Genealogy of Jesus

Luke's genealogy of Jesus, from the Book of Kells transcribed by Celtic monks circa 800

Luke’s genealogy of Jesus, from the Book of Kells transcribed by Celtic monks circa 800

The genealogy of Jesus through either one or both of his earthly parents (Mary and Joseph) is given by two passages from the Gospels, Matthew 1:2–16 and Luke 3:23–38. Both of them trace Christ’s line back to King David and from there on to Abraham; Luke traces the line all the way back to Adam. These lists are identical between Abraham and David, but they differ radically from that point onward.

 Genealogical texts

Luke 3:23-38

  • David
  • Nathan
  • Mattatha
  • Menna
  • Melea
  • Eliakim
  • Jonam
  • Joseph
  • Judah
  • Simeon
  • Levi
  • Matthat
  • Jorim
  • Eliezer
  • Joshua
  • Er
  • Elmadam
  • Cosam
  • Addi
  • Melki
  • Neri
  • Shealtiel
  • Zerubbabel
  • Rhesa
  • Joanan
  • Joda
  • Josech
  • Semein
  • Mattathias
  • Maath
  • Naggae
  • Esli
  • Nahum
  • Amos
  • Mattathias
  • Joseph
  • Jannai
  • Melchi
  • Levi
  • Matthat
  • Heli
  • Joseph
  • Jesus
Matt 1:1-16

1 Chronicles 3:10-19

Michelangelo's Jesse-David-Solomon.  David is generally seen as the man on the left with Solomon the child behind him.

Michelangelo's Josiah-Jechoniah-Sheatiel.  Josiah is generally seen as the man on the right with Jechoniah being the child on his knee.  The boy being held by the woman is intended as one of Jechoniah's brothers.

Michaelangelo's Jacob - Joseph.

 Variations between the genealogies

The genealogy in Matthew was traditionally illustrated by a Tree of Jesse showing the descent of Jesus from Jesse, father of King David

The genealogy in Matthew was traditionally illustrated by a Tree of Jesse showing the descent of Jesus from Jesse, father of King David

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke give different accounts of Jesus’ genealogy, (Matthew 1:2–16, Luke 3:21-38). Both trace his ancestors back to Abraham through King David but via different sons of King David: King Solomon and Nathan, respectively. Thus, the lines differ between David and Jesus’s father Joseph. Since antiquity, scholars have disagreed about the significance of two genealogies.

Matthew’s genealogy involves Jesus’s title “Christ”, in the sense of an “anointed” king. It starts with Solomon and proceeds through the kings of Judah up to and including Jeconiah. A few of the Judean kings are left out though, for instance; Azariah/Uzziah is given as the son of Jehoram/Joram thus skipping four generations (1 Chronicles 3:11-12, Matthew 1:9). (In Old Testament times, many records were also abridged [see and compare Ezra 7:3 with 1st Chronicles 6:7-10], thus giving precedence to Matthew’s stylistic choices.) Thus Jesus is established as legal heir to the throne of Israel. At Jeconiah the line of kings was terminated due to Israel being conquered by Babylonians. The names continue with Jeconiah’s son and his grandson Zerubbabel, who is a notable figure in the Book of Ezra. The names between Zerubbabel and Joseph do not appear anywhere in the Old Testament or other texts, with a couple of exceptions. At the conclusion, Jesus being identified as a new king is called “Christ”.

Alternatively, Luke’s genealogy descends through Nathan, who is an otherwise little-known son of King David, mentioned once in the Hebrew Bible (1 Chronicles 3:5), with only an indirect claim to the Davidic throne. Notably, because each generation averages about 25 years,[1] including children who are not firstborn, Luke’s list of 40 generations between David and Joseph approximates a realistic one thousand years. By contrast, Matthew’s list of 25 generations is too short and can only represent a “telescoped”, schematized or otherwise interrupted line.

