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In the Bible, Jesus’ genealogy is given in two places: Matthew 1 and Luke 3:23-38. Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy to Abraham, while Luke traces the genealogy from Jesus to Adam. However, there’s good reason to believe that Luke and Matthew are tracing entirely different genealogies. For example, Matthew says that Joseph’s father is Jacob in Matthew 1:16, while Luke says that Joseph’s father is Heli in Luke 3:23. Matthew traces the line through Solomon, David’s son, while Luke traces the lineage through David’s other son, Nathan. In fact, the only names the genealogies have in common between Jesus and David are Zerubbabel and Shealtiel.

Some point to these variations as evidence of errors in the Bible. However, the Jews were thorough record keepers, especially regarding genealogies. It’s inconceivable that Luke and Matthew could build two inconsistent genealogies of the same lineage. Again, from David through Jesus, the lineages are entirely different. Even the reference to Zerubbabel and Shealtiel likely refers to different individuals of the same names. According to Matthew, Shealtiel’s father is Jeconiah, while Luke says that Shealtiel’s father is Neri. It would be standard for a man named Shealtiel to name his son Zerubbabel in light of the prominent people with the same names.

Why are Jesus’ genealogies in Matthew and Luke so different?

One explanation held by church historian Eusebius is that Matthew traces the primary or biological lineage, while Luke takes into account the existence of a levirate marriage. If a man died without having sons, it was customary for the man’s brother to wed the widow and have a son who would carry the dead brother’s name. Euseibius’ theory says that Matthan and Melchi were married at different times to the same woman, possibly named Estha, making Heli and Jacob half-brothers. Then, Heli died without having sons, so his half-brother Jacob married Heli’s widow, who gave birth to Joseph.

This would make Joseph Heli’s son legally but Joseph’s son biologically. Thus, Matthew and Luke are both documenting the same genealogy, but Matthew follows the biological while Luke follows the legal lineage. Today, most conservative Bible scholars take a different approach, namely, that Luke is recording Mary’s genealogy, and Matthew is recording Joseph’s. Matthew follows the line of Joseph, Jesus’ legal father, through David’s son Solomon, while Luke follows Mary, Jesus’ blood relative, through Nathan, David’s son.

Since there’s no specific Koine Greek word for “son-in-law,” Joseph was called Heli’s son by marriage to Mary, Heli’s daughter. Through either Joseph’s or Mary’s line, Jesus is David’s descendant and qualified to be the Messiah. Tracing a lineage through the mother’s side is uncommon, but so was the virgin birth. Luke explains that Jesus was Joseph’s son, “so it was thought,” according to Luke 3:23.

What’s the relevance of genealogies in the Bible?

The Bible has multiple genealogical records. Most of us either skip or skim them altogether, finding them boring or irrelevant. However, they’re part of Scripture, and since all Scripture is God-breathed, they must have some significance, so there must be something we can learn from these lists. First, the genealogies help confirm the Bible’s historical accuracy. These lists verify the physical existence of the characters in the Bible. By understanding family histories, we know that the Bible is far from a parable or story for how we should live our lives.

It’s genuine historical truth, and an actual man named Adama had descendants; therefore, his actual sin had consequences. The lineages also confirm prophecy. According to Isaiah 11:1, the Messiah was prophesied to come from David’s lineage. By recording His lineage in the Bible, God confirms that Jesus was descended from David. The genealogy is more confirmation that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Testament’s prophecies. The lists also show the detail-oriented nature of God and His interest in people. God didn’t see Israel as a vague group of people. He saw them with specificity, detail and precision. There’s nothing detached about the genealogies because they show that God is involved. The Bible mentions people by name, real people with genuine histories and real futures. God cares about every person and the details of their life, according to Matthew 10:27-31.

Lastly, we can learn from various people listed in the genealogies. Some of them have narrative portions that give us glances into the lives of the people. For example, Jabez’s prayer is found within a genealogy, as detailed in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. From this, we learn about the nature of prayer and God’s character. Other genealogies show that Rahab and Ruth are in the Messianic line, and we see that God values the lives of these people, even though they were Gentiles and not part of His covenant people.

While genealogies may initially appear irrelevant, they hold a critical place in the Bible. They strengthen the historicity of the Bible, confirm prophecy, and give insight into the character of God and the lives of His people. Genealogies highlight the importance of the family unit in Jewish culture. Traditional Jewish culture accentuated marriage between a man and a woman who were responsible for raising children and carrying out the legacy of their family with the next generation. The Jews took their obligation to continue the line that would bring honor to the family name seriously.

The genealogies of the Jews were critical in tracing the line of the Messiah. The Old Testament clearly stated that the Messiah would be the Son of David, so records of family history were vital. Luke and Matthew include Jesus’ genealogies in their Gospels to show Jesus’ connection to David.

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