The first post in this series can be found here.
Personally, I think this is one of the clearest contradictions in the Bible. Why does the Bible give us Jesus’ genealogy? I can think of no other reason than for it to serve as proof of his descent from David. But it fails this purpose since we’re given two differing genealogies that both claim to come through Joseph.
Some have tried to answer this by saying that Matthew 1:1-16 records Joseph’s true genealogy and Luke 3:23-38 records Mary’s. They surmise that Mary must have been the only daughter of Heli (Luke 3:23); therefore, Joseph counts as his only heir, or “son.” They make the case that since Mary was a woman, she would not have been included in this genealogy. But if that’s the case, why does Matthew’s genealogy mention Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba (listed as the “wife of Uriah”), and even Mary herself?
Others have said that the genealogy has nothing to do with Mary, but that Joseph has a real father and a “legal” father due to a levirate marriage. This view contends that Luke’s genealogy is the legal, but not biological genealogy of Joseph.
But if either of these scenarios is true, why doesn’t the Bible simply say so? I’ve had some people tell me that these differences weren’t important to ancient readers of the 1st and 2nd centuries, and if we could look at it from their perspective, we wouldn’t be bothered either. However, this is absolutely untrue. We have writings from several different early Christians (as early as the 2nd century) that try to hide or explain the divergence in various ways [src1, src2]. If ancient people were truly not concerned with this issue, then why waste time explaining it?
Regardless, even if this hadn’t been an issue for ancient readers, God would know that it would be an issue in more modern times. Why not offer a little more explanation in Matthew or Luke so that we could know how these genealogies fit together? As it stands, we have no evidence to help us make sense of them. The only way that this won’t bother someone is if they choose to ignore it. Or they could use the circular argument that God doesn’t make mistakes, and since he authored these passages, they don’t contain mistakes either. Of course, this is no better than clamping your hands over your ears and screaming “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!” whenever someone says something you don’t want to hear. I think if the Koran offered such different genealogies for Muhammad, Christians would say it was proof that the Koran was not inspired. Why should we give the Bible a pass?
Even worse is the fact that neither of these genealogies matches the Old Testament (1 Chron 1-3). Matthew’s comes closest, but it’s still different in several areas. He actually omits several names from his list: Ahaziah, Jehoash, Amaziah, and Jehoiakim. This might not be such a problem, but it becomes more of one when we read 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 Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
The statement here is not true. First of all, according to Matthew’s list, there are only 13 generations between the deportation and Christ, unless you count Jechoniah again. But the bigger problem is that Matthew presents this statement as though this were a divinely guided pattern showing us that Christ truly came at the appointed time. But he only gets these numbers by omitting people from the genealogy. Therefore, his statement is not factually true. There was no pattern in the genealogy as it is recorded in the Old Testament.
Why would a divinely inspired writer lie about the number of generations? If God had really wanted the genealogy to come out to this neat 14, 14, 14 division, why didn’t he just make it happen that way? Instead, this does nothing but confuse those who think the Bible is supposed to be completely true and inerrant. Matthew is obviously manipulating the records to add validity to the claim that Jesus was the Messiah. In other words, he’s lying.
As we said at the beginning of this post, the primary purpose for including the genealogy is to show that Christ really came from the line of David. But when the two genealogies disagree with no explanation to reconcile them, and when Matthew slyly manipulates the list to make a theological point, how do these genealogies fulfill their goal? There would essentially be no point in including them. The Bible says that God is not the author of confusion. Therefore, I don’t see how he could be the author of these genealogies. It seems to me that the two genealogies are different because they were written by two different people from two different traditions, and they didn’t expect their writings to be put into the same book. They probably weren’t even aware of one another.
If you believe that the Bible is God’s word, then you should also believe that he wants people to understand and believe it. How is that possible in the face of such contradictions? Would a loving God really operate this way?
We’ll examine another contradiction in the next post.