Luke’s genealogy involves Jesus’s title “son of God” in the sense of being a descendant of Adam who was created by God. Luke opens the genealogy with the heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism saying, “You are my son”, and concludes it with the addition of earlier ancestors before Abraham back to Adam, who is called “son of God”.

Explanations for discrepancies

Several theories have been proposed to explain the apparent discrepancies between Matthew and Luke:

  1. The oldest one, ascribed to Julius Africanus, uses the concept of Levirate marriage, and suggests that Matthan (grandfather of Joseph according to Matthew), and Matthat (grandfather of Joseph according to Luke), were brothers, married to the same woman one after another – this would mean that Matthan’s son (Jacob) could be Joseph’s biological father, and Matthat’s son (Heli), was his legal father.
  2. That Luke’s genealogy is of Mary, with Heli being her father, while Matthew’s describes the genealogy of Joseph.
  3. That Matthew records the passing on of kingship, while Luke records biological parentage, though this fails to explain why kings that were not father to the next have been excluded from Matthew’s list. Similarly, that Luke gives the actual genealogy while Matthew presents a “ceremonial” one, for example, Neri being Shealtiel’s natural father, but Jeconiah being the prior leader of the Jewish people.
  4. That at least one, and possibly both, of the genealogies are simply fabricated, thus explaining the divergence.
  5. According to Barbara Thiering in her book Jesus the man, Jacob and Heli are one and the same. Heli took the name “Jacob” for his title as patriarch. The true genealogy is that in Luke’s gospel, and in Matthew’s gospel Heli’s line is grafted in to the royal line running down through Solomon.

Joseph the son of a Levirate marriage?

The earliest Christian tradition to explain the existence of two genealogies is still not impossible. The tradition records a complex scenario that involves the Jewish custom of Levirate marriage. Augustine learned this tradition from Julius Africanus and accepted it as authoritative. (Eusebius of Caesaria, Church History 1:7, 6:31; Augustine of Hippo, De Consensu Evangelistarum 2.)

  • Christian tradition identifies a woman named Estha as the grandmother of Joseph. She married Mathan, a descendant of David through Solomon, and by him became the mother of Jacob.
  • However after Mathan died, she remarried and by her second husband Mathat, a descendent of David through Nathan, became the mother of Heli.
  • Therefore, Jacob and Heli are half-brothers who have the same mother.
  • Heli married, but died without children. So his widow undertook the ancient custom of a levirate marriage, and married the brother Jacob to give her children in Heli’s name. She birthed Joseph.
  • Therefore, Joseph is both the biological son of Jacob (from Solomon) and the legal son of Heli (from Nathan). Therefore, two genealogies have been preserved.
  • While being the legal son of Heli, Joseph and his mother remained in the household of Jacob, according to custom, and Joseph legally inherited from Jacob.

Joseph was part of the linage back to Abraham and Adam. Luke 3:21-38 Linage of Jesus of Nazereth, born in Bethelhem, Israel, Son of Joseph to Abraham to Adam to Son of God.

