The gospel accounts give two different genealogies of Jesus Christ. The first in Matthew 1 and the second in Luke 3.
Some think this must be an error and therefore, a contradiction. In reality there is a very simple explanation.
EVERYONE has two lines of ancestry! One through your father and one through your mother.
Matthew traces the LEGAL genealogy of Jesus through his adopted father, Joseph. Luke traces the BIOLOGICAL genealogy of Jesus through his birth mother, Mary.
(At this point, one might argue that Mary is not mentioned in Luke’s genealogy. We will get to that a little later on.)
But first, let’s take a closer look at each of these genealogies, beginning with Matthew.
Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience to annouce that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah of their people. The last book of the Old Testament closed on a dour, hopeless note. The promised Messiah still had not come. And at that point, the Old Testament ends with the words of the last prophet, Malachi. Then, there is a long period of silence.
After almost 400 years, suddenly, like light at the end of a tunnel, Matthew’s writing opens the New Testament. Why of all things does he start with a “boring” genealogy? How does that link to the Old?
Listen! He was basically telling the Jewish people that their Messiah was FINALLY here! They, of course, knew from the ancient prophecies that the Messiah must come from the line of David and must be the seed of Abraham. This was what Matthew was seeking to show though the genealogy in Matthew 1.
In fact, that is exactly how he begins: “This is the record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham:” (Matthew 1:1). You could not get anymore direct! But he doesn’t just stop at merely making a claim. He goes on to trace the genealogical line carefully, all the way from Abraham, the father of the Jewish race, right through to Jesus!
Joseph was not Jesus’ birth father but the legal guardian, as Mary’s husband. (Remember, Mary was a virgin who had conceived miraculously.) The genealogy Matthew records was therefore, a LEGAL genealogy. Not a biological one. (As an illustration, imagine if you legally adopted a child. You become his legal guardian according to the law; your child takes your name and becomes part of your family line.)
While the purpose of Matthew’s genealogy was to show the Jews that Jesus was indeed the true Messiah, Luke’s genealogy had a different purpose.
Luke was a non-Jew. He was a physician, writer and researcher. Luke was presenting the biological and human line of Jesus. That is why you will see that this genealogy goes all the way back to the first human, Adam.
This question may arise. Who was Joseph’s father? The two genealogies seem to offer two different names.
Matthew makes it clear, “and Jacob the father of Joseph.” (Matthew 1:16)
If you read carefully, Luke actually qualifies his statement and specifically states that Jesus was…”being son as was supposed, of Joseph, of Heli.” (Luke 3:23). That little expression “AS WAS SUPPOSED”, carefully qualified Joseph’s role. In other words, Heli was not his actual father.
A married man has a father but he also has a father-in-law. He may call them both “Dad” but his father-in-law is only his dad “as was supposed”.
Heli was Mary’s father. Joseph was Heli’s son “as was supposed” i.e. his son-in-law.
But why didn’t Luke mention Mary’s name in the genealogy?
Luke was using the conventional way of recording a genealogy, by outline only the masculine order. This is the general practice we see throughout. The record goes from father to son, from father to son. Since Jesus had no biological father, Luke traces the biological line through his birth mother.
How do we know this?
“It is not a convenient assumption that these two gospel writers are recording the paternal and maternal sequences of Jesus’ancestry respectively. Matthew makes it plain that he is recording the line of Joseph (Matthew 1:6) and throughout the first two chapters of his gospel we find Joseph to be the central character. Each appearance of the Angel Gabriel recorded here is to Joseph. In Luke’s gospel, however, Mary is always the central personality and only the appearance of Gabriel to her is mentioned.”
So, as we can see, there is no contradiction. All it takes is a bit of understanding, and a bit of study. Far from being an error, the genealogies Matthew and Luke give us a perspective that is far deeper than we thought tracing both the paternal and maternal lines of Jesus Christ. There are many genealogies in the Bible but no one has both paternal and maternal ancestries recorded. Muslims exhibit great interest in the Biblical genealogies. Where can I find a genealogy of Muhammad? Is there one?