How do we know the genealogical line of Jesus?

The genealogy of Jesus is described in two different passages of the New Testament – one in the Gospel of Luke and the other in the Gospel of Matthew.  Matthew’s attempt at recording the genealogy of Jesus commences with Abraham and then begins again from King David and his son Solomon through the legal line of the kings via Jeconiah to Joseph.  Luke’s attempt gives a different genealogy, going back to Adam, through Nathan, a minor son of David, and again to Joseph.  The lists are identical between Abraham and David, but differ from that point onward.  Traditional Christian scholars have put forward various theories that seek to explain why the lineages are so different with the general consensus being that Matthew’s account follows the lineage of Joseph (Jesus’s legal, but not biological, father) while Luke’s follows the lineage of Jesus’s birth mother, Mary.

Matthew’s genealogy

Matthew’s genealogy is a partial list of the line, considerably more complex than Luke’s, and is organized in three sets of fourteen (representing a movement through three time periods).  The first set spans Abraham through David (the patriarchs), the second David through Jeconiah (the kings), and the last Zerubbabel through Joseph (private citizens).  Matthew omitted some names from the line – nobody is quite sure why but most likely was done in order to compose the three sets of fourteen that he created or in order to eliminate persons Matthew felt not important to the story.  Three consecutive kings of Judah are omitted from the genealogy: Ahaziah, Jehoash, and Amaziah.  Another omitted king is Jehoiakim, the father of Jeconiah, also known as Jehoiachin.

  1. Abraham
  2. Isaac
  3. Jacob
  4. Judah & Tamar (Judas)
  5. Perez (Phares)
  6. Hezron (Esrom)
  7. Ram (Aram)
  8. Amminadab (Aminadab)
  9. Nahshon (Naasson)
  10. Salmon & Rahab
  11. Boaz & Ruth (Booz)
  12. Obed
  13. Jesse
  14. David & Bathsheba
  15. Solomon & Naamah
  16. Rehoboam (Roboam)
  17. Abijam (Abia)
  18. Asa
  19. Jehosaphat (Josaphat)
  20. Jehoram (Joram)
  21. Uzziah (Ozias)
  22. Jotham (Joatham)
  23. Ahaz (Achas)
  24. Hezekiah (Ezekias)
  25. Manasseh (Manasses)
  26. Amon
  27. Josiah (Josias)
  28. Jeconiah (Jechonias)
  29. Shealtiel (Salathiel)
  30. Zerubbabel (Zorobabel)
  31. Abiud
  32. Eliakim
  33. Azor
  34. Zadok (Sadoc)
  35. Achim
  36. Eliud
  37. Eleazar
  38. Matthan
  39. Jacob
  40. Joseph & Mary
  41. Jesus

Luke’s genealogy

Luke’s genealogical account runs from Joseph to Adam (or God) including the Davidic line through Nathan, who is an otherwise little-known son of David, mentioned briefly in the Old Testament.  In the ancestry of David, Luke agrees completely with the Old Testament.  Cainan is included between Shelah and Arphaxad, following the Septuagint text (the translation of the Hebrew Text to Koine Greek around 400 AD) though omitted in the Masoretic text (the authoritative translation of the Hebrew text made around 800 AD) followed by most modern Bibles.

