Resolving Differences in the Lineages

Conflicts Between the Two Records

Matthew and Luke both record the lineage of Jesus. But when compared, these lineages reflect some minor and major differences. One of those differences is easier to resolve. It is the difference of generations.

When comparing these two records, it is important to remember that these gospels were written by two different people for two different reasons. This does not imply that their facts can contradict. It simply means that they will present particular facts that are useful to their purpose. In other words, some things are more important to emphasize and so they are recorded while other things are less important and might be left out. This is certainly the case here in the difference of generations.

Difference of Generations

There are a few ways to explain the number of generations in these lineages. Remember that all people have at least two ancestrial lines behind them – that of the father and that of the mother. And even before them, the same is true. In any two lines of descent recorded over the same amount of time, a generation can grow more rapidly than the other.

For example, my wife has an aunt that is younger than her. In my family, all of my uncles and aunts are much older than I. The reason for this is that some couples have their children later in their ages while others decided not to. Another reason is that some couples are happy to have many children spanning a generation in age. The youngest child may be the same age as the first grandchild. In these cases, lineages will have a different amount of generations depending on what lineage you follow.

Another thing to consider is that in Jewish thinking, the word “son” might mean “grandson” or “descendant.” For example, Matthew writes that Jesus was “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). Here the word “son” means “descendant.” In the same way, the word “begat (or “the father of” and other forms) does not necessarily imply actual fatherhood. It also indicates descant.

So, there could have easily been some names omitted in Matthew’s list. In fact, a good indication of this can be found in verse 17:

“So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Bablyon to the Christ fourteen generations.”

He grouped the generations in three groups of fourteen, which is an arbitrary thing to do if you were trying to keep the actual list true to its reality. In fact, some quick references in the Old Testament can attest to this (2 Kings 8:24; 1 Chron. 3:11; 2 Chron. 22:1,11; 24:27; 2 Kings 23:34; 24:6).

This sort of omission in genealogies was not uncommon. The Jews have been known to do this quite freely. The purpose of providing genealogies was not to account actual ancestry but to account for true succession. In this sense, the way Matthew provides Jesus’ lineage as a true succession is not at all uncommon or in contradictory to actual history. In addition, he committed this succession in a pattern likely for the reason of easy memorization. So the conflict of the number of generations is really no conflict at all.

It was Matthew’s purpose to teach the succession of Jesus as the legal claim to the throne of David.

Difference of Names

While the number of generations can be accounted for, what about the dissimilar names? If you examine the two lists, you’ll find that only Shealtiel and Zerubbabel are similar between David and Jesus.

While there are a few possible reasons to resolve this conflict most of them require a great deal of conjecture and even pose some more questions that remain unanswered. There is one view that I believe stands firm above the others and does provide more certain explanation.

This view understands Luke’s genealogy to be Mary’s for a few reasons. Eli is said to be the progenitor of Mary and so Joseph is not properly part of the genealogy, which is why he is parenthetically included in Luke 3:23. Joseph was not His physical father.

In A Harmony of the Gospels, Robert Thomas and Stanley Gundry provide some impressive points that support this view:

  • This view allows the most natural meaning of “begat” to stand. In other words, “begat” refers to actual physical descent rather than to jumps to collateral lines.
  • Matthew’s interest in Jesus’ relation to the Old Testament and the Messianic kingdom makes it appropriate that he give Joseph’s real descent from David through Solomon – a descent that is also Jesus’ legal descent – and thus gives Him legal claim to the Davidic throne.
  • Since Luke emphasizes the humanity of Jesus, His solidarity with the race, and the universality of salvation, it is fitting that Luke show His humanity by recording His human descent through His human parent Mary. His pedigree is then traced back to Adam.
  • The objection that Mary’s name is not in Luke’s version needs only the reply that women were rarely included in Jewish genealogies; though giving her descent, Luke conforms to custom by not mentioning her by name. The objection that Jews never gave genealogy of women is met by the answer that this is a unique case; Luke is talking about a virgin birth. How else could the physical descent of one who had no human father be traced? Furthermore, Luke has already shown a creative departure from customary genealogical lists by starting with Jesus and ascending up the list of ancestors rather than starting at some point in the past and descending to Jesus.
  • This view allows easy resolution of the difficulties surrounding Jeconiah (Matt. 1:11), Joseph’s ancestor and David’s descendant through Solomon. In 2 Samuel 7:12-17 the perpetuity of the Davidic kingdom through Solomon (vv. 12-13) is unconditionally promised. Jeconiah later was the royal representative of that line of descent for which eternal perpetuity had been promised. Yet, for his gross sin, Jeconiah was to be written down as childless, and no descendant of his would prosper on the Davidic throne (Jer. 22:30). This poses a dilemma. It is Jeconiah through whom the Solomic descent and legal right to the throne properly should be traced. Solomon’s throne had already been unconditionally promised eternal perpetuity. Yet Jeconiah will have no physical descendants who will prosper on that throne. How may both the divine promise and the curse be fulfilled? 1

The authors go on to answer this one dilemma with a two points. First, there is no indication in Jeremiah’s account that Jeconiah would have no seed nor that his sin would remove the legal claim to the throne.

Second, Matthew preserves the virgin birth of Jesus while making it clear that He does not come under the curse upon Jeconiah. Matthew breaks up the pattern of begetting and instead writes, “Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus.” The word “whom” in the Greek is feminine singular in form and can only refer to Mary.

So what we really have here is two different genealogies of two people. It is likely that even Shealtiel and Zerubbabel in the two lists are not the same people. Thus, the problem is solved and there is no real conflict or contradiction.


  1. Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry, A Harmony of the Gospels, (HarperOne, 1978), pp. 317-318.
Posted by Jacob Abshire on December 1st, 2008 - 2:02 pm
Categories: Commentaries,Luke,Matthew

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