Errors in Jesus' Genealogies

The virgin birth? Get real. No such event ever occurred. It is a myth propagated by Christians to support their claims of a miraculous God. Even if we accept it, we have an obvious contradiction in the Bible with the genealogy of Jesus. Look at the following:

And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ (Matthew 1:16 NKJV)

Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, (Luke 3:23 NKJV)

What could be simpler than knowing who Jesus’ grandfather was? Joseph can’t be both the son of Jacob and the son of Heli - both of these accounts cannot be right; the Bible is in error. But that wouldn’t bother us if we admit the Bible is the work of man, and as such, will contain errors. We should take the Bible for what it is, and not try and force inerrancy on it. If you try to make the Bible without error, you run into problems such as this for which no suitable explanation exists.


First, we must understand the virgin birth is clear. It appears in the Old Testament:

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 NKJV)

The New Testament also teaches Jesus was born of a virgin in several places.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:18-21 NKJV)

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:34-35 NKJV)

So the virgin birth is not a problem; it is clear from the text. However, looking at the two genealogies given by Matthew and Luke reveals something interesting. Matthew is a Jew, and as such starts his genealogy from Abraham, then to David, to Solomon, and finally to Joseph. Luke is different, he is interested in Jesus’ humanity and thus starts from the first man Adam, to Abraham, then to David. But when he gets to David, he doesn’t go through Solomon but through Nathan, arriving at Mary. So both Joseph and Mary are descendants of David. But reading the genealogies themselves reveals something interesting.

And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ (Matthew 1:16 NKJV)

Now Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, (Luke 3:23 NKJV)

How can Joseph be the son of Jacob and the son of Heli? Before you start to claim a contradiction in the Bible, you must look at more than these two verses. As an example, suppose you received a letter from a member of your family, but only read every other paragraph, and only the first sentence in each paragraph. As you finished the letter, you ask: “What did they mean”? Would you do that? NO. You would read the complete letter to determine what the meaning is. The same principle applies to the Bible. You can’t just take bits here and there and expect to understand it - we must look at the entire Bible as a whole. This is the problem with people who find “errors” in the Bible - they ignore most of it. That’s exactly what happens here. To understand what’s going on, we must look at the Bible as a whole, as well as the culture of the time. As we do, we find the Bible is again proved to be without error.

Why the virgin birth, and what about this apparent problem with the genealogies? To answer that, we start with some historical background. As you read the Old Testament, you notice Israel went through frequent times with bad kings taking them into idolatry and other ungodly things. Eventually, you come to a king by the name of Jeconiah (sometimes shortened as Coniah in your Bible). This king is so bad the Lord takes action, through the words of Jeremiah.

Thus says the LORD: ‘Write this man down as childless, A man who shall not prosper in his days; For none of his descendants shall prosper, Sitting on the throne of David, And ruling anymore in Judah.’ (Jer 22:30 NKJV)

What does this have to do with anything you say? God has just cursed the line (the royal line - the line of Joseph) from which the Messiah (Jesus) will come! The Lord had promised the Messiah would come from David, how can this be? Two things: the virgin birth and a reference to the daughters of Zelophehad.

Since both Joseph and Mary are descendants of David, Jesus is still in the line of David since His mother was Mary. But since Mary was a virgin, she avoids the blood curse the Lord put on the line of Joseph. But a problem still remains. Jesus must be a descendant of the royal line the Lord cursed! To understand how this works, we must plunge into the Old Testament.

Then came the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, from the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and these were the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses, before Eleazar the priest, and before the leaders and all the congregation, by the doorway of the tabernacle of meeting, saying: “Our father died in the wilderness; but he was not in the company of those who gathered together against the LORD, in company with Korah, but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be removed from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.” So Moses brought their case before the LORD. And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: “The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father’s brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. (Numbers 27:1-8 NKJV)

This means the inheritance could pass through the daughter instead of a son under special circumstances (normally, inheritance was through the eldest son only). In that case, the daughter would posses all the rights normally associated with the son, and in the case of Mary, she would inherit the claim to the royal line, as would her son Jesus. Thus Jesus is from the royal line of David, while avoiding the blood curse on the royal line - the virgin birth solves all of this. But it’s important to remember this was not an afterthought by God. The law for the inheritance through the daughter came directly from the Lord Himself to Moses. The Lord knew what He was doing all along - it was His plan.

But the skeptic may ask -“How do we know Mary had no brothers?” Let’s assume to satisfy the skeptic she didn’t. It wouldn’t make any difference. Why not? The culture of the Jewish people two thousand years ago was different than today. If someone adopted a child, they would have exactly the same rights as a natural born son and would be listed as a natural son. Thus Jesus, as an adopted son of Joseph, would posses the same rights as a natural son of Joseph, and specifically the claim to the royal line - since He would be considered the firstborn of Joseph (Mary and Joseph having no other children at that time).

Whether Mary had brothers or not, Jesus inherits the claim to the royal line, while avoiding the blood curse the Lord placed upon Jeconiah.

But the skeptic still has one problem remaining. How do we reconcile the different fathers listed for Joseph? Simply by understanding Luke is giving the genealogy of Mary, while Matthew is giving the genealogy of Joseph. Several clues in the text bear this out. Looking at the text in Luke you notice in the King James and New King James Bible the words “the son” are listed in italics. They do not appear in the Greek text. To quote from the introduction to the New King James Bible:

Words or phrases in italics indicate expressions in the original language which require clarification by additional English words, as also done throughout the history of the King James Bible. (The McArthur Study Bible, page xxv).

As well as the original King James Bible

It should be borne in mind that the use of italics in the English Bible text indicates that these specific words are not present in the original languages of the Bible, although the ideas they convey are sometimes clearly implied. (The New Scofield Bible, page vi)

If you look at the genealogy in Matthew, no words are in italics. The word used in English is “begot” (from the Greek gennao) which means to be born. (Zodhiates , Spiro “The Complete Word Study New Testament” page 891) However, in Luke the words ‘the son’ do not appear in the original Greek text; the translators have inserted them. Different Greek words are used in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke - the problem arises in the translation of Greek into English. If you study the Greek, there is no contradiction. Joseph is the in-law to Heli, NOT a direct descendant

  • the original Greek never makes the claim Joseph is a direct descendant of Heli. Since Joseph was married to Mary, he can easily be considered “of Heli” or related to Heli, without being a direct descendant. A translational issue, not an error in the Bible, causes the confusion. Luke was a physician; if Doctor Luke wanted to state a direct parental relationship between Joseph and Heli, why didn’t he use the Greek word (gennao) that denotes a direct parental relationship?

But if Luke is really giving Mary’s genealogy, why did he use Joseph’s name instead of Mary’s? Again, you must understand the culture of the day. Women were held in low esteem; they were not recorded in genealogies. (The amazing fact is not that Luke substituted Joseph for Mary; the amazing fact is Matthew mentions several women in his genealogy!) For Luke, using Joseph instead of Mary would be a natural result of the culture of that day. The Greek makes clear Luke does not claim Joseph is a direct descendant of Heli. But since Mary was the inheritor from her father, the culture of that time would then transfer the inheritance Mary received to Joseph. So the use of Joseph in Luke is both accurate and valid from a historical perspective.

So what about the skeptic’s claims of a contradiction? As we have seen, no contradiction exists. As always, we invite serious open-minded people to study for themselves, and then find these problems are the result of translation problems, taking phrases out of context, lack of cultural understanding or other problems. Let’s not waste any more of the court’s time with these useless debates about Bible errors - for each one the prosecution has dug up, we have shown it’s not an error. Let’s move on to the real question: Who is Jesus Christ?

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