Bible Question:

Someone pointed out to me that Matthew records Jesus' genealogy through Joseph, and not through Mary. Since the prophecy was that his mother would have to come through the line of David, many people would consider this fact to disprove Jesus as the prophesied Messiah.

Then I checked out the genealogy Luke tells of Jesus. It differs greatly from the genealogy that Matthew gives us. First of all, it says, “He was the son, or so it was thought, of Joseph...” It even lists a different father for Joseph! I read somewhere that the genealogy in Luke is actually Mary's line. Matthew lists Joseph's father as Jacob. Jacob was Joseph's biological father. Luke lists Joseph as the son of Heli. Well, I heard the original Greek basically means son-in-law (when referring to Heli). That would make Heli Mary's father, and the rest of it is still traced back to King David, therefore still fulfilling the prophecy of coming from the line of David. I'm guessing it was done like this since tracing someone's genealogy through the mother was considered unusual in those times. So can you simply tell me if the original Greek does indeed mean son-in-law? I don't know Greek, and I don't know anyone that does. Thanks for your time.

Bible Answer:

You did a great job in explaining the genealogy of Jesus. First, for those who may not be aware of the situation, the gospels of Matthew (Matthew 1:1-17) and Luke (Luke 3:23-38) record the genealogy of Jesus as presented in the table. (Luke 3:35-38 has been left out of the table):

Matthew’s GenealogyLuke’s Genealogy
AbrahamAbraham
IssacIssac
JacobJacob
JudahJudah
Perez, by TamarPerez
HezronHezron
RamRam
AmminadabAmminadab
NahshonNahshon
SalmonSalmon
Boaz, by RahabBoaz
Obed, by RuthObed
JesseJesse
DavidDavid
Solomon, by Uriah’s wifeNathan
RehoboamMattatha
AbijahJoanan
AsaMenna
JehoshaphatMelea
JoramEliakim
UzziahJonam
JothamJoseph
AhazJudah
HezekiahSimeon
ManassehLevi
AmonMatthat
JosiahDeportationJorim
JeconiahEliezer
ShealtielJoshua
ZerubbabelEr
AbiudElmadam
EliakimCosam
AzorAddi
ZadokMelki
AchkimNeri
EliudShealtiel
EleazarZerubbabel
MatthanRhesa
JacobJoanan
JosephJosech
Semein
Mattathias
Maath
Hesli
Nahum
Amos
Mattathias
Joseph
Jannai
Melchi
Levi
Matthat
Eli
Jesus

It is clear the two genealogies are different after King David. One genealogy branches off from Solomon and the other from Nathan, who were sons of king David (2 Samuel 5:13-14). Now the obvious question before us is why is there a difference?

Solution:

Matthew records Jesus’ genealogy through Joseph while the gospel of Luke records Jesus’ genealogy through Mary’s father or His grandfather. The length of the genealogies are different because many generations are selectively skipped. It was common for genealogies to skip many generations. The gospel of Matthew is a great example since it starts with the genealogy of Jesus saying, “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matt 1:1). Now clearly, Jesus was born into this world many, many, many generations after King David and Abraham. Yet He is said to be their son.

Now the question we are addressing is, “Does the original Greek indeed mean son-in-law?” The answer is, “Yes, the Greek word for son can refer back many generations to a former father in the family tree. As we have seen, Matthew jumped many generations and so does the gospel of Luke. Mary’s genealogy starts in Luke 3:23. Luke starts Jesus’ family tree with his grandfather – Heli – Mary’s father.” The original Greek of this passage has two important commas. These commas appear around the phrase “being supposedly the son of Joseph.” A better translation of the Greek could go something like this,

“And Jesus Himself was beginning about thirty years of age

being the son (as was supposed of Joseph) of Eli.” Luke 3:23

The original Greek does not say Jesus was the son of Joseph. In fact if we delete the parenthesis, the passage would read like this,

“And Jesus Himself was beginning about thirty years of age
being the son of Eli.”

The parenthesis is like a clarification for the reader’s understanding. And our God has not left us to wonder about this. The Jewish Talmud tells us that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is said to be “the daughter of Heli.” Now that is amazing!

The apostle Luke’s genealogy is the genealogy of Mary. Matthew shows how Jesus can claim to be Messiah by being a descendent back to King David through a male, i.e. Joseph. Luke shows us how Jesus is a flesh and blood descendent of King David through Mary.

Conclusion:

Matthew and Luke both tell us that Joseph was not the physical father of Jesus (Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23). Both Matthew and Luke tell us the Holy Spirit caused the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:20 and Luke 1:34-35). Matthew 1-2 is more focused on Joseph and Luke 1-3 is more focused on Mary. Jesus was virgin born. Jesus is the legal and physical descendent of King David as the prophecies foretold. Jesus is the Messiah. He is the Savior of the World. Praise God!