By Reuben Archer Torrey
A favorite point of attack on the Bible for those who deny its divine origin and inerrancy is the two varying genealogies of Jesus Christ. Not only is this a favorite point of attack by unbelievers, but it is also a point that often puzzles earnest students of the Bible. It is perfectly clear that the two genealogies differ widely from one another, and yet each is given as the genealogy of Christ. How can they by any possibility both be true?
There is a very simple answer to this apparently difficult question.
1. The genealogy given in Matthew is the genealogy of Joseph, the reputed father of Jesus, his father in the eyes of the law. The genealogy given in Luke is the genealogy of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and is the human genealogy of Jesus Christ in actual fact. The gospel of Matthew was written for Jews. All through it Joseph is prominent, Mary is scarcely mentioned. In Luke, on the other hand, Mary is the chief personage in the whole account of the Saviour's conception and birth. Joseph is brought in only incidentally and because he was Mary's husband. In all of this there is a deep significance.
2. In Mathew Jesus appears as the Messiah. In Luke He appears as "the Son of man," our Brother and Redeemer, who belongs to the whole race and claims kindred with all kinds and conditions of men. So in Matthew the genealogy descends from Abraham to Joseph and Jesus, because all the predictions and promises touching the Messiah are fulfilled in Him. But in Luke the genealogy ascends from Jesus to Adam, because the genealogy is being traced back to the head of the whole race and shows the relation of the second Adam to the first.
3. Joseph's line in Matthew is the strictly royal line from David to Joseph. In Luke, though the line of descent is from David, it is not the royal line. In this Jesus is descended from David through Nathan, David's son indeed, but not in the royal line, and the list follows a line quite distinct from the royal line.
4. The Messiah, according to prediction, was to be the actual son of David according to the flesh (2 Samuel 7:12-19; Psalm 89:3-4, 34-37; 132:11; Acts 2:30; 13:22-23; Romans 1:3; 2 Timothy 2:8). These prophecies are fulfilled by Jesus being the son of Mary, who was a lineal descendant of David, though not in the royal line. Joseph, who was of the royal line, was not His father according to the flesh, but was His father in the eyes of the law.
5. Mary was a descendant of David through her father, Heli. It is true that Luke 3:23 says that Joseph was the son of Heli. The simple explanation of this is that according to Jewish usage Mary's name, being a woman, could not appear in the genealogy, males alone forming the line. So Joseph's name is introduced in place of Mary's, he being Mary's husband. Heli was his father-in-law, and so Joseph is called the son of Heli, and the line is thus completed. While Joseph was son-in-law of Heli, according to the flesh he was in actual fact the son of Jacob (Matthew 1:16).
6. Two genealogies are absolutely necessary to trace the lineage of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the royal and legal, and the natural and literal. We find the legal and royal genealogy in Matthew's gospel, the gospel of law and kingship; the natural and literal in Luke's, the gospel of humanity.
7. We are told in Jeremiah 22:30 that any descendant of Jeconiah could not come to the throne of David. Joseph was of this line, and while Joseph's genealogy furnishes the royal line for Jesus, his son under the law, nevertheless Jeremiah's prediction is fulfilled to the very letter, for Jesus (strictly speaking) was not Joseph's descendant and therefore was not of the seed of Jeconiah. If Jesus had been the son of Joseph in reality, He could not have come to the throne, but He is Mary's son through Nathan and can come to the throne legally by her marrying Joseph and so clearing His way legally to it.
As we study these two genealogies of Jesus carefully and read them in the light of Old Testament prediction, we find that far from constituting a reason for doubting the accuracy of the Bible they are rather a confirmation of the minutest accuracy of that Book. It is amazing how one part of the Bible fits into another part when we study it thus minutely. We need no longer stumble over the fact of two genealogies, but discover and rejoice in the deep meaning of the fact.