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Genealogies of Matthew and Luke

One of the differences between the stories of Matthew and Luke in their infancy narratives is in their genealogies of Jesus (which for Luke, oddly enough, does not actually occur in his infancy narrative!). I know that genealogies are among the least favorite reading for many students of the Bible, and one may be a bit dismayed in starting to read the New Testament, with the very opening of the very first book, Matthew, to find a genealogy!

But I tell my students to suck it up: this one is only sixteen verses long. If they want a REAL genealogy, they should go to the book of 1 Chronicles in the Hebrew Bible: NINE chapters (count them, nine) of genealogies. When I was in college I took a correspondence course on the Bible and for the course we had to memorize verses as part of the assignment. I think the designers of the course had in mind verses like John 1:1; 1:14; 3:16; Romans 3:23 and so on. For my verses I chose some out of 1 Chronicles 3: “The sons of Hebron: Korah, Tappuah, Rekem, and Shem. Shema became father of Raham, father of Jorkeam; and Rekem became the father of Shammai….” And so on. The course instructor was not amused. But hey, I was only following instructions!

Anyway, on the New Testament genealogies. I think I may have a few posts on them, since they are indeed interesting once you dig a bit and think about them in greater depth (which doesn’t take much work, since most people don’t think about them in any depth at all, but read them as quickly as possible to get to the meatier stuff.) To consider them adequately, you really need to look at the two of them individually, and I’ll do that. But it is interesting to notice the differences between the two. You can probably figure out a lot of these differences yourself, just by reading them (Matt. 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38).

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Matthew’s Genealogy
The Infancy Narratives Compared



  1. Avatar
    Don M. Burrows  December 17, 2012

    I’m sure you’re aware of Eusebius’ rationalizations on this score. I got into an argument with an apologist about it some months back in the comments to my original post: http://www.donmburrows.com/2012/08/apologetics-and-intellectual-dishonesty.html

  2. Avatar
    Adam  December 17, 2012

    Was the correspondence course you took from Moody? I took 12 Moody correspondence courses years ago.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 18, 2012

      It actually was while I was *at* Moody, a course from another Bible College. I don’t remember which one or why I had to take it…

  3. Avatar
    maxhirez  December 18, 2012

    I’ve encountered the critique of this point (from people who should know better) that the discrepancies in the two genealogies can be explained simply by the fact that “maybe they were just known by different names to different people” or “maybe Matt. was using first names and Luke was using middle names…” Etc. The “should know better” aspect comes in the form of their frequent admission (when talking about other aspects of Biblical history) that your surname was your father’s given name in that day (eg Y’shua Ben/bar Yoseph.) Is there any evidence to support this attempt to reconcile the two?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 18, 2012

      So the names of everyone between David and Joseph were different (but referring to the same people) but the names between David and Abraham were not? And David’s two sons Nathan and Solomon (named as two different sons in the OT) were actually only one son? (!) Yes, people go to extremes to try to explain everything away!

  4. Avatar
    mjardeen  December 18, 2012

    The defiance of logic has always been my biggest struggle with Fundamentalist. I understand the need, but I cannot stomach the turning off of the brain. Perhaps my red is your blue, but the enforced willful ignorance is disturbing. This ignorance is damaging our society and our world. My favorite is the person who said that Global Warming could not happen because God would not let it happen. I pointed out that according to her beliefs, he flooded the world in Noah’s time, then why not again? Perhaps he is giving us the data to see if we are smart enough to do something about it. She just stared at me for a moment and then changed the subject.

    The fact that the Bible is not perfect does not invalidate the Bible, for me like you Bart it takes an event like Friday’s shootings for you to scream that there is no plan or purpose that would justify the suffering inflicted on so many by such an event like Newtown, Aurora, or on a larger scale the Holocaust and the Killing Fields.

  5. Avatar
    DMiller5842  December 18, 2012

    And a sense of humor too! “For my verses I chose some out of 1 Chronicles 3: “The sons of Hebron: Korah, Tappuah, Rekem, and Shem. Shema became father of Raham, father of Jorkeam; and Rekem became the father of Shammai….” And so on. The course instructor was not amused. But hey, I was only following instructions!”
    Laughed Out Loud – really.

