There are several problems with the genealogies listed for Jesus in the books of Matthew and Mark. This really isn’t a big deal, unless you consider these books to be “breathed out” by God. It becomes problematic then because you can’t have any errors. Hence, those who subscribe to this view try to explain away the problems. However, in researching an upcoming video something dawned on me. I can’t find anyone tackling all of the issues at once. What are they?
The problems with the genealogies for Jesus.
- Matthew and Luke give 2 different genealogies.
- Luke’s genealogy tracks through Joseph. Matthew’s does the same, however Luke explicitly states that Joseph isn’t the father in his narrative of the angelic visitation.
- Matthew separates the genealogy into 3 eras of 14 generations. However, his last block only has 13.
- More interestingly, the second block contains 14, but it gets there by leaving out 4 names according to 1 Chronicles records.
The defense we will examine here concludes that there is no contradiction. However, this is flat out false. A contradiction is when 2 sources present opposing information. Proposing an explanation for the opposing information, no matter how reasonable, doesn’t stop the information from being in opposition. Hence, in order to prove the sources to not be contradictory, one must prove that the information they provide is not contradictory.
This article addresses only the names left out of Matthew’s genealogy. It can be found in Matthew chapter 1. The opposing information is found in 1 Chronicles 3:10-15. Below are the differences in the two genealogies.
Here, I wish to focus on a particular statement in the book of Matthew. It is verse 17 of chapter 1.
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.Matthew 1:17
So to be clear, Matthew states that from David to the deportation to Babylon was 14 generations. Moreover, he precedes this listing by saying “all the generations”. Since 1 Chronicles lists 18 generations between David and the deportation, this is indeed a contradiction. There’s no getting around that. However, the question is can it be explained?
The attempted explanation.
Here’s the rundown. Ben van Noort proposes that Matthew had a copy of the registration submitted by Joseph. Quote.
There is everything to be said for it that we have to do with the document Joseph, being a descendant of King David, used as identification when he and Mary came to Bethlehem for the census under Caesar Augustus.
This, of course, is problematic. First, he’s taking Matthew’s statement “the book of the genealogy” and saying that could mean a document. True, but that’s not expressly stated. Hence, he is making an assumption. However, that’s not the real problem. In attempting to explain away this contradiction, he inadvertently walked us into two others.
Matthew and Luke’s birth narratives are incompatible.
Here’s the problem. Matthew and Luke are the only 2 birth narratives for Jesus in the Bible. Moreover, Mark preceded Matthew and Luke chronologically. However, if Jesus is going to be presented as the Messiah, he has to be born in Bethlehem. Luke has already presented him as being from Nazareth. Thus, Matthew and Luke needed a plot device to get Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus.
It was Luke who used the worldwide tax under Augustus. Joseph and Mary are from Nazareth, but they must travel to Bethlehem for the census and tax. While there, Jesus is born in a stable because the inn had no vacancies. Due to Jewish law, Mary is unclean for a month after the birth. Therefore, they spend 30 days in Bethlehem for the purification period, take Jesus to the temple, then head back to Nazareth.
In Matthew’s version, they are from Bethlehem so they don’t need to travel. Mary has the baby, presumably at home. At some point in the next 2 years, men from the east follow a star to visit the baby. Not at a stable, but in his home in Bethlehem. On their way they visit King Herod. He asks them to tell him where the newborn king is so he can worship. However, he wants to kill Jesus. So the men leave without telling him, and the family flees to Egypt. After the death of Herod, the family’s return is narrated this way in chapter 2.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.Matthew 2:22-23
Our 2 contradictions.
Both contradictions appear in verse 23. First, we see their reason for going to Nazareth. It was so that the prophecy that he would be a Nazarene would be fulfilled. This contradicts Luke, who has him already as a Nazarene who was merely visiting in Bethlehem. The second contradiction is that there is no recorded prophecy that Jesus or the Messiah would be a Nazarene.
Even Jews for Jesus, a Christian missionary group to Jews concedes this point. However, they don’t go quietly. They defend this by taking you to John where Nathanael says “can anything good come out of Nazareth”. They tie this back to Isaiah 53 saying that the suffering servant would be despised and held in low esteem. And somehow, we are supposed to conclude that this prophecy about a suffering servant being rejected actually means that the Messiah will come from Nazareth.
Folks, this is absurd. Matthew and Luke clearly aren’t trying to give us historical information. They are using a plot device to present their view of the meaning of the life and death of Jesus. They had no idea that 2,000 years later their writings would be examined side by side under a microscope. They needed to get Jesus to Bethlehem, so they did the best they could.
Christians have done a fantastic job merging these stories into one. Every year we see nativity scenes and plays featuring a stable, manger, shepherds, and wise men. Few people realize that half of these characters are in the wrong story and on the wrong set. These weak attempts to defend the stories only serve to amplify the differences between the two. If one truly loves and respects the Gospels they should embrace them for what they are instead of trying to make them be something they are not.