Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Culture, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

Contradictions Part 6: Jesus’s Genealogy

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.

142 thoughts on “Contradictions Part 6: Jesus’s Genealogy”

  1. I have decided that Greek is stupid language.

    There is a greek word for father, and it was not used.

    There is a greek word for husband and it is not used.

    There is a greek word for “men”, which is “andres”. which was not used…

    There is a greek word for man (maybe more than one?), and the one used was “andras”

    Greek scholars who translated the text, saw “husband” as being the best translation, however I do recognize that translators are capable of making mistakes, like they did when they translated “young woman” in to “virgin” in Isaiah 7 – am I right?

    so we’re stuck with english translations of the bible (and I’d suspect other languages as well) that reads, “Joseph, the husband of Mary,” or if we go with just a straight translation, “…Joseph, the man of Mary.”

    “Husband” would have changed the meaning, and I think “men” would have as well, but as we have it? I feel like Greek is stupid, along with the way the bible was written….

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  2. and in regard to the above about a greek word for man (maybe more than one) – I see where that may be confusing….

    I dont see where “andras” could mean more than one man, what i meant was that the greeks could have another word for “man”, and I was thinking of “aner.” but you know, looks like greek can mean almost anything so…

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  3. Nice job on this quick research, William. Thanks for the links and the play-by-play. I’ll try to look into it myself when I have some time.

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  4. Tom,

    earlier, you said that the numbering in Matthew’s genealogy is off unless we count Mary. But I don’t think that’s correct.

    Matthew 1:17 states that there are:
    14 generations from Abraham to David (1)
    14 Generations from David (again, 2) to the Babylonian exile (1)
    14 Generations from the babylonian (again, 2) exile to the Messiah.

    So From Matthew’s list, Abraham to David is 14
    From David (again) to Jeconiah, the babylonian exile is also 14
    From Jeconia (again), the Babylonian exile, to Jesus (the messiah), is also 14.

    So if we tossed Mary in there, then we’d have one too many.

    If we dont count Jeconia twice, then why are we counting David twice? If we dont count David twice, then the numbering is really off, and Mary wouldn’t save it either…

    I made a spreadsheet, but i dont know how to post them here without getting them screwed up.

    nate, if you think it would help illustrate the issue, I could email the spreadsheet to you – but it may not be necessary.

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  5. You can send it if you like. I wouldn’t think we should count any of the generations twice, though. And if we don’t, but we still include Jesus, then the counts break down as 14, 14, and 13. You can see a previous comment of mine for details…

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  6. Well, I just sent it to you.

    I’ll look it over again, but look at verse 17.

    from abraham to david
    then from david to babylonian exile,
    then from babylonian exile to jesus…

    Then go back up and read verses 1 thru 16…

    Abraham, so and so, and so and so to David….

    then david to so and so to so and so to guy at babylonian exile…

    then guy at babylonian exile to so and to so and so to jesus…

    look at it, and see my spreadsheet – make one of your own… I’ll look it over again and check my math

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  7. yeah, never mind. Missing that one messed me up. You’re right.

    dude, this stuff just doesn’t make any sense… ok, sorry everyone, sorry. Nothing to see here

    O Tom, where are you when we need you?

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  8. I am using Strong’s concordance, which has it listed as ‘aner’, which can mean “fellow, husband, man, or sir “. Thayer’s has it defined similarly as “any man”, as well as the standard fellow, husband, man, adult man. It is usually translated as husband, but my point is that due to the context of genealogy, father would make more sense. The translators obviously chose husband for a reason, maybe bias; I don’t know. I believe “father” is more appropriate for two reasons 1. it fixes the problems with the text 2. the realization that the meaning of words can change over time, and that Kione greek was most likely used; of which was a dialect that varied greatly. When the translators translated the text the appropriate word seemed to be husband, however, as we see “Father” fixes the problems with the text. My point of view on this is obviously not widely held, but I have read articles from others that do hold the same opinion.

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  9. No, thanks for the comment, but I’m not sure if you saw my other previous comments where I talk a little about the point you’re making?

    husband would seem to fix the numbering (although I believe Matthew’s genealogy are also missing people listed in the OT as being part of this linage), but it doesnt seem to fit with the rest of the text.

    For example, and as stated above, Matt 1:6 uses the work father, but it’s “gennao”, not aner or andras.

    I can see where “men” or “andres” could change the meaning from husband to “fathers” but it wasnt used, only the singular word “man.”

    Joseph, the man of Mary. So i dunno, 10 verses earlier used a work for father, not a word for man, then uses a word for man, right before Mary, who we all know had husband named joseph…

    So we know that Mary had husband named Joseph.

    Why not use a a more specific term, when “man of” seems to imply something different than parent of, especially with how it’s used elsewhere in the NT.

    “She hadn’t known a man (aner, andras), etc…” Or “who divorces her man (aner or andras)?”

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