  6. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  December 18, 2012

    This is always a fun question to ask the fundies! They have to bend over backwards to uphold the illusion that those two genealogies don’t contradict each other 😀

  7. Avatar
    Walid_  December 18, 2012

    Prof Ehrman
    I tried to check the old testament reference against the NT uotations but I got lost
    They seem similar but I would say the same about Luke vs Matthew

    Is there a way to check name for name between NT and OT?
    thanks in advance


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 18, 2012

      For about 2/3 of Matthew’s you can trace the names through 1 Chronicles (first nine chapters give a full genealogy); as it turns out, this was probably Matthew’s source as well.

  8. Avatar
    Christian  December 18, 2012

    Dr Ehrman, I was referring to a 12th century Greek copy of Origen’s homelies on the Psalms, which, until last summer, were only partially extant in Latin. I think I found the digital version here:


    I remember that I found the video on Youtube (private, so it does not show up on searches) of the announce at a small congress, but the scholars took turns and spent 30 minutes (not kidding) congratulating each other! I lost all will to listen further to the real contents… I hope you attend more interesting conferences and thank you for caring about us, laymen.

    By the way, a commenter on this blog wrote that your new book “Forgeries and Counterforgeries” is set in 8pt font. Is that correct? This book is on my wish list for Christmas, but my eyesight is bad, and I need at least 10pt. (And I don’t want to buy an ebook reader, as I like to own my books.)

  9. Avatar
    nsnyder  December 18, 2012

    It’s always been a bit strange to me that the genealogies differ on points that I would have assumed were “accepted facts.” Zerubbabel is a pretty famous important figure, and you’d think that the question of which son of David he had descended from would already have a fixed tradition. But Matthew and Luke disagree! Even more strangely, 1 Chronicles already gives a genealogy of Zerubbabel, so there is already a fixed tradition but Luke doesn’t follow it. Why?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 18, 2012

      Good questoin. Most of the names in Luke’s genealogy from Joseph to Nathan (David’s son) are otehrwise unknown!

  10. Avatar
    ecbrown88  December 18, 2012

    Sorry if I mentioned this before, but when I was an ensign (lowest officer rank) in the Navy, and we were at sea for a looong deployment, our XO came up with the idea that every Sunday evening at dinner in the Wardroom (officers’ mess), on a rotating basis, an ensign would deliver an inspirational reading or presentation.

    He picked me out to start this, “knowing I would do a good job and set the standard.” I was in a real pickle — if I did a “good job”, this horrible institution would continue, and I would earn the spite of my fellow ensigns. If I did a poor job…well, he was the XO for goodness sake, and he was very pleased with himself for this new idea!

    I only had a couple hour’s notice, and I was on the bridge, on watch at the time. As soon as I was relieved, I raced to the ship’s library to grab a Bible. My plan was to read Matthew’s geneology, in an effort to “try” but also not try “too hard.” I scanned through it and it looked both tough, and maybe not “funny enough” to escape the XO’s negative reaction to his great idea. On an impulse, I decided to check out Leviticuus, which I knew little of other than that it is stultifying. I alighted on chapter 13.

    Half an hour later, as we ate what we called “buffalo scabs” (some kind of pre-packaged frozen veal parmasian that well earned its nickname), I read this instructional text. Everyone, including the XO, was rolling on the floor, and thus went the first, and thankfully last, Weekly Ensign Inspirational Reading. I was a hero to all, especailly my fellow Ensigns. Yes, I am going to make you guys look it up.

  11. Avatar
    JamesFouassier  December 19, 2012

    Is it not possible that Matthew’s genealogy developed before any notion of a virgin birth? If the earliest “Christians”, being Jewish, did not believe that their messiah was born of a virgin (or even know of such a tradition) then a genealogy through Jesus’ “real” father Joseph would make perfect sense in establishing Jesus’ pedigree directly from Abraham and David, a most important criterion for Jewish Christians. Years afterward, when the autograph of Matthew was composed, the tradition of the virgin birth also had come to be, and the author incorporated both in his gospel.

  12. Avatar
    Yentyl  December 19, 2012

    You might be interested in Toby Trudel’s commentary on the genealogy explanation on yashanet.com.

