The differences in the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew chapter 1 and Luke chapter 3 have been a conundrum for a long time. We know several prophecies must be fulfilled in order for Jesus to be the Messiah. We know according to Micah 5:2 that the Messiah must be born in Bethlehem, and Jesus was born in Bethlehem. We know that because of the Abrahamic covenant that the Messiah must come through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as opposed to Abraham and Ishmael or Isaac and Esau. Both genealogies have Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Because of the Davidic covenant we know that the Messiah must be from the line of David, and many people also believe that the Messiah must come through the line of Solomon (1Kings 2:4, 1Kings 9:5). Is Jesus a descendent of David, from the tribe of Judah, and the legal and spiritual heir to the throne? Why is the genealogy in Matthew different than the genealogy and Luke? Does the Messiah have to come to the line of Solomon or just David? So many questions must be answered to show that Jesus is the legal, Royal and spiritual heir to the throne.
Let's start with the genealogy of Matthew chapter 1. Matthew was concerned with showing the genealogy of the Messiah through Jewish eyes. Matthew's purpose is to show that Jesus carried the proper Jewish credentials to be the Jewish Messiah. Thus, Matthew focuses on Jesus from Abraham through David. The genealogy provided by Matthew is clearly that of Joseph the husband of Mary and the legal father of Jesus the Messiah. As required by Scripture, Joseph was of the tribe of Judah from the line of David and even from the line of Solomon. But two problems arise with Joseph's genealogy; the curse of Jeconiah and the fact that Joseph was not Jesus' biological father. Let's start with the curse of Jeconiah.
The Curse of Jeconiah
Solomon gave birth to Rehoboam who gave birth to Jeconiah who gave birth to Zerubbabel and onto the Messiah, Jesus. According to 1Chronicles 3:16-17, there were seven descendants of King Jeconiah, who was an evil king, all of whom were carried off to Babylon during the captivity. In Jeremiah chapter 22:24-30, God says that he will remove Jeconiah as a signet ring from his hand and none of his descendants would sit on the throne of David or rule Judah anymore; that the King should be counted as childless. If none of King Jeconiah's descendants are eligible to sit on the throne, and Joseph came from this lineage, he and his descendants would be ineligible to be the Messiah.
This curse could be a problem except that Jehoiachin repented and the family line was restored. The first piece of evidence is found in Jeremiah 52:31-34, which describes a special favor that was shown to Jehoiachin after decades of prison and exile. These verses speak that in the 37th year of exile of the King he was released, and on the 25th day of the 12th month (25th of Kislev, which happened to be the day of Hanukkah — the festival of rededication — which is fitting) he was given back his seat of honor eating at the King's table. We also see in Haggai 2:20-23 that Zerubbabel, the grandson of Jehoiachin, became the governor of Judah after the exile. God even says he will shake the heavens and earth and that he will take as his servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, and the Lord declares that he will make him a signet ring because he has been chosen.
These verses and others clearly show that the curse had been broken and reversed. Even the rabbis understand that the curse has been reversed. From one of the Jewish writings called the Pesikta, Rabbi Kahanna, 24:11 states, I accepted the repentance of Jeconiah: should I not accept your repentance? When God restores he restores fully. The curse had been broken through the obedience of King Jeconiah's grandson and all descending from that lineage were now eligible for the throne of David and could possibly be the Messiah.
Jesus as Joseph's Legal Heir
With the establishment that the curse on Solomon's line had been broken, Jesus as the son of Joseph had legal standing to be the Messiah. However, Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus. So would the adoption of Jesus by Joseph give him the legal standing he needed to be born of David through Solomon? Jesus was clearly known as a son of Joseph throughout his life. Matthew 1:18 says that Joseph accepted Jesus as his son. In Luke 4:22 as the crowd is amazed that Jesus is gracious words they ask, "Isn't this Joseph's son?" Again we see a reference to Jesus as the son of Joseph in John 6:42. So throughout his life he was clearly seen as the son of Joseph. According to Jewish law, if the mother is Jewish the child is Jewish, so Joseph was established as the legal adoptive father of Jesus giving him legal authority as Messiah.
