Luke 3:23–38, after telling of the baptism of Jesus and the commencement of his ministry, states, “He was the son, as was supposed, of Joseph, the son of Eli…” and continues on until “…the son of Adam, the son of God.”
Luke emphasizes Jesus’ title son of God, recognized as an essential title of the Messiah in prophecy, as the genealogy immediately follows a heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism, saying “You are my son,” and concludes with “son of Adam, son of God.” Thus, like all mankind he is a son of God through Adam, who was made by God, but uniquely he is also begotten by God.
Genealogy of Jesus according to Luke
This genealogy descends from the Davidic line through Nathan, who is an otherwise little-known son of King David, mentioned briefly in the Old Testament. The intervening generations are a series of otherwise unknown names, but the number of generations is chronologically quite plausible.
In the ancestry of David, Luke agrees completely with the Old Testament. Cainan is included between Shelah and Arphaxad, following the Septuagint text (though omitted in the Masoretic text followed by most modern Bibles). In continuing the genealogy all the way to Adam, the progenitor of all mankind, the gospel is seen as emphasizing Christ’s universal mission.
Augustine notes that the count of generations in Luke is 77, a remarkable number symbolizing the forgiveness of all sins. This count also agrees with the seventy generations from Enoch set forth in the Book of Enoch, which Luke probably knew. Though Luke never counts the generations as Matthew does, it appears that he too follows the hebdomadic principle of working in sevens. However, Irenaeus, one of the earliest witnesses, counts only 72 generations from Adam.
Since the nature of Luke’s genealogy has made it particularly susceptible to scribal corruption, determining the original text from the manuscript evidence has been especially problematic. The most controversial section, oddly, is in the ancestry of David, which is well established in the Old Testament. Although the reading “son of Aminadab, son of Aram,” in agreement with the Old Testament, is well attested, the Nestle-Aland critical edition, considered the best authority by most modern scholars, accepts the variant “son of Aminadab, son of Admin, son of Arni,” counting the 77 generations from Adam rather than God. This choice, however, has been widely criticized.
Luke’s qualification “as was supposed” (ενομιζετο) avoids stating that Jesus was actually a son of Joseph, since his virgin birth is affirmed in the same gospel. There are, however, several interpretations of how this qualification relates to the rest of the genealogy. Some see the remainder as the true genealogy of Joseph, despite the different genealogy given in Matthew. Others see the lineage as a legal ancestry, rather than an ancestry according to blood—Joseph is thus a legal son of Eli, perhaps a son-in-law or adopted son. Still others suggest that Luke is repeating an untrustworthy record without affirming its accuracy. Lastly, many see “as was supposed of Joseph” as a parenthetical note, with Luke actually calling Jesus a son of Eli—meaning, it is then suggested, that Eli (Ηλι, Heli) is the maternal grandfather of Jesus, and Luke is actually tracing the ancestry of Jesus according to the flesh through Mary.
Elsewhere Luke states that Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was a cousin (or relative) of Mary and was descended from Aaron, of the tribe of Levi. Gregory Nazianzen argued from this that Mary herself was also a Levite descended from Aaron, and thus kingly and priestly lineages were united in Jesus. Thomas Acquinas believed that the relationship was on the maternal side. There is no mention of this connection in the other Gospels, and the scholar Raymond E. Brown has described the relationship as ‘of dubious historicity’; Géza Vermes has called it ‘artificial and undoubtedly Luke’s creation’.
 Matthew’s genealogy
Matthew 1:1–17 begins the Gospel, “A record of the origin of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac…” and continues on until “…and Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.”
Matthew emphasizes, right from the beginning, Jesus’ title Christ—the Greek rendering of the Hebrew title Messiah—meaning anointed, in the sense of an anointed king. Jesus is presented first and foremost as the long-awaited Messiah, who was expected to be a descendant and heir of King David, so the genealogy serves the essential purpose of demonstrating this line of descent. Thus, Matthew begins by calling Jesus son of David, indicating his royal origin, and also son of Abraham, indicating that he was a Jew; both are stock phrases, in which son means descendant, calling to mind the promises God made to David and to Abraham.
Matthew’s introductory title (βιβλος γενεσεως, book of generations) has been interpreted various ways, but most likely is simply a title for the genealogy that follows, echoing the Septuagint use of the same phrase for toledot.
Genealogy of Jesus according to Matthew
Matthew’s genealogy is considerably more complex than Luke’s. It is overtly schematic, organized into three tesseradecads (sets of fourteen), each of a distinct character:
- The first is rich in annotations, including four mothers and mentioning the brothers of Judah and the brother Zerah of Pharez.
- The second spans the Davidic royal line, but omits several generations, ending with “Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.”
- The last, which appears to span only thirteen generations, connects Joseph to Zerubbabel through a series of otherwise unknown names, remarkably few for such a long period.