    1:1-1:16 Genealogy

    The genealogies presented in Matthew and Luke present numerous difficulties. There are a number of issues that critics raise including:

    The problem with Yeshua not being Joseph’s actual son
    The lineage in Luke’s account passing through David’s son Nathan, and not Solomon as Scripture said it had to (for the Kingship of Messiah)
    The inclusion of a lineage through Jehoiachin being invalid, as he was cursed by God
    The last segment of “14 generations” only having 13 generations listed
    Verse 11 stating that Josiah begat Jeconiah, which he did not.

    Regarding #1, According to Jewish law, Yeshua was Joseph’s son if Joseph claimed him as such which he did. This however does not solve what many view to be a major problem – the brak in the physical lineage back to king David.

    Regarding #2, many commentaries try to get around the problem of the cursed Jehoiachin (see #3, below) by simply using Luke’s genealogy as the one for the Messianic lineage. There are two problems with this.

    First is the issue of the genealogy passing through Nathan rather than Solomon (in Luke’s genealogy). The promise of Messiah being a “son of David” went specifically through Solomon and not Nathan.
    Second, lineage was passed through the father’s side in first century Judaism (and before). The idea of tracing Jewishness through the mother’s side developed later. Matthew’s genealogy is that of Joseph, and Luke’s genealogy is that of Miriam’s. Matthew’s is the one that “counts” however as it passes through Solomon.

    Regarding #3, the curse on Jehoachin was reversed by God Himself in Haggai 2:20-23, when He chose Zerubbabel as His signet ring.

    Regarding #4, this is an error in transcribing (more evidence of someone translating the book from an original Hebrew into the Greek). There is a version of Matthew that does not include this error and shows the (missing) 14th generation. The “DuTillet” Hebrew Matthew corrects “Abiud begat Eliakim,” showing that Abiud actually begat Av’ner (Abner), who in turn begat Eliakim. The mention of 42 generations (3 x 14) is also of interest, as 14 is the numerical value of “David,” and 42 is the numerical value of God (Eloah) in the Hebrew.

    Regarding #5, this is evidently another error due to translation, as 1 Chronicles 3:15-16 says that Josiah was the father of Jehoiakim, who in turn was the father of Jeconiah. However, if we were to simply include the missing Jehoiakim, we would then have fifteen generations, which would cause verse 17 to be in error. The most reasonable explanation may be that although the curse was lifted on Jeconiah’s lineage, his name was still to be “blotted out,” but a careless scribe deleted Jehoiakim by mistake. By replacing the reference to Jeconiah with one to Jehoiakim, we would correct the error, offer an explanation for Jeconiah’s ommission, and maintain the number of generations at fourteen.

    It should also be noted that incomplete genealogies are not alien to the Tenakh. For instance, Ezra 7:1-5, gives a genealogy found also in 1 Chronicles 6:4-15.

    Comparing the two:
    1 Chronicles 6:4-14 Ezra 7:1-5

    Eleazar Eleazar
    Phinehas Phinehas
    Abishua Abishua
    Bukki Bukki
    Uzzi Uzzi
    Zerahiah Zerhiah
    Meraioth Meraioth
    Amariah *
    Ahitub *
    Zadok *
    Ahimaaz *
    Azariah *
    Johanan *
    Azariah Azariah
    Amariah Amariah
    Ahitub Ahitub
    Zadok Zadok
    Shallum (Meshullam) Shallum
    Hilkiah Hilkiah
    Azariah Azraiah
    Seraiah Seraiah
    Jehozadak Ezra

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 20, 2012

      Yes, thiscertainly shows you what an eager attempt to make sure there are no problems with the Bible can lead you to say, do, and think!

  13. Avatar
    wisemenwatch  December 20, 2012

    Matthew’s genealogy points to Jesus as King of the Jews (echoed by the Magi who refer to him as the newborn king).

    By the time of Luke’s composition, it was evident that Jesus was not the conquering earthly King of the Jews, so the lineage is changed to trace back to Nathan.

    I wonder if Nathan, the son of David. might be easily (accidentally or on purpose) conflated with the prophet and judge Nathan? The impression would be that Jesus is not a King like David or Solomon, but more of a prophet and judge of Israel, like Nathan.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 20, 2012

      Yeah, I thought of that too; but it seems unlikely. I do have to admit, when I thought of it it seemed rather clever, so, well, you should feel clever too!

