A Question I Was Asked:

'Why Are the Birth Genealogies For Jesus Different in Matthew and Luke? Is This a Bible Contradiction?'



Okay. I think I would start my answer by considering two imaginary shopping lists! These highly simplified shopping lists can demonstrate something rather important!

Bill has jotted down some items which the family need to purchase for dinner, but not knowing Bill has already done this, his wife Jane has done exactly the same thing. In essentials, they are the same but Bill thought it important that certain things go down first and Jane wanted to put other things down first. Here are their lists:

Bill's List

Jane's List

Potatoes
Steak
Oil
Butter
Carrots
Onions
Tomatoes

Lettuce
Tomatoes
Onions
Carrots
Butter
Oil
Steak
Potatoes


Now these are two diifferent shopping lists from two different people - but they still have a lot in common. They agree in all essentials, but Bill loves his steak and french fries so they head his list, but he has not mentioned lettuce because he assumed it. Jane wanted to put salad vegetables down first because she loves them. So, if you like, Bill's is written from a man's perspective but Jane's is written much more from a  female perspective; Jane's list also reverses the order of her husband's list!

Now let us just briefly check out the structures of the two genealogies found in Matthew 1:1-16 and in Luke 3:23-37.


The Differences

The two lists obviously differ. Matthew begins with Abraham (the father of the Jews) and traces it from there forwards to the time of Jesus, while Luke traces the line in reverse order going back to Adam showing Jesus' relationship to the whole human race. From Abraham to David the two genealogies are almost the same but from the time of David the two genealogies differ in a second manner. Why? Because Matthew follows the line of Joseph (being the legal father of Jesus) while Luke emphasises the line of Mary (being Jesus' blood relative). It was unusual to trace the line through the mother, but so was the virgin birth unusual!

It is not surprising that Matthew stuck to a more orthodox approach while Luke was a little more enterprising because Matthew was always very respectful of the Jewish traditions whereas Luke (who also wrote the Book of Acts) seemed to have a stronger grasp that 'all things become new in Christ'! But we must not forget that Matthew primarily addressed his gospel to Greek-speaking Jews whom he wanted to persuade about the gospel of Christ.

So the two lists vary because Luke was more interested in the family line of Mary. His list could, therefore, be said to have been written from a more female perspective, whereas the list of Matthew was strongly respectful of Jewish patriarchal tradition, but just like the shopping lists of Bill and Jane all the main ingredients are there, and if anything (or anybody) has been left out, the lists are so comprehensive that it would hardly matter. We must understand that thousands of scribes and commentators have gone over these genealogies yet never found any serious problem with them.

A secondary question which I have received on this topic is : Who was the 'Heli' mentioned in Luke 3:23? Was he Joseph's father?'
Well, as we have seen, Luke's genealogy concentrates on Mary's family; Luke 3:23 mentions Joseph as 'the son of Heli' (NIV), actually he was his son-in-law.

God inspired these two lists to be slightly different just as all the gospels are slightly different because of the strong biblical teaching of witness! Everything was to be established by the testimony of 2 or 3 witnesses!! (Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; Acts 1:8; Revelation 11:3).
If everything matched in every single detail in these genealogies and in the four gospels, the vital concept of witness would be lost! No group of witnesses to any event ever agree in every single detail. If every New Testament account was totally  identical people would have shouted, Plot!! And yet it remains the case that every single account is accurate - but often from differing perspectives.

All of this is what is known as 'the double inspiration of Scripture' - the words of the Bible were certainly wrtten under divine inspiration but God also decreed that the human authors should write in their own individual styles.

I have been a student of the Bible for 45 years but never yet found a real contradiction!
Robin A. Brace 2006.

UK APOLOGETICS

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