The Genealogies of Jesus

(A response to Wayne Adkins, by JimboJSR. Last updated August 2005)

Seeing as how Mr. Adkins has deemed to reply to JP Holding for a second time on the issue of the ‘conflicting’ records of Jesus’ ancestry (original article at http://www.nakedemperor.netfirms.com/Biblical%20Contradictions.htm), I’ve decided to take the law into my own hands, so to speak. This is partly to increase my own knowledge on the problems and solutions put forward in regards to this (pretty complex) aspect of the Gospels, but also to tackle Mr. Adkins’ points more directly. Both the Tekton site and Glenn Miller’s Christian ThinkTank have fairly extensive articles covering this topic, but these are somewhat fragmented in regards to the specific objections raised on the Naked Emperor site. Thus, we’ll go through the relevant article on Adkins’ "contradictions" page, and also that on his reply to JP Holding.

Before we start addressing specifics, though, it’s worth bearing in mind Miller’s words:

"I do not want to give ANYONE the impression that there are NO difficulties in these genealogies. They are chock-full of issues, 'surprises', perplexing items. But, at the same time, we have so many proposed explanations for each of these, that we are simply not in a position to criticise (much less DECIDE AGAINST!) the historicity of these accounts. Indeed, we have solid answers for the more difficult and perplexing ones, which gives us a qualified optimism about those that are still somewhat obscure."

Right from the off, we have 2 records of Jesus’ ancestry in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, showing (From David to Joseph) almost completely different names! Can one "prove" that they are both inerrant? No, because no matter what evidence and reasoning is put forward, the possibility always remains that Matt and/or Luke was/were simply wrong. Nevertheless, if we can show that there are probable (or even possible) alternatives to the conflict, then the Christian’s position is vindicated. Seeing as how the genealogies seem to have been accepted by the Jews of the time with no recorded objections, the onus would then be on the skeptic to say why the genealogies are not compatible!

For the record, our sources for the response are Miller’s article at http://www.christian-thinktank.com/fabprof4.html, supplemented by JP Holding’s http://www.tektonics.org/gk/jesgen.html and http://www.tektonics.org/af/exodline.html for those interested in a bit of further reading.

 

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And so, to the article in hand. Adkins’ article addresses 4 points: the proposed "overlapping" nature of the 2 genealogies, where the 2 records are said to simply contain different names from the one line; Matthew’s insistence on father-son links; the lack of genetic link to David due to the virgin birth; and the possibility that one of the records is actually Mary’s.

1) "The records can’t overlap, because there isn’t enough time to accommodate all the generations"

Right, let’s start off with some maths. David was born around 1000 years before Jesus. If the first child was born to the father at an average age of 30 (the upper end of the average life span at the time), this gives 1000/30 = 33 generations. If the father was 20, there is room for 1000/20 = 50 generations. It’s also noted that people got married as early as 14, so having 42 ancestors (as Luke records), isn’t out of the question. 67 or more generations, though, as an "overlapping" theory would require, is a bit much, as Adkins rightly observes.

The problem is that neither Holding nor Miller assert that the genealogies overlap – at least, not in the way that Adkins says. Adkins rightly rejects a simple "click together" of the 2 genealogies – and so do the apologists.

 

2) "The son of…" MEANS "the son of…"!!!

Here, though, is where the 2 sides start to conflict. Adkins asserts that Matthew, by saying that "there were 14 generations in all from Abraham to David, 14 from David to the exile, and 14 from the exile to the Christ" means that each link in Matthew’s record is an actual father-son link, and that there are no gaps. Miller and Holding, though, both present examples showing that missing out names in genealogies (for example, to emphasise a particular ancestor, or to make the line more amenable to memorisation) was a common practice at the time, and that Matthew 1 would not be considered "errant" by anyone of the time. Matthew’s line has almost certainly been "telescoped" to act as a rhetorical device, and Luke’s may have been shortened as well (although there is no direct evidence of this that I know of).

In advance, I’m going to counter Adkins’ claim that I’m saying "the Bible doesn’t say what it means and doesn’t mean what it says" by asking him why he (and everyone else in America, for that matter) goes on about sunrise and sunset, despite that fact that (as any fule know) the sun does nothing of the sort, and it is in fact the earth that turns. When he signs a legal document never to use such a stupid phrase again, and always to "say what he means and mean what he says", I’ll grant him the point ;o) Idiom is one example where fundamentalist literalism causes more problems than it solves – this is another. No first century Jew would have looked upon a truncated record as errant, and it would be arrogance of the highest order if we did.

