What's in a name? A look at genealogies…

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Author's Bias | Interpretation: conservative | Inclination: dispensational | Seminary: none

1. Study Matthew 1:1-18 and Luke 3:23-38. What do you know about the authors?

Matthew was financially well off and had his own house. He was educated and knew how to read and write. As a Jewish publican, a tax collector, fellow Jews despised him. Luke was a physician and companion of Paul. As a Gentile, he recorded as a historian and did careful research.

2. Make a table of the names of each genealogy. What do you notice?

Matthew 1:1-18

Abraham-David David-Exile Exile-Jesus
  1. Abraham
  2. Isaac
  3. Jacob
  4. Judah (Tamar)
  5. Perez
  6. Hezron
  7. Ram
  1. Amminadab
  2. Nahshon
  3. Salmon (Rahab)
  4. Boaz (Ruth)
  5. Obed
  6. Jesse
  7. David the king
  1. David (Bathsheba)
  2. Solomon
  3. Rehoboam
  4. Abijah
  5. Asa
  6. Jehoshaphat
  7. Joram
  1. Uzziah
  2. Jotham
  3. Ahaz
  4. Hezekiah
  5. Manasseh
  6. Amon
  7. Josiah
  1. Jeconiah
  2. Shealtiel
  3. Zerubbabel
  4. Abihud
  5. Eliakim
  6. Azor
  7. Zadok
  1. Achim
  2. Eliud
  3. Eleazar
  4. Matthan
  5. Jacob
  6. Joseph (Mary)
  7. Jesus

Observations of Matthew:

Matthew's accounting of Israel's kings was for the Jewish audience and presented Jesus' royal-legal lineage in partial fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:8-13). In beginning with Abraham and listing in descending order (father of…) a limited genealogy from Abraham to Jesus, Matthew stresses Jesus’ Jewish ancestry.

The genealogical list is short, because Matthew does not list a number of generations. The Jewish concept of "son" is not in a limited sense as in English; the concept of "son" can be understood as any descendant whether as a grandson or a son of a distant generation.

In counting David twice (Matt 1:17), Matthew reveals a pattern in his list. The list is broken down into 3 time periods: a) Abraham and David, b) David and the Exile, and c) the Exile and Jesus. During each period, Matthew lists only 14 generations.

The numerical value of "David" in Hebrew is fourteen. In the ancient world letters serve not only as building blocks of words but also as symbols of numbers. The use of such symbolism is called "gematria." Through this symbolism, Matthew indicates that the promised "son of David", the Messiah, has come.

Five women are mentioned in the genealogy:

Tamar (Gen 38:6-29) and Rahab (Josh 2:1-21; 6:17-25) were prostitutes, Ruth (Ruth 1:4-16; 4:10-22) was a Moabitess, and Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:3-5, 14-24; 12:24) was an adulteress.

Mary had a pattern break in the phraseology of the genealogy: "...the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus,.." The Greek term "by whom" here is a feminine relative pronoun which indicates that Jesus was the physical child of Mary and not of Joseph.

Listed in Matthew’s genealogy, first of the fourteen names in the Exile – Jesus section, is the last Jewish king Jeconiah. Jeconiah was an evil king who led the divided monarchy Israel to disobey God. In pronouncing judgment of his sins, Jeremiah prophesized, "record this man as if childless" (Jer 22:30). God's judgment ends the royal line of Jewish kingship at Jeconiah (whom Jeremiah calls Coniah) and denies the occupation of the throne by any descendant and thus deny future blessings (2 Chron 36:9-10 Jehoaichin is equivalent to Jechoniah).

If Jesus was a physical descendant of Jeconiah, God's curse on Jeconiah would have prevented Him from sitting on David's throne. Yet Matthew recorded the ancestors of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus, in accordance to Jewish tradition.

Luke 3:23-38 (in comparison to Matthew's list, Luke's order starts with Jesus and ends with God)

  1. Jesus
  2. Joseph
  3. Eli
  4. Matthat
  5. Levi
  6. Melchi
  7. Jannai
  8. Joseph
  9. Mattathias
  10. Amos
  11. Nahum
  12. Hesli
  13. Naggai
  1. Maath
  2. Mattathias
  3. Semein
  4. Josech
  5. Joda
  6. Joanan
  7. Rhesa
  8. Zerubbabel
  9. Shealtiel
  10. Neri
  11. Melchi
  12. Addi
  13. Cosam
  1. Elmadam
  2. Er
  3. Joshua
  4. Eliezer
  5. Jorim
  6. Matthat
  7. Levi
  8. Simeon
  9. Judah
  10. Joseph
  11. Jonam
  12. Eliakim
  13. Melea
  1. Menna
  2. Mattatha
  3. Nathan
  4. David
  5. Jesse
  6. Obed
  7. Boaz
  8. Salmon
  9. Nahshon
  10. Amminadab
  11. Admin
  12. Ram
  13. Hezron
  1. Perez
  2. Judah
  3. Jacob
  4. Isaac
  5. Abraham
  6. Terah
  7. Nahor
  8. Serug
  9. Reu
  10. Peleg
  11. Heber
  12. Shelah
  13. Cainan
  1. Arphaxad
  2. Shem
  3. Noah
  4. Lamech
  5. Methuselah
  6. Enoch
  7. Jared
  8. Mahalaleel
  9. Cainan
  10. Enosh
  11. Seth
  12. Adam
  13. God

Observations of Luke:

Luke lists Jesus' genealogy in ascending order: "...son of ..."