King James Version, Luke 3:21-38

21 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, 22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. 23 And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli, 24 Which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Janna, which was the son of Joseph, 25 Which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Amos, which was the son of Naum, which was the son of Esli, which was the son of Nagge, 26 Which was the son of Maath, which was the son of Mattathias, which was the son of Semei, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Juda, 27 Which was the son of Joanna, which was the son of Rhesa, which was the son of Zorobabel, which was the son of Salathiel, which was the son of Neri, 28 Which was the son of Melchi, which was the son of Addi, which was the son of Cosam, which was the son of Elmodam, which was the son of Er, 29 Which was the son of Jose, which was the son of Eliezer, which was the son of Jorim, which was the son of Matthat, which was the son of Levi, 30 Which was the son of Simeon, which was the son of Juda, which was the son of Joseph, which was the son of Jonan, which was the son of Eliakim, 31 Which was the son of Melea, which was the son of Menan, which was the son of Mattatha, which was the son of Nathan, which was the son of David, 32 Which was the son of Jesse, which was the son of Obed, which was the son of Booz, which was the son of Salmon, which was the son of Naasson, 33 Which was the son of Aminadab, which was the son of Aram, which was the son of Esrom, which was the son of Phares, which was the son of Juda, 34 Which was the son of Jacob, which was the son of Isaac, which was the son of Abraham, which was the son of Thara, which was the son of Nachor, 35 Which was the son of Saruch, which was the son of Ragau, which was the son of Phalec, which was the son of Heber, which was the son of Sala, 36 Which was the son of Cainan, which was the son of Arphaxad, which was the son of Sem, which was the son of Noe, which was the son of Lamech, 37 Which was the son of Mathusala, which was the son of Enoch, which was the son of Jared, which was the son of Maleleel, which was the son of Cainan, 38 Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.

Mary, the daughter of Heli?

The confusion over the name of Joseph’s father encouraged explanations to reconcile the two genealogies. One suggestion  assigns Luke’s genealogy to Jesus’s mother Mary, and not to his father Joseph at all. So Jacob would be the father of Joseph, and Heli the father of Mary. Therefore, no contradiction.

The use of the term ‘son’ was often used in the sense of a ‘descendant’ or a head of a household’s relative living under the same roof. An example of this in the Hebrew Bible would be Manasseh, who was described in Numbers 32:41, Deuteronomy 3:14 and 1st Kings 4:13 as the ‘son’ of Jair. However, it is revealed in 1st Chronicles 2:21-23 and 7:14-15 that he is actually the distant son-in-law of Jair. Thus calling Jesus the ‘son of Joseph’ could be interpreted to mean Jesus was a member of Joseph’s household without being a biological son.

Assuming a virgin birth through Mary, Jesus’s patrilinear genealogy could follow Mary’s father. (A similar legal scenario was in place for the ancient concubines whose children did not inherit their father’s property, but instead inherited property from their mother’s father.)

The suggestion focuses on the language of Luke’s Greek text. Luke adds a phrase that today would be considered a parenthetical comment. Luke 3:23 says literally: “And Jesus himself was … a son (being thought) of Joseph of Heli” (Greek: και αυτος ην ιησους … υιος ως ενομιζετο ιωσηφ του ηλι). The plain meaning of the text is usually understood as communicating the notion that Jesus was believed to be the son of Joseph but was actually the product of virgin birth. The suggestion simply expands the parenthesis to literally comment Joseph out of the genealogy altogether. “And Jesus himself was … a son (being thought of Joseph) of Heli”. In other words, people believed Jesus was the son of Joseph, but really he was the son of Mary’s father Heli. Thus Joseph would be irrelevant to this genealogy.

The suggestion appeals to some scholars. It accepts the accuracy of the exact wording of the biblical text, it resolves an apparent contradiction between two biblical texts, and it expands the reputation of Jesus’s mother Mary by explicating her aristocratic origins all the way back to King David.

Nevertheless, the genealogy does not actually mention Mary: making it her genealogy is thereforew a “daring” interpretation. More problematically, the Early Christians preserve no tradition identifying Luke’s genealogy as Mary’s. It was not until the 15th century AD, when Annius of Viterbo first suggested this reassignment of the genealogy to Mary, with it gaining popularity only in the following centuries since. Most scholars “safely” discount the possibility that the genealogy belongs to Mary.

Admin and Arni

Instead of calling Amminadab son of Ram, which was a son of Hezron (1. Chr 2:9,10; Ruth 4:8-10), the genealogy of Luke states: “…Amminadab, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron…” In some manuscripts the name Admin is inserted between Arni and Amminadab: “…Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron…” Most likely, Arni is a variant of the Greek equivalent of the name Ram. Ram is rendered Aram in Septuaginta. The name Admin can be a corruption of the name Amminadab, and the insertion of the name Admin is likened to be an error. Today, Bible translations varies on this issue, some have both Arni and Admin, some have only Arni, and yet some have Ram instead of Arni.

