It is fairly common knowledge that the Roman Catholic Church does not regard the Bible with the same high esteem as do evangelical Christians. I recently encountered a Catholic apologist who seemed bent on demonstrating that the Bible contains errors and is, therefore, not reliable. In support of his position, he offered what he considered irrefutable proof.

The Question: How about the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew vs. Luke? Seems that there are several more people in Christ's lineage (after Abraham) in one of those chapters vs. the other.

The Response: Woah! There's a zinger for you. This is one of the favored "proofs" many atheists I have encountered like to toss out in their attacks on Scripture. Interesting that a Catholic apologist would make the same argument, don't you agree?

There were sound reasons why Matthew and Luke presented the facts they did in the way they did. Matthew wrote for Jewish readers. In the genealogy provided in the first 17 verses of his Gospel, Matthew furnished them with information to prove that Messiah was directly connected with King David as was foretold in chapter 7 of 2nd Samuel. Just about every Jew would have demanded such proof.

[Matthew] 1:1 We have no means of knowing where the writer obtained the data for this genealogy. It differs radically from that in Lu 3:23-38. One can only give his own theory of the difference. Apparently in Matthew we have the actual genealogy of Joseph which would be the legal pedigree of Jesus according to Jewish custom. In Luke we apparently have the actual genealogy of Mary which would be the real line of Jesus which Luke naturally gives as he is writing for the Gentiles. . . . The Son of David, the son of Abraham. Matthew proposes to show that Jesus Christ is on the human side the son of David, as the Messiah was to be, and the son of Abraham, not merely a real Jew and the heir of the promises, but the promise made to Abraham. So Matthew begins his line with Abraham while Luke traces his line back to Adam. . . . A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament

Luke, on the other hand, was not writing for a primarily Jewish readership. He did not begin by providing Messiah's genealogy because it wasn't of great significance to his intended readers. Luke apparently traces the line of Mary all the way back to Adam, which identified Christ with mankind.

[Luke] 3:23 The two genealogies differ very widely and many theories have been proposed about them. . . .If we understand Luke to be giving the real genealogy of Jesus through Mary, the matter is simple enough. The two genealogies differ from Joseph to David except in the cases of Zorobabel and Salathiel. . . It was natural for Matthew, writing for Jews, to give the legal genealogy through Joseph, though he took pains to show in Mt 1:16,18-25 that Joseph was not the actual father of Jesus. It was equally natural for Luke, a Greek himself and writing for the whole world, to give the actual genealogy of Jesus through Mary. . . – Ibid

In order to properly exegete the Scriptures, it is necessary to understand the culture and times in which they were written. I urge all who read here to spend some time studying Jewish life two millennia ago. If you do, you will find it easier to understand what Jesus and the writers of the New Testament were saying. Jesus and all the Apostles were Jews. They thought like Jews. They were all familiar with the Scripture entrusted to the Jews. A large part of their ministries was to Jews. If you try to receive the words of Scripture as the Jews of the times would have received them, understanding their message will be much easier. An excellent source book for this kind of study is "The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah," by Alfred Edersheim, MacDonald Publishing Company, Mclean, Virgina. This excellent resource is also available for reading online.

Now, let's look at the genealogies. Matthew opens his Gospel with the paternal genealogy of Jesus as traced forward from Abraham to Joseph. This would have been of vital importance to the Jewish audience for whom Matthew was writing. As he wrote in Verse 17,

So all the generations from Abraham to David [are] fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon [are] fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ [are] fourteen generations.

Luke, writing to a different audience, traces his genealogy backwards from Jesus all the way to Adam. Those hoping to discover errors in the Scriptures cleverly point out that the names Luke provides between Abraham and Joseph are quite different from those listed by Matthew. Is this error? Not at all. The two genealogies are easily reconciled if one considers that Luke is providing the genealogy of Jesus' maternal side and Matthew is listing the paternal family tree.

Luke demonstrates that the royal line is passed through Jesus' legal father, and His physical descent from David is established by Mary's lineage. Luke's genealogy differs from Matthew's in that the physician lists no women -- not even Mary. Joseph was the "son of Heli" by marriage. It appears that Heli had no sons of his own and thus is named in Verse 23 as the representative of Mary's generation. Moses himself established the precedent for this sort of substitution in Numbers 27:1-11 and 36:1-12.

A second opinion:

. . .most conservative Bible scholars assume Luke is recording Mary's genealogy and Matthew is recording Joseph's. Matthew is following the line of Joseph (Jesus' legal father), through David's son Solomon, while Luke is following the line of Mary (Jesus' blood relative), though David's son Nathan. There was no Greek word for "son-in-law," and Joseph would have been considered a son of Heli through marrying Heli's daughter Mary. Through either line, Jesus is a descendant of David and therefore eligible to be the Messiah. Tracing a genealogy through the mother's side is unusual, but so was the virgin birth. Luke's explanation is that Jesus was the son of Joseph “so it was thought” (Luke 3:23). - Why are Jesus' genealogies in Matthew and Luke so different?, © Copyright 2002-2008 Got Questions Ministries

Perhaps the two lists don't contradict one another after all

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