“651. THE GENEALOGIES—MATTHEW 1:1-17; LUKE 3:23-38”

The Genealogies—Mat_1:1-17; Luk_3:23-38

There are two genealogies of Jesus in the gospels—one given by Matthew, the other by Luke. The object of both is to show that, according to the flesh, the holy child was lineally descended from King David. This fact was often asserted in our Lord’s lifetime, and never denied by the Jews—as they would have been glad to have done had it been in their power. But the case was too plain, being no doubt attested by the genealogical lists of the family preserved at Bethlehem. Indeed, the fact was so notorious, that Jesus was frequently addressed by strangers as “the son of David;” and the public knowledge of this circumstance should always be borne in mind in reading the Gospel history, since it materially affected the relations in which He appeared, and the point of view in which He was regarded by the people. Even apart from the Messiahship which was to be in that line, any member of the house of David, who came forward in a prominent character, would be an object of attention and solicitude, as possessing certain hereditary claims to the temporal sovereignty; and there can be no doubt, looking to the circumstances of times, and the unpopularity of the government, that the people would have thrown themselves heart and soul into any feasible, or indeed unfeasible, attempt to restore that ancient and popular line. Indeed, although our Lord was always careful to let it be understood that his kingdom was not of this world, there was a time, and perhaps more than one time, when the people would have taken Him by force and made Him their king, had He not withdrawn himself from public view. Hence, also, the dangerous malignancy of the charge eventually made against Him, that He aspired to be a king—which would have been simply ridiculous, had not the fact of his being of the royal house of David given political significance to the charge; and had it not been true, that a claim to reign on the part of an already renowned member of that illustrious house, would have stirred the heart of the nation, from Dan to Beersheba.

It is true, however, and is evinced by the position of Joseph and Mary, that the families tracing their descent from the house of David had fallen into poverty, and also into neglect—except in so far as their hopes of producing, at no distant day, “the desire of all nations,” were recognized. When, after the return from the Babylonish captivity, the sovereignty had been assumed, first, by the high priests of Levitical descent; subsequently, by the Asmonean family, and finally, by the house of Herod, of Idumaean origin, but engrafted into the Maccabean line by the marriage of Herod with Mariamne, it was the most obvious policy to leave in the obscurity into which they had sunk that race, which, if it should produce any pretendant of the least distinction, might advance an hereditary claim, as dear to the people as it would be dangerous to the reigning dynasty. The whole descendants of the royal race seem to have sunk so low, that even the popular belief which looked to the line of David as that from which the Messiah was to spring, did not invest them with sufficient importance to awaken the jealousy or suspicion of the rulers.

The fact, that the descent of Jesus from David could be established by registers, and the presence of two such minute pedigrees as those of Matthew and Luke, evince that the Jews were, up to this time, still careful in the registration of family descents. The division of the whole Hebrew nation into tribes, and the allotment to each tribe, and to every family in each tide, of its distinct portion of territory, as an inalienable possession, rendered it indispensable that genealogical tables should be preserved. It might seem that the disturbance of this arrangement occasioned by the captivity, or rather by the fact that only two of the twelve tribes returned from Babylon, would impair this motive. But the rabbis assure us, that from that time they became still more careful in registering their genealogies—with immediate reference, doubtless, to the expectation of the Messiah—but with the ulterior object, in the purposes of the Divine providence, of preserving means for the establishment of the exact fulfillment of the predictions respecting his parentage. That such registers existed to even a later date is shown by Josephus, who declared that he traced his own descent in the tribe of Levi by public registers; and he expressly informs that, however dispersed and dispossessed his nation were, they never failed to have exact genealogical tables prepared from the authentic documents which were kept at Jerusalem; and that in all their sufferings they were particularly careful to preserve these tables, which were renewed from time to time. Since, however, the period of their destruction as a nation by the Romans, all their tables of descent seem to be lost, and now they are utterly unable to trace the pedigree of any one Israelite who might lay claim to be their promised, and still expected Messiah.

These considerations are more important than they may seem at first view; as they show that, genealogical registers being still kept by the Jews, means existed for testing the claims of descent which any one might make; for rendering the fabrication of a genealogy impossible; and (apart from the question of inspiration) of furnishing the materials for the pedigrees which the evangelists have given—thus meeting the objections of recent misbelievers who have ventured to insinuate, that no materials for such genealogies then existed among the Jews; and that they were made up—that is, fabricated—to produce a correspondence with the prophecies, which required that the Messiah should be of the line of David.

But the two genealogies are materially different. They coincide until David, when Matthew takes the reigning line whereas Luke takes the younger and inferior line by David’s son Nathan. They concur, indeed, in Salathiel and Zorobabel, at the time of the captivity; but then diverge again, and even at the close the difference is maintained, for Matthew makes Joseph the son of Jacob, whereas Luke represents him as the son of Heli, or Eli. He could not have been naturally the son of both these persons; and the essential differences in the two lines of descent allows no satisfactory solution in the idea, that Jacob and Heli are different names for the same person. They are obviously two different genealogies from the common ancestor David. This being the case, there can be little doubt that the genealogy of Matthew is that of Joseph, and the one of Luke that of Mary—the former being the legal, and the latter the real genealogy of Jesus.

Indeed, Luke seems to have indicated his meaning as clearly as could be, consistently with the absence of a woman’s name in a pedigree, by distinguishing the real from the legal genealogy, in a parenthetical remark—“Jesus being (as was reputed) the son of Joseph (but in reality) the son of Heli,” or his grandson by the mother’s side; for so the ellipsis should be supplied.

Furthermore, Mary is always called by the Jews “the daughter of Heli;” and by the early Christian writers, “the daughter of Joakim and Anna.” Now, Joakim and Eliakim (as different names in Hebrew for God) are sometimes interchanged; so that Heli or Eli is an abridged form of Eliakim, interchanged for Joakim.

These observations may suffice to indicate the heads of a discussion involving much curious matter, tending, as all discussion does, in the long run, to the vindication of the sacred writers, even in those of their statements that may, at the first view, seem the most inconsistent.

One of the lines is, therefore, the natural and legal line of Joseph’s descent; and the other that of a reputed line, arising from his adoption by the father assigned to him in it, or by his marriage with the daughter. An adopted son inherited all the rights of a natural son. If, therefore, a man had a daughter only, the person who married her became virtually his son, and, as such, was reckoned in the genealogy—so that, although descents could not be reckoned by females, yet the name of a man who had only a daughter was not lost in Israel, as the husband assumed his wife’s genealogy, and took his place in the roll as the son of her father. The conclusion then, is, that one of these genealogies is that of Joseph, and the other that of his wife Mary—both lines being preserved to show definitely, that Jesus was, in the most full and perfect sense, a descendant of David; not only by law in the royal line of kings through his reputed father, but by direct personal descent through his mother.