Genealogy can be defined as the study of family lineage. Many people use ancestry websites, historical records, and stories from family members to help learn about their family history. Through these studies we can learn about where our families originated, what kinds of lives they lived, and other details of note.
In the Old Testament, genealogies were important to the people of Israel. Throughout the Old Testament, there are numerous genealogies, tracing the lineage of Adam to Noah, Noah to Abraham, Boaz to David, and the first nine chapters of First Chronicles, which are multiple genealogies. The genealogies were also kept for certain jobs. For example, in order to be a temple priest, one had to be a descendant from the tribe of Levi, as was Aaron, the brother of Moses, and the first high priest.
Genealogies in the Bible were often used to introduce someone new to the story, a tradition which was carried over to the New Testament, with the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Of the four Gospels that serve as the historical biographies of Jesus- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, only Matthew and Luke focus on Jesus’ birth. In the Gospels of Mark and John, Jesus is thirty years old and beginning His ministry.
To our modern eyes and attention spans, reading about so-and-so begat so-and-so and that so-and-so begat this so-and-so can after a while become a little tedious. However, the genealogies of Matthew and Luke offer us different insights and different lists, which could be because the two books were written for two different audiences. Throughout Matthew, Jewish laws and customs are emphasized, while Luke’s Gospel focuses on a more Gentile Christian audience.
Matthew’s Genealogy (1:1-1:17)
“The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1, KJV). Notice how Matthew is tracing Jesus’ genealogy to David and Abraham, two pillars of Judaism.
*Matthew lists a total of 42 generations- Fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian exile of 586 BC, and fourteen generations from the Babylonian exile to the birth of Christ.
*Matthew mentions four Gentile women- Tamar, Rachab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.
*Matthew states Jacob as the father of Joseph.
*Matthew 1:16 teaches the doctrine of the virgin birth, a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, in that he states, “And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” (Matthew 1:16, KJV, italics mine). Joseph, the writer of Matthew makes clear, was not Jesus’ natural father, which many people would have automatically assumed.
Luke’s Genealogy (3:23-38)
*The writer of Luke places Jesus’ genealogy after the events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist, the Birth of Jesus, Jesus with the teachers at the temple, the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry, and Jesus’ baptism.
*Luke list 74 generations, backwards from Jesus to Adam, “the son of God,” (Luke 3:38).
*Luke’s genealogy also backs up the doctrine of the virgin birth, with how it introduces Jesus: “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.” (Luke 3:23).
*Though women play a prominent role in Luke’s Gospel, no women are mentioned in his genealogy.
Why do Matthew and Luke differ on who Joseph’s father was? In doing some brief research, one of the theories is that Matthew traced Jesus’ lineage through Joseph, while Luke traced Jesus’ lineage through Mary. Another possibility is that Jacob and Heli were brothers. As was custom outlined in the Old Testament, if a man died, it would be up to his brother to marry his widow, raise his brother’s children, and keep his brother’s lineage going (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Thus, in a legal sense Heli would have become Joseph’s father (possibly through adoption or what we would call a step-father).
Another point of difference is that concerning Jesus’ lineage to David, Matthew list Jesus as a descendant of David’s son Solomon (Matthew 1:6), while Luke traces the lineage through another one of David’s sons, Nathan (Luke 3:31).
It seems every Christmas season there is some real or imagined controversy concerning the holiday season and the Bible-let us not fall into that trap. In the coming weeks, I hope to take a look at other aspects of the nativity stories as portrayed in the gospels. I will look at points of contention and pointing out false perceptions we may have concerning Jesus’ birth. Whether or not someone tells you “Merry Christmas,” or a major coffee chain does or does not include a reference to Christmas on their cups, let us enjoy this time, let us enjoy this day, let us enjoy this present moment. God bless you.