Based on the authority of Jewish law and Scripture, Jesus had a legal claim to be the Messiah because he was born in Bethlehem, he was a son of David, through Solomon, of the tribe of Judah and legally the son of Joseph. Some will not accept the legal argument that Jesus had a right to claim to be the Messiah because Joseph was not his biological father. This brings us to the genealogy listed in Luke chapter 3. Was Mary a descendant of King David?
The Genealogy of Mary
The genealogy listed in Luke chapter 3 is that of Mary the mother of Jesus. Luke, concerned not just with the Jewish aspect of Jesus as Messiah but the larger aspect of Jesus as the Savior of the world, takes his genealogy all the way back to Adam and to God. There are no signs of any debate about the Davidic lineage of Jesus in any of the early sources, suggesting that Mary's Davidic background was well known. In Luke 1:32, Gabriel's words to Mary show that she honestly was a descendent of David, since she is being informed that the son to be conceived within her as a virgin will inherit the throne of his father David: "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David." Luke identifies Mary's father, Heli, as Joseph's father in Jewish genealogy because Mary had no brothers.
Now there are concerns that because Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus that Mary must come from the line of David through Solomon in order to give Jesus proper authority to be the Messiah. But Luke clearly shows that Solomon's older brother Nathan is in the line of Mary. Others claim that Mary was not from the tribe of Judah but from the tribe of Levi because she was related to Elizabeth who was married to Zechariah who was a priest and the parents of John the Baptist. So these difficulties must be overcome in order for us to see that Jesus has legal authority to be the Messiah.
Of Covenants and Kings
We must understand the difference in conditional and unconditional covenants and promises of God. God gave to David the unconditional covenant that one of his descendants would reign on the throne forever. David needed to do nothing but sire children in order for the covenant to be fulfilled. Contrast this unconditional covenant given to David — that one of his descendants will reign on his throne forever — with the conditional covenant to King Solomon about his heir apparent. We see many Scriptures where Solomon is told that the royal line will come through Solomon. In 2Samuel 7:14 the prophet Nathan is telling David that after he dies, God will raise up one of his offspring to succeed him, one coming from his own body, and his kingdom will be established. Further this heir is the one who will build a house for the name of the Lord, and God says that he will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. The Lord goes on to say that when he does wrong the Lord will punish him but will never take away his love the way he did from Saul, the first king of Israel. God tells David through the prophet Nathan that David's house and kingdom will endure forever before God; his throne will be established forever. Notice that the promises are made to King David and that it is King David's line that would forever be established on the throne. God is speaking only of David, not Solomon.
Now the assumption is that because Solomon built the house for God that the Messiah must come as a descendant of Solomon. And there are Scriptures such as 1Chronicles 17:11-14 and 2Samuel 7, which indicate that Solomon will be the line from which the Messiah would come. However, the promise that Solomon's seed would forever remain on the throne was conditional. Consider 1Chronicles 28:7 and 1Kings 9:4-9, where God speaks directly to Solomon. God makes it clear that in order for Solomon's line to continue in kingship they must never turn from God or serve other gods. God tells Solomon he must observe all his decrees and laws, and then he will establish the royal throne over Israel forever, but Solomon clearly did not follow the counsel of God. Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines and he frequently sinned against the commands of God.
The divine threat here is so emphatic that Hebrew scholar Ziony Zevit claims that God actually refused Solomon's request in 1Kings 8:25-26 for an unconditional guarantee. In that passage Solomon prayed his very promise back to the Lord — namely that David would never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel. God tells Solomon that there are conditions, and that the breaking of those conditions would actually result in the exile of the people and the destruction of the Temple. Both of these events happened. The people of Israel were exiled to Babylon and the Temple was destroyed.
The Hebrew Scriptures are absolutely clear on this: what is required for one to be the Messiah is to be from the lineage of David, not Solomon. There are many, many references to the throne of David and the Son of David, but not one reference to the son of Solomon. Solomon's throne was not established forever; David's was. All subsequent kings were said to sit on the throne of David not on the throne of Solomon. Solomon's kingdom was not one that was established forever; Solomon had conditions for his linage to remain on the throne that he broke.
The messianic line was promised through David and not Solomon as we can see clearly in the Psalms: Psalm 89:3-4 God says he has "sworn to David my servant that I will establish your line forever"; Psalm 89:35-37 God says "and I will not lie to David that his line will continue forever and his throne and before me like the sun"; Psalm 132:11-12 the Lord swore an oath to David, "a sure oath that he will not revoke; one of your own descendants I will place on your throne — if your sons keep my covenant and the statues I teach them, then their sons will sit on your throne forever and ever. Notice it is David's throne forever and ever."
Every reference about the eternity of the throne is from the name of David not Solomon. Jeremiah 33:17: "For this is what the Lord says: 'David will never fail to have a man sits on the throne of the house of Israel.'" Consider Jeremiah 17:24-25, which says if the people obey the Sabbath, "then kings who sit on David's throne will come through the gates of the city with their officials." Again David's throne, not Solomon's throne. To whom much is given much is expected and Solomon did not to fulfill the expectation. Even in Jewish law and the Talmud there is no reference that the Messiah must come through the line of Solomon. Not one statement can be found in any of the writings of the rabbis to support the need for the Messiah to come to the line of Solomon. It is significant to note that even Rabbi Moses Maimonides, one of the leading voices in rabbinic Judaism, omitted any reference to the Messiah's supposed need to be of Solomonic descent in his authoritative law code called the Mishneh Torah. It simply was not an issue.
So the fact that Mary came through the line of Nathan, Solomon's brother, is not an issue. Although in the third century a rabbi named Shimon bar Yochai wrote a book called the Zohar. Jewish mystics and those who often spiritualize the Hebrew Scriptures use the Zohar. Many rabbis have added to the Zohar over the centuries, just like the Talmud — the Jewish oral law and traditions. Zohar 3:173b actually states that the mother of the Messiah will be the wife of Nathan, Hephzibah, the mother of Amiel.
Interestingly, a book called Sefer Jerubbabel (written during the medieval times) states that Nathan died childless and therefore all of Nathan's children were fathered by Solomon. The belief is based on her name — Hephzibah, which means "my delight is in her" — and Isaiah 62:4.
"You that bring good tidings to Zion" is Hephzibah, the wife of Nathan son of David, who is the mother of Messiah, Menachem son of Amiel, who was her descendant. She shall go out and bring the tidings about redemption and she is part of the general meaning of: "You that bring good tidings to Zion." Zohar III:173b, Parashat Shlach Lekha 45:298.
It is remarkable that the Zohar, out of the ten sons of David, focuses on Nathan, just as the Gospel of Luke does. Chabad.org notes the brilliant commentary of R' Reuven Margolies on this difficult passage in the Zohar:
The famed 20th-century Jewish scholar and kabbalist Rabbi Reuven Margolies explains that the Zohar is careful to describe the Moshiach (Messiah) as being a descendant of Nathan's wife, rather than of Nathan himself. Nathan had passed away childless, and Solomon his brother married his widow, according to the laws of yibum, levirate marriage. In a levirate marriage, the firstborn son of the widow and the brother of the deceased is considered to be a continuation of the dead husband's line. Therefore, Moshiach is referred to here as "offspring" of Nathan, even though he is a descendant of King Solomon.
In Jewish Aggadah
(stories of the Jewish sages), the mother of the Messiah is named "Hephzibah" which means, "My Delight is in Her." This is apparently based on the passage applied to Israel, "You shall no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall your land any more be termed Desolate: but you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah (married); for HaShem (God) delights in you, and your land shall be married" Isaiah 62:4, cf. 2 Kings 2:11.
As interesting as the Zohar and Sefer Zubbabel may be, I can find no corroborating evidence that Solomon fathered Nathan's children. But as we discussed above, the promise was made to David and not to Solomon, so the fact that Mary has Nathan in her lineage is not an issue for the Messiahship of Jesus.
Mary and Elizabeth; Judah and Levi
The other problem that appears if we use Mary's lineage is that people speculate that Mary was from the tribe of Levi and not Judah. This comes from the Scripture that says Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who we know is the mother of John the Baptist. The Greek word that was translated as "cousin" in Luke 1:36 is syngenis
. This word actually does not mean cousin but simply a relative or a kinswoman. Mary and Elizabeth may have been cousins, but all we know for sure is that they were related. But if Mary was related to Elizabeth wouldn't this mean that Mary was of the tribe of Levi? The answer is simply no.
Remember that under Jewish law in order to receive your inheritance, if you are a woman with no brothers, you must marry in your tribe. Mary had no brothers, and therefore by law was required to marry into the tribe of Judah, her tribe, in order to secure her inheritance. So if Mary was from the tribe of Judah and Elizabeth from the tribe of Levi how could they be related? This is all speculation because the Scripture does not clarify. But it could have been that the mother of Mary and the mother of Elizabeth were sisters and Elizabeth mother married outside the tribe of Judah and into the tribe of Levi. Matthew Henry noted "though Elizabeth was on her father's side, of the daughters of Aaron (verse five), yet on the mother's side she might have been of the house of David, for those two families often intermarried, as an earnest of the uniting of the royalty and the priesthood of Messiah." However Mary and Elizabeth were related, they would still be of their father's tribe, the house of David in the house of Aaron respectively, by way of their father's ancestry. This concept is confirmed in Numbers 36:8, which states that when a man had only daughters they were required to marry a member of their own tribe otherwise it would cause problems with the inheritance of the land (see also Numbers 27:1-11; 36:1-13).
Interestingly, if the mother of Mary came from the tribe of Aaron, and Mary's father came from the tribe of Judah, this would give Jesus double standing and authority to be the Messiah as he has a right to be both a priest and a king. We know that Jesus was no ordinary man because he had to be both David's son and David's Lord. Messiah has to be both descended from an earthly king and yet descended from the heavenly throne. Jesus was able to identify with us in our humanity and weakness, yet bearing the divine nature to be able to save us fully from our sins.
Deuteronomy 18 tells us that God will raise up one from the brothers who will be a prophet greater than Moses. In the midrash Yalqut Shim'oni, rabbinic writings, it states that the Messiah will come forth from David and will be higher than Abraham, lifted up above Moses, and loftier than the ministering angels based on Isaiah 52:13. So Jesus fulfills all the requirements from a genealogical and a legal standpoint because he was all three, Prophet, Priest, and King.
Jesus the Messiah
One need not look any further than the baptism of Jesus to see the truth of his being the Messiah. When Jesus came to be baptized by John, the entire Trinity was there providing proof that Jesus is the legal, Royal, and spiritual fulfillment of Messiah. In John 1, John sees Jesus coming and cried out, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" And John testifies that he sees the Holy Spirit alighting like a dove and coming to rest on Jesus. And then recorded by John and Matthew the voice from heaven says, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." The testimony of those who witnessed the baptism of Jesus, who saw the Holy Spirit come upon him and who heard the voice of God cry out from heaven above that Jesus was the beloved Son of God, proves his Messiahship. There are so many more Scriptures and prophecies that Jesus the filled as proof of his legal and lawful claim to be the Messiah.
Even the Jewish rabbis, in the Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin 98a, record this question: Will the Messiah, the Son of David, come with the clouds of heaven, as indicated in Daniel 7:13-14, or will he come riding on a donkey, as it is written in Zechariah 9:9? The Talmud says that if we are worthy, he will come in the clouds, but if we are unworthy he will come riding on a donkey. What the rabbis failed to understand is that it's not an either or situation, both are prophecies that must be fulfilled. Jesus came riding on a donkey in his first coming because we were not worthy. But he will return descending from the clouds to fulfill that prophecy as well; just as he fulfills every prophecy, including his lineage.
I hope this clears up any difficulty in understanding the differences and problems in the genealogies listed in Matthew Chapter 1 and Luke Chapter 3. Because of the inerrancy of Scripture, both genealogies are true and correct. And every prophecy that was required for one to fulfill the office of Messiah was completed through Jesus and his heritage. One must simply understand first century Jewish culture combined with the Scriptures to get a clear picture.