 

3) "If Jesus was God’s son, he wasn’t Joseph’s!"

This is where Glenn Miller’s work really comes in. The details are there to see; in brief:

There are 2 passages brought up to counter the assertion that Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father:

2 Samuel 7:12. Here, it would seem, is a promise by God that David’s "offspring" will establish David’s throne forever – and the presumption is that it is Jesus who will "come from [David’s] own body". But wait a minute – let’s look at v.14. God punishing Jesus for doing wrong? That doesn’t sound like the Jesus of the New Testament, and it certainly doesn’t sound like a typical interaction between 2 persons of the Trinity! In fact, it’s SOLOMON who is being referred to in these verses. Solomon was indeed a successful king, until he strayed from God’s way and faced the inevitable consequences. Was David’s throne established forever? Ultimately, it was (in Jesus) – but, first and foremost, God is talking here about Solomon, and the closeness of the relationship He would have with him. (cf. 1 Kings 3)

Romans 1:3. The suggestion here is that Jesus was related "in the flesh" to Joseph. Did Paul see Joseph as Jesus’ biological father? Wright notes:

"Whenever Paul speaks of the birth of Jesus Christ, he uses the verb ginomai , which has the broad meaning of "come to be." This is particularly significant in Gal 4:4, 23f. Jesus Christ "comes to be" by a woman, whereas Isaac and Ishmael, born of two women, are begotten and born, since the vb. gennao, used here, carries overtones of the father's act. Paul uses the same general word in Rom 1:3 ("came of the seed of David according to the flesh") and Phil 2:7 ("coming to be in the likeness of men"). On each occasion, Paul avoids the normal word for born, which is understandable if, as the traveling companion of Luke, he knew that Jesus was born miraculously."

(J. Stafford Wright, "Son", in Dictionary of New Test. Theology, p.661)

It thus seems that Paul recognised the Virgin Birth, and didn’t see what we would call a genetic link between Joseph and Jesus. But why, then, does Paul use a word like "flesh"? Some contextualisation provides an answer. Remember that the ANE was a group-orientated society, where one got one’s identity from the group / family / lineage / motorcycle club that they were a part of. One offshoot of this was that genealogies were hugely important, as they provided a person with heritage and a family group (and thus, an identity). Another was that, if an individual was roped into a group, this too had tremendous repercussions for the person in question – they took on its identity. Remember what Genesis 2:24 says about a couple "becoming one flesh"! (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:16, Eph. 5:31)

 

4) "One genealogy can’t be Mary’s – they must both be Joseph’s"

We’ve noted that the most likely explanation so far for having 2 genealogies was to show that both sides of the family could be traced back to David, albeit through 2 of his sons.

Adkins says:

"Some have proposed that one lineage traces the line through Joseph, which is pointless, and the other traces it through Mary, which would satisfy the Davidic Covenant. But the text says the lineage is through Joseph."

This is essentially answered by the comments in 3). Firstly, if Mary provided the genetic link, would Joseph’s lineage be "pointless"? Not really, seeing as Joseph would be, as the "father" of the family, the starting point of any trace backwards. The text does indeed say "Joseph", but note that 1) Luke is aware of the virgin birth ("Jesus was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph…") and 2) under the law of Levirate marriage, we have an eminently possible situation where Joseph would take on the mantle of Mary’s legacy. (see Miller’s link above)

"Additionally, women were not considered important enough to record their lineage; they were always traced through the men."

Unless, of course, the virgin birth meant that Mary provided the only true blood link to David. The virgin birth is far from a typical scenario! Incidentally, this would also explain why both genealogies end at Joseph.

"Then there is the problem of the two names that do match. If these are the lineages of two separate people, they can’t converge at the matching ancestors and separate again as this impossible family tree would do."

See Miller’s item above, where he points out that the 2 "shared names", Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, could actually have been completely different people – it’s simply a coincidence that 4 people with those (fairly common) names cropped up in 2 lineages.

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In conclusion then, I would propose that contextual knowledge of the nature of genealogies in the ANE provides ample room for the lineages in Matthew and Luke to exist side by side, as they both provide separate, individual lines from David to Joseph and Mary respectively, and that Adkins’ objections to this understanding do not have a foundation which is supported by the available evidence.