How many of you had good intentions of maintaining focused, dedicated reading habits when you set up your bible reading plan? And how many of you find your mind wandering through the lists of laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus and the endless, tedious lines of genealogy in the books of Chronicles? Seriously, the genealogy is one of the best cures for insomnia you can get! Why is it important who begat whom?
I’m no different than the rest of you. I have good intentions of staying focused but sometimes my mind has other plans. Apparently it’s capable of wandering off in nine or ten different directions at the same time (and that’s only the ones I can keep track of). This is a fairly typical occurrence when I come upon genealogy lists so I was quite surprised to realize I actually noticed a difference in the genealogy Matthew gives for Jesus and the genealogy Luke provides for us. Matthew immediately launches into a long list of Jesus’ ancestors beginning with Abraham and tracking all the way forward to, “Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.” (See Matthew 1:1-16) Luke waits until mid-way through chapter three before he begins to list Jesus’ ancestors in descending order. “Jesus was known as the son of Joseph. Joseph was the son of Heli.” (Luke 3:23)
The two lineages are identical up to King David and then each heads off down different paths. Solomon, David’s son is included in Matthew’s listing but Nathan, the son of David is included in Luke’s lineage. Each line continues with a complete different list of names right up until Joseph. Both converge with Joseph being the earthly father of Jesus and the husband of Mary. This piqued my curiosity. How can these two lists be so totally different? A few weeks ago my husband and I were on our way to Dairy Queen for an after dinner treat. Dr. David Jeremiah was on the radio and in the midst of our conversation I heard him mention something about the genealogy of Jesus. My antennae shot up immediately. He talked about the differences in Matthew and Luke and then proceeded to explain it is understood Matthew is listing Joseph’s lineage while Luke tracks the ancestry of Mary. “Well of course!” I thought. How stupid could I be? We all have two parents, each with a different set of ancestors. I know all of you are thinking, “Duuuuhhh, it took you that long to get it”?
After I inhaled my cherry chocolate blizzard and we were back home I pulled out the bible to verify what I had just heard. But wait, eventually they both get to Joseph and list two different people as Joseph’s father. So how does that work? If one is Mary’s lineage how do we still come back to Joseph and why does he have two different fathers? Confused and looking for answers I referred to my ESV study bible. It didn’t disappoint, in fact it listed four possible explanations – one of which was the Joseph versus Mary ancestry although it didn’t cite this as a strong argument. The second explanation indicated that Matthew traces Jesus lineage through the royal line of descent listing Solomon and a long line of kings while Luke traces the actual lineage through David’s practically unknown son, Nathan. A third explanation indicated Joseph’s mother may have had two marriages. Under Moses law of levirate marriage it was expected that the next oldest brother of a deceased man would marry his widow in order to continue his brother’s line. (I know it doesn’t make sense today, but it was a common law that protected a widow in those times) It is suggested that one listing is the actual physical father of Joseph while the other is the legal father of Joseph. Yet a fourth explanation indicated Mary’s family may have had no male heirs so her father “adopted” Joseph as his son when he and Mary were married, thus Heli would be Mary’s father. Confused yet?
As I sat mulling this over and praying for understanding questions suddenly formed in my mind. Does it really matter to me who Jesus’ ancestors are? Does this affect my belief in Jesus as the son of God? Does it change my belief in his death and resurrection? Am I letting my curiosity run amok and getting hung up on the legalese while I miss the greater message? I realize the answer is, no, it really doesn’t matter to me who begat whom in the line of Jesus. Ultimately it doesn’t change the fact that in my heart I believe Jesus to be the son of God, my Saviour and Redeemer. Yes, sometimes a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and can tangle up our thoughts, drawing us away from what’s really important. What about you? Does the question of Jesus' ancestry matter to you? Who is Jesus in your life?