Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

It is granted on all sides that the Biblical genealogy of Christ implies a number of exegetical difficulties; but rationalists have no solid reason for refusing to admit any of the attempted solutions, nor can we agree with those recent writers who have given up all hope of harmonizing the genealogies of Christ found in the First and Third Gospels. The true state of the question will become plain by studying the Biblical genealogies of Christ first separately, then in juxtaposition, and finally in their relation to certain exceptions to their harmony.

ST. MATTHEW'S GENEALOGY OF CHRIST

The genealogy of Christ according to the First Evangelist descends from Abraham through three series of fourteen members each; the first fourteen belong to the patriarchal order, the second to the royal and the third to that of private citizens. Matthew 1:17, shows that this arrangement was intended; for the writer expressly states: "So all the generations, from Abraham to David, are fourteen generations. And from David to the transmigration of Babylon, are fourteen generations: and from the transmigration of Babylon to Christ are fourteen generations."

First Series
1. Abraham
2. Isaac
3. Jacob
4. Judas
5. Phares
6. Esron
7. Aram
8. Aminadab
9. Naasson
10. Salmon
11. Booz
12. Obed
13. Jesse
14. David Second Series
1. Solomon
2. Roboam
3. Abia
4. Asa
5. Josaphat
6. Joram
7. Ozias
8. Joatham
9. Achaz
10. Ezechias
11. Manasses
12. Amon
13. Josias
14. Jechonias Third Series
1. Jechonias
2. Salathiel
3. Zorobabel
4. Abiud
5. Eliacim
6. Azor
7. Sadoe
8. Achim
9. Eliud
10. Eleazar
11. Mathan
12. Jacob
13. Joseph
14. Jesus The list of the First Evangelist omits certain members in Christ's genealogy :
  • The writer gives only three names for the time of the Egyptian exile (Esron, Aram, and Aminadab), though the period lasted 215 or 430 years; this agrees with Genesis 15:16, where God promises to lead Israel back in the fourth generation. But according to Genesis 15:13, the stranger shall afflict Israel for four hundred years.
  • The three names Booz, Obed, and Jesse cover a period of 366 years. Omitting a number of other less probable explanations, the difficulty is solved most easily by the admission of a lacuna between Obed and Jesse.
  • According to I Paralipomenon 3:11-12, Ochozias, Joas, and Amasias intervene between Joram and Azarias (the Ozias of St. Matthew ); these three names cannot have been unknown to the Evangelist, nor can it be supposed that they were omitted by transcribers, for this conjecture would destroy the Evangelist's computation of fourteen kings.
  • According to I Paralipomenon 3:15, Joakim intervenes between Josias and Jechonias. We may waive the question whether St. Matthew speaks of only one Jechonias or of two persons bearing that name; nor need we state here all the doubts and difficulties connected with either answer.
  • St. Matthew places only nine links between Zorobabel and St. Joseph for a period covering some 530 years, so that each generation must have lasted more than 50 years. The genealogy as given in St. Luke enumerates eighteen generations for the same period, a number which harmonizes better with the ordinary course of events.
As to the omission of members in genealogical lists see GENEALOGY.

ST. LUKE'S GENEALOGY OF CHRIST

The genealogy in Luke 3:23-28 ascends from Joseph to Adam or rather to God ; this is the first striking difference between the genealogies as presented in the First and Third Gospel. Another difference is found in their collocation: St. Matthew places his list at the beginning of his Gospel; St. Luke, at the beginning of the public life of Christ. The artificial character of St. Luke's genealogy may be seen in the following table:

First Series
1. Jesus
2. Joseph
3. Heli
4. Mathat
5. Levi
6. Melchi
7. Janne
8. Joseph
9. Mathathias
10. Amos
11. Nahum
12. Hesli
13. Nagge
14. Mahath
15. Mathathias
16. Semei
17. Joseph
18. Juda
19. Joanna
20. Reza
21. Zorobabel Second Series
22. Salathiel
23. Neri
24. Melchi
25. Addi
26. Cosan
27. Helmadan
28. Her
29. Jesus
30. Eliezer
31. Jorim
32. Mathat
33. Levi
34. Simeon
35. Judas
36. Joseph
37. Jona
38. Eliakim
39. Melea
40. Menna
41. Mathatha
42. Nathan Third Series
43. David
44. Jesse
45. Obed
46. Booz
47. Salmon
48. Naasson
49. Aminadab
50. Aram
51. Esron
52. Phares
53. Judas
54. Jacob
55. Isaac
56. Abraham Fourth Series
57. Thare
58. Nachor
59. Sarug
60. Ragau
61. Phaleg
62. Heber
63. Sale
64. Cainan
65. Arphaxad
66. Sem
67. Noah
68. Lamech
69. Mathusale
70. Henoch
71. Jared
72. Malaleel
73. Cainan
74. Henos
75. Seth
76. Adam
77. God The artificial structure of this list may be inferred from the following peculiarities: it contains eleven septenaries of names; three septenaries bring us from Jesus to the Captivity; three, from the captivity to the time of David ; two, from David to Abraham ; three again from the time of Abraham to the creation of man. St. Luke does not explicitly draw attention to the artificial construction of his list, but this silence does not prove that its recurring number of names was not intended, at least in the Evangelist's source. In St. Luke's genealogy, too, the names Jesse, Obed, Booz, cover a period of 366 years; Aminadab, Aram, Esron fill a gap of 430 (or 215) years, so that here several names must have been omitted. In the fourth series, which gives the names of the antediluvian and postdiluvian patriarchs, Cainan has been inserted according to the Septuagint reading; the Hebrew text does not contain this name.

HARMONY BETWEEN ST. MATTHEW'S AND ST. LUKE'S GENEALOGY OF CHRIST

The fourth series of St. Luke's list covers the period between Abraham and the creation of man ; St. Matthew does not touch upon this time, so that there can be no question of any harmony. The third series of St. Luke agrees name for name with the first of St. Matthew ; only the order of names is inverted. In this section the genealogies are rather identical than merely harmonious. In the first and second series, St. Luke gives David's descendants through his son Nathan, while St. Matthew enumerates in his second and third series David's descendants through Solomon. It is true that the First Gospel gives only twenty-eight names for this period, against the forty-two names of the Third Gospel; but it cannot be expected that two different lines of descendants should exhibit the same number of links for the period of a thousand years. Abstracting from the inspired character of the sources, one is disposed to regard the number given by the Third Evangelist as more in harmony with the length of time than the number of the First Gospel; but we have pointed out that St. Matthew consciously omitted a number of names in his genealogical list, in order to reduce them to the required multiple of seven.

EXCEPTIONS TO THE PRECEDING EXPLANATION

Three main difficulties are advanced against the foregoing harmony of the genealogies : First , how can they converge in St. Joseph, if they give different lineages from David downward? Secondly , how can we account for their convergence in Salathiel and Zorobabel? Thirdly , what do we know about the genealogy of the Blessed Virgin?

First Difficulty

The convergence of the two distinct genealogical lines in the person of St. Joseph, has been explained in two ways:

(a) St. Matthew's genealogy is that of St. Joseph; St. Luke's, that of the Blessed Virgin. This contention implies that St. Luke's genealogy only seemingly includes the name of Joseph. It is based on the received Greek text, on ( os enomizeto ouios Ioseph ) tou Heli , "being the son (as it was supposed, of Joseph, but really ) of Heli ". This parenthesis really eliminates the name of Joseph from St. Luke's genealogy, and makes Christ, by means of the Blessed Virgin, directly a son of Heli. This view is supported by a tradition which names the father of the Blessed Virgin "Joachim", a variant form of Eliacim or its abbreviation Eli, a variant of Heli, which latter is the form found in the Third Evangelist's genealogy. But these two consideration, viz. the received text and the traditional name of the father of Mary, which favour the view that St. Luke gives the genealogy of the Blessed Virgin, are offset by two similar considerations, which make St. Luke's list terminate with the name of Joseph. First, the Greek text preferred by the textual critics reads, on ouios, hos enomizeto, Ioseph tou Heli , "being the son, as it was supposed, of Joseph, son of Heli ", so that the above parenthesis is rendered less probable. Secondly, according to Patrizi, the view that St. Luke gives the genealogy of Mary began to be advocated only towards the end of the fifteenth century by Annius of Viterbo, and acquired adherents in the sixteenth. St. Hilary mentions the opinion as adopted by many, but he himself rejects it (Mai, "Nov. Bibl, Patr.", t. I, 477). It may be safely said that patristic tradition does not regard St. Luke's list as representing the genealogy of the Blessed Virgin.