  1. God
  2. Adam
  3. Seth
  4. Enosh (Enos)
  5. Kenan (Cainan)
  6. Mahalalel (Maleleel)
  7. Jared
  8. Enoch
  9. Methuselah (Mathusala)
  10. Lamech
  11. Noah (Noe)
  12. Shem (Sem)
  13. Arphaxad
  14. Cainan ?
  15. Shelah (Sala)
  16. Eber (Heber)
  17. Peleg (Phalec)
  18. Reu (Ragau)
  19. Serug (Saruch)
  20. Nahor (Nachor)
  21. Terah (Thara)
  22. Abraham
  23. Isaac
  24. Jacob
  25. Judah (Juda)
  26. Perez (Phares)
  27. Hezron (Esrom)
  28. Ram (Aram)
  29. Amminadab (Aminadab)
  30. Nahshon (Naasson)
  31. Salmon
  32. Boaz
  33. Obed
  34. Jesse
  35. David
  36. Nathan
  37. Mattatha
  38. Menna (Menan)
  39. Melea
  40. Eliakim
  41. Jonam (Jonan)
  42. Joseph
  43. Judah (Juda)
  44. Simeon
  45. Levi
  46. Matthat
  47. Jorim
  48. Eliezer
  49. Joshua (Jose)
  50. Er
  51. Elmadam (Elmodam)
  52. Cosam
  53. Addi
  54. Melchi
  55. Neri
  56. Shealtiel (Salathiel)
  57. Zerubbabel (Zorobabel)
  58. Rhesa
  59. Joanan (Joanna)
  60. Joda (Juda)
  61. Josech (Joseph)
  62. Semein (Semei)
  63. Mattathias
  64. Mahath (Maath)
  65. Naggai (Nagge)
  66. Hesli (Esli)
  67. Nahum (Naum)
  68. Amos
  69. Mattathias
  70. Joseph
  71. Jannai (Janna)
  72. Melchi
  73. Levi
  74. Matthat
  75. Heli
  76. Mary & Joseph
  77. Jesus

Why are they different?

The only two names that are matching in the two genealogies between David and Jesus (besides Joseph), are Zorobabel and Salathiel.  Matthew names 26 descendants while Luke names 41. Scholars have spent ages debating the reason for the difference.

According to some, the differences in genealogies can be attributed to the “Levirate marriage” tradition.  This custom said that if a man died without bearing any sons, his brother could then marry his widow, and their sons would carry on the dead man’s name.

One of the most widely held theories suggests that Matthew’s account follows the lineage of Joseph (the royal line), while Luke’s genealogy is that of Mary (the legal line).  Although it would have been unusual to trace a genealogy from the maternal side, there was nothing usual about the virgin birth. Additionally, if Mary (Jesus’ blood relative) was indeed a direct descendant of David, this would make her son “the seed of David” in keeping with Messianic prophecies.

Biblical Text

Matthew 1

The Genealogy of Jesus the Messiah

1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac,

Isaac the father of Jacob,

Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

Perez the father of Hezron,

Hezron the father of Ram,

4 Ram the father of Amminadab,

Amminadab the father of Nahshon,

Nahshon the father of Salmon,

5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

6 and Jesse the father of King David.

David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,

7 Solomon the father of Rehoboam,

Rehoboam the father of Abijah,

Abijah the father of Asa,

8 Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,

Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,

Jehoram the father of Uzziah,

9 Uzziah the father of Jotham,

Jotham the father of Ahaz,

Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,

10 Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,

Manasseh the father of Amon,

Amon the father of Josiah,

11 and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.

12 After the exile to Babylon:

Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,

Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,

Abihud the father of Eliakim,

Eliakim the father of Azor,

14 Azor the father of Zadok,

Zadok the father of Akim,

Akim the father of Elihud,

15 Elihud the father of Eleazar,

Eleazar the father of Matthan,

Matthan the father of Jacob,

16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

17 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 Messiah.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

Luke 3:23

Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph,

the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat,

the son of Levi, the son of Melki,

the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph,

25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos,

the son of Nahum, the son of Esli,

the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath,

the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein,

the son of Josek, the son of Joda,

27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa,

the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel,

the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melki,

the son of Addi, the son of Cosam,

the son of Elmadam, the son of Er,

29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer,

the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat,

the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon,

the son of Judah, the son of Joseph,

the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim,

31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna,

the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan,

the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse,

the son of Obed, the son of Boaz,

the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon,

33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram,

the son of Hezron, the son of Perez,

the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob,

the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham,

the son of Terah, the son of Nahor,

35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu,

the son of Peleg, the son of Eber,

the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan,

the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem,

the son of Noah, the son of Lamech,

37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch,

the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel,

the son of Kenan, 38 the son of Enosh,

the son of Seth, the son of Adam,

the son of God.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

Additional Note

In the Hebrew scriptures, with rare exceptions, only the male line is traced.  The descendancy of women is not given and their names are only mentioned in passing.   Since biblically it was the father who determined both national and tribal identity, it was reasoned that only his line was necessary.

Sources: Wikipedia, Till He Comes