line of his son Nathan, and then through Mary's father Heli. By contrast the Matthew chapter one genealogy goes through David's son Solomon, and then through Jechonias (matthew 1:12) who's seed is forbidden to rule on the throne of david. This line leads to Jacob the father of Joseph. Thus Christ could never come through this path.

We see in these unique illustrations that there are three fathers involved. Jesus' was literally linked by flesh through Mary's father Heli to King David. Then there is Jesus' earthly adoptive father, Jacob, which God cursed his line that there would not come a King to sit on the throne. And then there was Jesus' true heavenly Father 'signifying' that this is the real royal heritage that would make Him the prophesied King to ascend to the throne of David. Heli, father of Mary, the literal seed of King David, brought the kingly flesh to this prophecy, but God brought the Kingly heritage and the power to rule.

Acts 2:29-31

  • "Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day.

  • Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne;

  • He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption."

Heli was the fruit of his loins according to the flesh, the father of Mary. People of our day who don't understand the Biblical customs will ask, why doesn't it just read, 'Heli, the father of Mary' in the chronological record of Luke. The answer is simple. It is worded this way in both Biblical and historical context. The genealogies of scripture 'do not use women' as references. The references in God's Word are from the father to the son. When you look throughout scripture carefully, you will find that the genealogies are always referenced to men. i.e., David begat Solomon, and Solomon begat Roboam, and Roboam begat Abia, and so on and so forth. Women are not Patriarch references in God's Biblical genealogies or generations. Therefore, rather than list Mary, it lists her father as reference, as has been the custom, and as had been done since the beginning. And unlike the theory of the genealogy of Matthew, there is clear Biblical warrant. Rather than contradict God's faithful promise, it confirms it.

Thus the two genealogies are, the father of Joseph in Matthew, and the father of Mary in Luke. Both Mary and Joseph are descendant from David. The genealogy in Matthew chapter one is of Joseph's father Jacob, and goes through David's son Solomon. The kingly line through him is broken off at Coniah (Jechonias). The genealogy in Luke chapter three is of Mary's father "Heli," (Mary being the woman is not mentioned in the genealogy) which is also traced to David, but the path goes through the line of David's other son Nathan. In short, in the genealogy of Mary, by custom her father had to be the one listed in the genealogical line to David when tracing the fleshly link. Jacob had nothing whatsoever to do with the flesh of Jesus. This is the way the scriptures have always listed genealogies. From Father to Son, mothers are never listed as patriarch references.

And so there is no error or contradiction. The alleged contradiction doesn't exist once we have carefully studied the scriptures and know the history and genealogical references. In point of fact, there is no way that Mary's name would ever be listed in the Genealogies there. Luke 3:33 simply tells us Jesus' genealogical line (the flesh He took on from Mary) was of "Heli" a direct descendant of David, fulfilling scripture that of His seed (David's) God would raise up a king to reign on the throne.

Other Theologians have argued that, "while the Matthew genealogy traces the successive heirs to the throne from David to Joseph, the Luke genealogy traces the ancestors of Joseph back to David." Frankly, I find this makes no sense, ignores the obvious, and is forced. Still others are content to imply that there has been an error by a scribe in one of the passages. There is no shortage of theories why the two lists are different. But it is just another example of the sloppy investigation and exegesis that goes on today in many Churches. For truly, as an error, it's 'impossible to miss,' so that any scribe would have picked this up immediately. I mean 'really,' they are two totally different genealogies from David. It's absolutely impossible even for the casual reader, much less a learned scribe, to miss or overlook this as some sort of mistake. It's not like it's one word or one sentence out of place. No error that huge could have ever been overlooked. This fact alone 'proves' that this was a perfectly understandable writing, at the time that it was penned. It is only time and change of customs which make it appear contradictory. Heli was understood to be the father through the line of the bride, and Jacob to be the father through the line of the groom. Simple.

Secondly, any half credible Biblical scholar should know the genealogies always go by the fathers to the sons. And likewise, that there are no parenthesis in the Greek, and the way an interjection should be handled. Nor would scripture say Joseph had two fathers, and give totally different lines. The father is the patriarch of the family. Joseph, not being the father of Jesus, it follows naturally that Heli would be written as the father of the seed. Not Mary.

There are no errors, there are no contradictions, and all the speculation that there must be is (as usual) unfounded. May the Lord give us all the wisdom to discern the truth of his holy Word.


Copyright ©1995 Tony Warren
For other studies free for the Receiving, Visit our web Site
The Mountain Retreat!

Feel free to duplicate, display or distribute this publication to anyone, so long as the above copyright notice remains intact and there are no changes made to the article. This publication can be distributed only in it's original form, unedited, and without cost.

Created 2/2/95 / Last Modified 1/24/00
The Mountain Retreat /

[ Top | Eschatology | Bible Studies | Classics | Articles | Apologetics | F.A.Q. | Forum ]