The curse on Jehoiakim

Jeremiah prophesied that King Jehoiakim would be killed by the enemy and no biological descendant of his would claim the throne. “Now this is what the LORD says about King Jehoiakim of Judah: He will have no heirs to sit on the throne of David. His dead body will be thrown out to lie unburied- exposed to the heat of the day and the frost of the night.”. (Jeremiah 36:30.) Here is yet another problematic issue raised by the genealogies. However, the solution offered by many Christians is this: Luke’s genealogy, as seen by what may be considered linguistic evidence, is in fact Mary’s, not Joseph’s, and the record in Matthew is his. If this is the case, the point is continued, then God’s curse is not undermined, seeing as how Jesus wasn’t the biological son of Joseph.

Are there two Shealtiels and two Zerubbabels?

Although Shealtiel and his son Zerubbabel have unusual names, the ones who have these names in Luke’s genealogy are sometimes explained to not be the same as the famous ones who have these names in Matthew’s genealogy. Matthew’s Zerubbabel is the famous one who led the Jews back from Babylon to Jerusalem around 520 BCE, and who was perhaps born around 570 BCE. By contrast, if each generation is about 25 (or 23.8) years, then Luke’s Zerubbabel was born around 502 (or 478) BCE. In other words, Luke’s Shealtiel lived about three or four generations after the famous Shealtiel. He was named after the famous one and likewise named his own son after his famous son Zerubbabel. The famous names frequent the later books in the Hebrew Bible, with positive connotations of restoration from disaster. As different people, there would be no contradiction between the famous Shealtiel’s father being King Jeconiah/Jehoiachin in Matthew but an otherwise unknown Neri in Luke, and likewise the famous Zerubbabel’s son being Abiud in Matthew but Rhesa in Luke.

The sons of Zerubbabel

The book of Chronicles mentions numerous children of Zerubbabel, but neither Abiud nor Rhesa is in this list. Some scholars suggest this section appears garbled by scribal errors. By extension, if a genealogical list survived elsewhere, it may have mentioned Abiud as part of the original list. Some think that Abiud could be identical with Meshullam, who is listed as the first son of Zerubbabel. Or he could be a descendant of Zerubbabel, but not his immediate son. He could for example be a grandson, and son of one of Zerubbabel’s sons. Alternatively, Abiud may not be Zerubbabel’s biological descendent but a son in some other sense, such as Levirate marriage. A non-biological inheritor would bypass the curse on Jehoiakim, and enable Abiud to be part of a list of eligible claimants to sit on a restored throne of David (another solution offered in regards to Joseph’s apparent entanglement in the curse due to his family line.) Some have thought that Rhesa could be Zerubbabel’s son in law. Or either Rhesa or Abiud could be a son in law. Yet another explanation is that Abiud can be the same as Joda in Luke’s genealogy, which would mean that the two genealogies have some generations in common. Some have thought that Rhesa could be another name of one of Zerubbabel’s sons, born during the Persian time. They have pointed out that Rhesa can be derived from a Persian word meaning “prince”, which would be fit for someone born in a family with royal ancestry.


Amongst others, Brown has remarked that Matthew’s genealogy seems to be moving much too quickly – it gives 12 generations between King Jechonias (alternate spellings: Jeconiah, Jehoiachin) of the Babylonian Exile of Judah of ca 595 BC and Joseph, giving an approximate average length of generation of 50 years, extremely long for an ancient genealogy. This first part of Matthew 1:8 coincides with the list of the Kings of Judah that is present in a number of other parts of the Bible. However these other lists have Jehoram’s son being Ahaziah while Uzziah is a quite different monarch who lives several generations later. This means that Matthew’s genealogy skips Ahaziah, Athaliah, Jehoash, and Amaziah.

