Q: #447. Why are the genealogies of Jesus different in Matthew and Luke?
A: Genealogies are found in a number of places in the Bible, and were very important. In order for a Jew to serve as a king or priest, they had to be able to trace their genealogy back to Abraham, the father of all Israelites, and to David to be a king, or Levi to be a priest. Let’s look at the genealogies of Jesus found in (Mt 1:1-17) and (Lk 3:23-38).
In Matthew (written to Jews), we see that the genealogy of Jesus is traced forward beginning with Abraham, through David, to Joseph, the “adoptive” father of Jesus (Jesus was the Son of God). In Luke, we see that the genealogy of Jesus is traced backwards from “Joseph” (again through Abraham and David) to Adam. Most scholars agree, however, that the genealogy found in Luke is the genealogy of Mary rather than Joseph. As we see in (Mt 1:16), the father of Joseph is listed as “Jacob,” but in (Lk 3:23), Joseph is said to be “the son of Heli.” Most (but not all) believe that Jacob was Joseph’s true father, and Heli was the name of Joseph’s father-in-law (or Mary’s father).
It is also said that according to tradition, the Jews apparently had no word for father-in-law. Therefore, through marriage, the father of the bride became a “father” to the husband as well. We may see examples of this in (1 Sam 24:16)(1 Sam 26:17), with Saul calling David his “son.”
In addition to this, Luke, unlike Matthew, did not list women in his genealogy. To list Mary’s genealogy, but avoid using her name, he uses Joseph, as Mary’s husband (and the “son” of her father) to represent Mary. Also, giving credibility to this view is the fact that Luke spends the previous two and a half chapters leading up to this genealogy speaking of Mary.
Finally, for the more technical viewpoint regarding this, it says in my “Believer Bible Commentary” by William MacDonald that: “In the original language, the definite article (tou) in the genitive form (of the) appears before every name in the genealogy except one. That name is Joseph. This singular exception strongly suggests that Joseph was included only because of his marriage to Mary.” If you want to visually see what he is talking about, take a look at Luke’s genealogy in an “interlinear Bible” (as I did).
The genealogy given in Matthew is called the “royal” or “legal” descent of Jesus, showing His right to be a king (“king of the Jews”), and His right to the throne. The genealogy in Matthew contains 42 generations, grouped in 3 periods: 14 from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the exile, 14 from the exile to Jesus (Mt 1:17). It should be noted that this is not a complete list, with some people being left out. This genealogy gives us accurate history, and a traceable record, but not complete history. Through this genealogy, we can see that God fulfilled His promises to David that His “throne” would be established forever (2 Sam 7:13,16)(1 Chr 17:11) (Ps 89:29,34-37)(Jer 33:17).
***Note: It is also worth noting that this would also mean Joseph had a “legal” right to be a king.
The genealogy given in Luke (76 generations) shows the “bloodline” or “physical” descent of Jesus. Through this genealogy, we can see that Jesus was a “blood” relation to David and Abraham, and by going back to Adam, that He was “fully human” (“fully man and fully God” – hypostatic union). This fulfilled God’s promises to David that his “seed,” (bloodline) would be established forever (2 Sam 7:12,16)(1 Chr 17:11)(Ps 89:3-4,29,34-37). In addition, it fulfilled promises about the “seed” of Adam (Gen 3:15), and Abraham (Gen 22:15-18)(Gen 18:17-18)(Gen 26:2-4).
In Matthew, we see the “royal / legal” line through David’s son Solomon (Mt 1:6). In Luke, we see the “bloodline / physical descent” though David’s son Nathan (Lk 3:31).
*** Note: In (Lk 3:33), it says that Jesus’ “bloodline” was through Judah and not Levi, which was required to be a priest. So, how could Jesus be a priest? I explain this here.
Because Jesus’ was the fulfillment of both of these genealogies, both the “seed” (bloodline) and “royal / legal” line ended with Him, being established forever (Lk 1:32-33,55)(Isa 9:7)(Heb 1:8)(2 Pet 1:11)(Rev 4:9-10)(Rev 11:15)(1 Pet 4:11)(1 Pet 5:11). For other New Testament verses related to this subject, see: (Jn 7:42)(Jn 12:34)(Acts 13:22-23)(Rom 1:3-4)(Gal 3:16,19)(2 Tim 2:8).
***Trivia: The longest sentence in the Bible (KJV) is the genealogy of Jesus found in (Lk 3:23-38) (467 words!).
Related: Why are there so many lists of genealogies in the Bible?