An inadequate defense of Matthew’s genealogy

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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.

The problem.

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.

David
Solomon
Roboam
Abijah
Asa
Joshaphat
Joram



Ozias
Joatham
Achaz
Ezekiah
Manasses
Amon
Josiah

Jecohnias
David
Solomon
Rehoboam
Abijah
Asa
Jehoshaphat
Joram
Ahaziah
Joash
Amaziah
Azariah (Ozias)
Jotham
Ahaz
Hezekiah
Manasseh
Amon
Josiah
Jehoiakim
Jeconiah

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.

An inadequate defense of Matthew's genealogy.

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.

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I was raised a Christian, turned atheist as a teenager, and became a Noahide in my 40's. Here I will share what I have learned, and look forward to what you can teach me. Thank you for stopping by Biblical Anarchy. Feel free to leave a comment.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Hi,
    Indeed I have a different view on these lists. Matthew does not claim to quote the book of Chronicles. And he did not, because there are several names missing in his list comparing with Chronicles. So we have to explain what the source could be of Matthew.
    The gospel writers used documents written in their own time. We know that because Luke said in his Prologue that many began to write down the reports by eyewitnesses who were also servants of the spoken word (of Jesus). Luke and the other gospel writers also used these records.
    Matthew is accurate. He speaks of 14 generations. Why? He wanted that nobody would “correct” his list by filling in the 3 lacking names. King Joram was the killer of his 6 brothers, as soon as he became king. Apparently, the scribes of identification documents of David’s royal descendants, wanted to make clear the crime of Joram by the punishment that three generations after him were not permitted in the identification documents. This was an action to show that Joram had placed himself outside the people of Israel, despite he was their king. (Compare Deuteronomy 23:8).
    https://www.contradictingbiblecontradictions.com/?p=1179

    • Very cool of you to comment. Thank you.

      As for Matthew being accurate, it’s unclear to me how you are defining “accurate”. To say that there are 14 generations when there were actually 18 and defend that claim by saying “well, I had reasons for leaving 4 off of the list” wouldn’t fit my definition of “accurate”. Moreover, since we don’t have this “id card” you are referencing and Matthew never clearly claimed to be using such a document, you’re assuming first that the document existed and secondly that the document left the names off. Had Matthew said there were 18 generations while only listing 14, this could be stated as accurate. Do you have a theory as to why he claims 14 for his last block while only listing 13? Could it be something like that?

      Furthermore, in your article you point out that Matthew never claimed the perfect generation narrative. That is an assumption made by scholars. This is true. However, he never claims that he is trying to keep the record from being altered either. That is your assumption.

  2. Hi,

    You asked me:
    “Do you have a theory as to why he claims 14 for his last block while only listing 13? Could it be something like that?”

    You have to look at the connections between the three series of generations.
    David, the king, is reckoned in the first series of fourteen. So, he is not reckoned unto the second series. That would be double counting. He is only mentioned in the second series to show the descent of the sons of David. That is the reason that you see 15 names in the series from David to Jecohnias (above).
    The second connection begins with Jecohnias and has also special features.
    Jecohnias did not have Josiah as his biological father (that was Joakim), Josiah was actually his grandfather. But it is acceptable according to the rule “the son of a son is a son.” He belonged to the generation of the actual sons of Josiah shortly before the exile in Babylon. However, he had also a role later in Babylon where he became the father of Sealthiel who continued the line to Joseph, the husband of Mary. Because of this state of affairs, he is also part of the third series of the generations after the removal to Babylon. Therefore again 14 generations, names, including the name of Jesus who was not the son of Joseph, but from a later generation indeed.
    That’s it.

    All the best

    • Thank you for that explanation. That one I agree on.

      Nowhere do I have a problem with calling a grandson the son. Where the problem comes in is saying that it’s 2 generations from grandfather to grandson. That is inaccurate. Leaving a name out of a genealogy doesn’t remove a generation from history. Thus, there weren’t 14 generations “in all” as he states. Rather, there were 14 generations in his second block from David to Jeconiah. 14 in his account, but 18 in all.

  3. Sorry for not being clear at this point. You are right.
    Jeconiah is to be counted in the last series as he was the son of Jehoiakim (Joakim), an actual son of Josia. Why is he mentioned in the second list of 14 while not belonging to the 14 of the second list?
    The second list ends with the generation of the actual sons of Josia who were kings before Jeconiah: Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim. Now it was not unusual that within family nephews and uncles were called brothers expressing the very close family ties between them. Abraham said to his nephew Lot “We are brothers!” (Genesis 13:8) So in Matthew 1:11 where Josia is mentioned as the father of “Jeconiah and his brothers”, the generation of the actual sons of Josiah is meant, and Jeconiah was the little nephew that became king after them and continued the lineage. Anyway, it is clear that he is to be counted in the third series, despite he is mentioned in the second series.
    Hopefully, I am clear now. I admit, at first sight, the description of Matthew looks a bit confusing, but there is a logic in it for those who want to take into account some specific features. Thank you for the opportunity to share my view on this passage.
    Good Luck
    Ben

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