Those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible contend that the genealogy was never meant to be complete. The incompleteness would be consistent with the writing in Matthew, and not considered an error, such as Matthew 1:20 where Joseph is referred simply as “Son of David.” It is possible then, that the author of Matthew deliberately dropped those who were not needed from the list, either because of a lack of significance or because, as others conjecture, because of a political motive. Another viewpoint , is that Matthew was emphasising that Jesus is the Son of David  by using the fact that the consonants in the name David add up to 14 in the Hebrew alphabet. D is the 4th letter, V is the 6th letter, and so DVD (David) then works out to 4 + 6 + 4 = 14. Hence his groups of 14 names.

One theory is that they were excised owing to their wickedness, or because they were murdered, but the even more unpleasant Ahaz, Manasseh and Amon are left in the list. Gundry supports the popular theory that these monarchs were left out because they were all descendants of Ahab, through his daughter Athaliah, both targets of a large degree of scorn in Jewish perception. Gundry also believes their removal was because the author was trying to contrive a division of the genealogy into three even divisions of fourteen names, hence contriving Jesus to seem to be the natural conclusion to the history.

As stated earlier, it was also quite common in the NT period to abridge and shorten genealogies for the sake of aiding memorisation. Many Christians and Bible scholars might claim that since the style was fairly common, Matthew had more than enough precedence to do so, also.

Albright and Mann have a different theory, though, proposing that the author, or a later scribe, made a common scribal transcription error, known as homoioteleuton, confusing Achaziah and Uzziah due to the similarity of their names. Under this proposal, the three divisions of fourteen names were not originally present, only discovered after the scribal error, with Matthew 1:17, which discusses this division, being a later addition to the text.

Luke’s genealogy is considerably longer than is Matthew’s, presenting a far more plausible number of names. That Luke goes through David’s much less acclaimed son Nathan and does not include the kings of Israel in Jesus’ lineage is also seen as adding to Luke’s credibility. (Another key difference in the two is that while Matthew’s genealogy goes back to Abraham, Luke’s continues all the way back to Adam. The reason was likely because while Matthew’s audience was presumably Jews, and therefore he was concerned with showing the fulfillment of messianic prophecy, Luke’s was that of Greeks, and he would therefore be more interested in tracing Christ back to God, since the Gentiles would not be very concerned with Jewish prophecy.) However while names in Matthew’s genealogy match the historical period in which they are meant to have lived, the names on Luke’s list seem to lack historical accuracy – Luke’s names reflect names and spelling of the first century, rather than the periods in which the people actually lived.

Duplication, telescoping, and copying

Zadok is generally placed as having lived some 150 years after the start of Zerubbabel’s period. This is a long period of time for just Zerubbabel, Abiud, Eliakim, and Azor to cover, and so many scholars feel an accurate list would be longer than Matthew’s, more like Luke’s genealogy which has far more names for the period. That this part of the genealogy in Matthew lacks papponymics has lead Albright and Mann to speculate that the original names covering this period became telescoped together, owing to repetitive re-occurrences of names; whereas Luke’s genealogy contains several repeated groups of closely similar names, suggesting that Luke inadvertently, or deliberately, duplicated them.

The names between Zerubbabel and Zadok – Abiud, Eliakim, and Azor – are not known in any records dating from before the Gospel of Matthew, immediately leading many scholars, including Gundry, to believe that the author of Matthew simply made them up. In the eyes of such scholars, once the list moves away from the accepted genealogy of Jewish leaders it is fabricated until it reaches the known territory of Joseph’s grandfather. The names listed are names that were frequent in the period of history, and so Gundry sees the author as having drawn the names from random parts of 1 Chronicles, disguising them to not make the copying obvious: According to Gundry

  • The author of Matthew liked the meaning “son of Judah that lies behind the name Abihu, a priest, and modified it to become Abiud.
  • The author then changed the name of Abihu’s successor, Eliezer, into Eliakim to link him with the Eliakim of Isaiah 22 and also to link him with Jehoiakim (an identical name when theophory is taken into account)
  • The third name comes from another significant priest – Azariah – which the author shortened to Azor.
  • Achim is an abbreviation by the author of the name of Zadok’s son, Achimaas
  • Eliezer, another figure from 1 Chronicles is turned into Eliud.

