Around this time of year, a lot of Christians try to explain the genealogies in Matthew and Luke by saying that Matthew gives Joseph's genealogy while Luke gives Mary's genealogy. While this is technically true, I think that it causes more confusion than necessary. The proper way to view the two genealogies is not as those of Joseph and Mary but rather as the genealogies of Joseph and Jesus.
Matthew specifically says that his genealogy is the genealogy of Joseph. Matthew concludes his genealogy with "Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ." The word "whom" in this verse is translated from the Greek word ἧς which is a feminine pronoun and not from the word ὅς which is the masculine version. The use of the feminine pronoun in this passage is a clear indication that Jesus was not born of Joseph but rather He was only born of Mary who was Joseph's wife. Thus, Matthew's genealogy is not the genealogy of Christ but the genealogy of Joseph.
Luke’s genealogy is said to be that of Mary, but Luke doesn’t even mention Mary’s name much less identify her as the focus of his genealogy. Luke isn’t concerned with the heritage of Mary. His focus is on the heritage of Christ. That’s why Luke begins his genealogy with: “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age…” The key to understanding Luke’s genealogy is not found in viewing it as the genealogy of Mary but rather in viewing it as the actual genealogy of Christ.
When we view Luke’s genealogy as that of Christ and not of Mary, some of the unusual aspects of this genealogy begin to make more sense. First, this view of Luke’s genealogy explains why he includes the phrase “as was supposed” in his genealogy. Luke only includes this phrase because the subject of his genealogy was not really the son of Joseph. Jesus was only supposed by others to be Joseph’s son, but He really was a descendant of Heli. He really was a descendant of Matthat. He really was a descendant of Levi. He really was a descendant of Melchi. He really was a descendant of Janna. He really was a descendant of Adam, and He really was a descendant of God. Luke’s inclusion of the phrase “as was supposed” in the beginning of his genealogy reveals that his focus was on giving the actual and not the erroneously supposed lineage of Christ. Thus, Luke’s genealogy is not the genealogy of Mary but rather the physical genealogy of Christ.
Luke’s genealogy differs from other genealogies in the Bible in that it is laid out as a series of prepositional phrases. Luke begins with the statement “Jesus … being … the son of Joseph.” He then lists all of the other names as simply “of Heli,” “of Matthat,” and etc. This unique structure allows Luke to concisely list Jesus as the descendant of each of the men in the chain. The list is intended to be understood as if the phrase “Jesus being” comes before each and every prepositional phrase in the chain. If we insert this understood phrasing into the text, we get:
Jesus being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph,
Jesus being of Heli,
Jesus being of Matthat,
Jesus being of Levi,
Jesus being of Melchi,
Jesus being of Janna,
Jesus being of Adam,
Jesus being of God,
And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led of the Spirit into the wilderness.
When we carry the phrase “Jesus being” down through the list, we can see how Luke’s construction flows naturally into the first sentence of chapter 4, but this view also makes sense of the final line in the genealogy. If we view Luke’s genealogy as simply a list of men who were the sons of the next man listed, then this would be the only instance in the entire Bible where Adam is identified as the son of God. This is not a theologically sound conclusion. Adam is never referred to as God’s son. He was created directly by God, but he was not God’s son (except by adoption through the sacrifice of Christ). God only has one begotten son and that is Jesus. No other human being is ever referenced in the Bible as a begotten son. Believers are often referred to as the adopted sons of God, but never as His begotten sons. Jesus is the only one who can claim that position. Therefore, when Luke wrote the prepositional phrase “of God” in Luke 3:38, he was not speaking of Adam being the son of God but rather of Jesus Christ being the Son of God.
This view of Luke’s genealogy as the actual genealogy of Christ is further confirmed by the records of the Jews. John Gill pointed this out in his commentary when he wrote:
“Mary was the daughter of Eli: and so the Jews speak of one Mary, the daughter of Eli, by whom they seem to design the mother of our Lord: for they tell (T. Hieros. Sanhedrin, fol. 25. 3) us of one ‘...that saw “Mary the daughter of Eli” in the shades, hanging by the fibres of her breasts; and there are that say, the gate, or, as elsewhere (Chagiga, fol. 77. 4.), the bar of the gate of hell is fixed to her ear’ By the horrible malice, in the words, you may know who is meant: however, this we gain by it, that by their own confession, Mary is the daughter of Eli.”
If Mary is the daughter of Heli, and if Jesus is the son of Mary, then it follows that Jesus and not Joseph is the focus of the phase “of Heli” in Luke’s genealogy. And if Jesus is the focus of the phrase “of Heli,” then He is the focus of each of the prepositional phrases in the entire list including the phrase “of God” at the list’s conclusion. Thus, the grammatical structure of Luke’s genealogy identifies it as the genealogy of Christ just as much as the structure of Matthew’s genealogy identifies it as the genealogy of Joseph.
When we are asked about the differences between the two genealogies of Christ, we shouldn’t be so quick to answer that one is of Joseph and the other is of Mary. We should respond instead that only one of the two is the genealogy of Christ while the other is merely the genealogy of Joseph.
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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