Jesus, Joseph, Jacob and Heli

A minimum of 500 years (more like 530) spans the ten generations in Matthew’s line from Zerubbabel to Jesus, a period of time which appears extremely unlikely if the full lineage is given.

Luke’s nineteen names (as was supposed) is far closer but it still may be on the short side - though probably complete - as Luke appears elsewhere in the genealogy to be trying to give his readers the most complete, unedited list of descendants that was at his disposal.

From Zerubbabel onwards, it’s impossible to be able to follow the family line from either the OT or other sources. The ‘other sources’ would be the registers of births that were kept in Jerusalem (and from which, possibly, both Matthew and Luke’s genealogy were compiled) and which were presumably destroyed by the Romans in their destruction of the city in 70AD. These Gospels are dated as having been written before this destruction and no reasonable doubt can be cast on the authenticity of either Matthew or Luke’s research into the Messiah’s genealogy (and especially not Luke’s - see Luke1:1-4).

That the two records diverge after Zerubbabel can be seen. If the two records are both accepted as being records of Joseph genealogy, then two explanations are possible

1. Some of the names recorded for us are ‘second names’ or ‘nicknames’ that the people were known by. However, this hardly seems likely as it’s probably the genealogical records that both Luke and Matthew are following and the most common names would certainly have been recorded. Though there may be variations in the names at other points in the genealogies, there doesn’t appear to be alternative and distinctive names used.

2. The names that Matthew omits are the ones that Luke includes. This would make 29 generations in a maximum 530 year period - an average period for the next generation to be born of around 18 years - a period far too short even if each of Jesus’ descendants were the firstborn.

It seems fair, then, to accept that another explanation must be found for this divergence of genealogical record after Zerubbabel. Gill in ‘The Expositor’ writes (reproduced as it appears even though I don’t fully understand the meaning of all the abbreviations which he uses)

Mary was the daughter of Eli: and so the Jews speak of one Mary, the daughter of Eli, by whom they seem to design the mother of our Lord: for they tell (T. Hieros. Sanhedrin, fol. 25. 3) us of one
‘...that saw “Mary the daughter of Eli” in the shades, hanging by the fibres of her breasts; and there are that say, the gate, or, as elsewhere (Chagiga, fol. 77. 4.), the bar of the gate of hell is fixed to her ear’
By the horrible malice, in the words, you may know who is meant: however, this we gain by it, that by their own confession, Mary is the daughter of Eli; which accords with this genealogy of the evangelist, who traces it from Mary, under her husband Joseph; though she is not mentioned, because of a rule with the Jews (Juchasin, fol. 55. 2), that
‘the family of the mother is not called a family’

[NB - ‘The Expositor’ was first published in 1809 and some of the source books that Gill quotes from are no longer available. The authenticity of the two quotes above are not disputed, but their reliability to prove the Jewish acceptance of the existence of Mary from independent Jewish sources rather than from reference to the Gospel of Luke is impossible to prove.
It’s quite possible that the Jewish writers, had they wanted to invent a story about Mary to undermine the christian Church, would have used the christian writings to get the basis of the information they were about to introduce.
All that the quote may tell us is that, at the time that the Jewish story is being recorded, the Church believed that Luke’s genealogical record was that of Mary. The above lengthy quote is therefore only cited as an introductory point.]

It would appear, even apart from this, that there are good grounds for believing that Luke chose to record Mary’s genealogical record while Matthew chose Joseph’s. Two possible reasons for Luke’s decision seem possible.

1. He realised that Joseph couldn’t have been the father of Jesus as no sexual intercourse had taken place between Mary and Joseph and therefore endeavoured to trace ‘the line of the flesh’ (as noted under ‘Jeconiah’), Matthew choosing to record the line of the kings and, therefore, the line of the inheritance of the throne of David.

2. He was trying to show that the promise to Eve that one of her offspring (that is, a woman’s offspring rather than the offspring of the sexual union between a man and a woman) would come to finally and totally recover what had been lost in the Garden, was being fulfilled in Christ (Gen 3:15) - already established by Luke as a virgin conception and birth in chapters 1 and 2.
The relevance of the phrase ‘her seed’ to the virgin birth back in Gen 3:15 becomes immediately apparent but only retrospectively. If God had intended One to come who was the product of sexual intercourse, then the words would definitely have read ‘their (that is, the man and woman’s) seed’ but, as it stands, the reference is only to Eve’s offspring (though it doesn’t limit it to have to only refer to Eve).

Luke 3:23 states that

‘Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli...’

We would have expected the name ‘Joseph’ to have been replaced by Mary had Luke been recording her genealogical record but the problem has, again, two possible solutions.

1. ‘Joseph, the son of Heli’ should be read as ‘the son-in-law of Heli’.
Literally it should have been ‘son-in-law’ as he wasn’t ‘son’ by natural descent - but there’s Scriptural precedent for allowing a ‘son-in-law’ to be named as a ‘son’ (see I Sam 24:16 where David is called ‘son’ rather than ‘son-in-law’ by Saul because he was married to his daughter).

2. Heli is the natural father of Jesus because it’s through Mary that Jesus is born and Heli, father of Mary, then becomes the father of the Christ according to natural descent.
When we read Luke 3:23, therefore, we have to see Luke’s phrase ‘son of Heli’ to refer to Jesus at the start of the verse.

Most commentators see Luke’s genealogy as tracing Mary’s lineage while Matthew’s traces that of Joseph. This appears to be the simplest explanation of the apparent discrepancy.

But, consider this.

If only Mary’s genealogy had been recorded as in Luke, we would have had good grounds for saying that the promise of God concerning the succession of kings and the inheritance through the throne (I Chr 22:10 - see above) hadn’t been fulfilled as the lineage diverges from that line in Nathan after David.

If only Joseph’s genealogy had been recorded by Matthew, we could reasonably assert both that Jesus couldn’t be the One promised because He was descended from Jeconiah (Jer 22:30 - see on that character) and that Joseph’s genealogy isn’t relevant as it wasn’t his seed that was passed down in to Jesus - that is, natural descent (‘according to the flesh’) was through Mary.

It’s only if both genealogies stand that either one can be correct because the problems of interpretation raised by one list are answered in the other.