Son of David

See also: Mark 12

In a later passage present in all the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus goes to the Temple courts, and during teaching asks the people: Since David called him Lord, how can he be his son at the same time?

This has caused much debate, predominantly since at face value it appears to contradict the apparent intent of the genealogies, as well as making them appear somewhat pointless. Some scholars have argued that the passage is figurative, and instead is a justification of how someone from a background of poverty could claim to be the heir of David.

Others explain the passage in this light:

While Jesus points out that even though the Messiah would be the offspring of David, he would also be his Lord. He then continues to ask why if the Messiah would be a mere human ancestor David would call him his “Lord.” Theologians and Christians attempting to examine this passage tend to see it in this way, implying that Christ was both before David and after him– the “Root and the Offspring of David,” as put by Christ in Revelation.

The passage is followed by a quotation from the Book of Psalms, which had previously been used at many coronations of the earlier Kings of Israel and Judea (Psalm 110:1). Since the psalm was, like many of the others, traditionally ascribed to David, the reference in the quotation to my Lord as a distinct entity from Yahweh, would seem to imply that David saw a higher authority between him and Yahweh. Although most Jews saw this as referring to the Jewish Messiah, as do many Christians, many Christians put emphasis on how it implies greater authority than David, rather than excluding his ability to be an ancestor.


By mentioning five women — Tamar, Ruth, Rahab, Bathsheba and Mary — Matthew’s genealogy is unusual compared to those of the time, where women were not generally included at all; for example, the genealogy of Luke does not mention them. Albright and Mann support the theory that these women are mentioned to highlight the important roles women have played in the past, to imply that the other woman mentioned in the genealogy — Mary — is the equal of these. Feminist scholars such as Levine hold the idea that the presence of women in the genealogy serves to undermine the patriarchal message of a long list of males, while Brown feels that the presence of women is to deliberately show that God’s action is not always in keeping with the moral politics of the time.

Tamar deceived and had sex with her father-in-law when he failed to provide proper support for her after she was widowed, Rahab was a prostitute, Ruth was a foreigner, and Bathsheba was seduced into adultery by David: all of them women who were either despised or abused by their contemporaries or who didn’t conform to their society’s expectations of virtue. Greater, more notable and virtuous women are not mentioned, leading Jerome to suggest that Matthew had included these women to illustrate how pressingly moral reform was needed, while Gundry sees them as an attempt to justify Jesus’ undignified origin by showing that great leaders of the past had also been born to women of a dubious nature. Rahab was a Canaanite, as most likely was Tamar, Ruth was a Moabite and Bathsheba was married to a Hittite and conceivably was one herself. According to John Chrysostom, the first to remark on their foreignness, their inclusion was a device to imply that Jesus was to be a saviour not only of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles.


The phrase “book of the genealogy” or biblos geneseos has several possible meanings; most scholars agree that the most logical explanation is that this is simply toledot, although a small minority translate it more widely as “the book of coming” and thus consider it to refer to the entire Gospel. Brown stretches the grammar considerably to make it read “the book of the genesis brought about by Jesus”, implying that it discusses the recreation of the world by Jesus.

In modern times the term Christ is considered to apply exclusively to Jesus, but in Matthew’s day it had a more general meaning, and Matthew is not specific as to whether he is describing Jesus as the Christ or merely a Christ.[citation needed] The form Matthew uses indicates that the word Christ is being used as a title, rather than an adjective or ordinary noun. Elsewhere Matthew uses “the Christ”.

