A genealogy is a line of descent traced from an ancestor, according to the Oxford Languages dictionary. Why would someone want to understand their genealogy? Here might be a few reasons:
To connect with the past – who am I?
To understand the community to which I belong.
To know the legacy of which I am a part.
There might be other reasons, of course. America, for example, has famously been known to be a “melting pot” of peoples from across the world. The people who live there have come from across the world after just a few generations, but often we don’t know those geographical origins as they weren’t discussed in our families.
Whatever the individual case may be, it is clear that a genealogy is intended to provide a connection from the present to the past.
In Jesus’s case, Matthew (chapter 1) and Luke (chapter 3) both created genealogies for him. Why would they do this? What is the purpose?
The main reason is to connect Jesus to both his earthly and heavenly ancestors. Here is what I mean:
Jesus is a descendent from God Himself
Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of JosephLuke 3:23
the son of Enosh,Luke 3:38
the son of Seth, the son of Adam,
the son of God.
In verse 23, Luke makes an allusion to Jesus’s adopted status by his earthly father Joseph when he says “so it was thought”. Luke has already explained Jesus’s virgin birth in chapters 1 and 2, so he is showing here that Jesus is Joseph’s son, although he is his earthly adopted father, not his direct descendent.
At the same time, Luke also traces Jesus’s lineage all the way back to Adam, the son of God. This shows us that there are now two people who do not have human fathers, neither Adam nor Jesus as both were created and formed directly from God, not born in the same way as the rest of us from human parents.
Jesus is a descendent of Israel through the line of Judah
the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram,Luke 3:33
the son of Hezron, the son of Perez,
the son of Judah, the son of Jacob,
the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham,
the son of Terah, the son of Nahor
God brings about his plan to bless all nations through the nation of Israel. He had originally blessed Abraham who had Isaac and then Jacob, whose name was changed by God to Israel. Judah was one of Israel’s sons, and thus created one of the tribes of Israel. The Messiah was prophesied to come from the tribe of Judah (for example, Micah 5:2) and so Jesus is connected to this tribe.
Jesus is a descendent of King David
the son of Melea, the son of Menna,Luke 3:31
the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan,
the son of David, the son of Jesse,
the son of Obed, the son of Boaz,
the son of Salmon, the son of Nahshon
King David was from the tribe of Judah as was his father Jesse. As a descendent of David, Jesus is in the royal line from a human perspective, but also in the royal line from a divine perspective. Jesus is royalty and is worthy to be praised and worshiped for his royal heritage as well as his royal nature as the King in the Kingdom of God.
There is controversy, of course, with regard to the genealogy that Luke presents as it differs in places with the genealogy that Matthew presented. A specific place in which we can look would be Joseph’s father, Jesus’s human and adoptive grandfather. In Matthew, he is listed as Jacob, whereas in Luke he is listed as Heli.
Quite a few theories exist as to why this difference exists, but here are a couple, just to give some explanation:
Matthew may have been listing Joseph’s line whereas Luke was actually listing Mary’s line. This isn’t clear because it seems to say that Heli is Joseph’s father, but the virgin birth also makes the situation challenging and to lack clarity given that Jesus didn’t have a human father, and having a human father is the only way that a genealogy actually works. So, it could be possible that, to show the human descendency of Jesus, Luke listed Mary’s ancestors instead of those of Joseph.
A second theory is similar in that Heli was still Mary’s father but Joseph is listed as as a son-in-law to Heli, thus showing a connection, although still through Mary’s ancestry.
There are several other theories on the differences, but I think that these statements are true, regardless of which statement you subscribe to:
First, both Matthew and Luke were looking at Jesus’s genealogy from the outside. It would be possible for two people to trace genealogies differently, especially when you add in typical human situations such as adoption, death and remarriage, or divorce and remarriage.
Second, the question of the virgin birth causes a significant challenge to writing a genealogy. Both Matthew and Luke acknowledge the virgin birth of Jesus, having been born directly from the Holy Spirit creating and forming Jesus within Mary, so this is a very difficult challenge to overcome in the midst of writing a genealogy.
And finally – but probably most importantly – none of the controversy about the specific line taken changes the most important connections that I’ve outlined above. The biggest question isn’t who Joseph’s father was, nor how the descedency arrives to him. The biggest question is: Who is Jesus? If we only had a genealogy as the evidence upon which we are relying, this controversy might be worthy of consideration, but it is not. Jesus performed miracles that only God could perform. Jesus died and was resurrected, a miracle to which hundreds of people attested and died to confirm. No, the genealogies are not the primary evidence that Jesus is who he claimed to be, but instead, they confirm the prophecies and confirm Jesus’s identity.