The Genealogies of Jesus Christ

By W. W. Everts


The four gospels open with the announcement that Jesus Christ was the son of Abraham, the son of God, the son of Adam and God himself. Only two of them tell of his birth, and both of these add a genealogy. Matthew places his as the title of his book, but Luke imitating the biographer of Moses, inserts his at the opening of the public ministry. A considerable part of the Old Testament is devoted to genealogies. In the New Testament Jesus is the only person whose genealogy is given. The Apostle Paul expressly warns both Timothy and Titus against the use of endless genealogies. He referred not to the genealogy of Christ which had an end, but to the Gnostic speculation which was beginning even then to fill the air with beings intermediate between God and man.

No reason has been given for the charge that these genealogies were fabricated. It was natural for the two Evangelists who tell of the infancy of Jesus to add his genealogy. Luke tells of his researches, and how he had “perfect understanding of all things from the first.” A genealogy prepared by such a painstaking biographer inspires the confidence of every unprejudiced reader.

These two genealogies are essential because they prove that Jesus was not a phantom as the Gnostics contended but bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. They prove, as our Lord said, that, “Salvation is of the Jews.” They are connecting links between the Old Testament and the New. They show how God’s promises to Prophets and Patriarchs, yes to Adam himself, have been fulfilled to the letter. They are the title deed to the purchased possession, the royal pedigree of the son of David. Neither his character nor his miracles could establish his right to the throne of David. That must be determined by his physical descent.

When King Herod heard that the King of the Jews had been born, he at once summoned the Scribes to tell him where the King was to appear. They replied in Bethlehem. Now Bethlehem was the town where David was born. The fulfillment of prophecy, a fact like that, outweighs any number of inferences. These genealogies are not afterthoughts added to explain the wonderful career of Jesus, they are not a new patch put on an old garment, but they were woven in the cloth when it was made.

They establish the deity as well as the humanity of Jesus and confirm the word of the angel to Mary, “that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God,” for in the long list of fathers mentioned there is the significant omission of the name of a father of Jesus. A woman, the mother, was the only human being involved in the birth of Jesus. The first Adam was created and failed. The second Adam was begotten and he succeeded.

Genealogical records were carefully kept in those days. This is proved by profane as well as sacred literature. The names of ancestors of Nehemiah1 and Ezra2 are preserved. No one was allowed to officiate as Priest in the days of Nehemiah3 who could not establish his descent from Aaron. Anna4 , the prophetess, was of the tribe of Asher and Paul5 of the tribe of Benjamin. Josephus opens his autobiography by announcing, “I am of the royal line by my mother.” The title of Jesus to the throne of David was known by the Emperor Domitian,6 who summoned before him the grandsons of Jude, Jesus’ half brother, but when he saw the simple peasants, he knew that they were not pretenders to the throne.

In these genealogies of Jesus we have a sure foundation for the Gospel and no other foundation can be laid than is laid. These genealogies were not invented, for we have the books from which they were taken. The generations that were born after the Old Testament was closed were kept in family records. The Lord was called the Son of David many times and he was gratified by the honor given him. He even puzzled his enemies by asking how David could speak of his son as his Lord. These genealogies are ancient but they are compiled from records as old as Genesis. They are an epitome of the history of redemption. They trace the stream of salvation up to its source in God, for as Seth is spoken of as the son of Adam, so Adam is called the Son of God. This is in harmony with Paul’s speech at Athens where he said,7 “For we are also his offspring.” Matthew was a Jew and was content to begin with Abraham for “he took on him the seed of Abraham.”8 Luke was a gentile and he was not satisfied until he had traced Christ’s connection with all races by following his line back to the flood and then to the garden of Eden. The two genealogies are independent of each other but where they follow the same line as from Abraham to David, they absolutely agree. But from David on they follow different lines, one the line through Solomon, the other through Nathan, another son of David. Matthew chose the legal and royal line of Solomon and traced it to Joseph, who was addressed by the angel as “Son of David” and bidden to take Mary, the mother of Jesus, as his wife. Luke chose the real, the natural line through Nathan. So our Lord was the legal heir of David through Solomon and the natural heir through Nathan.

The chief differences between the two genealogies are found where they were to be expected, after they part company at David and follow distinct lines through two sons of that king. Matthew having started with the theocracy, gives the monarchy until the exile and then descends to heirs without a Kingdom or a crown to the day when it was promised, “I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen”9 and “there shall come forth a rod out of the stem (or stump) of Jesse.”10

Another marked characteristic of Matthew is that to the usual genealogy of men he adds the names of four women, Thamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Urias, three of whom were idolaters and all but Ruth guilty of irregular marital relations, but they were “saved by child bearing.” In their hearts beat the inward life pulse of redemption. A third peculiarity of Matthew’s account is the division of the whole period from Abraham to Jesus into three subdivisions of fourteen generations each. The years from the building of the temple to its rebuilding after the exile numbered 560 (?), and the same number elapsed between the rebuilding of the temple and the birth of Christ so that in these subdivisions the fourteen generations were reckoned at about 40 years each. The period from Abraham, however, to David was 1,120 (?) years, so that in that subdivision, when life was longer, each of the fourteen generations was reckoned at about eighty years.

A striking feature of Matthew’s list of names is the disappearance of the word “begat” which precedes every other name, when Jesus is reached. Then it is said that Joseph was “the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ.”

