Why are the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke different?

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The line of David

The Old Testament prophets foretold that the Messiah would come from the linage of King David (2 Samuel 7:12-15, Isaiah 11:1, and Jeremiah 23:5-6). Both Matthew (ch. 1:1-17) and Luke (ch. 3:23-38) gave us the genealogies of Jesus which show that He was indeed a descendant of David and an Heir to the throne of Israel. Matthew traces the line from Jesus to Abraham while Luke traces the line from Jesus to Adam.

It is obvious that Matthew and Luke are following two different genealogies because Matthew identifies Joseph’s father as Jacob (Matthew 1:16), while Luke identifies Joseph’s father as Heli (Luke 3:23). Matthew traces the line through David’s son Solomon (Matthew 1:6), while Luke traces the line through David’s son Nathan (Luke 3:31). Also, the only names the genealogies share are Shealtiel and Zerubbabel (Matthew 1:12; Luke 3:27).

There are possible explanations for the two differing genealogies:

Two parents

Luke traces Mary’s genealogies and Matthew traces Joseph’s. Matthew is following the genealogy of Joseph through David’s son Solomon, while Luke is following the genealogy of Mary through David’s son Nathan. And this is shown because Luke’s birth narrative focuses on details in the story of Mary while Matthew focuses on details in the story of Joseph.

Two Fathers

Eusebius, an early church historian, theorized that Matthew is tracing the biological lineage of Jesus while Luke is considering the occurrence of a “levirate marriage.” According to the levirate marriage, if a person passed away without having a son, it was duty for the person’s brother to marry the widow and bring a son to bear the deceased name. According to Eusebius’s, Melchi (Luke 3:24) and Matthan (Matthew 1:15) were married to the same wife at different times. This would make Heli (Luke 3:23) and Jacob (Matthew 1:15) half-brothers. When Heli died without having a son, his half-brother Jacob married Heli’s widow. Then, she begat Joseph. Thus, Joseph is the “son of Heli” by marriage according to the law and the “son of Jacob” biologically. Thus, Matthew and Luke are both writing about the same genealogy of Joseph, but Luke follows the legal line while Matthew follows the genetic line.

No errors

Some claim that these variances undermine the authority of the Bible. However, the Jews were scrupulous in writing their records. And at the time when Matthew and Luke recorded their books, it was certainly possible to confirm the genealogy of Jesus by comparing it with the available public records. A large part of it could be verified with Old Testament lists (1 Chronicles 1:34; 2:1–15; 3:5, 10–19). The fact that, as far as we know, no contemporaries of Matthew and Luke, even the affirmed enemies of the Christ, ever defied the legitimacy of His family lineage is an outstanding evidence to the authenticity of Matthew and Luke’s genealogies.

Conclusion

No matter which theory we accept, we still reach the same conclusion, Jesus comes from a genealogical lineage that traces His origin to King David, and thus, He is the legitimate Messiah and Heir to the throne of Israel.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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