(b) Both St. Matthew and St. Luke give the genealogy of St. Joseph, the one through the lineage of Solomon, the other through that of Nathan. But how can the lines converge in St. Joseph? St. Augustine suggested that Joseph, the son of Jacob and the descendant of David through Solomon, might have been adopted by Heli, thus becoming the adoptive descendant of David through Nathan. But Augustine was the first to abandon this theory after learning the explanation offered by Julius Africanus. According to the latter, Estha married Mathan, a descendant of David through Solomon, and became the mother of Jacob ; after Mathan's death she took for her second husband Mathat, a descendent of David through Nathan, and by him became the mother of Heli. Jacob and Heli were, therefore, uterine brothers. Heli married, but died without offspring; his widow, therefore, became the levirate wife of Jacob, and gave birth to Joseph, who was the carnal son of Jacob, but the legal son of Heli, thus combining in his person two lineages of David's descendants.

Second Difficulty

The second difficulty urged against the harmony between the two genealogies is based on the occurrence of the two names Zorobabel and Salathiel in both lists; here again the two distinct lineages of David's descendants appear to converge. And again, two answers are possible:

(a) It is more commonly admitted that the two names in St. Matthew's list are identical with the two in St. Luke's series; for they must have lived about the same time, and the names are so rare, that it would be strange to find them occurring at the same time, in the same order, in two different genealogical series. But two levirate marriages will explain the difficulty. Melchi, David's descendant through Nathan, may have begotten Neri by a widow of the father of Jechonias; this made Neri and Jechonias uterine brothers. Jechonias may then have contracted a levirate marriage with the widow of the childless Neri, and begotten Salathiel, who was therefore the leviratical son of Neri. Salathiel's son Zorobabel begat Abiud; but he also may have been obliged to contract a levirate marriage with the widow of a childless legal relative belonging to David's descendants through Nathan, thus begetting Reza, who legally continued Nathan's lineage.

(b) A more simple solution of the difficulty is obtained, if we do not admit that the Salathiel and Zorobabel occurring in St. Matthew's genealogy are identical with those in St. Luke's. The above proofs for their identity are not cogent. If Salathiel and Zorobabel distinguished themselves at all among the descendants of Solomon, it is not astonishing that about the same time two members of Nathan's descendants should be called after them. The reader will observe that we suggest only possible answers to the difficulty; as long as such possibilities can be pointed out, our opponents have no right to deny that the genealogies which are found in the First and Third Gospel can be harmonized.

Third Difficulty

How can Jesus Christ be called "son of David ", if the Blessed Virgin is not a daughter of David ?

(a) If by virtue of Joseph's marriage with Mary, Jesus could be called the son of Joseph, he can for the same reason be called "son of David " (St. Augustine, On the Harmony of the Gospels , II, i, 2).

(b) Tradition tells us that Mary too was a descendant of David. According to Numbers 36:6-12, an only daughter had to marry within her own family so as to secure the right of inheritance. After St. Justin ( Adv. Tryph. 100) and St. Ignatius ( Letter to the Ephesians 18), the Fathers generally agree in maintaining Mary's Davidic descent, whether they knew this from an oral tradition or inferred it from Scripture, e.g. Romans 1:3; II Timothy 2:8. St. John Damascene ( De fid. Orth. , IV, 14) states that Mary's great-grandfather, Panther, was a brother of Mathat; her grandfather, Barpanther, was Heli's cousin; and her father, Joachim, was a cousin of Joseph, Heli's levirate son. Here Mathat has been substituted for Melchi, since the text used by St. John Damascene, Julius Africanus, St. Irenæus, St. Ambrose, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus omitted the two generations separating Heli from Melchi. At any rate, tradition presents the Blessed Virgin as descending from David through Nathan.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Job 9:1-12, 14-16
1 Job spoke next. He said:2 Indeed, I know ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 88:10-11, 12-13, 14-15
10 Do you work wonders for the dead, can shadows rise ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 9:57-62
57 As they travelled along they met a man on the road ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 1st, 2014 Image

St. Therese of Lisieux
October 1: Generations of Catholics have admired this young saint, called ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter