Why are the genealogies of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke so different? Are there contradictions?
The two genealogies empha- size different perspectives. The Gospel of Matthew tells the virgin-birth story from the perspective of Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive and legal father. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, recounts the birth of Jesus from Mary’s perspective, including Jesus’ physical descent from His mother. Both Joseph and Mary were of the house of David but descended from two different sons of David. The Matthew genealogy (1:1–17) traces the line of Jesus from David through Solomon, while the Luke genealogy (Luke 3:23–38) traces Jesus’ ancestry from David through Nathan.
People have raised two objections to this explanation. First, two names are repeated in the two genealogies: Shealtiel and Zerubbabel, but it is most likely that these were common names. Zerubbabel means “offspring of Babylon” and would have been common among Jewish people born during the Babylonian captivity. The textual evidence indicates that these shared names don’t refer to the same people: Matthew’s genealogy says that the father of Shealtiel is Jeconiah (Matt. 1:12); in Luke’s Gospel, the father of Shealtiel is Neri (Luke 3:27).
The second objection is that both genealogies appear to refer to Joseph as the person whose ancestry is listed (Matt. 1:16; Luke 3:23), but the descriptions are different. In Matthew, Joseph is called the son of Jacob; in Luke, Joseph is the son of Heli. How to explain this seeming discrepancy? Many scholars argue that Luke 3:23 could be understood to read: Jesus was thought to be the son of Joseph, the son (in-law) of Heli
. Heli was most likely the father of Mary, and the rest of the genealogy would be her ancestry.
We should understand why these two genealogies are important. Both legally and physically, the Lord Jesus descends from King David. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8).