Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

2. The Genealogies of Jesus (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38)

With the exception of the period from Abraham to David, the two long lists of names giving the ancestry of Jesus are almost entirely different, and therefore apart from a few general principles it will be necessary to consider the details of Matthew 1 and Luke 3 separately.

The pre-Captivity father-to-son or son-to-father details can be checked from the Old Testament. The lists from Joseph to Judah (Lk. 3:23-26) and from Joseph to Abiud (= Judah? Mt. 1:13-17) have no counterpart anywhere in Scripture. Even so, they — like all the rest — may be regarded as thoroughly dependable because very full records of all Jewish families (and, of course, especially of the family of David) were maintained in the temple up to the time of its destruction in A.D. 70. The famous Hillel traced his ancestry back to David. Josephus wrote concerning his own family tree: “I have thus traced my genealogy as I have found it in the public tables.” A priest especially had to verify the family of his prospective wife by reference to the archives in Jerusalem. Even in the far more troubled days of Nehemiah a register of the genealogy of those returning from Babylon was available (Nehemiah 7:5).

It is to be remembered too that a man’s pedigree, properly established, meant his title to inheritance in the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:28), even though he go away for a long time, as Jesus has done.

The Royal Line

Matthew’s list is that of the royal line, the sequence of those with right to the throne of Israel. It concludes with “Joseph, the husband of Mary”, thus indicating that, had there been an independent kingdom of Israel in the time when Jesus was born, Joseph would have been the rightful king. So Jesus, the legal heir of Joseph, was “born King of the Jews”. Yet immediately offer the details of his genealogy there comes the account of the virgin birth of Jesus, insisting very pointedly that Joseph was not his father, but instead demonstrating that the Lord satisfied in another essential and unique respect the prophecy of the royal son promised to David: “I will be his father, and he shall be my son” (2 Sam. 7:14; cp. Mt.1: 20).

Whereas Matthew traces the descent of Jesus down from Abraham and David, Luke traces his ancestry back to Adam, thus emphasizing Christ as Saviour of the world, and as the promised Seed of the Woman (Gen. 3:15). Almost certainly, then, the list in Luke represents the family line of Mary. Hostile Jews evidently took it as such, for in the Talmud there is more than one vile passage about Mary, the daughter of Heli (Lk. 3:23), going to hell.

Joseph and Mary

It may well be that the table in Luke is, essentially, the genealogy of both Mary and Joseph. If the Matthan of Matthew 1:15 can be equated with the Matthat of Luke 3:24, then the last three generations could work out like this:

This would make Mary and Joseph cousins. And as Mary apparently had no brothers (Jn. 19:26), the reversion of right to the throne of David would fall to Joseph, hence the sequence in Matthew 1:16. Also this would mean that Mary was an heiress in her own right, a fact which seems to be indicated by Lk. 2:5: “Joseph went to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife.” Since Mary was near the time of her delivery, the obvious thing would have been for Joseph to travel to Bethlehem alone. So probably she accompanied him because until their formal marriage she reckoned as belonging to an independent branch of the family. This marriage of cousins would be indicated by the principle enunciated in Numbers 36 (concerning the daughters of Zelophehad) that, where there was no male heir, marriages must be so arranged as to keep the inheritance within the family.

The rest of this study must necessarily consist of a series of separate details, none of them (it is hoped) devoid of interest or usefulness.

The Line of Nathan

Luke’s genealogy is introduced thus: “And Jesus himself was beginning (his ministry) at about thirty years old, being the son, as was reckoned by law, of Joseph. . .” This is a better way of reading it than the “as was supposed” of the A.V.

This ancestry is traced back through Nathan, the son of David next older than Solomon. It

makes an interesting “undesigned” coincidence to note that in the ensuing generations there are no less than six names which are modified forms of Nathan (though this is not exactly obvious to the English reader). They are Matt hat (two with this name), Mattathias (two), Maath, Mattatha.

That the Lord should be descended from a son of David about whom nothing is known (except that he was probably named after Jonathan or Nathan the prophet) illustrates the words of the prophet Micah: “Butthou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel” (5:2).