According to Brown some have theorized that David’s name precedes that of Abraham since the author of Matthew is trying to emphasize Jesus’ Davidic ancestry. Gundry states that the structure of this passage attempts to portray Jesus as the culmination of the Old Testament genealogies.


The author of Matthew has a tendency to use spellings of names that correspond to the spellings in the Septuagint rather than the Masoretic text, suggesting that the Septuagint formed the source for the genealogy. However, Rahab’s name is spelt as Rachab, a departure from the Septuagint, though the spelling Rachab also appears in the works of Josephus, leading to speculation that this is a symptom of a change in pronunciation during this period. Additionally, Rahab’s position is also peculiar, as all other traditions place her as the wife of Joshua not of Salmon.

The author of Matthew adds a “φ” to Asa’s name. Gundry believes this is an attempt to make a connection with Psalm 78, which contains messianic prophecies, Asaph being the name to which Psalm 78 is attributed. However, most other scholars feel this is more likely a typographic error than a scheme, and most modern translators of the Bible “correct” Matthew in this verse. Whether it were the author of Matthew, or a later copyist, that would have made the error, is uncertain.

Amon has a similar feature. Matthew actually has Amos, rather than Amon, which Grundy has argued might have been an attempt to link to the minor prophet Amos, who made messianic predictions, but once again, other scholars feel this is most likely simply a typographical error.


The dividing of Matthew’s genealogy into three groups of fourteen helps for the memorization of the list, and the author of Matthew emphasizes that the names have been grouped into sets of 14, pointing out that “all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations” (Mt. 1:17). The number 14 is itself important; not only is it twice 7, a holy number at the time, 14 is also the gematria of David. The division also makes it seem as though Jesus should be an important event simply by virtue of being at the end of the last set of 14. Calculations based on this division into 14s led Joachim of Fiore to predict that the Second Coming would occur in the thirteenth century.

There is a significant complication with this division – there are only 41 names listed in the direct line (including Jesus), not 42 (14×3), either leaving one of the divisions a member short, or implying that Jesus would have a son who, rather than Jesus, is to be the Messiah. A number of explanations have been advanced to account for this numerical feature. One is that David’s name should appear twice just since he is mentioned twice in the genealogy, and so appears both in the 14 prior to the period of Kings, and the 14 covering it. However, this logic also implies that as the exile in Babylon is mentioned twice, so the king involved – Jeconiah – should appear twice, resulting in 43 names in the list.

Other theories that have been advanced include that Mary counts as one of the 14, though discounting all the other women, or that Jeconiah legally counts as two separate people, one as king the other as dethroned civilian. However, the explanation that scholars today find most probable is that the problem lies in confusion of Jeconiah and an individual of a similar name. Almost all other sources report that a king named Jehoiakim lay between Josiah and Jeconiah, and since the second theophory in the name Jeconiah (the ..iah) is transposed to the middle of his name in the Book of Kings, as Jehoiachin, it is plausible that the author of Matthew or a later scribe confused Jehoiakim for Jehoiachin. This would also explain why the text identifies Josiah as Jeconiah’s father rather than grandfather, and why Jeconiah, usually regarded as an only-child, is listed as having a number of brothers, a description elsewhere considered more appropriate for Jehoiakim.

Virgin birth

Main article: Virgin Birth

Matthew 1:16 breaks with the pattern preceding it; it is at pains to distance Joseph from Jesus’ actual parentage and point out that Joseph did not beget Jesus, but was simply the husband of the woman who was his mother. In the original Greek, the word translated as whom is unambiguously feminine. The shift to the passive voice also symbolizes the Virgin Birth.