There is a pattern break with Joseph in the beginning of the list, "Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph,…"

The range of genealogy: Jesus-God

In comparison to Matthew's list, Luke's genealogy is very different. The two apostles, Matthew and Luke, traced two different family genealogies. Matthew recorded the ancestors of Joseph, the legal father of Jesus. Luke is believed to record the ancestors of Mary, the biological mother of Jesus.

3. In Deuteronomy 21:16, Jewish birthrights are only passed through the father. Does this eliminate Jesus from receiving the kingly rights of the Davidic bloodline? How did Jesus' virgin birth play a role in this?

This issue has been contentious and the main reason why contemporary Jews deny Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

While both Matthew and Luke do not list Joseph as the biological father of Jesus, Joseph is recognized as Jesus' legal parent and father. There are two approaches to this problem.

#1: The birthright to the Davidic throne passes through Joseph. This argument takes the position that Matthew lists the legal genealogy for succession to the throne, and Luke lists Joseph's real genealogy.

Julius Africanus (160-240 A.D.), a Christian traveler and historian, using records of the Desposyni (alleged blood relatives of Jesus [i.e. Matt 13:55-56; Mark 6:3]) reconstructed the genealogy of Joseph. His writings influenced Eusebius who cited Africanus' genealogical work in 325 A.D. (Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine, Chapter VII).






several generations

several generations





Matthan weds Estha, has a son Jacob, and dies

Estha's marriage #1


Estha's marriage #2

Melchi weds the widow Estha and has Heli (Eli)


Jacob, by Levirate marriage, takes the widow of his half-brother Heli (Eli) and has Joseph

Unknown Wife's marriage #2


Unknown Wife's marriage #1

Heli (Eli) is first married to Unknown Wife and dies childless



Observe with Africanus' theory:

Jacob and Eli are half-brothers, with the same mother but fathers of different names. There is some question whether Levirate marriage was practiced in the case of half-brothers.

Joseph is listed as the son of Jacob in Matthew but as the son of Eli in Luke. In a genealogy, the child could be listed under his legal or his natural father, which, in the case of Joseph, Eli is the legal father but Jacob is the natural father.

While Joseph would be a biological descendant of David and avoided God's curse on the house of Jeconiah (Jer 22:30), he still was not the biological father of Jesus who was born to a virgin. Thus this theory violates the promise God made with David (2 Sam 7:12-16) and must be incorrect.

#2: The birthright to the Davidic throne passes through Mary. This argument takes the position that Matthew lists the legal genealogy for succession to the throne, and Luke lists Mary's biological genealogy.

Romans 1:3 supports the notion that Jesus was of the seed of David through his mother Mary ("… born of a descendant of David according to the flesh").

There are a couple possibilities of how the birthright was passed to Jesus.

A) The Jerusalem Talmud indicated that Mary was the daughter of Eli (Heli) (Haggigah, Book 77, 4). Through Mary, Jesus was a biological descendant of Nathan son of David. Through Joseph, Jesus was the legal heir of the kingly birthright from the line of Solomon son of David. However, Jesus was not affected by the curse on Jeconiah (Jer 22:30) because of His virgin birth!

B) In Numbers 26 and 27, there is a story of Zelophehad who had only daughters. Moses prayed to God, and the Lord told Moses that the inheritance can flow to the female only if a) there were no male offspring (Num 27:8), and b) if there is marriage, the daughter must marry within their own tribe (Num 36:6). Mary had no brothers and married within her own tribe to Joseph.

While this possibility provides the biological seed from David, it does not account for the legal inheritance of the kingly birthright.

Matthew's genealogy establishes the royal lineage of Jesus and as legal heir to the kingly birthright through Joseph. Luke's genealogy establishes Jesus as the biological descendant of David through Mary. The virgin birth establishes the deity of Jesus Christ and avoids the curse on the house of Jeconiah. These two genealogies testify to the promise that God made with David, that his seed would reign forever in the kingdom of God.

This view, Matthew listing the lineage of Joseph and Luke listing the lineage of Mary, was undisputed among the church fathers and goes back at least to the fifth century.

"There is not a book more lucidly written than the Holy Scripture."

Martin Luther (1483-1546)


1. Brown C, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol. 3, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, (1979).

2. Gaebelein F, ed., The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, & Luke, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, (1992).

3. Walvoord JF and Zuck RB, eds., Bible Knowledge Commentary, Wheaton: Victor Books, (1985).

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