The Salathiel - Zerubbabel Tangle

The ascending sequence: Juda, Joanna (Johanan), Rhesa, Zorobabel, Salathiel, has certain interesting features. Rhesa appears to be an interpolation tacked on to the name of Zerubbabel. It means “chief prince” and was the recognised title of Jewish leaders in Babylon, which continued to be used right down to the time of Christ. These generations in and after the Babylonian captivity are also listed-though not in very intelligible form-in 1 Chronicles 3. It makes an exacting exercise in ingenuity and attention to detail to piece together consistently the contacts which undoubtedly exist. There Salathiel (v.17) and Zerubbabel (v.19) are undoubtedly the same, as in Luke 3. Hananiah (v. 19) is Joanna or Johanan of Luke 3:27. And Hodaiah (v.24) is probably the Juda of Luke 3:26 and the Abiud of Matthew 1:13. But how to fit these together into a tidy family tree harmonizing with Luke 3 is no easy matter and not to be attempted here.


Another problem with the Old Testament records concerns Cainan (v.36) who is not mentioned in the corresponding list in Genesis 11:12. But the Septuagint Version includes his name. This is by no means the only place where the New Testament apparently uses the Greek version of the Old Testament to correct the Hebrew text.

This genealogy terminates with “Adam which was the son of God”, a statement which carries special difficulties for those who seek to befriend the evolutionists with their surmise that the Adam and Eve of Genesis were not the only humans on earth at that time.

Abraham and David

Matthew, on the other hand, writing for Jews, seems determined to make his readers realise

the importance of Abraham and David in the ancestry of the Messiah, first by the special mention of them in his heading of the genealogy. Verse 1 should be read as meaning: Jesus is the Seed of David, and he is also the Seed of Abraham.

The Book of the Generations

It is important to recognise that “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ” does not describe the first seventeen verses only, but the entire gospel. The title is obviously taken by design from the rubric which divides the book of Genesis into well-defined sections: for example, “And these are the generations of Isaac, son of Abraham” (25:19). This title probably describes the ensuing chapters which have more to do with the life of Isaac. So also Matthew. Perhaps it is even more important to compare this heading with Gen. 5:1: “This is the book of the generation of Adam”; for then it is possible to see the genealogy and record concerning Jesus as the beginning of a New Creation through him “whose goings forth have been from of old” (Mic. 5:2). There is the same kind of hint about the way Luke’s list goes back to Adam. The other gospels all encourage the same kind of thinking (Lk. 1:1; Mk. 1:1; Jn. 1:1).

The third step in the genealogy has a unique phenomenon: “Jacob begat Judah and his brethren” (v.2). Strictly, mention of the rest of the family is unnecessary since this table details the direct connection between Abraham and Jesus via Judah. The inclusion, then, of the other brothers, who begat the tribes of Israel, is a reminder that the Messiah is King of the Jews, and his subjects are his brethren (in more senses than one).

Five Women

Next comes the first mention of a woman — Thamar — in the genealogy. She who had incestuous union with her own father-in-law is the first of five women to be mentioned here. The others are Rahab the harlot, Ruth the Moabitess, Bathsheba the adulteress (“she that had been the wife of Uriah” — there is no attempt to cover the sin!) and last “Mary of whom was born Jesus”. The purpose behind the inclusion of the first four names was, no doubt, to prepare the reader for the even greater abnormality about the birth of Jesus; also, to make evident the entail of sin in the family line of Jesus, thus stressing his own essential one-ness with those he came to save; and, further, to anticipate one of the salient doctrines of this gospel, that for the sake of Christ, God is prepared to receive Gentiles (to be the Bride of the King), even those who have been specifically rejected from the congregation of the Lord, and also those who are not only sinners, but are publicly exposed as such (e.g. 8:10; 9:10; 11:19). The lesson needs to be learned: the door must never be slammed and bolted in the face of the repentant sinner. There is no sin that is not forgivable in Christ. The great exception, the “sin against the Holy Spirit”, necessarily involves the impossibility of repentance.