Matthew 1:16 has attracted considerable scholarly attention because unusually the ancient sources show several different versions of it. For example, the Codex Koridethi has:

Jacob was the father of Joseph,
to whom the betrothed virgin
Mary bore Jesus, called the Christ

While the Old Syriac Sinaiticus has

Jacob was the father of Joseph,
to whom the virgin Mary was
betrothed, was the father of Jesus

The first version represents the same pattern as that used in most modern translations – unlike the prior genealogy, its convoluted wording, shifting to the passive voice, is at pains to distance Joseph from the parentage of Jesus, to support a Virgin Birth. The other version states clearly that Joseph was actually the father of Jesus, and while it does appear to state Mary is a virgin, the word now translated virgin actually corresponds to the Greek word parthenekos which translates literally more as maid. Some scholars see these latter versions as evidence against the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, while others postulate that the original text only had words of the form “and Joseph was the father of Jesus”, following the pattern of the prior verses, which later scribes altered to clarify that this didn’t amount to biological parentage.

Raymond Brown has proposed that these variants are not so much concerned with arguing for or against the Virgin Birth, but for the doctrine of perpetual virginity of Mary, which became prominent at the time the variants were created; both appear to be attempts to avoid making Joseph a husband to Mary, and hence to suppress the suggestion of sexual activity between them. Perhaps the most obvious issue of all surrounding this aspect of the genealogy is that if Joseph is no more than a step father to Jesus, the question arises as to why Matthew devoted the prior verses to his genealogy. At the time legal kinship was generally considered more important than biological descent, and thus by demonstrating that Joseph was a member of the House of David, even an adopted son would be legally considered part of the same dynasty.

The known family of Jesus

Main article: Desposyni

The Desposyni (from Greek δεσπόσυνος (desposunos) “of or belonging to the master or lord”) was a sacred name reserved only for Jesus’ blood relatives. The closely related word δεσπότης (despotes), literally meaning despot, but more generally meaning a lord, master, or ship owner, is commonly used of God, human slave-masters, and of Jesus in the reading Luke 13:25 found in Papyrus 75, in Jude 1:4, and possibly in 2nd Peter 2:1. In Ebionite belief, the desposyni included his mother Mary, his father Joseph, his un-named sisters, and his brothers James the Just, Joses, Simon and Jude; in modern mainstream Christian belief, Mary is counted as a blood relative, Joseph as a foster father or step father and the rest as siblings (Protestant belief) or half-siblings or cousins (Catholic and Orthodox).


  1. ^ Some sources date a “generation” to roughly 25 years per generation, however calculations involving some genealogies in the Book of Chronicles (and perhaps in the Gospel of Luke) seem to be closer to 23.8 years per generation. “The number twenty [years per generation] is only a very approximate round number and perhaps should be considerably higher. Kalimi lists proposals ranging from twenty to thirty years per generation. Kalimi himself chooses twenty-three or twenty-four.” (Isaac Kalimi, “Die Abfassungszeit der Chronik: Forschungsstand und Perspectiven,” Zeitschrift Fuer Die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft (ZAW) Vol. 105 (Berlin 1993) p. 230, cited in R. W. Klein, “Introduction to the Book of Chronicles,” in The Harper Collins Study Bible: New revised standard edition. Edited by W. A. Meeks (London: Harper Collins 1993), p.25.) [1]
  2. ^ Eusebius Church History i. 7; vi. 31, letter to Aristides
  3. ^ Vermes, Geza “The Nativity: History and Legend”. Penguin (2006) ISBN 0-14-102446-1
  4. ^ Second Difficulty in “Genealogy of Christ”, Catholic Encyclopedia.


  • Albright, W.F. and C.S. Mann. “Matthew.” The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
  • Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. London: G. Chapman, 1977.
  • Gundry, Robert H. Matthew a Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
  • Jones, Alexander. The Gospel According to St. Matthew. London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1965.
  • Levine, Amy-Jill. “Matthew.” Women’s Bible Commentary. Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, eds. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998.

See also

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1 Response to “Genealogy of Jesus”

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