In examining in detail the genealogy given by Matthew it will be found that the names mentioned in verses 1:3–6 are taken from the book of Ruth 4:18–22, where they occur in the same order. The same order is preserved of the same names, among others, in 1 Chronicles 2:4–12.

The men named in verses 7–11 are found in the same order in 1 Chronicles 3:10–16, except that Ozias is the Greek for Uzziah and Jechonias is treated as the son instead of the grandson of Joash. The omission of the name of the father, Jehoiachim, may be accounted for by the fact that his conduct was such that he was not buried in the sepulchres of the kings of Judah. A similar explanation may be given for the neglect of the three kings who descended from Ahab and Jezebel and were Baal worshippers, Joash, Amaziah and Azariah, and “the iniquity of the fathers was visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” The royal line was continued, though every individual did not receive honorable mention. Matthew as a biographer, not an annalist, had the right to pass by those he found unworthy.

It is, however, a table of Kings from David to Jechonias. In verse 12 Jechonias appears as the father of Salathiel as in I Chronicles 3:17.

In the same verse Salathiel is made the father of Zoro-babel as in Ezra 3:2, where the Hebrew is transliterated Shealtiel, and in Nehemiah 12:1 and Haggai 2:2, and in the Septuagint version of I Chronicles 3:17.

The remaining names in the genealogy of Matthew were taken from the records of the family of Joseph. The persons here recorded lived after the last book of the Old Testament had been written and therefore could not have been referred to in that volume.

Before examining in detail the genealogy of Luke 3:23–38, it is important to call attention to the fact that the names of ancestors are put in the genitive case and literally read “of,” not “son of.” This fact affects the meaning of the first verse in the genealogy which apparently declares that Joseph was the son of Heli. But Luke has shown already that Joseph was not the father of Jesus. It would be sacrilege to introduce the name of God in a human pedigree. The name of Mary could not be mentioned because descent was reckoned by males. Therefore the immediate generation of Jesus was omitted from the list and the first name mentioned was Heli, the father of Mary.

As Matthew used the word “begat” until he reached Jesus, so Luke used the expression “son of,” except in the case of Jesus when he said that Joseph was “supposed to be” his father. He had already announced that Joseph was not his father and it was not necessary to repeat that the boy was conceived by the Holy Ghost. It was not thought best to publish during our Lord’s life that Joseph was only his stepfather and that Nazareth in Galilee was not his birthplace. When the Pharisees triumphantly asserted: “Search and look; for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet,” no reply was made to them. When Jesus preached at Nazareth the people asked: Is not this Joseph’s son? He was so generally known as Jesus of Nazareth that Pilate was justified in placing that title upon his cross. It was so generally supposed that Joseph “of the house and lineage of David” was his father that no one questioned his descent from David. To be sure, the chief priests and scribes, when they heard the children crying in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David, were sore displeased” and demanded, Hearest thou what these say? But their objection was not to the title Son of David so much as to the “Hosanna to the King of Israel” that accompanied it.

Luke 1:27 is one of the rare cases where a sentence in Greek is not clear but equivocal. Plummer11 declares that “it is impossible from this sentence to determine whether Joseph or Mary was of the house of David.” Seeing that grammar fails us we must resort to internal evidence. For instance, why does Luke at 2:4 formally announce that “Joseph was of the house and lineage of David” if he had already announced that fact? Why should the genealogy in Luke as well as in Matthew be given to Joseph? He is not the hero of the Gospel. How could Jesus be a descendant of David if his mother, his only connection according to the flesh with that king, was not? In verses 32, 35, 69, of this chapter it is taken for granted that Mary was of the seed royal. Why should she have been enrolled at Bethlehem as a member of the family of David if there was no such connection?

The chief significance of Luke’s line is that he presents Jesus not as the Messiah of the Jews but as “the desire of all nations.” He was the chief branch of the tree God planted in the garden of Eden.

Another characteristic of this list is the introduction of the name of Nathan, an older brother of Solomon. Long after the exile Zechariah (12:12) distinguishes the family of the house of Nathan with the family of David and the family of Levi, showing that the house of Nathan was prosperous, though the names of his descendants have been preserved only by Luke. The long list of names extending from Adam to Abraham is taken from Genesis 11:12–26 and I Chronicles 1:1–27. The names Cainan and Phalek, which are not found in the Hebrew, are taken from the Greek version which is always used. No explanation has been found for Rhesa as son of Zoro-babel or for Neri as father of Salathiel.

The attack of all sceptics from Celsus to Strauss has centered on the genealogies. The Epicurean was followed by Faustus the Manichean and Julian the Apostate; Strauss the pantheist has been followed by modernists of many hues. There has been no lack of able defenders of these documents. Leibnitz, the founder of German philosophy, maintained that “the chief purpose of a university is to prove the truth of Christianity,” and Robert South declared that “unless Jesus was the son of David the whole foundation of Christianity must totter and fall.”


1) Nehemiah 10:1–8.

2) Ezra 7:1–5.

3) Nehemiah 7:5, Ezra 2:62.

4) Luke 2:36.

5) Philippians 3:5.

6) Eusebius, History of the Church III, ch. 19 and 20.

7) Acts 17:28.

8) Hebrews 2:16.

9) Amos 9:11.

10) Isaiah 11:1 and 10, 11. 1 Timothy 2:15.

11) Plummer’s Luke 1:27.