Why are there different genealogies for Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3?

Matthew 1:16 - Luke 3:23

Both Matthew 1 and Luke 3 contain genealogies of Jesus. But there is one problem--they are different. Luke's genealogy starts at Adam and goes to David. Matthew's genealogy starts at Abraham and goes to David. When the genealogies arrive at David, they split with David's sons: Nathan (Mary's side?) and Solomon (Joseph's side).

There are differences of opinion with two main options being offered.  The first is that one genealogy is for Mary and the other is for Joseph. It was customary to mention the genealogy through the father even though it was clearly known that it was through Mary.

"The second thing is that this genealogy differs in significant ways from the genealogy in Matthew. Why? Most Bible scholars believe that Luke gives the genealogy of Mary (who was also of the royal Davidic line), while Matthew traces the family of Joseph. Thus by both His mother and His earthly father, Jesus had a right to the throne of Israel."1

  "Luke paused from his narrative to give Christ’s genealogy. While Matthew traced Christ’s lineage through Joseph, his legal father (see Matt. 1:1–17), Luke traced it through Mary, beginning with Mary’s father, Heli. (Men in ancient times often regarded their sons-in-law as their own sons.) The lineages of Mary and Joseph converge at King David (compare 3:31 with Matt. 1:6).2

"Those who take the latter opinion, that we have here the line of Mary, as in Matthew that of Joseph—here His real, there His reputed line—explain the statement about Joseph, that he was “the son of Heli,” to mean that he was his son-in-law, as the husband of his daughter Mary (as in Ru 1:11, 12), and believe that Joseph’s name is only introduced instead of Mary’s, in conformity with the Jewish custom in such tables. Perhaps this view is attended with fewest difficulties, as it certainly is the best supported." 3

Some critics may not accept this explanation, and it is not without its problems.

"The theory that Luke really gives us the family tree of Mary rather than of Joseph is improbable. The theory with least difficulties is that Matthew gives the descendants of David down the royal line (i.e. who was heir to the throne at any given time), but Luke gives the particular line to which Joseph belonged.4

The Bible should be interpreted in the context of its literary style, culture, and history. Breaking up genealogies into male and female representations was acceptable in the ancient Near East culture since it was often impolite to speak of women without proper conditions being met: male presence, etc. Therefore, one genealogy might be of Mary and the other of Joseph--even though both mention Joseph. In other words, the Mary genealogy was counted "in" Joseph and under his headship.

I find it difficult to accept that those who collected the books of the New Testament, and who believed it was inerrant, were unaware of this blatant differentiation in genealogies. They must have understood what the historical/cultural context was and had no problem with it.  Even though we cannot ascertain at this time a precise explanation does not mean one isn't forthcoming.  After all, archaeological discovers clear up Bible "difficulties" on a regular basis.  But, back to our discussion.

Notice that Luke starts with Mary and goes backwards to Adam. Matthew starts with Abraham and goes forward to Joseph. The intents of the genealogies were obviously different which is clearly seen in their styles. Luke was not written to the Jews, Matthew was. Therefore, Matthew would carry the legal line (from Abraham through David) and Luke the biological one (from Adam through David). Also, notice that Luke's first three chapters mention Mary eleven times; hence, the genealogy from her. Fourth, notice Luke 3:23, "And when He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being supposedly the son of Joseph, the son of Eli," This designation "supposedly" seems to signify the Marian genealogy since it seems to indicate that Jesus is not the biological son of Joseph.

Finally, in the Joseph genealogy is a man named Jeconiah. God cursed Jeconiah (also called Coniah), stating that no descendant of his would ever sit on the throne of David, "For no man of his descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah," (Jer. 22:30). But Jesus, of course, will sit on the throne in the heavenly kingdom. The point is that Jesus is not a biological descendant of Jeconiah, but through the other lineage -- that of Mary. Hence, the prophetic curse upon Jeconiah stands inviolate. But, the legal adoption of Jesus by Joseph reckoned the legal rights of Joseph to Jesus as a son, not the biological curse. This is why we need two genealogies: one of Mary (the actually biological line according to prophecy), and the legal line through Joseph.

LUKE - Adam, the father of Seth, the father of Enosh, the father of Cainan, the father of Mahaleleel, the father of Jared, the father of Enoch, the father of Methuselah, the father of Lamech, the father of Noah, the father of Shem, the father of Arphaxad, the father of Cainan, the father of Shelah, the father of Heber, the father of Peleg, the father of Reu, the father of Serug, the father of Nahor, the father of Terah, the father of

MATTHEW - Abraham, the father of Isaac, the father of Jacob, the father of Judah, the father of Perez, the father of Hezron, the father of Ram, the father of Admin, the father of Amminadab, the father of Nahshon, the father of Salmon, the father of Boaz, the father of Obed, the father of Jesse -- the father of

(Mary) LUKE David, father of (Joseph) MATTHEW

Nathan Solomon
Mattatha Rehoboam
Menna Abijah
Melea Asa
Eliakim Jehoshaphat
Jonam Joram
Joseph Uzziah
Judah Jotham
Simeon Ahaz
Levi Hezekiah
Matthat Manasseh
Jorim Amon
Eliezer Josiah
Joshua Jeconiah
Er Shealtiel
Elmadam Zerubbabel
Cosam Abihud
Addi Eliakim
Melchi Azor
Neri Zadok
Shealtiel Achim
Zerubbabel Eliud
Rhesa Eleazar
Joanan Matthan
Joda Jacob
Josech Joseph
Semein Joseph Adopted Jesus
as his own son giving him
all legal rights involving heirship.
supposedly of Joseph (Mary)


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  • 1. Richards, L., & Richards, L. O. (1987). The teacher's commentary. Includes index. (650). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
  • 2. Willmington, H. L. (1997). Willmington's Bible handbook (582). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.
  • 3. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Lk 3:23). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  • 4. Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed.) (Lk 3:23–38). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.