I hate math, and I’m okay with that. Don’t get me wrong, I think math is important, but I don’t like it. I have trouble breathing when I reminisce about high school algebra and the painstaking hours of my life spent trying to figure out correct equations. I can honestly say I’ve never been more frustrated in my life than when I was doing my dreaded math homework. Like I said, I hate math, and I’m okay with that.
Have you ever felt completely frustrated by a problem you couldn’t solve or reconcile? Almost every Christmastime, I get asked about a specific problem in the Gospels having to do with the birth of Jesus. It has frustrated many Christians through the years, and it requires a solution.
This problem concerns the two genealogies of Jesus found in Matthew 1:1–17 and Luke 3:23–38.
The Old Testament says the Messiah was to come from the line of King David. God made this promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:16: “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.” God promised the Davidic throne would be eternal, but we know that Israel was overthrown by the Babylonians and that no king reigned in Israel afterward.
The Prophets of Israel foretold the coming of a righteous ruler from the line of David who would re-establish the throne. Jeremiah 23:5 says, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.”
If Jesus is truly the prophesied Messiah, as much of the world will celebrate this Christmas, he must be a descendant of David. Thankfully, the genealogies of Jesus show that David was, in fact, his ancestor. But there’s a problem in the genealogies—actually, there are two problems.
The first comes from Matthew’s genealogy. Matthew claims Jesus came from the line of Jeconiah, who was a descendant of David (Matt. 1:11–12). So far, so good. The problem comes from a passage about Jeconiah in the book of Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord, ‘Write this man down childless, a man who will not prosper in his days; for no man of his descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah” (Jer. 22:30).
God was so displeased with Jeconiah’s wickedness that he cursed Jeconiah and his lineage. No descendent of Jeconiah would sit on the throne of David or rule again in Judah.
How can Jesus be both the promised King of Judah and Jeconiah’s descendant? If none of Jeconiah’s descendants will sit on the throne of David or rule in Judah, Jesus can’t be the promised Branch of David. Did Matthew make a mistake in his genealogy?
The second problem is worse.
When we compare Matthew and Luke’s genealogies with each other, there seems to be a huge mistake. They don’t match. Well, they match from Abraham to David, but they don’t match from David to Jesus.
Why do Luke and Matthew not match up in this section of Jesus’ genealogy?
We need a solution that can account for three details. First, we need an answer that shows Jesus is a descendant of David. Second, we need an answer that shows Jesus is not a descendant of Jeconiah. Third, we need an answer that accounts for why the lineages from David to Jesus don’t match.
The key to solving our problem is found at the beginning of Luke’s genealogy: “When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli” (Luke 3:23).
Jesus wasn’t the son of Joseph; he was “as was supposed, the son of Joseph.” Jesus was born of Mary, a virgin (Luke 1:34–35). Jesus had no earthly father. The solution is this: Matthew was giving Jesus’ legal, paternal genealogy through Joseph, his legal father. Luke was giving Jesus’ literal, maternal genealogy through his physical mother.
This solution accounts for our three details. Jesus is legally and physically a descendant of David. However, Jesus isn’t physically a descendent of Jeconiah, since Jeconiah is mentioned in Matthew, which is Joseph’s lineage. The genealogy from David to Jesus is different because Matthew is recording Joseph’s lineage and Luke is recording Mary’s lineage.
This Christmastime problem in the Gospels can be solved when we seek solutions found in the text of Scripture. No frustration necessary.