The Church


Genealogy of Jesus

by Wibisono Hartono


The most common question raised about Jesus, other than His divinity, is concerned with His two different genealogies as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  At times, some non-Christians may refer to these two genealogies to question the reliability of the Gospels.

The Gospel according to Matthew traced Jesus's genealogy from Abraham (Matthew 1:1-16).  Matthew divided it into three groups of fourteen generations: from Abraham to David, from Solomon to Babylonian exile and from Babylonian exile to Jesus.  But there are only forty-one, not forty-two names in the list.  In the second group, to produce fourteen names, Matthew omitted four names (cf. 1 Chronicles 3:10-16): Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah (between Joram and Uzziah) and Jehoiakim (between Josiah and Jechoniah).  Thus to produce three groups of fourteen generations each, the name Jechoniah had to be repeated in the second and third groups.  Whilst omitting names in a genealogy is unacceptable to us, it is attestable in the Bible.  For example in 1 Chronicles 6:33-43, between Heman and Levi there are twenty-one generations or names but only fourteen between Asaph (Heman's brother) and Levi, indicating that some names might be omitted.  Comparing the same genealogies in Ezra 7:1-5 and 1 Chronicles 5:29-40 shows that the former is shorter by five names.  Note also there are around 750 years between Abraham and David, around 400 years between David and Babylonian exile and around 600 years between Babylonian exile and Jesus; thus it is unlikely we can have the same number of generations in the three groups.  The reason why Matthew was concerned with the number fourteen might be because the number corresponds to the numerical value of the name David. Matthew traced Jesus's ancestor through His kingly line, i.e. the names in the second group are kings of Judah.  After Jechoniah none of his descendants became king according to the prophecy given through prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 22:30).  Interestingly, the Bible says that the Messiah must be David’s descendant through Solomon (2 Samuel 7:12-13, 1 Chronicles 17:11-14).  Yet God promised that He would raise another righteous branch of David (Jeremiah 23:5).  Christians believe that this prophecy refers to Jesus, the Messiah (Christ) to whom God will give the throne of David and who will reign forever (Luke 1:32-33).  Note that while Jesus is legal son of Joseph, He is not his biological son (Luke 1:34-35, 3:23) and therefore He is not a descendant of Jechoniah.  Jesus Himself, quoting from Psalms 110:1, said that the Messiah could not be biological descendant of David (Matthew 22:43-44, Luke 20:41-44).

The Gospel according to Luke gives the genealogy of Jesus from Adam (Luke 3:23-38).  From Abraham to David the list of names agrees with that of Matthew.  Then Luke traced Jesus ancestor through Nathan, the other son of David and Bethsheba (2 Samuel 5:14, 1 Chronicles 3:5, 14:4).  There are forty names between Nathan and Jesus as compared to twenty five names between Solomon and Jesus in Matthew Gospel and only three names exist in both list: Shealtiel, Zerubbabel and Joseph. 

According to Julius Africanus (in “Letter to Aristides”) who died c. 240 the Jews since Christ's time had kept the records of family genealogies..  He wrote that the wife of Matthan (he was even able to give her name “Estha”), a descendant of David through Solomon was the mother of Jacob.  After the death of her husband she married Melchi [1], a descendant of David through Nathan, and became the mother of Heli.  Thus, Jacob and Heli were uterine brothers (same mother but different fathers).  Heli married, but died childless.  According to the Jewish Levirate marriage Law (cf. Deuteronomy 25:5-6) his widow became the wife of Jacob to continue his line and she gave birth to Joseph.  Joseph was then the biological son of Jacob, but the legal son of Heli, combining in him two lineages of David's descendants.  A similar solution of Levirate marriages can be used to explain why the names Shealtiel and Zerubbabel exist in both Matthew and Luke lists.  Thus Shealtiel is the biological son of Jechoniah in Matthew list and legal son of Neri in Luke list.  Annius of Viterbo (end of fifteenth century) proposed another explanation of the two different genealogies.  According to him, Matthew's list gives the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph while that of Luke gives His through Mary.  Since Jesus took the flesh from Virgin Mary and according to Romans 1:3 He was descended from David through flesh then Mary too was a descendant of David.  Church Fathers Ignatius, bishop of Antioch (died c. 107 AD) in "Epistle to Ephesians" Chapter 18 and Justin Martyr (died c. 165) in "Dialogue with Trypho" Chapter 100, both agreed in maintaining Mary's Davidic line.

Wibisono Hartono
The Catholic Legate
August 5, 2002


Reference:

  1. Brown, R.E.: The Birth of the Messiah, Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1977.
  2. Herbermann, C.G. (Editor in Chief): The Catholic Encyclopaedia, online version.

[1] Julius Africanus manuscript of Luke Gospel omitted Matthat and Levi between Melchi and Heli.