With what readiness would Matthew the publican (9:9) include the details about those women in the genealogy in his gospel!

Remarkably enough, Luke, who more than all the other gospels finds a prominent place for women in his record, fails to mention these four women, or any others, in his genealogy. Is this perhaps because he already knew of their inclusion in Matthew 1?

Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba

“Salmon begat Boaz of Rahab” adds an item of information nowhere to be found in the Old Testament — that Rahab the harlot married the prince of the tribe of Judah. The reconstruction is probable (though not certain), and is certainly very attractive, that Salmon was one of the two spies in Jericho for whose lives Rahab took such a great risk upon herself. When the twelve spies were sent by Moses (Num. 13:3), they were all princes of the tribes. Then what more likely than this, that Joshua followed the same plan with Jericho, only this time sending the princes of Judah and Ephraim only, because they were the tribes which had supplied faithful men on the earlier occasion? And what more likely than this, that one of the two, a prince of the royal tribe, fell in love with his fair deliverer and became personally responsible for her safety when the city was destroyed? Thus is foreshadowed how the Gentile becomes Jewish, and Bride of the King.

The next generation has another strange feature: “Boaz begat Obed of Ruth”. But in marrying Ruth, Boaz was acting the part of go’el, the near kinsman, raising up seed to the deceased and childless Mahlon, who died in Moab (Ruth 4:10; Dt. 25:5,6)! The child of that marriage, then, should have reckoned as son of Mahlon, but it would seem that here, as in certain other abnormal cases, faith has the authority to set aside the strict letter of the law of Moses. Manifestly, from every point of view, it is more right that the Servant of the Lord (= Obed), born in Bethlehem, should be reckoned as son of Boaz (“in him is the strength” of faith) rather than son of Mahlon, in whom faith sickened and died, away from the Land of Promise.

Bathsheba is alluded to (v. 6) as “her of Uriah”, thus making pointed exposure of the sin which “caused the name of the Lord to be blasphemed”. Yet there was no exclusion from the fellowship of Israel. The stigma remained, even a thousand years later, but the sin was forgiven.


In the statement (v.8) “Jehoram begat Uzziah” there is a large and unmistakable gap in the sequence of royal names. Ahaziah, Jehoash, Amaziah are omitted. These are the three generations descended from infamous Athaliah, daughter of equally infamous Jezebel, who “arose and destroyed all the seed royal” (2 Kings 11:1). So her own seed are obliterated from the record, not only for her sins but also for their own, for all three of them, in greater or less degree, followed in her ways. The sins of the mother were visited upon the children to the third generation of them that hated the Lord. Then why not the fourth generation also?-for Uzziah was the king whose heart was lifted up to his seeking to assume the high-priesthood also (2 Chr. 26:16-21). The answer must be in his repentance, readily traceable in the Old Testament record.

The New Testament’s censure of the other three is a striking fulfilment of Deuteronomy 29:19,20: If a man “bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart . . . then the anger of the lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man... and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven.”

This interpretation of the omissions is satisfying enough, there is the right “feel” about it, and yet there are difficulties. By the same argument, what are Ahaz and “Jechonias” doing here? Worthless men, both, who were evil and faithless to the end of their days.


“And Josiah begat Jechonias and his brethren at the time of the carrying away to Babylon” (v, 11). The “brethren” are mentioned here because they also sat on the throne of the Lord in Jerusalem. Yet their names are bypassed so as to keep the genealogy to a pattern of three fourteens.

Why should Jeconiah, and not one of the other three, be mentioned by Matthew? Is it because he outlived all the others as a captive in Babylon?


It is difficult to believe that “Jeconiah begat Salathiel” represents a true father-son relationship. More probably, and simply, enough, the truth is that during the Captivity, Salathiel was next in line for the throne, although of course he never occupied it. Jeconiah was not childless (Jer. 22:28,30; a tablet found in Babylon mentions his five sons), but he was to be “written childless... no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David” (Jer. 22:30). So the Messiah does not have such a man as his direct ancestor.

