Monday, December 23, 2013

Dealing with the Discrepancies of Jesus' Genealogies

The Bible is constantly under attack. For those who affirm biblical inerrancy critics like to point out apparent contradictions among other problematic texts. Near the top of that list is the troubling discrepancies between the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. Even a cursory comparison makes it clear the two are not in total agreement. So what do Bible-believing, inerrancy-affirming Christians do with these two texts? Here is how The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels deals with it.

First, the discrepancies:
Why do Matthew and Luke's genealogies differ from one another after David? Up to that point, the lists generally agree with the OT records. No biblical records exist, however, of the names between Zerubbabel and Joseph (nine in Matthew; eighteen in Luke), and, if granted that Luke's Shealtiel and Zerubbabel are different from those in Matthew's, no biblical record exists for the names after Nathan in Luke's list. These portions are problematic; but with this divergence after David, it becomes quite clear that Luke and Matthew are doing two different tasks. (258)
They then offer four basic solutions to these discrepancies. First:
Julius Africanus (A. D. 170-245) proposed that both lists give Jesus' legal descent through Joseph: Matthew giving Joseph's natural lineage and Luke giving Joseph's legal lineage (cf. Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 1:7). Africanus explains that Jacob and Eli (alias Heli) were uterine brothers (born of the same mother by different fathers). When Eli died childless, Jacob took the widow as wife to raise up a child in the dead brother's name in accordance with Levirate law (Deut 25:5-10). Thus, Joseph was Jacob's natural son (Matthew), but the legal heir to Eli (Luke). Some feel this solution asks for too many happy coincidences. (258)
Secondly:
Several modern scholars also hold that both lists give Jesus' legal descent, reversing the roles of the genealogies in Africanus' solution: Matthew providing Joseph's legal lineage and Luke providing Joseph's natural lineage. This solution struggles, however, against the more natural understanding of Matthew's "begat" formula as indicating a blood relationship between Jacob and Joseph (Mt 1:16). (258)
Thirdly:
Annius of Viterbo (c. A. D. 1490), followed by martin Luther and many today, understand Matthew as giving Joseph's ancestry and Luke as giving Mary's. it suggests that Mary was the brother-less heir to Eli whose estate would then go to Mary's husband. Luke 3:23 is understood as saying, "Jesus, being the descendant (as it was supposed, through Joseph) of Heli." If this were the case, however, it is strange that Luke mentions Joseph instead of Mary, since he everywhere else focuses on Mary in his infancy narrative (Matthew focuses on Joseph). Note also that Luke has some concern to show Joseph to be of Davidic descent (Lk 1:27; 2:4). The Talmudic references to a Miriam, the daughter of Eli . . . are most likely not references to Mary the mother of Jesus . . .(258)
And finally:
Tertullian . . . and a few modern scholars have suggested that Matthew gives Mary's ancestry and Luke gives Joseph's. Such a solution again strains the natural understanding of Matthew's "begat" formula. Although H. A. Blair has proposed that the text of Matthew 1:16 be amended to read "Jacob begat Joseph, and Joseph begat Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called the Christ," there is no textual evidence for such a reading. (258)
From where I sit, these four solutions are versions of the same basic argument. Traditionally Christians have suggested that one Gospel writer (usually Matthew) published the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph while the other (usually Luke) published the genealogy of Jesus through Mary. Though this is an attractive argument, and the dictionary offers four ways of presenting it, it does not resolve all of the problems.

Though I am no expert on this issue, and I can easily get loss in the list of ancient names, perhaps the solution would be to discover the original sources in which the Gospel writers are using. Clearly Matthew and Luke are not using the same source for their genealogies. Mark, one source they both likely used, does not include any genealogical record at all. Assuming that the original genealogical sources both Matthew and Luke used will never be found, Christians will have to continue to struggle with these discrepancies.

Yet there remains an even greater, theological point to be made. The dictionary writes:
While Matthew and Luke each have somewhat different purposes for a genealogy of Jesus, both affirm the virginal conception explicitly in their infancy narratives and implicitly in the genealogies as well. A final solution to the intricate issues involved in comparing the two lists may never be found, but enough is known to show that the apparent discrepancies are not insoluble. The most important things to learn from these genealogies are not the names of Jesus' grandfathers (Jacob or Eli or both), but that he is the messianic king by God's providential working (Matthew) and that he is God's agent, offering all the world salvation (Luke). (258)
We must be careful in turning to the non-inerrantist argument that the historicity is second to the message, yet what is argued here is important. However, we must humbly admit that a satisfactory solution may never be found on this side of Heaven, yet we must not allow it to rob us of what the authors are arguing. First, both affirm the humanity and divinity of Christ in their genealogies. Secondly, the genealogy introduces Matthew's Gospel and through it he boldly declares this infant child born into an insignificant family from a small town is the rightful heir of David. Luke, likewise, makes a strong theological point by tracing Jesus' linage back to Adam. Perhaps Luke is thinking in Pauline terms reminding us that a second, and greater, Adam has come.

The context of Luke's genealogy is equally important. The genealogy of Jesus (consisting of "son of," instead of "begat" as in Matthew) introduces two narratives where sonship is a central question. Who is Jesus' father. Two of the three temptations from Satan begins with "If you are the Son of God . . ." This is then followed by the Jews rejecting Jesus and then asking a similar question, "isn't this Joseph's boy?" (4:22) Thus Luke is making a theological point as well. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of Man (descendent of Adam) and the Son of God (begotten of the Father).

So while we wait for a satisfying answer, we rejoice in the theology the Gospel authors present. Jesus is King. Jesus is Savior. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is God.  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14)


For more:
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 1
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 2
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapter 3
"Jesus and the Eyewitnesses": Blogging Through Bauckham - Chapters 4-5
"The Historical Jesus": A Lecture by Ben Witherington
"The Story of Jesus" Documentary
We've All Heard This Before: "Zealot" and the Same Search For the Missing Jesus  
12 Proofs of Jesus' Deity From the Synoptic Gospels
Ravi Zacharias' 12 Arguments For the Historicity of the Resurrection
"The Case For Christianity" Documentaries
"Raised With Christ" by Adrian Warnock: A Review
NT Wright: Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?
"The Jesus Inquest" by Charles Foster: A Review
"The Case for Easter"
"The Case For the Real Jesus" by Lee Strobel
"The Case For Christianity" Documentaries
The Quest For the Historical Satan: The Entire Series
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 1
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 2 
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 3
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 4
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 5
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 6
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 7
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 8  
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 9
Christian Theology: Blogging Through Erickson - Bibliology 10
Post a Comment