  14. Avatar
    Cate  December 29, 2012

    I enjoyed Tabor’s explanation.. http://jamestabor.com/2012/12/25/a-historical-look-at-the-birth-of-jesus-part-3/ – it differs, however it also comes from an historical perspective with an adequate amount of analysis to provide a different explanation.

  15. Christopher Sanders
    Christopher Sanders  February 18, 2013

    I took some of your case presented here to a Reasonable Faith meeting on ” apparent contradictions in the Bible”, presented by Justin Bass, a late student of Dan Wallace, and tried them out. We’ve been continuing our discussion on a Facebook forum and I wanted to post a little of his responses here, and see how you would respond to them. In response to the issue of the genealogies;

    “…The argument that Heli is Joseph’s father in law (the father of Mary) also has it’s strengths… We know that Mary was also from the line of David (Luke 2:5; Rom 1:3 (what is Paul referring to Joseph or Mary?); Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho 100). Justin Martyr was born in Ephesus AD 130 and ancient church tradition says that Mary and John both lived and died in Ephesus at the end of their lives so Justin’s testimony carries weight. In addition, when you look at the Greek there is an article before every name in Luke’s genealogy except for one: Joseph. Many think this is Luke’s way of saying he is going through Mary’s line. Lastly, Luke adds the phrase “so it was thought, the son of Joseph” (Luke 3:23). Why does Luke say this?”

    As I don’t read Greek, arguments based of the Greek formatting are beyond my ability to assess 🙂 Most of these others I can see some plausible probable flaws in but I wanted to see how you’d answer them, just in a single sentence or so. I would be most gracious 🙂

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 18, 2013

      Well, the geneaology explicitly says it is Joseph’s not Mary’s!

      • Christopher Sanders
        Christopher Sanders  February 19, 2013

        Well, sure, but supposedly there are some arguments to counter that argument. It’s often claimed that it was culturally acceptable to refer to someone’s father-in-law as just “father”. My friend Justin also put forward the arguments

        “In addition, when you look at the Greek there is an article before every name in Luke’s genealogy except for one: Joseph. Many think this is Luke’s way of saying he is going through Mary’s line. ”

        Could you please respond to this specifically? As he teaches Greek and I have no training in it, I really can’t properly deal with claims that appeal to the Greek.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  February 19, 2013

          Sorry, your friends is really off line on this one. The others have an article because they do not have UIOS in front of them, and so they need the article. Jesus’ name has UIOS after it, identifying his relationship with Joseph (without the noun you need the article). But it is quite explicit: Jesus was the son, as it was supposed, of Joseph. And *Joseph* (not someone else) was the son of Heli! (which does have the article — that is what defines his relationship to Heli, not whether, in the relationship to Jesus, his name has the article)

          • Christopher Sanders
            Christopher Sanders  February 20, 2013

            So okay, just so I understand this correctly, UIOS means “a son” and so the article we’re talking about means something along the lines of “the son of” also, and Joseph lacks the article in front of his name because the writer just used a noun instead… That’s my friends argument? What? That’s pretty weak, I have to say. Could the writer have used the article instead of the noun. Is the noun used out of convenience? Is there something about this sentence structure that is abnormal or is my friend just grasping at the thinnest of straws? I wouldn’t be surprised, really, but I am a little disappointed, if that’s the case..

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  February 20, 2013

            He uses UIOS the first time to set the stage for all the others — where just the article is needed. I think he’s grasping at straws with this one….

  16. Christopher Sanders
    Christopher Sanders  February 28, 2013

    I also wanted to ask what you think of the idea that one gospel traces a legal line, while the other traces a physical line. Some appologists say that Joseph was perhaps adopted by another man and Luke perhaps gives his adopted father’s line. Haha, what can you say about this?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 28, 2013

      Now that’s *really* a stretch! Amazing the lengths people will go to avoid a discrepancy!!

      • Christopher Sanders
        Christopher Sanders  March 14, 2013

        I know it really is a stretch, right!? What can you possibly say back to this though except, “Well, I guess that could have happened that way…” and walk away? Lol. I’m unsure what to say in response to this. I’m no expert in Jewish genealogies and lineages but a. I don’t think that adopted sons would count in a “true” genealogy and b. Isn’t there a Greek word for adopted father? So that if one writer had meant “adopted father” he could have simply said it? Further, I’m wondering, Bart, if there’s any precedent for this suggested interchange of terms in any other ancient Jewish sources.