The two lines of descent from David — through Solomon and through Nathan-somehow converge in Salathiel (Mt. 1:12; Lk. 3:27). Did Salathiel marry the daughter of Neri? Or did Pedaiah (1 Chr. 3:19) make a levirate marriage with the widow of Salathiel who was made a eunuch in Babylon (Is. 39:7)? Certainly here and concerning some other details is not possible.

Three Fourteens

The genealogy concludes with an arithmetical summary, indicating three fourteens, dominated by the three names Abraham, David, Christ. The figures invite comparison with Israel’s forty-two campsites in the wilderness (Num. 33:2) before reaching the Land of Promise. Another comparison is with Adam, created at the end of the sixth day, for the Second Adam comes at the end of the sixth seven in this long list.

Further, it is to be noted that the numerical value of the name David is fourteen; hence the focusing of attention on three fourteens (v. 17). In particular, “all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations” (v. 17). This word “all” is carefully restricted to the first fourteen, where it is literally true. Thus Matthew implies deliberate omissions in the second and third fourteen. This contriving of specific numbers suggests that the early church saw special significance in them. There are other examples which point to the same conclusion, but one has yet to see any explanation that is really convincing or with Biblical authority behind it. Certainly, not all the fanciful juggling that has been put into Biblical numerology should be taken seriously.

The strange thing here is that, although Matthew insists on three fourteens, the third group has only thirteen names in it. Oversight is not an acceptable explanation of this remarkable “error”. Of course, the omission is intentional. How did Matthew intend his third fourteen to be completed? The emphasis on “Christ”, rather than “Jesus”, in verses 16,17 suggests that Jesus after his resurrection or Jesus as king when he comes again supplies the fourteenth stage. Or, alternatively, are those in Christ intended to complete the scheme: “A seed shall serve him; it shall be counted to the Lord for his generation (RVm). They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this” (Ps. 22:31). “He shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand” (Is. 53:10). Could the genealogy of “the Christ” point to a better conclusion that this?

Perhaps it is worth mentioning that, similarly, the 77 names in Luke’s list are one short of being a triangular number (???) — on which strange and fairly prominent New Testament, phenomenon, see “He is risen indeed” (H.A.W.), p.78.

Notes: Matthew 1:1-17

JesusChrist. Here Christ is a name, not a title; cp. Mk. 1: 1;Jn. 1: 17. But not so in v. 16.
Judas and his brethren. Yet the brothers of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not mentioned; nor is Moses mentioned in connection with the Messiah. “Brethren” are also mentioned in v. 11 as in need of redemption from bondage.
Perez and Zerah. There is no need to mention Zerah, but the remarkable story in Gen. 38 suggests a further meaning: The Jew, unwilling to acknowledge the Gentile (Tamar = palmtree; Ex. 15: 27 etc.), is the unwitting means of bringing both Jew and Gentile heirs of the kingdom, and in so doing loses his badges of divine prerogative. The believing Jew, bound with the scarlet line of the Hope of Israel (Josh. 2:18), is new-born first; but the believing Gentile makes a breach, to become the recognized seed, the Jew coming afterwards.
Are Ahaz and Manasseh included because of their close connection with Hezekiah, the great prototype of the Messiah? But Jeconiah (v. 11) still presents a problem.
The list: Abiud to Joseph, comes nowhere in Scripture. Instead, 1 Chr. 3: 19-24 follows on.
The pointed mention here of three fourteens is characteristic of Matthew: for example,

5: 22:
6: 1-18:
8: 1-15:
8: 23-9:8
12: 1-9:
21: 28 -22: 14:
26: 38-41:
26: 39-44:
3 dangers from anger.
3 forms of piety.
3 miracles.
3 more miracles.
King, priest, prophet.
3 prophetic parables
3 warnings to watch.
3 prayers in Gethsemane.

This list is by no means exhaustive.

Luke 3: 23-38

The genealogy back to Adam explains the baptism of Jesus in v. 21.
RVm: Admin is excluded by O.T. lists.
Cainan comes in LXX but not in Hebrew O.T.
Adam... God, emphasizing Christ as Saviour of the world and Son of God.

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