Genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38)

The genealogy in Matthew and the one in Luke establish that Jesus Christ is a descendant of David, with Matthew’s list having an introduction specifically identifying Jesus Christ, as “son of David, son of Abraham.” While of particular significance to Jews who expected the Messiah to come in the royal line of David, this aspect would have been of lesser concern to non-Jews. Apparently with non-Jews in mind, Luke traced the genealogy back to the beginning of the human race. For the most part, the names from Adam through Abraham (appearing in the reverse order in Luke) are the same as those found in Genesis 5:3-32 and 1 Chronicles 1:1-4, 24-27. The names are Greek transliterations, and the spellings in extant manuscripts of Luke’s account and the Septuagint text do vary at times.

In the extant text of Luke 3:36, 37, the name “Cainan” appears twice, as a son (or descendant) of Enosh and also as a son (or descendant) of Arpachshad (Arphaxad). The inclusion of Cainan between Arpachshad (Arphaxad) and Shelah (Sala, the Greek spelling in LXX and Luke) agrees with the Septuagint (but not the Masoretic Text) listing in Genesis 10:24 and 11:12, 13.

From Abraham to David, extant manuscripts of Matthew and Luke, for the most part, have the same names with the same Greek spellings. (See the Notes section for variations in manuscript readings.)

After David, Matthew traces the lineage through Solomon, whereas Luke does so through David’s son Nathan. (2 Samuel 5:13, 14; 1 Chronicles 3:5) Both Matthew and Luke include Shealtiel and Zerubbabel but then immediately diverge. While Matthew lists Jechoniah (Jeconiah, Jehoiachin) as the son of Shealtiel, Luke lists Neri. The absence of any reference to Neri in the biblical record makes it impossible to determine precisely how he was related to Shealtiel.

Already in ancient times, the significant difference in the two genealogies was recognized as problematic. Julius Africanus (170-245) concluded that levirate marriage was involved, with Joseph being the offspring of a man having the same mother as the deceased brother but a different father. If Jacob was indeed the deceased brother, Joseph would have been the natural son of Heli but the legal son of Jacob. A possible explanation from a later period is that Matthew traced the lineage through Joseph, whereas Luke did so through Heli, the father of Mary.

Both possible explanations for the difference in the genealogies have their defenders and their detractors. Whereas the conjecture of Julius Africanus requires extraordinary circumstances (the same mother but different fathers for two brothers), it reveals that he knew of no tradition identifying Heli as Mary’s father. The second-century “Protevangelium of James” speaks of her father as having been Joachim.

Only Matthew includes women in the genealogy. Tamar, a Canaanitess, tricked her father-in-law Judah into having relations with her because he did not make his son Shelah available for levirate marriage. (Genesis 38:6-19) Rahab, a Canaanitess of Jericho and a prostitute, hid the two Israelite spies and secured their safety. On account of her act of faith based on what she had heard about YHWH’s dealings with his people, Rahab and her relatives did not lose their lives. She later married Salmon (Salman, Sala) of the tribe of Judah. (Joshua 2:1-21; 6:22-25; 1 Chronicles 2:11) Widowed Ruth the Moabitess accompanied her widowed mother-in-law Naomi from Moab to Judah, declaring her oath-bound determination to remain with her, to worship YHWH, and to be part of his people. Through the arrangement of levirate marriage, she came to be the wife of Boaz. (Ruth 1:15-17; 4:9-12) Bath-sheba with whom King David had an adulterous relationship and whose husband he arranged to have killed in battle to cover up his sin is not mentioned by name. She is referred to as “the one of Uriah,” thus, in effect, representing David as raising up offspring for the loyal Hittite warrior whose death he had plotted. (2 Samuel 11:2-17) The mention of these women in the genealogy provides indirect evidence for the trustworthiness of the biblical record about the royal line. It is inconceivable that anyone would have invented this kind of information.

The genealogy in Matthew is arranged in three segments of fourteen generations — from Abraham to David (14 names), from David to the Babylonian exile (14 names, starting with David and ending with Josiah), from the Babylonian exile until the Messiah (14 names, starting with Jechoniah [Jeconiah, Jehoiachin] who was taken into Babylonian exile and ending with Jesus). This arrangement may have been designed to function as a memory aid. (Matthew 1:17) Although not including all the preserved names in the royal line (Ahaziah, Jehoash [Joash], Amaziah, and Jehoiakim are omitted), the genealogy is sufficient to establish that Jesus can be identified as “son of David, son of Abraham.”

The omission of Ahaziah, his son Jehoash (Joash), and his grandson Amaziah may be significant. Ahaziah was the son of King Jehoram and Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel. The notoriously evil conduct of Ahab and Jezebel led to divine condemnation of the entire house of Ahab. Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah and father of Jehoiachin (Jechoniah, Jeconiah), may have been omitted on account of his abominable record of corruption and bloodshed.


Greek spelling variations for names include the following: Iáred (Genesis 5:15-20; 1 Chronicles 1:2, LXX) and Iáret (Luke 3:37); Salmán (Ruth 4:20, LXX), Salmón (1 Chronicles 2:11, LXX; Matthew 1:4, 5), and Salá (1 Chronicles 1:24, LXX; Luke 3:32, 35); Bóos (Ruth 4:21; 1 Chronicles 2:11, 12; LXX; Luke 3:32) and Boés (Matthew 1:5); Obéd (Ruth 4:21, 22; 1 Chronicles 2:12, LXX) and Iobéd (Matthew 1:5; Luke 3:32); Asa (1 Chronicles 3:10, LXX) and Asáph (Matthew 1:8).

For Luke 3:33, there are various manuscript readings, including “[son] of Amminadab, of Admin, of Arni, of Hezron, of Perez, of Judah”; “[son] of Adam, of Admin, of Arni, of Hezron, of Perez, of Judah”; “[son] of Aminadam, of Aram, of Almei, of Arni, of Hezron, of Perez, of Judah”; “[son] of Amminadab, of Admin, of Aram, of Hezron, of Perez, of Judah”; “[son] of Aram, of Amminadab, of Armin, of Arnin, of Hezron of Perez, of Judah”; “[son] of Aminadam, of Joram, of Aram, of Hezron, of Perez, of Judah”; “[son] of Amminadab, of Aram, of Joram, of Hezron, of Perez, of Judah.” “Admin” and “Arni,” the two names often appearing in manuscripts of Luke, are missing from 1 Chronicles. In Matthew’s genealogy “Aram” (Ram) is the name between Hezron and Amminadab.