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The differences in Jesus’ genealogy begin after David. Matthew follows David’s son Solomon
while Luke follows David’s son Nathan
. First, understand that Solomon became King after David – not Nathan. Jewish royalty was a passed through birth. If your daddy wasn
’t king then you would never be a king. All of Israel’s kings were descendants of David. In fact, when you read through the genealogy in Matthew it follows the list of kings from David until the time of exile into Babylon. (After the exile, there were no more kings. Zerubbabel
served as a governor, but Israel was soon conquered and placed under rule of the Roman Empire.)
Why is all of that Jewish history important? It was important to the original audience of the gospels. Matthew was written for a primarily Jewish audience. Prophesy had stated that the messiah would be king. Jews of Jesus’ day were expecting a messiah who would be born into royalty and lead the Jews in a revolution to overthrow the government. They weren
’t expecting a goofy looking vagrant born to a poor carpenter. Matthew was using the line of David through Solomon to show Jesus as the legal ancestor to royal lineage.
Why Luke follows the line of David through Nathan isn
’t as widely agreed upon. Some say that both lines reflect Joseph’s (Jesus’ dad's) heritage. While Matthew follows Joseph’s royal lineage, Luke follows Joseph’s human lineage. That theory never made sense to me since both halves are human – not to mention Matthew and Luke record different fathers for Joseph. It wasn
’t possible for Joseph to have two daddies unless one of them was a father-in-law.
Which brings us to the second theory (more popular and makes the most sense to me). Matthew follows Jesus’ royal heritage through Joseph. Joseph was only Jesus’ adopted father, so his human lineage is traced through his mother, Mary – and that is what is recorded in Luke. Luke doesn
’t mention Mary, but in ancient Middle Eastern culture it was not acceptable to mention a woman with out a man present. So, Heli
(in Luke) was really Mary’s dad. Since Mary and Joseph were married, they were considered one flesh and that culture considered her to be a part of him. So, it was socially acceptable to refer to Joseph as son of Heli
, even though Heli
was only Joseph’s father through marriage.
This second reason for the difference makes sense due to understanding Luke’s audience. First, Luke was a highly educated doctor. Due to his background, most scholars believe that Luke was not from Palestine, but from somewhere else in the Roman empire (some believe he was from Alexandra). He wrote his gospel and the book of Acts as a two part series detailing Jesus’ life and the beginnings of the Christian church. The books were addressed to someone named Theophilus
. We don’t know who Theophilus
was; the name means “friend of God,” so it could be anybody, but many believe that he was a leader in the Roman government due to Luke calling him “most excellent Theophilus
.” Most agree that Theophilus
(and most of Luke’s intended audience) were Gentiles (non-Jews).
The Jews cared about a messiah born of royal heritage; so Matthew followed Jesus’ royal family tree. But the Gentiles didn
’t care if Jesus was heir to the Jewish throne. What they cared about was his human qualities – that he was God born of man. Therefore, Luke followed Jesus’ human lineage through his mother, Mary.