The total of 42 generations is achieved only by omitting several names, so the choice of three sets of fourteen seems deliberate. Fourteen is seven, symbolizing perfection and covenant, doubled, and is also the gematria of David. Numerous other explanations have been proposed as well.
The rendering into Greek of Hebrew names in this genealogy is mostly in accord with the Septuagint, but there are a few peculiarities. The form Asaph seems to identify King Asa with the psalmist Asaph. Likewise, some see the form Amos for King Amon as suggesting the prophet Amos, though the Septuagint does have this form. Both may simply be assimilations to more familiar names. More interesting, though, are the unique forms Boes (Boaz, LXX Boos) and Rachab (Rahab, LXX Raab).
This Rachab is most likely Rahab the harlot, whose story is told in the Old Testament, though some question the identification. Matthew is unique in naming her as the wife of Salmon and mother of Boaz. The Talmud says that Rahab married Joshua. The unusual spelling of her name, paralleled only in Josephus, may result from the unique tradition that Matthew drew from here, which Bauckham suggests is connected to a passage in Chronicles mentioning Salma and Rechab.
That women are mentioned at all, when such genealogies are typically so focused on the male line, is remarkable. Four women are included early in the genealogy—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and “the wife of Uriah” (i.e., Bathsheba)—and a fifth, Mary, concludes the genealogy as the mother of Jesus. Why Matthew chose to include these particular women, while passing over others such as the matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah, has been much discussed.
There is assumed to be a common thread among these four women, to which Matthew wishes to draw attention. Some point out their Gentile origin: Rahab was a Canaanite, Bathsheba was married to a Hittite, Ruth was from Moab and sometimes seen as a Moabite, and Tamar’s origin is unclear—thus Matthew prepares the reader for the inclusion of the Gentiles in Christ’s mission, contrasting their faith with the faithlessness of the Jews. Others point out their sinfulness: Tamar and Rahab were prostitutes, Bathsheba was an adulteress, and Ruth is sometimes seen as seducing Boaz—thus Matthew emphasizes God’s grace in response to sin. Still others point out their unusual, even scandalous, unions—preparing the reader for what will be said about Mary. None of these explanations, however, adequately befits all four women. Nolland suggests simply that these were all the known women attached to David’s genealogy in the Book of Ruth.
Omission of generations Old Testament Matthew DavidSolomonRoboamAbiaAsaphJosaphatJoram———OziasJoathamAchazEzekiasManassesAmosJosias—JechoniasSalathielZorobabel
The conclusion of the genealogy proper is also unusual: having traced the ancestry of Joseph, Matthew identifies him not as the father of Jesus, but as the husband of Mary. The Greek text is explicit in making Jesus born to Mary, rather than to Joseph. This careful wording is to affirm the virgin birth, which Matthew proceeds to discuss, stating that Jesus was begotten not by Joseph but by God.
Three consecutive kings of Judah are omitted from the genealogy: Ahaziah, Jehoash, and Amaziah. The next generation, Uzziah (also called Azariah), has a Greek name Ozias very similar to that of the first omitted name, Ochozias. Some therefore suggest that the omission arose from a scribal error, homoioteleuton between these two names, after which the groups of fourteen were discovered. Others see it as “a deliberately taken opportunity,” encouraged by the similarity of names. Not only were these three kings especially wicked, violently destroyed by the will of God, they were the cursed line of Ahab through his daughter Athaliah to the third and fourth generation. Thus Matthew felt justified in omitting them, with an eye toward forming his second tesseradecad.
Another omitted king is Jehoiakim, the father of Jeconiah, also known as Jehoiachin. In Greek the names are even more similar, both being sometimes called Joachim. When Matthew says, “Josiah begot Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile,” he appears to conflate the two, because Jehoiakim, not Jeconiah, had brothers, but the exile was in the time of Jeconiah. While some see this as a mistake, others argue that the omission was once again deliberate, ensuring that the kings after David spanned exactly fourteen generations.
The final tesseradecad seems to contain only thirteen generations. Since it is unlikely that Matthew simply miscounted, a number of explanations have been proposed. A name may have been counted both at the end of one tesseradecad and the beginning of the next—either David or Jeconiah. Or if Josiah’s son was intended as Jehoiakim, then Jeconiah could be counted separately after the exile. Another possibility is that Mary is counted as a generation, proceeding laterally by her marriage to Joseph. Though such a reckoning is otherwise unknown, it may have seemed necessary in light of the virgin birth. Some have even proposed that Matthew’s original text had one Joseph as the father of Mary, who then married another man of the same name.
If only thirteen generations span the time from Jeconiah, born about 616 BC, to Jesus, born about 2 BC, as Matthew says, the average generation would be nearly fifty years—rather unlikely, though not impossible. It is generally assued that, as Matthew has previously taken certain liberties, he continues to do so in this section, omitting several generations. Precedent for such abridged genealogies is found in the Old Testament. The lack here of papponymic naming patterns, which were common throughout this period, may indicate that Matthew has telescoped this segment by collapsing such repetitions.[35