A genealogy is a record of ancestors or descendents. The Bible gives two of them for Jesus. One is in Matthew 1:1-17, and the other is in Luke 3:23-38. The two lists of ancestors of Jesus are not the same.
Matthew’s account begins with Abraham and moves forward in time. Luke’s list moves backward in time, starting with Jesus, and going all the way to Adam.
There have been several theories by biblical scholars as to why these two lists are different. In addition, some skeptics of the Bible use these different genealogies as an argument for the inaccuracy of the Bible.
After reading the leading theories, only one of them made sense to me. Matthew’s list is clearly the genealogy of Joseph. Luke’s account lists the ancestors of Mary. That is why they contain different lists of ancestors. One gospel is listing the ancestors from one side of Jesus’ family, the other gospel enumerates the other side of the family. This theory is not accepted by everyone, because although Joseph’s name is in his list of ancestors, Mary’s name does not appear in her genealogy.
Let’s take a look at the very end of Joseph’s genealogy found in Matthew:
“And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob; And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” (Matthew 1:15-16 KJV)
The genealogy in Matthew’s is traced through the father as per Jewish custom. His intention was probably to prove to the Jews that Jesus was a descendant of David, and, therefore, legally entitled to sit on his throne.
There was a problem, however, with Joseph’s lineage. One of his ancestors was King Jechonias (also called Coniah) who was cursed by God because he was so evil.
“Thus saith the LORD, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah.” (Jeremiah 22:30 KJV)
God’s curse said that no seed of Coniah would ever be king. So how could Jesus inherit the throne having Coniah in His legal lineage? The answer is, He couldn’t. Although He was legally descended from David in Joseph’s genealogy, the curse from God blocked that lineage from David’s throne.
This fact makes it clear why there is a second genealogy in Luke that is traced through Jesus’ mother, Mary. While the genealogy in Matthew is for legal purposes, the ancestry of Mary shows the bloodline of Jesus.
Mary is also descended from David, and there is no block to the throne in her family history. Mary’s descent from David comes through his son, Nathan, not Solomon. Let’s look at that part of Mary’s ancestry in Luke:
“Which was the son of Melea, which was the son of Menan, which was the son of Mattatha, which was the son of Nathan, which was the son of David,” (Luke 3:31 KJV)
But you say, “Wait a second, Bibleguy, how could Mary transmit the right of David’s throne to Jesus when that inheritance had to be conveyed through the males in the family?” “Hmmmm?”
The answer to that very good question can be found in Numbers 27:8.
“And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.” (KJV)
According to Israel law, if a daughter is the only heir, then she can inherit her father’s possessions and rights. There is no mention in the Bible that Mary has any brothers, so her husband, Joseph, would have become the heir of Mary’s father, Heli.
Since women were not listed in the genealogies, Joseph’s name appears on the list, not Mary’s. Because the Greeks had no word for “son in law”, Joseph is listed instead as Heli’s son.
“And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli,” (Luke 3:23 KJV)
One last thing. Remember that Luke’s account shows the bloodline of Jesus through Mary? It is absolutely necessary that His bloodline from David be established through His mother. Consider the following:
“Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;” (Romans 1:3 KJV)
So, in summary, both Joseph and Mary were descended from David. Joseph’s record in Matthew satisfies the legal requirement of inheritance rights. Luke’s account of Mary’s bloodline establishes that Jesus was made from the seed of King David.