  17. Christopher Sanders
    Christopher Sanders  March 14, 2013

    Bart, I was wondering, with these genealogies so contradictory, do we find significant orthodox corruption, to use your terminology, in the early manuscripts? How did the early church deal with these contradictions?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  March 14, 2013

      Yes, there are a few changes in the texts of the genealogies in places, but not as many as you’d expect. A couple of theological variations in Matthew 1; I talk about them in Orthodox Corruption.

      • Christopher Sanders
        Christopher Sanders  March 15, 2013

        Why do you think there aren’t as many as you’d expect? Were there apologetics dealing with the genealogies going back to the church fathers that put early Christians at ease?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  March 15, 2013

          At the end of the day, it’s probalby because scribes thought that their job was to copy texts rather than rewrite them. So they usually left even the problematic passages. But not always!

  18. Avatar
    Mohy  March 5, 2014

    i watched a debate between Jimmy Swaggart and Mr Ahmed Deedat in 1986 i think when Deedat mentioned that
    Genealogies of Matthew and Luke cannot be reconciled Jimmy said that that Matthew is giving Joseph’s genealogy and Luke is giving Mary’s for sure Deedat said where did u get this from.
    i want to Know sir in modern debates like yours what is for example Craig Evans reply to the genealogy issue?

  19. Christopher
    Christopher  December 7, 2014

    I’m excited about your debate with my own occasional debate partner, Justin Bass, next year 🙂 Many of the questions you’ll find me asking on here, come from my exchanges with him. I’ve been discussing the genealogies with him, recently, and am wondering, IF Luke was giving either the genealogy of Mary, OR, the genealogy of Joseph’s adopted father, aren’t there words in Greek for “Father in Law” or “Adopted Father” that he could have used, in these instances. I want to know these, for debate purposes.

    From my own googling, it seems “petherós” would be the standard word for “father-in-law”. Is that correct?

    Is there a word for “adopted father”?

    I know these are kind of dum dum, questions, but… I don’t speak Greek… It’s all Greek to me.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 10, 2014

      I think you must mean pentheros? yes, that means father-in-law (or brother-in-law). It does not occur in Luke’s geneaology of Jesus, though, and is never used of Joseph in the NT. I don’t know of a Greek word for “adopted father.”

  20. John4
    John4  August 22, 2015

    Wonderful Bart! 🙂

    I’m continuing slowly to work my way through your beautiful blog archive (a *thoroughly* enjoyable exercise!) and today I read your December 17, 2012 entry. Your comment regarding your memorization of verses from the I Chronicles genealogy reminded me of a pleasant encounter with Biblical genealogy I had when my children were young. I thought I’d share the story with you.

    Like many parents, I read Bible stories to my children as part of their bedtime ritual when they were little. I used various children’s Bibles for this; there are many great ones. But, at age two and a half, I also began to offer them a Bible reading from *my* Bible (at the time, I was using the Jerusalem Bible translation). I didn’t force them to listen; they could always turn out the lights instead if they preferred. But, of course, even sitting still for a Bible story without any pictures in it is preferable to *turning out the lights* for a two year old, lol.

    After some experimentation with my first child, the passage I settled on to start ’em with was I Samuel 1:1-20, the story of the miraculous conception of Eli. Our kids (we have six!) are spaced three years apart, so at the time we started this Bible reading the little one was starting to get excited about the upcoming birth of his new sibling. Samuel’s classic tale of poor Hannah *longing* to have a baby and of unsympathetic Peninnah giving poor Hannah a hard time about it, the family drama of it all always hooked my toddler right in, and he would then *stay* hooked for years until finally (alas!) he would get too old to want Daddy to read him bedtime stories anymore.

    The author of Samuel sets the hook for his story by laying out the dramatic conflict in his second verse. He prepares to set this hook with a wonderful, fairy-tale-like genealogy in verse 1:

    1 There was a man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the highlands of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephraimite.

    2 He had two wives, one called Hannah, the other Peninnah; Peninnah had children but Hannah [dum dum dahhh!] had none.

    I *love* the genealogies!

    Thanks for listening, Bart! 🙂

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